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Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Valediction: Promoting Mourning

During one of the luncheon cry-fests at residency, my friends and I were sharing the worst things people had ever said to us in the name of consoling us after a tragedy. Things like telling a mother who is mourning her miscarriage not to be sad because she's young yet, and can just try again. That sort of thing.
You've probably heard some of these yourself. If you've had one of your siblings die, someone has probably told you that "at least you still have your other siblings," as if the volume of siblings were the problem, as if the other siblings were simply going to expand to fill the permanent void where your dead sibling used to be. People who mourn a parent long after they are gone are often told to stop dwelling, that they should get over it and move on. Parents who lose their children say they often hear things like "I know how you feel. I lost my grandmother when I was ten," as if losing a child isn't the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent, as if anyone who hasn't lived through it could possibly imagine the hell, the grief. 
Here is where I must say that I am absolutely certain that I have, on more than one occasion, said something perfectly appalling to a person who was grieving. In emotional situations, when I know I'm supposed to say something and I don't know what to say, my mouth tends to spit out words without running them by my brain for approval first. I think nobody knows what to say to a person who is grieving, so we resort to cliches that do not comfort. We say things like "she's in a better place" or "everything happens for a reason" that we mean as comfort but in reality are kind of dismissive. "He's in a better place"  to a mourner might feel like "it is selfish of you to be sad that your loved one is no longer here." 

So recently, a friend whom I love experienced a loss so awful I can't even fathom how she keeps on putting one foot in front of the other. And some people have responded to her loss in some truly awful ways, ways that grind salt into a gaping wound. 
Which makes me want to share with everyone the rules I use when talking to a grieving person, compiled over a lifetime of learning from my mistakes. I thought I'd share it, so all of you can learn from my failure too. Here goes.

  • No looking on the bright side. Do not say the words "at least." No "He's in a better place"; no "at least now you don't have to walk that dog every day anymore"; no "that disease is very treatable these days." I can't turn someone's grief to hope by shoving rose-colored glasses on to their face. Say instead "I'll never forget how proud she was of you the day you graduated college" or "You took such good care of him and gave him such a happy life" or "I will help in any way I can."
  • Never say "I know how you feel." I've got no business taking another's grief and making it about me and what I've suffered. Everybody's grief is different, and saying I know how someone else feels is like saying "you're nothing special," Instead say "my heart aches for you," say "I love you and I'm here for you and I'm thinking of you always." 
  • Do not minimize. Never say it's "just a dog." Never say "your arthritis is bad, but cancer is worse." Victor Frankl said that suffering is like a vessel - some people's vessels are big and some are small, but a full vessel is a full vessel. Grief is grief. Honor the grief of others, no matter how it compares to what losses others have grieved. Instead say "I know how much you loved him," say "You must be so afraid, but I'm here to help you get through it."  
  • Say "I can't imagine how you feel," but do not leave it at that. As a good friend with MS often says, "no, you can't imagine, but you could try." Instead say "do you want to talk about it?" say "you can tell me all about it, if you want to," say "I'm listening. Help me understand." 
  • Do not assume a person wants to be left alone. Do not assume a person wants me all up in their grill about it either. Do not avoid but do not pester, do not ignore the elephant in the room, but don't pry into the whys and wherefores and logistics of said elephant. Acknowledge the elephant, but let the elephant alone.
So anyway, those are my rules. I try hard not to say the things above, which challenges me to find new and innovative ways to stick my foot into my mouth. By the time I die I'll probably have mastered the art of always finding a new wrong thing to say. And then, other people can say awful things to whomever is left to mourn me.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Recently, The Nation published a poem by Anders Carlson-Wee called How-To that caused a stir. See, the poem's written by a white guy, but the narrator of the poem is a black guy speaking something like African American Vernacular English (AAVE). To hear the news headlines, the reason that the "PC police" are offended by the poem is that the author is a white guy who wrote from the point of view of a Black guy. To hear most tell it, the literary world will come to a screeching halt if we keep accusing people who write across cultures of cultural appropriation. The famously liberal Stephen King tweeted: "what next? Apologies for women who write from the male point of view, or vice-versa?"
This last quote from Stephen King really made me cringe, and not just because it called to mind all of Stephen King's many and various crimes against AAVE. It's because he missed the point entirely.

See, the "PC police" weren't only upset about the author's use of AAVE. Obviously writers have to write across cultures. Obviously, when we write a character, she should speak in a manner consistent with her culture and upbringing. If anyone's arguing that white folks should only write about other white folks, I'm up to throw down about it. The problem is the whole package of the poem. So in the poem, the speaker, using really poorly rendered Black dialect, is a homeless guy giving another homeless person tips on how to lie and manipulate people when panhandling. "If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl/ say you’re pregnant," the poem says. 
The problem isn't that the author used Black dialect, it's that the author used a cartoonishly bad take on Black dialect to create a Black character who is a poor, shiftless, lying grifter. That's not "writing across cultures," that's minstrelry. See, back in the day, up until the the 1970s, there used to be minstrel shows, where white actors would cover their face in black makeup, paint their lips bright red, and perform variety shows in which their Black characters were painted as poor, stupid, lazy, and shiftless. And they did all this while appropriating Black music and dance. Wikipedia quite eloquently explains why these shows were so insidious: "minstrelsy made [harmful stereotypes about Blacks] palatable to a wide audience by couching it in the guise of well-intentioned paternalism."
Sound familiar?
The poem How To brings the tropes from minstrel shows roaring back. Why does the lying hobo character got to be black? Does Lee write other poems in bad AAVE where the narrator isn't just a collection of harmful stereotypes? And the poem, even if it weren't for the blackface buffoonery just isn't that good. I'm sure The Nation is drowning in submissions from talented Black poets who actually write authentically, and yet they chose to elevate this white dude who clearly has no idea of what he speaks.

My view on writing across cultures, and there are those who disagree, is that we should 100% absolutely do it. But we should do our homework. If you want to write a Black character who is homeless, you read about AAVE, you read other poems in AAVE. You - and this is a hard one - listen to Black people when they talk. You read about homelessness, you read work by homeless and formerly homeless people. You - another big challenge - listen to homeless people when they talk to you. And if that all seems like too much work, then sorry, you're too lazy to have a poem published in The Nation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Burning up my fuse up here alone

It's the weirdest thing, the song Rocket Man suddenly popping into my head as I sit down to write about my last residency in the Ashland MFA program. Ashland's summer residencies are these intense two-week writing boot camps with long days of lectures, readings, and workshops. They're grueling and exhausting and you'd think I'd be relieved to finally be done, but after I'm home a day or two, there's this crash. And I've realized just now that it's because I kind of get to be a different person at residency. Surrounded by other assorted freaks, geeks, and weirdos, I'm free to stop trying to rein in all my strangeness. I'm not the only one who has to stop in the middle of a walk across campus to plop down and pull out a notebook. I'm not the only one who fixates on weird trivia, who has a Google history that would make me look like a raving lunatic. I'm not the only one who bursts into tears at the drop of a word, or who bursts out laughing at the most inappropriate times, or spends an entire lunch hour alternately laughing and sobbing in public (That literally happened. Like, an entire lunch hour).
I'm not the girl they think I am at home. (I'm so freaking much weirder.)

And this residency was especially - magic is a horrible cliche of a word to use, but that's the only word I can think of. Magic. Like, you wouldn't think that spending an hour with your thesis committee going over all the things that need fixing would be a source of rapturous inspiration, but I walked out of that thesis defense (which I passed - yay) thinking "I can't freaking wait to start revising."
I know I'm usually more structured and coherent, but I'm kind of in this post-graduation haze, hung over and thrumming with words I can't type fast enough to keep up with. 
Anyway, you'll be seeing more of this here blog now that I don't have to spend most of my waking moments reading and/or writing. Any requests on future content?
Anyways, in summary, here is a picture of my kitten.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

True or false: the one-step-closer-to-genocide edition

It feels wrong, I have to say, make a reasonable, fact-based argument against shoving people from a certain ethnic group into concentration camps because for the love of Jesus and all that is holy we shouldn't need to make the case that CONCENTRATION CAMPS are an abomination and PUTTING CHILDREN IN CAGES is an inexcusable atrocity. I don't know how to have a reasonable conversation with a person who isn't horrified by the fact that our own government is rounding up brown people (some who crossed the border illegal and a great many who actually are citizens) and putting them in tent cities, with or without their children.

But of course, I'm going to go ahead and make that logical and fact-based argument because that's what I do. And I think there are a lot of massive misconceptions and outright lies that maybe have people so terrified that their moral compass broke horribly? And because I know someone's going to accuse me of using biased sources, all the data below comes from either our own government, the conservative Cato Institute, and the right-of-center Brookings Institute. 

Illegal immigrants are dangerous
This is the most alarming lie going around, one that the Trump administration reinforced on Friday in a bizarre event in which they trotted out a bunch of people with giant pictures of dead relatives who were killed by illegal immigrants, and Trump signed all their pictures, said that one of the victims looked like Tom Selleck, and then said a bunch of stuff that would make one believe that illegal immigrants are just a human crime wave. But then there are the facts. The Cato Institute says that studies going back over a hundred years have found that immigrants, whether they're here legally or not, are significantly less likely to commit crimes. Communities with high immigrant populations usually have significantly lower crime rates than cities where the majority of the population is native born. There's this notion that all illegal immigrants are rapists, but Cato says that people here illegally are 12% less likely to commit rape than natural born citizens. 

Illegal immigration is on the rise
Nope. According to US Customs and Border Protection, illegal border crossings are at a historic low, and have been since well before Trump took office. In the year 2000, there were over 1.6 million illegal border crossings. Illegal crossings hovered around a million a year for most of the time George W. Bush was in office, and by the time Trump took office, illegal border crossings were the lowest they'd been in something like half a century, with fewer than half a million crossings all but the first year Obama was in office.*

We have to lock up migrants because catch and release doesn't work
Also nope. First of all, stop talking about humans like they're wild game. They aren't rats, they aren't cockroaches, and they don't breed and they don't infest and they aren't fucking fish either. And no, we don't need universal detention to hang on to people caught illegally crossing the border. According to the conservative think tank Cato Institute, universal detention is not only ungodly expensive to the American taxpayer, it's not necessary. If the apprehended person isn't deemed dangerous, electronic monitoring, bonds, and family case worker programs are far cheaper and nearly as effective as universal detention. The Cato Institute concludes "If past experience is any guide, these... programs could ensure that 90 percent of immigration court orders are carried out. That is less than perfect compliance, but it is far cheaper, more humanitarian, and less of a political disaster for this administration."

Immigrants steal our jobs
Not that job security is an acceptable justification for concentration camps, no, immigrants aren't going to steal your job. The Brookings Institute cites comprehensive research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, who have found that immigration doesn't affect the job prospects of native-born workers. Brookings fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown says
Undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back–breaking jobs that native–born workers are not willing to do. Sectors with large numbers of undocumented workers include agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality services, and seafood processing. The fish–cutting industry, for example, is unable to recruit a sufficient number of legal workers and therefore is overwhelmingly dependent on an undocumented workforce. Skinning, deboning, and cutting fish is a smelly, slimy, grimy, chilly, monotonous, and exacting job... It can be a dangerous job, with machinery for cutting off fish heads and deboning knives everywhere frequently leading to amputated fingers.
So unless your dream job involves getting paid less than nothing to get your fingers sliced off slopping around in fish guts, your job is probably not going anywhere. And according to the Cato Institute, "immigrants likely compete most directly against other immigrants so the effects on less-skilled native-born Americans might be very small or even positive."   

And those are just the biggest of the lies that bad guys want you to believe about illegal immigration. There's also the fact that, while people are accusing the media of taking immigrants' sides, the American Journal of Political Science finds that news stories are actually twice as likely to report on the costs of immigration as opposed to the benefits. We have a myth that illegal immigrants don't pay taxes, and that they take advantage of social welfare programs. Yet illegal immigrants aren't eligible for any social welfare benefits, even though a recent study found that immigrants who are in the country illegally pay $162 billion annually in federal, state and local taxes. 
The most absurd lie of all is one I've been seeing all over the place: that Democrats oppose concentration camps not because "oh my sweet Jesus it's wrong to put people in concentration camps" but because they want illegal immigrants to vote for them. Dude, non-citizens can't vote: as for the notion that illegal immigrants are running some super secret voter fraud ring... why would a group of people whose ability to remain in the country depends on their flying under the radar go to the polling place, where they are certain to run across law enforcement officers, just to publicly commit a felony that benefits them in no way?

Y'all, immigrants aren't more likely to commit crimes: not violent crimes, not non-violent crimes, not voter fraud. They don't take American jobs. They don't drain the economy or take advantage of welfare. They aren't a growing menace, and in fact illegal border crossings have been historically low for years now. And even if not one single one of those things is true, IT IS WRONG TO PUT PEOPLE IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS HOW IS THIS A THING I EVEN NEED TO SAY?

If you agree with any of what I've got to say, or if you disagree with everything I've said but still don't want to be part of the generation that sat by and did nothing while our country spiraled toward genocide, please, please donate to RAICES. Call your representatives. Act up. Speak up. Don't give up.

*Actually, even though it is completely misleading to claim that the Obama administration also made regular practice of separating children from parents at the border, Obama was cold-hearted and ruthless when it came to immigration. Democrats should have challenged him more on it but we didn't and I don't have a time machine. The atrocities at the border are happening here and now and I could not care less whether we blame Trump or Obama or the man in the damn moon, I only care about ending this insanity.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Four dead in Ohio

Forty-eight years ago today if my math is right (and it probably isn't), the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, killing four and wounding nine. Some of those killed and wounded were participating in the protest, but some were simply walking to class. 
I came across an interesting statistic reading about the shooting today. It turns out that at the time, a Gallup poll found that only 11% of Americans at the time thought the National Guard to blame for the four lives they took. 58% blamed the students, and the rest had no opinion. Nixon was silent on the issue, but his press secretary had this to say: "when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy."
The following month, Nixon created the Scranton Commission, to "study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses across the nation." None of the guardsmen were brought to justice.
The state of Ohio settled a lawsuit brought by the families of the dead and injured, $600,000, give or take, to be split between all plaintiffs. The state issued an "apology," saying in part "In retrospect, the tragedy of May 4, 1970, should not have occurred. The students may have believed that they were right in continuing their mass protest in response to the Cambodian invasion, even though this protest followed the posting and reading by the university of an order to ban rallies and an order to disperse."

History tends to forget the reason the National Guard was at the school in the first place - students had been rioting all weekend, had burned down the ROTC building and slashed the fire hoses as local firefighters tried to keep the blaze from spreading. Students, a handful of agitators in a sea of peaceful students, threw rocks. In the midst of the protest, a guardsman suddenly and without an order to do so opened fire into the crowd and his fellow soldiers followed suit without question. Those guardsmen were kids themselves, sleep-deprived and scared. But their fear doesn't bring those dead kids back. Their fear cannot possibly justify the deaths of those innocents. 
It's hard not to draw parallels between that incident and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or the movement started by the Parkland students. In 48 years, will we look back in amazement that we were ever so prejudiced, so primitive? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coming soon...

Well hello, stranger. It turns out writing a thesis and finishing grad school are kind of a time suck. There's so much good stuff to come, so don't give up on me yet!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A plea: please exclude people with mental illness from the mass shooter narrative

Another school shooter. Another flurry of social media thoughts and prayers. Another seventeen funerals. Another raft of quotes from Mister Rogers, another war of pointed fingers, another synod of politicians and talking heads proclaiming not the time and not the time.
And another squirming moment where all heads turn toward us, toward people with mental illness; we may agree on little, the people of this nation, but we can all agree we'd be better off with fewer crazies in our midst. Drug 'em, hospitalize 'em, send 'em off, or lock 'em up - humanely, of course, always humanly. It's not the mentally ill's faults, those poor unfortunate souls, that they're hard wired for mass murder; they need protecting from themselves just as much as we need protection from them. And the one in five of us who might disagree, the one in five Americans who lives with a mental illness, well, we most of us keep quiet when these calls come, keeping our symptoms locked away inside us, if we're lucky enough to be able to do so, in a secret prison of our own shame. Those of us with the resources to manage our illness to the point we can keep it under wraps, well, we hear what y'all say about "the mentally ill," how we're weak and lazy, unreliable, untrustworthy, other, less-than. Violent. Dangerous. We're not stupid, most of us, we have a sense of self preservation. So we keep our diagnoses to ourselves and thank our lucky stars we're able to.

This is not a post about guns. This post doesn't endorse a position on the left or right. This post is about people with mental illness; about how we do not belong in this mass shooting narrative. And I'm writing this post because unlike most people with mental illness, I don't have the good sense to be quiet about having one, and I think that lack of good sense obligates me to speak up in defense of the people who don't or can't speak up for themselves. I'm speaking up because every damn time someone slaughters school full of children, this narrative starts, left right and center, about helping the mentally ill, as if we're the ones responsible. Well we're not.

But how can I say we're not violent when we all know that people with mental illness are dangerous on some level? How can I say that when the man who murdered seventeen at a high school in Florida this week does, in fact, have a history of mental illness? I can say it because one in five Americans is living with a mental illness, and the vast, vast majority of us are as peaceful and law-abiding as anyone else. We haven't done anything to be lumped in with mass murderers, and we don't deserve to be further stigmatized and isolated every time someone who isn't us commits unspeakable evil.
Now, when I say "mental illness" I'm referring to a diagnosable disorder characterized by patterns in thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that impair a person's ability to function in their daily life. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and PTSD, among others. This is probably the definition we should all be using for mental illness - I've heard a lot of people say "oh well clearly if you want to murder people you're mentally ill," but that doesn't really compute. Mental illness is a medical diagnosis. Evil is not a medical diagnosis, nor is hatred, nor is desire to kill. Certainly there are evil people who have mental illness, but there are evil people who have asthma too, and we don't go stigmatizing asthmatics every time we find out a mass murderer used an inhaler. 
Now it's really important to note that I'm not saying mental illness can't cause people to behave violently. It absolutely can, in certain cases, but probably not in the ways you think. Most people with mental illness, especially those, like me, whose symptoms are well controlled with medication and healthy lifestyle, are as peaceful and law-abiding as people without mental illness. I think we're about 1% more likely to behave violently? But by "behave violently," I mean we're about 1% more likely to punch a guy in a bar fight or shove the person in line in front of us at Target. That's a far cry from mass murder. According to a study from the American Journal of psychiatry, only one in every twenty violent crimes is perpetrated by someone with a mental illness, and since one in every five of us is someone with a mental illness... well, you do the math, I'm just a writer.
Now, our likelihood of becoming seriously violent does increase if we're abusing drugs or actively psychotic. And here I want to take a moment with the word "psychotic." Psychosis happens a lot with people who have schizophrenia, but can also happen with other disorders, like bipolar disorder. Not everybody who has a mental illness will ever experience psychosis, though.  "Psychosis" refers to a state in which a person is incapable of telling what's real from what isn't. A psychotic person might hear sounds other people can't hear, see things others can't see, or be absolutely convinced of things that aren't true. For instance, a psychotic person might have a conversation with an empty chair, convinced their long dead mother is sitting in it. They might also believe they work for the CIA, that they're secretly William Shakespeare, or that Jesus Christ is standing at the end of the bed telling them their winning lotto numbers. Psychotic symptoms vary greatly in severity, and while psychosis always causes suffering to the people who have it, it's not actually terribly common for psychosis to lead to violence. It might, in fact, lead a person to send their entire Medicaid check to a televangelist because God spoke to them through the television and told them to. That happened at a group home I used to work at more than once. Psychosis might also lead a person to douse themselves in bleach because they believe they're covered in bugs, or to write a 10,000 page manifesto that's utter gibberish, or to wear the same filthy clothes every day because it wards off the warlock that's after them. Those behaviors might seem weird and scary, but they're not as likely to lead to violence as you might think. 35% of people with schizophrenia have had at least one violent episode in their life, which seems like a lot. But the vast majority of those violent episodes have been minor things - slaps and shoves and the like; only 1% of people with schizophrenia have ever hurt somebody so badly that they even had to go to the emergency room. ONE percent of people with ONE form of mental illness (a relatively rare form at that) and now everybody with ANY mental illness gets implicated in EVERY mass murder, whether the murderer happened to have a mental illness or not? That's pretty unfair. One might go so far as to call it ignorant bigotry. 

You know what else is really ignorant? The notion that the drugs people like me take, that allow us to function in society and have meaningful lives, those drug are the cause of mass shootings. Mass shootings happen because of Ritalin and Prozac and all those nasty happy pills we crazies delude ourselves into needing. I first started seeing this notion pedaled on far right wing conspiracy-theory type blogs a few years back. Every mass shooter in the past twenty years, they say, was on SSRI drugs at the time of their crime. Those articles cite sources to "prove" their assertions, but those sources are all other conspiracy websites. No actual evidence at all. Lack of proof notwithstanding, those notions found their way into the Internet slip-stream, onto more mainstream conservative platforms, then onto the mommy blogs where they exploded, and now the notion that psych meds cause murder seems to be all but common knowledge online. Nobody checks the sources anymore - they've heard it so much it must be true.  

But actually, psychiatric drugs, even SSRIs, though very common, do come with huge side effect risks. That's why we make psychiatrists go to school for fourteen years before we give them leave to write these prescriptions. The amount we don't know about the human brain is staggering, and our understanding of how these drugs affect the brain is in its infancy. The brain, y'all, is a barely solid and impossibly fragile mass of grey snot and with all the things we don't know, all the variables that factor into the equation, medicating a mental illness is a minefield. That's why scientists dedicate their entire lives to locating those mines and helping patients steer clear of them. With, it can't be overstated, incredible success.
Back in the 1800s, most people with severe mental illness could expect no quality of life whatsoever. Having a mental illness meant restraints and prisons, experimentation, forced sterilization, stigmatization, isolation, torture, starvation. Later mental illness meant lobotomies - ice picks shoved through the eyeball straight into the brain. It meant writhing in one's own filth alone in a padded room for days on end. It meant abuse, neglect, it meant being disowned by families and locked away for life. Later it meant drugs that made one a living corpse devoid of free will - suffering still, but suffering slowly now, and quietly. 
Finally though, we're developing drugs that have powerful impact with far fewer risks than previous generations of drugs. These new meds are nothing to be taken lightly - there are serious risks that need to be weighed, and anybody who takes them needs to have a long talk with a doctor or two and read every word of those package inserts before they take the plunge. But the fact is people with mental illness deserve lives without constant suicidal thoughts, without self-injury, without constant panic attacks, without delusions, without invisible voices screaming in their ears, without being forced to spend our lives trapped inside a mind bent on its own destruction. We have treatments now that let us hold down jobs, live peacefully with our own families, live independently and make our own decisions. 
And now people are trying to say these drugs that let so many of us participate in life rather than spending it locked away or dead or worse can turn us into murderers. Without evidence. Without expertise. Without any regard for the suffering of people who have a mental illness and need help. Yes, there have absolutely been cases in which a bad response to a psych med has had devastating consequences; but no, the drugs we use to deal with the symptoms of mental illness are not going to turn us into mass murderers. Anyone who tells you otherwise is unforgivably ignorant
Y'all, having a mental illness really, really sucks; having the world think that your mental illness makes you a serial killer is really rubbing salt in the wound. And now people want to claim that the medication that helps make life bearable turns us into murder machines? How much insult do you really need to heap on top of all this injury? We already make less money than people without mental illness. We're already more likely to be homeless. Discrimination against people with mental illness is so rampant that most sufferers are terrified to let the people closest to them know about their diagnosis; you've probably got a friend or a coworker or a family member going through mental health hell right now, suffering in silence to avoid others' judgement. Our care is stupid expensive, and we generally have to fight an uphill battle to get our insurance to cover it - even though there are laws on the books saying that they have to. We've got enough to deal with already.

Here's the bottom line, cats and kittens. People with mental illness are not, no matter how you measure it, more likely to go on a shooting rampage than people without. Bringing us up every damn time someone commits mass murder is ignorant, discriminatory, and just plain wrong - factually and morally. People with mental illness are fighting an uphill battle just trying to make it through the day and live our best lives; it is wrong to heap stigma and discrimination on top of that. 
And we need you. We need you to speak up on our behalf - when the folks around you talk about people with mental illness being dangerous, we need you to call them out. We need you to pass the word on that we've done nothing to deserve to be held responsible for mass shootings that we had nothing to do with. We need you to ask your friends to stop running their mouth whenever they bring up false claims that people with mental illness, or the drugs they take, are responsible for mass shooting deaths. We're tired. We're scared. We're grieving these horrific shootings like everybody else, but we're doing that grieving while a bunch of ignorant bigots on cable news give us the side eye and try to make us take the blame. Please, just stop making people with mental illness part of the mass shooter narrative. We've had enough.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The time has come, the walrus said

The Cleveland Indians have finally decided to remove the team mascot, Chief Wahoo, from the team jersey. And if social media is to be believed, this is literally the end of life on earth. The seventh seal has opened, and there's a pale horse and the man who sat on it was Political Correctness, with the downfall of civilization following close behind him.
Look, I've been a Clevelander long enough to know how these debates go and I'm just gonna drop some facts here for you to pick up if you want 'em, and then I'm going to bar my door and pray the mob with the pitch forks doesn't find me.

So there are some fairy tales Clevelanders grow up believing, and as it turns out they're not true. I grew up believing that the Cleveland Indians were named for the great Cleveland player Louis Sockalexis, a Native American from the Penobscot tribe, who was the first Native American major leaguer. And there was indeed a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis who played just 96 games over three seasons for the team then known as the Cleveland Spiders. Sockalexis was an incredible athlete, but an ankle injury part way through his first season severely impacted his game, and that, combined with worsening alcoholism, caused his star to fall fast, and he was sent down to the minors in 1899. He died in obscurity in 1913 while working as a logger in Maine.
So when, during all that, was the team renamed in his honor? 
The Cleveland baseball team went through a lot of names between the Spiders and the Indians - they were the Lake Shores for a minute, then the Bluebirds, the Broncos, then the Naps (after star player NapolĂ©on "Nap" Lajoie). When Lajoie left the team back in 1915, the team needed a new name, and sportswriters at the time decided on the Indians. 
But in honor of Sockalexis? Not so much. Sockalexis was scorned in the press for his inherent "Indian weakness." He faced mockery and war whoops (you know, those noises Indians fans make in his "honor" at games?) from fans. 
The Cleveland Leader said of the team being renamed "In place of the Naps, we'll have the Indians, on the warpath all the time, and eager for scalps to dangle at their belts," never mentioning Sockalexis - none of the other papers mentioned Sockalexis as the reason for the name change either. None of the team's promotional materials mention Sockalexis either... not until 1968, after Native Americans began protesting the team name and mascot.
And speaking of the mascot. Like a lot of Clevelanders, I always believed that Chief Wahoo was a loving caricature of Sockalexis made by a Cleveland cartoonist to honor him. Turns out the first incarnation of Wahoo, then called "The Little Indian" appeared in 1932, decades after Sockalexis' death. The cartoonist never said that "The Little Indian" was the long-dead Sockalexis. Walter Goldbach, the logo designer who created the current incarnation of the mascot back in 1947, never mentioned honoring Sockalexis either. Goldbach said only that he had difficulty "figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon." 

So, the facts do not support the idea that the team was named for Sockalexis. The facts directly refute the assertion that Wahoo was created in honor of Sockalexis. But what about the claim that the mascot is meant to honor Native Americans?
Native Americans have pretty unequivocally let the Indians club know where they can shove their "honor." The Penobscot tribe to which Sockalexis belonged has petitioned the Cleveland team to do away with the mascot. Sockalexis' surviving family members call the mascot an insult, comparing it to blackface
So if the mascot was never intended to honor a Native American player, and Sockalexis' family say they aren't honored, and Native Americans all over the country including those in Sockalexis' tribe say they aren't honored, how can we say that Wahoo honors anybody? 

I'll reiterate that I know I'm not changing anybody's mind about whether Wahoo's got to go. And I'm just as averse as anyone to the world ending in a blinding lake of fire, as it is sure to do, as a result of a ball team removing some logos from some shirts. But what I am saying is this: that team is not named in honor of a Native American, that caricature was not created in honor of a Native American, and Native Americans do not consider that caricature an honor. Clevelanders have been lead to believe one thing, but the facts are the facts, and the fact is that this mascot does not and was never intended to honor any Native American.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The blacklist

If you haven't heard already, you'll be seeing a lot of black on the red carpet at the Golden Globes tonight. Tons of Hollywood elites have committed to wearing black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement started by activist Tarana Burke. What's more, a bunch of celebrity women will be bringing activists, including Tarana Burke, as their plus ones. And that's important because those women dedicated their lives to fighting the fight long before the whole movement was a blip on Hollywood's radar. 
Not pictured: woman who started the damn movement.

A few people have called the act of wearing black an empty gesture, a symbolic act that looks good but doesn't do good. And I'd be inclined to agree, if not for the money.
See, wearing black isn't just a symbolic gesture. It's a gesture that's probably going to cost people some money, and that, my friends, is hitting 'em where it hurts.
The red carpet won't be a rainbow of showy gowns tonight. Though celebrities will naturally be wearing the most expensive of designer black gowns, the drab color palate will probably mean fewer people tuning in for the preshow, costing probably costing some advertisers some money. Magazines, I'd wager, won't sell quite as many best dressed lists, fashion pundits on TV will actually have to acknowledge the movement, at the very least. Fashion houses will lose an opportunity to display their brightly-colored show-stoppers.
All this sends a clear message: keep harboring abusers and we will cost you money. 
The monochrome might push the journalists covering the event to ask women questions more substantive than "who are you wearing?" Women, seeing all the people whose clothing choices declare them allies, might feel more empowered not to humor interviewers asking condescending questions about jewels and shoes and underwear. Those dresses might inspire winners to dedicate at least some of their acceptance speeches to the movement. Surely every winner will feel compelled to acknowledge the movement. There will be a whole lot of shout-outs to the Time's Up nonprofit, started by celebrities and activists dedicated to ending workplace harassment.

And that's a whole lot more than an empty gesture. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

On every street

I'm supposed to be working on my last school assignment of the semester, but there's this thing I can't stop thinking about, and maybe if I write it down it'll leave. Or it'll never leave. 
A couple weeks ago I was having a debate with some dude online who was complaining how we don't need feminism, how it's too divisive. I responded, not terribly politely, that we need feminism because we're all we got and we're fighting for each other's survival.
He said that I was being "hilariously overdramatic."
We can cite facts and statistics, share gruesome pictures harrowing personal stories, and some guys are going to get indignant as if our personal stories are personal attacks on them. We can tell you that one in four women has been raped and that 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines on an average day, and some guys will respond with a "not all men" or a "well men get beaten too," as if the one negates the other.
And if all that doesn't make a difference then this probably won't either, but I've got to try. Please, men, do me a solid and hear me out. If you've ever typed the words "not all men" or you take personal offense when a woman says that she's afraid of men, please just give me a minute of your time. We need you to understand the experiences behind our words because maybe if you got it, you'd understand why we've got a hard time being fair or diplomatic. Just a couple minutes of your time. Please.
Imagine you're twenty one years old or so, and this has been the worst year of your life. You got dumped, you dropped out of school, you felt so disgusting and worthless and unlovable that you wanted to die. And imagine you're just coming out from all under that when you meet a guy in a bar. Friend of a friend. And maybe he's a tiny bit creepy and off. But he likes you and he thinks you're pretty and you really need a win, so you ignore a red flag or two. Imagine you start dating, and before too long he's getting moody and controlling. He gets mad when you spend time studying instead of with him, and he seems like he really doesn't like it that you have friends who aren't him. And imagine you put up with that for a while, four weeks to be exact, and then you realize this is getting out of control.
Imagine you tell him you want to see other people, because you're afraid what he might do if you break it off entirely. And imagine he says that if he sees you with another man, it will be "a bloodbath." Imagine you get away as fast as you can and cut off contact.
Imagine he doesn't like that very much. Imagine you're home the next day, and your dad has just left for work and imagine the phone rings and you pick it up because caller ID isn't yet a thing. Imagine it's him. And imagine he says something that makes you look out the front window to see his van slowly rolling past your house. Imagine you realizing he has probably been circling your house until he saw you were home alone.
So you call the cops and fill out a report, and they say they'll look into it and you know of course they won't. And you stop answering your parents' phone when it rings, and it rings and it rings. It rings when you're home alone during the day and it rings at three o'clock in the morning and it keeps ringing even after your dad gets on the phone with him and tells him you've moved out of state.
Imagine you start avoiding your folks' house because you're worried he might go after your family. You stay at friends' houses, and when you stay with your folks you park your car a ways down the street in hopes he doesn't notice it outside should he roll past again. Imagine how guilty you feel for bringing this down on your folks. How guilty you still feel for being so foolish.
Imagine that for months you get anxious whenever you see a white van. Imagine one day a year later you're in a parking lot and you think you see him and you don't go back to that part of town again for years. Imagine when you talk about it to people they ask if you said anything to lead him on, or imply this is your fault for ignoring the red flags for four whole weeks. Imagine hearing guys say that they're pretty sure women get into bad relationships because they like being mistreated, and imagine not arguing back because you're afraid. Afraid of them, afraid it's true, afraid because you're always afraid anymore.
Imagine you absolutely know you're one of the lucky ones. Imagine you know a hundred women, at least, who have a story far more horrible than yours. Imagine you don't know a single woman who has never experienced this kind of fear. Imagine you look back on that experience with a shudder of overwhelming relief at coming out unscathed. Imagine that a whole hell of a lot of women who have been through far worse consider themselves the lucky ones too. At least they're alive, after all.

And now imagine you're nearly forty, and even though this all happened twenty years ago, your finger's hovering over the delete key because you know he might be watching. You know he watches because ten years ago he tracked you down on MySpace and sent you a message telling you what a bitch you were for leading him on and then breaking his heart. A couple years later he sent you a friend request on Facebook, and when you blocked him he created a new account. Imagine it's only been a year or two since he last tried to contact you online and you're not sure you're out of the woods. Imagine you're worried that he'll harass your parents if you click Publish.
Imagine you still feel like a sucker, an asshole, an absolute idiot for that four-week lapse in judgement twenty years ago. Imagine you still feel so horribly guilty for the fact he harassed your folks. Imagine you don't answer the door when you're home alone to this day. Imagine this isn't the only time a man made you afraid for your life. Imagine this was only one of a thousand times a man did something to make you feel afraid. Imagine this isn't even the worst of it.
And then imagine what it feels like when you try to tell your story and some guy online takes personal offense to your sharing your story, like you talking about a time a man made you feel afraid is an attack on all men everywhere. Imagine guys who think that your fear makes you "hilariously overdramatic." Imagine having to remind yourself that he's wrong.
Just, try to imagine, and remember to imagine, and have some sympathy and have some empathy. We're telling you our stories. We need you to hear them. We need you to stop defending dudes you don't even know and start helping us defend ourselves. We need you to take all that righteous anger you feel when a woman says she's afraid of men, and channel it toward the men who made us feel that way. We need you to be allies. We need you to be the good guys you insist you are.