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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

A country splintering into angry shards

In behavior, business, cities, culture, domestic life, immigration, news, politics, urban life, US on February 20, 2014 at 12:37 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Americans know the expression, E pluribus unum.

(Here’s a definition)

american-flag-2a

The idea is that, with more than 300 million people sharing a sense of national identity, we’re all just American.

Not really.

Not any more.

Every day now seems to offer another horrific story of racial, economic and political division splintering the country into angry, gun-toting, vitriol-spewing shards.

Two men shot and killed two people who were behaving, they thought, disrespectfully — one, texting in a movie theater:

It started with a father sending text messages to his daughter during the previews of a movie.

It ended with the 43-year-old man shot dead amid the theater seats, and a 71-year-old retired police officer in custody.

The shooting Monday during a 1:20 p.m. showing of “Lone Survivor” at a Wesley Chapel, Florida, movie theater escalated from an objection to cell phone use, to a series of arguments, to the sudden and deadly shooting, according to police and witnesses.

the other, annoyed by music from a nearby vehicle:

It was November 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red Dodge Durango full of teenagers.

The teens had pulled in for gum and cigarettes; Dunn, meanwhile, had just left his son’s wedding with his fiancee, who’d gone inside the convenience store for wine and chips.

Dunn didn’t like the loud music — “rap crap,” as he called it — coming from the teens’ SUV. So he asked them to turn it down.

What followed next depends on whom you believe. Dunn claimed Davis threatened him, and he decided to take matter into his own hands upon seeing what he thought was the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango.

But prosecutors asserted that it was Dunn who lost control, firing three volleys of shots — 10 bullets total — at the SUV over music he didn’t like.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece on the ongoing battle to integrate poorer Americans into the wealthy precincts of Westchester County, which stretches from the Hudson River in the west to Long Island Sound.

I live in this county, in a town that has always been, and continues to be, economically and racially mixed: subsidized housing for the poor; rental apartments and houses; owned single-family houses, owned multiple-family houses, co-op apartments and condominiums.

In our town of 10,000, you can find a $10 loaf of bread at one food store while another shop sits between two projects — New York jargon for government-subsidized housing. Here’s a recent story I wrote about Tarrytown, explaining its diversity and appeal.

It’s one of several reasons I felt at home where when I arrived in 1989 and, even though the town has changed with the influx of much wealthier residents in recent years, (many fleeing Brooklyn and Manhattan’s real estate prices), I still like that diversity.

But the town of Chappaqua, a 15-minute drive north of us, is home to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a median income of $163,201.

From the Times story:

Few places on the planet are as enviable as this Westchester County hamlet.

Stately houses are set on spacious, hilly lots shaded by old trees; its village center has gourmet restaurants and bakeries; its schools are top notch and its 9,400 residents have a median household income of $163,201, ranking the area roughly 40th among America’s wealthiest communities.

It is no surprise that Chappaqua is the home of a past president and perhaps a future one, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as a Hollywood star or two.

But the hamlet — like many other affluent, overwhelmingly white localities across the country such as Garden City on Long Island, Wellesley in Massachusetts, Marin County in California and several neighborhoods in New York City — has been churned up by plans to build new housing for people of much lower incomes, including black and Hispanic newcomers.

A developer is offering to build 28 units of affordable rental housing with caps on family earnings, though with no income floor; families of four earning no more than roughly $64,000 would qualify, as would poorer families, including those who receive federal vouchers.

It’s been said that Americans today have very few unifying experiences where rich and poor alike are subject to the same stresses and challenges — as they were in the Depression and WWII.

Today, with income inequality the highest since the Gilded Era, the nation feels as though it’s splintering into armed camps, whether the armaments are literal guns or a six or seven or eight-figure income.

Here’s a post from The Root:

Although economic downturns disproportionately affect black unemployment and home ownership, working-class and college-educated whites are now feeling the sting of restricted opportunity. In his book Angry White Men, sociologist Michael Kimmel describes how these men often blame the trifecta of feminism, affirmative action and immigration for their woes.

The relative devaluing of white privilege has been interpreted as racial oppression of whites and “reverse discrimination.” Opinion polls (pdf) suggest that half of all white Americans now see themselves as the targets of racism, and that number pushes past 60 percent among self-identified Republicans and among those who watch Fox News.

It’s a frightening and depressing trend, certainly for those of us who chose to come to the United States from another country with all the idealism and hope that every immigrant brings.

(And yet, watching terrible images of Syrians fleeing their homeland, and Venezuela erupting into protests and Ukraine killing protestors there…this is not [yet] that.)

How do you feel?

Do you see this sort of class warfare or random, ugly violence playing out where you live?

What, if anything, could address it?

The expectation of attention

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, journalism, life, work on September 4, 2013 at 3:26 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you expect to be listened to?

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, when I was still an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and started writing for national magazines and Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.

I spent my teens attending summer camp, where every month we’d put on a musical, some fab creation from the 1950s like Flower Drum Song or Hello Dolly. I almost always won the lead.

Flower Drum Song

Flower Drum Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every Sunday evening, we’d put on a Talent Show and I’d get up with my guitar and a song I’d written that day to sing it to 300 people.

It only struck me — reading Sue Healy’s brilliant blog about writing, (and she’s a former journalist) — that, as a default position, I expect to be able to hold and keep people’s attention.

Before you all un-follow, with snorts of dismay and derision, let me explain why this is a huge advantage, especially for ambitious writers and bloggers.

Newer writers seem to fear rejection, or fear that whatever it is you hope to convey just isn’t all that interesting.

Pshaw!

You have to assume someone does want to hear/read you, that you have the talent and guile and charm and story to woo and win them for 20 or 30 or 100 minutes.

OK, maybe five, on the Internet!

Journalism offers phenomenal preparation for other attention-seeking work, whether dance, music or more writing. You have to produce something every day, sometimes every hour. (I once had to write a television news story in the two minutes of a commercial break.)

You have to crank out a ton of stuff, certainly if you work for a daily paper or, worse, a wire service or web site.

Some of it is really shitty. Some of it is amazing, stuff you read decades later with pride. You will also see other writers (grrrrr) win front page and fellowships and awards and make the best-seller list.

You, oh misery, do not.

But you must wake up the next day and re-assume the same confident stance, that your work and your ideas are worth the attention of others. What’s the alternative? Lying in bed weeping in the fetal position?

Not you!

I was lucky, in some ways, to be an only child, never competing for my parents’ attention with a crowd of siblings. I had a sort of brassy self-confidence I’ve never really understood, although I’m damn grateful for it. I rarely worry about putting my stuff out there (even if I should!)

The standard American cliche is “stepping up to the plate” — i.e. home plate, where you stand in order to hit a baseball or softball. As someone who still plays softball (and can hit to the outfield), I know how nervous it can make you.

Everyone’s watching! What if you miss? What if you can’t even make it to first base? What if you hit a fly and someone catches it?

NOTICEME

NOTICEME (Photo credit: Beadzoid)

But what happens when you hit a single/double/triple — or home run? Huzzah!

If you’re still feeling nervous about blogging, or sending your creations into the world for approval/sale/attention, just do it.

(But do not, I beg you, be all foot-shuffling and hand-wringing and ‘I don’t know what to blog about.’ Don’t be boring. Take a risk!)

Yes, some of your work will be ignored and rejected. My third book proposal goes out this week, (shriek), and has already been rejected by the people who published “Malled.” I asked my editor why and received a short, polite and helpful reply.

In the old days, I would never have asked.

My first two books, when their proposals were sent to major publishers, each received 25 rejections before the 26th. said yes. Both have won terrific reviews and been bought by libraries world-wide.

So I anticipate, (albeit pre-cringing at how nasty some of the rejections can be), more of the same. I hope not. But it happens. Rejection is the cost of doing this business.

This essay, about my divorce, won the Canadian National Magazine Award for humor — after being laughingly dismissed by an editor at one of the U.S.’s biggest women’s magazines.

Focused attention has become one of the world’s most precious resources.

But, oh, the joy when you’ve won it!

And again.

And again…

Does Boarding School Screw You Up For Life?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on February 2, 2012 at 12:03 am
English: Students at the Old Fort Lewis Indian...

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I went off to boarding school at eight, the youngest girl there. I went off to summer camp, eight weeks at a stretch, at the same age. I saw my mother on weekends, my father (from whom she was divorced) whenever he was around, which was intermittent as he was a film-maker who often traveled far away for months for his work.

So, there you are, surrounded by a sea of strangers, whose rules and regulations — and kindness, compassion and goodwill — will make or break the rest of your childhood and/or adolescence.

Weird? Yes.

Formative? Definitely.

Here’s a recent editorial from The Guardian on sending young kids off to boarding school — considered perfectly normal behavior by some Britons:

So I want to try once more to begin a discussion about an issue we still refuse to examine: early boarding. It is as British as warm beer, green suburbs and pointless foreign wars. Despite or because of that we won’t talk about it. Those on the right will not defend these children as they will not criticise private schools. Those on the left won’t defend them, as they see them as privileged and therefore undeserving of concern. But children’s needs are universal; they know no such distinctions.

The UK Boarding Schools website lists 18 schools which take boarders from the age of eight, and 38 which take them from the age of seven. I expect such places have improved over the past 40 years; they could scarcely have got worse. Children are likely to have more contact with home; though one school I phoned last week told me that some of its pupils still see their parents only in the holidays. But the nature of boarding is only one of the forces that can harm these children. The other is the fact of boarding.

In a paper published last year in the British Journal of Psychotherapy, Dr Joy Schaverien identifies a set of symptoms common among early boarders that she calls boarding school syndrome. Her research suggests that the act of separation, regardless of what might follow it, “can cause profound developmental damage”, as “early rupture with home has a lasting influence on attachment patterns”.

When a child is brought up at home, the family adapts to accommodate it: growing up involves a constant negotiation between parents and children. But an institution cannot rebuild itself around one child. Instead, the child must adapt to the system. Combined with the sudden and repeated loss of parents, siblings, pets and toys, this causes the child to shut itself off from the need for intimacy. This can cause major problems in adulthood: depression, an inability to talk about or understand emotions, the urge to escape from or to destroy intimate relationships. These symptoms mostly affect early boarders: those who start when they are older are less likely to be harmed.

So true.

It sure ain’t Hogwarts, kids!

The very notion of daily, familial emotional intimacy — whaddya mean I’m supposed to share my feelings? Feelings?! — is as alien to me, even now, as Jupiter. It’s no accident I married a man who is very affectionate, grew up in a normal family with two sisters at home and easily says “I love you” a lot.

I have only one friend who also had this experience, a man a bit older, who has some very similar emotional patterns. At best, we can tough out almost anything without sniveling or whining. At worst, we come across as (and may well be!) cold, bossy, disconnected.

Some of what you learn:

You rarely cry. There’s no one to cry to. Bluntly stated, no one cares. There’s no one offering a comforting hug or a hand to hold if you’re anxious, ill, homesick or scared. You share a room with four to six other girls, some just as miserable, whose distant parents live even further away than yours, in Nassau or Caracas or North Bay.

You rarely share your feelings. No one in authority has the time or interest to sit with you. No one asks. “So, how was your day, sweetie?” They check your name on a list to make sure you are present. i.e. not missing, not a problem, not a liability. Your assigned room-mates? They might hate you, or use personal information against you. Best not to offer them any ammo.

A vicious tongue. Because you cannot fight physically and cannot leave and cannot find privacy from those who are making you crazy, you learn to wound verbally. Not pretty.

Television and radio are impossibly exotic treats. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I got to watch television at school maybe once a week, with a bunch of other girls in the common room. I laughed really loudly — probably at a sitcom — and was admonished for not being ladylike. (You should hear how loudly I laugh today!)

Food and drink take on additional importance. Every meal, including snacks, is served on a schedule, in a pre-determined location. We were told each week at school what table to sit at. Between-meal hunger? Deal with it: sneak food out, keep some in your room. Tip: trying to carry oranges, apples or grapefruit in your baggy, saggy bloomers is not an effective strategy.

Privacy is the greatest luxury imaginable. Every waking hour, you’re surrounded by other people, some of whom you loathe and vice versa: in your bed, in the bathroom, in the dining hall, in the classroom, in classes and sports.

Your self-image is shaped by people who make judgments about you with incomplete information. I was asked to leave my boarding school after Grade 9 for being, (as I was that year), disobedient, rude and disruptive. But no one ever bothered, kindly and with genuine concern for me, to ask why. In high school, my nickname was the Ice Queen, so little emotion did I show. Go figure.

The upsides:

Self-reliance. Independence. A stiff upper lip. I know to make a bed, iron wool, tie a tie. (Part of our uniform.) Whistle with two fingers. Swear like a sailor. An excellent education with ferociously high standards. Tons of homework, as early as fourth grade. No boys to distract us. The automatic assumption that smart girls rule, that men are not to be deferred to simply because they expect it and the expectation that every girl is capable of, and will produce, excellence and leadership.

All good things!

Did you leave your family at an early age?

How did it affect you?

Weeping In Seat 6D

In behavior, life, travel on November 19, 2011 at 1:16 am
you are an airplane II

Image by sternenrauschen via Flickr

Oh, my. I am so not fond of turbulence. Is anyone?

Came home this week to New York after a fantastic five days exploring Chicago, flying on small regional jet over the Great Lakes, a 90 minute journey. My flight there was easy and comfortable.

Not the return.

We were warned before takeoff it would be a rough flight, not just for some of it, but all of it. Gulp. When it’s that rough, whatever alcoholic consolation I might have chosen would have probably bathed me at some point. So I desisted and did a lot of deep breathing. I read every single word of the New York Times Book Review (even the kids’ books) to keep myself distracted.

Then I just lost it and started weeping, feeling like the biggest damn baby in the world. Some guy was snoring through it. The poor man in front of me turned around to see what was happening and I apologized. The steward asked if there was anything he could do. I apologized to him but said, truthfully, no.

The plane bucked like a bronco. There’s nothing you can do, so a control freak like me is not happy at such moments. I also know, thanks to a friend who’s a commercial pilot, that they almost always — domestically — have two or more choices of altitude to move into to avoid or at least minimize the chaos. But we didn’t, as the pilot regretfully informed us when we landed.

I was the last off, trying to gather my wits and get my pulse rate down. It was the second-worst experience I’ve had in the air — the longest I’d felt such turbulence was a 10-hour flight from Taipei to San Francisco in 1994. At hour five, the lane shook like mad for about an hour. Flight attendants were told to stay in their seats and not move.

That left me really rattled, which is tough given how much I love to travel to places very far away. All I can do when the plane starts shimmying is try to stay calm and know that pilots really are doing their very best to keep us all safe.

How about you?

Are you a brave bunny in the face of turbulence?

Or (cringes in embarrassment) a blubbering one?

Hospital Thoughts

In aging, behavior, family, Health, life, Medicine, men on June 29, 2011 at 11:30 am
A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first repr...

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It’s been a nerve-wracking few days.

The sweetie needed some tests, and one of them involved a CAT scan with a dye injection. (Looks like he’s OK, thank heaven — only a kidney stone. I shouldn’t say only, as everyone who’s had one or knows someone who has says it is excruciating.)

I’m the one who’s usually lying on the gurney/MRI platform/X-ray table. We’ve been back and forth to our small local community hospital so many times in the past decade — thankfully, for nothing serious — we’re on a first-name basis with the doctor who works the overnight shift at the ER. On one of our last visits, he asked: “So, whose turn is it now?”

It was my turn, then, with a fever of almost 104 and a spot on my lung so dark and ominous he drew the curtain and said it might be lung cancer. The sweetie, a photographer by trade, asked to see the films, as he can read negatives with the skill of a radiologist, even if he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.

It turned out to be only pneumonia, but it still meant three days on an IV, sharing a room with a 95-year-old who startled awake at midnight, sat on the edge of my bed and tried to pull out her tubes. I coughed, as one does with that disease, so hard my body ached from exhaustion; I wrote an essay about it for The New York Times.

This time it was my turn to watch the phlebotomist wheel in her cart and overhear her explaining to him how his body would react to the contrast dye. I kept him company as long as I could. In our 11 years together, I’d never seen him lying flat inside a diagnostic machine, grateful for this and shocked at the sight.

I sat and waited, staring at the lavender wall trim and burgundy cupboards and a cheerful British print on the opposite wall, aware for the first time how soothing it all was and how much I needed it to be so.

My last ER visit was January 2009, the beginning of a five-month odyssey to figure out my painful/arthritic/inflamed left hip — I was in so much pain I could barely walk and I do remember admiring the handsome design of our shiny new ER.

When I’m scared, and I admit to not loving going anywhere near that hospital by now (three orthopedic surgeries since 2000, a hip replacement my next, and more than five times to the ER, for everything from a broken finger to a mild concussion the sweetie incurred in a biking mishap) I do not want to be soothed or distracted by television. Old copies of People don’t do it for me either.

The sweetie, a devout Buddhist, did a lot of deep breathing to stay calm.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time around hospitals, thanks to my mother’s various illnesses, which included a mastectomy and a brain tumor (both of which, 10 years apart) she survived. I’ve seen her in hospitals from London to Sechelt, BC, and have learned to make medical staff crazy when necessary with my direct questions and insistence on information.

We’re glad we have a good hospital nearby, deeply grateful for good health insurance and generally good health, and knowing we can get there within a 10-minute drive.

Wish we didn’t know it quite so well!

Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

In behavior, books, business, culture, design, domestic life, education, family, journalism, life, love, Media, men, women, work on June 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Trapeze artists Kia and Lindsay at Circus Smirkus

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about risk a lot these days.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was born of risk. It began as a personal essay I wrote for The New York Times, published in February 2009. I was absolutely certain that publishing it would kill my writing career, as in it I said that working retail was better than working as a journalist.

Wasn’t I torching all my bridges?

In fact, I was on CNN two days later discussing it; then on the Brian Lehrer Show and, within months, had found an agent and sold a book based on my oddest risk of all — taking a low-wage job and being willing to talk about it for publication.

I had no clear idea why I worked retail, other than — like many others — I needed steady cash. There was no Grand Plan, just needing and valuing a new job where I might re-build my shattered confidence after my Daily News debacle.

The irony?

Taking these risks has now brought me, and my work and ideas, far more attention than anything smaller and safer and more conventional I’ve also produced. I’ve spoken at a Marie-Claire staff event, keynoted a major retail conference (with another skedded this summer) and, if the stars truly align, may see my name on the small screen.

I recently took a few more risks, some big, some small:

– I cut my hair really short, not the prudent choice given my current weight. I feel so great and so liberated I also now feel a lot more motivated to shed the damn weight, instead of dutifully waiting until I am thinner to reward myself with a pretty cut.

– I met up again for the first time in decades with a few former beaux, a high school crush and the man I’d lived with in my 20s, now divorced. I wasn’t at all sure how these meetings would go, but am really glad I went to both. I’m happily partnered, and it was good to catch up with two men who meant a lot to me in earlier days, who are still funny and attractive and with whom I share some serious history, growth and memories.

– I asked a stranger on LinkedIn for help making some connections for Malled and he made a great introduction. Now I have to find the cojones to ask for the business!

– I’ll be going on a silent Buddhist retreat July 23-31, a gift from my partner. I can’t decide what freaks me out most: not working (tough for a full-time freelancer); no liquor; not talking; being surrounded by people who fervently believe in ideas different from my own. It’s all good. But a little scary!

In this relentlessly awful economy, it’s very tempting to avoid just about any risk — whether confronting a toxic friend or love relationship (I could end up alone!), dealing with a bully boss (I could get fired!) or ditching an annoying client (I could starve!)

I think it’s at times like these it’s even more essential to choose a few risks and take them.

Courage is a muscle — use it or lose it.

I like this blog post from a businesswoman who urges us all to use a little “creative chutzpah.”

As Seth Godin writes here, taking a risk can be the smartest choice we make.

Here’s a great story from the New Yorker about a Hollywood therapist who urges his patients to eat a “death cookie” — take a risk!

When did you last take a risk?

How did it turn out?

Do you regret it?

Or did it jump-start your life in some unexpected and lovely way?

One In Seven Americans Is Poor: The Frog And The Scorpion

In behavior, business, cities, Crime, History, Money, politics, work on September 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm
American Poverty
Image by Monroe’s Dragonfly via Flickr

Nice statistic that.

The Census Bureau reports that one in seven American is now living in poverty. Millions can’t find work,  are losing their homes, living in their cars, bunking — when they can — with relatives. Millions are reaching for the thin, weak strained social safety net of food stamps and homeless shelters.

The shocking part?

That this should surprise anyone.

Recall the old joke, the friendship between the frog and the scorpion; as the frog swims across a river with the scorpion on its back, stung and dying. betrayed, he asks why. “I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”

In a nation where CEOs now crow with glee that they earn 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers, why would anyone find the growing chasm between the happy haves and the terrified have-nots unexpected?

The U.S. is a nation of laissez-faire capitalism. It’s a system as brutal and impersonal as a combustion engine. If you can find a way to accommodate its needs, you’re set. If not, you’re toast.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But no one, anywhere, should gasp in shock at the ruin so many people now face. They played “by the rules”.

There weren’t any.

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Living In A Target-Rich Environment, As The Times Square Car Bomb Reminds Us

In cities, Crime on May 2, 2010 at 8:55 am
Landsat 7 image of Manhattan on September 12, ...

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I read the news last night at home, in the suburban apartment where I live — after spending the day in Manhattan.

Anyone who lives or works or plays, and many of us do all three, in Manhattan do so, since the attacks of 9/11, with the knowledge we are, certainly a delicious, tempting and obvious target for terrorism.

There are so many places a bomb blast would wreak tremendous havoc: Times Square, eerily emptied last night after a bomb scare; Grand Central Station, the commuter terminus for thousand of trains arriving daily from the northern suburbs of Connecticut and New York; Port Authority, and its bus commuters; Penn Station, the Amtrak hub and arrival point for commuters from Long Island.

Not to mention the trains themselves– as Spain discovered in March 2004 when terrorists attacked their trains (191 dead, 1841 injured) and the subways and buses within the city, as London learned on 8/8/2005.

According to Wikipedia:

New York City is distinguished from other cities in the United States by its significant use of public transportation. New York City has, by far, the highest rate of public transportation use of any American city, with 54.2% of workers commuting to work by this means in 2006.[4] About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders live in New York City or its suburbs.[5] New York is the only city in the United States where over half of all households do not own a car (Manhattan’s non-ownership is even higher – around 75%; nationally, the rate is 8%).[6]

… New York City also has the longest mean travel time for commuters (39 minutes) among major U.S. cities.[7 ...Of all people who commute to work in New York City, 32% use the subway, 25% drive alone, 14% take the bus, 8% travel by commuter rail, 8% walk to work, 6% carpool, 1% use a taxi, 0.4% ride their bicycle to work, and 0.4% travel by ferry.[12] 54% of households in New York City do not own a car, and rely on public transportation.

I take the subway, of course, but don’t love knowing I am such a potential victim there; the bus is really, really slow and taxis expensive. Every day, my sweetie rides a commuter train (also a great target) into the city, then walks through many of these areas to reach his office. I worry every day.

He has been responsible and loving enough to make sure, God forbid anything does happen, I am financially protected in case of his death. Would we have taken these steps if we lived somewhere rural and bucolic — or Germany or Italy or Canada? I doubt few places are now free of terrorism or serious unrest.

I used to work at the Daily News, in a building that also houses the Associated Press — an absolutely essential element, still, of traditional, international mass news-gathering and dissemination — and a local television station.

I couldn’t decide if that made us a juicier target (attack those decadent lying reporters!) or whether it might spare us, since whoever attacked us would so badly want our shocked, outraged, 24/7 coverage.

Do people think like this in Salt Lake City or Tampa or Oakland or Seattle? Either one of the coastal Portlands?

We’ve discussed what we would do if it all happens again, which is why I know exactly where to find my passport and green card and a credit card with room on it for a fast airline purchase. That seems unlikely and unworkable, and lousy to leave my partner behind — although in his newspaper job they would need him.

We’ve talked about how or if one would flee this area…boat? canoe? kayak? car?…and figured it would all get apocalyptic and Mad-Maxish very, very quickly. A gun might well be necessary for self-protection. I see a nuclear power plant from my window, barely 10 miles north. Not a happy sight in these times.

Our county of one million people — including some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful, from David Rockefeller (who lives nearby and whose helicopter thuds over my balcony multiple times a day as he commutes to Manhattan) to Martha Stewart — has never practiced an evacuation plan. Too disruptive, they said.

Now, that’s intelligent planning.

I don’t live in a conscious pulse-quickening kind of fear. No one can walk around in that state for years.

But anyone who lives in or near Manhattan knows this constant white-noise sound in the back of our heads. Waiting for the next time.

Bullying Pushes Two More Girls To Suicide; Nine Massachusetts Students Indicted. It Must Stop!

In behavior, Crime, education on March 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

From the Daily News:

Cops are investigating whether cyberbullies contributed to the suicide of a Long Island teen with nasty messages posted online after her death.

Alexis Pilkington, 17, a West Islip soccer star, took her own life Sunday following vicious taunts on social networking sites – which persisted postmortem on Internet tribute pages, worsening the grief of her family and friends.

“Investigators are monitoring the postings and will take action if any communication is determined to be of a criminal nature,” Suffolk County Deputy Chief of Detectives Frank Stallone said yesterday.

Reports The New York Times:

It is not clear what some students at South Hadley High School expected to achieve by subjecting a freshman to the relentless taunting described by a prosecutor and classmates.

Phoebe Prince, 15, a freshman at South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts, hanged herself in January. Her family had recently moved from Ireland.

Certainly not her suicide. And certainly not the multiple felony indictments announced on Monday against several students at the Massachusetts school.

The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.

In the uproar around the suicides of Ms. Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.

Maureen Downey, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asks the only important question:

For those of you who work in schools, why would administrators and teachers let this persecution go unchecked?

Research shows that bullying occurs in all schools, private and public, and that it is often unseen by adults. In an earlier blog on bullying, I cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Education report that found 14 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they had been bullied in the past six months.

In the early grades, bullies direct their attacks at almost anyone. As they get older, they target certain kids. Bullies go after younger and smaller kids, but victims also are chosen because they are more anxious, sensitive, cautious and quiet.

Bullying is often a spectator sport, with 85 percent of  incidents involving other kids who watch the torment without stopping it. On the day of her suicide, Phoebe was abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways, according to the charges. Classmates threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, where her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at 4:30 p.m.

While Phoebe’s bullies used texting and social networking sites to harass her, the prosecutor said most of the bullying occurred on school grounds during school hours.

Like Phoebe, I arrived at my school into a group of 15-year-olds; I was 14, a year ahead. Like her, I came into a tightly-knit crowd of kids who had known one another for decades and from a foreign country. I’d been living in Mexico, (she in her native Ireland).

I was awkward, had acne, had just suffered a serious crisis within my family so wasn’t bouncy and cute and outgoing and conventional.

Perfect target.

I was mercilessly, relentlessly, daily and publicly bullied in Grades 10, 11 and 12 at my middle-class Toronto high school. I was nicknamed Doglin, had a gang of three or four boys barking at me down the hallways, had a dog biscuit laid on my desk in class, had my “nickname” shouted whenever it suited them. Teachers saw and heard. And did nothing.

I finally lost it in Grade 12 math class, as one of them, a stream of insults babbling out of his mouth sotto voce like some toxic soundtrack it was impossible to escape or shut off, hit my last frayed nerve. I’d already been going to see a therapist for years, who wanted to medicate me to relieve my (very real) anxiety. I had friends. I had a few teachers who treated me with great kindness and affection. But, short of changing schools (I’d already attended five by Grade 10), there was no relief to be had.

Our textbook that year was thick, weighing maybe two or three pounds, and I used it to whack the back of his head as hard as I could. God, that felt good!

The teacher, fully aware of the drama, quietly suggested I move to another seat.

Being bullied is one of the worst forms of torture. Unless you (as my partner also knows from his own childhood) or your kids have been through it, it looks harmless. The victim is always blown off, mildly advised to just ignore it, suck it up, walk away.

And if it were physical assault? Rape?

My parents were helpless and frustrated. This waking nightmare left me with a deep and abiding mistrust of “authority”  — since no one who had any did a thing to help or protect me. To this day, to my embarrassment, I can be extremely thin-skinned even in the face of the most loving teasing.

It must stop. School authorities, whether teachers or administrators, should be criminally liable.

A Taste Of Random Violence: Scary, Sudden, Unexpected

In behavior, cities on March 25, 2010 at 8:10 am
USA 2006 (October 4th) New York, New York City

GCT's interior, where it happened. Image by Paraflyer via Flickr

I picked my sweetie up last night at 7:00 p.m., coming off the commuter train from Manhattan.

Unusually, he said, “I have something I need to tell you. Let’s sit for a minute.”

He had been walking through Grand Central Station, (also called Grand Central Terminal) to catch the 6:20. GCT at rush hour, if you haven’t experienced it, is a very crowded place, people rushing, running, slipping across the weathered floors, skittering crazily down the steps to get to their train on time.

It’s become a lot worse in the past year because so many people, selfishly, stare into their Blackberries or Ipods or Itouches or phones while they walk — imperiously expecting you to see them coming and, as if they were royalty, step aside.

Tonight, my sweetie, a man of medium height wearing a pale winter jacket, barely brushed a stranger’s left sleeve as he walked past. The man, a Caucasian, middle-aged, casually dressed, not visibly drunk or high — recoiled with a hugely exaggerated motion. When my partner tried to politely move past, the man leaned into his path, then stepped in very, very close and, shouting at the top of his lungs, said: “Don’t push me!!!”

My partner, a Buddhist who has been in many tense news situations as a photographer, including a war zone, said calmly but firmly, “I didn’t push you.”

The man was, he said, so close he could have spat into his gaping maw as he shouted even louder, with scared bystanders watching: “Yes, you did!” Then ran away.

After a 40-minute ride, my partner was shaken and still deafened. The event was so quick, there was no time to call police — GCT is filled with them, and with uniformed soldiers with sidearms. Where were they?

I, too have been the victim of sudden, vicious verbal violence, both in public in New York, and when I worked retail here, which sped up my decision to quit that work.

In both instances, he and I could tell that our attackers were quite probably mentally ill,  Who knows the real source of his volcanic rage — his marriage ending? A terrible diagnosis? Being out of work for years?

As much as we feel compassion for people so tortured by their own demons, these encounters are truly terrifying and left us both shaken for a while afterward. Both of us were badly bullied by strangers when we were younger, which has left its own deep scars.

Whoever the next target is, I hope it’s not you.

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