I have been seeing some things circulating lately about a killing spree at the end of last week. I have been trying to hunt down where these commentaries and editorials have been springing up from as well as looking through the “news” to contextualize and form a coherent opinion of my own.
What happened: A seriously disturbed young man went on a killing spree May 23 in California. After stabbing his three housemates, he shot and killed three strangers before shooting at random pedestrians from his car. After a gun fight with law enforcement, he drove off and shot himself.
The disturbing parts: this blogger re-posts and discusses the block of text that has gone viral in assorted arenas. I contemplated adding a link to a news article that provides links to the content that the killer posted, but stopped myself for reasons that Charlie Booker goes over in this excerpt from his show. Go ahead, and read and watch.
So these two things form an interesting conundrum. There is an unacceptably large group of people, men and women both, who are willing to believe that this is some how a woman’s, or women as a whole’s, fault. Rejection is not concordant with assault, it is not a justifiable provocation for violence. No woman should have given in and “taken a bullet” by sleeping with this guy. No one should be expected to relinquish autonomy to fulfill another person’s entitlement.
I can’t say that I’m not guilty of acting entitled. I’m a young white male. Society has conditioned me to believe that the world should be delivered to me on a silver platter. I’ve been clingy and jealous and I’ve said things to people that caused pain. And I’m sorry, I really wish I hadn’t, and I can’t take those things back. The more I think about it, the worse I feel, and then I hear about things like this, where someone has gone to violent, violent extremes comparatively, and that they have supporters, the more I begin to feel physically ill. No human should accept the open threat of violence against them for demonstrating their own autonomy and preferences. I do not wish to belong to a group of people that is willing to perpetuate that standard of living. These are my decisions based on the evidence that is available to me.
I also feel confident that it’s the only decision that one can logically make.
The other half, of course, is openly discussing this. Putting the national spotlight on a mass murderer results in the glorification of his actions, without necessarily condoning them. His motives were his, his actions were his, he is now dead, the story should die with him. Instead, we have a media circus revolving around the event. We have people condoning his motives. I am here speaking of my experience and warning against this horrible state of affairs where this has become something we need to discuss. How do you fix this without making another problem worse?
I promised I’d write a post about bipolar. Also, I promised a podcast. We are working on it. Me and my cohort work for a university, and May is the time at universities where people are trying to finish and graduate. This translates, for us, that we have to do a ton of extra work. Which would normally be an awful time to start a project.
This helps move us on to the topic I promised. Bipolar. I’m not explicitly bipolar. My personal problems revolve around anxiety, that hasn’t got a lot of real basis, and the resulting depression. Being frightened most of the time takes its toll on you eventually, it’s harder and harder to feel good about things. This occasionally leads to a severe disconnect from your feelings. If you have not, you should check out what the lady at Hyperbole and a Half has to say about depression. It’s not simple to explain to people what it feels like, and more than once have I had someone tell me “Well stop, just pick up and feel better!”
That’s hardly an option when you no longer feel the need to continue existing. Like it’s optional, you wouldn’t be upset if you stopped. It’d be largely OK. Also well described in her comic, there is a dam that tends to break during your recovery period. This is a hypomanic episode. Everything you were unable or unwilling to feel for the period of time before doesn’t go away. It gets deferred. It all will pour out at once in an unpleasant rush. The greatest thing is that you may not even know you are having this happen to you. I don’t notice my manic swings until someone else says something. When I write an e-mail at 3AM that is so densely written and full of information that it is difficult to understand, it seems perfectly normal to me. In hindsight, of course it sounds silly.
So do most things in hindsight.
My problem is minor. I have to deal with the unpleasant feeling of being at the complete mercy of my emotions, many of which I don’t understand or can even trace back to a trigger in reality, with no real reason to believe they will subside, or if this is a good sign or if this is the straw that finally breaks your resolve. I only had to suffer with it for a couple weeks at a time, very rarely will I have a phase where I’m not in control, that I make impulsive decisions and start up projects I can’t possibly finish. Some people go through cycles of feelings like this on a daily basis. They are under constant assault by their own feelings. They likely feel as though something is wrong, and will self medicate. Addiction to the manic phase, the knowledge that the depression that will follow will hurt beyond reason, will try to stave it off pharmaceutically. Impulsive and destructive consequences are better than the nothingness that comes with depression. It’s easy to see how things would fall apart quickly, how hard it would be to function in society, but people with this problem get little understanding and support from the people around them who just don’t understand, who haven’t ever had to deal with the fact that their emotions aren’t necessarily theirs; they are fake, not related to the world around you, and they never stop coming.
This blog is about awareness. I write things that I know about, I talk about things I see that make me worry. You or someone you know has a mental health problem related to depression or some other mood disorder. Specifically the NIMH gives statistics for reported cases at about 10% of adult Americans suffer from major depression or severe bipolar disorder. There is a severe stigma that surrounds admiting that there is something wrong, or asking for help. No one wants to admit they can’t handle how they feel on their own, we are full of shame if we appear needy, so that number is probably disgustingly low compared to the number of people suffering. The simple truth of the thing is that is the biggest lie that was ever sold, we need each other more than any of us will ever know, probably one in five of us needs some kind of help.
That’s a lot of needy people out there. Shame we don’t seem to do much about it. And the thing to do is so simple; listen to each other and recognize that its a real problem that people can’t just “get over” without help.
Welp. This is about as close to the discussion I was having today is. I spent a few minutes absolving myself instead of thinking about how to fix a problem.
I see this happen all the damn time.
Someone describes the actions of a privileged group of people and how these actions, purposefully or not, encourage the marginalization of a less-privileged group. Most often this description occurs within the context of trying to explain to the privileged folks how this dynamic is hurtful and oppressive. The hope is that the privileged group will listen to the marginalized person, examine their own behaviour, and try to do better in the future. The reality is that the person doing the explaining is nearly always met with a chorus of, “but not all men/white people/straight people/cis people/able-bodied people are like that!”
Look. I get it. You, whatever privileged group you happen to fall into, are a good person. You want to remind the marginalized group that you view yourself as an ally. You want them to know that not everyone is against them…
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I’m an introverted adult. I have a professional life and I don’t just bum around in bars or at the union or the library or wherever else I used to frequent as a student. As I get older, there are fewer and fewer options for clubs and activities with people I don’t already know. Consequently, I don’t necessarily meet a lot of single girls, so I have tried online dating. I actually met my last girlfriend through OKCupid, and we had a long term, fairly good relationship for two years before things fizzled. I sort have talked about her before, but short recap, after two years I wanted to get married and she didn’t, and so she decided to end it. It sucked. Prior to that however, I had managed to go on several first dates, this being 2010 and 2011, usually if I wanted to, every weekend or so I could meet up with someone new for drinks or bowling. Just recently I’ve actually considered trying to meet someone new in earnest and I have had very close to no success. At first, I was under the impression that I was doing something wrong. Maybe my e-mails are too cookie cutter. Maybe my profile isn’t very interesting. Maybe I’m actually just ugly, that’s possible too. When I actually arranged a date, I ended up getting stood up.
I told my sister that, her response was to blink at me and say “People actually still do that?”
Anyway, it had seriously started to get me pretty down. The somewhat classical trap for the intelligent and resourceful is to consistently assume that because you are resourceful and intelligent, failure is solely your own responsibility. You didn’t do it right, or maybe you just need to be better, you still aren’t good enough. This is a dangerous and self destructive line of reasoning. Quite frequently, this will, in fact, not make you reach higher goals. It will actually outweigh any or all achievements that you do make with a looming sense of doubt and the knowledge that whatever you did, it will never, ever be enough. That’s shame, and it is a weight around your neck while you are drowning.
Then however, I saw this article about a man who posed as a woman on the same dating site I was using and it greatly altered my perspective of what was happening. (Yes, it’s a Gawker site. Sometimes they do good stuff.) Tl;dr: A guy from Reddit had similar woes; the imbalance between eligible women and eligible men on the site should make it easier for women, they have a huge selection of men competing for their attention, and they get to pick the cream of the crop. Wonderful, no? Well, turns out, that large pool of men is full of ginormous assholes. A guy who bums around the internet consistently and has been to the cesspool that is 4chan’s /b/, the guy running the experiment should have had relatively thick skin. He lasted only 2 hours before the deluge of obscene and desperate messages forced him to delete his account.
My lack of progress finding new people to spend time with was now cast in a very different light. There is a ton of dangerous themes at play here. The bizarre entitlement of the dudes who start by fawning and immediately switch to borderline criminal desire when they don’t get what they want immediately is disturbing. The fact that anyone, let alone a large number of people, are that vulgar and insulting to strangers bothers me to a great extent. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. Someone like me, with (what I’d like to think) are reasonable expectations for online dating, are operating on the basic assumption that a woman on a dating site is looking for the same thing that you are, they are interested in meeting some new people because they have busy lives and society isolates us a little more as we get older. I approach each new person with the same level of respect that I would provide any stranger, that they are another human being with thoughts and feelings and rights, and that if we share that we can start a conversation and try spending time together. Apparently that assumption is bad, and somewhat naively idyllic. In truth, there is a very vocal group of people operating under the assumption that because they are on a dating site as a man, they can immediately treat others like meat, and when they don’t immediately get what they want, they start to abuse people. As a linguist, I am acutely aware of the power that words have on people. Each one of us is endowed with the limited power of mind control; words are processed largely autonomously by the brain, and they activate associated memories and sensations. If by saying or writing words that you know will result in a physiological effect like nausea or revulsion, it is equivalent to physical assault.
Digest that for a moment. Those disturbing words are (to me, just are) very close to physical assault. A not small group of people in a population that is looking for companionship try to initiate relationships with physical assault. How and why is this even possible that these men think that that is socially acceptable?
I still feel down, but now for an entirely different reason. Where I was convinced I wasn’t good enough, the backlash of this culture undermined my self esteem, it may have to do with the fact that I am in a minority of people that approach this whole prospect with respect. I am folding up paper airplanes and tossing them out the window at people I think are interesting and then sad when they don’t respond. What I didn’t realize is that those paper airplanes with notes written on them have to fly over a tremendous ocean of shit and abuse only to arrive with a pile of other paper airplanes full of razor blades and poison. That’s just a horrible state of affairs for everyone, and a very solid example of how anti-feminist thinking and attitudes among men really hurt men just as much as they hurt women. Why is it hard to approach women as if they were just another person, just like you, for such a large number of people? Do they never ask themselves how they would feel if they were approached that way? Is there that little empathy in people?
Food for thought.
I decided to write a post about how to not be afraid of posting regardless of who is reading what. I promptly then started not posting. Well let’s fix that.
Kansas City is home to Planet ComiCon, which is apparently becoming more and more of an important thing. People have talked about it, but I have never been a comics person. However, I found out this year that William Shatner, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Levar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton will be in attendance. This seriously made me giddy for a bit Monday evening. That is very much the kind of nerd that I am, and I sat for a while and thought about exactly why I was so excited to see a couple actors at a convention for something I don’t really care about.
I never liked comic books. Super heroes didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. It was difficult to get into, and felt like a boys club that I didn’t really fit into. DC was by far the worst, they have a stable of established characters, paragons of good and hyper manly to the point of being boring. Recently in movies and collections I see that they spend a lot of time “darkening” these characters, as if making them more edgy and sad would make them more relevant. That sort of just muddies the message they are sending further. Marvel was always a little more interesting, their heroes consisted of a bunch of rag tag misfits barring Captain America. The first comic I really loved was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which is far and away from the normal comic book fair.
Star Trek, however, had me hooked from the time that I could form memories. The major themes were always of inclusion, it didn’t have the walls to entry like comic books did. It wasn’t an exclusive club. People wanted you to be there, because in the Federation, everyone had something to contribute, big or small, regardless of gender, skin color, creed, or even species. And that really meant a ton to me! Maybe more now than it did then. Understanding that gender is a spectrum instead of binary, that might be why I never felt like part of the comic club, but felt more comfortable there beyond the stars. As a youth and a teen, I don’t think I felt any different from anyone else; generally alienated and acutely aware of what made me different from other people, which we realize, as we get older, is absurd. Sure everyone is different in several cosmetic and superficial ways, but in the core of people, we are mostly the same. We have the same needs, similar wants, all we want is to feel accomplished and appreciated, to live with some comfort, and share our thoughts, lives, and bodies with others, with variations in specific tastes and preferences. Watching those adventures each week on the Enterprise gave us a glimpse of a world where that was embraced, where everyone can come together to accomplish much, much more then they could have alone.
I watched both the documentary hosted by William Shatner where in he interviews each captain, and the Trek Nation documentary hosted by Gene Roddenberry’s son. It really amazes me just how much a silly TV series means to not only me, but possibly millions of people. We all watched those heroes, who were just normal people, we all saw how much they meant to each other. The characters all being of radically different backgrounds and opinions came together to form families. Star Trek changed lives. It was really interesting to watch each actor talk about how at first they didn’t like the attention, how they didn’t like being conflated with their character on TV, bit as they saw that their show actually made people’s lives better, even if it was just giving them a hopeful feeling that there is a place for everyone, it was meaningful. They had done something good.
That’s why I’m so excited. I get to see the people that might have changed my life.
Now it’s coming to it. I posted that TED talk last week and I’ve been trying to ride that high, that elated feeling of knowing what shame feels like and being able to tell it “No, you can’t stop me.” with that thought in my head, I went to the gym on Valentine’s day, a day that had very special between me and my ex, and I refused to feel bad and made it through a 5k jog in 30 minutes. Fantastic feeling of accomplishment, I’ve never even been close to being able to jog that far, not even in middle school. The dopamine flooded my system, I didn’t even care I’d been stood up the night before and I went out by myself and saw some awesome metal bands!
OK, well, local metal bands. Awesome is probably not the right word.
… It was better than sulking?
It was alright. I managed to swallow my fear enough at one point in the night to introduce myself to a girl. I promptly became terrified. The shame had returned. It promptly plagued me the rest of the weekend. I found myself wanting to write an article, but the thought that there were people that actually follow my blog froze me.
What if I say the wrong thing? What if I’m not actually interesting? Maybe I should just ghost away as if I had never even started.
“No, it’s just stage fright,” I keep telling myself, as I write this now. “You clearly have good things to say. You are taking interesting pictures.” But it just keeps coming back. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. In middle school and high school, I was pretty overweight, awkward, had horrible skin, and just generally wasn’t the best looking, but I performed in every play, in every band, and every choir I could, I tried out for each solo (and even got a few of them!) and I never thought twice. I performed in front of the entire school, all of my friends and all of our parents, and I never even broke a sweat.
So why now, at 27, a learned professional, who was the instructor of record of several classes, afraid suddenly of a bunch of strangers on the internet?
I realize, now, that this is important to me. That I want this to succeed, that I want people to come together to help each other and I want to make that happen. I started doing all of my hobbies and my art and my writing as therapy for the things that had gone wrong in my life. They made me feel like I was back at the helm of a life gone out of control, and I’m frightened now because I wrested the wheel back and immediately headed for uncharted space. I’m trying to build a community and I’ve never tried to do that before, and I certainly don’t have a road map.
In theory, the only wrong course of action would be to say nothing, so here I am, having crawled out of my hole squinting into the sun to tell you all, “This is hard.” Let that nugget of wisdom sink in. Yeah. Savor it.
Other news, we played some board games this weekend, I managed to win both! We did some Lords of Waterdeep on Saturday night, and for some weird reason I don’t ever get sick of this game. It’s moving parts on the surface should be everything I hate about euro games, but something about the aspect of recruiting adventure parties to send out to do your bidding takes all of that away. Monday we played Euphoria, which while having a disturbing theme, is a ton of fun. Another Euro style worker placement game that I should hate, I think I actually managed to get the hang of it. I feel much less like I’m behind by two actions compared to games like Agricola. Which I hate with a fire. I hate to say it, but the standard version just wasn’t as fun as the Kickstarter version, even though the changes are all superficial. The little metal chunks for the bricks and gold just add a certain tactile enjoyment that little wood blocks can’t replicate.