Advice to people raising daughters

I read somewhere once that it took about 1100 man hours to build a medieval suit of armor.

Armor

Yesterday this stupid but insidiously damaging and depressingly familiar story was posted on the Mary Sue…

And then @CombatCavScout shared this follow-up thought…

And today’s version of what seems like a daily story popped up:

And in related news, just in the last couple of months we have had this and this and this and this  and this and this and this and this and this and this and oh god…

What it all adds up to is that it must be frightening trying to raise a daughter. On a daily basis, I already want to pick a fight with the whole world on behalf of every little girl I know. Can’t imagine if one of them was mine. God bless people bringing up a daughter. Here’s my unsolicited advice to those brave souls:

Tell her she’s perfect and brilliant and amazing every fucking day.

You just have to tell her, show her, sing it to her, sculpt it out of clay, write it in the sky, let her know in any way you can, because that is how you gird her in a sense of self-worth strong enough to be her armor against legions. When nothing else helps, this armor can see her through. Boys need this too, of course, but not the way girls do.

As a kid, I was into books and Star Wars and animals and Spider-Man and my family let me be into books and Star Wars and animals and Spider-Man. They told me how smart I was all the time. They told me I would be a famous writer, that I could change the world, that my art was beautiful, that my freckles were beautiful, that I was capable of anything. They were so good at building me up I didn’t even notice how much I had needed their help until I was an adult. I wasn’t really like other kids, and that hurt sometimes, but that armor made me strong enough to never, ever change under someone else’s pressure. I’m grateful as hell for that because I can’t imagine how lost I’d have been without a real sense of self.

Now my friend M has a 3.5-year-old daughter T, who is one of my favorite humans on earth. M always teases me that I can’t say no to T, or see anything negative in her (even when she’s being a brat), that if T killed someone, I’d find a way to make an excuse for her. To which I have often said: I’m sure if T ever killed someone, she’d have a really good reason.

The point is (and M gets this, as much as she might tease me): she’ll have a lifetime of people and institutions and ads and magazines and peers and god help us teachers and coaches too and who knows what else telling her she’s not perfect. I’m not planning on being one of them. I’m going to tell her she’s perfect and brilliant and amazing every chance I get in the hopes that I can do my bit to help armor her, help make sure her sense of her own worth will never break under anyone else’s pressure.

Not sure how many hours it takes to build this kind of armor, but it’s the best defense I know against a world that seems to be embedded with messages telling little girls that they are less.

Armor 2

But the world is so unbearably beautiful.

Art by Caitlin Fitz Gerald - 2014

I’m going to talk about something I haven’t really talked about much at all anywhere. I’ve been inspired by the honesty I’ve seen in the last few days from people like Shannon and David Weigel at Slate and Dustin Rowles at Pajiba .

Depression is a chronic illness. It is not curable; it is something to be managed. Some people have more success managing it than others. Even people who manage it very well generally have periods of greater and lesser success. It can be triggered by events in your life – losing a job, the death of a loved one – or by seemingly nothing at all.

This is something that is very difficult to explain in a way that is comprehensible to someone who hasn’t experienced it, and utterly terrifying to experience: when you are struggling with depression, suicide is not necessarily a matter of your own volition. You might know why you shouldn’t do it, you might know what it will do to your loved ones, you might really want to live, and you might still attempt suicide, or find that you are negotiating with yourself over whether or not to do so anyway.

It’s like living on an active fault line, except the fault line is in your brain. You tiptoe around yourself. Without even realizing you’re doing so, you shape your life around it. Any day you wake up feeling OK, you run with it – you apply for that job; you have dinner with friends; you make that call you’ve been meaning to make – because you know that on the bad days the slightest thing can send you tumbling.

You are like an open nerve to all the darkness in the world. You know you can be unbearable to be around, but it’s like you’re watching yourself be horrible from some place locked inside, choked by a lethargy you can’t begin to shake.

You develop coping mechanisms, tricks to get yourself through the bad days. You learn to distract yourself. You make deals with yourself: get through this many hours at work, then you can crawl into bed when you get home. Get through this day, and you can cry all the way home in the car. Complete these tasks and maybe the feelings will fade. Watch ‘Buffy’ until you fall asleep and maybe tomorrow will be better.

Sometimes, if the bad times last long enough, you get numb to all of it. There is no crippling sadness, no anger, no despair. There is also no joy, no connection to the world around you. It’s a survival mechanism, and it’s worse than all the pain and desperation.

The worst bout I’ve had with depression was almost 15 years ago. When all the things that should have mattered most weren’t enough,  I pulled myself up by the slenderest thread – I wanted to see Pedro Martinez pitch again.

Pedro had just completed possibly the greatest two seasons of any pitcher ever, and I had been there for all but one of his home games those two years, standing up at the back where sections 21 and 22 met, right behind the plate, pressing my cheek against the green I-beam, watching the pitches dance and the batters get lost. His ERA was two points lower than the next closest pitcher, he was striking out an ungodly number of hitters, and he was doing it in the greatest era for hitters the game had seen. Whatever was going on in my life, whatever my stress or sorrow, those hours at Fenway with Pedro made everything else fall away. From the first time I saw him pitch, I knew I’d never again see his like. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in person.

“Until Pedro pitches again” was the mantra that saw me through a dark winter and kept me moving forward until I could stand on my own again.

And so I love Pedro more than every other player who ever wore the Red Sox uniform put together. I love him more than the Red Sox. The one (painful, ugly, and brief) time he came back to Fenway to play against the Sox as a Met, I didn’t have the slightest hint of mixed feelings: I was rooting for Pedro all the way. I am so grateful to him, not just because he was a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher – although he was – and not just because some of my best memories are of watching him pitch – although they are – and not just because he gave baseball back to me – although he did – but because I believe that he saved my life.

I made it through that awful time. I also don’t remember most of the next three years, aside from the hours I spent at Fenway. In every other corner of my life, I was shut off. That numbness.

Getting back my connection, my ambition, my emotions, my hope – it was brutal, but it was better. I still sometimes feel like I am so ill equipped to cope with the downsides. But the world is so unbearably beautiful. But I am a writer. But I am an artist. Just being able to say that is a victory. I can’t be those things – I can’t be me – without being open to all of it.

Managing depression successfully is a process that never ends, and one that works differently for everyone. It might take medication; therapy; avoiding drugs and alcohol; controlling diet; exercise; meditation; regular sleep; in-patient treatment; or even lots of baseball and ‘Buffy.’

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I won’t lie and say I manage perfectly all the time, but I know how to take care of myself now, and I know enough to know that it doesn’t have to be as hard as I made it for myself. Know that sometimes you need help. Ask for help when you need it. Ask for help. You might be surprised by how readily people will give it to you.

November 7, 2013: Daredevil, an asteroid, roast beef sandwiches, and a story about pomegranates

1.

A very unusual asteroid has been spotted off between Mars and Jupiter. “Instead of appearing as a small point of light, like most asteroids, this one has half a dozen comet-like dust tails radiating out like spokes on a wheel, said the report in Astrophysical Journal Letters.”

Comet

2.

Ever since I first heard that the screen rights to Daredevil might revert to Marvel (something that ended up happening several months back), I have cherished hopes of a Daredevil TV series. Daredevil is, along with Spider-Man, one of my very favorite comic book characters of all time. He is well suited to the medium of TV, with its smaller scale and more serialized story-telling format.

Where the Guardians of the Galaxy operate on a galactic scale, the Avengers on a global scale, and Spider-Man’s terrain is the whole of New York, Daredevil has always been about his neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen. His powers, his enemies, his problems are of a smaller scope than those of the big guys, but there’s very rich material to work with, as the title has been blessed over the years with an impressive number of great writers and artists, creating great stories. He is blind, and a lawyer by trade, with a shlubby partner and friendships and romances with the likes of Spider-Man, Black Widow, and Electra. There is a great depth to him, and a huge range of stories to mine for material between his cases, his background, his friends, and the villains he confronts. His stories are more about human crimes and concerns than mutants and aliens, and it wouldn’t take a huge effects budget to produce.

Today a partnership between Marvel and Netflix was announced, one that will produce a number of series, starting with one for Daredevil. Don’t let me down, Marvel. Do right by the Man Without Fear.

Daredevil

3.

So, around Boston, there are quite a few restaurants that pretty much just make roast beef sandwiches, the most famous of them being Kelly’s at Revere Beach. At some point, it occurred to me that that’s kind of an oddly specific thing for a whole restaurant to be about, let alone a whole bunch of restaurants, and chances are, that’s not a thing everywhere. So I’m guessing…just Massachusetts?

Roast Beef

4.

A pomegranate was maybe not the most practical thing I could have brought for lunch today, but it was certainly the most delicious. And anything that sends me off into flights of fancy about mythology while I’m eating it – Persephone sitting in the dark deeps of Hades, ruby-red pomegranate seeds shining out to tempt her – is always a win.

Persephone

When I was a preschool teacher, we did a harvest theme for the curriculum one November, and I brought in different fruits and vegetables for the kids to try at snack time throughout the month. Three and four-year-olds are not generally known for being adventurous eaters, but I always encouraged them to try a bite of each new thing (allowing them to abandon it after that if they chose). I knew pomegranates would be a tough sell, but I brought a couple in, pulled them apart into sections, and encouraged the kids to each try at least a seed or two.

Most of them tried a seed and no more, but two of them fell in love with the fruit. M. and C. sat at the table long after snack time was technically over and all of the other kids were at free play, concentrating mightily, little hands and wrists and faces stained red with the juice, carefully picking through each winding chamber of those pomegranates to glean every last seed. M., who always worked so hard at everything though her parents barely had time to notice, tiny and grave, pale face intent, digging for the little jewels. C., a sweet boy, so thoughtful for a child of that age when self-centeredness is a fact of development, delicately plucking seeds from their housings one by one. It’s a moment that has stayed with me.

Pomegranate

CTRL-C. CTRL-V. Learn nothing. Change nothing.

Template for mass shootings, with customizable modules:

  1. Choose your setting: workplace , public area, private residences, or school.
  2. Select a motivation: religious, racial, personal, professional, or random.
  3. In what ratios would you like lax gun laws, poor family support systems, and the broken social safety net to factor in the killer’s motivation and ability to execute his plans?
  4. Should the victims be mostly adults, or children?

All of these customizations will work within the basic template.

Template for response:

  1. Mix together healthy portions of uneducated commentary, poor information, corrected information, blame, counter-blame, political posturing, and sanctimonious lecturing.
  2. Hold 1-3 candlelight vigils.
  3. Build a memorial using your chosen amounts of the following materials: white crosses, flowers wrapped in cellophane, images of the deceased within plastic covers, stuffed animals (increase the number of based on how many children are among the victims), and hand-written messages and signs of prayer, solidarity, and condolence.
  4. If your mass shooting is high-profile enough, add phone calls to survivors and a public speech from the President.
  5. Set up a memorial fund. Sell wristbands.
  6. Commemorate liberally.

Learn nothing. Change nothing.

April 20, 1999: Columbine, CO

Columbine

15 dead, 24 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

July 29, 1999: Atlanta, GA

OFFICE SHOOTING

9 dead, 13 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

September 15, 1999: Fort Worth, TX

Wedgewood

8 dead, 7 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

December 26, 2000: Wakefield, MA

Edgewater

7 dead, 0 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

July 8, 2003: Meridian, MS

LOCKHEED SHOOTINGS

7 dead, 8 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

December 8, 2004: Columbus, OH

Damageplan

5 dead, 7 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

March 12, 2005: Brookfield, WI

Living Church

7 dead, 4 injured

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

March 21, 2005: Red Lake, MN

Red Lake

10 dead, 5 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

January 30, 2006: Goleta, CA

Goleta

8 dead, 0 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

March 25, 2006: Seattle, WA

Huff

7 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

October 2, 2006: Lancaster, PA

Amish

6 dead, 5 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

February 12, 2007: Salt Lake City, UT

Trolley Square

6 dead, 4 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

April 16, 2007: Blacksburg, VA

VA Tech

33 dead, 23 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

October 7, 2007: Crandon, WI

Crandon

6 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

December 5, 2007: Omaha, NE

Omaha

9 dead, 4 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

February 7, 2008: Kirkwood, MO

Kirkwood

6 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

February 14, 2008: DeKalb, IL

Northern Illinois

6 dead, 21 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

June 5, 2008: Henderson, KY

Atlantis

6 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

March 29, 2009: Carthage, NC

Pine Lake

8 dead, 3 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

April 3, 2009: Binghamton, NY

Binghamton

14 dead, 4 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

November 5, 2009: Fort Hood, TX

Fort Hood

13 dead, 30 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

November 29, 2009: Parkland, WA

Lakewood

4 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

August 3, 2010: Manchester, CT

Hartford Beer

9 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

January 8, 2011: Tucson, AZ

Giffords

6 dead, 13 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

September 6, 2011: Carson City, NV

IHOP

5 dead, 7 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

October 14, 2011: Seal Beach, CA

Salon Meritage

8 killed, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

February 22, 2012: Norcross, GA

Norcross police officers cordon off the Su Jung Health Sauna spa where five people died in a murder-suicide on late Tuesday night in Norcross

5 dead, 0 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

February 27, 2012: Chardon, OH

Chardon

3 dead, 3 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

April 2, 2012: Oakland, CA

Oikos

7 dead, 3 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

April 6, 2012: Tulsa, OK

Tulsa

3 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

May 29, 2012: Seattle, WA

Cafe Racer

6 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

July 20, 2012: Aurora, CO

Aurora Shooting Memorial

12 dead, 58 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

August 5, 2012: Oak Creek, WI

Sikh Temple

7 dead, 3 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

September 27, 2012: Minneapolis, MN

Accent Signage

7 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

December 11, 2012: Clackamas Town Center, OR

Clackamas

2 dead, 1 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

December 14, 2012: Newtown, CT

Sandy Hook

28 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

March 13, 2013: Herkimer County, NY

Herkimer

5 dead, 2 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

April 21, 2013: Federal Way, WA

Pinewood

5 dead, 0 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

June 7, 2013: Santa Monica, CA

Santa Monica

6 dead, 3 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

July 26, 2013: Hialeah, FL

Hialeah

7 dead, 0 wounded

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

September 16, 2013: Washington, DC

Navy Yard

13 dead, 8 wounded (as of posting)

CTRL-C

CTRL-V

Learn nothing. Change nothing.

***

Many thanks to Mother Jones and Think Progress for the data for this partial list (yep, only partial) of mass shootings since Columbine. 

The dead, when the dying is done

When I dream about Syria, and last night when I dreamt of Egypt, these are the images I see: rows of white cocoons from which nothing will ever emerge. Tied off and lined up, they sit in morgues or mosques or courtyards, unadorned save maybe a bloodstain or a name sharpied in hasty Arabic script.

dead 1

It’s not an image of fear, or horror, just sorrow deep as the holes left behind in families and communities and futures.

dead 2

If Assad’s Instagram account was honest

This past week, we all learned that Syrian “President” Bashar al Assad has a new Instagram account, one from an imaginary world where it’s all about Asma being kind to poor people and men being really happy to see Bashar. This is my take on what an honest account – one based in reality – might look like.

Warning: a few of these are somewhat graphic; all are pretty much heartbreaking.

Original Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Original Photo: Shaam News Network/AFP/Getty Images

Original Photo: AFP/HO/Shaam News Network

Original Photo: Bulent Kilic/Getty Images

Original Photo: Reuters

Original Photo: Reuters

Original Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP

Original Photo: AP

Original Photo: AP/Aleppo Media Center

Original Photo: Reuters/Shaam News Network

Original Photo: Reuters

Original Photo: Abdullah al-Yassin/AP

Original Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

Original Photo: Shaam News Network

Original Photo: AP/Aleppo Media Center

Original Photos: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Things you will and will not find in a lead coffin inside a stone coffin

So it turns out Richard III had an interesting neighbor in that parking area…one who was clearly sealed away quite purposefully, one imagines at great cost, to protect the world from death and devastation. Or so we must conclude based on every horror movie, television show, scary book, and world myth ever. Here is my handy guide to lead coffins you find inside stone coffins:

OddsEnds3-3

OddsEnds3-2

Stand by for reports of strange doings and mysterious deaths at University of Leicester.

 

 

July 9

1.

My illustratable tweet of the day comes from @JimmySky. He and @adamweinstein went on some flights of fancy this morning sparked by stories based on the Abbottabad Commission reports which revealed, among many other things, that bin Laden would sometimes wear a cowboy hat in an attempt to avoid detection by U.S. drones. Their banter ended up here:

OddsEnds2-1 12.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Boston is all about high-profile crimes lately. We’ve got Aaron Hernandez, world’s dumbest? (most arrogant?) murderer – the court released information on a bunch of evidence today. Then, tomorrow, Dzokhar Tsarnaev is being arraigned at the Federal Courthouse for charges relating to the Marathon bombings, just one courtroom over from where the Whitey Bulger trial has been going on.

Have you been following the Bulger trial? Because it is BANANAS. I have to admit, I’ve been sucked in by it, and not just because I have a surprising number of personal connections to the case. (Boston’s a small town). The last couple of days have been taken up by the testimony of Bulger associate/protege Kevin Weeks, and if half of what he has described showed up in a gangster movie you’d dismiss it as being too over-the-top. Drug deals, extortion, brutal murders, disposal of corpses, and one very testy exchange with Bulger himself, but the most surreal tidbit? Bulger wanted to kill Herald “reporter” Howie Carr by putting a basketball full of C4 in his driveway.

 

OddsEnds2-2

One interesting element of the coverage of the Bulger trial is that with cameras not allowed in the courtroom, the only live coverage is coming via Twitter. Reporters have to listen carefully, type quickly, and compose pithily and expressively. WBZ’s Jim Armstrong has been dynamite, covering everything accurately, in detail, and with personality.

Force feeding with comfort and respect

Tree

I’m sure at least some of the officials involved truly mean well, but there is some seriously tone-deaf messaging on the Guantanamo hunger strikes.

There are now reportedly 45 men (of 106 total hunger strikers) being force fed in Guantanamo.

It goes like this: the prisoner refuses to eat; he is strapped to a chair; a nurse puts a tube through his nose, down his throat, through his esophagus, and into his stomach, where it stays for two hours or so until the feeding is done. Prisoners have reported the tube as being painful, causing a burning feeling, and making them feel nauseated or like they are choking.

BUT  the chairs (to which the prisoners are strapped before tubes are inserted through their noses and throats into their esophogi and then stomachs) are “ergonomically designed for the detainees’ comfort and protection, with a padded seat and padded back support.”

And during Ramadan, force feedings will only be conducted at night, out of respect for the prisoners’ religion.

Nothing against comfy chairs, but I’m thinking appropriate lumbar support would be the last thing on my mind if I’m spending a few hours fighting off a choking, burning feeling from my nose to my gut. And I’m all for respecting the religions of others, but I don’t think I’d give out any points for remembering Ramadan to the people who are violating my basic human rights.

I’m super glad you’ve taken such good care of that tree, Ranger Rick, but do you think maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the rest of the forest is on fire? Forest Fire