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Here’s my latest book review about Planet Heartbreak by Vikki Stark, which is a companion piece to Stark’s previous book, Runaway Husbands, which really resonated with me on a personal level. I decided to write a text-only review because I know I would totally lose it if I even attempted to do a video review.

In September, 2011 I underwent hip surgery. My loving husband took great care of me before and after my surgery. He took a temporary leave from his NASA job so he could take care of me while I recuperated. He drove me to my outpatient physical therapy sessions. Once he had to return to work a couple of months later, he lined up various friends who drove me to and from physical therapy. One of my friends later told me that when we went to their home for a Christmas party they threw we seemed so happy together. On Christmas Day he made a lovely dinner for the two of us where he said he used beer as a themed ingredient while he made French onion soup and a seafood dish in a beer broth.

Imagine my surprise when, just three days after Christmas, my husband arrived home from work. He had a wild-eye look on his face as he blurted out “I’m moving out,” said that he had rented a room, and threw three pieces of paper in my direction before bolting out the door. I looked at the three pieces of paper. One was my first alimony check. One was a schedule to separate our finances he had written out that would culminate in our eventual divorce. The third was a letter where he essentially blamed the fact that I had purchased a doll the day before my hip surgery as a reason why he had to leave home because the doll added to the clutter of our home.

At first I thought he had just snapped. I knew he was under stress from my surgery, the stresses at his job (he was working on a major satellite project at the time), the fact that he was battling bronchitis, and he had just been diagnosed with high blood pressure. But he refused to speak with me even though I tried leaving voice mail messages (he refused to pick up when I called his phone), text messages, and emails. I found out through friends that he had left me for one of our friends who has been battling severe depression for most of her adult life (she had just been granted SSI disability shortly before he left me).

In the wake of his leaving me, I did a Google search on “my husband ran away from home” and I was directed to this website that also served as the promotion for a book written by Vikki Stark called Runaway Husbands. I ordered that book from Amazon and even paid extra to have it rush-delivered to my home. I read and re-read that book so many times over the past few years that I think I have gotten it memorized by now. It was such a great help to me as it helped me to brace myself for whatever horror my husband threw at me (such as the fact that nearly a year after he left home he sent a divorce petition in a .PDF format that was attached to an email he sent on Christmas Eve). My ex-husband married the other woman just two months after our divorce was final.

In one of our very rare and brief face-to-face conversations my husband said that it was my fault that he had to leave home and hook up with that mentally ill woman. I later found out through friends that they saw him flirting and actively pursuing that woman at the cafe where she used to work two nights a week while I was home recuperating from that surgery. Given his current state of mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he blames me for the fact that he married this woman soon after our divorce was final.

Not too long ago I found out that Vikki Stark had published a companion volume to Runaway Husbands, which I have recently finished reading. This one is called Planet Heartbreak and it’s a series of essays written by women whose spouses have abruptly left them. While the original Runaway Husbands book had testimony written by women whose husbands had left them, they were interspersed with Vikki Stark’s writings about her research into not only the abrupt demise of her own marriage (her husband suddenly walked out on her the day after she returned home from a tour promoting her first book that she wrote about sister relationships) but other women’s marriages that had also met a similar quick end.

Planet Heartbreak is different in that it consists entirely of essays written by women whose marriages had ended with no advanced warning that their marriages were even in trouble. Vikki Stark included women who had young children, women with adult children, women who never had children, young adult women, middle-aged women, even senior citizens who had been married for a few decades. There is even an essay written by a woman who had been in a long-term same-sex relationship with another woman until her spouse abruptly left her and their two adopted children. In short, there are essays written by women who come from all walks of life.

The one thing that struck me as I read these essays is that all of the husbands are depicted as suddenly switching from being kind and loving spouses to being incredibly cold, indifferent, distant, and even nasty. This fits my ex-husband perfectly. He has gone from being a very sweet, friendly guy who had a great sense of humor to being this totally distant unfriendly stranger—the kind of person I would never even consider dating in the first place let alone marry him.

The only silver lining is that many of our longtime friends have noticed a change in him as well. They have told me about how unhappy he looks these days and his second wife also looks unhappy. Sadly I can’t do a thing about this, especially since he divorced me. He was the one who left me for a mentally ill woman. He was the one who sued me for divorce and married her just two months after our divorce was final. It’s like what Dr. Phil frequently says on his TV show, “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

At the beginning of the book Vikki Stark advises the reader to try not to read the entire book in one sitting, which I personally think is good advice. Many of the stories in these essays are gut-wrenching to read at times. Some women had to sell their marital home because they couldn’t afford to keep it. Some women with minor children still had to deal with the minefield of coparenting with a now-hostile ex. One of the women wrote about how her husband has not only cut her out of his life but has also cut out their adult son and 8-year-old grandson as well.

There were two essays where the husbands regretted what they did and wanted to reunite with their wives. One of the women decided to remain separated for the time being and just take things slowly by seeing her ex once or twice a month. The other woman, who’s a devout Christian, welcomed her husband back into their home as he told her that Satan made him leave her and she has basically forgiven him for what he did to her. Those two essays are a far cry from the fairy tale ending “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Vikki Stark wrote that Planet Heartbreak is meant to be a companion volume to her previous book and people should really read the first book before reading her latest one. For me Runaway Husbands helped me deal with what to expect regarding my husband. Planet Heartbreak only further drove the point that what happened to my marriage wasn’t really 100% my fault and there was absolutely nothing I could say or do to get my husband to change his mind and return home.

While Planet Heartbreak isn’t required reading for those who are dealing with their own runaway spouses, I would recommend it for anyone who’s still reeling from an unexpected divorce and has read Runaway Husbands so many times that they have memorized it because reading other people’s stories does provide a chance for healing and hope for the future.

I have one minor quibble with the book. At the beginning of each essay there is a mention about how long each woman had been separated from her husband (which ranges from two months to over 10 years). I wished the essays had been better organized according to the length of the separation (meaning that the essays written by the newly separated would be in front of the book while the longer separations being located towards the end) because it would’ve been easier for someone who’s been separated for—let’s say—three months to find the essays from the recently separated while people who’ve been separated longer can find the essays from the women who have also been separated for over a year or more. I think grouping the essays according to length of separation would provide one with an idea of how it’s possible to recuperate from something as traumatic as a spouse who has ran away from home.

For me reading Planet Heartbreak has helped me to accept the fact that the man I once knew is gone for good and some stranger with an unfriendly personality is currently inhabiting his body. I don’t regret getting this book.

Ramadan

I’m devoting this Throwback Thursday post to my wedding day mainly because today is not only what would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me for someone else but June 8 falls on a Thursday this year. June is the month that many couples in the U.S. traditionally get married. On top of it this month is LGBTQ Pride Month and I have a wedding-related story that definitely fits with that theme.

A couple of months ago on March 31 I saw a bunch of stories suddenly crop up on my Facebook feed about people speaking openly about either being transgender themselves or having a friend or loved one who is transgender. I didn’t know that the transgender community have been having an International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 since 2009. This year it really took off with all of the testimonials about transgender people and issues. I only wished someone had given me advanced notice because I would’ve told my own particular story then. So I decided to wait until Pride Month to tell my own story.

I grew up being completely ignorant about transgender people. I was raised Roman Catholic and the topic of being transgender was simply never brought up in church. The local public school system never mentioned that topic either in all the years I was a student there. The first person I recalled who actually had sex-reassignment surgery was a British man named James Morris, who became known as Jan Morris after having the surgery. I was a kid then and I thought it was pretty mind-blowing that one could change genders like that. I remember Jan Morris got tons of publicity and it ignited all kinds of debate about transsexuals (which is what transgender people were referred as at the time).

A few years later a tennis player named Renée Richards attempted to compete in the U.S Open as a female athlete. She became controversial when it was revealed that she was originally born a man and she, too, had a sex change operation. There were female tennis players who protested the idea of her being included in their tournaments.

When I was in college I picked up a copy of Gloria Steinem’s book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which was a compilation of articles that she wrote in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among those articles was a 1977 essay about the Renée Richards controversy called “Transsexualism.” Her hypothesis was that people opted for sex change operations because of the rigid gender roles that were proscribed in society, which dictates that boys don’t cry and girls don’t play sports. She basically said that if society were to loosen gender roles then men won’t feel the need to have sex change operations so they can express emotions more easily and women could play sports without having sex change operations to become men. Her closing words were “But the question remains: If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

In the years since Gloria Steinem wrote her “Transsexualism” essay, there have been major changes in terms of gender roles. More men are opting to become stay-at-home dads while their wives work full-time. There are now male nurses, female doctors, male flight attendants, and female postal workers. The WNBA is a professional women’s basketball team and there is the FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer. Women’s basketball, women’s hockey, and women’s soccer are all Olympic sports. Yet, despite these advances in gender equality, more and more people are coming out as transgender because they feel that they have literally been born in the wrong body, with the most prominent being Caitlyn Jenner, who once won an Olympic gold medal as Bruce Jenner.

During my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park, I met a couple of gay and lesbian students but my first-hand experience with transgender people was limited to going to a midnight screening of a certain cult film that has this musical number:

After college my fiancee and I decided to get married and it was my fiancee who, out of the blue, said that he wanted a church wedding. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) I had stopped going to mass and I would’ve been content with a civil marriage by a justice of the peace. I told him that we would’ve had to go to marriage classes if we were to be married in the Roman Catholic church while he would have to promise that any future children we had would be raised Catholic. He remembered an ad I had shown him that was published in The Washington Post a year earlier that was for Unitarian Universalism that said “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fits me” while telling him that I was impressed with it. (I remember when I found that ad while I was going through the Sunday paper. There were no Unitarian Universalist groups on campus and the nearest congregation was only available by car, which I didn’t have at the time, so I never followed up on that ad and I soon forgot about it.) He even found a local UU congregation that he said we could try. (He also lined up a few other denominations we could try as well—namely Quaker and the United Church of Christ—in case the UU church didn’t work out for either of us.)

So we went to our first UU service and we were impressed with the minister. We found out after the service that the woman was a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following week. We were still impressed with the fact that the church had a weekly coffee hour where people stuck around and socialized after Sunday service. (In contrast, my old Roman Catholic parish had something similar called “Hospitality Sunday” that was only held once a month. Otherwise, people basically spilled into the parking lot and drove home once mass ended.) We were also impressed with how friendly the people there were. We went back the following week to check out the regular minister and we were impressed with him as well. We started going every week and, after a few months, we signed the membership book. We even managed to get the minister to officiate at our wedding so my husband got his way on having a religious wedding.

So we were married by a UU minister. During the reception I threw my wedding bouquet and one of the single ladies caught it. Then my new husband removed the garter from my leg and one of his single friends caught it. Then the bouquet catcher and garter catcher posed for a photo with me and my newly wedded husband.

The guy who caught my garter was named Dave Norris. Dave’s mother and my husband’s mother were friends and there were times when Dave hung around with my husband and his neighborhood friends in Long Island even though Dave was a few years younger than my husband.

Traditionally there is this old wives’ tale that says that people who catch the bouquet and garter are the ones who will be married next. That doesn’t usually happen in real life but Dave was the rare exception because he got married the following year while my husband was the best man at his wedding. It was a short-lived marriage that happened soon after his girlfriend found out that she was pregnant. The bride was six months pregnant at the wedding. Three months later she had the baby. Three months after the birth, Dave and his new wife separated and they were soon divorced.

My husband and I saw Dave in person a few more times after the quick wedding/separation/divorce. The last time we saw Dave was when he traveled to Maryland with his then-latest girlfriend because he was going to a conference in Washington, DC. The four of us ate at a local restaurant. After that we lost touch with Dave for a few years.

Meanwhile my husband and I became more involved in our new UU congregation where we made new friends. About a year or two later my husband and I ended up as co-chairs of the church’s Social Action Committee. During that time AIDS was starting to ravish the nation. At the same time there was a big March on Washington for LGBTQ people that was announced. A long-time member came to us about doing a lay service about AIDS. We knew that he was previously married to a woman and he had two children (one of whom would tragically die in a car accident when she was only in her early 20’s). It was during that time he came out to us as gay. A short time later he came out as gay to the rest of the congregation. I have to admit that the congregation was shocked but ultimately accepted him because he had been an active member. (If he had been a member of my old religion, he would’ve been driven away no matter how long he had been a member.)

I’ve already written plenty about that longtime member coming out as gay in this blog so I suggest reading this post if you want to learn more about Ed Kobee and his spouse, Al Usack. After Ed managed to rally his fellow congregation members (including my husband and I) to actually attend the March on Washington for LGBTQ rights, he and Al became activists within both our congregation, the Joseph Priestley District, and in the greater UUA for that faith to become more welcoming to LGBTQ people (which resulted in the UUA’s Welcoming Congregation program). Due to those efforts we started to seeing people who were openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual attending our Sunday services. Some became members for years while others attended for a short while then moved on.

I met my first openly transgender person through my UU congregation. One of the newer members was an open bisexual who had joined with her then-husband, who was also bisexual. (They gave a forum at my congregation on bisexuality where they said they had extramarital dalliances with same-sex partners.) That marriage subsequently ended and her husband left the church. She started a new relationship with a person who was born a man but he underwent a sex change operation and was now living as a woman. Yet she was still sexually attracted to women. I attended a forum on transgender at my church and this person spoke openly about how she felt like she was born in the wrong body yet she was still attracted to women. That was how I learned that gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. This person was born in a male body and was sexually attracted to females so society designated him as a heterosexual. After the surgery this person was a woman yet was still sexually attracted to females so society designated her as a lesbian.

Basically the bisexual woman and the transgender woman started a relationship and stayed together for many years until the transgender woman died a few years ago. Over the years we’ve had other transgender people attend our Sunday services. I really can’t elaborate further on these other people because it’s really not my story to tell. On top of it, even though these people are openly transgender to my congregation, they aren’t quite as open to the general public outside of church. That’s because there have been too many cases of transgender discrimination on the job and in housing. And that’s not to mention the fact that there have been Republican lawmakers who are trying to pass those bathroom bills that only exist to make a transgender person’s live much harder. If that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that transgender folks are frequently targets of beatings, sexual assaults, and other acts of violence perpetrated against them by transphobic criminals.

Getting back to my husband’s friend who caught my garter at our wedding, we basically didn’t hear from Dave Norris for a number of years. One day, out of the blue, Dave called our house. My husband and Dave had an enjoyable conversation on the phone. Dave told my husband that he had started his own consulting firm and he gave my husband the URL to his new website.

My husband visited the website and saw the page that had the list of the small staff that the consulting firm had along with headshots. He saw the name “Denise Norris” on the list. At first he assumed that Dave had gotten remarried and his wife was helping out in the new venture. But then he took a closer look at that photo and saw that it looked like Dave dressing in drag. My husband soon called his old friend back and asked point blank if this person now a woman. His friend admitted it.

I remember that night my husband decided to take me out to dinner and he relayed that story about his friend is now living as a woman while we were in the car. We had the car radio on at the time while my husband was telling me this and this song suddenly came on the air.

Talk about serendipity! My husband and I got a good laugh out of it.

I have to admit that accepting my husband’s friend as a woman was slightly more challenging for this reason. The other transgender people I met through my UU congregation had already made the change so I never knew them in their previous gender. On the other hand, both my husband and I knew this person when he was a guy. (And my husband knew this person longer than I did since my husband hung around with this person while they were growing up on Long Island.)

A month or so later Denise was in the DC area attending a conference so we decided to get together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was awkward at first but then we hit it off, especially when my husband and Denise started talking about the old days when they were growing up and they would get into some escapades together.

We also learned that basically Denise had long felt like she was a female even though she was born a boy but she had kept those feelings to herself while she was growing up. I can understand why she felt she had to do this. There have been too many cases of transgender children being rejected by their parents and being targeted by bullies in school. It was only after she reached adulthood that her feelings became stronger and it reached the point where she felt that she had to have the surgery. I also remember that her mother was dead by then. (I don’t know if Denise ever came out to her mother before her death or not.) I’m only paraphrasing here because I don’t have an exact transcript of our conversation from that night and I’m just relying on my less-than-perfect memories here.

I have to credit Unitarian Universalism for my husband and I quickly adjusting to the fact that Dave Norris was now living as a woman named Denise Norris. If we hadn’t met other transgender people before seeing Denise, I think it would’ve taken both of us longer to accept Denise as she is now.

We would see Denise in person a few more times after that. I think the last time we met in person was sometime before 2008 (the year I had my hip replacement).

As for the woman who caught my bouquet at my wedding who is also in that photo I posted a few paragraphs ago, her name is Trisha and she’s my godfather’s daughter. I last saw her in person when my father died in 2000 and she stopped by the funeral home one evening during the viewing period. My husband and I told her what happened to the guy who caught the garter at the wedding and how he is now living as a woman. I remember Trisha smiling and deadpanning, “I have that effect on men sometimes.” (LOL!)

Denise Norris now works at Accenture and she is also a transgender activist whose speciality is getting corporations to not only end job discrimination among transgender people but also offer benefits to them (such as health insurance that’s broad enough to afford such expenses as hormone therapy and sex change surgery). She frequently gives media interviews on the topic, such as this recent example. I follow her on Facebook where I read her posts on transgender issues and fellow transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner. (Like many in the transgender community, Denise basically has a dim view of Caitlyn mainly because Caitlyn continues to support the same Republican Party that has been coming out with those notorious bathroom bills in recent years.) I haven’t directly communicated with her in years, especially since I am now divorced and Denise had been more of a friend of my ex-husband’s than mine. On top of it, our paths simply haven’t crossed in real life. There are times I wonder if Denise still has my old wedding garter and, if so, had she ever worn it. (LOL!)

As for my UU congregation there are still LGBTQ members who are active. The most recent transgender member is a person who originally joined my congregation as a man a few years ago. He was open about admitting that he was suffering from gender dysphoria and he was seeing a therapist about that. Last year this person decided to undergo medical treatment and she is now living as a woman. She is also in a relationship with a cis woman who’s a lesbian. This member now looks happier than before the change.

That’s it for my story.

Passover

A week ago or so a friend of mine who knew me when I was still married mentioned that he saw my ex-husband and found something disturbing about him. Yesterday I ran into another friend on Easter Sunday who also expressed similar concerns about my ex-husband after seeing him and his second wife at a local cafe.

I’m not going to elaborate on what their concerns are other than to say that I’m not surprised that they are shocked at what has happened to my ex-husband. Since he left me he has gone through a complete personality change that I can’t explain. (I’ve read plenty about personality disorder, psychopathy, narcissism, and sociopathy but I lack the credentials to diagnose my ex-husband or anyone else.) After all, my husband never told me he was unhappy in our marriage until he abruptly left me just three days after Christmas in 2011. (He left me three months after I underwent hip surgery.) He abruptly went from being a loving, caring husband to someone who became cold and distant. He refused to talk to me or to meet with me in person other than to bark out orders over email and text demanding that I adhere to a schedule where we would separate our finances and if I raised any kind of resistance, he would threaten to sue me. I found out from friends that he had left me for a woman whom I thought was a friend of mine but I now know better. She had been open about her mental health issues that became so severe that she had an experimental pacemaker implanted in her brain. She qualified for SSI disability just weeks before my husband left me for her.

If all that weren’t enough, my husband sent divorce papers in a .pdf format that was attached to an email message that was dated December 24, 2012. (Yes, he did this on Christmas Eve.) I later found out that he and the other woman got engaged just eight months after he left me. He married her two months after our divorce was final.

Sure I’m sad over what my friends have told me about him but here’s one thing I learned through both attending meetings of a divorce recovery group and seeing a therapist—the only person I can control is myself. I can’t control anyone else. Sure, I can give advice to someone but it’s up to the person to decide whether he or she will follow my advice or not.

I made the decision to have no contact with my ex-husband because of his cyberbullying threats of taking me to court if I didn’t do what he told me to do. My ex has never said that he was sorry for the pain he had put me through or even acknowledge his role in what happened between us. He once told me that it was my fault that he had to leave me so he could date that mentally ill friend of ours. (For the record, I never once told him that he should hook up with that woman. I would never recommend dating a seriously mentally ill person to anyone.) And the reason why he felt he had to leave: The day before my hip surgery I had gone to the American Girl Place in Tysons Corner, Virginia and I purchased this doll named Julie, who is part of the American Girl dolls’ historical line and she’s supposed to represent the 1970’s, mainly because her default outfit is similar to an outfit I once wore when I was growing up in the 1970’s. My ex wrote in a letter that he left behind that my purchase of this doll added to the clutter of our home and he had to leave because of it.

webfriendlyversion

That’s right, my purchase of this doll is the main reason my husband cited for leaving home, hooking up with a woman whom he knew has serious mental health issues, getting engaged to her while still being legally married to me, divorcing me, and marrying her just two months after the divorce was final.

Unless my ex makes a sincere effort to make amends to me for the hurt he has caused me, there is no way I’m going to contact him to see if he’s okay or if there is anything I can do to help him.

I’ll admit that I haven’t forgiven him at all. I learned through my divorce recovery group that forgiveness is a process that can’t be rushed and that there are some situations where it’s impossible to forgive a person. I can’t say I’ll never forgive him but I am just honestly not emotionally ready to do that right now.

Even if I was still in contact with him as a friend, there are limits as to what I can do. Any advice I give would work only if he wants to take it. If he decides against taking my advice, there’s nothing I can do about it because it’s his life and he’s the only one who has a direct say in over how he’ll live it.

If my friends raise their concerns about my ex with me again, I’m going to have to tell them “Sorry but I can’t do anything about it.” Because it is the truth.

I’m only writing a post about this because I know that there are people dealing with loved ones who have their own level of dysfunction—whether it’s due to drugs or alcohol or they are in a dysfunctional romantic relationship or they have mental health problems that they refuse to do anything about or they tend to gamble excessively or they have some other problem that have seriously impacted their lives. Many of us were raised in religious traditions where you’re taught that you’re supposed to be your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper and you have to be the hero to save that person from self-destruction. What I’m telling you—which flies in the face of most religious traditions—is this: you have no control over that person or anyone else other than yourself. If that person wants your help, then fine. You should help that person. But if that person refuses your offer of help, you have no other choice but to just let that person continue on his/her self-destructive path.

This was a lesson I learned through my divorce recovery group and it’s a similar message that other self-help groups, such as Al-Anon, also convey. The bottom line is that you can’t help anyone else unless that person wants your help.

However you can educate yourself so you can learn how to respond to someone else’s drama without getting consumed by it. I’m going to end this post with a short list of books I read that helped me learn how to deal with and respond to my ex-husband’s actions without losing my own mind.

Runaway Husbands by Vikki Stark. This was the first book I ordered from Amazon.com in the days after my husband left and I did a Google search on “my husband ran away from home.” That book helped me prepare for what would happen next since my husband had followed the same path to our divorce that the other husbands Stark profiled in her book went.

Psychopath Free by Jackson MacKenzie. This is a book that was invaluable in helping me to decide not to have any further contact with my ex-husband until he makes a sincere effort to make amends with me for what he has done to me.

The Language of Letting Go and More Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. Both books are daily meditations that are designed to help the person with breaking away from a codependent relationship into living a well-integrated and independent life that’s free from codependency.

Recently an executive at Marvel made this statement where he claimed that the reason why the sales of Marvel comic books have gone down is because there is too much diversity among its superheroes. Not surprisingly that executive’s quote has literally lit up social media as comic book fans of all stripes weighed in on this matter.

As someone who has been reading comic books off and on since childhood, I have my own reasons why comic book sales have gone down and none of them have anything to do with increased diversity in the number of superheroes who are female, LGBTQ, and/or people of color.

1. Price.

I’m old enough to remember when comic books used to cost 25 cents per issue. They were cheap enough for children to buy with their own allowance money or convince their parents to buy one or two issues. I fell out of reading comic books when I hit the fourth or fifth grade only to briefly pick up an issue or two of Howard the Duck which I found at a local pharmacy for around 35 cents when I was in middle school. (At least the reprinted volumes of the 1970’s Howard the Duck comic books, which I wrote a series of reviews about last summer, had the 35 cent price on the covers.)

I put comic books behind me after that until college when I dated my future ex-husband and he was the one who was into collecting comic books. By then comic books were priced at around 75 cents per issue, which still wasn’t too bad because they were still affordable to kids, college students, and people who either were unemployed or worked low-paying jobs. My husband and I continued to read them after college and during the first few years of our marriage until the prices shot up to $1.25 per issue and we grew tired of shelling out so much money for comic books. By that point we had also gotten more involved with our jobs and other activities so we didn’t have as much time to read comic books as before.

I started checking out comic books again over the last few years but nowadays prices have risen to an astronomical $3.99 per issue. That high price has definitely put a damper on resuming collecting comic books to the point where I’m extremely picky as to which comic book I’ll purchase. That has an effect because in the past, when my ex-husband and I collected comic books early in our marriage, we used to buy an extra comic book or two on impulse because we liked the cover. Thanks to that $3.99 price tag, I tend to pass on the comic books that have awesome covers, especially if I’m not familiar with the characters or storyline, because it would be incredibly easy to drop $75 or higher on a pile of comic books. In fact, not too long ago, I saw a young couple at the cash register buying a stack of around 25 comic books. They reminded me of the days when my ex-husband used to buy a stack of around 25 comic books. The big difference is that we used to pay something like $25 for that comic book stack. In contrast, I nearly gasped when I heard the store clerk charge the couple $100 for that comic book pile.

2. Too many knock-offs of the same character or concept.

This started while my ex-husband and I collected comic books. My ex had turned me on to The X-Men, which was a well-written series about a group of mutant superheroes who try to do good deeds even though much of society are prejudiced against mutants because it’s a classic case of hating/fearing those who are different. Many of the storylines were analogous to the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and Islamophobia that occurs in the U.S. The X-Men led to one spinoff called Dazzler, which was about a mutant who was more into using her mutant light creation powers to entertain people than becoming a superhero but she frequently was dragged into situations where she had to use her mutant powers to defend herself or help someone else. Then there was Alpha Flight, about a superhero team in Canada—some were mutants and some were regular humans who wore special suits that enabled them to have powers. In addition, there was The New Mutants, about a team of mutant kids who were essentially X-Men in training. I think there were a few more spinoffs from The X-Men but I don’t remember. All I know is that the storylines in these mutant comic books began to overlap with each other to the point where we had to read all those series in order to get the entire story. It was also around the time when comic books began to be priced at over $1 per issue and it just got too expensive for us to keep up.

Since I started looking at comic books again I noticed that this trend has gotten more ridiculous. One example: There’s the currently popular comic book series Guardians of the Galaxy. Two of that group’s most off-beat and popular characters—Groot and Rocket Raccoon—not only appear in Guardians of the Galaxy but they also appear in separate solo titles. In addition, there’s also a Rocket Raccoon and Groot series for those readers who can’t get enough of either one and want to see them together without the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyone who wants to get all four series would have to pay $16 per month.

I remember a time when there was only one Iron Man comic book. Now there are at least three or four separate Iron Man comic books and each one has a different person wearing the armored suit. I remember when there was only one Spider-Man comic book and there are now something like three or four Spider-Man comic books plus two or three other comic books featuring female versions of Spider-Man that are sold under titles like Spider-Gwen and Silk. Here’s a photo of a shelf full of different Spider-Man related titles—all of which are separate comic book series—that I shot at a comic book store a few years ago.

Numerous Spider-Man Titles at a Comic Book Store

All these variations of the same superheroes tend to confuse comic book newbies and casual comic book readers plus there’s the $3.99 price per issue. It just makes those who aren’t hardcore comic book nerds with deep pockets end up just saying “The hell with this!” and walking out of the store empty-handed.

3. Limited distribution.

There were no comic book specialty shops in my area when I was a kid. But that was no problem because one could find comic books being sold at newsstands located in pharmacies, grocery stores, five and dime stores, and book stores. Seeing those comic books in plain sight encouraged kids to beg their parents to buy them a comic book. Parents had no problem with obliging because the prices were pretty cheap.

Nowadays if anyone wanted to read a comic book, that person has to go to a comic book specialty shop because the vast majority of comic books are no longer distributed in grocery stores and other non-comic book specialty shops (with the exception of Archie comics, which I can still find at the supermarket checkout line). I’m lucky enough to live in a populated urban area plus I live near a college town so I have no problem with finding comic book stores to browse in. But people who live in rural areas just don’t have that option unless they happen to live in a college town. Limited distribution is just as short-sighted as charging $3.99 per issue because people living in areas without a comic book specialty shop but who would be interested in buying a comic book just don’t get that opportunity.

Limited distribution just results in lost opportunities. Here’s one example: When I was trying to get rid of my ex-husband’s comic book collection that he left behind, I ended up making coasters with them because I couldn’t find anyone willing to buy them. While I was looking through various issues while deciding which comic book panels to cut up for my art projects, I saw a notice in one of the old Marvel comic books gleefully announcing that one of their newer comic books at the time, Power Pack, was being distributed exclusively in comic book specialty shops.

I remember my ex and I reading Power Pack in the latter days of our comic book collecting before we gave up on it altogether. It was about four young siblings between the ages of 5-12 who were given superhero powers. These kids had to juggle taking on the villains with other things like going to school, doing homework, and adhering to curfew. I thought it was incredibly short-sighted of Marvel to not distribute Power Pack more widely because most kids going to the local grocery store or pharmacy with a parent would have gone crazy over the idea of superhero kids their age and begged their parents to buy them that comic book. Thanks to that corporate bone-headed decision, the vast majority of kids never knew that the comic book even existed and that series no longer exists. (Or at least I haven’t seen any latest issues of Power Pack on sale at a comic book specialty shop.)

4. Too many large corporate-wide comic book events that are hyped as “THE MARVEL/DC UNIVERSE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!”

This started back when my ex and I still collected comic books when Marvel came up with a special limited series called Secret Wars where a variety of superheroes from Marvel’s bigger-selling comic books at the time (such as The Fantastic Four and The X-Men) were taken to a planet by someone known as the Beyonder and forced to undergo a series of battles. That series affected the storylines of the regular comic book series. I don’t remember much about the Secret Wars other than feeling annoyed that the storyline of The X-Men had them dealing with being alienated by the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe while two X-Men ended up ending their budding romantic relationship over what went on during the Secret Wars.

Now Marvel and DC go to the well frequently by coming up with a corporate-wide events where limited series are released under names like Rebirth, Civil Wars, and Civil Wars 2 that literally changes the storylines of the regular comic book series. Hardcore comic book fans are asked to spend even more money on these limited series in order to keep up on what’s going on with their regular favorite series while confusing casual fans so much that they pass on the entire event.

The comic book companies will more likely gain readers if they quit doing these stupid events that tend to cater mainly with the small minority of hardcore comic book fans while screwing up the storylines of regular comic books so much that the more casual readers are turned off.

5. The comic book industry caters to the hardcore comic book fans at the expense of kids and more casual readers.

When I was a kid comic books were mostly action-packed series with very little of the “I have a lot of personal problems that are wearing me down” storylines. They were pretty escapist for the most part.

Recently I heard of an uproar when Marvel decided to turn Captain America into a fascist. Never mind the fact that the comic book first came out during World War II and Captain America was depicted as an active Nazi fighter. I remember reading Captain America as a child when he was basically a good guy fighting villains. Only the hardcore comic book fans would be okay with this sudden change in character.

One of the reasons why I quit reading The X-Men besides time and price is that I grew weary of the dark dramatic storylines depicting the team as being persecuted for being mutants while continuing to fight bad guys and save the same people who would love to see them get discriminated and/or annihilated simply because they are mutants. I don’t mind dark dramatic storylines if they are well-written but after reading such storylines for years I began thinking that if I was a mutant superhero defending people who would want me dead, I would reach a breaking point where I would just say “Bye, Felicia!”, give up being a superhero, and pursue something more quiet like gardening. What’s more, these dark depressing storylines tend to appeal more to hardcore comic book fans with deep pockets who have no problem with spending years keeping up with various convoluted storylines about persecuted mutants.

The main reason why I haven’t resume reading The X-Men or any of its many mutant superhero spin-offs is because of the fact that if I wanted to spend my time reading dark stories full of prejudice, death, and general mayhem, I’ll go online and read BBC News or Al Jazeera without being charged $3.99 per issue.

The only Marvel superhero series I even follow these days is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and that’s because the stories are more lighthearted and full of humor. Squirrel Girl is a mutant and she doesn’t let it get her down as she juggles fighting super villains with being a college student. More recently I checked the Batgirl of Burnside graphic novel out of the public library and I found that one to be in a similar vein to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl as Batgirl learns the hard way the folly to taking selfies for social media while battling crime at the same time. Like Squirrel Girl, Batgirl is smart, hip, and is very comfortable with the latest technology. If more comic books were a similar vein, they would gain the attention of casual fans and even increase sales. Plus parents would feel more comfortable buying such comic books for their children instead of a comic book series with an ongoing dark and depressing storyline about a persecuted superhero mutant with major personal problems.

Which leads to the issue of appealing to deep-pocketed hardcore adult comic book fans at the expense of children. Sure it’s a cliche to say that children are the future but in the comic book industry it’s vital to gain the interest of children because these kids will grow up to become future comic book fans. If children don’t live in an area with a comic book specialty shop they won’t see comic books being sold in their local store so they won’t ask their parents to buy them an issue of Superman or Captain America. If children can’t afford the $3.99 per issue price tag, they will grow up without reading comic books. And if the dark storylines are too adult for the kids to read or if the kids are so confused by the numerous separate comic book series about Spider-Man or Iron Man that they end up not even picking a comic book, then they won’t grow up to become adult comic book readers nor will they buy comic books for their own children when they become parents.

Ultimately children who don’t read comic books will end up not reading comic books as adults so they won’t be there to replace the current crop of adult hardcore comic book fans when these people start to die off. This will put the comic book industry in a total death spiral to the point where some of these comic book companies may eventually go out of business.

In a nutshell.

The problem with the decline of comic book sales isn’t too much superhero diversity. It’s the price, the numerous knock-offs of the same characters, the limited distribution, the comic book events, and the constant catering to hardcore comic book fans at the expense of everyone else that are all slowly killing the comic book industry. Unless the comic book industry takes a hard look at these issues and do something about them instead of blaming diversity, it will recede further into irrelevance over the next few decades.

Santa Claus

 

 

 

 

For the past five years I’ve undergone some extreme drama. It all started in 2011 when I fell twice in a week and I ended up knocking my hip replacement (which I originally received back in 2008) out of alignment. I was told that I had to undergo hip revision surgery in order to put my hip replacement back in alignment if I wanted a chance of walking normally again.

The day before my scheduled surgery I decided to go on a fun shopping trip. I went to Tysons Corner, where I shot these photos as I walked around the mall in my walker. I decided to treat myself to something nice. I ended up going to the American Girl place where I purchased this historical 1970s doll, named Julie Albright, because she was wearing the same kind of outfit that I wore back in the 1970’s.

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I didn’t tell my husband about the purchase at the time because it was the day before my surgery and we both had been stressed out over my upcoming surgery. I just didn’t want to provoke a fight or anything. I decided to just hide the doll while I eventually planned on telling him about the purchase once my hip started to heal. (It wasn’t like we couldn’t afford the purchase because he was—and still is—a programmer at NASA.)

I went through with the surgery followed by physical therapy. My husband took wonderful care of me while I was in recovery. He never indicated that he was unhappy or anything. There were times when I took the doll out of her temporary hiding place while I admired her and read the books that I purchased at the same time as the doll. I was looking forward to getting my life totally back on track with the man I loved. We shared a lovely Christmas Day together and I sensed that we were going to make out okay.

But then, just three days later, he walked out on me. It was so abrupt and shocking. In addition, he left behind a note where he essentially blamed my purchase of American Girl’s 1970s historical doll Julie Albright as the main reason why he left because this doll “added to the clutter of our home.” I was dumbfounded by all this. I thought he had merely flipped out after all the stress he had gone through. (Not only did he had to deal with my hip operation but there were job-released stress plus he was battling bronchitis during the holidays.) I wrote a blog post that night stating that I hoped we would get back together.

I had seriously thought about selling the doll on eBay because I really didn’t want a doll to destroy what had basically been a decent marriage. I also felt horrible that my purchase of that doll was what made him feel that he had to leave home after he spent a serious amount of time to make all of the necessary arrangements before my surgery then taking leave from his NASA job to take care of me after my surgery. I never intended to drive my own husband away from home. I thought that if I would sell the doll on eBay, I would tell my husband about the sale, and he would return home.

I was so glad that I never did this because a month later I had friends tell me that they had saw him with one of the barmaids at a local cafe who had been struggling with severe depression (she only worked two nights a week because of it and she had recently qualified for SSI disability payments) and he had been taking her on dates to the same cafe where she worked. So, yeah, he blamed a doll that I purchased the day before my hip surgery for making him leave me for a seriously mentally ill friend.

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Over the next several months he would engage in cyberbullying where he would demand that we separate our finances via email and text (he refused to call me or meet with me in person to talk like normal human beings) according to his own schedule and if I balked in any way, he would threaten to sue me. (I still have those original hateful emails printed out and filed away.) I’m sure he probably blamed my purchase of that doll the day before my hip surgery for what he did as well.

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I later found out that eight months after he walked out on me and hooked up with that mentally ill friend, he asked her to marry him and she agreed even though he was still legally married at the time. I’m sure he probably blames my purchase of that doll the day before my hip surgery for making him do that. (LOL!)

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In 2012, just four days before the first anniversary of our separation, he sent an email that was dated December 24 (Christmas Eve) that contained a divorce petition in a .pdf format that was attached to the email. Between the cyberbullying demanding that we adhere to this separation of finances schedule or else he would sue me and emailing a divorce petition on Christmas Eve, I am now convinced that he basically lied to me all those years when he said he “loved” me. How else can I explain the fact that one day he acted like he loved me and still wanted to stay with me and the next day he not only leaves me but he acts like he has detested me all those years? He probably blames my purchase of the doll the day before my hip surgery for that one as well.

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Three months after our divorce was final he married the other woman despite her mental health issues. He probably blames my purchase of the doll the day before my hip surgery for that one as well.

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It’s so lame and cowardly for a man to blame a doll for leaving his wife without ever telling her that he was unhappy (while pretending to love her all those years), refuse to speak with her while demanding that she followed a certain schedule that he set, start dating a seriously mentally ill woman (and, yes, he knew about her mental health before he hooked up with her), quickly get engaged to her while still being legally married, send divorce papers in an email on Christmas Eve, then marry the other woman just three months after the divorce is final.

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I’m trying my best to move on. I’m at the point where I no longer want to have anything to do with him mainly because I’m convinced that he lied to me all those years when he said that he loved me. I go out with friends but I’m not in a relationship or anything like that. Right now I’m busy with trying to survive in a harsh economy while dealing with the arrival of President Donald Trump next month.

I’m mostly over my ex-husband but there are times when I still remember what he did to me whenever I see or hear something that dredges up the past. One reminder came just a couple of months ago when old recordings surfaced where Donald Trump told Howard Stern that he thinks that Lindsey Lohan would be great in bed because she was troubled at the time. Thanks to Trump’s confession, I now realize that this may possibly be one of the reasons why my husband has chosen to replace me with a mentally ill woman. I guess I should publicly thank Donald Trump for that insight. (LOL!)

All I can say is that I’m glad I never sold this doll on eBay in an effort to get my husband back because it would’ve been an exercise in futility.

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For the past few days I’ve been trying to get my life in gear. I’m working on a new series of DIY videos on how to customize one of those new Made to Move Barbie dolls, the first of which I’ll write about tomorrow. I’m also currently looking for a new day job to pay the bills since my last one ended so badly that I had to write a retraction post about that startup because the startup’s founder had previously talked me into writing a glowing post about the startup in this very blog instead of getting a separate blog account that would be devoted to promoting that startup. (As a result, I had to institute a new policy that I would no longer use this blog to write about work that I’m doing for other people until after there was some kind of closure to that work.)

But then I read something about one of the candidates in this year’s election that literally triggered me into remembering my divorce. Here’s some background information: Lindsay Lohan was a child star who appeared in many Disney movies while she was growing up. She was one of those child stars whose appearances as a teenager in the films Freaky Friday and Mean Girls showed that she had the potential to be one of those rare type of child stars—someone who could successfully make the transition as an adult actress taking on mature roles that could potentially gain her an Academy Award nomination (and maybe even an Oscar) a la Jodie Foster or Judy Garland. That promising potential was sadly squandered when she got into drugs and alcohol and one could easily spend an entire afternoon perusing the gossip sites for a litany of the troubles she has gotten herself into since she turned 18.

A new recorded audio from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s past has recently surfaced where Trump was engaged in a conversation with radio shock jock Howard Stern over how hot the then-18-year-old Lindsay Lohan was while mentioning that her father, Michael, was a train wreck that would affect Lindsay needing a father figure in her life. Stern asked Trump “Can you imagine the sex with this troubled teen?” Here is Trump’s answer:

“She’s probably deeply troubled and therefore great in bed. How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?”

Of course that audio provoked all kinds of protests ranging from Lohan’s Freaky Friday costar, Jamie Lee Curtis, to Lohan herself. But this story has triggered me on a personal level for this reason: For many years I was in a stable marriage to a man whom I thought was very loving and devoted and who was also full of integrity. In September, 2011 I underwent hip surgery. During the next three months I received very loving care from my husband while he kept on telling me that he loved me. We celebrated a lovely Christmas holiday together. Just three days after Christmas he came home, told me that he was moving out, left me with two notes (one was a schedule that he wanted me to follow even though it would ultimately lead to our divorce while the other was a “reason” letter where he essentially blamed my purchase of the 1970’s historical American Girl doll on the day before my hip surgery because that doll “added to the clutter” of our home), then ran out the door.

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For the next few weeks I reached out to him numerous time by phone, email, and texts but he refused to answer them and he refused to speak with me. I wondered if he had found someone else and I suspected that if he did she would’ve been someone whom he met through his NASA job. It wasn’t until a month later when a few of my friends let me know that, yes, they had seen him with another woman but she wasn’t a NASA co-worker.

That woman was someone whom I knew and I thought was a friend. She has also been open about how she had spent much of her adult life battling severe depression. In fact she said that her depression is so severe that she has an experimental pacemaker in her brain. Despite that she was only able to work only a couple of days a week and she ended up getting SSI disability. About 11 months before my husband left me in 2011 she ended up spending a few days at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore because her body had grown accustomed to the current course of treatment and she became really depressed. My husband and I had planned to visit her in the hospital one night when it turned out that she was released the afternoon before our planned trip to Baltimore. I was completely dumbfounded to learn that my husband had chosen this person—with all of her personal baggage—to be his mistress instead of one of his female NASA co-workers. My husband married this woman two months after our divorce became final.

When I read Donald Trump’s words on how deeply troubled women are the best in bed, I started to imagine my ex-husband having that same attitude. For the last few years I kept on thinking that my husband would have stayed with me if only I had developed a severe mental illness, which is totally fucked up thinking. My husband could have left me for any one of his female NASA co-workers who are all very intelligent, very independent, and share his fascination with air and space travel but, instead, he picked the one person whose life and career have been adversely affected by mental illness. I feel horrified that there are men out there like Donald Trump and my ex-husband who are getting attracted to deeply troubled women when these unfortunate women should really be left alone to quietly deal with their own issues in their own way without interference from anyone else (unless the women themselves ask for help).

My ex-husband has actually acted on his impulses and I have totally lost all the respect I ever had for him. (There are other longtime friends who had confided in me that they now avoid him as well because they have become so alienated by his behavior in recent years.) I don’t know whether Donald Trump has ever knowingly had sex with someone with mental illness or who’s deeply troubled in other ways but he has been accused of rape and sexual molestation of women and girls as young as 13.

I wish I could say that I’m shocked but this is the man whose inappropriate remarks about his daughter Ivanka have served as the basis for The Daily Show‘s two-part series Don’t Forget: Donald Trump Wants to Bang His Daughter and Again, Don’t Forget: Donald Trump Wants to Bang His Daughter and he has bragged about how you have to grab women by the pussy.

Those latest Donald Trump/Howard Stern remarks reopening old mental wounds about how my marriage fell apart is bad enough but a couple of days ago I got word that my mother is once again back in the hospital in Glen Burnie for sepsis. Friday I had to cut short my job hunting attempts so I could travel from the DC area to Glen Burnie to visit her. Yesterday I went to the hospital for the second day in a row.

I had planned on going today but there is this strange smell emanating from the kitchen that has been going on for the past couple of days and I really need to do a thorough cleaning to get to the source of that. (I suspect that there’s a dead mouse trapped somewhere in some crack or crevice.) I’m going to have other family members fill in for me today then tomorrow do this schedule where I stop by the Maryland Workforce Exchange for professional help on how to improve my job hunting efforts in the morning then drive on to Glen Burnie to visit my mom in the hospital in the afternoon.

But right now I’m going to have to get in a position where I force myself to work on the kitchen because I’m feeling kind of sad and depressed over everything. 😦

Ramadan

Nearly three years ago I wrote about the birth of Eli, who’s a grandnephew on my ex-husband’s side of the family. In the years since Eli’s birth I’ve kept up with the boy mainly through his mother’s posts on Facebook. I haven’t been able to visit his family’s current home in Charleston, South Carolina due to tight finances and I don’t know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to meet that kid.

Today I found out from my sister-in-law’s Facebook post about how she has just become a grandmother for the second time. Eli’s new brother has just been born a few hours ago. His name is Tobias. That baby will be joining an already full house with his big brother, his mother, his father, two dogs, and a cat.

In that last post about Eli from nearly three years ago I included a vintage early 1970’s video clip of Three Dog Night doing a live performance of their hit song “Eli’s Coming.” Unfortunately I can’t think of any songs that have the name Tobias in it so I won’t be embedding any music videos in this post.

Instead I’m going to repost my photos of a 60 cm (2 foot) tall Asian ball-jointed doll I currently own that was manufactured by a Chinese company known as Fantasy Doll. His default name is Tobias, which I’ve kept. Here are some photos of Tobias.

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Fantasy Doll Tobias

Pooh Kimono

Chiton for 1/3 Scale Dolls

Red Prince Doll Outfit

If you want to see more photos of this doll, check out the Fantasy Doll Tobias category. As for Tobias the human baby, so far he looks healthy (and I’m basing that judgement on the photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook). The only other thing I’ll write in this blog is that I hope he grows up to live a happy and healthy life. That is all I’m going to write about Tobias for the time being. 🙂

I was going through my Flickr account and I recently found the first album I’ve ever uploaded. Here’s the background: I was selected as a vendor for the 2007 Crafty Bastards event that was held in Adams-Morgan in Washington DC for the second year in a row. (The first year I was selected to participate was in 2006.) When I went to a planning meeting a few weeks before the show, the organizers asked us vendors to get accounts on Flickr so we could have a place to share our photos online. I did so and I brought my Canon Digital Rebel DSLR (which was my primary camera in those days) with me so I could take a few photos.

The first photo is my vending area. The man sitting behind the table is my then-husband, who was a great help to me on that day. (Obviously these pictures were taken in happier times.)

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I basically sold polymer clay necklaces, polymer clay boxes, photojewelry with my small photos being placed in polymer clay frames, magnets made from my own photographs, and fairy dolls made from recycled Barbie and Ken dolls that I found in various thrift stores.

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Here’s another photo of my then-husband sitting behind the table filled with my handcrafted merchandise.

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My husband and I took turns with taking breaks so that someone was always in the vending area. I took a few photos of the event in general during my short breaks (which were mainly the times when I went to the bathroom or went to buy a soda or a snack).

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It was a good show for me. The refurbished Barbie fairy dolls were the biggest sellers for me. The other non-doll inventory was a bust though. Otherwise I was okay with how that show turned out for me.

The 2007 Crafty Bastards show was the last Crafty Bastards show I took part in as a vendor. In 2008 I had hip problems that were so bad that I barely walked so I decided not to try out for that show. (I had a hip replacement that year.) In 2009 and thereafter I was rejected for that show and I found out the reason. Crafty Bastards originally was an event that showcased local artisans and crafters. In recent years that show began to provide space to vendors from outside the Baltimore-Washington, DC area (I’ve seen vendors at the last Crafty Bastards show come from as far away as New York City and Atlanta) at the expense of local vendors.

Sometimes I have a fantasy of starting my own annual craft show that would harken to the earlier Crafty Bastard shows in that local artisans from the Baltimore-Washington, DC area would be given top priority while vendors from outside the area would only be given space if there was any left. But starting a show like Crafty Bastards would require money, volunteers, organization, and space and I don’t even know where to begin. Besides I’m financially struggling too much right now to even consider making my fantasy a reality. But one can dream, right?

Santa Claus

Four years ago today my husband came home from work and announced that he was moving out. I was shocked because he never told me that he was the least bit unhappy. In addition I was still recovering from hip surgery just three months earlier and I really didn’t need this.

Since then I haven’t spoken to him. I really can’t be friends with someone who, one day, pretended that he still loved me while he was secretly screwing a mentally ill friend on the side (at the same time that I was recovering from hip surgery and it’s possible that the affair might have started even before that surgery) then the next day announced that he wants a divorce and he started to treat me like he really detested me all those years while demanding that I adhere to this separation schedule that existed in his head or else he would threaten to sue me. On top of that, he refused to even talk with me in person or on the phone—I could only communicate with him either by e-mail or text and he would answer only if it was relevant to the separation schedule that existed in his head. (Otherwise, I might as well have communicated only with myself if he chose not to answer.) As of this writing he has yet to make any attempt to apologize to me or anything like that.

I can’t say for sure when his affair started. All I know is that I later found out after our divorce that he had secretly become engaged to the other woman just eight months after he left me (and while he was still legally married to me). Then he married her just two months after our divorce was final. So my ex-husband went from his first marriage to his second marriage in nearly 20 months. And he married a woman whose mental health problems had gotten so bad that she was determined to be eligible for Social Security disability payments about a month or so before he left me for her. (My husband told me at the time that he had gotten her to talk to his sister via long-distance telephone because she works for Social Security and he thought she could give that woman advice on how to apply for disability. I thought he was being a helpful friend and I didn’t realize that he was more than just friends with her.)

Since that time I’ve had many of our longtime friends tell me that they either haven’t seen him at all or they’ll see him with the other woman but he keeps his distance from them. It’s like he’s gone from being a very friendly person (at least when he was with me) to being more reclusive. It kind of reminds me of the lyrics to the Creed song “My Own Prison.”

It’s sad because I never expected my marriage to turn out like this. Sure my marriage wasn’t perfect but we had basically gotten along well with each other until the night he left. I’ve had so many of my friends tell me that they were shocked that my marriage ended the way it did because, based on what they saw, they thought we seemed very happy together.

I really envy widows mainly because when they lose their spouses, they generally still love them and continue to have fond memories of the happier times they had before their mates died. In my case I’ve seen a complete personality change in my own husband and it’s jarring because it contrasts with the earlier memories I have of him. It’s like his old self is dead yet his body is still alive with a new self that’s more unlikeable and unfriendly than before. It’s almost like someone had flicked an internal switch inside of him or he had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a lookalike pod person. (The latter is actually the plot of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) To me seeing something like that is far worse than being a widow.

Since that time I’ve tried a whole bunch of things in order to get my life back on track. It’s hard because I had two major bad things happen to me back-to-back (hip surgery and divorce) and it’s taking me much longer to get over it than if I had to deal with only one of them.

If all that wasn’t enough, I’ve had to deal with a very tough economy. My craft sales have declined because people are either unemployed or underemployed and I’ve gotten plenty of people telling me that they couldn’t afford to buy anything from me. I’ve tried getting more steady work (like a day job) but it’s been very difficult because I’m competing with so many other unemployed people as well.

This fall I went through a bunch of unexpected drama that was so non-stop that I didn’t realize that Christmas was coming until after December 12 (when the six-week Artomatic show ended).

In late September I applied for a job for tutoring children which supposedly required computer skills. I went for it and I was surprised when someone called me back just two hours after I e-mailed my resume. It was a private for-profit educational company that had just gotten a contract with a local public elementary school to provide before and after school classes to the students who attended that school. And they wanted me to submit to a background check so I could begin teaching immediately. I initially felt thrilled with the possibility of having a steady job to offset the unsteady job of being an artist and crafter.

That pleasant surprise went downhill for me pretty quick when they began to pressure me to accept teaching jobs in cooking and fashion design—subjects in which I had no experience in. (I cook simple meals mainly for myself using recipes but one would be hard-pressed to call me a chef. As for fashion design, the closest experience I have is when I made doll clothes using patterns. Otherwise, most of my knowledge of fashion design comes from watching episodes of Project Runway.) What was worse was that there was no curriculum or anything and we were expected to plan our own lessons. I told them that I had no experience in these subjects but they refused to take that for an answer and they kept on pressuring me to accept those assignments. (Never mind the fact that the original job announcement never mentioned cooking or fashion design and it said that it wanted people with computer skills.)

I was prepared to walk away when they offered me the chance to assist another teacher for a digital photography class. I leaped at the chance because it was a subject that I knew all about (and have tried to demonstrate in this blog). I was told to call the instructor. I did so. I learned that, like the other classes, there was no curriculum and we had to make up our own lessons as we went along. He told me that the digital photography class was a before school class that would be held from 8:15-9:15 a.m. so I was expected to get up at the crack of dawn and make the drive around the notoriously clogged Capital Beltway in order to arrive at the school on time. He also told me that the class would begin the very next day.

So I was thrown into a class with less than 12 hours notice that had no formal curriculum and literally no time to develop any kind of lesson plans or activities and it was a total disaster. (Basically the instructor I assisted gave an hour-long college-level lecture to elementary school kids that was way too advanced for them and they ended up completely bored and confused. They complained to their parents, who then complained to the school and, well, you get the picture.) After my first day on the job I had to go to the organization for a job interview (which is pretty convoluted). From that time it was total chaos where my original co-teacher was replaced with two other teachers and I would be relegated to be an on-call substitute teacher only to have one of those other teachers get sacked a week later and I ended up being back in the classroom again. I got along with the other replacement teacher pretty well and, in a different situation, I would’ve loved to have continued working with her. But that organization was way too full of behind the scenes dysfunction and drama for my taste.

And then there was the issue of getting paid. I didn’t get any money for the first two months. In fact, I began to turn down other tutoring jobs from that organization because of the paycheck issue and the fact that I was not very impressed with them at all. (They would call me with tutorial opportunities with not much notice. They called me about one such gig only two hours before it was supposed to begin.) I finally got my first paycheck after I assisted in teaching eight one-hour sessions and, based on the eight hours I had worked at that point, the breakdown was that I was paid little more than $5.93 per hour! Ironically I could’ve made a lot more money working at McDonald’s or Walmart (two places that are notorious for paying their workers very low wages). The gas alone ate up whatever I earned so it turned out to be not even a profitable gig for me and there’s no way I could support myself on such a low wage (especially not in the Washington, DC area). On top of it this organization was expecting us teachers to come up with our own lesson plans outside of class in addition to teaching in the classroom and all for only $5.93 an hour!

Unfortunately I foolishly signed a contract with the group during that job interview (yes, it was the one that was held after my first day on the job) that stipulated that I had to stay on the job until the class ended on December 8 or I was fired—whichever came first. So I had to sit there and keep on helping with the before school class until it finally ended. (As of this writing, I have yet to receive a paycheck for the last three weeks of the class that I actually taught.) I could write plenty more paragraphs about that teaching job, believe me. Let’s just say that this job has given me a glimpse into the whole for-profit education system and it’s not a pretty picture. Fortunately it was a public elementary school that hired this outside for-profit contractor for only the before and after school programs so the kids still had their regular public school teachers during the day. I’d hate to see first-hand what goes on in those private for-profit charter schools that I hear so many people complain about.

In the meantime Artomatic was announced. I decided to get involved as a filmmaker rather than a visual artist like at past Artomatics mainly because I couldn’t afford the $125 visual artist fee. (The filmmaker fee came to only $15 because my film was less than 30 minutes long.) It was a really neat thing being a filmmaker because people really took me seriously whenever I declared myself as one and they asked me about my movie (Saving the Enchanted Forest) and when I would be showing it. I had people see my movie and respond positively to it, which was really cool. In addition I also volunteered as a blogger for the Artomatic site and that was a cool gig as well.

I pretty much immersed myself into the Artomatic experience at the expense of not paying any attention to the upcoming winter holidays until after it ended on December 12.

In between all that, I had volunteered to staff a table on behalf of the new non-profit Greenbelt Theater cooperative during the Festival of Lights craft show in Greenbelt on December 5 just a couple of hours after I did the second showing of my Saving the Enchanted Forest movie at Artomatic. I liked talking to people about the Greenbelt Theater but, boy, was I tired after that full day!

The day after Artomatic ended I took part in my church’s annual Holiday Craft Fair, which usually begins after Sunday service ends and goes on until around 12:30 p.m. I didn’t announce it in this blog ahead of time because I got so tied up with Artomatic and, in addition, I’ve never got much response from announcing my church’s craft show in this blog in previous years mainly because the show begins once Sunday service ends and the schedule tends to benefit members more than the general public who either aren’t religious or attends a different house of worship at the same time. This year the person organizing it decided to try running it for two Sundays in a row to give people who couldn’t be there the first week a chance to buy handcrafted items. I was selling the superhero coasters that I’ve been selling since the Greenbelt Mini-Maker Faire and I earned $30 each week for a total of $60. Sweet!

So I promoted the Greenbelt Theater on December 5, my crazy drama-filled one-day-a-week teaching job ended on December 8, Artomatic ended on December 12, and I was selling my wares after church on December 13 and December 20. So I had a pretty action-packed fall.

I’m also on the verge of starting something new that I hope will earn me a better income than that before school teaching job. I can’t go into details at the moment other than to say that, based on my job interview, this new company is way more professional with far less drama than the organization behind that teaching gig. (At least they did the job interview before I was expected to start working for them—like a normal company would do.) It’s a job that’s completely different and has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or tutoring kids. I’m looking forward to it and I hope everything works out.

Tonight I’m going to the annual holiday party that my support group for people who are separated or divorced holds each year between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a potluck where we bring a meal to share. They have a White Elephant gift exchange where we could either bring an unwanted gift or we could buy a new gift (as long as it costs less than $10) and it has to be wrapped. That gift exchange is pretty fun and it’s the third year that I’m participating. (I purchased this wooden table top miniature bowling game that I found at Five Below, the store where no item is ever priced above $5.)

I just want to put the trauma of December 28, 2011 further behind me. I want my future to be just like the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”

This year is the fifth anniversary of this blog. For the first year I was unsure about how many photos I could actually upload because of the free WordPress.com blogging account has a space limit. So I kept photo uploads limited to just my arts and crafts along with any photographs that I actually exhibited in a show. Over time I learned such things as graphic optimization so I was able to upload more photos that way than I thought I could. So for the rest of the year I’m going to devote Throwback Thursday to photos from previous blog entries (along with links to the original posts) that I should’ve uploaded five years earlier but I didn’t.

Five years ago tomorrow my then-husband and I went to National Harbor to check out this special ice show featuring sculptures based on Dr. Seuss’ classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas book. At the time I wrote about that special Christmas Day trip, I embedded a YouTube video consisting of a slideshow that was shot at the same event by someone else. Here are a few of my photos that I actually shot at that show. The first photo shows the entrance to the show.

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Outside the building housing the ice show there were hedges that were shaped like the Grinch complete with clothes.

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There was a waiting area where we stood in line after we entered the building. While we waited in line we were treated to special sculptures based on various Dr. Seuss illustrations.

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There were also monitors in the waiting area featuring a video showing how Chinese artisans were sent from their native country to the U.S. to sculptures these icy works of art for National Harbor.

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Even though my husband and I wore our heavy winter coats to this event, we were given very heavy parkas to wear while we were visiting the event. (The inside temperature was kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit.) My then-husband and I took pictures of each other wearing these heavy blue parkas.

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The next few photos are just a few of the ones I shot on that day. The details on these sculptures were really amazing to see in person.

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In addition to the sculptures featuring the Grinch and the local citizens of Whoville, there was also an icy sliding board for kids that cost extra to use. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a good shot of that one.) The exhibit ended with a Nativity scene completely carved from ice.

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Outside the exit doors was this giant Christmas tree made entirely from marshmallow Peeps, which were only made apparent if one saw it close up.

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That was my first and, so far, only visit to an ice sculpture show at National Harbor. The following year I was still recuperating from hip surgery while my husband was secretly planning his exit from our marriage. I remember that National Harbor was doing that year’s ice sculpture based on the DreamWorks’ animated feature film Shrek (or was it Madagascar? I don’t remember) so it was no big deal that we didn’t go. National Harbor has a new ice show every year but the last few years didn’t excite me enough to consider going on my own. (And this year was no different. It was based on the animated TV special Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which I remember wasn’t among my favorite annual Christmas holiday specials.) So that’s why I can say that the last time I saw such a show was when I was still married.

I’m posting this online on Christmas Eve, which also holds another hurtful anniversary from me, thanks to my so-called “loving” husband. In 2011, during the three-month period between my hip surgery and Christmas Day, he treated me very well. He took leave from his NASA job to take care of me and he arranged everything for me from the doctor’s appointments to getting various friends to drive me to physical therapy after he had to report back to work. He never indicated he was the slightest bit unhappy and he constantly told me that he loved me. He walked out on me just three days after Christmas on December 28, 2011. I knew that he could file for divorce once the one-year anniversary passed but I thought he would wait until after New Year’s Day, 2013 at the earliest. Imagine my surprise when he sent me a copy of a divorce petition in an e-mail that was dated December 24, 2012. Yep, he did this on Christmas Eve. Adding insult to injury, when I showed this to a lawyer, he told me that it wasn’t a real divorce petition because there was no case number assigned to it. If that’s not something that’s hateful and despicable, I don’t know what is. That incident is one of many reasons why I refuse to speak with him now.

This post marks the last of the ones from 2010 that I wanted to highlight on Throwback Thursdays as part of the fifth anniversary celebration of this blog. Starting in 2011 I started uploading more photos because I learned how to save server space on my blog account by optimizing graphics. Gradually over time I realized that I got more hits if I included at least one photo with my post than just writing straight text alone, which is why this blog tends to be graphics-heavy.

Well, anyway, since tomorrow is Christmas Day, I’ll just end this post by wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas. 🙂

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