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American Flag

Today is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice between the Allies of World War I and Germany in Compiègne, France. World War I officially ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. Today is officially Veterans Day but people are getting the holiday off from work tomorrow because Veterans Day falls on a Sunday this year.

I found out that the last surviving veteran of World War I, Florence Green, died in the United Kingdom at the age of 110 back in 2012.

I had a great-uncle on my mother’s side of the family who was one of the fabled American Doughboys who served in World War I. As my late grandmother used to tell it, her brother, Benjamin Karle (who was nicknamed “Buzz”), joined the military while he was still a teenager and went away to Europe towards the tail end of World War I. Buzz survived the war only to die of tuberculosis soon after he returned to the United States and made his way back to Baltimore, where the family lived. (My grandmother was one of nine children. She and her sister, Celeste, were the only ones who lived past the age of 25. All of their other siblings died at an early age from tuberculosis, including one sister who died at the age of two after tuberculosis settled into her bones.)

Needless to say, I never met my Great-Uncle Buzz but I used to visit his grave (along with the graves of my grandfather, great-grandparents, and other great-aunts and great-uncles who all died before I was born) at Loudon Park, which is located on Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore. My family used to visit that cemetery twice a year (once in the spring and once during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas) where they would put flowers on the graves. Sometimes my late father would drive while other times my father would stay home and it was my mother who did the driving. My family was usually stoic when we visited the cemetery. My mother would put the flowers on the graves while my grandmother would pray for the souls of her family members. When I was a kid I used to sometimes walk on some of the low-lying headstones and I would end up getting scolded by an adult for doing so.

I still remember the time when we brought along my Great-Aunt Celeste, who was visiting from Ohio (where she moved after she got married and her new husband decided to move back to his home state where he was raised). Celeste hadn’t visited the cemetery in a number of years but when she saw the Karle family plot for the first time in a very long time she literally cried her eyes out while my grandmother tried to console her sister. I remember that was the only time that Celeste ever visited Loudon Park when I was growing up. She visited us a few other times but she never again asked to visit Loudon Park.

I haven’t been to Loudon Park in years but I found a photo of the Karle family plot online recently. It’s just as I remembered: A simple white rectangular marker on the ground that said “Karle” with no names or dates. My grandmother’s family were poor and they had so many family members who died of tuberculosis that they could only afford one plot with a simple marker. Basically the members who died were added to that plot as they passed away with the plot marked only by that white marker with the Karle family name on it.

President Donald Trump flew to France only to decide to skip yesterday’s planned visit to a ceremony that was held at a cemetery for the fallen American World War I soldiers because of rain. That’s right, President Trump, who’s also supposed to serve as the commander in chief of the armed forces, decided to stay in his hotel room because of rain. Never mind the fact that the leaders of other nations like Justin Trudeau, Emanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel didn’t let the rain stop them from attending commemoration ceremonies for the fallen of World War I.

The only legitimate reasons to cancel a scheduled visit would be if Trump had fallen seriously ill at the last minute or if he had suddenly dropped dead. Otherwise he should have been there—rain or no rain. He could’ve used an umbrella to help deal with the rain. For him to skip an important ceremony honoring the troops who served 100 years ago because of rain is unbecoming for a commander in chief. He has totally disrespected the memory of my Great-Uncle Benjamin “Buzz” Karle and the other men and women who served and even died in World War I. This is outrageous and, unfortunately, par for the course from the same man who has been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the pussy and has taken more golfing trips during his first two years in office than President Obama did during the entire eight years he served in the White House.

While you’re busy with your own lives, please take a moment to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice over 100 years ago and don’t let the weather deter you from doing so like it did Donald Trump.

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On Memorial Day I happened to be in a local shopping mall parking lot (Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, Maryland) when I saw something unusual. A violinist was playing outside in the parking lot while his wife or significant other was holding a sign and their three children were sitting outside nearby. Here’s the photo I took.

The woman held a sign that said “Please! I need help! I don’t have job. I have kids. I don’t have money. God bless.”

I don’t know if the family is homeless or not but it’s a really bad situation where the father has to play the violin because it’s the only way the family can raise any kind of money. I have to admit that he is quite talented and he’s still able to play despite the constant stress of not having enough money (which I can identify with because nothing kills creativity more than being constantly worried about where my next paycheck will come from and if I will even get a paycheck for that week. I shot a short video of the violinist so you can hear for yourself how talented he is.

I haven’t seen this family since that day. I hope everything is well with them.

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Ramadan

This week there have been two major well-loved celebrities who committed suicide within a few days of each other. Earlier this week handbag designer Kate Spade was found dead while this morning culinary celebrity Anthony Bourdain had also taken his own life. Both had very successful careers that made them wealthy and both had left behind children who will grow up without one of their parents due to suicide.

I was very familiar with Kate Spade (I used to see her products on sale in some of the more upscale malls) but I never owned any of her handbags. I saw a portion of one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows once or twice but I wasn’t a regular viewer mainly because he used to eat strange foods (such as raw seal eye) and I was a bit on the squeamish side.

These two suicides led to a sudden outpouring on social media where people began to post openly about suicide in an effort to raise awareness. This morning I wrote a multi-part tweet on Twitter about the topic but I wanted to expand on it in this blog post because it gets pretty frustrating dealing with Twitter’s limitations.

Hearing about the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have evoked memories for me and it’s not only about the previous suicides of famous people like Chris Cornell.

When I was around six or seven years old I was at a family get-together on my father’s side of the family where I saw my Great-Uncle Jack. About two or three months after that event my family learned that Great-Uncle Jack had jumped from the window of his apartment located in a tall building in Baltimore. Years later my mother mentioned that she had heard that he had grown despondent about the death of his wife just a few years earlier. (Apparently they had been married a long time when she passed away.) She had heard that he had set up a little shrine in his apartment devoted to his late wife and some relatives thought that he was getting too obsessed about her death.

What my mother said about Great-Uncle Jack was the only time that anyone in the family had ever discussed his death aside from the suicide itself. Most of my father’s relatives kept Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide hush-hush as if they felt deeply ashamed that he had opted to end his own life. I didn’t dare speak up about Great-Uncle Jack to any of my father’s side of the family because I knew that someone would have yelled at me to shut up about Great-Uncle Jack. I ended up not knowing Great-Uncle Jack because I was so young when he killed himself. I don’t know what his personality was like or what his likes or dislikes were. Hell, I don’t even know when he was born or how old he was when he killed himself. To me he is a total stranger whose one memory of him at a family event is hazy at best.

As for me, I didn’t even mention Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide as an adult until just a few months ago when I made a reaction video to one of Logan Paul’s videos (which I’ll get to in a bit). Even then I only mentioned his death briefly. For this post I decided to be a bit more open about Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide mainly because I really believe that it’s imperative that we raise suicide awareness and how the suicide of a friend or relative can affect his/her survivors. I initially thought about the ramifications about opening up about Great-Uncle Jack’s death until I realized that his suicide had happened decades ago. Most of the people who were the most directly affected by Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide are either now deceased (such as my father) or they are over the age of 85 and they are probably less affected by that suicide then they once were.

My father’s side of the family was touched by suicide yet again a few years later. I was 12 when another relative on my father’s side of the family attempted suicide not once, but twice just a few months apart. Luckily this relative survived both attempts and he got the professional help he needed. He eventually pulled himself together and has decided against attempting suicide ever again. I can’t really write too much about him because he is still alive and well and he has long since put his past behind him. I’m proud that he has decided that suicide wasn’t the solution for him and he is now focused on living his life.

Two years ago a man whom I only knew as the moderator of a Yahoo! group that focused on our neighborhood committed suicide.

The saddest suicide story that affected me happened just last year. As I wrote in this blog post, my late aunt babysat a boy named Ben from the time he was a baby until he was in middle school. His father committed suicide soon after my aunt started babysitting him so he grew up without ever knowing his father. I used to see Ben from time to time when I visited my aunt, uncle, and cousins. On the surface he seemed to be an average boy with an impish grin who seemed okay despite being forced to grow up knowing that his father committed suicide. I last saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral when he was in high school. I lost contact with Ben until I learned that he committed suicide himself, thus following in his father’s tragic footsteps. He was only 43 years old.

I felt this incredible sadness when I learned about Ben’s death but there was one other emotion I felt that I didn’t write about last year because I just couldn’t handle writing about it at the time. I was angry at Ben for what he did. I saw the Facebook photos of my cousins, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I thought about Ben’s mother who, just years earlier, had to bury her husband because he committed suicide. As a senior citizen, Ben’s mother had to deal with losing her son to suicide and help bury him as well. I can’t even begin to imagine how she must have felt. I also thought about Ben’s two older brothers who had to deal with losing both a father AND a brother to suicide.

On top of that, Ben left a daughter behind. Judging from the few photos posted of her on Facebook, it looks like the girl was somewhere between 5-9 years old when Ben killed himself. Ben had to grow up knowing that he didn’t have a father because his father killed himself. It seems so inconceivable to me that he would perpetrate the same thing on his own daughter so she is now condemned to grow up fatherless while knowing that her own father killed himself. I just don’t get why he would do the same thing to that poor girl that his father did to him—take himself permanently out of the picture through suicide.

So, yes, I was angry at Ben for inflicting the same agony on his family that his father inflicted on him and his family years earlier. I’m not proud that I was angry but that was an emotion that I felt along with the general sadness that he killed himself. But then I began to think more and I realized that Ben must have been in some kind of severe emotional pain in order for him to conclude that killing himself was the only option. I don’t know if Ben tried to seek professional help for his problems or if he had a relative or friend who tried to help him. I don’t know if Ben tried to reach out for help or not. I don’t know if someone tried to reach out to Ben. I hadn’t seen Ben or his family in a very long time so there are parts of his story that I simply don’t know.

Those suicides in my life are the main reasons why I was so infuriated by Logan Paul’s tasteless Suicide Forest video earlier this year. Logan Paul had disrespected that poor man’s friends and family at a moment when they were dealing with their sudden loss. Plus that video came out shortly before the one-year anniversary of Ben’s suicide. I was so offended by that video and YouTube’s poor handling of the matter that I made my own video about it.

Granted Logan Paul subsequently made a very moving suicide awareness video that was very heartfelt and emotional but, unfortunately, it was little more than a cheap publicity stunt. Soon afterwards he reverted back to being a douchebag while YouTube seems to favor their little golden boy moneymaker by turning a blind eye to his antics.

As for me, I have a confession to make. There were times when I had suicidal thoughts myself. I initially had them in the eighth grade when I was bullied really badly and one of the bullies was especially obsessed with making my life miserable. I ended up not doing anything about those thoughts and that psychopathic bully eventually left my school the following year.

There was a time when I actually attempted a kind of a suicide where you intentionally do something that will get someone else to kill you. One example of this is known as suicide by cop. When I was a sophomore in high school there was an incident where three young girls (two of whom were sisters while the third was a friend of theirs) between the ages 8-10 were found brutally murdered in the woods. I wrote about these murders last year so you can go there is you want the full story. In any case the police immediately began a manhunt for the person who killed those girls.

It would be three days before someone was apprehended. In the meantime the person was on the loose. Even though the murders took place about three miles from my own neighborhood, my parents and grandmother (my mother’s mother who lived with us) began to irrationally think that I would be next. I walked to school in the last five years of my public school career because the school I attended were within walking distance. They began to forbid me from taking a popular well-traveled short cut through some woods in order to reach the high school. Never mind the fact that the woods in question weren’t very thick. (I recall that the backyards of some of the houses in my neighborhood used to abut the edge of the woods along that traveled path.)

I grew up as an only child who was constantly being watched by the three adults I lived with. They constantly were on the lookout for when I would screw up and they would pounce on the next opportunity that I made any kind of mistake no matter how minor. My parents were extremely strict and overprotective of me when I was growing up—they were helicopter parents long before that became a hip trendy yuppie thing. The fact that many of the kids ostracized me because they thought I was “retarded” only exacerbated the situation so I couldn’t go to—let’s say—a friend’s house and chill out if living with my parents got too much for me.

On top of that it was only two years earlier when I faced that psychotic middle school bully from hell and I still had some mental scars from that. (Fortunately she was long gone by the time the murders happened.)

I secretly took that shortcut anyway because I was mentally in a dark place regarding the kids in school calling me “retarded” and having parents who were so strict that I used to secretly envy the kids whose parents used to give them very little attention and supervision. At the time I felt that the person would do me a big favor if he would kill me just like he killed those girls.

In any case I never faced the killer and the police apprehended him. He pleaded guilty and he committed suicide just a few years later.

My life really improved when I went to the University of Maryland at College Park and I encountered people who were willing to be friends with me. It helped that they didn’t attend the same schools I did so they didn’t have any kind of preconceived notions about me.

Those suicidal thoughts came back when my husband suddenly ran away from home in late 2011. Here was my situation. I had hip replacement surgery in 2008 and my husband was very loving and attentive the entire time. He was my champion who cheered me on as I underwent physical therapy. When I fell twice in early 2011 (with both falls being about a week apart), my hip replacement was knocked out of alignment. I had to undergo hip revision surgery to knock the hip replacement back into alignment. Once again my husband took charge of my recovery. He stayed home and took care of me while I was recovering from surgery. He would make errands to buy food and needed prescription medications. He arranged to have friends drive me to physical therapy when he had to go back to work. He was incredibly loving and attentive towards me.

To go from that to suddenly deciding that he wanted a divorce out of the blue was devastating to me. He never once told me that he was the least bit unhappy yet he left behind a note telling me that I was the reason why he had to leave home. Worse, my friends told me that he had left me for a friend with mental health problems so severe that she has an experimental pacemaker in her brain and she qualified for SSI disability.

Overnight he went from being my best friend whom I would trust with my life to being my own worst enemy who has shown nothing but contempt for me. It was almost like he had really secretly hated me all those years but he hid that from me and pretended that he still “loved” me but once he left me he really let it all out about how much he really despised me. It would be like encountering a sudden blizzard that dumped 20 feet of snow on a hot summer day.

To make matters worse, he refused to talk to me in person or on the phone yet he would send emails and texts demanding that I adhere to this separation schedule that existed only in his head because, I later learned, he felt a need to get a divorce and marry this other woman by a certain date. (Why he felt the need to have this schedule, I’ll never know. Many of our longtime friends were just as shocked by my husband marrying this severely mentally ill person just two months after our divorce was final as I was.) If I balked at following this schedule or asked him to move more slowly, he would threaten to sue me. I later learned that what he did to me was cyberbullying.

And that’s not to mention that there is some dispute as to whether it’s even ethical for him to have any kind of a sexual relationship with a very mentally ill woman and if what he did makes him a sexual predator at best (and maybe even a rapist at worse) but I’ve already explored that question at length here and here.

So I had suicidal thoughts but I ended not making any suicide attempts. What happened? Well I had people around me who were concerned about me. People in my Unitarian Universalist church were the ones who initially reached out to me. Then I was referred to a support group to people who are separated or divorced and I started going to those meetings. I had other friends who also reached out to me. Long story short, I didn’t attempt suicide because I had surrounded myself with people who cared about me and were willing to do whatever they could to help me.

The big irony is that I’m writing this blog post on a day that would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me and got a divorce.

Earlier this year I had a financial crisis stemming from my husband cutting off of alimony while only being able to land a job with part-time hours. I went even deeper into debt and I began to worry about being homeless and lose everything I had ever owned. I thought about suicide but I ended up not going through with it because I signed up with a local group that provides emergency crisis care and I’m currently going through the eight-week program. I also recently had a friend move in with me so we can split expenses.

I think the biggest motivation I had for not committing suicide was my ex-husband. Given the contempt he has shown for me over the last few years, I now seriously doubt that he had ever loved me to begin with. (As to why he would even marry someone whom he didn’t love to begin with, I can’t explain.) I knew that if I had taken my own life, I would be doing what he probably would have wanted for me (to be dead). I just didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that I killed myself.

I’m not fully out of the woods yet but I’m glad that I didn’t kill myself.

I just want to say that if you feel like committing suicide yourself, please call a suicide hotline or talk with a trusted friend or relative first. I know first-hand how a suicide can have lasting effects on those who knew that person, including feelings of guilt and shame. If you are in the U.S., contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in the U.K., contact the Samaritans at 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org. If you are in Australia, contact Lifeline at 13 11 14. For other countries, visit the Befrienders Worldwide site to find a helpline that’s nearest you.

Remember you are not alone and you don’t have to be alone. There is help available for you.

Ramadan

Today has been one of those crazy days. I ended up doing what little work I needed to do in my day job at home because the boss has to go to one of his rental properties dealing with an issue stemming from a problem tenant (which I can’t really go into here). Then I got phone calls from the electric company and the health insurance letting me know that I need to pay my bills soon. I’m also having a housemate renting out the extra bedroom in my home because I’m having a hard time making ends meet living on my own. (My current financial problems stem from both my divorce and the fact that I have had a hard time finding steady work.) Right now he’s in the process of moving his things to my house.

On top of all that I learned on Facebook that my ex-husband’s step-father has recently died a few weeks ago at the age of 87. He was my late mother-in-law’s second husband and he was a pretty lovely person. Those two originally met when they were classmates at Oberlin College but my mother-in-law ended up dating my future father-in-law (who was also an Oberlin classmate) and she married him once they finished their studies. The future step-father-in-law went on to medical school then married his first wife. They adopted four children together but that marriage ended in divorce.

He kept in contact with my in-laws periodically over the years since they were all Oberlin alumni but one day he reconnected with my mother-in-law in person when he happened to be in the New York City area on a business trip. By that time she was divorced and living in Yonkers and he was divorced as well. They ended up getting married within a few months and my mother-in-law relocated to his hometown of Tempe, Arizona.

I still remember the trips my ex-husband and I made to Phoenix on an annual basis. I remember my ex’s step-father was a very staunch Episcopalian and he had a collection of Bibles in a variety of editions (ranging from simple paperbacks to ones with very ornate covers) and translations. But he wasn’t a religious fanatic or anything like that. He was someone who was very involved with his church.

He was an Anglophile (his father was British and his mother was Russian) and I have memories of him loving to listen to BBC Radio broadcast that the local NPR station in Phoenix carried. He was also a devotee of Masterpiece Theatre that aired on PBS and he even taped many episodes of the British series Upstairs, Downstairs on VHS tapes. (I still remember this box full of VHS tapes with those taped episodes.) He was always eager to try a new British-style pub in whatever city he happened to be in at the moment.

He was also the first color blind person I had ever dealt with. There were times when I would forget that he was color blind, such as one time when the in-laws flew to the East Coast for a trip. We all walked around Harborplace in Baltimore and I was pointing to where a certain restaurant was located and I said it was right by the green fence and he reminded me that my description was hard for him to understand since he couldn’t see the color green. I soon learned that I had to describe things to him without relying on colors.

We made a few more trips to check up on him after my mother-in-law suddenly passed away from a stroke in 2010. The last time I saw my ex-husband’s step-father in person was in Tempe in January, 2011. We celebrated his 80th birthday on that trip along with his entire extended family. I wrote these posts and provided a few selected photos in this blog about the first, second, and third day of that trip. Those posts are poignant for me for another reason: My husband would abruptly walk out on me just 11 months after that trip.

I sent a few emails to my husband’s step-father during the early days after my ex abruptly left me (which happened three days after Christmas, 2011) just notifying him that if he needed to talk to my husband, he should either send him a direct email or call him on his cell phone. I had one of my ex’s relatives tell me to stop contacting him because, according to that relative, he had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I don’t know if it was true or not but I remember him as being a bit on the befuddled side at times and his befuddlement had gotten a little bit worse the last few times I saw him in person. He also had a sister who was stricken with Alzheimer’s. I know that six months after his 80th birthday party he decided to move to a retirement community that also had an assisted living facility that he could tap into if necessary. I ended up reluctantly ceasing all further communication with him.

I’m also no longer in contact with the step-father’s children (my ex-husband’s step-siblings) or their families nor am I in contact with other members of my ex-husband’s step-father’s extended family (many of whom live in the Southwest). I was once Facebook friends with a member of the step-father’s family. She was someone whom I had always got along with and I always looked forward to visiting her and her family (who also lived in the Phoenix area) whenever my husband and I visited his mother and step-father. She even posted some kind words on my Facebook wall the night my husband abruptly announced that he was moving out then bolted from the house before I could even respond. (I turned to Facebook that night alerting my friends and family about what happened in the hopes that one of them would find him and try to talk him into returning home.) I later found out that she unfriended me sometime after my husband left me and she ended up friending the other woman who is now my ex’s second wife. It was through reading his online obituary that I learned that one of the step-father’s grandchildren from his first marriage had a child sometime in the seven years since I last visited Arizona. (I don’t know when his great-granddaughter was born or how old she is now.) Yes, I know it’s sad that I haven’t been in communication with them since 2011 but I’ve learned to treat them as part of my past and not to dwell too much on this. I hope they are all doing well in their lives and I wish them nothing but the best.

I haven’t been to Arizona since 2011 and I don’t know if or when I’ll ever make a return trip there. I still have fond memories of the first time I ever saw the Grand Canyon in person, the numerous visits to what I think is one of the best museums dedicated to Native American culture in the U.S. (The Heard Museum), the numerous trips to what I think is one of the best independent bookstores in the U.S. (Changing Hands), the times we spent just walking through downtown Tempe, the visits to Scottsdale, the tours of the Desert Botanical Gardens, and the side trip we took to the Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. I think the only place I visited in Arizona that’s a total ripoff is Biosphere 2 (they charge this outrageous admission fee yet so much of the area is blocked off to visitors that you can pretty much finish touring in less than two hours—I once put that place on a list that I posted on my birthday as things I’ve done once in my life but I never care to repeat ever again for as long as I live). My husband’s step-father was with us on many of these visits and he always seemed delighted with showing us around the highlights of the Phoenix-Tempe area.

I’m sorry to hear that he had died but I’m glad that I had the chance to get to know him. I’ll end this post with a photo that I took on my last trip to Tempe in 2011 but I had never posted it in this blog before. This is a photo of my ex-husband’s step-father at his 80th birthday party that was held at a local restaurant on January 16, 2011.

Not too long ago I made a video that’s an open letter to YouTube where my channel (also called Sagittarius Dolly just like this blog) is in danger of being demonetized. YouTube decided to do this in the wake of Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video except YouTube is penalizing the wrong people.

This past week Logan Paul uploaded the first new video he made since both the Suicide Forest video and his subsequent apology video. It’s a nicely done PSA called “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow” and it included an interview with a man who attempted suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge and he miraculously survived. Here’s the video:

The video seemed promising even though there was one thing that had bothered me. Had Logan Paul simply made that Suicide Forest video then I would say that this new video is sufficient enough to prove that Logan Paul has learned a lesson from this incident. However, prior to the Suicide Forest video, Logan Paul made other videos where he and his pals essentially made fun of the Japanese and their culture while visiting their country. As of this writing he has yet to issue any kind of apology to Japan for his awful behavior. Here are the lowlights of those videos that were compiled by We The Unicorns.

I didn’t immediately jump on the “Logan Paul has learned his lesson” bandwagon because of that lack of apology to Japan. I’m glad I sat out that bandwagon because there were two recent incidents that had me question the sincerity of Logan Paul’s “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow” video. One was an inappropriate comment he made on a picture that was posted on rapper Cardi B’s Instagram account. The other was this interview he made on ABC’s Good Morning America where he basically said that the guy committed suicide in the Suicide Forest as a way for him to make that Suicide Forest video and raise awareness of suicide prevention. You can watch this interview in its entirety—if you can stomach it.

In response I made this video titled “Why Logan Paul Can Take His ‘Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow’ Video and Shove It.” In that video I briefly mention the earliest suicide that affected me when my Great Uncle Jack killed himself when I was seven or eight years old. Feel free to share it with everyone you know.

Writing off Logan Paul is no big loss for me and I definitely won’t regret making my latest video. Here’s a video I found which goes over previous outrageous things Logan Paul has done in the U.S. prior to his fateful Japanese trip that will have your blood boiling.

Birthday Cake Santa Claus

Today is the eighth anniversary of the day I made my very first post in this blog. Today also happens to be the day known as the Feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas, and Three Kinds Day and it usually signals the formal end of the Christmas season. Usually I try to keep such anniversary posts light by tooting my own horn while marveling at how long I’ve been keeping up with this blog. This year it’s different. I don’t feel quite as light-hearted as I have in previous years. And it doesn’t help that that I’m writing this post while the entire region I’m in have been covered in sub-freezing temperatures that have been known as the coldest New Year since 1940 and it had just suffered through something called a bomb cyclone so it is still below freezing outside. I’m still trying to hold on despite the fact that all hell broke loose this past year.

It all started on January 20, 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. It all went downhill fast. It would take several separate entries to describe everything in detail but here are just a few of the highlights (or maybe I should call them lowlights): His penchant for issuing bizarre postings on Twitter that sound increasingly alarming (especially the ones about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un). He has appointed to various cabinet positions people who either lack experience or are outright hostile to the positions they have been assigned to (such as appointing a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and giving the Department of Education a new leader who is not only a proponent of for-profit charter schools but is also hostile towards the idea of having government-funded public education available to all children). Then there are his frequent weekend golf trips. This guy has taken more vacation time in his first year of office than his predecessor, Barack Obama, have in the eight years that he occupied the White House.

And don’t even get me started on that recently passed tax reform bill that Trump says he will sign where the wealthy individuals and corporations will get major tax cuts while middle and low income people will not only have their taxes raised but the social safety net will be shredded even further than it already has been in the nearly 40 years since Ronald Reagan was elected president.

Some of my problems are personal. My mother’s health has been deteriorating slowly over the past few years ever since she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s gotten to the point where I have to make all the phone calls because she literally no longer has the energy to even make calls on her cell phone. She doesn’t even return any voice messages I leave on her cell. Our conversations have gotten shorter because she gets tired all of the time. When I visit her in person she can only hold a conversation before she gets tired. We basically watch TV when I visit because at least she’ll sleep off and on. But she’s definitely a shadow of her former self. I don’t even bother with having any kind of deep heart-felt conversations with her because I don’t know if she has the energy to even process everything I say.

At least my mother is still alive as of this writing. I found out through one of my ex-husband’s relatives that my father-in-law had passed away in October. On Christmas Eve I received a phone call from another one of my ex-husband’s relatives telling me that there have been a couple of other deaths this past year as well. One was my ex-husband’s aunt (who was also my father-in-law’s younger sister) and the other was Annette, a longtime family friend.

I knew both of them pretty well. The last time I saw my ex-husband’s aunt was in 2010 (just a few days before I made my first post in this blog). She and her husband had just sold their longtime home in Scituate, Massachusetts and moved to a retirement community outside of Philadelphia in order to live closer to their children and grandchildren, who had all settled in neighboring New Jersey. My ex-husband’s aunt and uncle lived just a few miles from Longwood Gardens. After visiting my ex’s aunt and uncle in their new place, we all headed out to Longwood Gardens because it was having its annual Christmas display. I found that display to be so amazing that I shot a short video.

As for Annette, she was the friend of my mother-in-law’s who used to invite her and any of her grown children who were in town over to the Long Island home that she shared with her then-husband each Christmas Eve where she would serve her corn chowder. I wrote a post back in 2010 about that tradition and I even included the actual recipe. I later made this animation featuring that recipe while I was playing with this website called MySimpleShow.

The last time I saw Annette was in late 2010 when we held a memorial service on the East Coast for my mother-in-law that was held for the benefit of her longtime friends who couldn’t fly to Phoenix (where she lived the last 17 years of her life) for the original funeral back in March.

If all that weren’t enough, I learned that Ben, a man whom my late aunt used to babysit as a kid (and I met him several times when I visited my aunt, uncle, and cousins) had killed himself. I also learned through Facebook that my onetime high school guitar teacher had died the year before and he was only in his early sixties.

Then there is my effort to find a new day job to pay the bills. (I’m currently getting alimony from my ex-husband but I really want more money so I could pay off the debts I incurred due in large part to my divorce.) It has been over a year and a half since I left my last job at a newly formed startup because I wasn’t getting paid (the boss wouldn’t finally pay me for the work I had done until six months later). I don’t regret leaving that startup, especially when I saw that my ex-boss has spent the past year actively doxing his own sister on Facebook not once but twice.

I’ve been spending time at the local branch of the American Jobs Center doing things like going to seminars on all aspects of the job search process. I was told in those seminars that I needed to build my personal brand because that will make me stand out from the crowd of other job seekers. I was told that I especially needed to build my personal brand on LinkedIn because LinkedIn is the best way to a new job. I was told that I needed to learn how to market myself online. I took a couple of free online marketing classes that were on Alison.com where I learned how to market myself online as much as possible using tools like Hootsuite to schedule posts. I learned through those online courses that once I am able to market myself to the point where I’ve built my personal brand online, I will get so much attention that the job opportunities will miraculously come to me.

So I started to post links on my various social media accounts to older blog posts highlighting my skills in writing, art (both traditional and digital), and photography while using Hootsuite to schedule them. I was told that I also needed to share links of articles written by others showing my knowledge on certain subjects that would be sure to build my brand. Each week for the past few months I would schedule on Hootsuite a mix of links to newer blog posts, links to older blog posts, and links to articles that are in my fields of interests to be shared over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The one thing I learned that all of this brand building is incredibly time-consuming. I would literally spend several hours a week with trolling websites for external links then scheduling those posts on Hootsuite. I spent time carefully vetting each link in order to make sure that any links that include controversial topics or NSFW content do not get posted on my LinkedIn account (although I would post them on my Facebook and Twitter accounts since neither one have the stated reputation as being THE Social Media Network For Professionals). I even followed the advice from the American Jobs Center and tried to go to networking events where I made every effort to be friendly and introduce myself to new people. It was all to no avail. No one has come forward saying, “Hey, I love what you’ve posted on LinkedIn so much that I want to hire you!” No one has come forward saying, “Wow, you’re really an expert and you have such a fantastic personal brand that I want to refer jobs your way.” I began to feel that something was wrong with that advice but I kept at it because I was told by professionals who are experts in the human resources field that this is the best method for all job seekers.

The best I was able to do from all of my online marketing efforts and going to networking events was to snag a two-night stint serving as an extra at a taping of a TV special featuring finance guru Ric Edelman.

But then I came across this article through a link on Facebook titled The One Thing Nobody Ever Told You About Personal Branding where basically the writer says that building a personal brand in order to advance your career is overrated. His contention is that, instead of spending gobs of time marketing yourself on social media, you would do better to build your reputation by actually doing the work in your field (whether it’s in a job you already have or you’re currently volunteering in something that’s related to your field) and treating people well.

At first that article flew in the face of what those human resources experts were advising me and other job hunters at the American Jobs Center. But then I did a Google search on “building a personal brand is overrated” and I found a few other articles that echoed the same idea. Branding is an Overrated Buzzword says that one should focus instead on building his/her reputation by being passionate enough about your job/career/interest to focus working on that while also working consistently at your job/career/interest. Developing a Personal Brand Is Overrated says that developing a personal brand can take a lot of time that would’ve been better spent making the best product or doing the best work that you can do. The writer says that making tweets or sharing photos online is just a small portion of building a reputation and a reputation is made through doing your best at what you are working on. The Pitfalls of Personal Branding is even more blunt in saying that personal branding results in the pursuit of online attention stunts that may backfire and do serious damage to your real reputation.

That last article made a good point and I was especially reminded of it when I learned about a recent incident. A few days ago a popular YouTube star known as Logan Paul has come under fire for going to a park in Japan (which has a reputation for being a spot where numerous people have committed suicide) where he found the body of a man who had committed suicide by hanging from a tree branch. Instead of calling the Japanese equivalent of 911 or flagging down a park ranger/police officer/someone else in authority, he decided to film the body while he’s nearby wearing a hat that resembles the head of one of the three-eyed green alien toys from the Toy Story movies and making sick jokes about finding that body. Then he uploaded the video online. While the video in question has since been deleted and Paul has uploaded another video apologizing for his actions, there have been online petitions circulating calling for YouTube to delete his channel altogether.

I’m starting to think that the advice I got about personal branding was just wrong. I focused on marketing myself online at the expense of actually taking the time to developing my talents. I should’ve been volunteering more in the community on projects related to my interests. I should’ve been focusing on creating new arts and crafts for sales both online and in real life. But I ended up following what turned out to be bum advice for me. I shudder to think about how many other unemployed/underemployed people have been taking similar bum advice from human resources professionals and career counselors about personal branding by wasting their time trying something that is highly unlikely to work for them.

Luckily I haven’t inadvertently damaged my reputation in real life by my misguided efforts to develop a personal brand online.

So my conclusion is that focusing on building a personal brand is ineffectual at best while, at worst, could create a bad side effect that will severely harm your reputation and make it difficult for you to find new work opportunities.

I’m going to cut back on my online personal branding marketing efforts and just focus on doing my best work in real life. I’m not going to give up on this blog or social media altogether. I just want some better balance between promoting my work online and doing my work in real life. I’m hoping that doing this will enable me to live my life and conduct my work with more authenticity than just spending time on social media hyping myself on how great I am. I’m hoping that being more authentic to myself and to others will really convey what kind of person I really am that I haven’t been able to convey on social media.

Well, anyway, I’ll end this post with a few highlights from this past year. I especially needed to remind myself that I did do things other than sitting at home fretting about job hunting, my mom’s health, the recent deaths of people I know, and the Trump Administration. There are times when I think that I didn’t do anything in 2017 but then I look over my posts from the past year and these blog links prove that it’s not true.

Visited the American Visionary Art Museum for free on Martin Luther King Day.

I took part in the Women’s March on Washington, which had a far larger turnout than Donald Trump’s own inauguration the day before.

Checked out The World of Pets Expo.

Walked around Savage, Maryland on Groundhog Day.

Went to the Werk for Peace Dance Protest that started outside the Trump International Hotel and ended outside the White House.

I went to a Valentine’s Dance at my church.

Attended my first focus group movie screening (which was a documentary about the DC Divas women’s football team).

Walked around historic Riverdale Park on an usually warm February day.

Checked out the annual Sakura Matsuri in Washington, DC.

Attended Kamecon on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park.

Walked around historic Laurel one spring day.

Spent two nights working as an extra on a television special featuring finance guru Ric Edelman.

Attended the Greenbelt Green Man Festival.

Went on the Gateway Arts Open Studio Tour.

Checked out the latest outdoor art installations around Takoma Park.

Helped out with a yard sale where I found all kinds of vintage kitsch items.

Attended Creator Con in Silver Spring.

Walked around Mount Rainier, Maryland.

Visited two possible locations of a real-life exorcism that served as the basis for both the book and film versions of The Exorcist.

Checked out DC Pride Weekend.

Saw a new shopping center that was erected on a former farm in Riverdale Park, Maryland.

Saw some art murals in an industrial area of Annapolis.

Walked around Catonsville, Maryland during the Fourth of July weekend.

Checked out a large toy show in Timonium, Maryland.

Spent one hot summer after under the solar eclipse.

Walked around the Washington, DC side of Takoma Park.

Attended the German Festival in Timonium.

I made my first-ever visit to a megachurch.

I attended two different art events in one day.

Checked out some newly painted murals on vacant buildings in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Took part in a fall yard sale full of interesting vintage kitsch items.

Attended Baltimore Comic-Con where I saw DMC of Run-DMC fame and purchased an ocarina.

Checked out three Mall events in one day—Fiesta DC, the pro-Trump Mother of All Rallies, and the Juggalo March (the latter included fans of the Insane Clown Posse protesting the FBI’s classification of them as a gang).

Walked around historic Gaithersburg.

Spent an afternoon at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland.

Toured an Eastern Orthodox Church during a local Slavic Festival.

I purchased a camera off eBay, which took some spectacular photos of the Greenbelt Pumpkin Walk.

Checked out a Halloween-themed art walk in Hyattsville.

Went to Clark’s Elioak Farm, where I visited the attractions from the now-defunct Enchanted Forest.

Took some photos of an outdoor decorated Christmas tree covered in snow.

I went to Baltimore on the day that Fox broadcasted a heavily attended Baltimore Ravens football game.

Went to the Doll and Teddy Bear Show in Gaithersburg.

Saw the fall leaves in the Roland Park section of Baltimore.

Saw historic Annapolis at Christmas.

A few of the art shows, craft fairs, and other arts and crafts related events I participated in: I went to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School in both Baltimore and Washington, DC several times. Went to an artist networking event at the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center in North Brentwood, Maryland. Took part in a Craft-In on International Women’s Day. Attended the Resist art exhibition reception at ReCreative Spaces. Participated in the Cosplay Life Drawing Night in Rockville, Maryland. Attended an exhibition that was inspired by the Women’s March on Washington. Participated in the Greenbelt Maker Festival. One of my animations, The March of Liberty, was shown on an outdoor big screen at Light City in Baltimore. I went to a DC Drink and Draw event in Adams-Morgan. I took part in a couple of events at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival including an Art Show and a Retro Town Fair (where I won a couple of ribbons). I painted a fox on a rock at an event that was sponsored by Artists & Craftsman Supplies in Hyattsville, Maryland. I took part in the month-long Internet art event known as Inktober. I took part in the annual Holiday Craft Sale at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi, Maryland in December. I had one of my pieces on display at Trinacria’s Ristorante & Bar in Baltimore that went from early December, 2017 to early January, 2018.

Yesterday I spent Thanksgiving with the family in the home of one of my cousins. The night before I decided to try my hand at decorating an edible house. I purchased this Hershey’s Chocolate Cookie Mini House Kit from a local Five Below store for only $5.

This kit has everything needed in order to construct that house so I didn’t have to worry about doing the old fashioned baking method. All I had to do was just construct it and decorate it. The next few photos show the results of my decorating, which you can compare to the photo of the house that’s on the box in the above photo.

Okay it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a professional cake decorator. (LOL!) But my family still liked my effort and that’s the only thing that matters.

I parked my car near one of her neighbors and I took a photo of their tree in its glorious fall colors.

My cousin’s neighbors love to decorate their home for nearly every single holiday—both major and minor. I’ve taken pictures of their Thanksgiving decorations before but it looks like they have added yet another inflatable decoration.

The little turkey in the next picture is one that I think is new. Or I have never seen this particular inflatable bird in any of my previous photographs I’ve taken of that house.

My cousin has undergone some changes regarding her pets. Years ago she and her husband adopted two puppies and two kittens over a one- or two-year period. The big advantage is that the pets grew up as siblings and they basically tolerated each other. The big disadvantage is that all four pets have died close together. It started with Cookie the cat in 2015. Then the family went through 2016 with just three pets. 2017 became the year they lost the rest of their original four pets. Gonzo the dog died in March. Soon after Gonzo’s death, my cousin and her husband decided to adopt a new dog (which I’ll write more about later in this post). So their pet count went up to two dogs and one cat. During the Labor Day holiday weekend my cousin made a sad post on Facebook announcing that Lucy the dog had died as well.

So I arrived at her house expecting to see the new dog and the last of the original four pets, Purdy the cat. That cat had long acted very regally as if she is the Queen of the House. (Heck, I even once dedicated a post to Purdy’s regal ways.) When I asked my cousin about Purdy I learned that the cat had died as well. Apparently her health underwent a major decline over the past few months and it got to the point where putting her to sleep was the only option. My cousin admitted that she didn’t mention Purdy’s death on Facebook because she was afraid that her Facebook friends would start to wonder why her family had lost three pets in the same year. I can understand her rationale because not everyone would’ve known that the reason why this happened is that the pets were close in age and they arrived at the home around the same time. In any case, here are a couple of photos I took of the late Purdy in happier days.

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So now the original four pets are all gone. But they have one new dog, who was adopted earlier this year after Gonzo the dog died. Her name is Layla and she is a year-and-a-half old. Layla is also incredibly shy. This next photo is the only decent shot I was able to get of her while she was resting in my cousin’s husband lap.

Let me explain why Layla seems to have a purple spot on her forehead. (No, she’s not some rare purple-spotted breed.) My cousin’s husband has this penchant for dying a dog’s hair in a variety of funky colors on special occasions using food coloring. He used to frequently do this to Lucy, which you can see in this photo.

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The only dog he never did this to was the late Gonzo and that was because he had black fur.

Basically I visited with my family and socialized with my mother. Her health hasn’t changed much. She’s not getting better but she’s not getting worse either, which is all I can hope for at this point. (She has multiple sclerosis, which has no cure.)

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Today’s the day where many of us will eat turkey and pumpkin pie until we are totally stuffed. For this occasion I made this new ink drawing. It’s the first new ink drawing I made in my small sketchbook since Inktober ended on Halloween.

This drawing was based on my photograph of two turkeys that were on display last year at the Greenbelt Farmers Market. The drawing was relatively easy to do because both turkeys had white feathers. (They were domestic turkeys whose owners had raised as free range birds—meaning they were actually allowed to roam around outside instead of spending their entire lives being cooped up in small cages located on top of each other.)

What am I thankful for this year? My family and friends who continue to stick by me long after I endured that awful drama regarding my divorce and my ex-husband’s antics (such as sending me a divorce petition in a .pdf format that was attached to an email that was sent on Christmas Eve). I’m also grateful to new people whom I continue to meet on a regular basis, many of whom are basically decent people. There are so many people in my life whom I’m grateful for that I literally can’t name them all because I know that there would be a few names whom I would inadvertently leave off my list. I just want to say that I love you all.

I have a cousin who is married with two sons. Years ago she and her husband obtained four pets—two puppies and two kittens. All four pets were around the same age and they all arrived at my cousin’s home within a few months of each other. The four animals generally got along well together.

The one big disadvantage of getting four pets the same age is that they tend to die around the same time. Cookie the cat was the first of the four pets to die and he passed away in 2015. (I don’t have any pictures of Cookie mainly because he was so shy that he was in hiding most of the time when I was there to visit. I would see him dart from one hiding place to another from time to time but he never stood still long enough for me to get a picture of him.)

Gonzo the dog was the next one to die and he died earlier this year in March. This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my cousin made the sad announcement on Facebook that Lucy the dog has died as well. Here’s a photo of Lucy that I took back in 2013 while I was testing out the camera function of my new smartphone that I purchased the day before.

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Lucy was a sheepdog who was very friendly and she was especially devoted to my cousin’s husband. She would patiently stand by as my cousin’s husband dyed her fur for special occasions (which is why her fur has a purple and pink tinge to it in that photo).

Here’s another photo of her with Gonzo that I took on that same day.

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Of the original four pets, Purdy the cat is the only one who’s left standing (although she can usually be found seated either on a footstool or in a box). She remains healthy as of this writing.

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Thirty years ago yesterday my aunt passed away from breast cancer at the age of 48. I still remember her struggles with that illness like it was yesterday. She was around 42 or 43 when she noticed a lump in her breast. When she went to the doctor she found that not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her lymph nodes as well.

She underwent a mastectomy and went through many months of chemotherapy that literally made her sick. At one point she asked her doctor about smoking marijuana to help her deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately medical marijuana was illegal in the state of Maryland at the time so the only way she could’ve obtained it was if she had been accepted in a clinical trial. I don’t know if her doctor refused to refer her to one of those clinical trials or if she got the referral but was rejected but, in either case, she had to fully endure the side effects of the chemotherapy.

She lost her hair so she started sporting turbans when she went out in public. Her cancer was in remission by the time I was married but she wore a turban at my wedding because her hair hadn’t grown back yet. One of the friends of my husband’s parents told my aunt how much she loved her turban during the reception. That friend thought my aunt was making a hip fashion statement. My aunt was elated by that friend’s praise.

Sadly the remission was short-lived because a couple of years later her cancer not only came back with a vengeance but it had spread to her liver. At the time of her death she became a grandmother for the first time just four months earlier and another daughter was pregnant with her second grandchild. (That child was born four months after her death.) As I’m typing this I realize that the oldest grandchild has just turned 30 while the second grandchild will soon turn 30. Time just seems to go too fast for me. It feels like yesterday when they were just babies.

In the years following her death my cousins would go on to have a combined total of eight other children. On top of it, one of my cousins has a stepson from her current marriage so if you were to count him in the mix, it would be a total of 11 grandchildren who would grow up without ever knowing my aunt as their grandmother because of breast cancer.

In her short life my aunt was a housewife who was very active in the Catholic church she attended. When her youngest child began elementary school she started a child care service where she watched some of the neighborhood kids during the weekday. Among those kids was a boy named Ben, whom my aunt started to watch when he was just a baby and he eventually started calling her “Mom Lipp.” (Lipp was my aunt’s last name.) Ben was the same person who took his own life earlier this year.

In a way it’s not fair that someone like her ended up living a short life while you have someone like Keith Richards, who has used and abused nearly every single drug known to mankind yet he is still alive and is currently living life to the fullest in his seventies. Sure his skin looks very leathery from age and all those years of hard living but he’s still alive and kicking nonetheless.

This is why cancer sucks.

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