The Definition of You

Dear Women,

Come in a little closer. I want to talk to you. You men can read this as well, and maybe you should.

For every single woman out there, I want to say: don’t let any man or any standard define you. Yes, that is a two part statement and I will explain. If you have a moment to give me, please continue on.

First, don’t let a man define you. YOU are a person. You don’t need a man to make you whole. You need to believe in you, who you are, what you look like, and what you can achieve. YOUR value is not in the opposite sex. YOUR value is in how you view yourself. YOUR value should never be determined by someone else. 

Female outlines with different figuresWhen you look in the mirror, don’t think about what a man wants you to be. Think about what you want to be. Think about what you can do to make you feel great about yourself. Here’s the thing: if you can’t love yourself when it is just you, then how are you going to love yourself if you get with someone and then they leave?

Some men can make you a better person by building you up when you are down, complimenting you when you need one, and pushing you to be a better person, to take care of who you are. But let’s be honest, a lot of men aren’t going to do that. A lot of men aren’t going to put your needs and your feelings before theirs. (Please note: I said a lot of men, not all men, so for you fellas getting all bent out of shape right now, cool your jets. It will be okay.)

On the same coin, but the opposite side, some men can make you a far worse person because they will tear you down and insult you; some will even beat you down and do horrible things to you. They don’t have a gentle touch and their end goal is to control you. Don’t be with that man. Please, don’t be with that man. If you are with that man, leave him. Yes, I said leave him. You don’t need that in your life.

Second, don’t let a standard define you. Don’t let the standard Hollywood and beauty magazines have set be what defines you. You don’t have to look like any of those models in any of those magazines to love yourself. You don’t have to look like a Barbie doll to be beautiful. The Barbie figure is not attractive at all, in my opinion. You don’t have to be a Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez or Ashley Judd to be beautiful. You have to be you, and you have to love you and you have to have confidence in who you are.

Speaking of confidence: Confidence is the sexiest thing a person can have. When a person is confident, she holds her head high, she smiles, she is not afraid to make eye contact with the opposite sex (or the same sex if that is what she is attracted to). When a person is confident, she wears clothes that make her feel good. And here’s the thing about confidence: you don’t have to be five foot four and weigh a hundred and ten pounds to be confident. You can be six foot ten or four foot ten and three quarters, or weigh three hundred pounds. It doesn’t matter. Confidence is sexy.

Girls, young ladies and women, please don’t look at the magazines or Hollywood actresses and say ‘I wish I looked like that.’ Don’t do it. When you say that, you put yourself down. When you say that, you demean yourself. Don’t do it. Love you. Love every inch of who you are. Love every smooth or blemished part of you. Don’t put yourself down by comparing yourself to someone else. Don’t be someone else. Be you. Love you. Respect you.

I have a beautiful wife, both physically and in personality. She is smart and caring. She is sarcastic and loving. She is attractive and sexy. She is determined and stubborn. She is everything I want and more in a woman. And she doesn’t need me. She doesn’t. She can do everything I can and in many cases, she does them better than I do. 

Over the last six weeks, she has been working hard to lose weight. During that time period, I have watched her confidence in herself grow, and that has nothing to do with me. She wanted to do something for her own benefit. She wanted to do something good for herself. Again, that has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her loving herself. I listen to her when she talks about what she is doing. It makes me happy to see her happy, so I listen and ask questions. Her confidence is sexy to me. Her confidence makes me smile. It also makes her smile. And that is what matters. 

She doesn’t need me. I’m fortunate she wants me. My point is you don’t need another person to make you love you. You have to love yourself. You have to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in who you are. It doesn’t matter how tall or short, thin or big you are, what color your hair, your eyes or your skin is. You have to define who you are. No one else can define you unless you let them. Please, love, love, LOVE yourself. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Who Do You See?

On some mornings I go to the post office for my job. It is less than two blocks away and I walk; rain, shine, hot, cold. It’s what you do when your family has one car and you don’t drive to work. I usually get there a couple of minutes before the post office opens.

There are ten people who I would consider regulars at eight in the morning at the post office. They are: Six men. Four women. We all get our mail and go about our business. On the average day, these ten people spend less than five minutes around each other; most of the time, maybe two minutes, tops. 

DiversityI could leave it at six men and four women and it wouldn’t matter to you or really anyone else. But I’m not going to do that. Here is a breakdown of those regulars: three white men, three black men, one white woman, one Asian woman, two black women. No, race doesn’t matter, nor does their gender, but I’m going to try and make a point here. Now you know a little bit about the ten people who show up at the post office at the same time every morning. 

Let’s take it a step further. One of the white men is an older gentleman at almost seventy. He is former military and his voice is monotone. He always wears a VFW hat and he always says ‘good morning,’ and ‘have a great day.’ Another white man is probably around sixty, maybe a tad older and always parks his car in the wrong direction. His hair is jet black (probably dyed) and slicked back with hair gel. He is thin and tall and his shoes always clop hard against the tiled floor of the post office. He rarely speaks. The third white guy, well, that would be me. I guess I am middle-aged now at just under fifty.

The Asian woman is thin and short and wears long skirts and black boots. Occasionally, she wears a pair of black pleated slacks. Her hair is long and black and she is probably a little younger than I am. She is pretty when she smiles, plain when she doesn’t. 

One of the black women drives a white van and is nearing sixty. She has had shoulder surgery and heel surgery within the last year. She always says ‘God bless,’ and she always brings a little hand cart when she comes in. The other black woman is young and pretty and seems to be put together (as in her attitude and how she carries herself). She always wears red lipstick and her eyes are big and brown—one of her best features. She is polite. She also knows she is attractive, but she doesn’t flaunt it. 

The lone white woman is probably my age, maybe a tad younger. She is tall, has brown hair and frowns as if she probably wishes she were a little trimmer. She doesn’t smile often, but just in the last few weeks she has started saying ‘good morning’ to everyone.

One of the black men is slightly built and soft spoken. He is a Christian who always shakes my hand when we cross paths. The second black man works for the Supreme Court and drives a black SUV. He wears a gun on one hip and looks like he could have played defensive end for the Chicago Bears at one time. He always checks out the pretty black lady when she comes in. The last of the group is a black man in his late sixties who works part time in the building attached to the post office. He wears a blue uniform shirt and dark pants every day. He is missing most of his teeth and some folks might say his elevator doesn’t quite go all the way to the top. He always says ‘hey,’ and he laughs a lot. 

Does any of that really matter? Probably not to most people, because, let’s be honest, most people don’t care. Here’s a few questions for you: when you look at someone you don’t know, what do you see? Do you see the color of the person’s skin? The gender? Is your first impression based on the person’s appearance? Here’s an even bigger question: do you take the time to actually see the person? Not their skin color or their gender or the clothes they wear. Do you actually see their faces? Do you actually take the time to see the up or down turn of the lips? Do you see the eyes, if they dazzle or have been dulled by life’s burdens?

Do you see people. 

ALONE.jpgOne of the issues I feel we, as human beings, have, is we don’t see people outside of our own little world. Sure, we see someone, but we don’t take a second or two to consider that the person you see is someone’s child, maybe a brother or sister, mom or dad. That person has feelings and hopes and dreams. That person may be going through something terrible right then. That person may be thinking of someone he or she loves. That person might be just trying to get through a crappy day and all they want is to be home so they can rest. 

One thing I know is this: you can make or break someone’s day. How? Well, saying ‘hello,’ and giving someone a smile. That’s not obligating you to carry on a conversation, but showing someone that you see that person, that that person is not invisible, and so many of us feel invisible, like no one cares. 

You can break a person’s day by ignoring them if they say ‘hey,’ and smile at you, or by saying something bad about them (whether you know them or not). A mean word goes further than a good word. Negativity always overrides positivity. And yeah, it is easier to break someone down than to build someone up. 

[[Side Note: I know the world is a bad place these days and strangers can be dangerous. I’m not saying engage in conversations with strangers. I’m saying, don’t be mean. Don’t be rude. Don’t give a stranger a ride, either, but you can be a good person, a good samaritan, so to speak, by just being nice. End Side Note]]

If you think I am wrong about making and breaking someone’s day, then let me ask you two questions. You can feel free to answer them or not. Have you ever been in a great mood and someone did or said something negative that ruined your entire day? On the flip side, have you been sad or down or in a bad mood and someone did something or said something that cheered you up and brightened your day? 

YOU have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. All you have to do is actually see them. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, sexual preference your they are—what matters is do you see them? I think—thinking here!—that if we, as human beings, would take the time to actually see others for what they are (other human beings), then maybe we’ll be slower to react negatively or say something derogatory or just be rude. Maybe, just maybe, the world can be a kinder place … if we would all just see each other.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Man Up, Treat Women Right

I’m going to say this first and then move on: this blog is directed at men. You women can read it, too, but please understand, most of this is directed at the men and I’m not sure how nice (or not) it will be.

Let’s just jump right in.

If you think it is okay to touch a woman in any way, shape or form, without her consent, you Sir, are a douchebag. If you think grabbing a woman anywhere in her private areas is not sexual assault, you Sir, are a disillusioned douchebag who needs your genitals grabbed and ripped off. If you think it is okay to ‘have sex’ with a woman when she says no over and over, you Sir, are a rapists and a douchebag who needs your genitals ripped off and thrown into a wood chipper.

14650504_10157828584645001_4524690378420616983_nOn the logic of grabbing women in her privates and it not being sexual assault: if I used that logic and apply it to me beating the life out of someone who grabs my wife or daughter or sister or niece, then I guess that wouldn’t be attempted murder. It’s stupid logic.

Women are not our property. Women are not our sex slaves. Women are not inferior to men. Women are not to be dominated by men. Dear Sirs, let me run something by you: Can you bring LIFE into this world? Can you pass a baby through the tip of your ‘manhood’ and then still want sex? No? You can’t? Really? Women can, and that, Dear Sir, makes her a total bad ass in my book.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: there would not be a single man alive right now if not for a woman, after all, they gave birth to every man out there.

But it takes two to Tango. That’s a dance, Mr. Douchebag, and a cliche term at best.

But without a man to get the woman pregnant… Oh shut up. You are a sperm donor. Period. A woman doesn’t need a man to put the sperm inside of her—they have medical procedures for that now, and though the sperm is provided by a man, the man is not needed for the physical act of sex. You’ve been replaced by willing men with a hand and a magazine (and they get paid to be donors of the non-physical type).

Let me pose a question for you, Dear Sir: how would you like it if a woman grabbed your crotch against your will? What’s that? Some of you would like that? Again, shut up, Mr. Douchebag. I am willing to bet you wouldn’t like it. Why? Because when a man grabs a woman, he is not gentle, so if a woman grabbed your boys and gave a good squeeze (you know, the way you, Mr. Douchebag, grabs a woman’s breasts and squeezes) it would hurt and you would either fall to the ground in pain or punch the woman in the face and then fall to the ground in pain.

But that’s different. No, it’s not. Sexual assault is sexual assault and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman who does it. It’s wrong. End of story.

If you are the guy who thinks it is okay to look down on women because they are, well, women, then you are a significant part of the problem. If you are that guy and you have a son or sons, then you are also influencing the problem, because your kids will see your actions and they will develop their own attitudes about women based on what you do.

You are a man. Do you know what your job is where women are involved. Notice I didn’t say your woman, I said women, as a whole. Your job is to provide for them. Your job is to protect them. Your job is to make sure they know they are loved. Your job is to respect them. Your job is to lift them up.

Your job is not to control them. Your job is not to treat them like your personal sex toys. Your job is not to berate them or put them down. Your job is not to mooch off of them.

You job is to be selfless and put them before yourself. Yes, that’s what I said and if you can’t grasp putting a woman before yourself, then you, Sir, are Mr. Douchebag, capital on the D.

Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I’m new school. Honestly, I don’t care. What I do care about is how men view women. Being a man isn’t about how much money you make or how many women you can bed or how much authority you have over people. Being a man is about responsibility and taking care of yours. It’s about owning up to your mistakes and not laying blame on everyone but yourself. Most important, being a man is about how you treat people, it’s about how you treat those you may deem lesser than you are (and if you think anyone is lesser than you are, then, yes, you are still a douchebag—every person is someone. They may not be to you, but to someone else, everyone is someone).

I’m not going on about this too much longer, but just understand, groping a woman without her consent is sexual assault. Grabbing a woman’s privates is sexual assault. Forcing yourself on a woman (rape) is sexual assault. If you think differently, then you are part of the problem and if a man (or a woman, for that matter) throat punches you or cuts little Richard off then please, don’t consider that physical assault, because, based on YOUR logic, it isn’t.

Now, to the women out there. You don’t have to take that crap. If someone sexually assaults you, tell someone. If that person doesn’t listen, tell someone else and keep doing that until someone listens to you. If you feel threatened by someone when they approach you, by all means grope them where it hurts most, but please, do so with claws out, and squeeze, baby, squeeze. Make them hurt. Don’t be afraid to kick them and don’t get scared when they double over and vomit and look as if they can’t breathe (they can’t, and that is your opportunity to run).

Women. They are not our trophies. They are not our property. Real men understand that.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

The Nature of the Beast…

I want to touch on something that I never thought I would touch on, but since it was brought up to me recently (oh, I don’t know, maybe as recently as this morning), I think it’s something that needs to be thought about. The question was simple:

Why is it that folks freak out anytime a woman in a story is beaten or killed, but when it’s a man…no one really cares?

That’s a good question. Can anyone answer that objectively?

I thought about it for a few minutes before responding.

I’ts reality. Bottom line. Reality hurts, especially when it is women and children.

The truth is it’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s wrong. A life is a life, no matter race, sex, sexual orientation or age. All life should be honored and respected.

Is a man being brutally beaten any different than a woman? Honestly, yes. Why? Before I answer this, let me preface anything else that I write here. This is solely my opinion on the matter. What I say may anger some women’s rights advocates. If so, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some child rights advocates. Again, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some men’s rights… oh, wait, there are no real men’s rights advocates. I find that, in and of itself, interesting. If you find what I am about to write controversial… well, it is what it is. I don’t believe it is, but I have been known to be wrong.

So, why do folks take offense when a woman is beaten (or a child for that matter) in fiction, but not really bat an eye when a man has the same things done to them?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties and in the south, I was taught that you don’t raise a hand to a woman. Not everyone was taught this values. In all honestly, not many kids are taught these values. But, for me, striking a woman isn’t an option… unless they are trying to hurt you. Then, you must protect yourself. However, there is protecting yourself and there is the use of excessive force. Yeah, we hear that term when referring to police, but all too often men use excessive force on women and children to either show their superiority or to discipline them. Some men are obsessive and controlling. They are dangerous to women and children and even other men they deem weaker to them. We see this all the time when we read the papers or turn on any news channel.

Give those same men alcohol or let them have a bad day and that frustration tends to be taken out on… you guessed it, the women and the children.

Like I said, we see this all the time in reality. Why put it in our fiction? Because it’s real and as writers we have a responsibility to the readers to make our characters and their situations as believable as possible. But, let’s do it with some tact, okay? We don’t have to go into all the gory details. The implied deeds are often so much worse on the imagination than the shown deeds.

Wait, I just mentioned a man beating a woman or child. It happens in real life and you better believe we get up in arms about it. Rightfully so. I’ve been in more than a couple of fights with big bad bully men in my days, mostly because they were either hurting a woman or someone weaker than them. I put another man in the hospital because he beat up a kid. No, I don’t put up with it in real life. You want to anger me? Hurt a woman. Hurt a child.

In fiction, if I’m going to tell the truth about life, then life has to be depicted… truthfully. If that means there is a woman who gets beaten by an unruly boyfriend because he’s a drunk prick, then so be it. If that means a kid suffers at the hand of his father (or mother as we’ve seen in real life) then I write it. Again, I don’t write the full-blown details unless I absolutely have to.

There’s a scene in an unpublished novel I wrote about six years or so ago. In it a teenager dies brutally at the hands of other kids in the neighborhood. When I was done with the scene I felt sick to my stomach. It was–and may still be–the most brutal thing I have ever written. I almost deleted the entire book after writing it. After going back and reading it, I realized it was the only way that I could have written the scene—violently enough to make a reader cringe, but also give the character enough reason to come back as a ghost later on and do all the damage he does in the book. Any other way and the impact would have been lost on the reader.

That scene was a bunch of boys killing another boy, one clearly weaker than them. Sound familiar? The dominant member of the species killing off the less dominant one. Kind of like a pecking order. I’m not condoning it, just saying this is the way life is.

If you’ve read anything by Jack Ketchum then you are familiar with someone who writes some very disturbing and often brutal stories. In his book, The Lost, Ketchum’s main character kills two women because he believes them to be lesbians. He doesn’t kill them because they are women, but because he thinks they are gay women. That ratchets things up a notch. They’re not just women, but lesbians. That makes it worse.

Why?

Why does that make it worse? Does being a lesbian make them any weaker than being straight? I would think not. However, this takes the murders more into the realm of hate crimes, which is viewed, by and large, as worse than someone killing a straight woman. Murder is murder no matter how you slice it. The black and white of the matter is that there really is no difference between killing a man or a woman or someone who is white, black or Asian. Murder is murder. Brutality is brutality, regardless of who it is done to.

The truth is the strong prey on the weak and only when the weak fight back does the strong back down.

Okay, enough on that. Let me see if I can get to the point now. Men are viewed as the dominant sex. Biblically, men are supposed to protect the women and the children and the women and the children are to submit to man. Don’t throw the rotten tomatoes just yet. However, men are supposed to be nurturing and slow to anger the women and the children. It’s a two way street. Sure, men can be the dominant ones in most relationships, but they are also supposed to be the protective ones.

This could very well play into the psyche of many people, depending on how they were raised. Maybe that’s where some of this comes from. Men are supposed to be dominant andprotective. If they are not protecting then they are hurting. And no man should hurt a woman or a child… or a weaker person. As I told that fellow I put in the hospital all those years ago, ‘Come pick on someone who can fight back.’

Back to the original question and I’m going to switch it around a little:

Why don’t people get as upset about men getting beaten and killed as they do women and children?

All life should be treated equally. If a man gets stabbed 47 times it should be treated with the same disgust and sadness as if it were a woman being stabbed 47 times. There should be no difference.

However, a child is considered helpless and the hurting of children strikes a nerve with most people. And it should. If it doesn’t then I venture to say something is wrong with people these days. The thought of a child being hurt by an adult makes me hurt on the inside. It angers me and I want to just break that person over my knee. I may not be a big guy, but I was raised in the south in a little section of South Carolina known to the locals as Broadacres. I was a Broadacres boy growing up and if you couldn’t fight, you got your butt kicked on a regular basis. So, let me hear about someone hurting a child…

I think—keyword here, think—that part of the reason people freak out when a woman or child is hurt or killed in a story is that we see this stuff all the time, as I mentioned before, in the news, on television, on the computer feeds. Readers want to escape reality and reading about a man hurting a woman or child or, maybe not even a man doing it, but any type of event where a woman or child gets hurt is just putting them right back into the real world. I understand that. I get that. I respect that.

But (yes, there is always a but) as a writer, I want to put you into my world. I want you to feel what my characters are feeling. I want you to experience their pain, sorrow, happiness, triumphs and revenge. I can’t do that if I don’t bring the reality into the story. It’s the nature of the beast that we call writing.

Still, in real life, a man’s life is viewed somewhat less than a woman’s or a child’s. I find that somewhat sad. Maybe it’s the helplessness we attribute to women and children that polarizes their deaths more so than a man’s. Maybe it’s the way we were raised. Maybe it’s that sense of taboo, that feeling that killing a man is one thing but hurting or killing a woman or a child is crossing the line. That last one I don’t understand. All life should be treated the same. Man. Woman. Child. The elderly. Black. White. Tanned. Straight. Gay. And, in my opinion, the unborn.

I think I may have raised more questions than answers, but I tried to be objective, tried to have an unbiased eye on this. I’m not sure I succeeded.

If you’re willing, feel free to discuss the question. Give your opinions (thoughtful opinions) on the subject. Help me answer my friend’s question. I think it’s one that begs to be discussed and, hopefully, answered.

As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.

Until we meet again…