The Bow Tie Redemption

I’ve never been fond of bow ties. Especially not after I had to wear a red sequined covered bow tie and cumberbund in the 5th-grade choir.

Then as an adult, I began to associate bow ties of all designs with a certain person I knew who wore them every day. He harassed me. Sometimes it was more blatant than others, but it was all harassment and happened often. After I broke off my association with that person, I still had a little flare of anger and revulsion every time I saw someone wearing a bow tie. It was most unfortunate that they made a huge mainstream comeback right about that time.

Then I started a new job. I became a teacher. My first day, in the summer and weeks before the students came back, I hauled supplies and decor to my classroom and prepared to spend hours creating a welcoming learning environment for my new charges. I was excited and nervous. Mostly nervous. Across the hall, I could see a very tall adult about my age playing cards with what was clearly a group of students. I heard snippets of their hushed conversation and their laughter. When they concluded their game, the students left and the adult came over to introduce himself. It turned out he was the English teacher with whom I would share my end of the hallway for the next school year.

Over the next few days, he came into my classroom to check on me and introduce other teachers as they trickled in to prepare for the new year. By the time school started, I had a friend on staff and was all the more blessed for it. But on the first day the students joined us, I cringed. My new friend showed up wearing a bow tie. Gross.

It was unfair to judge his fashion choice so harshly. I knew it. It was irrational. And yet, I did. I detested bow ties. I didn’t say anything, even though he wore a bow tie every day without fail. It was his signature look.

Over the course of the year, we ended up coaching soccer together and spent a portion of each afternoon decompressing or sharing crazy student stories. We discussed Doctor Who, Ernest Hemmingway, Black Adder, religion, politics, music, and our ups and downs as educators. I made other friends on staff, but “Jones” was my buddy. And before any of you get any ideas, he was my completely platonic buddy. We were both married and my spouse felt like he knew Jones long before I ever got the chance to introduce them.

When I left my position at that school to embark on a new adventure, there were several things I missed. One of them was Jones. He was more than a smart, funny guy. He was a truly gifted teacher. He cared about his students deeply. And he had the world’s best catchphrases. “The utter/sheer jackassery.” “Feckin’ ridiculous.” “That’s nice.” The last was said with a deep–and exaggerated–southern drawl with just a hint of condescension, and something about it made me laugh every time he said it. It was his own personal version of “Bless your heart.”

Less than two weeks ago, I got word that Jones passed away. It didn’t seem real. How could this shining light be snuffed out so young? Students, fellow teachers, employers, classmates, and family began posting tributes on social media. They were all beautiful in their own way, but they also all had one thing in common. In every picture, Jones was wearing a bow tie.

Years of memories with a common thread. A man who was deeply loved and had an inexplicable affinity for bow ties. When I realized it, tears welled up and I started to giggle a bit. My husband thought I was hysterical, I’m sure, but he let me be because I was grieving. I will miss Jones in ways I cannot say. And I’m sorry for the students, at every level that will never get to know his gift. His legacy is one of caring and dedication. And bow ties.

But now when I see a bow tie I don’t cringe. I don’t gag a little. I don’t think of that man who harassed me. Instead, I think of Jones. Of hot tea and themed yarmulkes. Of my first ever teaching friend. Of a man who spent his life serving others.

If anyone was ever going to be able to redeem bow ties, it was Jones. And he did it. One more thing I can add to the long list of reasons I’m grateful to have known him.

Goodbye, Jones. Thanks for everything.

10 Things You Can Do To Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness

It’s time for another 10 Things post. I was originally going to do 10 More Things about the Georgia Aquarium because I took a behind the scenes tour and that place is a nerd paradise. Then I thought I might go festive instead and write a 10 Things about Christmas. However, all those plans changed at the last minute.

This morning I got a phone call from my best friend. Someone very close to her, whom she loved dearly, lost a battle against depression. Out of respect for those closest to the person, I will withhold further details. My friend is grieving and in shock. And like most people who lose someone who has been battling mental illness, she knew on a logical level that it was not her fault and there was nothing more she could have done, but on an emotional level, she was struggling.

It was not her fault.

She did everything she could to support her loved one.

I spoke with her throughout the day because she’s my friend and she needs support now too. But as I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t help but think about the many people who fear this situation more than any other because they have a loved one living with mental illness.

This is not the first time someone I know has lost a battle with mental illness. I wish it were. Unfortunately, this is too common an outcome because our society still puts a stigma on mental illness which discourages some people from seeking the help they need or sticking to a treatment plan.

I’m no expert. By any stretch of the imagination. So when it occurred to me that this month–since it is one of the hardest months of the year for people with depression–might be a good month to talk about how to support your loved ones with mental illness, I had to do some research. I turned to Psychology Today, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Psych Central who all offer tips for anyone who is trying to show love and support to someone with a mental illness.

If any of this information is incomplete or outdated, I apologize. And if this post is something you think you might need to read through, please also do more research on your own. I will repeat: I’m no expert. Please seek more knowledgeable resources. In the meantime, hopefully, this can get the ball rolling in the right direction.

In tribute to those who are suffering because of their own battle with mental illness and to all those who have to stand on the sidelines as they witness their loved ones battle.

10 Things You Can Do to Show Support for Someone with Mental Illness:

  1. Research. Ask questions, read articles and books. Devour the information available so that you know how the illness works. Do not let misconceptions make the illness just a “personality quirk”.
  2. Have Reasonable Expectations. If your loved one has a few good days in a row, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean they’re cured. You need to know that and so do they. They should still try not to exceed their limits.
  3. Get Help for Yourself. Every resource I consulted strongly advocated that family members and loved ones of the person with mental illness seek outside support for themselves. A therapist, a support group, etc. You need someone to talk to.
  4. Encourage Them to be Honest with their Treatment Team. Is this medication not working? Does it have some side effects that they’re not comfortable with? The doctor needs to know. They are not disturbing the doctor by being honest, they are reasserting control over their bodies and their lives. Encourage them to do so.
  5. Know Where to Draw the Line. You have to set limits. No matter how much you love someone, if they put you or your mental health in danger, it isn’t helping either of you. Set limits.
  6. Treat Them with Respect. Do not talk down to someone with a mental illness. Speak at an age and maturity appropriate level. Living with mental illness does not lower their IQ.
  7. Be a Good Listener. Ask how they are doing and wait for the answer. Engage in the conversation. Show them you genuinely care. Don’t just hear their words, listen to what they are saying. And this should be a discourse, not a debate.
  8. Pick an Appropriate Setting. If you are going to talk to someone about their mental illness, do it in a place or at a time where they won’t feel ambushed or put on display. They need to be comfortable and willing to share, not called out in front of friends or family.
  9. Don’t Guess. If you don’t know how you can help, ask. Even if you think you already know what is best, ask. It isn’t your life, it’s theirs. They have control. Unless they are in a position where you know they can or will do self-harm. That changes everything.
  10. Remain Calm. If you are speaking to a loved one about their mental illness, it will not help them for you to get heated or melodramatic. I’m not saying you can’t have feelings on the matter, but this isn’t about you. It’s about them and how to best support them.

This isn’t a complete list. Please seek other sources.

Above all, know this: Even if you do everything you are supposed to do, sometimes they lose the battle. It isn’t your fault. It’s not their fault. They were fighting an internal battle and lost. You couldn’t fight it for them, no matter how much you wanted to slay their dragons. And if you lose someone to this battle, it’s okay to seek help for yourself, too.

I sincerely hope that I didn’t mislead anyone with bad advice and again, I strongly suggest seeking other sources, but I wanted to take the opportunity to start a conversation. To serve as a reminder.

10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium

Yesterday was a momentous day for my family. My oldest turned five. He was so excited all day. It was the kind of excitement that’s infectious. Everything was fun and amazing because it was his birthday.

Instead of a party this year, he wanted to go on a creature adventure for his birthday. What can I say? Wild Kratts and Planet Earth are his favorite shows. Anyway, since we live in the south and have family in Georgia, we negotiated a trip to The Georgia Aquarium. He’s been once before and still raves about it.

So perhaps while you’re reading this, I’ll be traipsing through the world’s second largest aquarium with a look of awe to match my son’s. It doesn’t matter whether you’re five or ninety-five, that place is cool.

Which is why today’s post is 10 Things About The Georgia Aquarium.

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Male whale shark at The Georgia Aquarium
  1. When it opened in 2005 it was the largest aquarium in the world. It was surpassed in 2012 by one in Singapore, though after the expansion currently in progress I’m unsure if it will regain the lead.
  2. It sits on land donated by the Coca-Cola Company. And thanks to corporate and private donations, it opened debt free.
  3. It is the only institution outside of Asia to house whale sharks.
  4. More than 100,000 specimens representing over 700 species reside there. Including a manta ray rescued from a net in South Africa–it is one of only four sites worldwide to showcase such.
  5. Its biggest individual tank is 6.3 million gallons, and combined it has more 10 million gallons of marine and salt-water habitats.
  6. While the aquarium has served as an economic boost for Atlanta, the board also pushes education and conservation as prioritized goals. When the dolphin show fell under controversy, it was redesigned to focus more on education.
  7. The coral used in exhibits is man-made and part of a joint project between Georgia Tech and The University of the South Pacific.
  8. The aquarium partners with universities (eg Georgia Tech, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Florida Atlantic University) and the federal government to help save endangered species through research and education.
  9. It has a 4D simulator that can take you on a submarine tour of prehistoric seas.
  10. The aquarium is part of the Smithsonian Affiliations program, and although run as a non-profit, has some of the highest admission charges nationwide.

 

Well, that’s it for November. Maybe next year I’ll give you 10 Things About Veterans’ Day, but for now whale sharks and manta rays are dancing through my head. Just keep swimming!

ARC Review: Unmarriagable by Soniah Kamal

Publication is set for January 15, 2019. If you liked Pride & Prejudice, you’ll want to make this a belated Christmas gift to yourself.

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Alys Binat teaches English Literature at the British School Group of Dilipibad. Her students both admire her dedication and pity her singleness. Alys, on the other hand, not only doesn’t regret being single but has no plans to marry. But she does attend the most anticipated wedding of the year.

During the first of several days of festivities, her sister Jena falls head over heels for Bungles Bingla, despite the thinly veiled insults bandied about by his sisters. Alys also sees a handsome face in the crowd, but when she overhears Valentine Darsee disparaging her and her choices of reading material to Bungles, she decides he’s not quite so handsome after all.

Unfortunately, as the wedding festivities continue and Jena spends more time with the Binglas, Alys is forced to spend more time with Darsee. Everyone thinks he’s such a catch, but Alys can see beyond his wallet to his snobbish pride and has deemed him unmarriagable.

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This is billed as Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. It doesn’t disappoint. The general plot follows the original, but with a distinctly new flair. There is a line in the book that talks about mixing scones and samosas and that is a pretty good way to describe the story itself.

Our favorite sisters are all present; the beautiful and kind Jena, the flirtatious and boundary-pushing Lady, the reserved and pious Mari, and the artistic Qitty. Set in 2000 and 2001 Pakistan, the Binat family once again serves as a commentary on societal expectations of women and the double standards they face. But there are some new changes that I found interesting, too. For example, Qitty spends much of the novel being fat-shamed by Lady. In the original P&P, I found Kitty to be more of a prop or a throwaway character. Here Qitty holds her own and gets the proper ending that Kitty never did.

Another new aspect of the story is the mingling of different religions and cultures. Before the familial falling out that sentenced the Binats to live in Dilipibad, Alys attended international schools and mentions the influence they had on her worldview. There is a mix of Hindu and Muslim traditions, and even the celebration of a Christian holiday by a beloved aunt, as well as a scene that incorporates the closing of the border to India. And don’t get me started on the wedding events. I need this to be made into a Netflix film ASAP just so I can watch the party scenes.

There were a couple of things that brought me out of the story a little, however. There is a lot of exposition. Anything that was necessary for a non-desi like me to understand what was happening from a cultural perspective, I understood. But there were a few instances, especially early on as she covered the family backstory that info dumping slowed the story down quite a bit.

The other down for me was the head-hopping. The story is in the third person omniscient, but it still pulled me out of the tale to slide from Mrs. Binat’s thoughts to Jena’s to Alys’ to Darsee’s in the span of a few sentences.

I have seen a couple of other reviewers who said they found Alys militantly feminist and unlikeable and they thought the Binat sisters too cruel to each other. I, however, would disagree. Given the cultural contexts of each story, the characters are spot on. The original Bennet sisters were quite cutting and judgemental of each other, especially Lydia and Kitty. And I think that Elizabeth would have been thrilled to see her reincarnation in Alys.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The visual created by the setting gave the story new life. I stand by my opener, go ahead and make plans to give this to yourself as a belated Christmas gift. You won’t regret it.

10 Things About Hurricanes

eye of the storm image from outer space
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While both of my children have recently battled sick tummies, leaving me to feel like I should wear a poncho around the house, I promise that isn’t what inspired this post. Though it is one of the reasons the blog has been a little quiet for the last week or so.

I have several family members and quite a few friends who live in different parts of Florida. My sister and several childhood friends live in the panhandle and are battening down the hatches if they didn’t get a chance to evacuate.

Whenever a dangerous storm makes landfall and leaves a wake of devastation and flood waters, I hear at least one person ask “Why didn’t they evacuate?” What that tells me is that this person has very little experience, if any, with hurricanes. And if you’re a writer, you might need to know a little something about it for a story someday. Or maybe just because you’re curious. Either way, board up the windows and move to the high ground. Here are 10 Things You Might Not Know About Hurricanes.

  1. There is a difference between a recommended/voluntary evacuation and a mandatory evacuation. And if evacuation isn’t mandatory (and in some specific cases even if it is) if you don’t have vacation time, you risk losing your job for not showing up to work.
  2. Not everyone has somewhere to go. And if you can’t afford a hotel or the gas to travel to one far enough away, evacuation is difficult. Most government organizations suggest having a plan in place in which you can call on family or friends for help, especially if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, but not everyone has that option.
  3. Some emergency personnel must stay to help with the evacuation efforts, help run storm shelters, hospitals, etc. My sister is a nurse who is in the path of Michael. She is on-call during the storm and while everyone else is evacuating, she’s making sure the storm shelters are fully stocked with emergency medical supplies.
  4. When people start evacuating, a common obstacle is filling up your gas tank. The lines to get to a pump at your local gas station are going to get long very quickly. And if the station runs out of gas, there likely won’t be a petroleum truck coming to restock it before the storm arrives.
  5. If you live on an island, evacuation may be hindered by the wind. Wind gusts of dangerous speeds could mean bridges close down long before the storm arrives.
  6. This type of storm is called a hurricane in the Atlantic. In the North Pacific, it might be called a hurricane or a typhoon. In the South Pacific and in the Indian Oceans they are more commonly called cyclones. A rose by any other name.
  7. Hurricanes rotate clockwise on one side of the equator, but counter-clockwise on the other.
  8. One of the more dangerous parts of a hurricane is the “storm surge”. That means that those high-powered winds are actually pushing water towards the shore causing high waves and flooding. Hurricane Katrina produced the highest storm surge on record at 27.8 feet.
  9. The eye of the storm has no rain and no clouds. It is the center of the storm and it is the point around which the rest of the storm rotates. And this is a scary place to be because what follows the eye is the “eye wall”. It is the most dangerous part of the storm with the heaviest rains, darkest clouds, and strongest winds.
  10. Hurricanes are given names in alphabetical order each season and a name must wait a minimum of six years to be used again. If the storm gets particularly bad, the name may be retired.

And just in case you need more, I’ll throw in this tidbit: the largest hurricane by diameter was Typhoon Tip in 1979. At its strongest, the storm was 1,380 miles in diameter. That might not help you in a story, but it’s pretty impressive. Note: The name Tip has not yet been retired and there have been two more since 1979.

Please keep those in the path of Hurricane Michael in your thoughts and prayers. And if the storm has cut short your plans for Fall Break, please be considerate of those whose full-time homes are in danger as you complain about returning early to yours.

Banned Books Week

I didn’t know there was a specific week to celebrate banned books until my local library posted about it on social media. I think it’s marvelous.

Until I was a senior in high school, I thought banning books was something that happened in other countries. Less developed countries. Less democratic countries. Not the United States. Where I lived, even when the local helicopter moms got hot and bothered about Harry Potter books, the rest of the PTA rolled their eyes and out-voted them.

But when I was in twelfth grade, I took a Southern Literature class. My teacher, who was amazing, gave us an unusual assignment. She passed out a list of the most often banned and challenged books in America and made us choose one to read and report back to the class. I had heard of all the books on the list, and had already read several, but had not realized that they weren’t carried in our school library. Our local public library had most of them. I went to the local bookstore and, as was my habit, spent a lot of time examining the book flaps and blurbs of the ones I had narrowed it down to before choosing one. I probably would have bought more, but back then my book budget was even smaller than it is now.

Part of our report had to include why the book had ever been challenged and then we had to discuss whether we agreed with the censorship of it or not. One by one, each of us vehemently disagreed with the banning of the books, regardless of whether or not it portrayed ideals different from our own. Because banning a book doesn’t change the fact that someone thinks or feels that way. And if we aren’t willing to even read a book written by someone who thinks differently than we do, then we are confining ourselves to a very small worldview.

I sometimes wonder if everyone in my class back then would still agree with that sentiment today. I hope so.

So let’s all celebrate Banned Books Week and read something controversial. Something rebellious. Something contradictory to our views or opinions.

I am reminded of a quote that is often wrongly attributed to Voltaire, but is actually from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing as S. G. Tallentyre) and meant to describe Voltaire’s attitude. It seems a fitting end to this post, so I’ll leave you with these words. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

10 Things About Team Mascots

I love sports. Not only am I riveted by the competition and strategy, but I enjoy the ice-breaker that sports often provide. Whenever I’m far from home and begin to feel isolated, sports have always found a way of making me feel connected again.

When I traveled to Europe for the first time, I was fourteen. I traveled with an educational tour group and the only person I knew at the start of the trip was the chaperone from my school. I can be a bit awkward socially, so this was a recipe for disaster. But early in the trip, I wore a t-shirt bearing the logo of my favorite sports team and someone from another school started a conversation with me about it. I was no longer alone.

When I got an internship in New York City in college, I had no idea where to even look for housing. I had a very small stipend to live on and, as you might guess, things are expensive in the Big Apple. My options were limited. Until I found someone from my alma mater, a fellow Bulldog, who had a loft to rent.

Those are just two of a plethora of stories I can share about how sports connected me to someone. In fact, the first time I met my husband he was the referee for my game. Though, to be fair that meeting did not go well and, thankfully, we met again under other circumstances a few months later.

My point is sports are about more than rules and uniforms. Wherever there are sports, there will be a fandom. Wherever there is a fandom, there will be people that fandom connects, for better or worse. So why deny that to your characters? Build them a world in which they can connect through sports. Give them a common ground. An ice-breaker. Or, if necessary, a jumping off point for their animosity. Because that can happen too.

And if you need a bit of inspiration to build your athletic world around, maybe I can help. I am, after all, more than a sports fan. I’m a nerd. Trivia is my jam. And since school is back in session, let’s talk about school mascots.

  1. The term mascot is actually derived from a French word meaning talisman or lucky charm.
  2. Mascots can and in some cases should change. Many schools have voted to change mascots for a number of different reasons over the years. Common reasons include lack of fan support and/or a racist connotation.
  3. The on-field mascot, meaning the human in costume, might change more often than the mascot itself. Two examples: 1 – Ole Miss is officially the Rebels, but their on-field mascot of Colonel Reb was offensive in his design because he looked like a Civil War Confederate. They have changed their on-field mascot a couple of times in the last few years trying to find something that both resonates with the fan base and is less controversial. 2 – At Stanford, each year the students get to redesign the Cardinal (the tree) on-field mascot to their liking. The school has not had an official mascot since 1972 when they voted to stop being the “Indians” out of respect for cultural issues. The school is simply represented by cardinal (the color).
  4. Sometimes schools don’t actually pick their own mascots. A single line from a sports reporter can sometimes stick. Such is the case for my own Mississippi State Bulldogs. Originally Mississippi A&M, the university was first called the Maroons for the color of their uniforms, and then the Aggies because it has a large agricultural school. But in 1905 a sports reporter wrote about the tireless efforts of our “bulldog defense” and the name stuck. And now Bully is a treasured member of the MSU family. In fact, when the first Bully (Bully I) died, his funeral procession was a half-mile long and included the Famous Maroon Band and three ROTC battalions. He was buried under the bench at the fifty-yard line of the football field. The funeral was covered by LIFE magazine.

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    There have now been twenty-one dogs who have played the role of  Bully. 
  5. And sometimes a school can end up with more than one mascot when nicknames or images stick. The University of Alabama earned the official nickname of the Crimson Tide when a reporter in 1907 described how the offense, in their deep red jerseys, rolled down the field like a crimson tide. However, on the sidelines today, and on their logo, you will also see an elephant named Big Al. This stems from another incident in which the Offensive-line was said to be like a herd of elephants as they stampeded over their opponent (in this particular case it was Ole Miss and has led to a rivalry across state lines between the schools).
  6. The mascot and the battle cry are also different. Auburn University is a good example of this. Auburn’s mascot is a tiger named Aubie. However, many people confuse their battle cry-“War Eagle”-with their mascot. The battle cry is separate and there are many different stories about its origin, but the most popular is from a game against Georgia in which an Eagle that had been found wounded on a Civil War battlefield and restored to health escaped its caretaker and swooped over the team. The fans began pointing and calling out “War Eagle” after which the Tigers won the game. The battle cry remains popular to this day.
  7. Not every team at a school shares the same mascot. Long Beach State is officially known as the 49ers. However, their baseball team is the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Why? Because in 1989 their sub-par baseball team got a new coach who would make them practice on a local all-dirt field that was nicknamed “Dirtbag Field”. They practiced extra hours and ended up with a berth in the College World Series. The nickname is meant to represent the scrappy effort of the team in those days and is proudly claimed today by the baseball team, but no other team at Long Beach State.
  8. Sometimes a mascot is about owning and reclaiming a disparaging nickname. Teams at Delta State University in Mississippi, for instance, were officially the Statesmen while being mocked by those around them as “The Fighting Okra” because of their location in a heavily agricultural area, among other things. Today, you can find Fighting Okra merchandise at Delta State because they have decided to bear the name with pride.
  9. Mascots don’t have to be real things. For instance, there is no such thing as a Nittany Lion. Penn State made it up. And they aren’t alone. Virginia Tech uses “Hokies” as their mascot. It stems from a filler word in a school cheer from 1899 because they decided they didn’t want to be “The Gobblers” anymore. It doesn’t stop either fan base from loving their school.
  10. When a team has an on-field mascot (not all of them do), that mascot is often portrayed by more than one person. It’s often a small team of three or four people and each of them has to try-out with a routine before earning a spot on the team. This is, of course, not true at every school, but for many of them. A lot of the costumes get very hot and cannot be worn by a single person for the duration of a football game without risk of overheating.

Part of me really wants to keep going, but this is only a “10 Things” post and my geek is showing. So that’s it for this month, but I’ll be back with more trivia in October!