Catfish

I recently discovered the MTV show Catfish: The TV show.  Apparently, a Catfish is someone who poses as someone else online or lies about who they are in one way or another in order to lure people into relationships.  I actually ran into a psychopathic Catfish back in 2007.  He was trolling for attention, sex, fantasy, money… The truth is, I can’t begin to understand his psychology.  I only know that I will be happy if I never encounter another person as devious and sick as he.

The episodes of Catfish that I’ve seen haven’t featured anything as sick as what I encountered personally.  Generally, the Catfish seem to fall into a couple general categories:  1) The unhappy man or woman in a committed relationship, looking for fantasy and escape, and 2) Men and women who wish they were more successful, better looking or more exciting.

While I cannot imagine pretending to be someone other than I am, I can understand the desire to escape or present a “better” version of myself.  For instance, I used to post pictures taken at specific angles, designed to make me look thinner.  I got to be fit and it was fun and so much easier than actually working.

I also found myself living somewhat of a fantasy in that I was phenomenally social online and a virtual hermit offline.  I express myself best in writing so being on a social network provided me the opportunity to put my best foot forward: Kate 2.0, that was me.

Eventually, even the small alterations I made became a burden.  I wanted to be accepted in my imperfections.  Connection isn’t  real until it sees and loves fully.  I didn’t want to be a fantasy.  I just wanted to be me, full of imperfections but doing my best to be a kind and compassionate human.

One of the dangers of our cultural obsession with online media is that it tempts us to post only the best pictures of ourselves and it’s easy to white wash our lives, causing us to form incomplete connections.

I used to believe that online friendships were purer and more honest than offline friendships because they level the playing field.  It doesn’t much matter how we look or what we do for a living or where we live.  The thing is, those details do come into play and they’re very much a part of who we are.  When we alter them even slightly we’re presenting ourselves falsely in varying degrees.

I started out online only showing my feet and knees.  It was my thing.  Eventually, I began to show me but always in the best possible light and like I said, it truly bothered me.  It was a long process for me but eventually I came clean and said, “This is me and I’m nowhere close to being your fantasy.”

That gave me the courage to finally go out and meet people I’d known online for years.  I was afraid but I knew they weren’t expecting Kate 2.0.  Without exception, we clicked as well face-to-face as we had online, if not better.  It was a hugely freeing experience for me.

Back to Catfish.  Some of the most compelling stories I’ve seen have been stories of goodhearted, well intentioned people who were afraid they’d never be accepted because of how they looked.  In most instances, appearances didn’t really matter once they were revealed because people had formed heart connections.  The real issue seems to be dishonesty.  Nobody likes being lied to.  It erodes trust.  Better unattractive or dirt poor than dishonest.

Like I said before, I haven’t seen any episodes of the show where there were huge deceits like the one I dealt with in 2007.  Malicious, sick pretenses.  I’ve mostly seen average people who wish they were other than they are, looking for connection.

I wish more of us would get offline and back into life with all it’s challenges and imperfections.  I wish more of us would work to make honest connections and in the process accept ourselves more fully for the beautifully flawed people we are.

Finally, I think the escape element of online life is incredibly damaging and keeps us in unhappy relationships.  Instead of talking to our significant other we escape to a place of fantasy online where everything is shiny and easy.  I love that Nev and Max on Catfish always insist that people deal with their offline relationships before they seek to meet anyone from their online world.  They encourage honesty and courage.

May we all seek to be honest and courageous.

Have you ever met a Catfish?  In what ways do you “manage” your online image?  I’m curious to hear your stories.

Babies not Biological Material

Fetus.  I hate that word and all it has come to mean.  A fetus isn’t a person.  It’s biological material that can be sucked out and thrown away.  Disposed of in any number of ways.

Sometimes I go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon and look at the display of unborn babies suspended in formaldehyde or some other preservative.  In jars like pickles.  Little tiny people.  It’s meant to teach and I know it does but it makes me feel physically sick to see them there.  It feels to me about like I imagine it might feel to walk into a home and find Uncle Albert’s head mounted above the mantle like a deer or elk.  Those are tiny people in those jars.  How can anyone not see it?  I understand that it’s much more comfortable to think of those developing babies as mere biological matter.  It makes it acceptable to erase a “mistake” and continue on as if nothing more has happened than the removal of a mole.

And those of us who have miscarried, who didn’t want to get pregnant but somehow did and considered it a miracle and a gift rather than an inconvenience…

I have nothing more to say right now.  I can’t type through my tears.  What’s wrong with us?  How can we do the things we do and feel perfectly justified doing them?  It’s monstrous.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

A blur of lights and green, happy voices, a single wheel of a wheelchair, red-socked feet.  The camera tilts upright and finds it’s focus, pulling me like the Ghost of Christmas past back to another time when my parents were alive and the children were so small.

My mom in her wheel chair is singing and clapping.  Her voice is tuneless and her hands miss more than they connect but her smile is joyful, beautiful.   Our oldest son appears in frame, grabs his grandma’s hands and helps her clap in rhythm.  Spasms pull against his child’s strength but together they match the Christmas music in the background.  Our oldest daughter squeaks, “Good job, Grandma!  Good job!”

My brother is being a good sport in a pillow stuffed red sweater and Santa beard.  It’s clear he doesn’t know what to do.  The camera bounces as I pull my eye away from the view finder and tell him to find presents.  “Be Santa,” I say.  “Find something for Dad first.”

In response, our dad’s big booming baritone rises over the song that’s playing on the radio as he sings All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth! The words are all wrong, expect for the chorus, but his enthusiasm is sweet.  I remember how I smiled to hear him.  I turn the camera to capture him but only get to his chest before the camera tilts and flashes back to my brother, pulling from under the tree a present.

The video is about 15 minutes long and not once do I capture my father’s face.  I watch and smile through tears.  The only evidence that I was there is my voice and feet.  The only evidence of my father is his voice and flashes of his plaid shirt and brown pants;  hands carefully folding back paper from presents.

The kids run in and out of view, sometimes pulling faces and holding their arms out TA-DAH! as they jump into frame and out again, hamming it up for the camera.

I’ll never forget those Christmases past, those bright shining moments when we were happy and life seemed forever long.  It’s hard for me to believe that both of my parents are gone.  It was my father’s last Christmas.  He died two weeks prior to Christmas the coming year.

One day my children will sit as I am, remembering Christmases past and I’ll be nothing more than a memory.  I want more than anything to leave them with happy memories, which means that I have to live well now.  I have been given no promise of tomorrow.

My friends, I encourage you to do your best to put aside petty worries and concerns, family squabbles, stress.   I well know there are bigger, insurmountable obstacles in families.  I have my own.  But I lay those aside and focus on what’s possible.  I practice love and kindness, court patience.  I try not to sweat the small stuff.

“…once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!”

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Digital Society

A man loses consciousness on stage in front of hundreds of students.  The response is immediate.  Students rush to Tweet and text the event.   The guy on the stage?   He’s unconscious.  And alone.  But not for long.  Here comes someone.  A Senior.  Look!  He’s on stage, approaching the prone man.  He’s… snapping a picture with his cell phone.

Ticktock, the second-hand travels the clock.  A pause.  The formerly unconscious man rises.  He’s dusting off his trousers, looking bemused, making a joke of it.  He’s okay.  Fingers fly across keys, Tweeting and texting updates.  The sense of disappointment is palpable.  The Tweetable moment has passed.  Back to the scheduled event.

It’s not far-fetched.  Something very similar happened when Bill Nye the Science Guy collapsed on stage as he was approaching the podium at USC last week.

********

They’re watching a movie side-by-side, eating popcorn from a shared bowl.  Wiping fingers on their jeans then tapping away at their telephones.

Buzz Buzz

LOL

ROFL

OMG!

The theater is quiet but pinpoints of light dot the auditorium as texts and Tweets fly back and forth.  Conversations and updates.  Talking without speaking.  The cyber communication never stops.

******

Cell phone in hand, I stalk my son at his birthday party.  The light is lovely.  He looks so handsome.  My husband jokes that my photos will appear on Facebook before I go to bed that night.  I glance at him in annoyance.  Not true.  Totally true. That’s exactly what I’m thinking.  I want to share the moment with everyone.  In fact, I am so focused on sharing that I am missing the moment.  I am a spectator at my own child’s birthday party, not a participant.

Back home, I sit at my computer uploading photos.  It’s late.  Past midnight and I have an early morning ahead but I’m not in bed.  I realize that I am becoming less and less present in my life.  I am connecting with people, yes, but from a growing distance. My husband is asleep in bed, alone.

Being somewhat reclusive by nature, I’d rather Facebook than see people face-to-face.  I can Facebook in my most comfy sweats.  I don’t have to make appointments.  I hate scheduling, so being appointment free works for me.  I can be in touch whenever I want.  I can log-off when I’m bored without an awkward good-bye ritual.  Facebook makes communication so easy.

More people know more about my life than they ever did before but they rarely hear my voice or  feel the press of my body in a warm hug.  Not that I don’t speak or hug.   It’s just that my words are typed.  And actually, I hug rather indiscriminately now  and kiss, too.

xoxo

(((((hug ))))))

I hug and kiss people I wouldn’t have thought to hug or kiss before.  Thank you, Facebook, for the gift of remote intimacy.

*muah*

For awhile I let my Facebook page go, but I missed it.  I love having a means to stay in touch with people I’ve met via the Internet, with family and friends I haven’t seen in ages.  I no longer write Christmas letters.  What would I say, for heaven’s sake?!  Everyone already knows everything.

Every now and then I go completely off the grid.  A lot of people seem to think it makes me flaky, wonky, weird, temperamental.  I feel bad for the folks who don’t get it, who can’t imagine why anyone would want to unplug.   It’s a digital society, yes, and I will incorporate it into my life to some degree but I won’t let it rob me of the moment I’m in.  Facebook is a tool I use, like a radio or microwave oven.

If someone collapses in front of me I’ll likely pick up my phone and call 911 but I will not Tweet, text or post a status update on Facebook.

________________________________________

Don’t stop hugging me or kissing me.  xoxo <— I love that.  Sometimes I can actually feel this:  (((((((Kate))))))).  And don’t think I’m judging your updates.  I’m just thinking.  As always, I love it when you think with me.

Barely Human

On television, she sees a story about two gay women adopting a child together and becomes incensed.   It’s bad enough that those women are lost but now they will lead innocent children to hell.  With all her heart she believes this.

Before you judge her, I want you to know that she’s not a bad person.  She’s actually a nice woman who bakes cookies for the school bake sale and volunteers at the local food bank.  It’s just that she’s been taught that God detests homosexuality and gays are sinners.

She knows that she will go to heaven, but they – the gays – will go to hell if they do not repent.

That sense of distance, of difference, allows her to hate but she doesn’t even recognize what she feels as hatred.  In her mind it is righteous indignation that she feels.   She tells herself that her motivation is love.  She desires to see a sinner saved.   In reality, a separation has taken place in her heart and mind; gays are no longer kindred.  An us vs. them mentality has crept in.  The love she professes to feel isn’t really love at all, its hatred wearing a mask.

You might even find the same woman shouting, pumping an angry fist, or holding an ugly sign in a crowd of like-minded citizens.  If you asked her she would tell you that she believes in love and kindness.  That she is taking a moral stance.  That she loves the sinner but hates the sin.

***************

 

Across town, another woman angrily watches TV as election results roll in.  She is passionately liberal, believes in kindness, hates discrimination and intolerance.   As election tallies come in she realizes her side isn’t going to win.  She becomes  incensed. Those people are back in office; the ignorant, conservative, Christian haters and discriminators.  She can’t believe it.

On her way to volunteer at a homeless shelter she sees conservative political signs and Jesus stickers on cars and righteous anger wells up inside of her.  She flips her middle finger and sneers.   She doesn’t see herself as intolerant or hateful, not at all.   That’s the territory of fundamentalist Christians and conservatives.  She’s not like them.

In her mind there is a sharp divide between those she identifies as thinkers, those of her ilk, and those she identifies as the ignorant religious and selfish conservative.   She might even own that she hates them but she feels her hatred to be justified.  After all, those people are so hateful, so intolerant. In her mind, they are barely human.


*************

 

I’m not pointing fingers.   I’m using stereotypes to illustrate a point.  Hatred is so easy when we forget about our shared humanity.  When we see ourselves as belonging to a group called “us” set apart from a group called “them”.

Suddenly we’re hating and we don’t even know it.

Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I want to walk in the way of love and kindness.  I want to do better, be better.  But sometimes I forget how to love, just like you.  Remembering starts with recognizing our shared humanity.  That person you or I have a problem with – the person on welfare, the wealthy, the immigrant, the white man, the liberal, the conservative, the atheist or Christian…  they’re our kin.  

We need to love with intention.

The Dream

If only ____(insert something)____ everything would be better, come together; then I could pursue my dream.

I have a dream and you do too.  We all do.  And we all have if onlys.  You know, if only I could lose x-number of pounds.  If only I could find the love of my life.  If only I had more money.

I watched The Count of Monte Christo last night.  There are many lessons inside that story but the one that resonated inside of me was the one about a man with a dream that was impossibly out of reach.  Still, he reached for it.

He reached for it against all odds,  past prison and near death, beyond betrayal, and the loss of everything he held dear, including his awareness of God, and then he became RICH beyond his wildest imagining and that got in the way of his dream, too.  Finally, having got past every conceivable distraction, he realizes his dream in a fairy tale ending, but the point of it, for me, was that anything and everything can get in the way of the dream.

Personally, I would pursue my dream if only I could get away, throw off responsibility and head for sunshine, beaches of sparkling white sand, or maybe the mountains, redolent of pine…  Then, I would write.  Then, I…

Well, likely, I would be distracted by Pina Coladas, sunshine, surf, or forest trails that beg to be wandered.  My point is that I would be distracted by something.  A change of location and lessening of responsibility would not necessarily facilitate the pursuit of my dream, as much as I like to think it would.  The only way for me to finish my novel – listen carefully, ’cause this is complex – is for me to start writing again.

In moments of discontent, my life feels too small. I used to travel the world, live out of a suitcase. No money? No worries. Somehow something would come up. I remember jumping up with a WHOOP and pumping my fist because I found 29 cents under the couch cushions when I lived in the Manoa Valley in Hawaii and I could go to McDonalds and get a hamburger because they were having a big hamburger sale and I WAS RICH!

I remember – score! – catching a ride with my thumb in the back of a limo to a private beach only locals knew about and I was – score again! – a brown, barefoot girl.  A Kama’aina (a child of the land).   God, I loved those days.  I sang at night, prowled the island by day.  Worry was something nearly foreign to me.  I shared a tiny room – 12′x12′, MAYBE, with five other girls in triple bunk beds and it was just about perfect.

I should mention that I had the same dream then.  I would write a book.  I would write it when I was done wandering.  I had to live a bit more before I settled down to write but one day I would do it.

Well, I’m done wandering.  Now, I have all this responsibility and I would write if only I wasn’t so damn stressed out.  Really.  If only I didn’t have so much responsibility.   If only I could just pack a bag and go live off the money mined from couch cushions in the Manoa Valley.  If only…

_____________________________________________

How about you? Do you have a dream that wants pursuing?  What are your if onlys?

To Kate with Love

It was day two of our freshman year in college when I complimented my shy Japanese-American roommate on the lovely, hand-woven necklace she was wearing.  In response, she immediately unfastened the necklace and  handed it to me with a smile.  I admired it then tried to give it back but every time I reached out my hand she took a step back.  “It’s yours,” she said. “Please keep it.”

Thus began the catastrophe of gift-giving that marked my freshman year in college.  I reciprocated by giving her one of my favorite necklaces.  Her next gift came head-spinningly fast.  It was an all expenses paid weekend in Vegas.

I suggested perhaps we shouldn’t give gifts.  She agreed, even as she was handing me another gift.

I learned not to compliment her on anything she owned, because whenever I did, she would immediately gift the item to me.  It was painfully uncomfortable.  I swear, if I’d complimented the color or style of her toothbrush, as she was brushing her teeth, she would have bowed, removed it from her mouth, and given it to me!

A year or so later, living in Japan, I learned that the gift giving “thing” is cultural.  During my freshman year in college, however, I hadn’t a clue.

Flash forward.

I recently put a great deal of thought into buying a book for a friend, one I thought she would love.  She gave it a cursory glance, showing little interest (how rude!), then less than a month later gifted the same book back  to me for my birthday.   She said, utterly straight faced, that she’d heard it was an excellent book, albeit she hadn’t actually read it yet herself.  A half smile played around the corners of my mouth as she said it.  I mean, the book still had my inscription on it, which kinda worked since her name is Kate and so’s mine.  You know, “To Kate, with love.  Kate.” I laughed out loud, thinking it was a joke.  It wasn’t.

I had no idea what to say, so I said, “Uh, thanks Kate.  I love this book.  In fact, it’s one I could easily see myself giving you.” She frowned slightly and said, “You’ve already read it?”  I smiled, yes.  She offered to take it back.  I flipped it open to the inscription and showed her with a wry smile.  She scratched her head in puzzlement and said, “I don’t remember inscribing it…”  There had to be a bit of willful ignorance at play by then because it was clearly my handwriting, not hers.  But that’s Kate, God bless her.  :)

Anyway, this holiday season our hands are tied.  We’ve already decided we won’t be buying gifts, not even within the confines of our immediate family, not even for our kids.  We simply cannot afford to this year.  I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of coming up with something I have on hand or can make for my children.  Holidays like Christmas have nearly lost their meaning in the midst of rampant materialism, at least in my opinion.  It will be nice to take another step back from that.

What about you?  Have you ever given or received an obvious re-gift?  Ever experienced an awkward gift exchange?  What are your plans for the holidays and how do you handle the giving and receiving of gifts?