New Year’s Resolutions 2017

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Is there a statute of limitations on when New Year’s resolutions just become resolutions? I’m going to go with two weeks, since that allows me to fit this in.

In years past, the resolutions have been (intended as) a comedic venture, topped off with a dollop of at least one sincere resolution. But 2017 is arriving without a lot of my usual smartass spirit. Personally, things are moving in some pretty positive directions, quelling some of my natural tendency toward smarmy negativity. On a larger scale, things are potentially very scary, with all manner of sleazy, old (mostly white) men trying to bankrupt/kill/crap on everybody and everything that they can…and maybe, in light of recent allegations, also trying to get peed on.

I’ll try to keep it light and all, but…uh…whatever…here are my New Year’s resolutions for 2017…

  1. Use real bookmarks, ffs. Yeah, so this hardly seems like an ambitious goal. But I figure, why not start with something totally doable. See, whenever I start up a new book, I tend to grab the nearest, least necessary (for other purposes) flat item to use as a bookmark. Recently, this has begun bothering me in increasing degrees, as if it is some baseline, pointing out my overall laziness—especially since I actually own numerous bookmarks—from the kind of free things that come from book stores or in the mail, to fancy, laminated, yarn-tassled, and even metal bookmarks, stamped with inspirational quotes and whatnot. If I’m going to continue resisting the encroaching press of digital reading devices in favor of real paper-and— well, ‘board’ doesn’t exactly sound right, as in ‘board books’—but books with paper and covers of various substances, mostly derived from trees and other plants—then I can at least take the time to pull a decent bookmark from my scattered collection to honor the passing of the pages.
  1. Be in the world…at least a little more. One of those aforementioned positive personal changes is that I will be moving back to a schedule where I will be awake at semi-normal hours, and off work at hours when some other people I might want to see might also not be stuck at work. When your schedule is, as mine has been for the last 13+ months, overnight, including weekends, you don’t tend to just drop into parties, or dash out for a hike or a movie or a meal because a friend or two found themselves with some free time. You tend to spend your days off trying to force yourself into wakefulness during enough daytime hours that you can take a stab—or at least a weak swing—at normalcy…normalcy being things like not drinking a beer or three at 8:00 a.m., because that’s when you’re winding down from work…normalcy being things like not having to take a vacation day or two just to see some friends who live in the same flipping town, but don’t live on the same schedule as bats and opossums…normalcy being able to know for sure whether your months-long feeling of fatigue and dread is really something akin to clinical depression, or just the result of your work schedule. Looking forward to knowing that staying up late, or a lack of sleep, is more a lifestyle choice than a career-centered choice.
  1. Be in the world…like, beyond the personal. I realized recently that all my “community involvement” in recent years has slipped down into the realm of cash donations, and the occasional phone call or (usually online) petition. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. I sign up for regular online donations with various organizations…at least until the ‘card on file’ has to be replaced due to security breaches, or one of numerous other reasons banks use to perpetually switch out the cards they issue, and I find myself ignoring the emails about my payments not processing. Still, there was a time…like the bulk of my life prior to my later-in-life stint in grad school, where I was engaged with the people around me…all trying to make a difference and shit. I rode along with my mom doing meals-on-wheels when I was in elementary school. In fact, the bulk of my pre-adult “community involvement” was whatever my mom enlisted me to do…and my mom’s level of community service was, and still is, legendary—well, at least among a cluster of Lutherans in suburban Oregon and at least a few other far-flung places. As a parent, I obsessively volunteered at the kid’s school(s)—and occasionally with her sports teams—up until she hit Jr. High–because, for most of that time, I was working out of my home—until that previously mentioned grad school stint hit. Did I mention I’ve never been a particularly high-energy person? Anyway, I want to find some way back into community involvement…charity or not…although my adjusted schedule still might make that a bit tricky…unless I want to donate time in the mornings before I go to work. Maybe I’ll just make sure I reinstate all those security-threatened, lapsed payments to various organizations.
don-bob-gor-hair

–Will the presence of this ^…make this ^ more popular?  …Or should I just stick with this ^?

  1. Go full Bob’s Big Boy with the hair. I feel like I might be cribbing this from past years’ resolutions. I almost always have some kind of hair-based New Year’s resolution, and really, you can only make so many different hair-based resolutions when you’re a guy working an office-casual job. Anyway, if you’ve ever seen the mascot for Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, you know that his thick head of hair involves a part on one side, leading into a wave that culminates in something that—well, looks like an actual wave—like, on the ocean—or maybe like a shark fin and its wake as it cuts through the water. At any rate, I usually blow off getting my hair cut until I’ve got that basic Bob’s Big Boy thing starting up. Once my, as Frieda would say, naturally curly hair (although, really it’s more naturally wavy)—makes it past the 2.5-inch mark, every strand that is able clusters into a group, and fights to look like a surfer’s dream…or surfer’s nightmare…in fibrous protein form. With the Donald moving into the Presidency, sporting that ridiculous, spun-candied-glass, televangelist-inspired, hairdresser’s nightmare on top of his head, I figure my Big Boy wave will come into fashion—or serve as a sign of the impressive power that I wield. In conversation, I may have to start spitting out sentences more incoherent than those that I usually use (no small feat), so that people will realize I have a power haircut a la Tyrannosaurus Rump, and that it’s not just more of my lackadaisical grooming combined with sleep-deprived babbling. Either that, or I’ll just start getting it cut more often, so I don’t have to deal with the waves at all, and will only have to endure M telling me my latest haircut makes me look like a gorilla. But, secretly, I think she likes my gorilla look, so…

Finally…

  1. Write more, write often, write regularly—or alternately—Less wasting time on social media…more clogging up my small corner of social media (as well as writing for reasons beyond social media). When I started the blog, the idea was to do a post a week…I figured that was a fairly modest goal, although coming up with topics, and writing anything that I feel like sharing can be quite the challenge at times. 2016 proved exceptionally rough, since upwards of 70% of all media attention was devoted to some assclown who is apparently about to be the most powerful man in the world, finally matching his beliefs about himself with a cliché people frequently use about the job he is about to take over. Of course, that only left 30% of media attention to be divvied up between things Kardashian, things involving lesser reality-TV stars, and every other thing happening in the world. Whatever the specific ratios, it was difficult finding the motivation to knock out pieces about how people should maybe not use mental-health diagnoses as insults, and perhaps try to make it a bit more difficult for people in the U.S. to shoot each other, when that aforementioned assclown was able to get so much media attention by suggesting that insults are the answer, and violence and vindictiveness are just good ol’ American solutions to political problems. So, yeah–may have to tune a lot of that out, to prevent the reeking verbal diarrhea of short-fingered vulgarians from getting me down, and allowing me to count myself out.

Well, so much for keeping it light. Umm…is it too late to say ‘Happy New Year’?

Michelle Obama’s “Can’t Run Your Own House” Quote was NOT aimed at Hillary Clinton

Michelle Obama’s “Can’t Run Your Own House” Quote was NOT aimed at Hillary Clinton

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In his commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Stanford, Ken Burns updated an old adage, noting that the Internet “permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.”

In an era of politics-by-meme, a lie can spread quickly, along with a clever image or a video clip making the lie seem that much more substantial. The people who see/hear the lie, and want to believe the underlying message, are quick to “like” it and “share” it across their own social media feeds. No need to check on the verity of the information, although such a check would take only a few seconds and a Google search, and the person sharing the item is already using the Internet at the time s/he decides to spread the virus.

It is in this spirit of intentional dissemination of misinformation that a brief video clip has been resurrected, purporting to show “Michelle Obama TRASHING Hillary Clinton in 2008”—feel free to add as many exclamation points, emojis, and OMGs as you like.

I won’t link to any of the various versions of this clip, simply to avoid giving them any additional traction or movement—however minor.

At any rate, the (very brief) clip shows Michelle Obama, saying, “So our view was that, if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House.” Most newer versions of this meme pretend-contrast this with Ms. Obama’s recent DNC speech wherein she talks about trusting Hillary Clinton.

The big lie, of course, is that the 2008 clip is about Hillary Clinton. Given the full context, it is obvious that Michelle Obama was speaking about her own family, and how she and her husband maintain a balance between their career obligations, and their responsibilities as parents.

Here is the full quote:

So our view was that, if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. So, we’ve adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he’s traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I’m home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don’t care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that’s why we’re doing this. We’re in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.

And here it is in meme form (note, the picture is NOT at all related to the speech the quote is taken from—but, gee whiz, look at how that White House podium ties it all together—so long as you don’t think about why Michelle Obama would be giving a speech at the White House in 2008):

Michelle Your House

Sorry it’s not a short, punchy meme.  Context can get in the way of brevity and punchiness.  At any rate, you should be able to just drag and drop the meme, so you can share it anywhere, or, hell, share this whole post—especially in the comments section of anyone who is circulating the lie.  I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

I won’t go into why any thinking person would believe that eight seconds of a speech, completely out of context, means what some politically-motivated, usually anonymous source, says it means. We all believe what we want to believe. And we’ve seen it before. Who didn’t build what, again?

I could go on about how creating and disseminating misinformation—particularly when the truth is known and easily accessed—is deplorable, ethically and morally bankrupt, and a violation of the social contract; but since we’re expanding on the context of quotes, I’ll go back to that opening quote and let Ken Burns get this one (from a larger context where he actually IS talking about Donald Trump):

“The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.”

So, maybe…just maybe…check that meme out before you share it, even if it does feel truthy to you.

Escaping the Groundhog Trap

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’m not a big fan of Groundhog Day—the holiday or the movie.

As a kid, the holiday just confused me. Why a groundhog? Can’t you just see if you cast a shadow yourself? Or if a bush, a stone, a dog…anything casts a shadow? I wondered at the particular properties of groundhogs, and why their shadows might be somehow different than those of any other thing on the planet. I suppose I never quite felt like anybody adequately explained the magical properties of particular varieties of burrowing rodents for me to really get behind the holiday or its alleged meaning.

The lack of a real explanation is one of the things that keeps me from enjoying the movie, Groundhog Day as well. What caused this to happen? And why is the resolution what it is? What would make any magical powers of time control so interested in getting Bill Murray’s character, Phil, together with Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita? Perhaps a resident of Punxsutawney is one of the aliens from Edge of Tomorrow who accidentally infected Phil with the time control powers. But that can’t be it, because then Phil would’ve had to die every day, and he only died on some of those days.

Beyond that, the movie just follows the theme of so many movies from the 1980s about how great small-town America is, and how some cynical guy from the big city needs to learn to appreciate that. As for Murray’s arc in the movie, it’s rather similar to Scrooged.

The audience is also expected to root for Phil to ‘get the girl,’ even after he uses his powers of time repetition to manipulate one of the local women into sleeping with him, and then trying to manipulate Rita into falling for him by pretending to like everything she likes—information he gathers from her in conversations she will never remember.

Ultimately, Phil has to get through one day being kind and helpful, rather than acting like his usual, egocentric self (but, again, why is this the resolution—and would it really matter whether Rita decided she liked him or not?). But that last, single day of generous Phil doesn’t feel much different from the videogame-style resets that go on through the rest of the movie, or in Edge of Tomorrow, and hardly seems like a long-term change to his character as much as it feels like him resigning himself to being a decent human being for one day if he ever wants to get out of Punxsutawney. How is his decency not just more manipulation—another possible route out of the repetition he is trapped in?

Many people have labeled Phil’s situation in Groundhog Day an “existential dilemma” or otherwise termed the movie as existentialist. Properly speaking, though, if Phil’s was an existential problem, he wouldn’t have a long period of being able to make whatever decisions he wanted with no thought, responsibility, or consequences at all, only to be pushed into making the “right” decisions–as judged by whatever power kept him perpetually trapped in Punxsutawney on a particular day–until he did what was deemed correct by that power and the “spell” was broken. He would be responsible for whatever he did, and nothing would compel him to do anything.

groundhog drive

The most important lesson of all–Don’t drive angry.

Still, it’s something of a tribute to Groundhog Day, the movie, that it has become synonymous in our culture with repetitive behavior or situations. And it is perhaps the fantasy that we could relive a particular day until we did it right, managing to impress everyone around us, and connect with our one true love in the process (as well as the opportunity to indulge in a great deal of irresponsible behavior along the way), that has led it to this level of popular recognition. Or perhaps it’s the underlying idea that we are trapped by our own behaviors in repetitive cycles, and that we can change ourselves in order to achieve a better life—along with the wishful notion that we need to be good people if we really want to get what we want.

After all, the idea of breaking out of repetitive cycles and habits, or perhaps of creating better habits and repetitive cycles, along with being better people…good people…our best selves, is what underlies much religion, philosophy, and, yes, therapy.

We all struggle through our own behavioral patterns, habits, and the potential sameness of our days, the rut of weeks, months, seasons, and years. But no bizarre fluke of time is going to trap us in a loop and push us to do things differently and become better people, or pursue what we want. That’s on us.

Whatever I might think of him, Phil found out that it wasn’t a groundhog, or the celebration that surrounded a groundhog’s shadow, that was at the core of his problem. Rather it was his own shadows, the darkness he threw out into the world.

So maybe Groundhog Day is the perfect time to look around at our own shadows and what they say about our forecasts—how much more winter we may have in store—and then think about what, if anything, we want to do to change that.

Happy Groundhog Day.

 

Grousing Into The Void

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’m in one of those spells where everything writing-wise is coming out all wrong. It’s not writer’s block, as such. I’ve been writing—some. But I get partway into something and it ends up sounding muddled, or just heads off in its own direction.

When writing goes off in its own direction, it can be a pretty great thing—if it works or is at least interesting. Lately, though, it’s just been frustrating and boring. And all of the recent writing that’s chosen its own direction has just walked away. As in, it’s been very pedestrian.

For instance, a few weeks back, I started in on a piece about how the Fifty Shades of Grey movie promotes gross misunderstandings of human sexuality, along with committing the possibly worse sin of being bland. But what I managed to cobble together sounded almost as ill-informed as the screenplay, and nearly as tedious. Not to mention, Fifty Shades wasn’t exactly a hot topic by the time I got around to it.

Another piece on equating authenticity with a lack of personal growth came across as snobbish—and not in an entertaining way. I set it aside.

Writing on anti-Millennial stereotyping in the media led me to make generalizations nearly as pointless as the ones I was attempting to challenge.

The politically-motivated shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood Clinic, followed shortly thereafter by the politically-motivated mass murder in San Bernardino, might normally have prompted me to write pieces challenging pro-gun-violence myths. Instead, I squandered some of my time and energy arguing online with pro-gun-violence folks, some so completely irrational that I fear they might be Trump supporters.

Grouse

Grouse…

void

…meet void.

This is not to say that the time and energy I spend writing my blog is anything other than a squandering.  It’s just one that provides me with some focus and enjoyment—or, rather, some enjoyment when I can actually focus. At some level, we all know that if we stop whatever we’re doing, the world will continue on—although we hope a part of the world might be impacted, or at least notice.

Of course, as I’m puzzling through all of this, perhaps I should mention that I got a promotion at work. I love the new role, but it came with a major upheaval in my schedule. I’m still struggling to functionally organize my time away from the job.  That said, the writing travails started to take hold before I was even offered the new position.

At base, I think it might come down to a fear that the time spent writing is wasted, or at least that its standing in the way of me getting other, more practical things done. More and more lately, the writing sessions, have ended up with frustration, leading me to move on, with the intent of doing something ‘productive.’ Unfortunately, that productivity hasn’t exactly materialized.

So for now, I’m going to go do something really productive—like stringing up Christmas lights (much later in the season than I intended) that I’ll have to take down in a few weeks’ time.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

 

No, Swimming Pools Are Not More Dangerous Than Guns

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

With summer coming to its official end in a few days, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Less time spent around swimming pools means less chance that swimming pools will kill us—because swimming pools are more dangerous than guns—right?

I hadn’t heard this particular claim from the pro-gun embracers of NRA misinformation until fairly recently. But, then, after a bit of poking around on the Internet, there it was—turning up in all kinds of discussion threads, with no citation of the information source, and rapidly morphing further and further from the truth to the point where pro-gun folks were saying only that ‘Swimming pools are more dangerous than guns’ or ‘More people die in swimming pools than from guns.’

Repeat a lie often enough, and people (who don’t bother to look into the facts, and who like the sound of the lie) will repeat it along with you.

With a few well-spent minutes with the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics, I quickly realized that the claim was completely false.

Now, if you want to say that more U.S. children, age 14 and under, die from drowning than die from being shot, that is actually true. Of course, this is something like saying more U.S. children, age 14 and under, die from drowning than from heroin overdoses.  More nine-year-olds go swimming than are shooting up or packing heat.

However, once you add in the next age-based demographic group, which is 15- to 24-year-olds, the total number of deaths by drowning is easily eclipsed by the total number of deaths by firearm.

For a quick comparison of the 2013 CDC statistics:

Age 14 and under, deaths by drowning: 625

Age 14 and under, deaths by firearm (intentional and otherwise): 408

Age 15 to 24, deaths by drowning: 501

Age 15 to 24, deaths by firearm (intentional and otherwise): 6085

So, by including those people over the age of 14 in the statistics, the numbers skew undeniably toward guns being much more dangerous than swimming pools. Including all age groups in the U.S., there is a total of 3,391 drowning deaths to a total of 33,169 deaths by firearm.

Also, keep in mind that drowning does not only include swimming pools. It includes all drowning that is non-boating-related. Anybody who drowns in a bathtub, a lake, a river, an ocean, or any other body of water is included in the statistics. So, really, swimming pools would appreciate it if you would quit blaming them for all of the drowning deaths.

But, even if the statistics weren’t so blatantly obvious in spelling out the relative danger of guns versus drowning, the assertion of the relative danger of swimming pools versus guns is, on its face, rather stupid.

For instance, I could not pick up a swimming pool and walk into a school, a movie theater, or a church, and start drowning people with it.

Similarly, when a woman asks her estranged husband for a divorce, there’s something of a greater threat that he will get a gun, shoot her, all their children, and himself, than there is that he is going to drug any of them and pitch them into the backyard swimming pool. And, in case you hadn’t thought about it, a big chunk of those homicide-by-firearm statistics for the 14-and-under crowd involve fathers murdering their families.

We can even use the pro-gun folks’ favorite (albeit highly unlikely) scenario of a home invasion to show the ridiculousness of weighing the threat level of swimming pools versus guns. Your front door is kicked in, and three men storm in—shoot them (with the gun you keep at your side at all times in your home, just in case anybody kicks in your front door), or try to lure them into the swimming pool?

Just by the stationary nature of swimming pools, it’s relatively easy to steer clear of them, as well as most other bodies of water. But with the NRA pushing for everybody to have access to guns everywhere and at all times, concealed or open carry, who knows when you’re going to find yourself dealing with some Frank Castle wannabe or an aspiring Dylann Roof–who, by the way, thinks he’s one of the good guys with guns?

I suppose I could throw a bone to the pro-gun folks and say that in terms of accidental deaths, there are more deaths by drowning than deaths by accidental discharge of firearms across all age categories. Those totals—drowning: 3,391, accidental discharge of firearms: 505. Even if we add in the 281 deaths by firearm that may or may not have been intentional, deaths by drowning win by a pretty hefty margin over accidental and possibly-accidental deaths by firearm.  Still, a swimming pool, even in your own backyard, is less likely to be involved in the death of a family member than a gun you own, especially when you factor in the extreme number of suicides by firearm—21,175. Again, the swimming pool (or, I should say, bodies of water) could have an edge on killing your kids who are still under the age of 14, but after that age, the gun surges ahead by thousands.

Okay—I know that actually citing statistics with pro-gun people is about as useful as, say, asking my dogs to brush their own teeth. In fact, I can easily imagine the pro-gunners reading the paragraph immediately preceding this one and taking it as evidence that swimming pools are, in fact, more dangerous than guns. But I included it anyway, so that the overall picture is hopefully clearer, and so that any readers will have all the information they need to refute anyone who wants to claim that swimming pools are deadlier than guns.

But, if actually trying to provide information in a verbal argument becomes rather difficult, I put the information into some memes you can readily share. Just drag and drop to your desktop, and you can copy them into any comments-section argument where the swimming pool stats come up.

Here’s effort number one:

Pool_and_Gun_Long_form

So, that was a bit wordy. Trying to be factually accurate in short format is kind of tricky. Let’s try that again.

Pool_and_Gun_Next_longest

Well, that was definitely better for brevity, but lets make it even simpler.

Pool_and_Gun_short_form

Or, you could take the quick and rude approach.  But be careful.  Gun lovers can be very sensitive.

Pool_and_Gun_rude

Happy (and safe) swimming!

Another Round: American Roulette

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Pour another round.

Put another round in the chamber.

And let’s play another round of American Roulette.

Dizzy?  Go ahead and get off.

Dizzy? Go ahead and get off.

I’m not talking about felt and chips and all that. I’m talking about American Roulette—where we add more and more rounds, to more and more chambers, in more and more guns, point them all at our own collective head, squeeze the collective trigger, then act all surprised when anybody dies.

Then as the bodies are cooling, we start in on a round of all our favorite follow-up games.

Of course it starts with a round of “America’s Next Top Mass Murderer.” This is where media outlets decide what becomes a national story. It’s a complex formula, involving body count, victim age/status, and location. We have so many shots fired so often, in so many places, that we just can’t let any old killings grab hold of the public imagination.

Hell, the public doesn’t have enough imagination to keep up.

Adult males getting gunned down in the “bad part” of town—doesn’t rate unless there’s an insanely high body count. Okay, that’s pretty much true of any killings in the “bad part” of town.

Nightclubs—the same.

Men wiping out their families? Pffbbt! We’ve grown surprisingly numb to the idea of an “estranged husband” gunning down his wife, kids, and maybe a few additional members of his extended family. But moms gunning down their families? That just might work.

Schools—you can maybe get some traction there, although college shootings are getting pretty passé, as are high schools. Elementary schools—still pretty damn shocking.

Churches—those rate pretty high.

Movie theaters—those practically ARE churches.

So, how about grocery stores? public parks? malls? restaurants? Maybe a library or a museum? How about a nursing home? But, really, I have to defer to the experts for how to rank all of those.

Then, once we’ve determined that a mass-shooting is heinous enough to warrant a spot in the public imagination, we move to a round of “Wheel of Blame,” sponsored by the good, pro-murder folks at the National Rifle Association.

Really, it’s just another form of rigged roulette—38 spaces on the spinning wheel, at least 30 marked “mental health” or “mental illness.” When we get lucky, the wheel stops on one of the random spots marked with something we can really get mad at—like racism, or pop culture, or some “foreign” religion.

Because when the wheel lands on something we can get mad at, then we can do something symbolic in lieu of doing something that might actually lower the body count—like take down a flag that hasn’t had any business being associated with any part of ‘the government’ in the 150 years since that cluster of slavery-supporting traitors failed in their effort to destroy the Union. Or we can blame some movie, or some TV show, or some rock star for inspiring a murder spree. Or we can yell at the President to bomb ISIS, or to stop talking to Iran—because that will fix problems right here at home, where we like to kill our own.

Of course, the Wheel mostly lands on “mental health” or “mental illness” and we don’t have to do anything except say “fix the mental health system”—as if there is some magical way to grant psychotherapists the ability to pluck out those who are going to commit mass murder, plop them into a treatment program, and prevent them from ever getting their hands on all the readily-available guns and ammo out there.

But remember that when you spin that Wheel of Blame, you absolutely must avoid the spaces marked “guns”—those spots just go to the house—instant bankruptcy. Go ahead and say guns and lax laws that allow easy access to guns had a role in gun violence. You’ll get nowhere. Our gracious NRA sponsors, the politicians and media they own, and the screaming devotees of the Cult of the Shiny Metal Bang Bang will all see to that.

And even though it’s gotten pretty tired and unnecessary, we’ll run another round of “Not the Time”—wherein such insightful luminaries as draft-dodging, teen-loving, rock-n-roll has-been Ted Nugent, along with other NRA pets, can tell us that now is not the time to talk about gun control—not in the wake of such a tragedy—as they question the patriotism of anyone who would politicize the deaths of people killed by guns—oops, I mean killed by people with guns—oops, I mean killed by bad people with guns.

What’s so great about “Not the Time”—even though it’s getting really tired—is that we’re almost never more than a few days away from a mass murder, even if we are more than a few days away from a mass murder that really caught the public’s attention.

Oh, hey!  Now give it up for a round of our newest game show: “Open Carry Chucklehead Brigade”—y’know, that trending ritual where gun enthusiasts decide to go stand outside recruitment centers, or in malls, or near schools, or wherever the latest killing took place, brandishing their big, long weapons out of some bizarre sense that such behavior is supportive of those who are suffering the aftermath of gun violence. Hey…uh…guys…we’ve all been talking, and…uh…nobody feels safer because of your presence. For most people, a group of sweaty guys standing around with big guns does not look like safety. It looks like a meeting of the local chapter of the Future Mass Murderers of America.

I know there are plenty of rounds of plenty of other games I’ve left out—like the obligatory round of “False Equivalencies” (people die from using cars, and knives, and dental floss, and ice cream, and…), and the round of “Enforce The Laws That Already Exist” (as if the NRA hasn’t already made sure that most of those laws have no teeth), and the round of “There Are Already Too Many Guns Out There to Fix the Problem” (got it–too tough, don’t try!). But, damn! Those games are getting so dreadfully boring.

So, where were we?

Oh, yeah—pour another round.

Somebody else is picking up the tab.

Or maybe you are.

What? Me Network?

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

A few weeks back, as a favor to a friend, I was invited (compelled?) to speak with a small group of victim advocates—county employees who serve as a kind of official support system for those people directly impacted by a crime. The topic: sex offenders and sex offender treatment.

I agreed to the meeting several months prior, when I was still working directly in the field of sex offender treatment. Having moved away from that field, I hadn’t exactly been immersed in relevant information. As ‘luck’ would have it, though, the Josh Duggar situation provided plenty of focus on issues of law and treatment regarding sex offenses, and an easy access point to discuss much of the involved information.

I had not prepared an actual presentation–the kind with Powerpoint slides, and handouts. Rather, the victim advocates sent me a number of questions via email, and I spent the allotted hour attempting to provide straightforward answers. As with any specialized field, though, nuanced and complex answers are far more the norm.

A quick sampling of some of the (paraphrased) questions and the (overly simplified/incomplete) answers:

Q: What are recidivism rates for adult offenders versus juvenile offenders?

A: Much lower than most people think, in both cases.

Q: Is treatment for offenders a “one size fits all” program, or is it tailored to the specifics of the offender and the offense?

A: There are standardized “assignments” and program requirements, but, as with any form of therapy, it works best when the particulars of the people involved are taken into consideration.

Q: Do you see a lot of commonalities among offenders?

A: As with any ‘diagnosis’ or behavioral category, there are going to be a great many similarities—or those points where behaviors, and justifications for those behaviors, share many similarities—for example…

The lunch hour actually went by pretty quickly. And, despite feeling a bit nervous about providing accurate information without delving into boring details, nobody fell asleep. (Which reminds me, I promised to email some information about various psych tests, which I never did—and I also meant to ask about doing a quick once-over of my friend’s notes to make sure I hadn’t misspoke or inadvertently conveyed any muddled or inaccurate information).

At any rate, the lunchtime meeting was a good refresher about how necessary, and how difficult, it can be to properly ‘network’ within one’s chosen field. It’s quite easy to sit back and complain that people know so little about the specialization you’ve devoted a great deal of your working life to, without doing anything to address that lack of knowledge.

Happy face mad

Of course, it can be extremely difficult breaking through all the noise and confusion to relay one’s own specialized understanding of specific issues, or to have the patience to let the specialized knowledge of others in.

After all, we can all get bogged down in our day-to-day life. And going to trainings or other networking opportunities can feel like just another professional obligation—more about checking a box on a form, than about gaining knowledge and understanding that can truly help in one’s ability to help others—not to mention, the opportunity to meet and connect with other people who are potentially valuable allies and resources.

Still, I suppose we all have our fair share of networking disaster stories.

Take, for example, the time that I went to a breakfast fundraising event for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center as a special guest of the Seattle Archdiocese (damn, that sounds important, doesn’t it? But, truth be told, I was actually the ‘plus one’ to my boss’ invitation as a special guest of the Seattle Archdiocese). Anyway, after the program of speakers, ranging from local media luminaries, to elected officials, to experts in the field of sexual assault treatment, to the families of sexual assault victims, as the time arrived for everyone to mingle and/or make a quick getaway to avoid mingling, I managed to upend a glass of water, which drained directly into the chair where I was sitting. Mingling in wet pants—not really a comfortable experience, or a good way to convey anything you want other professionals to remember about you.

Beyond various faux pas, I think many professionals go to trainings and seminars with those colleagues we already know—potentially insulating and isolating ourselves from other attendees. Whatever your impressions of people in the mental health field, plenty of us are actually introverts who find crowds and forced socialization to be extremely draining. For some, the same skills that make us effective in a one-on-one or group session, or even a phone-based intervention—such as being able to focus not only on a person’s words, but the whole of what people are communicating non-verbally—can make it very difficult to just mingle in a large crowd.

There is also the potential for fumbling when you’re on the ‘turf’ of some other specialization. I mean, imagine how potentially uncomfortable it can be when you work in the field of sex offender treatment, and are attending a conference for providers who treat the victims of such offenders. Ultimately, the goals are the same—to reduce the impact of such trauma, and combat the underlying causes of such offenses—but you’re definitely working different sides of the same street.

There are also several forms of specialization that can reach into most other areas of treatment—substance abuse, personality disorders, suicidality, and on and on. No practitioner has the ability to become truly well-versed in every possible situation they encounter. Ideally, though, they will learn enough to recognize when they need to refer out, and how to recognize the signs of those areas with which they aren’t particularly familiar.

I suppose this is all weighing on me a bit heavily, as I have my licensure renewal coming up, and need to make sure I have all of my trainings in order. I’ve done plenty of trainings, and perhaps a whole lot more personal study, over the past few years, but not all of that counts for official training credits.

On top of just staying abreast of one’s own field, and finding trainings of interest that fit one’s schedule and budget, the state instituted a requirement that all counselors have to have training in how to deal with suicidal clients at regular intervals. I’m trying to approach this positively. I get the reason for its necessity (although the real reason for the change in requirements had to do with previous problems in the state’s credentialing process that allowed people with little-to-no education in mental health to call themselves “counselors”—which led to multiple tragedies and other less-than-ideal outcomes).

Still, having worked in suicide prevention for years makes the requirement a bit redundant for me. I know and respect many of the people conducting the trainings, and certainly learn from them each time I have occasion to encounter them. But as a general topic area, I could be brushing up on or exploring other areas where I haven’t already spent years of professional focus, particularly given that the trainings are aimed at practitioners who aren’t particularly sturdy in their suicide prevention/intervention skills.

Mental Health practitioners are also required to take regular ethics trainings—I suppose for those therapists who can’t remember not to force their own views on people, not to run around blabbing about their clients, and not to sleep with their clients.

That said, I will look to make the most of my remaining trainings, try to be pleasant and sociable, and pay attention so that I might actually gain some new insight. And I vow not to be one of those terrible bores who offers up one’s own experiences during question-and-answer periods, just to show how knowledgeable one is, rather than actually seeking information from the experts providing it.

And perhaps I should just schedule one of those suicide prevention trainings ASAP—or maybe after I cast about a bit to see if any of my friends in the field have been blowing off that training too, and want to go along.

Really Lowes? and Sherwin Williams? and HGTV? Mocking Mental Illness as an Ad Strategy

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Lowes decided to announce its rollout of Sherwin Williams’ line of “HGTV Home” paint by crafting an ad that plays on popular ideas about some of the most well-known artists in history (and pop culture), each jealously challenging the notion of who is “the most legendary name in paint.”

Well, okay, “Mr. Happy Little Trees” Bob Ross doesn’t come across as jealous.

But Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and Michelangelo all do.

Vincent van Gogh just comes across as…well, you can watch it here:  

Get it? It’s funny because you think he’s saying “what?” because he cut off his ear. But then you realize it’s actually funny because van Gogh is suffering from psychosis or whatever would make him talk to a pigeon.

Hilarious—right?

He talks to pigeons.  How clever.

He talks to pigeons. How clever.

Of course, nobody diagnosed van Gogh with a particular mental illness during his lifetime, particularly not from a current understanding of mental illness. Perhaps the most popular theory of van Gogh’s troubles is that they stemmed from Bipolar Disorder. Whatever the case, eventually van Gogh died of complications from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, following numerous other episodes of emotional difficulties and self-harm.

I want to be clear that I don’t have any particular axe to grind with any of the businesses in question (even if I should for one reason or another). I shop at Lowes regularly.  And even though Sherwin Williams has that terrible “Cover the Earth” logo, cover the earth all of the paint we’ve used in our home has come from our neighborhood Sherwin Williams store, except for the paint in the upstairs bathroom, and the stain on the deck, which we got at Lowes. And I watch HGTV (and the DIY Network) enough that M wishes I would just get off the damn couch and make our house more beautiful (or at least just quit talking about all those projects and do them).

Still, it’s disappointing to see that the big punchline for the combined Lowes-Sherwin Williams-HGTV commercial involves mocking, specifically, somebody who suffered from mental illness, and, more generally, the idea of psychosis, particularly given that the commercial was rolled out at the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month:  NIMH’s “Mental Health Awareness by the Numbers”

I suppose I could also point out that all of the artists in the commercial are white males. But given how the myriad options for art “jokes” involving white male artists were handled, I don’t have a lot of faith that a woman artist, or a non-white artist, would have fared much better when reduced down to a humorous reference that might be commonly understood.

Pam Geller’s Free Speech Chum

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two heavily armed, body-armor-clad, wannabe-jihadists shooting a security guard in the ankle and then getting picked off by a pistol-wielding traffic cop in a parking lot outside a cartoon contest in small-town Texas is not, as Pam Geller would have us believe, some kind of religious war in the United States. Rather, it was Geller’s own failed effort to start a larger fight.

Before I go any further, let me state up front that Geller, along with everybody else in America, has every right to say whatever paranoid, delusional things she wants to say about the inevitable imposition of Sharia Law and the ensuing mandatory ‘honor killings’ by our ‘secret Muslim’ President. She also has every right to hold a cartoon contest deliberately designed to insult a particular group of people over their religious views. Said group of people, or any of its members, has the right to fight back with words, logic, cartoons or delusional rants of their own—but not with bullets, bombs, or knives.

Let me also point out that some people have stated that there are prohibitions against engaging in speech that is designed to incite people to violence. But that doesn’t really apply in this case. If Geller held a rally where she encouraged the attendees to go out and physically attack somebody, then she would be inciting people to violence. Saying something to deliberately offend somebody is not inciting that person (or group) to do anything. Their reaction is entirely up to them.

That said, Geller sailed into Garland, Texas, along with Dutch politician Geert Wilders, to hold a cartoon contest intended to insult Muslims over their belief that the Prophet Muhammad should not be depicted in any physical form—much less in any deliberately offensive form. (Judaism and Christianity, among other religions, have similar prohibitions written into their holy books regarding depictions of holy figures, but plenty of Christians really like pictures and statues of Jesus—unless they’re offensive, in which case they call for bans on whoever made them, whatever paid for them, and whoever hung them on a wall).

Geller’s reason for holding the event at a community center in Garland was apparently related to a Muslim event held there earlier in the year, called “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect,” an event which had been held in Chicago the previous year. In 2015, the “Stand with the Prophet” event had the unfortunate coincidence of having been scheduled to occur shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

Geller has stated that her cartoon contest is intended as a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The Charlie Hebdo folks, though, were equal-opportunity offenders. That is, they didn’t seek only to piss off Muslims, they wanted to piss off everybody. And they’d been going at it for years. They didn’t just hire their own little paramilitary-force-for-a-day and set about trying to troll militant Muslims.

Geller, on the other hand, tried to chum the waters with her cartoon contest, thinking she’d draw a feeding frenzy of violent jihadists to her little event—perfect target practice for the $10,000 worth of security she hired. What she got instead was a pair of inexperienced, young pups, mouths full of aimlessly-chomping teeth, drunk on the blood and guts of Geller’s antagonism, who bit off way more than they could chew.

We're gonna need a dumber boat!

We’re gonna need a dumber boat!

Geller, when she isn’t directly attempting to insult all Muslims, claims that she is an opponent of Muslim extremists and extremism. However, she does not actually draw that line, or make any consistent effort to explain where that line actually is. To her, Muslims who actually do attack things and people like her cartoon contest and its attendees are seen as proof that she is right about the intent of Muslims to take over America and kill all non-Muslims. Unfortunately, to Geller, Muslims who do not attack are seen as evidence of a quiet, creeping plot—sleeper cells who are biding their time, before they make their move to take over America and kill all the non-Muslims.

Geller also claims she is a defender of free speech, religious freedom, and individual rights. But, again, her position on such freedoms is a bit muddled. For instance, if she is so supportive of religious freedom, it’s hard to understand why she pushed so hard to stop the “ground zero mosque” from being opened, or why she spends so much time antagonizing Muslims in general, accusing the religion as a whole, and all of its adherents, in whatever form, of heinous crimes (and future crimes).

Likewise, Dutch madman Wilders has attempted to ban the Quran in his home country, as well as trying to prevent mosques from being built there—all under the guise of protecting women and other ‘victims’ of Islam. These are not exactly the actions of someone who thinks that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ will lead to the best possible outcome.

In short, Geller and Wilders are in favor of freedoms for those who they agree with, but want to shut down those with whom they disagree, even if Geller’s and Wilder’s disagreements are with vague caricatures of their alleged enemies, or if those disagreements are assumed to apply to all people who fit under a vast umbrella of a label.

Yet, despite Geller’s and Wilders’ proclamations of war, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi do not represent all of Islam anymore than, say, Michelle Bachmann represents all of Christianity, or anymore than Geller and Geert actually represent the concerns of all people as relates to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Still, if we’re going to ban Geller from her weird little attention grabs, than might we also have to ban things like, say, The Book of Mormon (the play, not the book)?  As much as the authors of The Book of Mormon might have been making a more nuanced critique of religion and what it means to believe, they certainly weren’t out to avoid offense.

And if we’re going to justify Simpson’s and Soofi’s actions as some kind of expected or normal response to Geller’s provocation, then aren’t we moving dangerously in the direction of saying that perpetrators of violence are only acting in ways that the victims of the violence should have expected, and have to accept?

Make no mistake, there are consequences to Geller’s form of speech. The main form of those consequences is that stupid people will agree with her, and will buy into her ridiculous ideas that there is some vast Muslim conspiracy that is mere days away from taking away all of our freedoms as U.S. citizens in order to impose Sharia law. Said stupid people may even commit violent acts of their own, and will certainly engage in forms of speech that are as similarly unappealing as Geller’s. There is also the potential consequence that people of the Muslim faith around the world will view Americans as somehow aligned with Geller’s form of thinking (as opposed to tolerating it, because that’s what we do). Such people may view our tolerance of Geller as evidence of the ill intent of Americans toward the Muslim world, potentially perpetuating a long chain of conflict.

Although I’m not exactly demonstrating this by writing about them, perhaps the best response to people like Geller and Wilders is the response that all but two of the members of the Muslim community in the United States exercised: ignoring them/refusing to take the bait.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about Voltaire, expressed the core idea of freedom of speech as follows: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I’m not sure I’m actually willing to take a bullet so that Geller can continue to peddle her special brand of targeted, incendiary bullshit. But I’m definitely not ready to make an argument that she must be shut down/shut up (like the arguments she has made about Muslims).

At the same time, I’ve also written numerous pieces suggesting that maybe certain forms of speech should be curbed in an attempt to reduce hostility toward people with mental illness, toward minorities, and toward people who generally don’t find themselves at the top of the power pyramid. Curbing such speech is, of course, a matter of personal choice, and a matter of seeking to be decent human beings. Under the banner of individual freedom, we get to say and do what we want, so long as we aren’t actually hurting anybody in some directly demonstrable way.

Of course, Geller isn’t on some quest to prove what a decent person she is, or what decent people Americans are in their acceptance of diverse traditions and differing viewpoints. She’s not on any kind of mission to promote free speech, despite her claims to the contrary.

And Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi went down to Garland Texas with the intent to fight and die, much like Geller and Wilder went down to Garland Texas to try and provoke a fight.

They all got what they wanted—sort of.

Self-Infantilization or Supportive Compromise? On the Controversy over Safe Spaces

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

In her March 21 piece for the New York Times, “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” Judith Shulevitz mocks, among other people and things, Brown University student Katherine Byron for setting up a “safe space” for students who might be “triggered” during a debate between Jessica Valenti and Wendy McElroy that was likely to include a discussion of rape culture.

Shulevitz reported that the safe space “room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” Nothing is said about why such items and personnel might have been present, or what the theory behind such a ‘safe room’ might be, other than Shulevitz’s own assumptions about how college students of today are over-parented and overly-sensitive.

Shulevitz goes on to say that, “Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints.” Shulevitz does not provide anything other than anecdotal evidence about the alleged increasing prevalence of such a conviction.

On top of that, one major thing that gets lost in Shulevitz’s piece is that the debate between Valenti and McElroy went on. The ideas were not silenced. No speaker was banned.

Instead, Byron, and those who assisted her, offered a place where audience members could go if they became uncomfortable, not necessarily with the ideas being expressed, but with the content of the discussion, which presumably included descriptions of how rape is depicted in popular culture, as well as how rape and rape victims are treated in the news media, by law enforcement, and in other areas of their lives.  The safe room was established by the Sexual Assault Task Force, first and foremost, to afford a safe space for trauma victims–not a refuge from ideas.

All the comfort of the joys of childhood...

All the comfort of the joys of childhood…

Perhaps Shulevitz’ mocking of the “safe spaces” is particularly disappointing because she has written other pieces on trauma and its impacts, most notably, a November piece in The New Republic, called “The Science of Suffering” which explored research into how PTSD can potentially be transmitted from generation to generation.  In it, Shulevitz includes this succinct and powerful description of PTSD:

Provoke a person with PTSD, and her heart pounds faster, her startle reflex is exaggerated, she sweats, her mind races. The amygdala, which detects threats and releases the emotions associated with memories, whirs in overdrive. Meanwhile, hormones and neurotransmitters don’t always flow as they should, leaving the immune system underregulated. The result can be the kind of over-inflammation associated with chronic disease, including arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, agitated nervous systems release adrenaline and catecholamines, both involved in the fight or flight response, unleashing a cascade of events that reinforces the effects of traumatic memories on the brain.

Shulevitz’s New Republic article describes research into, among others, Cambodian refugees who suffered through brutal conditions of war. And maybe this is where Shulevitz’ disconnect arises: her inability to see how a sexual assault in the modern-day USA could lead to similar forms of psychological and physical response as living through a years-long period of war somewhere else in the world.

But PTSD just as powerful as that experienced by those who have been through war can arise out of a sexual assault or rape. PTSD is not measured and assigned on some scale where those who experienced the longest, and arguably worst, trauma have the ‘most’ or most severe PTSD.

Complaining of the “self-infantilization” (a term Shulevitz credits to Judith Shapiro) demonstrated by things like the Brown University safe room, Shulevitz also neglects to explore other potential psychological issues stemming from sexual assault, particularly for those who were assaulted repeatedly at a young age. To be clear, I am not assigning a specific causal relationship here (i.e., if this happens, then that is the result, and/or, because a person exhibits this behavior, this particular thing has happened to them) but issues such as Borderline Personality Disorder are often tied to a history of having been sexually traumatized.

Strangely enough, complications associated with Borderline Personality Disorder can include shortcomings in one’s ability to develop into an emotionally mature adult.  Along with the repeated hospitalizations, there are frequently tendencies toward anxiety and overreaction to stimuli, impulsivity, fear of abandonment, hostility and perceptions that one is being personally attacked, and difficulties in forming long-term, stable relationships—issues which might, along with PTSD symptoms, be addressed (at least in the immediate sense of a perceived threat) by the “safe room” tactics that Byron deployed.

Rather than exploring the potentially positive effects of the safe room, though, Shulevitz instead uses it, and other alleged examples of “hypersensitivity” at universities, as evidence that today’s college students aren’t tough enough to handle the real world, and that today’s parents are coddling their children too much. But ongoing PTSD, personality disorders, and other psychological manifestations of trauma are not the result of overly-attentive parenting—and are more likely to be exacerbated by the opposite—a lack of attentiveness and support by those who should be providing it.

Still, Shulevitz pats herself and her peer group on the back for being much “hardier souls” than today’s college students–which includes an explanation that, in her day, college students only censored speakers for the right reasons. She writes, “I’m old enough to remember a time when college students objected to providing a platform to certain speakers because they were deemed politically unacceptable.” Shulevitz isn’t particularly clear on how “politically unacceptable” is markedly different from ‘ideas that make some people uncomfortable.’

Perhaps this is a good time to reiterate that Byron and her Sexual Assault Task Force didn’t actually stop anybody from speaking at Brown, but set up a space, off to the side, out of concern for those who might be interested in hearing the debate, but weren’t too confident that they would respond well to it. If anything, it represents a form of compromise much more than a form of censorship.

So maybe the safe room isn’t the perfect answer. Maybe it seems funny and easy to mock as a form of “self-infantilization,” particularly to those who aren’t all that interested in finding out what it’s supposed to mean or accomplish—those people who, as Shulevitz puts it, haven’t learned “the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it.”

Then again, maybe today’s college students aren’t really that different from past generations of college students—and are just exploring different ways of addressing concerns that didn’t exist in the past—or, rather, were ignored in the past.

Because heaven knows, none of us from older generations ever did anything questionable while we were in college, or came up with ideas that older generations might mock, as we tried, in an atmosphere of rapidly evolving technology, culture, and scientific understanding, to navigate a complicated passage into adulthood.