Workmates and Friends: Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears Discuss Document Accessibility

Accessible Design:  This is Part 1 of a 2 part series.  The first part focuses on how Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears got involved with Assistive Technology.  The 2nd part focuses on how to design Accessible Word Documents. Paige and Linda have worked together in the ADA Compliance department since January 2012. Together they make quite the team.

 Figure 1

Figure 1: Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears Paige and Linda have worked together in the ADA Compliance department since January 2012. Together they make quite the team.

Figure 1: Paige and Linda have worked together in the ADA Compliance department since January 2012. Together they make quite the team. End of Figure 1

Linda Coccovizzo’s Biography

Linda describes her background in her own words.

By Linda Coccovizzo

Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and my Early Childhood

I was born in Kansas City, MO, in 1973. My parents are also blind. My eye disease, Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, is inherited from my mother, however the odds of passing my particular gene of LCA onto offspring are fifty-fifty, as my one sibling, an older sister, is not at all visually impaired.

Sometime before I can remember, we moved to California. I attended mainstream public school up through the sixth grade, where I learned braille, and orientation and mobility skills. In the seventh grade, after moving to Oklahoma, I began attending the school for the blind in Muskogee, and then in Missouri in 1990.  I graduated from the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis in 1992.

Working as a Para Professional in Joplin

Living on my own since before graduating from high school, I made the decision to seek employment rather than to attend college, taking babysitting and telemarketing jobs, until I began working as a para professional in the Joplin public schools, in 1998. There, I worked with the students who were blind, transcribing books and material into braille, and then finally by using a computer and braille translating software to produce larger quantities on a braille embosser.

First Daughter is Born

I eventually moved to Springfield, MO, where I met my husband John. It was two months after my oldest daughter Sarah was born that we discovered she was blind. I was a stay-at-home mom with Sarah for a little over three years. My second daughter Terra was born exactly three years to her sister’s birthday. We discovered her blindness when she was three-months old.

Working for Columbia Lighthouse as a Rehab Engineer

At that time, I began working with a company called Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind out of Washington D.C., as a Rehab Engineer, training blind and visually impaired people on using technology purchased for them by Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. A year later, I took on a contract to do braille transcription at home for the Joplin public schools. I did this for about three months, until they found someone who could do the job in house. After that, and up until Terra was six-years old, I remained a stay-at-home mom, making sure the girls had everything they needed from occupational and vision therapy, up through getting them settled into public school.

Moving to Kansas City and Working with Paige at the Local Community College

In June of 2011, our little family moved to Raytown, and by January, 2012 I was working for MCCKC, in the ADA compliance office. My job description here has included putting books into accessible formats for students with disabilities. Which also includes testing various applications so they can read the books on their computers and other devices, testing online programs used by MCC for accessibility with screen readers, such as Jaws and NVDA, and transcribing tests, math, and foreign language course materials for our students who use braille.

Today

My husband and I currently live in the Northland in Kansas City, where my now thirteen and sixteen-year-old girls attend their neighborhood public schools. My youngest daughter is involved with her local girl scout troop. Both girls receive lessons from Youth Music Academy and play piano, and sing.  Both are also involved in recreational programs designed for youth who are blind locally, as well as around the state.

Figure 2

Figure 2: A photo collage of the different places Paige Sears has worked for a more complete description refer to Figure 2's description in the main text.

Figure 2: Above Is a photo collage of all the difference places that Paige Sears has worked out or helped produce.  At 12 o’clock is the Centennial Life logo. At 2 o’clock, a picture of the Hunt Midwest caves which is the place where Stamp Fulfillment Services for the United States Postal Services is located at.  In the middle of the collage and at the center of the clock is a logo that reads Missouri Department of Social Services.  At 6 o’clock is a logo which reads “William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications – The University of Kansas. At 11 o’ clock is the front cover of The Royal Proclamation.  A Royal fan magazine that was created, designed by Paige Sears. End of Figure 2

Paige Sears’ Biography:  From Sports Writer to Disability Advocate

I briefly want to explain how my career goals shifted from wanting to be a sportswriter to working with individuals with disabilities.  When I was attending college from 1987 to 1991 in Lynchburg, Virginia at Liberty University.  I desperately wanted to become a sports announcer.  As I drew closer to graduation I found that my true love was not really sports broadcasting but it was sports-writing.  I was on both the Cross Country and Track teams at Liberty University (LU) and I wrote several sports articles on Cross Country and Track events.  In my Senior year I got a scholarship to be the Sports Editor of the yearbook.  It was also about this time that I first was published in a magazine.

Lynchburg, Virginia the town in which Liberty University resides was also the minor league home for the Lynchburg Red Sox. At the time I was a huge Red Sox fan (despite the fact that I basically grew up in Kansas City all my life).  So I contacted a small magazine publication called The Red Sox Journal by the Buffalo Head Society. Well, I told them I was a sports writer in college and I started writing articles for them that focused on the Lynchburg Red Sox and their minor league prospects.

The Royal Proclamation

Then I graduated College in 1991 with a BS Degree in Telecommunications.  I moved back to Kansas City. Then, with the help of the Buffalo Head Society, I decided to develop my own Kansas City Royal fan magazine called the Royal Proclamation.  Looking back on it, it really was quite amazing that I was able to do everything from layout design, writing, and taking the pictures all by myself.  In fact a few times when the Red Sox were in town playing the Kansas City Royals, The Buffalo Head Society and The Red Sox Journal were able to get me press passes.  That was a very unique experience getting to meet my childhood heroes in person.  I was able to interview future Hall of Fame Thirdbaseman for the Red Sox Wade Boggs and I got an interview of him published in a National Magazine called Trading Cards.

The Negative Phone Call

However, not all of the experiences publishing The Royal Proclamation were positive. One day I received a phone call from a Kansas City Royals beat writer who wrote for the Kansas City Star (honestly I cannot remember his name). This reporter gave me a call because he saw a copy of my magazine.  And basically he berated me for trying to put something together like that with such poor quality.  I will admit that the publication did have a lot of typos and errors in it.  This phone call put a real damper on my enthusiasm for the project.

Plus in 1994 I got married and was starting to think more about my future and it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to write about the Royals much longer.  In fact, I did stop publishing the magazine, but if you remember 1994 to 1995 that time period was about the time that the Internet started to become recognizable as a viable 4th media (in addition to print, radio and tv).  So with a few lessons and advice of my younger brother I learned basic web design and launched my own Royals website.

First Communications Job

I developed a Royal fan website. It was not that innovative and I believe I stopped publishing in around 1996, but it did help me land my first job as a Communications Coordinator for a now defunct Insurance Company called Centennial Life Insurance.  I was already working at Centennial Life Insurance as a Claims Adjustor but an opening became vacant and they decided to hire from within and they hired me because of my writing experience and the fact that wanted to have a bigger Internet and Intranet presence throughout the company.

Around 1997, Centennial Life Insurance was bought out by another Chicago based Insurance company and I eventually lost my job when the new Insurance Company moved in.

Re-evaluation of Life Path

At that time in my life a lot was going on, I had my first son in 1996 and then my second son in 1999.  During that time my career path was focused on internet Communications  I briefly had a job held another Communications job at a different insurance company, but after about a year I was let go from that job.  In 1999, I was hired by a consulting firm which later became Northrup Grumman which is well known now for having contracting jobs with the Federal Government.  I landed one of those jobs and one of my duties became to reorganize the redevelopment of the Stamp Fulfillment Services Website for the United States Postal Service.  If you are not aware of the Stamp Fulfillment Services is feel at ease neither did I before I started working there.  SFS (Stamp Fulfillment Services) is located underground in the Hunt Midwest caves next to Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City.  And SFS, is responsive for promoting and selling stamps to the stamp collection community.  Stamp collectors are known as philatelist.

A New Start Begins

Around this time one of my jobs as I was revamping their corporate intranet site was also to make sure that it was accessible for Jaws Screen Readers for the Blind.  All federal government entities were fast approaching a deadline to make their website accessible to all.  This was when I first became aware of Screen Readers for the Blind.

In addition to having this new job working with the Federal Government and having two newborn kids, my marriage was starting to unravel.  In the year 2000, I was separated and I was already looking to do something a little more life rewarding than working in communications.  So I started to learn as much as I could about Jaws and screenreaders and I was able to obtain state contracts working as a Rehab Engineer and Trainer for Missouri Rehab Services for the Blind.  These contracts happen to come at a very good time,  Because once 9/11 happened the Federal Government started to make cuts with their outside contractors and I was let go right around 9/11/2001.

This rough patch in my life became even rougher because now not only was I recently divorced but I had lost my job.  The bubble had burst on the previous booming Internet economy and I found myself in a struggle to locate a full time job.  Eventually, I decided on a part time job working as the Systems Administrator for the University Daily Kansan in Lawrence, Kansas.  It was not a full-time job, but at the time I was going back to school to get my Masters in Marketing Journalism and the University Daily Kansan paid my tuition.  Somehow I eeked by with that part time job and my contract with the State of Missouri working with blind individuals on Jaws and other accessible devices and equipment.

Becoming An Adaptive Technology Specialist

I graduated with my Masters in 2005 and by October 2005 I had reinvented myself from a Communications Coordinator to that of a Assistive Technology Specialist for a local Community College in Kansas City.  I am still presently employed by that Community College and love what I do.  Basically how I like to describe my job is that I am basically a computer guru for our students who have disabilities.  I train our college students on different adaptive equipment and devices.   Another component of my job and also Linda’s job is to convert the tradition hard bound textbook that the student buys into an alternative format into a usable and “readable” format for our students with disabilities whether that is Braille, Etext or Audio.

Linda and Paige Share A Passion for Accessible Design

By Paige Sears

Early on, I knew that I was going to work well with Linda.  Our personalities and sense of humor just gelled practically instantaneously.  Plus we kind of helped each other fit the missing pieces of the Accessibility Jigsaw puzzle.  For example I learn and rely on Linda a lot for her knowledge of Assistive Technology for the Blind and how to convert text into Braille and Linda often relies on my sight to help explain something to her from a sighted perspective.  A prime example is how we worked together to put together a presentation for our employer on Tuesday August 21st on Document Accessibility.  I relied on Linda detailing me exactly what was difficult to navigate through on sample Word documents and then I would try to redesign those document based upon her suggestions in an accessible way which will allow easy access and design for all not just blind end-users.  With that in mind, below is the basic material who presented to our fellow colleagues at the Community College.

How Do Blind Individuals Read Documents?

Instead of the Mouse they rely heavily on using Keystroke commands to get Screen Readers to read not just documents but everything on the computer screen, including the desktop, Windows operating system navigation and the Internet.

So exactly What is a Screen Reader

Screen readers are computer software that assist the blind or visually impaired in using computers, by either reading the text that shows up on the screen or by presenting them on a braille display. Essentially, it serves as a platform for the visually impaired to communicate with their computers. Screen readers can either be instructed to read the text on the screen out loud, or to automatically speak out the changes that occur on the screen.

Each screen reader comes with its own unique set of command structures. They are able to perform tasks such as read a word, a line or even a full text, inform the user about the location of the mouse’s cursor on the screen, and tell them what item is being focused on. Some screen readers can also perform advanced tasks such as reading per-designated parts of the screen (useful when surfing the Internet), and even reading the items on the cells of a spreadsheet document.

There are several things one must consider before investing in a particular screen reading software program. Firstly, one must be sure that the screen reader is compatible with their computer’s operating system. Also, since most visually impaired users find the use of braille displays very helpful, the screen reader has to be compatible with them. One must also check if the software is compatible with the applications that the user most frequently uses. Finally, it is wise to check the command structures and keystrokes of the software beforehand, so as to be sure that they are easy to remember and not in conflict with existing keystrokes.

Two of the Most Popular Screen Readers Are Jaws and NVDA:

Figure 3

Figure 3: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.

Figure 3: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.

  1. A Link Directing you to the Freedom Scientific Webpage featuring JAWS (Job Access With Speech)
  2. A Link direction you to the NVACCESS website. NVACCESS are the making of the free screenreader product NVDA

Figure 4

Figure 4: The N V access logo. Please note the full logo description is included in the main body of the text.

Figure 4: The NVACCESS logo.  It looks like a big “N”. The top right part of the “N” is orange and looks like a slanted “V’. The bottom left part of the logo is purple and looks like a slanted “V’. Underneath the logo is the word “nvaccess” Note: the “NV” is purple and the “access” is orange.

Linda and myself (Paige) are big proponents of testing Document design and web design by using a screen reader to navigate the document and test for accessibility.  That would be what I would recommend for you to do 1. Test for accessibility and 2. to proofread your work with a screen reader because it provides an auditory feedback.

So if you do decide to test you website with a screenreader.  They are some basic command that will help you use the screen reader program.

THE 5 JAWS AND NVDA COMMANDS TO KNOW

  1. INSERT DOWN ARROW (from the point of your cursor) – It reads the entire document
  2. Control gets it to shut up
  3. Page Up
  4. Page Down
  5. The Arrow keys

 

How To Create Accessible Word Documents

Author’s Note: Part 1 focused on the personal stories of Paige Sears and Linda Coccovizzo and a brief primer in screen readers. Part 2 focuses on the specifics of how to create an accessible Word document along with “how to” screenshots. We also discuss the reasons behind accessible Word design. For the purpose of this article all accessibility steps, processes and examples feature Microsoft Word 365.

So how do you make an Accessible PDF, EPUB or HTML (web page) file? The key is to make sure that the original source document (the Word Document) is accessible.

I would suggest that when developing content that eventually will be used as a PDF and a Web Page that it is better to start off making sure that the WORD DOC is created correctly. Rather than trying to fix up an existing PDF.  Keeping this in mind if it is at all possible, all documents should start out as Word documents.

In this overview of creating accessible Word documents we will cover 6 Tips to improve the overall accessibility of your documents.

The 6 Tips are:

  1. USE STYLES VERSUS USING THE FORMAT FIELDS
  2. USE HEADINGS AS DOCUMENT NAVIGATION
  3. ADD ALTERNATIVE TEXT TO IMAGES
  4. DESIGN ACCESSIBLE TABLES
  5. PROVIDE DESCRIPTIVE TEXT FOR HYPERLINKS
  6. CREATE ACCESSIBLE BULLETED AND NUMBERED LISTS

TIP # 1: USE STYLES VERSUS USING THE FORMAT FIELDS

The first tip is the most important tip and it really impacts the overall design of your Word document dramatically.

It is much better for accessibility purposes to design Word documents using Styles versus using the Format Fields options such as Bold, Italic, Font Style, Font Size etc. An example of the Format fields that you should not use is shown in the screenshot example below in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1: A Crossed-out Screenshot of the Font Ribbon section along with the words "Not This". The crossed out sections include the following: Font, Font Size, Bold, Italic, Underline, Strikethrough, Subscript and Superscript.

Figure 1 Description: A Crossed-out Screenshot of the Font Ribbon section along with the words “Not This”.  The crossed-out sections include the following: Font, Font Size, Bold, Italic, Underline, Strikethrough, Subscript and Superscript. End of Figure 1

Please note that the Figure descriptions in both the Alt Text and in the Main text are not perfect examples, because I am purposely trying to completely describe the screenshots due to the nature of this article.  In practice it is not always practical to provide such lengthy Figure descriptions, but for this particular article, I thought it was important to provide detailed explanations.

One can access the Style menu in Word by using the following Keyboard Commands CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + S.  Once you do this you should see something similar to the Styles Screenshot shown below in Figure 2.  One can also go to Styles by selecting Home, then click on the box in the bottom right corner of the Styles Ribbon.  Notice in the example below there are several different styles to choose from ranging from TOC (Table of Contents), Block Text, Body Text and various others.

Figure 2Figure 2: A Partial list of Styles listed are: TOC 9, TOC Heading, Baloon Text, Block Text... For a complete list of styles shown plus further description refer to Figure 2 Description directly below Figure 2 in the main text.

Figure 2 Description: The styles listed are: TOC 9, TOC Heading, Balloon Text, Block Text, Body Text, Body Text 2, Body Text 3, BodyText First Indent, Body Text First Indent 2, Body Text Indent, Body Text Indent 2, Body Text Indent 3, Closing, Comment Reference, Comment Subject, Comment Text, Date, Document Map.  The “Show Preview” and “Disabled Linked Styles” are unchecked check boxes.  There are also 3 graphic icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles.  There is also a link to Style Pane Options it is labeled “Options… End of Figure 2”

One can create a new style, use the Style Inspector or Modify a Style by selecting the appropriate button at the bottom of the Style List.  In the figure below you can see at the bottom an arrow pointing to the New Style button, the Style Inspector and the Modify Style button.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Description: Basically the same as the screenshot labeled Figure 2 except at the bottom there is a red arrow pointing to the left following icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles

Figure 3 Description: The screenshot of Figure 3 is basically the same as the screenshot labeled Figure 2 except at the bottom there is a red arrow pointing to the left to the following icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles. End of Figure 3.

Instead of creating your own styles.  It might be a better idea to find someone that is well-versed in creating Accessible Word Documents and seeing if they can provide you with a handy template for creating accessible Word documents.  This way you personally do not have to create styles for every different scenario but can just modify styles.   I will provide you with an accessible template if you send me an email request to paigesears@yahoo.com

TIP # 2: USE HEADINGS AS DOCUMENT NAVIGATION

If one simply designs a large document, but does not use Headers for documentation it is very difficult for blind individuals to quickly skim through your document to find the paragraph or section that is of specific interest to them.

Think of the use of Headers as a way of creating a Table of Contents or Outline for your readers to navigate through your document.

If you take a look at the screenshot below in Figure 4, you will see a sample Navigation pane of a Word document that I created.

Figure 4

Figure 4: The Pane shows the following: "Navigation" at top left. Right below is a search field, Then 3 links Headings, Pages, and Results. Then the page navigation is shown for a more complete description refer to Figure 4 description in Main Text

Figure 4:  Note the words Title, Heading 1, and Heading 2 are actually not listed in the navigation pane but one can determine that heading 1 and 2 are different because of indentation. The Navigation Pane Shows the following.  Navigation is the title of the pane below that is a search document field, Then 3 links Headings, Pages, and Results.  Then the following Navigation is shown. Title: Workmates and Friends: Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears Discuss Document Accessibility Heading 1: Linda Coccovizzo’s  Biography Heading Level 2  * Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and my Early Childhood * Working as a Para Professional in Joplin * First Daughter is Born * Working for Columbia Lighthouse as a Rehab Engineer * Moving to Kansas City and Working with Paige at the Local Community College Today Heading Level 1 Paige Sears’ Biography Heading Level 2: * From Sports Writer to Disability Advocate * The Royal Proclamation * The Negative Phone Call * First Communications Job Re-evaluation of Life Path * A New Start Begins * Becoming An Adaptive Technology Specialist Heading Level 1: Linda and Paige Share A Passion for Accessible Design End of Figure 4.

Also, one can get to the Headings in the Styles Menu in two different ways.

Option 1: Click on the appropriate heading level in the Styles ribbon gallery.  For example, Heading 1, Heading 2 or Heading 3.

Option 2: Use the Keyboard Command of CTRL + ALT + 1 for Heading 1, CTRL + ALT + 2 for Heading 2, CTRL + ALT + 3 for Heading 3

Figure 5

Figure 5: Screenshot of the styles ribbon. The style look and design are shown graphically and labeled as Heading 1, 2, 3 and 4 and there are 4 red arrows pointing to each separate heading

Figure 5: Screenshot of the styles ribbon.  The style look and design are shown graphically and labeled as Heading 1, 2, 3 and 4 and there are 4 red arrows pointing to each separate heading. End of Figure 5.

TIP # 3: ADDING ALTERNATIVE TEXT TO IMAGES

Why is it important to provide Alternative Text to Images?  Basically if you do not add descriptive text to your images then the blind end user has no idea what the image means in relationship to the other text.  For the most part a massively in-depth description is not necessary.  For example, in Figure 5 that depicts the Jaws Logo the following description is suffice.

 DESCRIPTION BEGINS: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.  DESCRIPTION ENDS

Sometimes a more in-depth description is appropriate.  In some cases, the description needs to be wordy if the image for example is an actual body of text that contains 7 Steps or is a diagram showing how to do something in that case a lengthy description is appropriate.  Often times, though what I do is that if the picture is a process or contains a lot of text I will include a  description of what the picture entails in the body of my Word document.

Something to be aware of also with images is that often images are not just simple images but they are images that if clicked on will take you to another webpage.  In those cases, it is imperative to make sure that you indicate in your alt tag description where that hyperlink will take the computer user.

So here is the Step by Step process of creating Alt text for the image.  Select the image with your mouse, then point and click on that image.  To see what that should look like when you select the image take a peek at Figure 6 below.

Figure 6

Figure 6: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.

Figure 6: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.  Figure 6 Ends

Then once the image is selected Right Click and Select Edit Alt Text as shown in Figure 7 below.

Figure 7

Figure 7: Screenshot of the menu that appears when you select an image and right click. Highlighted in the menu is "Edit Alt Text..."

Figure 7: Screenshot of the menu that appears when you select a figure or image (in this case Figure 6) and right click.  Highlighted in the menu is “Edit Alt Text…” End of Figure 7

Then simply enter the description in the Enter Alt Text field box.  Example is shown below in Figure 8.

Figure 8

Figure 8: Screen shot of the Alt Text pane:  For a more complete description go to the main page and read the Image description under Figure 8.

Figure 8: Screen shot of the Alt Text pane: “Alt Text” is at the Top Left below that it reads “How would you describe this object to someone who is blind?”  (1-2 sentences recommended.)”.  Below that is an empty field box with a red arrow pointing in it.  Below that is a button labeled “Generate a description for me”, then a check box that is unchecked that reads “Mark as decorative” End of Figure 8

TIP # 4: DESIGN ACCESSIBLE TABLES

Tables should be used to communicate data; they should not be used for layout and design.  One of the popular trends in both document and web design is to create “invisible tables” with no visible columns or rows.  This technique may help improve the visual feel and layout for the sighted in often provides nothing but confusion and miscommunication to the blind end user. In my opinion tables should always be used to communicate data not layout. If you follow this one bit of advice regarding creating accessible tables it will improve the ability of creating accessible table dramatically.

Below is an example of a well-designed table

TABLE EXAMPLE BEGINS HERE

Paige’s Sons

Name Age College Attending
Brett 21 Missouri Science and Technology
Brady 18 Maple Woods Community College

End of Table

The best way for you to determine if your table is accessible is by tabbing through each cell.  For example, when you navigate to the cell that has “Maple Woods Community College” in it, you will hear the screen reader Jaws say “College Attending: Maple Woods Community College”.  Therefore, you know that the blind end user would be able to quickly understand what each cell content means and what cell column it corresponds to.

Something that is important for designing accessible tables is to make sure that your Header Rows are appropriately labeled.  One can do this by selecting the table with your mouse. Select the Table by clicking on it.  Once you have done this you will see 4 arrows pointing up, down, left and right just to the top left of your table.  Then right click and select Table Properties.  See screenshot example below.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Screenshot of the Paige's Sons Table. The table has been selected and right clicked on. A menu appears. At the very bottom of the menu "Table Properties" is shaded in dark gray.

Figure 9: Screenshot of the Paige’s Sons Table.  The table has been selected and right clicked on.  A menu appears.  At the very bottom of the menu “Table Properties” is shaded in dark gray.  End of Figure 9

Once you select Table Properties your screen should look very similar to the screenshot shown in Figure 10 below.  Make sure that you select the “Row” tab and uncheck the “Allow row to break across pages” and make sure “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” is selected.  When you do this it is easier for JAWS, NVDA and other screenreader users to help identify what table row header each table cell content relates too.

Figure 10

Figure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of "Repeat as header row at the top of each page" check box. For further description refer to Figure 10 description in main textFigure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of "Repeat as header row at the top of each page" check box. For further description refer to Figure 10 description in main text

Figure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” check box. Above that is the “Allow row to break across pages” check box. The check box is unchecked. End of Figure 10.

TIP # 5 PROVIDE DESCRIPTIVE TEXT FOR HYPERLINKS

Hyperlink descriptions need to describe the nature of the hyperlink and what the Hyperlink content contains.  Some very bad examples of Hyperlink descriptions would be using “Here” or “Click Here” to describe the hyperlink.  Just imagine if a single web page has 30 or 40 “Click Here” links and each of those links takes the web navigator somewhere else.  It would be a very confusing situation for that user.

So how can you provide descriptive text for hyperlinks.

Step 1: Visit the website and copy the URL of the hyperlink. See the up arrow in Figure 11

Step 2: Highlight some text as shown below.  In the example below “This is the Descriptive text for the Web Aim Link…” is the highlighted text. Also it is right under the down arrow. Note: Do not highlight the actual hyperlink.

Figure 11

Figure 11: Screenshot of some content taking from a Word document.  For a more complete description refer to the Figure 11 image description in the main text.

Figure 11: Screenshot of some content taking from a Word document.  There is a down red arrow pointing to some gray highlighted text.  That gray text reads: “This is the Descriptive text for the Web Aim Link”. It is not an actual hyperlink but just text. The second line of text reads, “This is the webaim hyperlink to the right https://webaim.org/techniques/word”.  There is a red up arrow pointing to the web address. End of Figure 11

Step 3:  After you highlighted some text right click the highlighted text and select Link from the Menu that appears and then you should see a dialog box like Figure 12 below.

Step 4: Copy the URL web address that you posted into your Word document in Step 1

Step 5: Paste it into the Address field as shown in Figure 12

Step 6: Type in the display text that you want to appear as the hyperlink in the Text to Display field.  Select OK.

Figure 12

Figure 12:  Screenshot of the Insert Dialog box and some Word document content is shown right under the dialog box.  There are 3 red arrows labeled Step 4, 5, 6.  For a more complete description refer to Figure 12 description listed in the main text

Figure 12:  Screenshot of the Insert Dialog box and some Word document content is shown right under the dialog box.  There are 3 red arrows labeled Step 4, 5, 6.  Step 4 points to the Word document content that is a  hyperlink.  The hyperlink address is https://webaim.org/techniques/word.  Step 5 The “Address” Form Field has the same web address mentioned in Step 4. Step 6 has a down arrow pointing to the text in the “Text to Display” field.  The text in the “Text to display” field is Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents. End of Figure 12

Step 7: Highlight and delete the URL web address that you began with in your Word document.

Now your hyperlink should look like Figure 13.

Figure 13

Figure 13 Screenshot of Word document content. It reads "The End Result" and then below that is a hyperlink labeled "Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents"

Figure 13 Screenshot of Word document content.  It reads “The End Result” and then below that is a hyperlink labeled “Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents”. End of Figure 13.

TIP # 6 CREATE ACCESSIBLE BULLETED LISTS AND NUMBERED LISTS

Intuitively, sighted readers look at bulleted and numbered list and know right away that information is important and is separated out in a vital way for the sighted user.  It is important that when you use list that you must convey this information to the blind end user as well as the sighted end user.

Just a general guideline for creating accessible bulleted list is that it is ok to use the built in bulleted and numbered list generator in Microsoft Word, but it is not ok to insert an asterisk symbol and other characters to separate or highlight certain sections of the document.

Below is a list of sources and hyperlinks that I used in the development of this article. All of the links in this well-designed bulleted list are related to designing Accessible Word Documents.

Please note that the design of the website, Word documents and PDFs produced by Paige Sears are designed with the intent to provide a reference point of how an accessible document should look and feel.  The use of visible fonts, navigable headers, described images and overall accessible layout is intentional as a way to promote accessible document design for Word Docs, PDFs and Web pages.  If you are navigating one of the webpages and documents offered by Paige Sears please send her a link so she can correct the issue as soon as possible at paigesears@yahoo.com

Part 1 of Paige Sears’ Thoughts on Religion: A Brief History of My Journey

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Series in which I focus on Religion.  This first part is basically a historically biography of my religious experience focusing on how my views were changed over the years.

Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us? – Joan Osborne
Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us? by Joan Osborne.  Pic Details: In the middle of the picture there is a beach and waves in the background.

Currently I am in the midst of deconstruction of my Christian faith. And for a while now I have been thinking about putting my thoughts and epiphanies about religion and how it shaped me in the past and how I want it to shape me in the future.  So this article is going to be an exploration of many of those key thoughts and religious ideals that I now hold or have let go of during this deconstruction process.  I will say that my end goal in deconstructing my faith, is not one in which I abandon religion but one where I remove the bad and negative aspects of toxic religion and replaced it with a Spirituality that is comforting and supportive of me as I travel through this journey we call life.

But before I reveal the key thoughts and the new maxims that are shaping my new world view.  I thought I would give you a little background on what my family life and school upbringing was like.

My Religious Journey

Picture of Paige Sears
Paige Sears wearing a green top, silver necklace, pink glasses a straw hat with a blonde hair cut.

I grew up in a very strict rules-based religious family.  My Dad was a store-front Baptist preacher in the inner city at a black church named Elijah Rock Baptist Church for over 20 years.  He and my Mom did many things in the name of religion that still haunt me today.  Probably the worst thing that my Dad and Mom did was play their little game of physical and emotional abuse in front of us day in and day out and then dealing with the abuse in the name of some kind of warped “forgiveness”.

Religious Family Filled With Abuse

 

Silhouette Drawing
Father figure is shown raising arm and teenager is crouching in defense

Some of my most traumatic memories of my Mom and Dad fighting are when we would travel to see my relatives who live in Indiana.  On more than one occasion I can remember my Mom and Dad starting to fight and my Mom asking, nearly begging my Dad to hit her and he would.  My Mom would also threaten to jump out of the car and on more than one occasion she did. (To be fair, my Dad would slow down and pull over, but to a 4 and 5 year old this shit was terrifying!)

And on more than one occasion, I unknowingly mimicked the example of my Mom and tried to jump out of a moving car and my Mom would tell me the story of how she got out of the car at a gas station screaming for trucks and cars not to hit me.

Although never diagnosed my Mom was more than likely bi-polar and my Dad more than likely was dealing with an O C D disorder among other things. I can remember my Mom threatening to leave my Dad several times but always bowing under the religious pressure that my Dad would scream to her about the evils of divorce.  Which resulted in an endless pattern of abuse.

This abusive pattern would usually trickle down in the following manner.  Although I identify as a woman now.  I grew up as a boy with 3 other brothers.  So what would happen is my Mom and Dad would verbally and physically abuse each other.

Then my Mom would abuse 1 or more of her 4 sons.  Often, I literally remember being strangle-choked by my Mom thinking I was going to die.  Then not surprisingly my brothers and I would have violent physical fights.  I can remember plenty of times where I nearly choked my younger brother to death.

My parents moved to Kansas City in the late 70’s in order to find better jobs.  When we moved to Kansas City my parents decided to send us to Tri-City Christian School. To say that Tri-City was legalistic would truly be an understatement.  It was basically like combining the disciplinarian rules of the military with a toxic Biblical world view.

My first year at the school was in the 4th grade. And at a very early age I knew that I was attracted to both men and women. During the height of the AIDS scare, I heard about the sins of homosexuality and how homosexuals were going to hell if they did not repent.   I was constantly going up to the altar rededicating my life in tears almost every time hoping that this time I would say the prayer right and my gayness would go away.  It never did.

I quickly picked up on the emotional benefit that my Mom gained on my Dad after she was beaten. Often my Mom would egg my Dad to beat her because she knew that if my Dad did hit her, that he would wind up feeling guilty. And in the end she would get her way or at least the attention she wanted.

I learned how to use this abusive pattern to my advantage.  By Junior High, I was proudly telling people and my fellow male classmates that I felt no pain and I egged them on to hit me and beat me up.  I remember in a warped macho way, this ability to take abuse often garnered me the respect of others in both high school and college.

Absent Father

fatherless_thumb
A Silhouette Picture of a “typical” family – a 3 year old daughter, a mom holding a baby but the “dad’ figure is just a dotted line and is really absent

So where does my Dad fit into all of this.  In many ways he did not fit in and that was the problem.  Although my Dad made sure to instill the necessity of reading the Bible and Bible study, he was detached to us emotionally and often physically because he started working the night shift as a postal clerk. He did not see the signs that I was a troubled child and failed to do something about it.

How I learned to cope in this family of dysfunction was to play the role of “good kid” and I did this by mimicking my Mom and getting under her good graces.  So, when I did this. I was less likely to get beat because my Mom would not allow it.  And one thing my Dad always wanted to do was to make sure my Mom’s anger bomb did not go off.   And when I was a teenager I was beginning to exhibit the same bi-polar pattern of my Mom.  I would have “purple spasms” just like my Mom and I would bite on my right index finger so hard that it began to blister and get callous.  And throughout all of this my Dad did very little or nothing at all.

Finally, though one time my mood swings got so bad that my Dad was so frustrated that he really did not know what to do. So, my Dad went to the administrators of Tri-City and told them that I needed help.  And being the legalistic Dad that he was he told the leaders that he thought the root of the problem was that I listened to rock music.  Of course unhealthy family patterns had nothing to do with it.  It had to be Rock music’s fault.

At this time, I believe I was a Sophomore in 1985.  I was in Algebra class and was sent to go speak to the principal and assistant principal. And right away, I knew this was a setup.  They both asked me if I listened to rock music.  I was not stupid.  I knew I was in trouble.  At 150 demerits you were kicked out of school.  I believe I already had 50 demerits and I knew that rock music was 50 more demerits and lying was another 50.  So I decided to tell the truth and at that time they told me that my Dad had told them that I was listening to rock music.  They later would tell me that if I would not have admitted to listening to it that I would have been kicked out for lying. And that was how they handled the situation.  They set me up and gave me 50 demerits.  No counseling, no probing into what was really going on at home, just the legalistic need to bust a student for not complying with the out of whack religious rules.

I do remember though that after that, they did recommend that my Dad send me to counseling.  So, I was forced to go to counseling against my will.  I basically lost trust in my Dad since the last time he tried to “help me” I got 50 demerits for it.  I saw what my Dad did back then as a family betrayal.  Now I see it for what it was worth – he was basically a man at his wits end on how to deal with me.

So I went to see a counselor and I was very shut down because in my mind the greatest guilt and hidden sin in my life was my homosexual desires that I was dealing with.  Instinctively, I knew that if I shared with my counselor about my gay leanings my world would have been turned upside down. I know without a doubt I would have been sent to a gay conversion therapy camp or some variation of it.

Keeping the Beachball Submerged

Now that I have come out as a trans-woman I have heard the time one spends prior to transitioning in comparison to that of a submerge ball or beach ball.  You can suppress your true gender identity for a while but eventually it will burst out of the water violently.  Not only did I hide my gender identity, but I also got very good at hiding my sexual orientation and submerging that identity under the water as well.  The next few paragraphs detail some of the ways I kept the proverbial beach balls of “gayness” and “transness” underwater.

Picture
A picture of someone keeping a ball submerged in water

As I got older I continued to live my closeted gay life and decided to attend the Christian College of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (The only way my Dad would agree to help any of his 4 boys out financially for school was if we went to a Christian school.)

In college I did find some more healthy ways to deal with my pent-up frustrations and anger.  One of the primary ways I did this was by starting to run cross country.  I was using my mantra of “I Feel No Pain.” in an athletic way and a way that gave me some feeling of being a man.  In our household everything was a competition.  There was never any lose in my Dad’s vocabulary.  When he played with us he would never just let us win.  He would try to beat as at Candy Land, Monopoly and Basketball.  And this culture of competitiveness was continued among the 4 of us.  And even though I was not the youngest, I was the third of 4 boys. I was born with the least amount of athletic ability.  Early in grade school I went to a Learning Specialist to work on my fine motor skills because I was quite behind other kids my age.

I bring this up because I equated manhood to performing.   And since I was already “gay” in my mind I was even much more of a wimp because I was a miserable athlete.  But in cross country, I finally found something I was good at and so my self-worth grew.  But once again, my Dad let me down in that he never felt the need to see me run or compete because I was not as good at cross country as my older brother Russell (who almost made it to the Olympic trials).  So his lack of attendance did prove to me that once again I was not good enough or man enough to earn my Dad’s respect.  Because the truth is that probably more than anything, – what a son wants to hear from their Dad is “I am proud of you.”  This means much, much more to a young teenager than “I love you.”

So after college, I eventually got a job working as a Communication Coordinator for an Insurance Company in the Kansas City area.  I do not know if it was attraction or a desire to fit in, but I eventually started to date women and eventually got married and once again appear normal on the outside in the Christian community. But the entire time I was married it never felt right and I was filled with guilt and remorse on the inside.  I was married in 1994, and in 2001 I was divorced.  And one of the biggest culprits in my marriage was that I continued to feel “less than a man”  because of my gay thoughts and failure to live up to my own standard of what a man is supposed to be.  So every little thing my wife would say, I would often take it as a personal assault on my manhood. And at times my behavior was very similar to the abusive behavior of my Dad.

The Beachball Explodes

Picture
Picture of a beachball exploding out of the water

One of the key events that happened in this time-frame of my marriage from 1994 to 2001 was my Mom’s death.  On July 31, 1997 my Mom passed away due to kidney cancer.  And this event was the beginning of several years of counseling for me. At the urging of my younger brother.  I went to see a counselor and eventually me and two of my three brothers confronted my Dad with many of the offences he did to us growing up.  It was during this counseling session that for the first time ever I told my Dad that I had gay encounters. Even though my Dad knew that hearing all of these things would be painful my Dad agreed to do it because he was in desperate need of friendship and family kinship after my Mom past away.

My Experience With Gay to Straight Ministries

 

Screenshot of the Desert Stream Ministries website.
Screenshot of the Desert Stream ministries website. The page has a cross on it with an article entitle “The Cross and HOMOSEXUALITY”

This counseling led me into another life changing event that molded my view of religion.  The counselor that our family saw recommended that I attend a gay to straight ministry called Living Waters which is part of Andy Comiskey’s Desert Stream ministry.  Initially, I saw Living Waters as a life jacket that would rescue my marriage and finally give me victory of the evil “gayness’ that was inside of me.  One of the comforting things about the Living Waters experience for me is that I finally opened up about my “secret” gay desires and found out there were others like me and I was not immediately rejected. I went through several different Living Waters or Living Waters-like programs that were designed to fix me.  I would have periods of “sobriety”, but what I found was that basically the Living Waters experience would just make my highs, a little higher and but my lows much lower than before.

I will say that I did meet a few people that were able to be “cured” from their “homosexualness”, but they were/are not people that I would like to be like.  Living Waters tried to emphasize “true masculinity” and “true femininity”. But what I found was that the people who were examples of “cured” actually turned from people with empathy and care in their hearts to people who saw “true masculinity” as a way to bully their viewpoints, not allow open dialogue and diverse opinions and found ways to propagate a misogynistic point of view that men with “true masculinity” were the true believers and a male with a “femininity” issue was less value and important in God’s eyes.

My experience with these gay-to-straight programs was really the final nail in the coffin to my marriage (which lasted just 7 years).  My ex-wife never truly bought into the notion that there was something wrong with “gay people” because one of her best friends in high school was gay and she was accepting of gay people even more than I was of myself. Deep down I hated myself.

Coming Out As a Gay Man The Beginning of My Deconstruction

Picture of several colored pencils.
Picture of Several Colored Pencils All of the pencils are pointing to a circle.  The content written in the circle is: “Find What Works”.

Around 2008 after having yet another round of failed experience attending a “gay to straight” ministry.  I finally had enough and decided to out myself as a gay man.  In 2008, I outed myself loudly and proudly on Facebook as a gay man.  Because of this incident, I dealt with a lot of backlash from my family regarding coming out.  It was difficult, but what I found was a new family.  A family that was accepting and unconditionally loving.  Most of these friends were from my workplace.  I also found that as I learned to live authentically,  I still had ups and downs of depression but they were less frequent and less dramatic.

Slowly, I was healing and my religious mindset and worldview was altering.

A couple of years ago, I was on Facebook and I was interacting with former classmates from my high school Tri-City Christian School.  Somehow the topic got around to some of the crazy rules and things that happened at Tri-City.  And I asked the question, “Can you believe that Tri-City actually had a day in school called Slave Day, where Seniors were auctioned off during chapel service on stage to the highest bidder. And the winning bidder then would be the master over the “Senior Slave” the next day requiring the Senior to carry books to class, clean their locker and feed them during lunch.  Well, the moderator of the Facebook group did not like what I had to say so she banned me from the group even though there were others who wanted to hear more about this and discuss it.

This made me quite angry, but instead of just stewing about it, I decided to do something about it and I started a new Facebook group called “Tri-Citians Healing from Spiritual Abuse”.  Presently this group has 300 plus members.  And something really cool happened with this group.  People began to share their individual stories of how teachers, and pastors verbally, physically, spiritually and sexually abused them at the school.  We realized that we were not alone.  We realized that this extreme example of church legalism was quite abnormal and not typical.  We realized how damaging the doctrine that was forced down our throats was in our lives.  Several of us shared written stories with each other which we posted on the group pages and the communication brought healing and in some cases forgiveness.

One of the results from this group is that I met a former classmate who directed me to a counselor who later I found out is someone who specializes in dealing with individuals who have been through oppressive religious organizations and helps these individuals re-align their thinking.  I started to see this counselor 2 years ago in 2016, and he has enabled me to finally accept myself as who I am.  Not only did he encourage me to spread my wings and be comfortable with myself as a gay man and attend gay events and groups, he instilled in me a new found confidence to explore who I really was.

About a year ago (August 2017), I came out as a trans-woman and started presenting myself as a trans-woman at work, home and anywhere I went out.  If it was not for my counselor helping me to see that I did not have to follow the “religious norms” set by my upbringing I would have never been able to have the courage to transition.  I have since changed my legal name from my birth name of “Tim Sears” to “Paige Sears” and now my drivers’ license reads female instead of male.

Tri-City Exposed

You can read the article in full by clicking on the “Tri-City ghosts link”: Tri-City ghosts: School Vouchers Raise the Possibility of Diverting Money into Abusive Faith Communities

Drawing
Drawing of 3 crosses

After the article was published there was quite of lot of talk about it among the members of the Tri-Citian Facebook group that I started.  Some glad for the article and others who thought it showed the school in a negative light and showed Christians in a bad light.  And even though the school itself is now defunct the church Tri-City Christian still exists and the article started to have ripple effects at the church.

My Meeting With the Current Pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church

Drawing of a two people talking. 
Drawing of two people talking.  One says to the other while pointing to the other person, “I Disagree With You!”

Since I was mentioned in the Tri-City article published by The Pitch I decided to meet with the pastor and see if he could help bring healing to others.  And the meeting was both good and bad.  I could tell right away that this pastor was well-intentioned.  I will give him some kudos because he did not have to meet with me because all of the things that were mentioned in The Pitch article did not occur under his watch but happened under the leadership of a different pastor.

Anyway, we discussed the events mentioned about me in The Pitch article and it did help to bring some closure.  But as I was getting ready to leave, he decided that it was his job to pray the gay out of me.  I left feeling manipulated and not listened to.

But after this brief encounter with this Pastor we stayed in contact via Facebook.  Probably 2 months after I met him, I came out on Facebook as a trans-woman and this pastor sent me a message and basically told me that transitioning would definitely lead to death or suicide and he refused to call me by my new name of “Paige” and called me by my dead name or birth name of “Tim” because according to him to do so would be in his eyes a sin.  His exact words were, “God created you as Tim Sears to be an image bearer of His character and His will. You will find satisfaction only in submitting to His desires for you. I will never refer to you as Paige because that would be the most unloving thing I could do to you.”

Now, 9 months into my transition I have found out that his warnings of death, suicide and unhappiness are utter garbage.  I have found and met so many new friends who love me as I am. I am not nearly as depressed.  I actually find the courage to look at my face in the mirror and love what I see.  My religious or spiritual journey is not over but is constantly changing. I have sporadically been visiting Unity churches. One in Lee’s Summit Missouri Unity Village Chapel and one in Kansas City on the Plaza Unity Temple on the Plaza

Unity is accepting of all religions and of a God who presents himself/herself in many different forms.  And all 3 times I have visited their church the speaker was a woman which is extremely comforting to me.

So that is a brief history of my spiritual journey which is far from complete and I hope you will now take a moment to read my other article which details some of the ways my belief system has changed and what new paradigms of thought I am now gravitating to and the key maxims that I am trying to live by.

The next part of my 2 Part focus on Spirituality focuses on how my religious beliefs have changed over time and a brief description of my belief system now.

Part 2 of Paige Sears’ Thoughts on Religion: My Evolving Belief System

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series regarding my views on religion.  The first part was really biographical. This part focuses more on my current belief system and how those views have changed throughout my journey. Just keep my personal story in mind, as we cover my belief system and ponder certain theologies.  In a nutshell, I grew up in a super religious environment at school, home and church. I hid my gay desires until my mid-twenties, then I went to a gay to straight therapy group.  Then I came out as a gay man in 2008 and then began my transition to a woman in August of 2017.

Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us? – Joan Osborne

Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us?” by Joan Osborne. Picture Description: The backdrop of the picture is a beach and waves.

THE IRRATIONAL RATIONALE OF CHRISTIAN LEGALISM

I love irreverent comedy.  Especially comedy that exposes the hypocrisy of the Church and how warped their thinking has become.  It is not that I hate Christians or do not consider myself a Christian.  Honestly, in my way of thinking it is just the opposite.  When people make fun of Christianity, Christians should not be offended by it. Instead they should make an effort to really listen to the overall message and honestly with a clear conscience seek to change the negative perception by their lifestyle.   So with that said.  I want to tell you that one of my favorite songs ever is “The Loophole” by Garfunkel and Oates.  Basically, it is the story of  teenage girls  that have been brainwashed with purity culture. And after the brainwashing is complete, they weirdly rationalize their “purity”.

Picture of the dynamic comedy team Garfunkel and Oates
Picture of the dynamic comedy team Garfunkel and Oates
A K A: Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome

So here it is the link to Garfunkel and Oates: The Loophole

PLEASE NOTE: THIS VIDEO IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THE WORKPLACE and NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN  The Loophole by Garfunkel and Oates.

Some of you reading this might think that the scenarios of these teenagers in this video are not realistic. “Christians” would never rationalize their virginity by having anal sex instead of vaginal sex.  Not true.  This was the very essence of my upbringing and pervasive legalistic thinking in my Baptist School, Church and home.  Everything was rationalized and measured.  For example, I honestly thought I was a virgin when I first had sex with a woman when I was 22 years old and before that I would tell people I was a virgin because in my way of thinking I rationalized that gay sex does not count regarding virginity.

Everything in legalistic focused churches is that way.  The focus is on is it ok to watch this TV show, this movie.

  • Is it ok to listen to this music?
  • Is it ok to read this book?
  • Is dancing ok?
  • Can you be a Christian and be Catholic?
  • Will you go to heaven if you commit suicide?

To me this type of legalism is exactly what Jesus preached against when he pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The focus in legalism is on actions, things and rules.  Pastors become the golden calves of worship instead of the focus on helping others.

So my deconstruction in large part has been one where I blew up this world of legalistic thinking and replaced it with compassion, love and kindness and acceptance for all. When I did, something happened that surprised me. I actually became a better person.  My periods of depression, anger and sadness occurred less often and less pronounced.  I became comfortable in my skin and proud of who and what I am.  Much of the guilt and shame that I took on before is now starting to fade away and diminish.  It is still there and probably will always be there, but letting go legalistic and rigid ideas has brought me nothing but happiness and acceptance of myself and others

The Most Dangerous Philosophy of Modern Evangelicals: Patriarchy

A drawing of the woman-power symbol
A drawing of the female symbol, a circle with a cross attached to the bottom, which has a raised fist in the center. This picture represents feminism and “Woman-Power”.  The words “Smash The” are above the drawing and “Patriarchy” is below.  Caption Description by Nina Haltheusen and Paige Sears

In my opinion, the most dangerous religious philosophy that has almost single-handedly rendered the validity of the Christian faith useless, is how powerful religious leaders propagate and cling onto the outdated patriarchy hierarchy.

In evangelical churches, women are vastly undervalued.  They are not treated as equals and are treated as objects to be manipulated for the pleasure of men.  There is a reason that in most modern evangelical churches you see very few pastoral staff that are women.  To me this is nothing more than the attempt of men to hold onto their power.  Simply put, it is and always has been a power grab and way to keep women in check.

The power does seem to be shifting a bit though which is good news.  In a 2015 article by Christianity Today a survey indicated that 1 in 5 students who attend seminary are women.  1 in 10 churches have a woman in senior or sole leadership.  The study also goes on to state that women make on average $25,000 less than men in salary.  (Source 1)

Why is treating men as superior to women so damaging?  Well, the best answer to that question is simply by looking at how poorly churches responded to the #churchtoo movement which was a subset of the #metoo movement. The #churchtoo movement started to report and out the sexual abuse of male pastors across the nation.  In my mind if women had equal representation in churches you would not see sexual misconduct cases treated so lightly like it did for years in the case of Bill Hybels (Source 2) and Andy Savage (Source 3).

In a recent Washington Post article, it dictates how prevalent sexual abuse is in the evangelical community.  The important thing to realize is that in the male dominant evangelical culture misogyny reigns.  Personally, I come from a home where my father was a pastor, and he beat my Mom.  I have no doubt in my mind that he justified this with his religious beliefs that he was the head of the household and he was just literally trying to “beat her” into submission.

And my personal story is just the tip of the iceberg around this problem.  ABC.NET.AU – Australia posted an article in 2017 that linked domestic violence to the Biblical mandate of wives submit to your husbands.

This type of authority is also used often to justify child abuse especially in Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches like the one I grew up in.  Below is a link to a web opinion blog by Bruce Gerencser who was a former evangelical pastor for 25 years.  His blog page does a good job explaining exactly what an IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) church is and what they believe and how they promote child abuse.

Does the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

In my opinion, the most dangerous religious philosophy that has almost single-handedly rendered the validity of the Christian faith useless, is how powerful religious leaders propagate and cling onto the outdated patriarchy hierarchy.

YES, YOU CAN BE GAY OR TRANSGENDER AND BE A CHRISTIAN

Book Cover
The book cover of “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines

For most of my life I bought the lie that complementarianism was Scriptural and that anything outside of the traditional mindset where one man marries one woman is just not Biblical.  Usually the sermon would go something like this.  God made, “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. This line seems very catchy and in some ways logical because according to the Biblical account God did make Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman).  But let’s examine Biblical marriage.  Abraham had a wife and several maid servants.  King David and King Solomon had many, many wives and concubines.  And guess what the Bible never makes an example out of this and says this was/is wrong.  So, I guess the ideal marriage is not a monogamous man and woman relationship or a same sex relationship, but it is fine for a man to be polygamous! Oh ok!  See when you read the Bible as a whole one starts to realize that the concept of complementarianism (the idea that God made both male and female unique with a given set of strengths and weaknesses that only can be fully realized in a monogamous relationship) is just a man-made construct.

Often Christian evangelicals will hatefully use the “Clobber Verses” to prove that being gay is evil and sinful. Source 6 and 7

Here are the Clobber verses

  • Genesis 1:27
  • Genesis 19 (Genesis 18:20)
  • Leviticus 18:22
  • Deuteronomy 23:17 and 18
  • Romans 1: 26 and 27
  • First Corinthians 6:9
  • First Timothy 1:10

The best defense and argument against the traditional anti-gay Christian viewpoint which supposedly is supported by these “clobber verses”, that I have found comes from a book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian.

In a nutshell, Vines refutes the accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed due to homosexuality. Vines contends that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed due to rape.  And he questions the translation of the word homosexuality in the New Testament passages.  And in his book, Vines questions the translation of the Greek word “aresenokoitai” into what we define today as “homosexuality”. Source 8 and 9

Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism

A drawing of a man and a woman. 
Drawing of a Man and Woman  Banner reads: Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism
 Are men and women equal in their God given roles ?

Often I get tired of theological debates such as the one regarding whether homosexuality is a sin or not because in many ways the arguments are pointless each side is going to point to their particular verses and their interpretation of them and rarely does anyone’s opinion change.

So instead of an endless and most likely fruitless theological debate, I want to pose a moral argument. I will start this process by asking a basic question. “Is it morally right to segregate the LGBT community, from the Church?” In my opinion the answer is a resounding “NO!”   And make no mistake when the church is so vocal about gay marriage and other LGBT issues the result is segregation!

It is my belief that the same type of hate and vitriol that is present in today’s church pews towards the LGBT community is the same type of hate and segregation that was prevalent in churches across America in the 1950s through the 1980s towards the black community. (One could argue that the black community is even still segregated by the Evangelical community.)  It is not righteousness that segregates evangelical churches from the LGBT community; it is prejudice, hatred and ignorance. And if you are reading this as an evangelical Christian and are thinking, “Well that does not apply to my church, in our church we have a statement of beliefs that says that we are an accepting LGBT church.”  That may actually be true, but ask yourself these questions:

  • Would your church be comfortable with a gay couple holding hands at your services?
  • Would your church be comfortable with a transwoman attending your church services in a flowing effeminate dress?
  • Would your church allow someone in the LGBT community to be in pastoral staff or serve as a deacon or deaconess?

And an even more important question to ask is:

  • Would the LGBT community feel comfortable enough to be their true selves at your church?” If the answer is “No”, in my opinion your church has some work to do.

From my perspective, I think a loving God would not limit who and who cannot come to a house of worship based upon their sexuality.  I honestly think that such an idea is preposterous.  If one believes this notion that God limits who can come to a house of worship, one must assume that God presently is not active in churches that are gay-affirming and to this I call “B S”.  Many gay-affirming churches are doing wonderful things in the name of God. You would also have to believe that God is not or has not help any of the LGBT community in the 12 Step Community.  If one is rational, it does not take a genius to see that Church Culture has put limits on the LGBT community that just is not fair or reasonable.

As a transgender woman, how a church treats and accept the trans-community is very important to me.  Many churches believe that being trans is immoral and wrong.  I really do not find this to belief to have any Biblical basis.  In fact, it is pretty clear that Jesus recognizes all types of trans-individuals in the Matthew 18 passage.  From intersex to those who choose to transition, Jesus accepted them all as individuals who could be Christians.  Source 11 and 12.

Some other questions that I have had to ponder lately

Is the entire Bible the inspired Word of God?

Picture banner says “Bible: Inspired Word of God?”

Picture banner says “Bible: Inspired Word of God?” In the background is a Bible

My basic problem with the Bible being the inspired Word of God and not written by men is that I definitely feel that many of the authors basically contradict each other such as Paul and James in regards to faith and works.  And to be brutally honest I just can’t stand much of the misogynistic view point of the Bible.  It is my opinion that the men who wrote the Bible were doing their best to keep a patriarchal – male dominated culture in power.  I also just can’t wrap my head around how much the Bible was translated.

Basically, it comes down to this fact if you truly believe that the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God you also have to believe that every time the Bible was translated that it was also translated divinely every time. That to me is too hard of a pill to swallow.

But even if you do believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  The problem is who owns rights to the correct interpretation of that Scripture.  What I always found amusing was how in my Dad’s church which was basically a store-front church in the black community.  The church was Baptist and my Dad was Baptist but many of the congregants of the church used the Bible to support their political or Democratic viewpoints. And on the flipside my Dad would use the Bible to support his right-wing beliefs. After years of being around the Church Community I just have come to accept that fact that many Christians use the Bible to justify even the most despicable beliefs or acts.  The Bible is now used more as a tool to prop up one’s own political beliefs than it is to commune with God.

Is there more than one way to God?

In my opinion I believe there is more than one way to God or enlightenment here on earth.  This is how I look at it I base it off the Matthew and Galatians Fruit of the Spirit passages.

 YOU WILL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS – MATTHEW 7:15 to 20 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – GALATIANS 5:22 and 23 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

So this is my simple philosophy to test whether a belief system is good or not.  Do your religious beliefs and convictions help you to bear the Fruit of the Spirit?  To me it does not matter whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jew or Atheist.  What matters to me is what does your life look like?  I want to follow someone who shows and demonstrates in action the following fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you, your church and religion do not demonstrate these fruit, more than you bear the opposite of these fruit, I want to avoid you and your religion at all costs!!

If your life is abundant with the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Then in my opinion you are on the right path. And it really does not matter how you got to that point in your life as long as you are striving to get there and on that path,

Banner reads: Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness,Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control Galatians 5:22 to 23
Banner reads: Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness,Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control Galatians 5:22 to 23

 

SUMMARY OF MY OVERALL BELIEFS

So where am I currently at in my Spirituality?  I would describe my present phase of Spirituality as one in which I am demolishing many of my long held beliefs and remolding my faith into something that is more accepting and more inclusive of all people.

Presently my ideology lies closest to the philosophy of the 12 Steps programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  In 12 Step programs, one is given the latitude to define God as you know and understand Her/Him.  As discussed earlier, in my experience the evangelical community interprets the Bible to justify their own prejudices and/or political viewpoints.  So with the 12 Step philosophy in mind, I have no qualms in doing what the Evangelical community has done for years and that is to shape Her/Him into something that will work for me.  My higher power as I understand Her/Him is someone that will accept me, root for me unconditionally no matter what my sex, or sexual preference is and will sustain in me in my personal battles whatever they may be.

MY IDEAL CHURCH WOULD BE:

  • ONE THAT IS NOT FULL OF RULES AND REGULATIONS

Surprisingly to me, that when I left the church and all of its regulations, I believe I became more moral.  That might seem weird to many but I think if you look at how the legalistic mind works it makes sense.  In a legalistic, evangelical environment one is always looking for ways to please God and make Him/Her happy and it always seems to be futile.  However when I walked away from the church, my focus was not on what God or the church thought was right or best for me, but my focus became what is best for me.   The burden of guilt and shame were removed and I was free to fail and not beat myself up.  This resulted in me not having as deep and painful of lows that I experienced in the past

  • ONE THAT ACCEPTS WOMEN AS EQUALS

In my opinion how the church holds onto Patriarchal Power and Misogyny are the most damaging things the church has done in modern American Christianity.  The church really needs more woman leaders and more input from women.

  • ONE THAT ACCEPTS ALL PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF SEXUAL PREFERENCE, GENDER IDENTITY, RACE AND RELIGIOUS FAITH AS EQUALS.

Inclusiveness is a top priority in the church that I am looking for.

SOURCES

  1. The State of Female Pastors
  2. The Bill Hybels Sex Scandal
  3. The Andy Savage Sex Scandal
  4. Sexual Abuse Epidemic in the Evangelical Church
  5. Submit to your Husbands Article by ABC.NET of Australia linking physical abuse to Christian Evangelical beliefs
  6. The Clobber Verses
  7. Religious Tolerance
  8. God and the Gay Christian
  9. The Best Case for the Bible not condemning Homosexuality
  10. Complimentarianism versus Egalitarianism
  11. Dismantling the Falsity that Complementarianism is clearly Biblical.

I encourage your feedback on both of these articles focusing on religion. Paige A. Sears

Hello! I am Paige Sears

Who is Paige Sears?!

This blogpost was written by Paige Sears, but first published and edited by Holly Rich Godfrey on her justchangelanes blog. 

Paige is smiling while wearing a blonde wig, heart glasses and a black top.
Hello! I am Paige Sears.

Paige Sears is a 48-year-old transwoman with a B.S. in Communication from Liberty University and a Masters in Marketing Journalism from Kansas University in 2005.  Paige has been married and divorced once.  From that major she has 2 sons ages 21 and 18 respectively.  Paige presently works as the Adaptive Technology Coordinator for Metropolitan Community College where she has worked with students with disabilities for over 13 years.

As a 48-year-old transwoman, you quickly realized that you are going to have to start not really giving a shit what other people think of you.  You have to do what you know is the right thing to do for you and learn not to feel guilty about it.

Finding the courage to come out as a transwoman was not an easy thing for me to do. I grew up in an Independent Baptist Home where my parents were extremely religious and I had attended very strict Christian high school and college. However, as a 48-year-old transwoman, I quickly realized I was going to have to start not really giving a shit what other people thought of me. I know now that I have to do what I know is the right thing to do for me and I have learned not to feel guilty about it. This is my story of making that transition.

Paige is seen here with his arm around her brother Andrew back when she was presenting as a female.
Paige (left) with her brother at age 21

Around 2008, after spending about 10 years going through a gay-to-straight ministry, I came to the conclusion that the “therapy” was not working. Although I consider myself bisexual, I realized that my sexual interest leaned toward men and I needed to finally admit that to myself and to the rest of the world.  At this time I was still presenting myself as male (not female) and I saw myself as a gay man. I came out to world as gay on Facebook.  That resulted in some shockwaves that I felt after I received some less than positive responses from my family and religious friends.

Picture of Paige Sears prior to transition sporting a full mustache and beard.
Pre-transition with mustache and beard

Still, through the help of a lot of accepting friends, I was able to work through my new identity as a gay man and began to accept myself as gay. However, looking back now, even at that time I knew something still did not feel right.  As soon as I came out as gay I started to dabble in cross-dressing, but it took me quite a while to accept and realize that it was more than an interest, and that I truly was a transwoman.

Breakthrough #1: Realizing I was not alone

Before I could find the courage to transition, I had to find the courage to deconstruct my religious upbringing and decide for myself what I believed. There were definitely difficult days during that process. I was kicked out of the Facebook group created by former classmates of my Christian high school for talking about questionable practices that had gone on in the school. Determined to have more open communication about these past events, I decided to create my own Facebook group with former classmates to continue the discussion.

Something amazing happened when I started this group. Over 250 former students have joined the group and we started share experiences of abuse at the hands of religious leaders. It was quite eye-opening for me to see that many others who went there had similar stories of religion being used to control people. I started to realize that much of the homophobia and transphobia from the Christian community was just plain wrong and misguided. It was both heartbreaking and healing to read the shared stories of others.

Breakthrough 2: Seeing a counselor for past spiritual trauma

One of the great results of starting the Facebook group was that I created a friendship with a former classmate who had similar symptoms of psychological and emotional damage created as a result of our Christian school experience. She was going to a counselor who helped her deal with her past trauma.  After my father passed away in March 2016, I began seeing her counselor. Later, I found out this counselor is an experienced expert in dealing with those wounded at the hands of out-of-control religious organizations.

This counselor really changed my thinking about religion and myself in a very positive way.  It was gradual, but after seeing him I began to realize two very important things:

  1. There is not one way to achieve spiritual or mental health. This was probably the hardest one for me to accept and be willing to explore. What really led me to this conclusion is that I have known many Christians who are unhappy and very unhealthy in their relationships and in their thinking processes. Many of the “unsaved heathens” that I know or have known really have their shit together.
  2. I need to trust my instincts. It truly amazes me how often now my instincts are right because it basically goes against all of my upbringing.
Paige is wearing a blonde wig and purple glasses with a huge grin.
Happy as Hell as a Woman

Ready to Make the Change

After these breakthroughs I knew I was ready to transition and start presenting myself as a woman full-time, but I wanted to relocate from my current home and make a “fresh start.”  The timing was good, as my two kids were getting older and would soon be leaving the nest. It was time to find a new place. In April 2017, I found a downtown condo and moved in. People seemed to be much more accepting in my new area and I felt comfortable right away.

By the summer of 2017, I was presenting myself more and more as a woman.  My watershed transition moment came for me in August 2017. I had just bought a pink dress, pink shoes, pink stockings and pink glasses and I decided to ride the Kansas City downtown streetcar wearing my outfit.

I was extremely nervous and self-aware the whole time I was on the streetcar. I honestly tried to avoid eye contact with anyone and I wouldn’t dare talk to anyone. The streetcar eventually got crowded and a lady sat next to me. Still to this day, I have no idea what she looks like because I did not want to look anyone in the eye. But she complimented me on my outfit and that was it–I knew I could transition.  IF I COULD RIDE THE STREETCAR DOWNTOWN I COULD DO ANYTHING!! By September 2017, I had informed my employer that I was transitioning to a woman.

Paige is wearing a blue dress and long black boots with pink glasses both thumbs up in the air and a huge smile
Full body shot after 6 months on hormones

What’s Next?

I am very excited for the next chapter in my life.  I am looking forward to rebuilding and reshaping my spirituality after deconstruction.

I am presently very happy about my decision to transition.  I do not regret my decision at all.

  • I will be looking for ways to give back to the trans-community.
  • Cosmetically, I would like to either get a hair extension for my bald spot or possibly hair treatment.
  • I would like to get back to writing more often and possibly dabble in doing some standup comedy at open mic nights.

Advice for others

If you or someone you know is thinking about transitioning, here are a few of the things that helped me:

Transgender Counseling. Most people are not aware of all that is involved in transitioning, but in order to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estradiol and hormone therapy one must get approval from a prescribing physician. I went the Transgender Institute in Kansas City, Missouri and they were and are such a valuable resource for transgender men and women in the Kansas City area.  My transgender counselor asked me to write out a detailed feminine history in which I documented from birth to the time of my transitioning (less than a year ago). What I came to realize as I was writing that document is that I have always felt like a girl eve at the early age of 4-years-old. I have heard Female Gender Dysphoria described best as feeling female in your mind and soul but your body parts do not match up with your mind and soul. Based on the recommendation of my transgender counselor, I went to KU transgender clinic and was prescribed estradiol and a testosterone blocker.  Hormone Therapy begins the process of properly aligning the female “soul” and female “mind” with the correct body adaptations. I also found out that like many transwomen I suppressed my feminine side which I have heard people compare to holding a beach ball down in water–you can do it for a while but eventually the beach ball will pop out of your hands and into the water. That is what my life was like. For years, I suppressed my femininity by overcompensating as a male.

Blending In One of the best ways to be affirmed as a transwoman is to begin the male-to-female makeover process. I hired someone to show me how to apply makeup. I hired a personal shopper to revamp my wardrobe and teach me about fashion. I bought a nice blonde –Jennifer Aniston-looking wig. And I started to get laser hair removal treatments to get rid of my facial hair. This allowed me to “blend in” with cisgender females (women born with female anatomy).

Paige is weraring a leopard print top and her heart glasses and attempting to display a pouty lip smile.
Profile Pic of Paige at work

Side Note: I prefer the phrase “blend in” much more than “passing as a female.”

Supportive Workplace I work at a local community college and I think that educational environments are one of the most inclusive workplaces for transwomen going through the transitioning process. My boss was very instrumental in encouraging me just by listening to me. For years prior to coming out as trans I would often say to her things like “I have thought about transitioning as a woman.”  Because of her and the supportive workplace it was a much easier transition for me than what other transwomen experience.

Finding a Transwoman Support Group Of all the things that helped me this is the one thing that helped me the most. I was in awe the first time I went to the transwomen group held in Kansas City. There were about 25 different women, all from different walks of life and all at different stages of their transition. As soon as I met these women I knew I had found my tribe. I cannot possibly describe how valuable it is hearing different transwomen who are going through the same feelings as you are and able to provide you a sense of an encouragement and belonging.

Building a Supportive Online Community: I started another Facebook group Another way that I have been affirmed during my transition is through a unique selfie/discussion Facebook group that caters to transwomen posting selfies and receiving affirmation from cis gendered women, cismen, transwomen and transmen. I have especially heard a lot of positive feedback from the cis gender women in the group because they learn so much of what transwomen go through. It is truly a unique group of about 30% transwomen, 65% cis-gendered females and 5% cis-gendered males or transmen.

General Etiquette And Advice When Meeting Transmen and Transwomen

  • It is OK to ask what pronouns to use such as “she” “he”, “him” “her” or “they”.
  • It is not OK to ask if someone if they have or plan on having “the surgery”. People do vary from person to person.  You will find some trans individuals do not mind being asked questions such as these because they see as an opportunity to be friendly and educate at the same time but with that said, I would err on the side of caution until you really get to know the person.  This one truly is common sense.  You would not want someone asking you evasive questions about surgery.
  • Avoid the phrase “You ‘pass’ as a male or female.” Personally, I prefer “blend in.”
  • If you are not sure what to say or how to compliment a trans-person, remember everyone appreciates a compliment. A simple compliment such as “You look nice today.” Or “I love those boots on you” does wonders for self-esteem.
  • Try to treat the individual just like you would anyone else of that gender.

Thanks, for letting me share with you some of my experience.  Please feel free to send me an email.

The Benjamin Button League

The History of the Benjamin Button League 

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things…  Errr sorry, Apostle Paul but SCREW THAT!!  I am still a child at heart and I am gonna act and speak like one too!!

 Acting Like a Child Can Be O.K. and Healthy

Drawing
5 different kids are playing outside doing 1 of the following: watching a bee, standing on head, jumping rope, holding ball, flying a kite.

Recently, I met a new friend and she was telling me and others that some people just do not appreciate her child-like view on the world.  She was detailing how she gets excited when discovering something new or different and she said that she gets some weird looks and reactions from adults because of this.

Well, I happen to think that is a crock.  The world needs people to start looking through the eyes of an innocent child.  So, with that in mind I am going to share with you about a childhood hobby that I had and still practice although in a little bit different way than when I was a kid.

Playing Sim Before There Even Was The Sims and Fantasy Baseball before it was Hip

One of the more popular online games today is the Sims.  According to the National Museum of Play, the Sims has nearly 200 million sales in 60 countries and more than 20 languages, The Sims is the best-selling PC game franchise ever.  In 2016 it was nominated into the National Museum of Play.

Logo

Games inducted into the Museum of Play 2016

So what “Sim” game did I play 20 some years before The Sims video game was ever created. Well, it was and still is a baseball simulation game of players from the past.  It is a board game based off of dice-rolls called APBA baseball (pronounced App-Buh not A-P-B-A) and it is not 100 per cent accurate but it can be pretty damn close.

Also, one of the best things about the APBA or baseball simulations is that you can draft your own teams and create like a super team of all your favorite players.  You could decide to build your team around pitching, defense, speed and fielding.  One time I was a dork and I tried to build my team around all slow baserunning guys.  Let’s just say the team was not very good and that did not work out so well.  My oldest brother and I started drafting our teams and then after the real baseball season would end APBA would come out with last year’s season and we would draft the rookies from that season onto our teams.  My brothers’ teams were always better than mine, but I had a lot of fun with those teams.   So, in a way one can say that my brother and I were creating our own fantasy baseball teams long before it ever hit the mainstream.

A Sample APBA Card of Babe Ruth from the 1931 season

Baseball Simulation Aided My Education in These 3 Areas

Math and Statistics

Playing the game as a young kid there are a few things that it helped me immensely with as far as school and education goes.  I had no problem with basic mathematics, statistics and fractions.  By the age of 8 I know for sure that I was able to calculate player’s batting averages and E.R.A.’s in my head.  (Just for clarification Batting average is determined by hits divided by at bats Example: if a player goes 5 for 8, his batting average is .625.  A pitcher’s E.R.A. is determined by taking the number of Earned Runs allowed times 9 and then divided by number of innings pitch.  Example if a pitcher pitches 3 innings and allows 1 earned run.  His E.R.A. is 3.00 (1 earned run times 9 divided by 3 equals 3.00.

Part of the fun of replaying games and seasons was keeping a detailed track and statistical book of how the players were doing.  This would involve taking several different papers of boxscores (games) and recording them into a statistical record sheet.  There is no doubt that this process helped me to memorize fractions.  For example if a batter goes 4 for 10 that is easy to determine that it is a .400 batting average or 40% which is the same result if a player goes 2 for 5 in a game which is also .400 or 40%.  Also the game helped me understand the basics of statistics.  For example if you look at the Babe Ruth card above, you will see that if you roll “snake eyes –  a red die “1” and a white die “1” it result in a 1.  In APBA a 1 is always a home run.  The same thing occurs when you roll a “66” you get a 1 or home run.  And if you look even closer you can see that listed on the card there are 36 possible dice rolls so if 2 of those 36 dice rolls are automatically home runs then you can estimate that Babe Ruth will hit a home run every 18 at bats.

Spelling: Basic Comprehension of Spanish and other Last Names of Ethnic Origin

Another benefit was that I learned to correctly pronounce the different last names of baseball players especially Latin American players.  Although at first I may have thought 70’s Cubs Shortstop Ivan DeJesus’s name was pronounced “Dee-Gee-Sus”  just like the Biblical figure, I quickly learned that the correct pronunciation was “Dee-Hay-Seuss”.  Likewise, Phillies’ secondbaseman Manny Trillo’s name was not pronounced “Trill-low”, but “Tree-Oh”. Besides Latin American names, baseball is full of ethnically related last names like “Yastremski”, “Greenberg” and “Schmidt’ just to name a few.

U.S. Geography and History

United States geography was never really a problem for me either because I quickly grew to know the major cities in the United States from San Diego to New York City.  Having a sports team to match a city and state really helped me to learn U.S. Geography.

And probably not as directly as Geography, but my thirst and love for History grew out of my love for baseball history.  At a very early age probably 6, I was reading biographies of famous sports athletes and quickly learned important dates and names in Major League Baseball history.  So, in high school and college it became relatively easy for me to parlay that into studying History.

Some Drawbacks of Baseball Simulation

My Room Growing Up Was an Utter Mess

For those of you who know me closely, this is going to be somewhat of an understatement.  I am a bit of a slob.  And my bedroom growing up was utter chaos.  I literally played hundreds of baseball simulated games and I recorded each one a college-ruled piece of paper.  These papers were littered across my bedroom.  They were on the floor, under the bed in my dressers.  The boxscores and the APBA player cards that come with the game were everywhere.  It made my Mom so happy – SARCASM ALERT.  Anyway, I remember my Mom saying to me that when she was a little girl she was always making a mess of her room with paper dolls. And she told me that her Mom (my grandmother) would say to her, “I hope when you grow up you have a daughter who makes a mess with her paper dolls.”  Well, my grandmother’s wish was basically granted, but instead of paper dolls my room was littered with baseball cards, APBA player cards and paper box score sheets.

SIDENOTE:  This runs in the family.  My youngest son when he was little collected a lot of Yu-gi-Oh and Pokemon cards and let’s just say they were not always left in the most organized fashion.

It Can Be an Addicting Time Consumer

For me, baseball simulation when I was a kid was an addictive time consumer.  I often would put off that research paper or that homework assignment because I just had to play the next baseball match in my fantasy baseball league.

This has not changed as I have gotten older.  I have lived alone for the last 17 years (I do have 2 sons who spend time with me) and sometimes this baseball simulation addiction has gotten in the way of me doing household chores like the dishes or laundry etc.  And some of my friends have told me I tend to use my baseball simulation addiction as an unhealthy way of isolation.  I am sure to some degree their advice is accurate.

Baseball Simulation Today

So back in the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s, I basically played the game by buying baseball seasons and using the dice and boards that APBA supplied to determine the play by play action of each game.  Keeping stats and boxscores was quite consuming.  A lot has changed nowadays due to the prevalence of computer baseball simulation software games.

Switching from APBA to Strat-O-Matic

A screenshot of the 2018 Strat-O-Matic computer baseball game.

Before the computerized baseball software programs changed the landscape of baseball simulation games there were primarily two companies to choose from the APBA board game and the Strat-O-Matic board game.

Growing up I always preferred APBA to Strat-O-Matic because the version I saw of Strat-O-Matic came with a spinner and would land on numbers.  I remember thinking it would be much easier to manipulate the flick of the spinner than dice rolls, but once I got older I knew that despite there now being a proliferation of baseball simulation games, the best ones and most accurate ones were APBA and Strat-O-Matic.  I first tried the APBA computerized game in the 2000’s and I really liked it.  You could simulate whole seasons at once.  You could even create your own player cards.  What would have taken me years to simulate with the board game took me now literally 30 minutes.

And I might still be playing my baseball simulation games with the APBA product, but two things happened.  My computer crashed and all the stats and rosters that I had for the leagues I had formed were wiped out and secondly around 2007 to 2011 APBA bought the publishing rights to the digital computer software program and there were some delays in the release of the new product.

So, during that timeframe I switched to Strat-O-Matic and I have not looked back.  I enjoy recreating the games and playing with the baseball stars of my childhood and beyond immensely.

Differences from the APBA to Strat-O-Matic’s

Disclaimer I have not bought the APBA 5.5 upgrade that they put out around 2011 and 2012 and it is my understanding that major changes have occurred in the APBA 5.5 version. So, let it be known that below is a comparison analysis of the APBA computer game prior to version 5.5 compared to the present version of Strat-O-Matic.

Both games do a pretty good job of duplicating the statistics of both players in the past and present baseball stars.  In my opinion, APBA does a better job of reproducing a pitchers’ E.R.A. and performance than that of Strat-O-Matic.  On the other hand, I think Strat-O-Matic does a better job of dictating how important fielding is to the game.  A pitcher’s E.R.A. can be drastically different based on whether or not he has a good defense behind him.  And although in some ways, I like this focus on defense I would prefer to have my pitcher’s E.R.A. be replicated to closer to what there are in APBA’s version.  Strat-O-Matic in my opinion does a better job of taking in consideration of the dynamics of the stadium a game is being played in.  I also think Strat does a better job of realistically depicting the impact of stolen bases, bunting and the use of the hit and run strategy.  I think both games are about equal when it comes to statistical duplication of the hitters.  The two games are also about as equal in design and animation of the baseball stadiums.

Ok. This is Way More Than I Ever Wanted to Know About Baseball Simulation. Tell Me, What the Hell is The Benjamin Button League.Front Cover of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Well, before I explain the Benjamin Button League to you I first need to explain the basic premise of the novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Full disclosure I have never read the actual novel, but I have seen the movie starring Brad Pitt.  If you are not sure who F. Scott Fitzgerald is you probably recognize his most famous novel The Great Gatsby.

For both the book and the movie the major premise of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that instead of growing young and dying old, Benjamin Button lives life in reverse.  He is born an old man and he continues to get younger and younger as all of his friends and colleagues get older and older.  It is a very interesting twist and I found the movie to be quite entertaining.

Description of the Benjamin Button League

So now that you understand the premise of the Benjamin Button book by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I can explain the premise of the Benjamin Button League (BBL)  and you will understand why I decided to give my league that name.  The first season of the Benjamin Button League was 1965 all the players were randomly placed onto different clubs.  And in a NORMAL league you would think that after I simulated the 1965 season I would move forward in time and draft the rookies from 1966 onto each of the teams in the league.

Well the BBL (Benjamin Button League) is not a normal league so instead of moving FORWARD in time the league moves backwards in time.

Division Breakdown

In the BBL historical timeline from 1965, 1964 and 1963 there were 20 teams in the league and 4 divisions (5 teams in each division).  In 1962 MLB baseball expanded from 18 teams to 20 (adding the New York Mets and the Houston Astros in the National league) so in 1962 the BBL contracted and went to 3 divisions with just 6 teams in each division.  In 1961 MLB expanded from 16 team to 18 teams so the BBL contracted from 18 teams to 15 teams.  The team that year with the worst record the Pittsburgh Pirates were disbanded and the players that were on the Pirates were put in the overall draft pool in 1960 and so by 1960 the BBL was a 3- division league with 5 teams in each league.

One of the cool things about the BBL is that regional rivalries exist and are not partitioned off by the American League or the National League.  There are not two leagues just 1 League (BBL) with 3 divisions.  Presently I have played UP TO the 1920 season moving backward in time I have played over 40 seasons from 1965 to 1920.  So presently in the BBL (the 1920 season) the breakdown of divisions is like this:

EAST

  • New York Yankees
  • New York Giants
  • Brooklyn Dodgers
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Boston Braves

WEST

  • Chicago White Sox
  • Chicago Cubs
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • St. Louis Browns
  • Kansas City Pirates – (In the BBL, the Kansas City Pirates are playing their baseball games in the Philadelphia Athletics stadium.  Later on, I will explain how the Kansas City Pirates came about.)

CENTRAL

  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Washington Senators

BBL Playoffs and BBL World Series

Each team plays 50 percent of their 154-game schedule with the teams within their division and the other 50 percent with the other 2 divisions.  Playoffs are as follows.  Each division winner makes the playoffs.  The seeding of the division winners then is based on Won-Lost percentage.  There is a 4th team that makes the playoff and this team is the team that is a non-division winner who has the best record overall after the division winners.

So in Round 1 of the BBL playoffs the # 1 seed plays the #4 seed which is always the wild card team and the # 2 seed plays the # 3 seed.  This playoff series is a best of 7 games. Then the winners in the 1st round play in a 7 game World Series.  All post season games are played by me manually which means the simulation takes about 30 minutes a game instead of nearly instantaneously. Manual play means I get to view the games inning by inning and monitor things like stealing bases, defensive substitution, pinch hitting, sacrifice bunting and applying the Hit and Run.

Once a winner of that season’s World Series is decided and ONLY then can the order of the next season’s draft begin.  Here is a typical scenario of the how the draft works.

A Brief BBL Draft Description  – Think NBA Draft Lottery but With Dice Rolls

So the way the BBL draft works is as follows and I am going to use the 1920 BBL draft as an example.  So the draft order is determined somewhat by the order of finish from the previous season 1921 (remember BBL goes backward through time).  So each team is given a numerical number based on their finish, the team in 1921 with the worst record was the Brooklyn Robins (later nicknamed the Dodgers) and they were ranked 15th and given 15 dice rolls using the www.random.org dice generator.  The second to worst team was the KC Pirates and they were ranked 14th so they received 14 dice rolls, the Reds finished 3rd to worst and they received 13 dice rolls and the Browns were 4th worst and received 12 dice rolls.

So this is how the dice roll draft for the 1920 draft went down

  • Dodgers 15 dice rolls – Dice roll total 50
  • KC Pirates 14 dice rolls – Dice roll total 38
  • Reds 13 dice rolls – Dice roll total 47
  • Browns 12 dice rolls – Dice roll total 52

So the first 4 picks in the 1920 draft were:

  1. Browns
  2. Dodgers
  3. Reds
  4. KC Pirates

And this was a pretty important draft because 1920 was the infamous last year for the 9 White Sox players who were forever banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series.  One of the players banned was Shoeless Joe Jackson who if he hadn’t been banned would have certainly been inducted into Hall of Fame.  This was a strange draft result a team like the Brown who received just 12 dice rolls rarely gets the number 1 overall pick that usually goes to the team with 15, 14 or 13 dice rolls practically never 12 dice rolls.  So, the Browns got really lucky in the draft and it was truly exciting for me.

Roster Creation, the Actual Draft and Trades

For me after the Draft Order is set the most exciting time is the roster creation for the next season which is based off of the team’s roster from the previous year, plus the draft and trades between ball clubs.

Note: The rookies in the draft are actually “retired rookies”. For example, the last year that Shoeless Joe played in the MLB was in 1920 so he is part of the BBL “rookie” draft class.

There are some rules that I put in place for each team.  At each position Catcher, Firstbase, Secondbase, Thirdbase, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field and Right Field each team must have a starter at each position with over 450 At bats or 2 or more platoon players with 450 at bats.  For example, rarely will anyone catcher have 450 at bats so each team has to reach the the 450 at bat limit with a platoon combination. For example, if Catcher 1 had 280 at bats and Catcher 2 had 200 at bats the total amount of at bats is 480 so it meets the criteria if it just had 1 catcher with 280 at bats they must trade for a catcher so they will meet that requirement.

The other requirement is that each team must have a total number of games started by their pitching rotation that equals 154 games and since in the real MLB there were 16 teams instead of 15 teams the teams can always meet this mark and have to make mandatory trades to do so.

I try to make the trades amongst the two teams fairly equal but if one team does get a slight advantage it would be the team that is supplying the other team with their mandatory need.  Originally, I tried to make sure that each trade equaled out in the amount of at bats and assigned 450 at bats to every 200 innings pitched by a pitcher, but recently I have changed that strategy and I am trying to make the trade equal in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) which is basically a statistical number given to each player based upon their career performance.

All The BBL Detail is Both Kind of Amazing and Boring…. Why the Hell Do You Do It?

I Love Playing The What If Game.  Alternate Realities Are The BOMB!!

One of my favorite Comic book series growing up was Marvel’s What If Series.  It featured stories like What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four.  What if the Hulk had the mind of Bruce Banner,  What if Spider-Man had saved Uncle Ben? You get the idea.  The BBL is like one gigantic baseball What If?

The Comic Cover for the 1st edition of Marvel's What If? series - What If Spider-Man joined Fantastic Four?

The BBL answers the following What if scenarios.

What if Babe Ruth played for a different team besides the Red Sox, Yankees and Braves?A coloring book picture of Babe Ruth as a Boston Red Sox.jpg

In the Benjamin Button League Babe Ruth was drafted as a Cleveland Indian and as you might expect he made the Cleveland Indians quite competitive and instant playoff participant for years.  Can you imagine how baseball history which experienced tremendous popularity in the 1920’s would have changed if the Indians had the Babe on their team.  The Indians who have perennially been hard luck losers and last won a World Series in 1948 may have been forever changed by the Great Bambino.

What if the Georgia Peach Ty Cobb was a Cincinnati Red instead of a Detroit Tiger?Coloring Book Picture of the Hall of Fame Outfielder and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb

Presently the current season of the Benjamin Button League is 1920 and the Cincinnati Reds seem to be a dynasty in the making.  They already have the “Georgia Peach” one of the purest baseball hitters the game has ever seen.  They also have a pitcher, Hippo Vaughn who posted the Pitchers Triple Crown (lead the league in ERA, Wins and Strikeouts in 1918 -(a year which has not been played yet in the BBL!).  They also they have a Pitcher turned Outfielder Smoky Joe Wood.  Wood sports a lifetime ERA of 2.06 and had a .297 Batting Average after an injury forced him to become a batter instead of a pitcher.

What if 2B Eddie Collins led the Chi-Sox to back-to-back titles in 1922 and 1923?

A coloring book picture of Hall of Fame Secondbaseman Eddie Collins leaping to make a catch.jpg

In real life Eddie Collins did play for the Chicago White Sox in 1922 and 1923, but as opposed to the real-life MLB White Sox, the 1922 and 23 BBL White Sox squad also had some pretty good compliments to Collins including two Hall of Fame Outfielders Sam Rice and Harry Hooper. Plus, on the mound these White Sox boasted Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock.

In the Benjamin Button League Timeline, the 1923 the White Sox defeated the Red Sox 4 games to 1.  The Red Sox had an impressive team of their own boasting the league leader in 1923 ERA Dolf Luque and All-Star caliber outfielder Edd “Double D” Roush- my personal nickname for him.  Then in 1922 Eddie Collins and crew were victorious over Babe Ruth’s Indians 8 to 7 in Game 7.  If this would have happened in reality it would have been pretty awesome because it would have meant quite the turnaround from the 1921 Chicago White Sox who finished 62 and 92 after losing 9 players who were banned in 1920 for the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal.

What if Jackie Robinson broke the Color Barrier with the White Sox not the Dodgers?Jackie Robinson

We all have heard the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers thanks to General Manager Branch Rickey signing him to a Major League contract.  But in the Benjamin Button League it was the White Sox and former owner Grace Comiskey who signed Jackie Robinson.

What if Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio and Duke Snider were all Yankees?

This unbelievable Outfield actually did exist in the Benjamin Button League, and you want to know what is more unbelievable? This amazing outfield combination together never won a BBL World Series.  Now Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams did win a title together but they never won the World Series with the Duke.

Other Reasons I Enjoy My Free Time Simulating Baseball with the BBL

Learning More About Baseball Greats like George Sisler

Coloring Book pic of Hall of Fame St. Louis Brown Firstbaseman George Sisler leaping for a baseball.jpg

Another great reason for me to play simulated baseball is you get to learn a lot about some players you did not know much about at all.  For example I have learned quite a bit about Hall of Fame Firstbaseman and St. Louis Brown George Sisler.  Sisler did not play on dominant teams like Babe Ruth’s Yankees so he never was a household name at least as far as I know.  But Sisler was arguably the best Firstbaseman in MLB from 1917 to 1922 (Lou Gehrig started playing full time in 1925).  Sisler was known as an outstanding fielder and he was great with the bat.  In 1922, he was named the Most Valuable Player after leading the league in Batting Average at a .420 clip.  He had 246 hits, 42 doubles, led the league in triples 18, smacked 8 dingers and knocked in 105 runners and he stoled 51 bases.

Ironically and sadly, after his best season Sisler was never the same player.  He missed the entire 1923 campaign due to a severe sinus infection that impaired his optic nerve.  He experienced chronic headaches and double vision. – SABR Bio Research Project.

Discovering Wonders Such as Hall of Fame 3B Pie Traynor and the 1920’s Pirates UniformColoring book pic of Hall of Fame Thirdbaseman Pie Traynor wearing a blue colored 1920s styled Pirate uniform.jpg

Until, I started playing the BBL I never knew that the Pittsburgh Pirates old uniforms in the 1920’s had blue lettering and to me this is such an awesome coincidence and I will explain why.

Earlier I explained that MLB went from 18 teams in 1961 to the original 16 franchises in 1960.  The BBL had 18 teams in 1961 and had to contract to 15 teams in 1960.  So the two expansion teams from the 1961 season the Mets and the Houston Colt .45’s were dismantled.  All the players on those 2 teams were put in the pool for the 1960 draft.  But that left the number of teams in the BBL to 16 and although that worked find for the AL and NL since there was two separate leagues that meant each league had 8 teams an equal amount.  But in the BBL there are 3 divisions and one league so one more team had to disband.  I had already determined beforehand the team that would disband and not be included in the BBL would be the team with the worst record in 1961…. And that team was the Pittsburgh Pirates.

So what does that have to do with Pie Traynor and his uniform?   Well, nothing really except for the fact that I live in Kansas City, Missouri and I am a Royals fan.  1955 was the first year (last year in BBL timeline) that the Kansas City Athletics existed before 1955 the Athletics played in Philadelphia.  So, what I decided to do was in 1954 to keep Kansas City as the franchise owner of the Athletics instead of Philadelphia.  And I had compassion on the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the 16 original franchises, but not in the BBL.  So, I decided to change the franchise name of the Athletics to the Pirates.  So, in a way, every team is honored.  I get to keep Kansas City in the league and they get to play in a division of local rivals including the Chicago White Sox and Cubs and the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals.  The Pirates are honored by keeping their name in the league and the Athletics are honored because the Kansas City Pirates continue to play their games in the actual ballpark of the real MLB Philadelphia Athletics, Shibe Park.

And because I have been playing the BBL for quite some time now I have grown to appreciate some of the old time great players such as Pie Traynor.  That love of past legendary players is one of the reasons I decided to purchase a coloring book containing MLB legends and when I did guess what I found out.  The 1920’s Pirates used a blue logo color for their “P” on their uniforms and guess what the color the KC Royals uniforms have consistently been since their conception in 1969 blue.  The irony and coincidence of that made me extremely happy and made me quite proud of my decision to create the “KC Pirates” in the BBL.    NOTE: the real 1920 uniforms were not as blue as depicted in Pie Traynor coloring pic above, but the “P” on the shirt sleeve was blue.  Below are two different sets of pics the 1920s Pirates uniforms and the 2018 Kansas City Royals uniforms.  You can tell that the uniform styles are quite similar and to me that is tremendously cool.

The 1920s Pittsburgh Pirates Uniforms

1920's Style Pittsburgh Pirates Uniform both Home and Away

The 2018 Royals Uniforms

Royals 2018 uniforms Home and Away. Plus 3 additional alternative uniforms that are worn.

The Great Baseball NicknamesA comprehensive list of 24 other Major League Baseball players who were nicknamed Babe besides Babe Ruth

One of the more fascinating things that I find pretty interesting is all the clever nicknames the old baseball players had like.  “Rabbit” Maranville, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, “Home Run” Baker, “Schoolboy” Rowe, “Dizzy” and “Daffy” Dean.  There is a whole lot more.  Present day baseball also has some cool nicknames like “Big Unit” Randy Johnson, and “The Kid” Ken Griffey, but the nicknames were far more colorful and prevalent.  One of the things that you do not see too much today are nicknames like “Red” and “Whitey” and “Lefty”.  Those nicknames were quite prevalent from about 1920’s to 1950’s.  However, the greatest and most popular nickname of all time has got to be the “Babe” known primarily as the moniker for Hall of Fame Yankee George Herman Ruth.  But baseball has had quite a few baseball players nicknamed “Babe”, the list above indicates many of the MLB players that were nicknamed “Babe’.  You will noticed that the nickname was around both before and after Babe Ruth’s baseball career.

The Disappearance of Adolf and HeinieA chart depicting the rise and decline of the name Adolf

And every once in a while you come across something in playing baseball simulation that is very difficult to ignore.  From about 1920 to 1950 the name “Dolf” was quite popular.  Probably the most popular one was Cuban born baseball player Adolfo Luque known as Dolf Luque.  But as you would assume after World War 2 and the rise and fall of Dictator Adolf Hitler the name quickly became obsolete.  Above is a chart showing the decline of the name Adolf after 1942.

Another name that was quite popular, but stopped being popular was “Heinie” usually short for Heinrich.  Some of the great MLB players nicknamed Heinie are: Heinie Zimmerman, Heinie Scheer but the most famous player is Hall of Fame Leftfielder Heinie Manush.

…And The Best Reason of All is Watching Baseball Reality Repeat Itself in Simulated Reality.

A coloring book picture of Hall of Fame Centerfielder and New York Giant Willie Mays.jpg

You get to watch history repeat itself.  In 1954, Hall of Fame Centerfielder, Willie Mays, led  the underdog New Your Giants to a surprising World Series victory over the much ballyhooed and favorite to win the Series the Indians.  To this day the catch and throw Willie Mays made in Game 1 that  robbed Indians’ Vic Wertz of an extra base hit is often considered one of the best fielding plays ever.

Well, in the BBL in 1954 Willie Mays led the Washington Senators to a World Series victory also.  People forget that besides that catch Mays made in the World Series he also had a terrific season also and was named MVP of the National League belting 41 homers and leading the league in batting average at a .345 clip.

Conclusion

Thanks for allowing me to share my passion with you of baseball simulation and if you made it all the way through this article to the end I am impressed!  Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.

What Tom Petty Meant to Me

Headshot of Tom Petty with Band Logo

Tom Petty Tribute

October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017

By Paige Sears

Jammin’ to You’re Jammin’ Me

When I was twenty-something I would hang out at my oldest brothers’ house, and I would jam to his CDs.  My brother always had great music to listen to and he usually had found the next big group and had their CD years before they would make it mainstream. Listening to his stereo blaring full blast was sensational!

There were times though when I drove my brother insane.  I have this annoying tendency that when I have found a CD, group or song I like.  I play that song over and over and over and over and over and over and over again… ad nauseum.

And when he bought the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers CD Let Me Up I Have Had Enough.  I proceeded to play that CD over and over especially the song You’re Jammin’ Me.  That is when I fell in love with Tom Petty’s music

And to this day I absolutely love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The Care Package

When Tom past away on October 2, 2017 for about two weeks afterwards I was constantly posting mournful Facebook posts concerning his death.  And the same brother, who I drove crazy by playing his Tom Petty’s CDs way too much, decided to send me some gifts to console me during my time of Tom Petty mourning.

His Tom Petty Care Package (that is what my brother coined it) included 3 Tom Petty t-shirts, a “I Won’t Back Down Bumper Sticker”, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 4 CD live anthology set, Mudcrutch CD, The Tom Petty Biography by Warren Zanes, a Tom Petty For Ukulele song book and last but not least a Tom Petty Coloring book.

My brother sent all of these via the mail. So for about a 2 week period I was constantly getting something in the mail that was Tom Petty related and each day I eagerly awaited to greet the postman to see what new gift was in my mail box.

The “Research” Begins

So once I confirmed from my brother that all of the gifts had indeed arrived I knew exactly what I had to do, I must undergo a serious Tom Petty “research” project by engulfing myself in the world of Tom Petty.  And I did this by reading his biography, listening to the 4 CD live anthology set and Mudcrutch. I instinctively knew that I had to do this so I could put my feelings about Tom Petty in writing which would allow me to find a way to console myself as I was mourning the loss of what I consider to be one of the finest Rock ‘N Roll musicians and storytellers.

Tom Petty Coloring Book Pic

Soundtrack to My Life

Inside the cover inset of the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers 4 CD Live Anthology set, Tom Petty lists the goal and purpose of the anthology. He says,

Risking understatement, I have to say I’m proud of this band.  In creating The Live Anthology, I hoped for a document that could really show people why.  And I think we got it.  In the midst of the long days we put in –fueled by the coffee and the inspiration born of listening-one thing that stuck me was the way in which the recordings were like a crowbar that opened the storehouse of memory.  Moments that were otherwise lost me came back in full color as the songs played.  That’s one amazing thing about music, the way it enters people’s worlds to become part of the soundtrack to their lives.

This list of 15 Tom Petty songs to me are soundtracks to my life. So, in reviewing my  favorite Tom Petty hits, I will also try to convey the memories and the impact that his songs had on me individually.  Let’s now take together take a crowbar to open our storehouse of memories, feelings and thoughts. These crowbar-memories are obviously a sort of a ranking, but after #1 and #2 all of the other songs on the list could easily be swapped day-to-day depending on my mood and what is going on in my life. Keep in mind is that even though Tom Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever is my favorite album of his, I must admit that I played that album so much and heard those songs so much on the radio and elsewhere that even I became a victim of self-inflicted burnout.  Therefore do not be surprised if many of the hits that were on the Full Moon Fever album did not make my list or you think should rank higher.  Who knows in a few years that burnout may subside and those songs may belong a bit higher.

Crowbar Memory # 1 – Refugee

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFnOfpIJL0M

I love fight songs that push ones soul to keep on moving on.  So it is no accident that some of my favorite songs come from the Rocky movies.  I love Eye of the Tiger by Survivor and ‘Gonna Fly Now’ by Bill Conti.  I also have recently enjoyed listening to The Karate Kid song You’re the Best by Joe Esposito.  I really like the personal inspiration that these songs give me.  They are great songs to exercise to.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that my all-time favorite Tom Petty song is exactly that a fight song!  No – not necessarily exercise music but to me Refugee is a fight song for the soul.

This song is the perfect song to play loudly to get yourself out of the dumps and quit throwing yourself your own personal pity party. It is the perfect song to quit “reveling in your abandon”.  Life is a journey and as I am on this journey as a transwoman, a father, a family member, a friend, a workmate, and national citizen, Refugee pushes me to fight through the personal pain of the past and realize that I can be free of past pain if I want it, but I have to be willing to fight for it.

Also, I love this song because it really captures what happens in many romantic relationships.  To me, Tom Petty in this song is talking directly to his lover who seemingly is struggling to keep or find her identity as they become a couple.  Tom Petty’s lyrics give us all an impetus or drive to fight the temptation of becoming  enmeshed in your partner and lose your sense of identity.

 The Heartbreakers Fought to Perfect Refugee

Interesting fact about Refugee was exactly how hard the band worked to perfect the recording of Refugee.  The band did close to seventy takes of the song.  In fact according to Mike Campbell lead guitarist and lifelong collaborator with Tom it was the only time that Campbell walked out of a recording session

On page 146 of Petty – The Biography written by Warren Zanes, Campbell provides the following quote.

In Refugee,” he says, “I had a mental breakdown.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  It was my song, a co-write with Tom, and we kept playing it over and over and over, changing the thing, changing the sounds.  It sounded like Nazis marching.  There was no groove.  We got into this hole of misery cutting that song.  And I said, ‘I need to get out of this room for a few days.  This is not healthy.’  It’s the only time I’ve walked out of a session.

It is a good thing that Campbell and Petty went back and finished Refugee because in my opinion it resonates as one of the cleanest, clearest and rockingest songs ever made!

Best line – Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon

Honorable Mention – Who knows maybe you were tied up and held for ransom

Crowbar Memory #2 – You’re Jammin’ Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCFAzPl1QmE

This song is the one that I drove my brother crazy with.  I put this song in an endless repeat loop.  I am aware that this song is probably much higher on my list than most other Petty fans.  But this song to me completely rocks out and exemplifies the rocking sound of the Heartbreakers.  To me, this song represents the group at its best.

The other reason I just love this song is that how blatantly it gives the middle finger to the media and basically says, ‘I am sick of your shit! Quit inundating me with silly slogans, television commercials, and worthless pop culture references!

I think one of the reasons I fell in love with this song was because at the time that this song came out I had just started undergrad in college and I was getting a Communications Degree and I would later become a Communications Coordinator for a Kansas City based health insurance company.  So as I entered the field of communication as a vocation, this song pointed out in a real and obvious way of the over-reaching effect that tireless and endless media details can have on one’s psyche.

Now looking back on my life it is easy for me to see that because I could never really adapt to this line of media manipulation it was one of the reasons why I switched my career from marketing communications to working with the disabled.  Impacting someone’s life in a real personal tangible way provides me with a much better feeling of accomplishment than that of selling a brand or a product.

Best line – Take back your Iranian torture, And the apple in young Steve’s eye

It is amazing to me how dead on Petty was on the future of Apple and Steve Jobs with this line.  And 30 some years later this line is still valid and a crushing commentary on advertising.

Tom Petty wearing his Top Hat

Crowbar Memory # 3 – Don’t Come Around Here No More

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0JvF9vpqx8

If you have seen the video for this song, it is hard not to picture the Alice in Wonderland themed video in your head.  And since I have always been a huge Lewis Carroll fan, I immensely enjoyed this quirky and odd rendition of both the song and the story of Alice.

However, if I am thinking of just the lyrics and not the video, what comes to my mind is the frustration one feels when you have basically given someone the boot out of your life and they just keep trying to find a way back into your life.   Personally, I find these type of individuals tiring because they are usually well versed Drama Kings or Queens who try to infuse a bit of their unwanted emotional drama back into my life.  These lyrics say it all and say it forcefully.  Get out! And Stay Out!

Best line – I don’t feel you anymore. You darken my door.

Crowbar Memory # 4 – American Girl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNgt7U9QrFQ

Fittingly, this song was recorded on July 4, 1976 the bicentennial birthday of the United States, and the fact that this song was recorded on America’s birthday seems to be very appropriate when you consider how eloquently this song depicts the dreams of many young teen girls in America.  If this song had been written a decade later, we would have gotten to see what Petty would have done to this song by creating a video for it.

But it many ways it is probably better that there was not a video created for it because the way Petty describes and sings the song you easily can put yourself in the shoes of a young woman deciding to leave her Midwest lifestyle and come to make it big in Los Angeles.  This song was a harbinger of things to come for Petty at least lyrically.  American Girl proved he could conjure and create a compelling story that anyone within earshot of the song could easily understand and relate to.  Great storytelling in his songs would eventually become a Petty signature, and this song was the beginning of his legendary storytelling.

Best line – Well it was kinda cold that night, She stood alone on her balcony, Yeah she could hear the cars roll by, Out on 441 like waves crashin’ on the beach.

I love how Petty compares the sound of traffic on Highway 441 to waves crashin’ on the beach.

Tom Petty All Smiles

Crowbar Memory #5 – Don’t Do Me Like That

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmlV-ffMac8

It is easy to relate to the story told in this song.  Petty has just heard from a good friend of his that his friend’s girlfriend has just dumped him.  And it is so easy to put ourselves in the singers’ shoes.  After hearing such a story, one immediately tends to analyze what you have in your relationship.  And it is such a heartfelt plea that Petty belts out to his lover to not do the same thing to him.  I think we all have been there in that place of our lives at one point or another.  The song does such a great job capturing the fear and passion of Petty’s plea.

Best line –Then he said, you better watch your step, Or your gonna get hurt yourself, Someone’s gonna tell you lies, Cut you down to size.

Crowbar Memory #6 – Stop  Draggin’ My Heart Around

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UD0c58nNCQ

Stop Draggin’ My Heart around reminds me of my personal relationships . Specifically relationships that I knew were not going to work out, but  both me and my partner really did not want to be alone, so we hung onto the relationship much longer than the expiration date for our partnership.

Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty do a great job conveying this dynamic as they croon the lyrics of this song.

Petty’s producer Jimmy Iovine dated Stevie Nicks and Iovine convinced Petty to allow Nicks to sing the song on her Bella Donna album.  When I heard this I could not help wondering what the Heartbreakers’ finished project would have been like without Iovine’s intervention.

Best line – Baby you could never look me in the eye, Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words

This line depicts how difficult it can be to finally have the strength to tell someone that the relationship is over.  Petty calls his lover to the carpet and chastises her for not being able to admit that the two of them have finally hit the end of their time together.

A coloring book headshot of Tom Petty. He is holding up a purplish pink guitar and is wearing a brown jacket and black vestCrowbar Memory #7 – You Got Lucky

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtLpZWNyM0I

One can almost see and feel the tension and the anger in Tom Petty’s voices as he belts on “Yeah, go just go, but remember Good love is hard to find.”   This song to me does not imply just to relationships, but obviously that is the main interpretation.  This song can help repair the damage to our fragile egos anytime that we are rejected by a group of people, an employer or family.

As I listen to this song, I can hear the author say, “Who the hell do you think you are to reject me!  Don’t you know who I am!  I am going to make you regret rejecting me!

Best line: Girl, if you can do better than me, go, Yeah, go but remember, Good love is hard to find

Crowbar Memory #8 – Breakdown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNxfPAF1frM

Breakdown is another Heartbreaker song that just plain rocks!  And it sets such a foreboding mood.  Petty perfects the feeling and intensity of that moment when the relationship has finally reached the peak and both parties are ready to take the relationship  to the next level.  In some ways, Breakdown kind of feels like a song in which the singer his almost begging for sex as he finally gets his girlfriend or lover to “breakdown and go ahead and give it to me”, but it in a weird way it is also intensely romantic and passionate.  I think it probably aptly describes the mood and ambiance of how many teens lose their virginity and innocence.

Best line: Your eyes give you away, Something inside you is feeling like I do
We said all there is to say, Baby, breakdown, go ahead and give it to me

Crowbar Memory #9 – I Won’t Back Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA

This is another “fight” song.  This song helps encourage me to keep fighting even through the toughest circumstance.  In life I have found that at times, not everyone will get me or understand me or even agree with me, but listening to this song gives me the courage to keep pressing through the pain and to keep fighting to be myself.  Basically this song is beautifully simplistic and finds a way to encourage the soul to endure lifes’ trials.

Best line: You can stand me up at the gates of hell, But I won’t back down

Crowbar Memory #10 – Runnin’ Down a Dream

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1D3a5eDJIs

This song to me always has felt like the ultimate Rock ‘N Roll road trip song.  As soon as you hear the screaming guitars in the intro, you know that you are heading into an adventure.  This song inspires me to pursue my dreams with all my heart and soul.

Best line: Runnin’ down a dream, I felt so good like anything was possible, I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes

Crowbar Memory #11 – Free Fallin’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lWJXDG2i0A

Sometimes when I am listening to this song I start to imagine myself as Alice falling endlessly down the rabbit hole.  Yet at other times, I think the song just has a way of depicting the life of a teenage girl who has just been broken up with a guy  who she thinks is the man of her dreams. On the other hand, the guy broke up with her to gain  independence and freedom.  He does gain freedom, but at the same time he now realizes he has entered into an unknown abyss.

Best line: It’s a long day, living in Reseda, There’s a freeway running through the yard.

I love the imagery that ‘a freeway running through the yard’ brings to my mind, it provides a very distinct and clear background setting for this love story gone wrong.

A coloring book pic of Tom Petty from waist up. He has a very cartoonish-big smile and is wearing a black jacket and silver t-shirt and holding a purple guitar.Crowbar Memory #12 – Even the Losers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0el_8ZKw7w

We all have felt rejected.  We all have felt unwanted.  But this song gives those internal moments of self-doubt, a certain source of unexpected strength.    Besides easily identifying with the “loser” aspect of the song, the other strength of the song lyrically is the vivid pictures the song creates.  To me when I hear this song I easily retreat back to some of my “party” memories where-  “I smoked cigarettes and stared at the moon.”

Best line: It was nearly summer, we sat on your roof, Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon, I showed you stars you never could see, It couldn’t been that easy to forget about me.

Crowbar Memory #13 – Last Dance with Mary Jane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aowSGxim_O8

This is another Tom Petty song that if you have seen the video it is very hard to get the video out of your head.  It is not that often that you see a mortician dancing with a beautiful corpse in a wedding dress.

But with that said, I really love the guitar intro to this song.  Often this song is referred to as a tribute to marijuana. And if you pay close attention to the lyrics it is hard to refute that the song does in a sense pay homage to the wacky weed.

However, I do not really pay attention to the drug references of the song but this song takes me to the place of my birth, Indiana.  When he pipes out the phrase, “Indiana boys on an Indiana night” a sense of hometown pride rushes through my body even though I have lived most of my life it Kansas City, Missouri.  Still,  I was born in Indiana and have several relatives from Indiana.  For me when I listen to this song it is hard for me not think of those road-trips that our family made every winter and summer to see our relatives in Indiana.

Best line: But she grew up tall and she grew up right, With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

Crowbar Memory #14 – The Best of Everything

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PynnlF3SOWU

When I think of this song, it reminds me of old flames.  I can just picture this guy who is singing this song taking a stroll down memory lane after he has had a few too many drinks at the local bar and then for some reason this old flame comes back to his memory and he wonders “I wonder what the hell she is up to now.” And as he explores the past emotions that this girl conjures up,  he finds himself not remorseful or angry but just in prayerful reflection and hope that this former flame is doing well and she has finally found what she was searching for and has the “Best of Everything”.

Best line: But listen honey, wherever you are tonight, I wish you the best of everything in the world, And I hope you found, whatever you were looking for.

 

Crowbar #15 – Here Comes My Girl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4nPa35CZPI

This is a simple song from a man who is just proud of his girlfriend.  You can just sense the joy and pride oozing off the singer’s voice as he sees his girl walking down the hall heading for him.  It really is a beautiful song.

Best line: …Watch her Walk… ‘Nuff said!

Top Row: Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty Front Row: Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan
Coloring book drawing of The Traveling Wilburys

Conclusion

So there you have it.  Those are my top 15 Tom Petty songs.  I am sure that if you are reading this there are some songs you agree with  where they are placed and some you feel are placed either too high or too low, but we all can agree on the fact that Tom Petty was a master musician who knew how to touch his audience with great lyrics and melodies.

Other Tidbits

When I first began this tribute, I told you that I received as a gift the 4 CD live anthology of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  This CD set is much more than just a greatest hits compilation.  It does have most of your favorite Tom Petty tunes, but it also has rousing covers that the band played live.  I especially liked the old blue songs covers like Diddy Wah Diddy, and, Just Want To Make Love to You.  I also really liked the rendition of the 007 James Bond tuneGoldfinger that the band played.