The Opposite of Victims

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”
― Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories


Potted plants. Because…potted plants.

Marina Keegan was a 22 year old recent Yale graduate (three days, recent) with a future of creative writing ahead of her when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel in a crash that instantly killed her. Now that the sad stuff is out of the way, her book, which is a collection of essays and stories, is beautiful. The essay for which the book is titled, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” is a description of Keegan’s life at Yale and her friends and the family she loves and how she feels whatever you call the opposite of loneliness. I read this book years ago but that concept has stuck with me and my own version just occurred to me the other day. Why don’t we have a word for the opposite of a victim? What do we call it when someone walks away from us better?

I’ve been reading my book club book late at night: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerEven if you aren’t familiar with the book, you can tell by the title, it’s perfect for late night reading for a person with above average anxiety. The book chronicles the victims of the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist, who terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s. It’s victim after victim and when I think about his ripple effect, I’m horrified. When one person is a victim of a crime, be it rape, murder, armed robbery, whatever, that person is not the only victim. A partner, friends, family, offspring, they’re all affected by that act. So while the Golden State Killer has stats on paper of how many lives he ruined, really, he ruined hundreds more. When an adult is murdered, let’s say a 35 year old female, imagine the life-long weight that places on a family. The financial burdens, the parentless children, a widower, her parents burying their child, her employer, her friends’ heartbreak, the stray cat she fed, the dog that expects her to come home, the kids she carpooled, the coffeeshop dude she greeted on Fridays, and ripples and ripples and ripples. Victims straight up abound.

So that’s the large scale. But I also imagine the victims we can create so easily, maybe without even realizing it, on a small scale. This is pretty easy to do when you spend your days in a middle school. Maybe I’m too snarky when I ask someone to take off her massive hoop earrings. Maybe I edit an essay and my comment comes off just a little too harshly. Or a girl looks sad and downtrodden and I make the mistake of not asking what’s wrong. She might read my small action, internalize it, and then snap at another teacher or slam her mom’s car door, or pick a fight with a sibling and so on and so on. Again, victims abound.

On Saturday night when I left the hospital after visiting Emma (my beautiful, wonderful, adorable, brand new niece), there were three women in the patio in front of Hopkins just sobbing. They were shaking and crying and swinging and doing things you do when someone young dies. In the 8 seconds I saw their pain, I could feel it. Was it a shooting victim? A son, brother, and friend? In Baltimore City that’s often a safe leap to make. So then where do they go from here? If it was gun violence, did that shooter picture these young women openly mourning that night on Orleans Street? Did he visualize the pain of a community? Did he imagine how hard it is to concentrate in school or at work when you’re so sad? Did he picture a funeral for a teenager? Or how the victim will stay framed in photos stuck at 18 for eternity? Did he foresee the ripples created by his act?

So it’s easy to make a victim on a spectrum of scales. And it’s easy for that victim to then spread that hurt inadvertently or advertently (should be a word). So, shouldn’t our goal be to make the opposite of victims?

DC America

Photo from The National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

When you look up the opposite of a victim, basically you just get synonyms of “perpetrator.” But that’s not at all what I’m aiming for here. I’m aiming for a word for a person who feels lifted and lighter and happier and more at peace from the action of another. And there is no word for that, as far as I know. But if anything should be a world-wide goal that anyone can get behind, it has to be that. Right? I imagine it like pixie dust. You hold the door for someone who’s at that far enough distance where you’re thinking, “Do I hold it? Or do I let it go?” You give a sincere and unexpected compliment. You leave a kind note. You carry up your neighbor’s recycling bin. You share your garden tomatoes. Or send a postcard, walk a new mother’s dogs, put away all of the laundry, tell someone she matters, share a novel that makes you think of a friend, buy a coffee or a ticket, nominate a colleague for an award, tap a shoulder and say “How are you?” with eye contact and love. Maybe you offer an essential oil or tell an old lady she looks nice or come to my yoga class (hint). Every act, even the tiniest ones, can create the same amount of ripples as victim-making. But for good. Sprinkle it here and there, and it grows.


The work of a few of last year’s 5th/6th Writing Class.

So why don’t we have a word for this person who has been positively affected by the actions of another? Beneficiary? Too financial. Recipient? Too transactional. Victim comes from a Latin word for “denoting a creature killed as a religious sacrifice.” Vic means to conquer. So Latin for lift up is “leva” and help is “aux.” The best I got is “auxlevatim.” And to my loyal reader, yogi, and friend, Tim, I’m sorry you got wrapped into all of this. English for the Latin “tim” is “Tim” so I don’t understand. Today, make some auxlevatims. Let your pixie dust spread all over the worlds of those you lift and help.


We don’t have a word for the opposite of victims (except for auxlevatims), but if we did, I could say that’s what we should all hope to create in life.


In the red is he who most makes me an auxlevatim. 

“I Don’t Believe in Time.” -Hootie

IMG_0719Family in White and Denim

In Dad’s first Honda Odyssey, the most played “album” (maybe it was a cassette, possibly a CD) was hands down Cracked Rear View (1994) by Hootie and the Blowfish. Most played song: “Time.” In it, Hootie talks about time, talks to time, denounces time, defriends time, and repeats the word time, well, a lot of times.

Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave crashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams
Time, why you walk away?
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying

Can you teach me about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow, running free?
Cause tomorrow’s just another day
And I don’t believe in time

Time, I don’t understand
Children killing in the street
Dying for the color of a rag
Time, take their red and blue
Wash them in the ocean, make them clean
Maybe their mothers won’t cry tonight


Can you teach me about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow, running free?
Cause tomorrow’s just another day
And I don’t believe in time

(Time, time, time, time) You ain’t no friend of mine
(Time, time) I don’t know where I’m goin’
(Time, time) I think I’m out of my mind
(Time) Walkin’, (Time) wasted
(Time, time) You ain’t no friend of mine
(Time, time) I don’t know where I’m goin’
(Time, time) No, no no no


And as many millions of times as I have heard that song and even sung along to it, it wasn’t until just now on that I thought about the message Hootie is trying to tell us (I think). He’s filing a complaint to time. Why does it vanish so quickly? Where does it go? And if you can’t beat it, then just don’t believe in it. Horrid cliches aside, Hootie speaks for many of us. Where does the time go? Grabbing it, trying to hold it and keep it is a futile, winless task.

But then he sort of loses me at “I don’t believe in time.” After all, our lives are largely dictated by time. We want to save it, not waste it, maximize it, enjoy it, get paid for it, pay for it, count it, check it, stare at it in disbelief. So when I imagine riding in the Odyssey #1, windows down, cruising on Loch Raven Boulevard, waiting for “the heat to work,” and singing like a hopeless trio, I know time was not actually on my mind. I was just giving back to Hootie what he was giving us. “Time, why you wallga-wayyy?”

I remember my parents when I was little talking about how time went by so fast and I recall disagreeing. I felt like they must have never been to school before because time just crawled in school. How could they possibly believe time moved slowly? Outside of Christmas Break and Summertime, life was creeping by at a snail’s pace. And then I hit about 13 years old (which can only be about five years ago, right?). Everything seemed to speed up at that point. Was it being more aware of the world? Less involved with myself so I became occupied looking at and observing others? Was it because I discovered boys? Hormones? My menarche (I dedicate that word to Erin Drew)? Whatever happened, it’s flown by ever since.

As an adult, I love observing and comparing others’ perceptions of time on a small scale. It’s amazing what others think they will or will not have time for–it’s amazing what I have the audacity to think I will have time for. Some people “don’t have time for all the magazines that come to the house,” while Stacey always says, “I love a good glossy” and on top of an active social and work life, tears through her shiny-covered monthlies. Some people can’t squeeze in working out, while for others, who could be even more “involved,” working out is a mandatory part of life.

What it comes down to is that time is relative.

For example, my friend Jimmy Markakis (no relation to Nick Markakis) sleeps about four hours per night, works more than full time, is heavily involved in Greek things and techy clubs and groups, travels constantly, owns a 3D printer, and then pursues multiple advanced degrees all at once. Now, he’s a bit extreme. But for some, even just one of his lifestyle choices would be too much.

I imagine we’ve all got a little clock inside of us that dictates what we believe we have time for. I am definitely closer to Jimmy on the spectrum but it took me about 30 years to realize that even I have limits (Jimmy still doesn’t).

Chas has been asking me for years to read The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, and for years I have tried and then fallen asleep. Luckily, Zimbardo and Boyd have distilled these ideas to three paradoxes.

“The Time Paradox is not a single paradox but a series of paradoxes that shape our lives and our destinies. For example:

Paradox 1
Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.”

This is a little above my level but I think he’s saying we think about time constantly, we feel it, and we act based on it but really, we can’t see how it affects us in large-scale ways.

“Paradox 2
Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.”

Find a balance between appreciating the past, relishing in the present, and planning for the future. Living only in the past is depressing. Living only in the present is reckless. Living only for the future makes you miss out on what’s happening now.

“Paradox 3
Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.”

Your experiences greatly affect your time perspective. But collectively, the society you live in gathers up the perspectives of its people and that effect is great enough to determine a country’s fate.

On the website for the book, you can also take a Time Perspective Inventory to determine how you perceive time.

For transparency’s sake, my time perspective results are here:

Past-negative: 2.60
Past-positive: 4.22 (a little on the high end)
Present-fatalistic: 1.89
Present-hedonistic: 3.73 (close to balanced)
Future: 3.69 (perfectly balanced)

Eastern cultures and Western cultures view time differently and it’s found that even countries that share a border do not share their perceptions of time. The US and Mexico differ greatly. And the US is to Mexico as Switzerland is to Italy. According to Business Insider, “Thais do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way that the Japanese do. In Britain the future stretches out in front of you. In Madagascar it flows into the back of your head from behind.”

We all know that in the US, time is money. On a good day, I can get $80 an hour for tutoring. Our time/money value is reinforced whenever I am outside of the US. In Morocco, artisans spend hours and eardrums on beautiful pieces and then pass them off for mere dollars. As I’ve mentioned before, when I needed to see a doctor in Marrakech, I was able to do so within 8 minutes of arriving in a clinic and for $30. So is our way the right one? Yes and no. Time is relative. The only answer is to savor it, enjoy it, and to know, deep in your heart, that it is also completely finite.

Dear Niecephew (Part 2)


Can you EVEN handle how adorable your momma is?

Dear Niecephew,

This is the last time I will be able to call you Niecephew because soon you’ll be here, in the world, and they’ll drape you in the color that society has selected for your sex. I can only assume, since your momma and your dadda have decided to make your name a surprise, that in a few short days we will call you something like SnuggleMuffinPieSquishLoveSoSweet. I can’t wait to call you by your name, and oh so many nicknames. (Speaking of calling you by your name, when you’re 18, you must see Call Me By My Name–it is the most beautiful love story but too mature for a little boo.)

Since you’ll soon switch from a fetus to an infant, I think it’s high time we get you into some literature. So here’s my favorite poem. Eat it. Let the juice run down your chin. I’ll add my own commentary–you’ll get used to it–Aunt Amandy always has commentary. Just ask Uncle Chas.


The Desiderata

by Max Ehrmann

(Commentary by Aunt Amandy)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Before we get going here, little boo, placidly means peacefully. When you’re ready to know about Greek and Latin roots, I will teach you that plac comes from the Latin word for “to please.” 

I love this stanza for so many reasons, including the appreciate silence. As you grow up I cannot imagine how loud the world will be. Find silence whenever and wherever you can. It’s a commodity these days.

When people make you angry, when you make people angry, find a path to resolutions. Life’s too short for animosity. Sure, your Aunt Amandy often jokes about her nemeses, but they’re just people who need to be called out on their shit. Also, don’t say “shit.”

When you listen to others, look them in the eye. Show people that you’re listening. For the love of all that is holy, do not look at your cell phone while someone is telling you a story. See also this 

One of the most important lessons of living is that everyone has a story. Listen to it. Really hear it. Default to compassion. There is no way of knowing the burden someone is carrying silently. Even meanies**. They might be meanies because life does get hard and sometimes you’re just not sure how to spit that back out and it ends up landing on other people, maybe you. Assume positive intent and help those people if you can. 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

As I said above, even meanies have a story but that doesn’t mean you need to hang around them. Model your peace for “loud and aggressive persons,” don’t join in. We want your spirit to remain vexation-free.

Comparisons are a fruitless pursuit. It’s amazing that Ehrmann wrote this before social media because at its root, it seems that the stuff it’s really made of is comparison. Be proud of who YOU are. Be proud of who others are too. Life is so much harder if you make everyone else a competitor. Let your only competitor be yourself and you’ll always continue to grow.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

For the foreseeable future, your career will be tummy time, then learning to eat on your own and then potty training, then it’ll be school for 22 years. Find times to celebrate yourself. And when we say that school is your job, know that your learning and to a lesser degree, your report card, are your paycheck. Earn them. 

Find the heroes that surround you. Start with your grandparents. They’re pretty kick ass. While you should hold things close to the vest, look for the good, the great, in others. 

Money is important for some things but do not let money drive you. Let passion drive you. I want you to wake up everyday and feel like, “Yes, this is what I get to do!” You’d be surprised how many people are never able to say that because money is what drives them. Make enough to pay your bills. But be happy everyday. 

Also, to that end, it’s always just easier on your psyche in big parties to ask the waitress for separate checks from the beginning. If you want to enjoy the meal, get the financials out of the way at the beginning. 
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

“Feign” is one of those words that is an exception to the “i before e rule” and it means “to pretend.” Don’t worry, I will teach you that soon. My niecephew will not misspell “receive.” 

Love openly, but no need to fake it. Your heart will be broken. And then again. And then more times. I will give you a great playlist of sad songs and we can eat ice cream from the container. But don’t let those heart breaks break you. Love wins.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

Welcome aging, you’ll know more as you grow. Inside you, in your spirit, you have everything you need to weather the letdowns that will surely happen. Acknowledge the power inside of you. Breathe. Face feelings, even the painful ones. It’s the only way to really heal.

Sometimes we are the hardest on ourselves. Learn how to forgive, not just meanies, learn how to forgive yourself. Apologize to those you’ve wronged and then open your clenched fist and let it go.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

The above is my most favorite stanza. Read it whenever you need to. 
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive her to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

This poem was written in 1927 so I had to make an edit. If god exists, we all know she’s a she. If you believe in god, great. If you don’t, great. You can decide that for yourself. But don’t be afraid of spirituality and the powers of the universe. You’ll find throughout life that something or someone is at hard at work to ensure that whatever is meant to be, will be. 
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

You’ll encounter many pessimists in your life. Don’t be one. Show them how to be an optimist and they’ll be better for having known you, Niecephew. Sure there’s hurt and pain and sorrow and awfulness, but there’s so much beauty. Default to joy. See the pink blanket under the cherry blossoms that have dropped their petals. Find the only cloud in the sky on a blue day. Fold over your legs and enjoy a stretch at least once a day. Smell what’s baking. Listen to the song of the birds who woke you up too early on a Saturday. 

We’re all so ready to meet you. You know how I mentioned “placidly” above? Please, for the sake of your momma, enter the world placidly. Also, soon.


Aunt Amandy

**meanies = ass holes, but I don’t want you to have a potty mouth

World Without Cell Phones, Amen

Who else grew up Catholic? Remember the “Glory Be”? It ended, “World without end. Amen.” Pretty optimistic for the Catholics in this one. I guess when they wrote that prayer, they couldn’t have anticipated the identity of USA’s #45. Well, I took the end of that prayer to title this blog because I’m sick of cell phones. And, I’m a hypocrite. And I hyperbolist.

My iPhone is less than a foot from me as I first start to type this because Chas is on his way home from a business trip and I need to complain to him about my sudden allergies.

On Wednesday, when my mom and I attempted to hold Crochet Club, we simply could not. We couldn’t get yarn into the girls’ hands, not a hook between any of their stubby little fingers. I stood on my proverbial cell phone soapbox, told them what time it is and Nance and I blew that popsicle stand. What else were we supposed to do? Children who couldn’t get enough fluffy yarn and crochet time back in the fall were eschewing their former pastime in favor of another. The most indomitable. The most demanding. The most desirable and evil and all-powerful.

The cell phone.

I have seen girls stroke their phones, call a phone “my baby,” and during they day when they cannot have their phones on them at all, they often have the phone’s case with them like, “in memory of this morning, when I had my phone…”

I cannot compete with a cell phone. My mom driving all the way from West Baltimore to give her afternoon for Crochet Club cannot either. We’re no competition when the girls start playing awful music and dancing and snapping and insta-ing and god knows what else, they seemingly cannot stop. It surely is an addiction. But it surely doesn’t have to be.

Aside from the lure of the phone for my children, is the danger of the phone for my children. Girls talk to boys, send photos to boys, plan to meet up with boys. Ah! I got my first phone when I was 14 but I am so glad I didn’t have to grow up in the world of smart phones or even camera phones. As educators, we have to investigate the behaviors our students carry out on phones now. Forget “He said…She said,” because now it’s all “She snapped this and then he insta-snapped that and then she was like this and that’s when he sent a Vimeo and then she posted it to YouTube and then she said that back on Spotify…and then the whole world exploded.” It’s a lot more detangling, a lot more mess, and a lot more of, “Do you even understand that nothing you post on the internet ever really goes away?” and more, “That boy does not deserve to have your text, let alone a compromising photo of you,” and more, “Why can’t you just talk it out in person?”

So that’s the kid angle. They’re obsessed, they’ve never known a life without it. I can barely imagine how this looks when they are adults. Will phones be surgically implanted into their hands? The sides of their heads? Where do we even go from here? How will they know how to interact with real, live humans? Will they even have enough words?

But many adults are no better. I have a hard time holding back when I am out with someone and the phone sits on the table. Why does the phone get a seat at the table? Groups of disenfranchised people have been fighting for seats at the proverbial table for centuries…and we just willy nilly give one to our cell phones? And the hypocritical thing is, sometimes I, too, have to pull out my phone and deal with something. But why? Why is the pull so strong? Why can’t it wait like it did for millennia before? It gets us all.

There’s one episode of Seinfeld in which cell phones are a factor. Elaine is floundering about calling her friend to check in on her sick father. But Jerry says she cannot make that call from a cell phone because “The Cell Phone Walk and Talk” is inconsiderate, too rushed, and unfair. Elaine keeps going back and forth about when to call her friend.

Okay, fine. Not a thing today. We get it. But basically a good chunk of the 9 seasons of Seinfeld would be impossible with cell phones. (This is not a post about Seinfeld though. This is.) Think about Elaine’s “little kicks” dance move–she’d be viral! And even more humiliated! Or episode two when Jerry has to recall the name of the office building where a woman works and repeats it over and over again so he can stake her out–these days, he’d be able to stalk her online in about 34 seconds. What about when George wants to sleep with his coworker after a party so Jerry has to find his own way home? He calls Kramer who lets the address fly out the window of his car and it goes from there. This could be true of any story, really. I mean Romeo and Juliet did not have to die. But don’t you miss these little dramas, on screen and in real life, just a little? Do you miss having to pick up the phone to see if it’s your 7th grade boyfriend calling the house before your dad answers? Or planning ahead to meet someone somewhere and then knowing that that person cannot flake on you because she has literally no way of telling you she cannot make it?

Are there any mysteries anymore? I mean people post photos of their hot dog buns, Bichons, babies, bellies, car batteries, who knows? “What did you do last night?” or “How are you?” are barely worth asking. Because I could just look it up. I won’t because generally, if I care, I’d rather ask you that myself, but still. A few clicks and I’ve got your last seven years in front of me.

I won’t weigh the pros and the cons here. That’s too laborious. But what I will say, is that I am ready to be less phone-y. I want to just live. And be a human. And occasionally be part of 2018 but mostly just BE. So maybe the title is a bit of a hyperbole but it’d be simpler, right?

We weren’t born with phones in our hands and I don’t think we should die that way either. Let’s all make an effort to exist more in the world than we exist on the internet or in texts. Who’s with me?