Category Archives: Kids Today

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

I got defriended by a “nice young lady in a blue shirt.”

The buzz about Stephen Miller’s “cosmopolitan” comment to Jim Acosta had me thinking about the reason he can actually get away with something like that. It’s the same reason why Gov. Scott Walker gets away with ripping the University System and it’s the same reason I usually tell people I “work at the U” in hopes that they think I’m a janitor.

We have far too many people who get excised about perceived slights and publicly draw attention to things that so many others would just look at and say, “Really?”

This week, I was trying to dodge summer grading when one of my friends on Facebook (a tangential connection based mainly on doc school and research connections) noted that she returned home after an exhausting 16-hour trip in which the highlight was being called a “nice young lady in a blue shirt” during a stop at a gas station.

The woman went on to say that she had a huge problem with this “framing” of her. She sees herself as being trained to be polite and that she was NOT young and that the shirt she was wearing was from the Kinsey Institute, all things that would have better indicated her actual self.

I naturally assumed that where she was when this happened (somewhere between Texas and South Dakota), it was some old codger who was making an observation. I asked if the guy was an asshole or something, as to try to understand why this was so offensive.

It turned out that it was actually a woman in her 20s-30s who was referencing her to someone else. Her response also noted was that she was NOT young (she was 40ish although any photo I ever saw of her would have had me pegging her at about half that age), calling her a nice lady was indicating that she was in some way a compliant, pliable figure and that her “ironic chastity” powder blue shirt should not have been the first thing the person noticed. She said it was quite upsetting and that it demonstrated larger societal problems regarding how people frame women.

I decided to step off the thread at that point, worrying I was hijacking this whole thing, even though other people (women, even) asked her what the problem was with the “young” thing and how she would prefer to be noticed in passing public situations.

For some reason, I couldn’t let this go. I was having trouble wrapping my head around how “nice,” “lady” and “blue” in this (or almost any other context) would connote such a dark subtext in a public situation as to undermine her as a person. I hopped on chat to ask one, private question:

Not to belabor a point in what is clearly something that won’t end well for me, but is it at all possible that through your self-framing, you’re reading way, way, way too deeply into this passing comment? A (person) at a gas station made an observation based on recognition (color) not cognition (Kinsey, ironic chastity) and made simple and positive reflection on an interaction (wow, she was nice).

The response was as follows:

The “you’re making too big of a deal out of this” has been used for a long time to justify discriminatory comments and behaviors. This comment had an impact on me. I don’t like it, and I am going to talk about why I don’t like it and find it offensive. If you think I am making too big of a big deal out of something that I find offensive, please feel free to unfollow or unfriend me because I am going to continue to talk about all the stupid things people say to me or about me.

 

I told her I was sorry I upset her, that I disagreed but that I would leave her alone and that I hope to see her at an upcoming conference.

She unfriended me later that day.

A couple things sat in my head both during and after this exchange:

  • I did not say she was making too big of a deal out of something. I asked if, in a perhaps more reflective moment later, given what others were asking, did she maybe read into this too much. A) I’m a scholar and I’ve read the lit on stuff like this and B) I’m not an idiot, so I could tell she was upset. Obviously there was something there for her, but I wasn’t seeing it, so I wanted to know if, after not really answering the questions as to why this upset her, maybe she figured that she had made a mountain out of a molehill.
  • The defriender told me that referring to her as a “nice young lady” (not to her, mind you but in describing her to someone else who asked about something) was akin to a white district attorney once having called a black lawyer “boy” in an attempt to discredit him. “There’s literature on this,” she told me. True, but there’s also literature on the “Passage of Salt” (obviously meant as a spoof but it actually got through; we use this one in our doc sem to show that sometimes, “Lit Happens.”) and the misapplication of literature is a common dodge when we’re wrong (trust me). It’s also true that common sense has to factor into life at some point. It wasn’t a white guy shitting on a black guy on a professional environment. It was one woman offering a description of another woman at a gas station. Of all the people involved in this situation, the one person who probably would never have guessed in a million years that this much shit had hit this much of a fan would have been the person at the gas station.
  • This is exactly the reason I hate dealing with academics. Yes, I have a Ph.D. but if anything, I’m a self-loathing academic: I get that theory, practice and research all have to coexist in a broader context, but I have always hated people who spend the majority of their time looking at things only through their hyper-educated lens of reality. It’s why I found myself once being screamed at for having the temerity to call a “personal street ingress” a “manhole.” I get that language matters, but if I fell down one of those things, I’d be dead before someone figured out where I was if you kept calling it that. It’s one of the many reasons I tend to now shy away from the “Big Name U” schools when I get the urge to go job hunting: The last thing I need is to spend half my life pondering the existential dilemma of comma usage and its ability to undermine developing social constructs.
  • I honestly felt sorry for her, which I’m sure would infuriate her more. It is absolutely exhausting having to ponder every, single aspect of life, acting or failing to act for fear of engendering a deeper subtext that would lead to public castigation. I imagine it is equally exhausting and infuriating to have to apply that level of analysis to the motives and actions of every single person you encounter on a daily basis. When I’m in church with The Midget and some 90-year-old woman in front of me says, “Oh, what a cute little girl you have there!” I don’t stop her and say, “By calling her cute, you denigrate her ability to rise past the social norms that women should be judged solely on their looks. She is unlikely to be treated equally in society if you and others continue to ignore her intellectual attributes.” I say, “Oh, thank you very much,” and smile because again A), I’m not an idiot and B) there is such a thing as context. When it was raining this morning, I was entering my office building in front of someone else dashing to the door. I held the door open for her and walked through. I did not do it because I was attempting to reinforce a gender code written decades ago that men should do such things, nor was I doing it because I was attempting to reinforce the stereotype that physical activities should be gender normed toward men. I did it because it seemed like the right thing to do for a fellow human being. (And yes, I have held doors for men before. This does not make me a weirdo.)

 

It’s interactions like this that stick with people and that open the door (so to speak) for people like Stephen Miller to create the “gods and clods” argument in his favor. It’s why the term “social-justice warrior” has become a pejorative term for anyone who doesn’t think that the world should be stuck in the 1950s. It’s the academic version of the surfer buying lobster with food stamps.

And yes, there are times when calling someone “young lady” or “young man” can come with the intent to demean. And we do need to stop people from denigrating others or casting aspersions because they need to know that “check out the tits on that chick” doesn’t cut it in polite society. However, of all the things this interaction could have taught me, I only came away with two:

  1. She’s not a nice person, lady or otherwise.
  2. If you want to be considered not “young,” you might want to grow the fuck up.

 

An Eagle’s Eye View on Trump and the Jamboree

The media firestorm over Donald Trump’s address to the National Boy Scout Jamboree had me digging deep into the back of both my mind and my storage closet this week.

In 1989, I was one of 32,717 scouts who poured into Ft. A.P. Hill, Virginia for a week of camping and camaraderie. I was the only representative from my school, which meant I was stuck with another troop from Wisconsin for the duration of the event. I was one of four outsiders who didn’t come from this Evangelical school of overly sensitive kids two or three years my junior.

Three of the days we spent there were among the hottest ever on record for that area, so much so that soda was banned and mandatory hydration occurred. We had just spent a week on a bus getting there, crashing at various armories and gymnasiums on the way, so we were ripe to say the least. It also didn’t help that showers were tough to come by (a long, long hike with even longer lines, if memory serves) and a lot of us were trying to earn a patch or a badge that involved us completing a mud-filled obstacle course or a swampy nature walk.

By the time we got home several days after the event closed on Aug. 9, we were so fried that any one of us (including God’s Children who once were so offended when I told one of them to go to hell that they actually debated if I should be put on a plane and sent home) would have stabbed any other one of us for the simple crime of looking at us on the bus.

The trip wasn’t all bad, and I still have some memories of this weird adventure and some souvenirs in a plastic tub marked “Boy Scout Stuff.”

In digging through it this week, I found the package of astronaut trading cards I received, still in mint condition. Each troop received something like 15 copies of one guy or gal and we were supposed to meet people from all over the country as we traded cards to get a complete set. The kid was supposed to write his name and address on the back so we could remain pen pals after the event. Marring a card like this was appalling to me, so instead, I set up an exchange with other kids in my troop, paying them off in candy I’d squirreled away to go get a perfect copy of each card for me.

Even then, I was an industrious card enthusiast.

The cards weren’t the only cottage industry available to us. Each troop had a specialized shoulder patch for the members’ uniforms. You could buy extras in advance for trading with other troops, which I failed to do (again, one of the pitfalls of not being in with the in-crowd). However, somewhere along the journey, a lot of kids had spent their travel money down to nearly nothing and were in desperate need of cash for soda and candy. I bought them out of spare patches and went about mastering the trading game.

The trades were supposed to be one for one, but some patches were considered more valuable than others, based on design, colors and quality of manufacturing. Ours were at least a 2-1 trade, but there were some that were ridiculously “over-priced.” The Holy Grail of patches was the one from a Texas troop: As space travel was the theme of the event, that patch, which was twice as deep as a regular shoulder patch, had the shuttle flying out of the Alamo. To get one, even we were expected to give up at least six of ours to get one from anyone who had one.

Alamo-Area-Council-2017-National-Boy-Scout-Jamboree

One of the guys I hung with out there had the idea of avoiding the patch traders and trying to find the source. We went to the main office site of the Jamboree and found out who these guys were and where their campsite was located. We hiked something like three miles or whatever to get there and when we did, the adult leader said, “It’s a one-to-one trade for us. You guys really showed you wanted it.”

I still have that patch among the collection I kept in a paper bag at the bottom of my sleeping bag the whole trip, for fear of having someone gank my Alamo patch.

I remembered the presidential address, but I had forgotten if we had received it from George H.W. Bush as a VP or as president. I remembered that he spoke, but as God as my witness, I couldn’t remember what he told us. I found his speech online this week and read it top to bottom, recalling none of it. I just remembered that we were all tweaking out when we noticed the snipers set up along the tops of the giant video screens used to project his image to the scouts.

I also remembered how much it sucked to be there because we were all packed in a field, it was the middle of the morning and we had to be in full dress uniform for the event, which meant calf-high woolen socks, long-sleeve shirts and neckerchiefs. Doing laundry in the field was a haphazard act that usually left our stuff smelling worse than when we started. In fact, the last couple days, we just stuffed our dirty stuff in the bottom of our duffel bags and figured we’d get to it eventually as we survived on newly purchased Jamboree T-shirts and whatever socks and skivvies we had left.

(My poor mother. When I finally got home at something like 4 a.m., I tossed my duffel to the bottom of the stairs, expecting to do laundry when I got up. Mom got up early and began to sort through my stuff. At the bottom was a plastic bag that contained my swampy, obstacle course clothes, which had been cooked in the sun and then marinated under a bus for three days. When she broke the seal on that bag, she swore she almost passed out. Once she recovered, she threw whatever was in there into the outside garbage dumpster and coated it with Lysol.)

Of all the things I remember, my most vivid memory was Fucking Lee Greenwood serenading us near the end of the event. He sang, “Proud to be an American” for what seemed like an hour and a half, imploring us to stand up when he sang the line, “And I’d proudly STAND UP next to them…”

I stood up. Everyone else did too, because that’s what you did.

Everyone except for my tent mate, John. He not only stayed seated but he put his head down as well.

I tried to get him up. He resisted.

When we got back to the tent that night, I asked him why he didn’t stand up. It was such a little thing, a stupid thing, that there was no reason not to.

“I don’t like mob patriotism,” he told me. “I should feel free in this country to do as I please.”

John had that kind of “hippie” vibe to me at that point. He looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, he didn’t pray at meals (much to the consternation of the Evangelicals) and he did his own thing. He was also one of the four outcasts and a voracious reader, which is why we ended up tenting together. I didn’t get him then, but that always stuck with me. I never thought of patriotism as a “mob” issue until he put that thought in my head.

(Of course, I went back to high school and immediately became an active member in the Young Republicans, so I can’t say he really impacted me right away. Most kids rebel by smoking weed and hippie-ing out on their folks. I pissed off my mostly liberal teachers by becoming Alex P. Keaton. I doubt any of us are really proud of our high school years…)

This is one of the main reasons why I don’t fault the kids who booed Obama or cheered Trump’s applause lines: They’re like 12 or 13 years old. Between learning to do what adults tell you because they tell you it and the general peer pressure that had me standing up for a fucking Lee Greenwood song, I doubt there was malice or even understanding going on there.

One other item I found in that bin of stuff came along about a year after we got back from the Jamboree: My Eagle Scout medal. It was pinned to my uniform, next to the medal I received for the ad altare dei award (Catholic scout honors) and just below the Jamboree patch. I was only the second Eagle in our troop in almost 30 years, the first being my friend Kyle who earned his six months before I did. To me, it was a big deal, because it was one of the first times in life I stuck with something long enough to complete the task. The ability and desire to finish things, even those that seemed impossible, would eventually become my modus operandi, but it all started with reaching Eagle Scout.

I was sad to learn that a man in Moorhead, North Dakota had turned in his Eagle to the scouting office in protest after he felt the Scouting leadership didn’t do enough to deal with Trump’s unhinged speech. That award meant a lot to me when I earned it and it still does. I always thought I might be over-emphasizing it until I heard somewhere that Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 and one of the most experienced astronauts of the Apollo program, still listed his Eagle award on his resume. I don’t know if that’s true, but I still receive mail from the Boy Scouts for various campaigns and they occasionally have Lovell’s auto-penned signature on them.

To give up something like that, because of a clusterfuck caused by our human brushfire of a president doesn’t work for me. It seems more like cutting off your nose to spite your face than like Cassius Clay tossing his gold medal into the Ohio River.

It also bothers me that this quadrennial event might be tainted for this group of kids, most of whom will probably never attend another national jambo. Then again, if my experience is any indication, half of these kids probably skipped the damned thing to go catch a hike or do some rafting or earn a merit badge. Those kids who did attend were probably busy texting or screwing around, as seeing the president wasn’t nearly as cool at that age as people kept telling us it was. We wanted to get back to doing the stuff we came there to do. Having some old dude tell us about what life was like when he was a kid wasn’t anywhere in the top 20.

(I’m glad the head of the scouts apologized Thursday for not stepping in earlier and stopping this shit show. I’m sure at the time it was happening, it was like watching a car wreck. We all like to think we’d be like Neo in a situation like this, dodging bullets in real time as we deftly fought for justice. In most cases, we’d be like Roscoe P. Coltrane, flying off the damned road and crashing into a tree, even as we knew it was happening. Cut the guy some slack for not jumping in on the FUCKING PRESIDENT the minute he went off the rails. When the goddamned provost shows up at my office, I’m a babbling idiot for about the first half hour, for chrissake… )

People outside of the event have made this about Trump and what he said and how people reacted and what impact this will have on our kids and… Just stop.

The kids are fine. They’ll bring back their own version of card swapping and patch trading in terms of memories. (I took a look at the Jamboree website and found that they have a “patch trading app” that helps you suss out the fake patches that tend to infiltrate the trade. How things have evolved…) They’ll have some friends that last a week and memories that last a lifetime. They’ll keep a few patches and cards and such in a bin that gets moved from home to home throughout their lives.

As for Trump and his chaos, they should probably do what mom did for me: March the nasty shit outside, toss it in the dumpster and coat it with Lysol.

Amazing Grace

At this time of year, most of us educators give up all hope on humanity. Between the students who are “just starting” the final projects they had six weeks to finish and the constant stream of “So, I was looking at my grade and…” pandering bullshit, it’s impossible to not want to just run away screaming.

That’s why the email I got yesterday was one of those little flecks of light in the darkest of rooms.

A fellow media adviser is in the shit at her institution. It has a lot to do with overreaching administration, bullying assholes and a general sense that the student publication should be 95 percent fluffy PR and 5 percent Sudoku. Instead, it’s a quality publication that asks questions about shady stuff and speaks truth to power.

Therefore, obviously, the problem is the adviser, who is now under fire.

The adviser’s daughter, Grace, is 10 years old. She overheard her parents talking about all this darkness and it really bothered her. She wants to be a journalist and what she heard “hurt her feelings because writers should always be able to write.”

At the age of 10, I also loved to write, but I had no idea what a journalist was. My writing was mostly confined to banging out short stories on my mom’s old manual typewriter that she’d set up for me in the dining room. The stories were my escape and my adventure and the thought that they might be taken away never occurred to me. I can’t imagine what was going through this kid’s head when she heard terms like “prior review” and “legal issues.”

Grace loves Star Wars and she loves journalism so she sat down at the computer and built a shirt to explain that journalism matters:

560

Her goal was to sell 10 shirts with about $150 in profits going directly to the Student Press Law Center, which was working on her mom’s situation. When I found myself getting killed last year, it was Frank LoMonte and his SPLC crew who waved the biggest red flags and really helped bring some clarity to the situation. If nothing else, he did scare the shit out of the student government twerps who wondered why this “organization in Virginia,” as one of them called it, was suddenly setting up camp in their rectal tract.

I bought one and immediately pimped it out to at least a dozen other people. Apparently others did the same because by the time Grace got home from school, she had sold almost 90 shirts. Her mother had to write the thank you to our group because Grace was so overwhelmed, seeing how her little idea had resonated with so many other people.

For every bad story we get, and there are a lot of them out there thanks to our governmental mandate to fuck over anyone with a pulse who doesn’t have a 850 credit score and a Black Card, we get an occasional reminder of what is good out there.

I have friends on Facebook who are terrified by the Trumpcare bill and what it will mean for their kids who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, cancer and crohn’s disease. I have family members who are slowly giving way to the constant march of time. I have what I can only imagine will be the worst day of my year coming up in two hours.

A T-shirt won’t solve those problems.

However, just thinking about Grace makes me smile a little bit more and telling her story gives me hope.

Because maybe if we get enough kids like Grace and we show them that society can reward them for doing the right thing, maybe we will have fewer problems later and a brighter day in the future.

(Her link is open through the weekend. If you want a cool shirt to support a great kid, feel free to click here.)

Seeds of Hope

The young woman sitting next to me scrunched up her face as she looked at a resume I would have killed for at her age. She had three internships, including one at a major media outlet and a second at a center for investigative journalism. She was the editor of her paper and had earned honors and awards along the way. Still, she had that look.

“I just hope I get a job,” she said. “It’s rough out there…”

I half smiled as I shook my head and told her, “You’re going to be fine. You have a ton of great experience. We just need to rearrange a few things to put the emphasis on the best stuff first…”

I suggested moving a few things around, emphasizing professional experience and pushing her college work down. We talked about her social media presence and if it would be something that would showcase her journalism or if it fit the “I ate a hot dog today. It was good.” motif. I told her I knew her boss and that he didn’t hire crappy people, so that should help her feel better about herself and that she should ask if he would be a reference for her.

In the end, she seemed to feel better and thanked me for my time.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her again, emphasizing each word. “You’ll be just fine.”

I’ve spent the last two weekends working with student journalist at a variety of conventions, which is one of the best things I do in life. Last week, it was Minnesota’s best of the Midwest convention while this week, we convened for a pro/college hybrid for the best journalism the state has to offer.

Being around people “like me” is usually a comfort to most humans, in that we enjoy social gatherings that emphasize shared, learned behavior. Even more, we tend to understand each other better when we have chewed some of the same dirt. As Eddie Murphy once remarked about marriage, “Find the perfect person for you. I’m not saying they’re perfect. Find someone just as fucked up as you are in the same way and settle down.”

Still, this convention was one I had dreaded for a number of reasons. First, I’m running the board of the college group, which means I need to show up, dress sharp and schmooze with people, all things that don’t really thrill me. Second, it’s like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for me in many ways.

The people I know there knew the much younger version of me: The one who fucked up a lot. The one who bordered on arrogance and then swung to a complete lack of self-esteem. The one who was probably the annoying kid they wished would learn to calm down a little more and not be so excited over every police scanner call. It’s painful thinking back about that “me” and it’s even more difficult realizing how long ago that was.

The kid I helped work through her resume was someone I probably would have never dealt with back then. She worked at the Badger Herald. I’m from the Daily Cardinal. Capulet and Montague don’t have shit on that turf war. However, as I talked with her a bit, it dawned on me she wasn’t even born when I was a college journalist. The dislike I have for her institution remains, but for some reason, it wasn’t as hard as I would have once thought it to be when I helped her plan out Life 2.0.

Later that day, I walked through the exhibit hall, and I ran across a guy I worked with back when I was a night-desk reporter. Andy now runs that center for investigative journalism at which this kid was interning. When he noticed me, he stopped what he was doing to say hi and prepared to introduce me to the folks gathered around him.

One of the people who turned around was another former newspaper staff who remembered me and gave me a huge hug. It turns out Pat had retired from the paper during one of the rounds of “downsizing” efforts and was now teaching at a small, private college and advising the paper. I told her, “We need to get you onto our board…” before explaining what it is I was doing and what our college group was all about.

She had this look on her face, and I couldn’t really figure it out. It was half amazement and half pride.

“Yeah,” Andy chimed in. “He’s all grown up now…”

I laughed. He just smiled.

He remembered how excited I was the time he offered to buy me a six-pack of beer if I’d take some mundane assignment he’d been given. Andy was happy he could go on his vacation without worry. I was thrilled: You mean I’ll get some extra hours, mileage money, a story in the paper AND BEER? Holy shit!

I didn’t know if Pat remembered the time she and I were working on a Sunday together and two stories had rolled in: Racist literature was found in a news rack at a grocery store and major vandalism had hit the area Walgreens. She was coming in later and I had half of each story and I hoped she’d let me keep one. When she arrived, she told me, “Take them both. I’m working on something else.” It was like a day of free ice cream. I can still remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I’ve got TWO STORIES in the paper today. This is unbelievable.”

Back then, moments like those were the world to me. For them, it was just another day of work.

After I left Andy’s booth, I wandered over to the walls of poster board that contained the award-winning work of journalists throughout the state. Not more than a minute of browsing went by before something grabbed me: A column with a familiar face staring back at me. The hair was more professionally cut, the cheeks a bit fuller but I knew the half-grimace that stared back at me.

One of my former students: First place for local sports column.

I backed up and started from the very first board, carefully examining each byline.

Second Place: Environmental writing

Third Place: Business coverage

First Place: Local education coverage

Third Place: Feature Writing

More and more of the names came back to me. Scared kids, wondering if they’d ever get an internship. Wondering if they’d get a job. Wondering if they’d be any good.

Professional journalists, all. Award-winners to boot.

My eyes settled on the last panel where the college winners were and found one bittersweet moment:

First place, News/news features.

The kid who wrote it was my editor during last year’s run of crushing misery. She stuck with me through thick and thin, knowing her life would be so much easier if she just asked me to quit. Instead, she hunkered down and dealt with the pounding, just like I had. In the end, though, she couldn’t take it anymore.

She dropped out of school, refusing to return for her senior year. She moved on to the tech school last semester, where she hopes to earn a degree that will let her work as a nursing assistant. She never wants to be in journalism again.

She wrote a personal experience feature story on Project Semicolon, a movement that started in 2013 after founder Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. Bleuel also struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, so she looked for a way to communicate that struggle to others in hopes of shedding light on these mental illness issues. The non-profit organization uses the semi-colon as a symbol of how you are the author of your life and authors choose how to end a sentence. The semi-colon says, “I’m pausing here, but I will choose to continue.” Many people who back the movement get a tattoo of a semi-colon as a way of reinforcing this belief.

Katie’s piece wove her own struggles into the broader story of Project Semi-Colon, which was started only about an hour’s drive from here. The narrative thread was her decision to get the tattoo and to share that moment with her mother.

I could feel the tears welling up as I started to read the story, so I just moved on and took a breath.

A great moment. A great kid. The one I couldn’t save.

My career choice often leaves me with mixed emotions. I think back to the most stinging comment people make about educators: “Those who can’t do, teach.” There are days I think maybe they’re right. Could I have stuck with journalism for 22 years and done more and better things than I did? Maybe I’m that tragic tale of wasted youth, the human vessel of lost potential I now try to drag out of other people as some sort of penance for my own transgressions…

Then there are days like yesterday, where I see how the kids who once pondered their own inadequacies are tearing it up at various publications in places they want to be. I see it in every “noun-verb” attribution they use and how I pounded that into them. I see it in their commitment to fairness and accuracy. I see it when they email me to ask, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours and you really helped me out a ton… I’m looking for an intern and I was hoping you had one of your kids to help me fill the slot…”

Those days, I see myself as a good farmer: I take those little seeds and put them in the best soil I have, tend them the best I can and then watch them grow to fruition. I help make sure the seedlings get what they need to survive. I realize how important this is now more than ever, in a field littered with cutbacks, high stress and public malice toward the profession.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this.

I sow some of these seeds of hope for journalism.

And sometimes, it’s important to step back and enjoy the garden.

Journalism: A shitty job in a nuclear winter

One of my former students became a science reporter a few years out of school and once found himself on a trip to Chernobyl. A group of researchers were collecting stool samples from people who lived adjacent to the old Russian nuclear reactor, trying to see if they were suffering from any radioactive poisoning nearly three decades after the meltdown.

He sent me a post card from the area with a final line I still love:

“Journalism. It’s a shitty job but somebody has to do it.”

I thought about him and that trip today when I was trying to read anything in my social media feed that wasn’t about Trump’s press conference. When all I was left with was if Steve Kerr was going to play Russell Westbrook alongside his four Warriors in the All-Star Game and Draymond Green clarifying his “slave-owner mentality” statements, I gave up.

Trump’s hour-plus screed was a brick of uncut alternative facts, packaged in a wrapper of vulgar abuse and denigration. The word “rambling” might be overused at this point and I don’t think it goes far enough. It was like he took every topic of interest or a point of pride he has, wrote them on bingo balls and then had the machine spit them out to determine the order of his talking points.

The biggest problem came when he started taking questions from the press, one of his favorite targets of abuse. A reporter from Ami Magazine, a conservative orthodox Jewish publication, offered Trump the olive branch he was desperately seeking, a pass on personal anti-Semitism. However, as Jake Turx tried to ask Trump to explain how he planned to fight this problem, Trump just stepped all over himself, assuming Turx was calling him anti-Semitic and then told him to sit down and shut up.

When a reporter refuted Trump’s claim that his 306 (actually 304) electoral votes was the most since Ronald Reagan, he dodged with “I meant Republican victory.” He then was told Bush 41 had way more, which led Trump to blame his staff for the information.

Perhaps the worst moment is the one most people are noting: Trump’s clash with April Ryan, a long-time member of the White House press corps. Ryan, who is African-American, asked about Trump’s plans to improve urban areas that he often referred to as terrible hell holes and wondered if he’d reach out to the CBC and Hispanic caucus in congress. Trump seemed unaware of what CBC stood for, but upon learning it stood for Congressional Black Caucus, asked Ryan if she’d set up the meeting for him.

“Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked her in what could only be described as a confrontational tone.

At this point, I had two thoughts:

  • Based on his “you all know each other, right?” approach, I was amazed Trump didn’t start off with, “Hey, I loved you in ‘Hidden Figures!’ What’s your question?”
  • If you believe that Sean Spicer isn’t getting fired, buy stock in Orbitz. This guy is going to put a dent in our national supply by Saturday.

This press conference, naturally, scared the living shit out of me as a citizen, but my one saving grace is that I can turn off the TV or ignore the news. The journalists who have to work in this environment are like the people at Chernobyl in 1986, going shirtless and using some Windex to clean up the mess.

Journalism has always been a shitty job and it takes a weird breed of person to do it. If you don’t believe me, you should have been in our student newspaper’s newsroom this week. Conversations regarding a dead squirrel, double entendres about a professor “coming” and whether Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” was about anal were among the most acceptable for public consumption.

The kids do this for almost no money, which will get them ready for a career in a field where cutting positions and salaries is an annual ritual. They talk to people who don’t want to talk to them about things everyone wants to know but no one who knows is willing to disclose. (A student told me an administrator offered him about a three-minute “No Comment” on a topic we had been covering. My first response, “Did you record it so we can use it as a quote?” The answer, of course, was “yes.”)

Abuse in this field is common. I’ve been called scum, an asshole, a weasel, a vulture and worse. One lady told me my mother didn’t raise me right. I’m sure there are worse ones that I’ve just blacked out of my memory. It got so bad that I used to have a recorder attached to my phone so I could record the abuse. That way, when the person on the other end became sweet as pie to my boss and accused me of random shit, I could just play him the tape.

The thing that amazes me about all of this is that we keep having more and more kids entering this field with the idea that each one of them probably has (at the very least) one Cousin Carl who believes everything not on Breitbart is fake news. Many of the kids I teach come from the Rural Red areas of the state where family members at Thanksgiving ask things like why they aren’t earning an “honest living” like “Gene the Retard” down the way who sells dachshunds out of his trailer.

One kid who recently changed majors to journalism sat with me after I mentioned that a long time ago, when I was changing from pre-law to something or other, Dad told me I needed to find a field where I could get a job.

“As long as you aren’t majoring in English or something else stupid like that, I don’t care,” he said. “You just need to be able to get a job.” (Incidentally, English was going to be my major right up to that moment…)

The kid’s dad had said something similar when he made the change to journalism and he wondered what was out there for him. I explained about the various ways the skills he picked up in journalism would make him a fine hire for a ton of great jobs. He relaxed and then asked, “Can you tell my dad that? He runs his own business and he thinks this is a stupid move.”

Of course it’s a stupid move, if you enjoy low-stress jobs with good benefits and career security. It’s also a stupid move if you enjoy being liked and you don’t want your illusion shattered when it comes to thinking the best of people. It’s a really stupid move for 1,001 other reasons that undercut sanity and longevity. Still, the kid felt like he found the right major, so like a moth to a flame, he decided to stick with it.

I was glad for that and I’m looking for more just like him because we need those guys and gals to fill in the ranks of reporters, editors and other journalists who push back every day against the tide of bullshit. Talking to kids who want to be the next reporter to be told, “Sit down! You’re fake news” really energizes me and makes me want to get them ready to go in the corner and fight for the puck. That’s why this weekend finds me at a journalism convention in Minnesota where kids from a lot of small-college Midwestern schools will show up and learn how to write, report, dig, challenge and fight better.

Best of all? The person running the convention told me the number of attendees this year is higher than it has been for the past several mid-winter conferences.

And, like any other decent journalist, I’ll make sure to check it out before I believe it.

The Kids are Alright, Part 2000

Hello there, teenagers! Do you know how often you think about The S-E-X? And how you are like animals with the sexing all the time? 

According to Click2Houston, an administrator at Clements High School in Fort Bend County, Texas, was addressing an auditorium full of upperclassmen and trying to get them to dress more conservatively. But rather than say, “Dress more conservatively. Bare stomachs are not appropriate for school,” he tried to use humor. It came out like this:

“Ladies, I know you’ve been working on your abs since the Olympics, right? But your shirts can’t be up here. It’s gotta cover the whole gut. Ladies, I blame you all for boys’ low grades because of tight clothing,” he said.

Ugh. Can’t he just sit backwards in a chair or grow a ponytail or something? It’d be pathetic, but less so than attempting to get through to the kids with a ham-fisted attempt at humor that was just an overt display of sexism. Male and female students alike report being offended by the remarks. The men did not appreciate the implication that they are academic magpies incapable of remembering the quadratic equation if they see a woman’s belly button. The women did not appreciate being told their bodies were responsible for the test scores of other students.

 

Seriously, we are finally getting to a generation that has enough of its shit together to push back on this constant, ridiculous harangue that men are animals and women are fucking zookeepers, and I’m supposed to be mad they all use Instagram or whatever it is that we’re mad at kids today about?

I am impatient with dress codes because they’re almost always used to police girls and distract girls from learning, but also because the message is that there is no more important issue for high schoolers than how they look.

Not whether they’re homeless because their dad or mom just lost a job, not whether their school is a burned-out shell in a bombed-out town, not whether their parents are on drugs or not around or abusive. How they dress. That’s what we’ve decided to make a federal fucking case about. That’s the hill we’re all going to die on.

Those kids are damn right it’s not fair to the boys OR the girls.

A.

 

Today in Ungrateful Youngsters

Maybe you kids need to experience STALIN so you understand how good you have it! 

Those born in the 1930s were alive during Hitler’s conquest of Europe. Those born a bit later have no memory of World War II, but they do remember Stalinist Russia, a more distant threat, but one that was still frankly terrifying. Those born later still have no memory of the darkest days of the Soviet Union, but they do remember the Cold War and the Berlin Wall.

Those born as late as the 1980s have no memory of living in a world where democracy was threatened in any serious way. It is so much easier for youngsters to take democracy for granted. For them, it’s like taking oxygen for granted. They have fewer real-world foils to compare democracy with. Churchill’s quip that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others doesn’t resonate with them in quite the same way.

It’s easy to take oxygen for granted if no one is holding your head under water, but none of us, it’s safe to say, would argue that oxygen isn’t essential or that it’s a bad thing. Yet a quarter of young people think democracy is actually bad.

Just stop. Just fucking stop it. The millions of people dead in World War II did not die in order to teach Kids Today to stop looking at their iPhones and appreciate a real society with, like, voting and stuff. That is sociopathic, and gross, and anyway was not the function of the Greatest Generation.

One of the best things I ever did with my life, one of the things I plan to offer up against all the ways in which I am Not Right should there actually be a Judgment Day, was an editing project involving a series of stories from the early 1940s. The writers were college students, opining on subjects from prom elections to cafeteria food, and reading them one of the things that was very, very obvious is that they were all about to die. Not in the abstract. Immediately, upon shipping out if their boats got blown out of the water, or on landing if they made it to the beaches, or at the top of the first hill they made it up.

They were spectacularly unconcerned that the young people of the world would one day throw them a parade and give the right answers in a fucking poll, or whatever Totten up there is flipping his shit about. They were going to die, and it was all they were thinking about. Trying to stay alive. That’s all anybody’s thinking about, for Christ’s sake.

“It is so much easier for youngsters to take democracy for granted.” Jesus tits. I suppose it’s easy for them to take democracy “for granted” because their minds are otherwise occupied with having enough food to eat and not living in their cars, but by all means let’s hold their heads under water until they put a bust of Churchill up in their dorm rooms.

Can we please stop acting like these are abstractions? People born in the 1920s and 1930s didn’t take democracy for granted because fascism was trying to kill them with physical bullets. People born in the 1980s don’t think democracy is the shit because they and their parents did everything right and a bunch of guys in suits walked off with all the pension money and some extra taxpayer ducats besides. I swear, our elite magazine writers need to meet some actual humans instead of just learning about them from television beamed to their planets.

What will happen in a world where those things are no longer true, especially when rising generations care less for democracy than their elders? And what will happen, as we continue to pass through the transition we’re clearly in now, if Western democracies suffer sustained French-style terrorist campaigns by Middle Easterners with the warped minds of medieval genocidaires?

Nobody knows, but it’s probably safe to say at this point that the relative tranquility the West has enjoyed now for decades in ending.

Relative tranquility. You know, the kind that ensued during the glorious 1970s and 1980s, when those who truly loved democracy were in charge. 

A.

Let’s You and Him Fight: A Lawn and Who Gets to Be On It

THIS. This with this sauce, wrapped in a this tortilla: 

For most Americans under 40, life since 2008 has been a struggle to survive. But it is worth noting that plenty of older Americans share the same struggles as their younger peers. Many older people laid off in the recession were unable to regain good jobs. There are plenty of older people with few retirement savings, with their finances drained from paying for both elderly parents and jobless children. We need to acknowledge the way our struggles are intertwined, instead of allowing the media to stoke manufactured class and generational resentment.

Forget “the media” stoking manufactured generational resentment. Let’s not allow OUR BOSSES to stoke manufactured generational resentment. I swear the millennial hate makes me so insane because I remember being 23 and new in a job, and having to listen to people imply I was a) just there because I’d work cheap and b) hopelessly dumb.

I wanted to be there, working for hey guess what anything I could get, and I wanted to learn, and I had no idea who had held my job before me, and how the hell I was supposed to be responsible for if they were older than me and got laid off. Like how would I know that? And what was I supposed to do, like should I not eat, because the bosses were jerkwads?

Should I have found someplace where only 23 year olds worked, so that I wasn’t taking a job ever held by anyone older than me?

You know who wins when we let that kind of generational sniping happen? The people who profit from it. If you can make the employees fight maybe they won’t notice you stealing all the money. This is the same bullshit argument that gets people mad at people in other countries for “taking American jobs” instead of mad at corporate executives for “giving jobs away in order to make a buck.”

I work on a regular basis with lots and lots of millennials, and about eight of them I wouldn’t throw a rope to if they were drowning. The other 11,000 over the past decade have been working two jobs or three to make ends meet and will still stay up all night trying to solve a problem they’ve been given, and I’d like them on my side in any fight at all. I don’t get the man bun thing, but that’s not an actual problem. Plus I grew up in the late 80s and I cannot believe anyone had sex with us looking like that.

Maybe assignment editors know too many rich kids, who are prone to be assholes not because they’re kids but because they have no needs that anyone serious cares about. The trend pieces about kids sleeping in the library or their cars while trying to go to college and figure out how to make it out of their post-industrial craphole towns with their sanity intact. But that doesn’t get the sitemeters spinning quite the same way, does it?

A.

Putting The Bully In Bully Pulpit

3000

Via The Guardian: Stavros Metropoulos, 6, sits with a sign protesting an appearance by Donald Trump in Birch Run, Michigan. Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The phrase bully pulpit can be traced to Teddy Roosevelt. TR used the word bully as later generations used swell, groovy, cool, or awesome. Over time it has become a noun as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “a prominent public position (as a political office) that provides an opportunity for expounding one’s views.” Expounding is the only thing Donald Trump knows how to do. The Insult Comedian talks and talks and talks. The content is often vacuous and incoherent but is typically laced with ethnic, racial, and religious slurs. Did I say that expounding was the only thing he did well? Scratch that, he’s also (as he would say) so very very very good at slurring:

Tracey Iglehart, a teacher at Rosa Parks elementary school in Berkeley, California, did not expect Donald Trump to show up on the playground.

This was, after all, a school named after a civil rights hero in a progressive California enclave, with a melting pot of white, African American, Latino and Muslim students.

That has not stopped some children from channeling and adopting the Republican presumptive nominee’s xenophobic rhetoric in playground spats and classroom exchanges.

“They said things like ‘you’ll get deported’, ‘you weren’t born here’ and ‘you were born in a Taco Bell’,” said Iglehart, 49. “They may not know exactly what it means, but they know it’s powerful language.”

Hearing it in Rosa Parks elementary, of all places, came as a shock. “Berkeley is not an area where there are Trump supporters. This is not the land of Trump.”

Yet the spirit of the GOP presidential candidate has surfaced here and, according to one study, in schools across the country.

An online survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center found toxic political rhetoric invading elementary, middle and high schools, emboldening children to make racist taunts that leave others bewildered and anxious.

“We mapped it out. There was no state or region that jumped out. It was everywhere,” said Maureen Costello, the study’s author. “Marginalized students are feeling very frightened, especially Muslims and Mexicans. Many teachers use the word terrified.” The children who did the taunting were echoing Trump’s rhetoric, she said. “Bad behavior has been normalized. They think it’s OK.”

Trump is *already* setting an example for American youth: a bad example. If it can happen in Berkeley, it will play in Peoria. The Insult Comedian should be pantsed, given a swirly, and stuffed in a locker for giving a green light to schoolyard bullies and bigots. I’d like to build a wall around his mouth.

Make sure you read the rest of the article. It has inspired me to suggest a Trump campaign theme song. Its protagonist is a braggart, con artist, and all-around malaka, Warren Zevon’s Mr. Bad Example. Here’s a taste of the lyrics:

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I’ll live to be a hundred, and go down in infamy

Of course I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity
Then worked in hair replacement, swindling the bald
Where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called

WZ even mentioned a hair replacement swindle. Holy weave, Batman:

Kids Today Just Don’t Want to Save Money!

Buy a house, young’uns! 

“A lot of folks said that millennials would go off and just rent,” said Jonathan Corr, chief executive of Ellie Mae in Pleasanton, Calif. “But as they hit those life-event years in terms of getting married, having children, they’re starting to make that transition.”

That doesn’t mean they’re ready to sign a check. Millennials in about half of large metropolitan areas are underestimating how much they’ll need for a down payment on their first home and are not saving at a fast enough pace.

I see “incredibly screwed by the service/gig/contract economy and paying too much for every aspect of their health care and saddled by student loans from STATE SCHOOL and until recently nobody was working at all” is the new “not saving enough to buy a house.”
When the median damn home price in any neighborhood that is not a demilitarized zone is $300,000, you tell me where to get 20 percent.

Look at this:

Surveyed millennials reported current savings at $14,469, monthly savings of $360 and help from outside sources of $8,264, on average. At that pace, it’ll take them nearly 28 years to save enough money for a down payment, even though 37 percent of millennials said they’re planning to buy between three and five years from now.

So they have that much in savings and WHOOPS STILL CAN’T LIVE IN SAN FRAN because they are not the Rich Kids of Instagram:

In the San Francisco region, a 20 percent down payment on a median starter home (based on price data from Trulia) runs at about $142,800, more than double what respondents to Apartment List’s poll estimated.

That is insane. Even if you are making, let’s say 60K, in your twenties which is a dubious proposition in the “work for the ‘exposure’ and the ‘opportunity'” economy, the DOWN PAYMENT is more than twice your annual income. “Well, just move somewhere cheaper!” Okay, and the jobs there are … just as good? At least acknowledge that some places deliberately — through government policy — price out the people who work there, mandating those people have long commutes in from affordable locations, creating wear and tear on both the roads and their lives.

Mr. A and I, in our early 40s, have no problems anyone should care about, and we still look around where we live and say, well, if we moved someplace where our jobs wouldn’t be as good, we could afford a much bigger place … if only we were making as much money as we are with the jobs we have here which we couldn’t necessarily. Which makes no fucking sense, and we attended college in the glory days when you could either self-fund most of your tuition or your parents could pay for it without mortgaging THEIR house. Like I said, we ain’t poor and this is still a whackadoodle equation, so what if you’re just starting out and have 100K in debt on your back?

I would not be a 19-year-old again if you put a gun to my head.

A.

NYT: Pedophilia & One-Night Romps are Equally Sexy Hijinks!

In a review titled, no kidding, “John Colapinto Revives the Male-Centric Literary Sex Novel,” we get this gem of a passage: 

There was a time when the great American male novelists took delight in writing about sex. Rebelling against a literary tradition that perhaps underestimated how much space animal urges take up in the male brain, many big hitters of the 20th century, like Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow, dived into the muck with the zeal of Rabelais or Cleland.

Sex was freedom, sex was adventure, sex was a good time, sex was pain, sex was life. Masturbation, threesomes, pedophilia, extramarital flings, one-night romps: It was all up for grabs, and how they grabbed it.

Yeppers. Sex was a good time. Especially all that child rape. Raping children was just like masturbation or threesomes or “extramarital flings.” It was LIFE, I tell you. What the SHIT?

The entire story is a shitshow, its premise that modern men are pussified and afraid to write about the boldness of their wanting girls half their ages, unlike those Real Mayunns of old. Who has ruined these men and their strong, hard, turgid writing? Feminists, of course:

Katie Roiphe lamented the inability of male novelists to reckon with lust in a 2009 essay in The New York Times, and not much has changed in the years since. For the crew of writers that includes Dave Eggers, Benjamin Kunkel and Jonathan Safran Foer, she wrote, “Innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex.”

Publishers of literary fiction, perhaps afraid to alienate their biggest customers — women, whoread more than men — aren’t exactly rushing to release the next male-written sexually provocative novel.

Because there is apparently not an entire entertainment industry predicated on young hotties wanting to hook up with the schlubbiest guy in the room. That’s not a thing that happens, that May-December of Next Year romance in which the elderly dude thinks with his peen. There are no movies about it.

Colapinto’s publisher offers this stirring defense of his author’s literary merit:

“If we’re on trial, no decency laws have yet been broken,” said Dan Smetanka, the acquiring editor at Soft Skull.

EXCELLENT NEWS, FUCKSTICK! But I’m still stuck on “pedophilia” being one of the many fun sex things that has fallen out of favor because of “modern times” and “not wanting to wind up in prison” and other such killjoys:

Books and their authors are products of their time. One wonders if any sexually frank novel published today could rattle the culture in the way that “Portnoy’s Complaint” did back when books could go further than movies. At the same time, playing the role of a middle-aged male sexual provocateur in an era of safe spaces and trigger warnings is a risky proposition.

Safe spaces. Such as those inhabited by children who need to be “trigger warned” and also NOT RAPED. Such a damn buzzkill, you guys. It’s a wonder anybody manages to write anything at all anymore.

via Jacob.

A.

Survival is beautiful

In my experience, the most difficult thing about surviving a trauma has been the dark, grim sense of how I felt I was supposed to react. When it comes to other successful endeavors in life, people are always looking for positive things they can tell you:

“Hey, congratulations on the big promotion!”

“Way to go! Your home run won the game!”

“Nice job on this paper! 100 percent! A+”

Positivity oozes out of everything we like to tell people for whom we are happy or grateful.

However, in surviving horrible colleagues, baseless inquisitions, heavy bouts of depression and other issues, I have never found people lauding my efforts as if they were joyous or beautiful experiences:

“Great job not punching out that asshole you work with!”

“Nice job of not getting fired after someone filed that grievance against you!”

“Hey! Way to go! You didn’t kill yourself!”

The saddest line I think I ever read in a book captured this perfectly. When the Minnesota Golden Gophers won their first NCAA hockey championship under Herb Brooks, an aide found his team celebrating like crazy in the locker room. A few dozen feet away, Brooks sat drained, silently resting in a hallway. John Powers noted the following about that moment:

“They had succeeded. He had avoided failure.”

I hate that my survival has often been seen as avoiding failure. For me, there is a sense of having been lessened permanently by the act and that survival means continuing as a damaged shell of my former self.

I hate that survival is seen as a dark happenstance that allowed a scarred and damaged person to luckily continue on a now-ruined path. Stories of survival should inspire greatness, not fear and shame. They should show the indelible nature of strength and the beauty of the indefatigable individuals who survived.

Enter “Art is Survival.”

I ran into this website recently after a few friends recommended it. The idea is that two brave storytellers were opening up their wounds to the public and inviting others to do the same in that scary, often rude and somewhat horrifying medium known as The Internet. People can tell their stories in whichever way they want: Text, audio, video and what-have-you, but the stories will be accompanied with inspired art.

The visual representations of survival will look to provide readers with a sense of beauty that can unlock the grace and value of survival. They will also serve as a reminder that survival is just the start of a truly incredible transformation of self. They provide a grace, a dignity and a beauty that is often lost when black text meets white screens. They also show how the horrifying act that forced survival may be ugly, but the survival itself is what matters now.

And it’s truly a beautiful thing.

Not Everything Sucks: ‘The Go’

Kids Today. They’re kind of AWESOME.

Eraina Smith said her only child wouldn’t take no for an answer upon proposing the T-shirt company. Relenting to the idea has resulted in the sales of about 1,000 shirts so far, she said, adding that the shirts range in price from $15-$30.

Raven also recently unveiled Straight from the Go hats ($20) and envisions coffee mugs, cellphone cases and more on the horizon. The proceeds from all sales will be directed at various causes.

“I want to see where it can take me,” said Raven, who made her first donation March 5 to the tune of $250 to her alma mater, Poe Elementary School in Roseland.

This donation will be used to help offset midyear budget cuts at the school that might have to eliminate its Spanish teacher, Raven said. Future funds will be used to offer rewards to residents who come forward with information about serious crimes.

A.

Oh Yeah, Why Aren’t You Praying for THIS?!!!

An explosion in a Pakistani park today, and instantly: WHY AREN’T YOU TWEETING ABOUT THIS OH YEAH THEY AREN’T WHITE: 

A suicide bomber killed at least 52 people, including many women and children, at a public park in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday, according to government officials and police.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few feet away from children’s swings. Around 150 people were injured in the explosion, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Pakistan has been plagued by a Taliban insurgency, criminal gangs, and sectarian violence. Punjab, where Lahore is located, is its biggest and wealthiest province.

This is probably a more concise and focused takedown of the “tragedy hipster” mentality than I’m about to deliver. In case you’re pressed for time.

Is there racism at work in the disproportionate amount of attention given to tragedies involving white people?

Absolutely.

Is there laziness, bias, stupidity, myopia?

Definitely.

Should we be thinking, always, about the weight of every life, and putting ourselves in others’ shoes?

Shit yeah.

Is any of that solved by yelling at your cousin on Facebook (or posting passive-aggressive shaming articles about how “we” don’t give enough of a shit about X part of the world) after he changes his profile picture to the color of the Belgian flag for a day or something?

Not really. It’s just changing the flavor of the narcissism to “Look at me, with my bigger understanding of the world than yours! How dare you be so small, when I am capable of being bigger!”

Here’s the thing. Of course people tend to focus on things they have personally experienced. Places they’ve been. Lives in which they can see themselves. That’s not a sign of anything but being human, and I’m not all that interested in tallying up the instances of “prayers up!” on Facebook and Twitter as the ultimate measure of whether we have a racist society.

Of course we do. We always have.

And it’s not letting us one iota off the hook for that, to say that using a tragedy to shame people for caring about another tragedy is the worst kind of jerking off and advances us not one bit. It ignores where we are, and how we react, as goddamn ordinary people. If you don’t start from where you are, if you don’t start from how the world works right now, you’ll never be able to move.

We all break the world apart in little bits and care about it that way, because it’s too much to try to swallow, the whole thing at once. It would choke you, if you loved it all. The only thing we call that capacity for compassion, ever, is God, because we cannot imagine anything else big enough for it. That’s where we are: with us and ours.

Growing from there, drawing the circle wider and wider, doesn’t come from stamping out the first impulse toward kindness and generosity because it’s not big enough. I don’t think anyone, caring about anything bigger than themselves in a way that’s unselfish enough to make even a tiny gesture, deserves to be slapped down. So long as they’re not making out like they’re one of the oppressed because they switched their blog’s font color, their status change hurts no one.

This has been a miserable, cold, dark, punishing year for a lot a lot a lot of people, and especially here in America, kindness is in pretty damn short supply. We have had two entire presidential campaigns and are about to have a third concentrating entirely on how mean we should be to poor people and immigrants. We DO have a profoundly racist society, and we ARE entirely too ignorant of things outside our own experience. For a lot of people I know Europe might as well be the moon, for all the chance they’ll have to get there, so while we’re raising people’s consciousnesses miles up, let’s try not to scream at them every inch.

Now, if you want to do something to help the victims of today’s attack, here’s an idea.

A.

Negging Young Voters

Another day, another round of “young people are so stupid, hah hah, why don’t they listen to us they are so stupid!” on the Internets.

And it’s not that certain generations do or don’t vote. This isn’t about numbers. After I politely suggested on Twitter that assuming they don’t vote is a bad way to open your argument, I got half a dozen ‘splainers all WELL ACTUALLY up in my mentions, citing various studies that show that this, that or the other group we are currently referring to as “millennials” does not vote in numbers comparable to their noble forbearers.

Which wasn’t my point.

This is my point: If you are trying to convince someone to do something they don’t do and you want them to do, DON’T START THE CONVERSATION BY CALLING THEM DUMB.

How hard is this? I get frustrated every year with the “young voters” conversation not because any of the generalizations are untrue but because who cares? Yelling statistics about The Youngs at the one you’re presently talking to helps you in this conversation how? The aim is to get people to vote. Begin by telling them they don’t do this thing and they suck, and they will stop listening to you. It’s like political pick up artistry and it’s as gross as the non-political version.

I don’t care if my experience of college students and recent grads (quick recap: About eight of them I’ve met recently I wouldn’t throw a rope to if they were drowning and the other 11,000 I’ve worked with are outstanding humans) is an outlier. I care about inept strategy.

How long have we been watching, for example, the newspaper industry doing this? Twenty years ago when I was starting out I was regularly told “your generation doesn’t read papers.” Okay, so what you’re telling the person in front of you is that you have made up your mind about their value to you already, and they don’t even have to open their mouths. GREAT. I can’t imagine why Kids Today don’t flock in droves to that which already thinks they’re bullshit. I know I regularly sign up for experiences where I’m guaranteed to get a regular tongue-lashing for the crime of being a customer.

This shit isn’t hard. Talk to the person in front of you, not the study you read or the intern you fired or the Affluenza kid or whatever the fuck else you think is going out there in the world. Do the thing in front of you, and convince the person you are talking to, to vote.* You want a hashtag for that? You want it in five words, political strategists?

Do The Minimum Goddamn Job.

A.

*If that’s actually your aim, and you’re not just out to jerk yourself off. Let’s not rule anything out here.

On Standing Up

I have new neighbors.

All I knew about them until a few weeks ago was that they had tiny children, wore hijabs and said hello as we passed one another in the alley. That’s my relationship with most of my neighbors, to be honest, especially in the winter months when we all just want to get inside as quickly as possible.

A few weeks ago, however, we had dinner. They only moved here a few years ago, for work and school. We talked about our kids, about schools, about learning other languages and our first encounters with other cultures. Kick and their daughter chased each other down the hall.

We didn’t talk about Trump directly. I can’t imagine what right now looks like to them. If this was the first thing you saw, was this man on TV saying you were dangerous, should be deported, should be detained, how would you feel about your new home?

I have a work colleague from overseas who was doing some shopping in the far-flung Chicago suburbs. As she was leaving a strip mall (is there anything more American to do in the world?) a man yelled at her to “go back to your fucking country.”

This is a tremendously talented and confident woman, who navigates the world with grace, kindness and unshakeable good humor, but that shook her, and it hurt to see.

I am the whitest white girl in the history of whiteness, and I could probably walk right into a Trump rally, speak with my thickest Wisconsin accent, and fit right in. Nobody would say boo to me if I didn’t say anything to them. I can cover up the tattoos.

I do not have one tenth the courage of these people.

 

The day after the Trump rally there was the usual bellyaching on the Internet about whether protesting was really a good thing, and lots of butchering of “free speech” and “how would you feel if this was Trump protesters taking over a Hillary rally” and blah blah blah de blah. There was lots of motive-checking of the protesters, lots of “both sides” and “shouldn’t they have worn nicer outfits and not yelled so rudely,” the usual Monday morning quarterbacking from people who won’t miss a meal if Trump is elected. And you know what? Fuck all that shit.

Ignoring ugliness is how we got here. Ignoring those who stood up to ugliness is how we got here. Disavowing those who stood up to ugliness is how we got here. Publicly worrying about how it would look to be such filthy hippies as to be on the side of human dignity is how we got here, after two decades of war and tax cuts and pretending racism was dead. Being nice and being quiet and hoping not to be hit is how we got here.

For years and years Democrats and other liberals played along and compromised and voted for Republican proposals in hopes they wouldn’t call us flag-burning faggot peace-freaks. We kept our powder dry and didn’t fight the tough fights and worried about elections and mouthed pleasantries at war criminals at parties, and voted enthusiastically for endless wars. We did everything they wanted us to do.

Guess what? They called us flag-burning faggot peace-freaks (who hate babies and Christmas and police officers) ANYWAY. We have a nice moderate Republican president at the moment, and the GOP calls him a Kenyan-born gay prostitute who has “destroyed” America’s military and smokes crack in the White House. That it’s now coming from the podium instead of the cheap seats doesn’t really concern me as much as that it’s still coming. We sat down and shut up and minded the optics and how’d it work out?

Shitty, thanks for asking.

So in the face of that, the sight of thousands of people packing an auditorium to say no to hate (even if they said it loudly, even if they hit back when they got hit, even if their signs and T-shirts were rude) was goddamn necessary. It was necessary for the people who were there and it was necessary for the people who couldn’t be there, and I will get to worrying about what was in the heads of every single protester when the election is over and this small, angry, miserable nucleus of what used to be a party is buried at the crossroads where the devil can find it with ease.

There are two reasons you stand up, okay?

The first is a selfish one. At some point in your future life, you are going to have to reckon with your actions. You are going to have to get up each day and either live the life you are able to live, speaking when you had something to say, or you are going to have to construct a cage made of stories and excuses for all the things you didn’t say. You die in pieces that way. You know it. You’ve watched it happen to far too many people you love. So for the sake of unraveling the knot that forms under your breastbone when you stay silent about something that matters, you are going to have to stand up.

The second, though? The second reason you stand up?

Is for anybody who isn’t standing up.

For anybody scared, anybody hurt, anybody who couldn’t leave his or her house.

For anybody who has less power than you. For anybody who can’t take off work, or doesn’t have documents, or has no childcare, or wouldn’t survive a rough night.

For anybody watching at home wondering if anybody out there is on his side at all.

You stand up to say to them, this isn’t everybody. You stand up to say to them, you are safe, or as safe as me and mine can make you. You stand up to say to them, you’re heard, you’re loved, you’re valued. The ugliness is just one set of voices. There is another, and it is loud and clear.

You stand up so they see you standing up, and know they are a little less alone.

A.

Aww, Are Republicans Bumming You Out, Republicans?

Poor pookie: 

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until someone listens: THE ONLY PEOPLE DISMAYED ABOUT THE STATE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY ARE THOSE DEPENDENT ON IT FOR A DOLLAR.

If you make your living, as many center-right columnists do, pretending that you belong not to some frothing mob of religious bigots but to the party of Dwight David Eisenhower First of His Name, then you wish someone would come along and help you suspend your disbelief again.

If your entire public persona is predicated on being better than liberals, well, you need the Sober Serious Republican Party Which Must Balance Crazy Giveaway Liberal Freebieland Carefully. You can’t have one party of bigots and racists, and another which wants children not to have lead poisoning, because you might have to admit your life is a lie.

The people afraid of having their story taken apart and put back together more honestly are the ones who can’t bear the current state of the GOP. Meghan McCain was gonna make conservatism COOL, you guys! And now she can’t! That’s the ruinous effect of Trump, you see, and not, you know, THIS: 

“I just got a call from my son’s teacher giving me a heads up that two of his classmates decided to point out the ‘immigrants’ in the class who would be sent ‘home’ when Trump becomes president. They singled him out and were pointing and laughing at him as one who would have to leave because of the color of his skin. In third grade . . . in Fairfax County . . . in 2016!”

Fairfax County school officials confirmed the account.

That’s really more of a problem than Meghan McCain’s friends not wanting to come to her parties.

A.

Get Off My Lawn Sign: You Kids Don’t Understand How Voting Works!

If only there were people who are highly paid and so much more experienced than the stupid kids. Those people could be tasked with communicating with voters, organizing them, getting them to the polls … nah, probably just easier to write lecture-y stories about how dumb young voters are. 

Amazing to me that this strategy doesn’t result in rafts of enthusiastic young voters. I know I can always convert people to my point of view when I start by calling them stupid!

A.

Racist Kids are Just Being Racist Kids!

Social media is also probably to blame for “sensationalizing” their racist taunting, says sports reporter in the year of our Lord Jesus Chickenfried Christ 2016: 

… Bishop Noll won the game 56-52, but Andrean won the headlines. How? By using racially-charged cheering tactics made popular by a GOP presidential frontrunner.

In Andrean’s cheering section, a handful of impassioned super-fan students hoisted a large Fathead photo of Trump, along with a sign stating “ESPN DEPORTES.”

This echoes Trump’s campaign rhetoric against illegal immigrants and his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border.

“Build a wall!” Andrean students yelled to Bishop Noll students, who are majority Latino.

[snip]

First, it was only a small group of teenage students who incited the intolerant chants and unsportsmanlike behavior. I’m told by fans of both schools that such taunting has taken place at previous games between the teams and nothing came of it. They’re just young, passionate sports fans being a bit too fanatical.

Second, those impressionable fans were regurgitating the same inflammable rhetoric from a bona fide presidential candidate. Trump is an unsportsmanlike fanatic whose blowhard taunting has endeared him into the hearts and minds of millions of enraged supporters.

Just as his fat-headed antics have gained him helpful newspaper headlines, the high school students’ Fathead antics have gained them headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet they’re the ones being scrutinized (and possibly punished) for the same tactics that are attracting high poll numbers for a billionaire bully.

Third, this incident all stemmed from a viral social media post that caught wind from a media frenzy before it caught the attention of school officials. Blame who you will here. The telling incident got sensationalized before it got sanitized.

Blame who you will?

OKAY.

I will blame stupid, racist little assholes. Donald Trump’s bullshit makes other people’s bullshit excusable because he’s a “bona fide presidential candidate?” My 2-year-old doesn’t get to pull out “he hit me first,” much less “he hit me first and took my toys and by the way he’s running for president so I get a free pass for clocking him with a Speak and Spell.” Give me a fucking break.

I mean, the justification here is amazing and … nonsensical. “This incident all stemmed from a viral social media post that caught wind from a media frenzy?” WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SENTENCE? Just because you read about it on Facebook before you were spoonfed the official account from the school’s spokesperson doesn’t mean it’s not true, or loathsome. And nothing “caught wind” (????) from a “media frenzy” (Social media? Other media? Can something catch wind from itself?) except that at public event people in full view of approximately 600 cameras said stupid, bigoted shit.

As to “young, passionate sports fans being a bit too fanatical,” um, no. “Fuck your mothers!” is being too fanatical. “Build a wall!” being yelled at Hispanic students is being a bit too RACIST, which is not something one becomes no matter how passionate one is about one’s rivalry. Me and mine hate the Minnesota Yellow Golden Rodents Gophers with all our hearts and will call them sister-humping hicks and Canada’s Rejects and yell HIT ‘EM AGAIN HARDER HARDER and any manner of things, but the n-word doesn’t jump to the front of our mouths just because screw those guys. You do not get caught up in the moment and become a bigot.

These are high school kids, yeah, and we are all a little dumb in high school, but we get nowhere when the supposed adults try to make it seem like our dumbassery is okay and reaction to it is “sensationalized.” We do not grow one bit that way. Your high school years are supposed to be about beating that stupidity out of you, not reinforcing it by saying hey, they were just keeping up with the Trumpses.

A.