Nebraska Never Lets You Come Back Home

by
JC Schildbach, LMHC

September 13th marks the anniversary of the death of my father. September 13th, 2017 marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

A rural Nebraska town. A young man running a stop sign. A wife and six kids left without a husband/dad. A small congregation left without a Pastor.

The subtitle of this blog used to be “Missives from an Insecurely Attached Therapist”. But I changed that when I moved away from doing therapy proper, and moved away from trying to focus all of these posts on mental health issues (as much as anything can ever be divorced from mental health issues).

Still, my attachment issues have remained, although awareness of those issues has helped me manage them.

It’s odd to have almost no conscious sense of loss when a subconscious sense of loss pervades your entire existence and informs far too much of your behavior…forcing you to rein in your immediate reactions in favor of more rational approaches to, well, most silly little situations that are often no more than the day-in-day-out ins and outs of life.

It’s like having to constantly remind yourself that bumper cars are fun, and not an affront to your personhood.

It’s like forever being on alert that your friends might not really be your friends, that everyone is potentially just messing with you…that any positive is about to be clobbered by a ‘however’.

Or, to be even less mature, it’s feeling that any time you’re feeling a bit of joy, a big ‘but’ is gonna get shoved in your face.

It’s wishing you had lashed out and punched a LOT of people in the face when that was an option, and realizing you didn’t, because living with confusion rather than violence was more your style…and maybe something that Jesus demanded of you.

Or did He?

Did I mention I stabbed a classmate in the back with a pencil once?

couch

Circa 1970, when I was still the big-headed baby of the family.

It’s being angry with Jesus for not equipping you with the appropriate skills and permission to beat the piss out of your enemies, because that was what was ultimately right and good…right?

It’s recognizing that everyone is always looking out for everyoneself.

It’s measuring whether or not any of those everyones are capable of/interested in looking out for anyone else, and knowing that’s always a risky calculation.

It’s knowing that figuring intent and motive is forever a frightening measure…one that assumes a skewed calculator…and a bullshit answer, regardless of what you punch in.

So you move on in your own tightly-wound world, having faith where you see fit, often recognizing that faith falls where you wouldn’t expect.

It’s knowing that faith is stupid.

It’s knowing that faith isn’t making the appropriate calculations to provide you a safe path.

It’s knowing that a safe path isn’t really that interesting.

It’s knowing that “faith” is a loaded word, a word in which you lack faith.

Sorry if I’m not on your same page, faith-wise, dad.

Now to get back to my Bowlby reading.

Happy death day, Pops.

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Caddyshack Fan Fiction

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

So, I was at a family dinner over my niece’s wedding weekend—not a specifically wedding-related event-meal, but that’s why we were all there—when I overheard (parts of) a conversation between my daughter, and my nephew’s significant other, about artist Patrick Nagel—he of Duran Duran Rio fame…or, as my daughter put it, “Hair Salon Art”. I might refer to it as Playboy Advisor art, but I wouldn’t want to have to explain why I would know such a thing.  Hey…it was the 80s, alright?

Nagel rio

And when she shines…or some such…

At any rate, the random combination of a pre-wedding get-together and artist Patrick Nagel kicked me in the head with a bad memory…or rather, a personal embarrassment barely shared with anyone outside of my own head…until now. Okay, I shared the story with at least two people…my closest friend of 30+ years (now—10+ but almost 20 years then), and a writing professor I admired.

Neither turned out to be all that impressed by the…er… competency of the writing, or the craft of the story.

To clarify, back when I was (playing at) writing short fiction—not counting the fugues I occasionally yield to on this particular platform—I completed an exercise in dialog-based storytelling, which, along with most of my other efforts in that particular arena, belie a certain lack of ability to capture how real-live people speak…or at least how real-live people might speak in totally contrived situations. (I still have a frightening recall of actual conversations…except when I deliberately try to forget…but those often seem unlikely and bland when written out as fiction).

The Nagel-involved story I wrote, or rather, dribbled out onto the page, involved a frustrated-artist-turned-housepainter, on the eve of his ex-girlfriend’s wedding to another man, trying to express his love for ‘the one that got away’—on a golf course, in the rain—or some such. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics.

Or, rather, I’ve tried to forget a lot of the specifics.  I can safely say I have no idea how the golf course came into play.

And, fortunately or unfortunately, a Microsoft update on a Dell computer shunted the file containing that story out into some undiscoverable place. I don’t dare dig through my ‘hard copy’ files to see if that embarrassment still exists, for fear I might feel obligated to share it here…or revisit the personal nightmare by reading said hard copy. Although, if it does exist, I know exactly where it would be.

But we’ll leave that to a day when I am feeling more up to facing my personal demons.

In the sound and fury of the particular tale under consideration, our angry, young, male protagonist laments how the public ignores his latest works—an attempt to utilize the style of Patrick Nagel’s work while capturing “real women’s” bodies, in all their perfect imperfection. So, he was basically using a style of highly-defined lines and an art-deco sensibility to show something that didn’t fit into clean lines and an art-deco sensibility…or some stupid crap along those lines. Thank the maker I didn’t try to do any illustrations or samples of the alleged works, or get into any more detailed explanations of them than I did.

As I write this, I realize I still remember too many of the specifics, even if the golf course piece doesn’t make any sense to me.

The idea behind the art aspect of the story was that our protagonist was trying to make a statement, to convey his understanding of women and how women are objectified, and—well, I suppose the idea was about men who are passionate and supportive of women who are then left by women who move on to men who aren’t so passionate and supportive. It was, to my thinking at the time, some kind of feminist statement—in spite of the clearly patronizing message.

Ultimately, it was just a dramatized version of the “nice guy’s” lament, (‘why are women always choosing bad guys, and not nice guys like me when I’m so much more understanding?’) but with a ridiculous art-criticism angle to it.  Or, to put it another way, it was pretentious in the dumbest of ways.

Did I mention that I was working through some of my own crap at the time, involving a failing relationship? And that I was maybe 20 years old, and knew exactly nothing about relationships? (Which is not to say I know that much more now, but…)

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been to have a female character that wasn’t just a vague object of the angry young man’s affection—having a character that was more fleshed out than just a guy’s desired woman. But even that wouldn’t have saved the story, since, at base, it was just a story about a guy whining to his ex-girlfriend about how he can’t understand why she wants somebody else instead of him…all while continuing to pretend to be just a nice guy.

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been if I understood, or even tried to understand, the person who the female character was based on.  But it was a selfish, self-indulgent complaint of a story.  Self-reflection?  No, I’m a writer–arrogance is my birth-right!

Looking back, though, I realize that I had set the bulk of the story on a golf course, in stormy weather—just like the scene in Caddyshack, where Bill Murray’s character, Carl Spackler, caddies for “The Bishop” in a nighttime thunderstorm, until the Bishop is struck by lightning, and Spackler sneaks off, leaving him for dead.

caddyshack lightning

If only the wrath of God took out embarrassing memories.

My protagonist was essentially Spackler—clueless and self-centered—living in a fantasy-world where he is the center of attention—just a Cinderella story of flower-decimating, golf-club-swinging, muttering foolishness.

But played for drama, rather than comedy.

caddyshack runa away

It’s funny to run away from a lightning-struck priest. Whining to an ex-girlfriend on a rain-soaked golf course?  Less funny.

In the course of all of this kicking myself in the head, I realized I could maybe go back and re-tool the story, to actually make it Caddyshack fan fiction—turn it from pathetic to hilarious—Carl Spackler’s back-story…the crisis that pushes him out into the world where he makes contact with the Dalai Lama, who promises Spackler he will achieve “total consciousness” upon reaching his deathbed.

But then, the Nagel element began causing problems. Would Spackler, in 1980, have been aware of Nagel’s art? In the short time between Nagel’s rise to prominence, and Nagel’s death in 1984, would Spackler have tried to connect with the Dalai Lama about consciousness, and women’s issues, and art, and all that?  As a back story, the timeline wouldn’t work out?

Could I substitute a different artist for Nagel?  Leroy Neiman, perhaps?  (Sorry, just thinking, of Playboy-affiliated artists for no reason in particular.)

Of course, when I think of the effort and the potential embarrassment involved–no matter how private–I’m not gonna go back and write any Caddyshack fan fiction—not after spending a few decades trying to forget about the story that would form the basis of that fan fiction.

But, hey…anybody else out there itching to create some Caddyshack fan fiction?

If so, feel free to submit here in the comments section.

Happy fan-fictioning, y’all.

 

See You in Hell, My Friend

by

J.C. Schildbach

An impulse buy one morning, exhausted and mildly intoxicated. I worked nights, and so did she—back when we worked at the same place. Whiskey in the morning isn’t all that unusual when morning is your evening…and drinking a lifestyle choice.

I didn’t make the connection until I got it in the mail and thought, ‘Why the hell did I buy this?’

It was a screen-printed sweatshirt, a mock-Christmas sweater, featuring a modified version of the “Sigil of Baphomet”—an inverted pentagram, with the head of “The Goat of Mendes” inside, and the Hebrew for “Leviathan” spelled out, one character between each point of the star.

a-baphomet-xmas

But where was I going to wear this? I wasn’t going to any Christmas parties, and haven’t been in the mood to wear any sort of provocative T-shirts since, maybe, my Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to F*ck” shirt back when I was in college.

Wait…there was also “Thanks a lot, God”…which I printed and sold…a friend’s design.   And a few more are springing up now, including some fart jokes and worse. Let’s just say that within the last decade…wait…I thought of something else. Ok…moving on.

Eventually the fog lifted…Winnie the Pooh worshipping Baphomet…that’s the post she messaged me not four days before she died in her sleep. It came across as a still image, although it was supposed to be a .gif—an altered version of Pooh exercising in front of a mirror.

pooh-baphomet

Her death wasn’t expected at all. She’d had health problems—but not of the terminal kind, as far as I knew—and apparently, as far as she knew.

It wasn’t until roughly two months after she died (and at least 5 months before I ordered that sweatshirt) that the memorial service was held, on her birthday, in the early evening sun of Golden Gardens Park in Seattle.

I was reminded that night that we all know people in different ways. People remembered her as intense and potentially off-putting, while also supportive, nurturing, and teaching. There were tales of wild, dumpster-diving/reach-for-the-brass-ring adventures; and stories of sage advice, a kind word, a wisely snide comment.

Some minor celebrities were there…people whose work I knew, and admired.

I kept quiet…mostly.

The last time I saw her—in real life/face to face—was when we went out to breakfast at a dive up the road from where we worked. She had taken a new position, and was moving off the grave shifts we shared. We were celebrating her new position, and the end of our overnight shifts together.   We enjoyed Bloody Marys, Biscuits and Gravy, and hash browns.

(A few months later, I would move on, too, to another organization entirely).

On that morning I picked up the tab…but only because 1) I have a limited capacity for showing affection/appreciation otherwise, 2) I was essentially her supervisor on those shifts, so it only seemed right, and 3) we had a vague plan for a future gathering where she would get me back.

That final night, while slapping together a playlist on my laptop, I inadvertently started playing a song by Ghost…or Ghost B.C. if that’s how you want to be…”Year Zero”…which our other shift-mate instantly recognized (the chants of ‘demon’ names are hard to miss if you’re familiar with them—Belial, anyone?).

It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with the band. She messaged me later in the day, saying she couldn’t believe she had never heard of them before.

Yes, ours was a soft Satanism, a casual Satanism…something difficult to fathom for those who take matters of eternal life all too seriously. And out of fear of…or concern for…those very same people, I hesitated in completing this post all those months ago…shelved it, sat on it, failed to put it together once and for all.

I neglected to process the grief in a way that made sense to me…or that made sense to the friendship I had with her. I just added it to the list of other head-kicks and gut-punches I was enduring, ignoring, and stuffing…waiting for a time when I assumed the blows would stop landing, and I might be able to crawl off to a dark corner and heal.

For her part, she was Buddhist…or something like it, I suppose. We enjoyed our dark humor more than we ever engaged in any deeply spiritual or religious discussions. I’ve got no legitimate religious/spiritual label for myself. Raised Lutheran, self-converted to agnosticism. My wife accuses me of believing in ghosts, but denying they (or any other spiritual beings or energy) exist.

True enough…but also false enough.

My co-worker and I shared a penchant for self-destruction, and self-sabotage, largely tamed by age to a kind of resignation that we weren’t really capable of being bad people…although we still kept trying to prove to ourselves, and a few select others, in small, stupid ways, that maybe we were.

She was only seven years my senior…so her death still brings shock…even after the steadily-increasing numbers of deaths I experience each year, many involving people right around her age. But most of those are prefaced with diagnoses and attempts at treatment, along with the actual spectre of specific forms of death…usually cancer of one kind or another…not the vague idea of ‘health problems,’ or a good night’s sleep unexpectedly becoming an eternal sleep.

Her picture…the one distributed on postcards at the memorial service, the lyrics to Patti Smith’s “Memorial Song” (“It is true I heard/God is where you are”) printed on the other side, is propped up on my desk at home…a reminder of…what? Not to blow off life? A reminder of the idea that we’re all gonna die sometime…maybe soon?

desk-cyndee

I don’t know

It’s there.

It makes me smile.

Sometimes it scares me into thinking I better get off my ass…but not necessarily acting on that scare.

But, always, it brings me back to that same, old, silly idea…born of tauntaun rides, and sub-par 80s metal…

(Then) I’ll see you in hell, (my friend).

Imagine Han Solo fronting Grim Reaper, or Steve Grimmet, clad in a red, pleather jumpsuit, heading out into the rapidly-dropping temperature of Hoth…or don’t. I really need to learn how to work with Photoshop to get these images out into the world…or not.

At any rate, “See you in hell” isn’t an insult or a threat, but a badge of honor among those who carry themselves as…well, I suppose ‘antiheroes’ is as close as I’m going to get…the people plugging along, trying to do good in spite of themselves…not bucking to be perfect—because who the hell cares about that?—but struggling to be human in a way that supports all other humans, or as many of them as we can tolerate, and…well…all those other damned living things.

So, yeah…

I’ll see you in hell, my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Greetings from an Ingrate, 2016: Where’s the Mashed Potatoes?

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Okay…this post has nothing to do with a lack of mashed potatoes.  I just love that line.  It’s become a staple of M and my faux-complaining about, well, really any meal–not just Thanksgiving.  Not that we want mashed potatoes at every meal, but anyway…

A friend recently called me out for not being an ingrate. This via a Facebook post, wherein I was responding to her efforts at working through the 24-days-of-gratitude challenge, or whatever it’s called when you note something you’re thankful for every day throughout November until Thanksgiving. I commented that I had been planning to do the same, although “planning” is perhaps too strong a word…it had occurred to me that I could engage in that challenge, and that I had done it in the past…although, maybe not in November. I might have just chosen 24 or 25 random days, having missed the point entirely…or maybe having expanded the point out in the most glorious of ways by refusing to confine my thankfulness to some specific stretch on a calendar. At any rate, not being an ingrate perhaps takes away from these annual posts, but at least somebody gets the point…that I’m not really an ingrate.

To those who don’t know me, it might be easy to imagine I am such. I enjoy complaining–embrace complaining–as an art form. It’s performance. It’s fun. It’s pure joy, garnering accolades and laughs when in the right company—and disturbed, ‘are-you-okay?’-furrowed-brow looks when in the ‘wrong’ company.

You see, when a big portion of your work is devoted to listening, absorbing, and redirecting the misery of the world, complaining is life-saving, life-affirming, the stuff of thanks.

Or not.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Much of the ‘wrong’ company involves people in my same field, but with a vastly different view of how we need to approach life in order to receive the blessings of thanks, or the thanks of blessings, or whatever life-denying positivity they think will cancel out the darkness of the season…that same darkness our ancestors feared was the impending end of time.

ingrate-thanksgiving

Blurry and off-color…just like misplaced anger!

When I set out to write this annual exercise in ingratitude/gratitude, I tried to think of a good Thanksgiving story from my past.

As I’ve noted in previous ‘ingrate’ posts, I have very few specific childhood memories of Thanksgiving. It was just some day off from school—two days actually–where things were, perhaps, much worse than school…having to put on church clothes only to have a meal that wasn’t particularly interesting.

Perhaps my emotional deficit around Thanksgiving is that it comes between my own balls-out/dress-up/mess-up-the-house-with-monster-decorations/get-candy enthusiasm of Halloween, and the hyper-sentimentality/religious significance/songs/smells/twinkling-lights/PRESENTS!! of Christmas.

How can Thanksgiving compete with that? New Year’s doesn’t fare all that well in comparison, either. Perhaps as a child, I was too close to family, too frequently in contact with them, to realize the value in being able to meet up yet again.  Getting together with family is something that’s become far too infrequent, with siblings spread out across six states, and cousins across at least four more that I know of.

In the absence of the frequent family gathering, I have grown to love, if not the sham history of the holiday, then what the idea of the holiday represents…coming together, helping each other out, recognizing what we have, and why all those elements are potentially so great.

Again this year, my immediate family and I are going out to eat for Thanksgiving–at a favorite restaurant where we’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner before. Again this year, it is a function of our work schedules. That is to say, we could request time off, but, as with every year of the last decade, I work in a 24/7 operation, and M works at a school that caters to doctors (who work in a 24/7 operation). So, we pick and choose which holidays to celebrate more or less enthusiastically.

M was insisting she wanted to make a Thanksgiving meal this year. When the idea was first proposed, I went along with it. Then, at some later time, the kid and I ganged up on her, and pointed out that she had to work the day before, and the day after, Thanksgiving, as do I.  Well, actually, I’m working the day before, the day of, and the day after Thanksgiving, which means a portion of the argument rested on what a pain it would be for me to help do the shopping and cooking and all that, while still attempting to get any sleep–have I mentioned that I work nights?  Coordinating the menu, the purchase of the food, and the preparation of the food, was far more work than we were all ultimately prepared to do, all for just the three of us.

We managed to nail down Christmas plans that would allow more time before and after that holiday to indulge in such excessive amounts of preparation and work, and still get in a fair amount of relaxation, all in the company of family. I’ll hold to my feeling that thanks shouldn’t be a chore, and that holidays should be centered around a desire to celebrate, rather than an obligation to go through the motions of celebration.

I am incredibly thankful, once again, that I have the great fortune to pay to indulge in the hospitality provided by others. And once again, I intend to tip with guilt-laden generosity.

Wherever you are today, I hope you have reason to recognize your situation as one of great fortune as well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Happy Anniversary: Flagpoles and Drawers

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On the night I first met my wife, M, I climbed to the top of the flagpole outside the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. As I reached the top, one of our fellow party-goers shouted out, “Go, monkey-man!” So I did what anybody would do in those circumstances. I clung to the pole with only my legs and feet, and beat my chest, gorilla-style, then threw out a few flex poses before shimmying back down.

It was a display of bravado, born of a desire to show up two younger men at a party. Both had attempted, and failed, the climb. As a pair—perhaps one as the interested party and the other as “wingman”—they had attempted, and failed, to initiate multiple conversations with M that evening, never making it beyond an exchange of pleasantries.

M has no recollection whatsoever of the pole-climbing stunt.

What she remembers of me from that night is what she refers to as my ‘patience’ at speaking with her throughout the evening. M was born and raised in Japan, and her English was imperfect. Add in a raucous party soundtrack, and the swirl of a crowd, and communication could get choppy.

But patience didn’t figure into my perspective of the meeting. Having the attention of a beautiful and (per her own description) weird young woman was not the kind of thing that required a great deal of patience on my part. If seeking out mutually understood vocabulary extended the conversation, and scored me points for being attentive and ‘patient,’ then so much the better.

Out of control party people.

Out of control party people.

The guest of honor at that birthday party, our mutual friend D, had driven both M and me to the party. Shortly after our arrival, M set to work on the birthday gift she had brought–a sort of origami kit that formed a miniature chest-of-drawers. At first, D had intended to share in the crafty construction, but was frequently drawn away by other guests and obligations. After the umpteenth interruption, D suggested I take her place at the table where the paper furniture was being assembled.

The DIY furniture that brought us together--more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

The DIY furniture that brought us together–more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

In previous months, I had been subjected to some of D’s other attempts at matchmaking. And, at the time of the birthday party, possibly unbeknownst to D, I was casually dating the host of the party, D’s soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law (hey—I had nothing to do with the divorce—that marriage fell apart before I even met her).

After the initial, obligatory background questions, M and I quickly learned we shared an affinity for writing, hard rock, and violent cinema. It was a stiltedly animated conversation, with small bursts of excitement at each common reference point, and a fair amount of laughter over our often-clumsy attempts to bridge the language gap.

origami drawer

The actual miniature chest of drawers–still alive today.  Thanks, D!

The flagpole incident took place hours after the chest of drawers was completed, when we had all filed outside in the final moments before the party dissolved into various groups loading into separate cars and heading out in multiple directions.

I didn’t see M for another two months after that—when a family emergency led to D gifting M her ticket to an Alice in Chains concert that I was also attending.

The night of the concert unofficially marked the start of our ‘courtship’—a shaky period of largely reckless interactions, tempered somewhat by fortunate circumstances, that ultimately necessitated a definition-of-us conversation. To even our own surprise, that talk led to us abruptly moving in together and setting a wedding date—in no small part due to the impending expiration of M’s student visa, and the uncertainty surrounding her ability to return to the U.S. if she were to head back home to Japan.

Looking back, I’m still awed by the strange urgency of our coming together—a time I still picture as the two of us tumbling along on the front edge of an avalanche.

But I wouldn’t hesitate to ride that avalanche again, or to climb any number of flagpoles, in order to embark on that same path of mutually-sought understanding and love–a path we’ve been traveling for over half of M’s life, and almost half of mine.

Happy 22nd, M!

8 Pieces of Relationship Advice I Just Pulled Out of My Ass

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

A friend of mine recently turned me onto James Sama, a guy who, under the banner of “New Chivalry,” writes relationship advice, despite apparently having zero training in any relevant field and having nothing particularly original to say. Sama trades in stereotypes, and vague generalities, while somehow convincing people that his advice is just dandy and somehow forward-thinking.

Here’s one of his latest, which was featured on Huffington Post: 12 Stereotypes Labeled “Strong” to Hide the Blatant Sexism Involved

Sama has become a minor media figure and gotten over 30 million hits on his blog in about a year-and-a-half (his claim), which apparently qualifies him as a relationship expert. Have I mentioned that Sama has never been married and doesn’t get into a whole lot of discussion about how his amazing insight into relationships has personally made his own relationship(s) better?

Don’t get me wrong.  Sama’s not alone in the advice-peddling-with-no-credentials field.  Still, this all got me to thinking that maybe I could follow his business model—giving fortune-cookie-style relationship advice, presented in “list articles” about how this or that stereotypical thing is the key to a solid relationship. So, with the misplaced confidence and lack of thought that is often necessary to self-promotion, I present 8 pieces of relationship advice I just pulled out of my ass.

  1. I’m okay, you’re okay

Okay, okay—so I got this from somewhere else. I don’t really remember where. But until you can be okay, and know that everybody else is okay, you’re not going to have a good relationship. Or even an okay relationship. Okay?

  1. You need to love yourself first

We’ve all heard it a million times—you can’t love anybody else until you’ve learned to love yourself. This is true enough. But, seriously, none of us love ourselves all that much, unless we are lacking in basic self-awareness. I mean, you know everything you think and do! And a lot of that is just plain unforgivable. Just know that you don’t really love yourself, and so you’re probably incapable of loving anyone else fully. But the great thing is that your partner is in the same boat. You don’t really think anybody who loves her/himself would actually waste her/his time on someone like you; do you?

  1. If your partner is mad at you, it’s probably because he/she is really mad at her/himself

Relationship experts know that people in relationships are going to get mad at each other. It happens. Sometimes it happens a lot. When your partner gets mad at you, just recognize that it’s probably because your partner did something really dumb and is just taking it out on you. Knowing that it’s not your fault means you can accept responsibility for whatever the argument is about, while not really having to feel too bad about it. Everybody can move on a little quicker that way.

  1. Agreeing with your partner can help shorten arguments

Following from the previous advice point, we all know that the main goal in any relationship is to keep conflict to a minimum. When your partner is mad at you, if you can listen to their complaint just enough to agree with what they are saying, and prove you were at least sort of paying attention by making a semi-relevant apology for whatever that is, they’ll start to feel better and quit climbing up your ass. And remember, it’s not really your fault anyway. Your partner is just mad at her/himself.

Stock photos of happy and/or upset couples just aren't fun--but a rubber skeleton couple on vacation in an island paradise, possibly being swarmed by gulls...

Stock photos of happy and/or upset couples just aren’t fun–but a rubber skeleton couple on vacation in an island paradise, possibly being swarmed by gulls…

  1. Sometimes simply agreeing isn’t enough

Sometimes just agreeing and taking the blame isn’t going to fix an argument. Sometimes you have to promise to never again do whatever made your partner so upset in the first place. Again, since your partner is really just mad at her/himself, it’s really no skin off your teeth, or sweat off your brow, or whatever things come off of you when you’re stressed and having to put forth some effort.

  1. Try to keep track of your promises

Right now, I’m talking about your ‘negative promises’—you know, the promises that you won’t do something again. Positive promises—like, ‘I’ll pick up after myself’, or ‘I’m totally saving up so we can go to Hawaii’—are for another article entirely. Although, now that I think about it, I suppose those positive promises could be negatives, too—like ‘I’ll never leave my dirty clothes all over the bathroom/bedroom floor again’ or ‘I’ll never waste my money on video games again, so that we can maybe one day have enough money to actually take a nice vacation.’ Anyway, the point is, you can only promise never to do something again so many times before your partner catches on, and realizes you are doing that thing—again! Or perhaps–still!

  1. Relationships are hard work, but fun work

This is pretty much an obligatory point to make. Nobody’s relationship is perfect all the time. And when there are problems, nobody’s relationship just fixes itself. You have to put in some work. That work should ideally be fun—because arguing can really be a lot of fun if you know how to do it right. And it’s especially fun when you win.

  1. Winning isn’t the point

Another obligatory point. I know I just said it’s fun to win arguments. But, really, that’s not the point. I mean, if you were paying attention to the rest of the things I wrote here, you’d realize that I was telling you how to avoid arguments, or to just give up and let the other person win, so that the argument might just end and you can avoid doing any meaningful work toward understanding your partner, or improving your relationship.

If you can remember these points and try to stick with them, your relationship may just last another day or two. And if it lasts just another day or two, and then another day or two, and then another day or two…before long, you’ve spent a lifetime together.

Author’s note: Gee whiz, that was fun! I was afraid that having been trained as a counselor, and having been married for over two decades might have hindered me in advancing some pointless advice. But, since I’m not actually trained as a marriage and family therapist, and my marriage is—well, a marriage that exists in the real world—I was able to cobble some stuff together that sounds pretty good, actually. Plus, laying it out in short, numbered points meant that I didn’t have to actually put together a cogent argument.

Now if some of you can help out by sharing this around, or maybe getting it to the attention of “media outlets” I should be well on my way to 30-million blog hits, and solid status as a relationship guru.  Thanks!

Suicide at the Oscars, part two: ‘The Phone Call’

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It was a great year for crisis lines at the Oscars—or, rather, for films involving crisis lines. Not only did the documentary, Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 take home a statue, but so did the short, live-action film The Phone Call. And, while Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 tried (perhaps a little too enthusiastically) to convey a sense of the actual drama that can occur at a crisis line, The Phone Call comes across as a disturbingly simplistic endorsement of suicide-on-demand and irresponsible behavior by crisis line workers, all while portraying a dangerously inaccurate view of the function of crisis lines.

I will begin with the same bit of disclosure I placed at the beginning of my piece on Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1: Having spent more than five years working full-time for a crisis line, and continuing to work in a position sideways from, and occasionally overlapping with, such work, I can’t help but come to these films with something of a bias. And I will also offer up a spoiler alert for The Phone Call: if you haven’t seen it, and you don’t want to know exactly what happens, stop reading now.

The Phone Call seems to have generated most of its praise based on the acting of Sally Hawkins (as Heather) and Jim Broadbent (as Stanley/John)—which is undoubtedly solid, even given the ludicrous material. But most reactions seem to ignore any other critical angle—like the crass manipulations taking place in order to make The Phone Call happen at all.

To begin with, the call center where the story takes place seems to be lost in time. Despite the opening shot of the movie panning by a sign that reads “City WiFi Zone,” the crisis center apparently has no computers and no Internet hookup.

Now, I don’t know the current state of crisis line call centers in the UK, or really the state of any such call centers aside from the ones I’ve worked in, visited, or seen in documentaries—all in the United States. But I will say that if a call center in this day and age equips workers only with a pad of paper, a pen, a phone, and a lamp—they are verging on worker abuse. Absent the most dire of funding situations, failing to provide crisis line workers with computers and Internet access is simply unacceptable, given the relatively low cost of such amenities—and the necessity of such items in making it possible for workers to track down lifesaving information—or even to assist callers who are simply trying to access other services.

At one point in the movie, we see Sally Hawkins’ character, Heather, get up from her desk—thankfully she sat at the front of the room near the bookshelves—to try and look up the “mystery caller” in the notebooks where past call records are kept—handwritten on paper.

Add to that the script manipulation of having absolutely minimal staffing. Despite there being numerous desks in the call center, when Heather arrives, there is only one other worker there–Daniel.  At the only time Heather even considers enlisting Daniel’s help with Stanley/John, Daniel is talking with another caller, back turned to Heather, and flipping through a phone book, or some other reference material. She immediately (and completely irresponsibly) determines she can’t get Daniel’s attention—as if muting her phone and calling across the room would have been too much trouble to stop somebody from dying.

'Would you look at that?  Daniel's busy.  Guess you really are going to die today, Stanley.'

‘Would you look at that? Daniel’s busy. Guess you really are going to die today, Stanley.’

Stanley/John is also supposed to be a sympathetic character, the main reason being that his wife, Joan, died two years ago after a long struggle with cancer. As Heather questions Stanley/John about other family members he may have, we also find out that he and Joan tried to start a family, but had only one stillborn child, 25 years ago, and then were unable to have any children after that. Certainly, it’s a sad tale. Certainly, we can understand Stanley/John’s despair.

But just imagine being in the same situation as Heather—or really any crisis line worker—being treated the way Stanley/John is treating her. Stanley/John has decided he is going to die, and has decided that whatever random worker answers the phone is going to have to listen as it happens.

John/Stanley sobs, makes vague statements indicating he has taken actions to kill himself, and refuses to provide information under threat that he will hang up to prevent anyone from tracing the call and sending an ambulance. The audience has to accept that either the call center does not utilize caller id—further putting workers in a terrible situation—or that John/Stanley blocked his information, in order for the whole ‘hanging up’ thing to really work as a threat.

Stanley/John eventually reveals that he’s taken “Antidepressants” that he got “from the doctor.” But killing oneself with pills tends to be a lot trickier than most people realize—at least to do it in the calm, and apparently quick way that Stanley/John manages, all while allowing for a conversation and a quick death before the ambulance crew can arrive and try to revive him—and without his body doing its damnedest to try and expel the deadly pills he’s ingested. Then again, perhaps Heather waited a good long while before calling for the ambulance, as she was looking through notebook after notebook to find the right person named John who lived around the corner from the Boston.

The big moment of connection for Heather, where she (mostly) accepts Stanley/John’s decision to die, is when Stanley/John asks in a pressured tone, “Can you just stay there and talk to me? Are you allowed to do that? Can’t you just stay there and talk to me and hold my hand? Isn’t that alright?”

Heather’s answer: “Of course, I can. I’m not going anywhere.”

There are an infinite number of much better answers Heather could have given at that time. For instance: “No, that’s not allowed, Stanley/John. I’m not here to make you feel better about killing yourself. And, to be honest, if I was really doing my job, my co-worker, Daniel, here would know everything that was going on, and probably already have an ambulance heading your way.”

Instead, in the course of the short conversation, Heather passes up numerous chances to make more than just a conversational connection with Stanley/John. For instance, Heather and Stanley/John discuss jazz, including Stanley/John telling Heather he could teach her how to play tenor saxophone properly. Yet, rather than latch onto that, and suggest that Stanley/John maybe teach music, or otherwise get back into music, Heather doesn’t push on that point of Stanley/John’s ambivalence at all.

In fact, beyond asking about immediate family, Heather does nothing to find out if Stanley/John was involved in anything else in his entire life beyond his relationship with Joan. Work? Friends? Family? Hobbies? Pets?

Heather also does nothing to explore what Stanley/John has done to deal with his grief over the loss of his wife. All we know is that he got antidepressant pills from his doctor. Apparently, Heather takes this as evidence that Stanley/John really has made a valiant effort to deal with the kinds of normal struggles anybody feels at the loss of a long-time companion. ‘Oh? You got a prescription? Wow—that was very brave of you. I’m sorry you still ended up feeling something.’

And perhaps the most obvious thing Heather leaves out is asking how Stanley/John’s wife, Joan, might react to Stanley/John’s decision to kill himself. Or maybe we are meant to accept that Joan is the kind of person who would want her husband to die—that she’s something of a monster, and Stanley/John is really stressed out because he’s two years late on following through with their suicide pact.

Throughout the conversation, Heather lets Stanley/John bully her into not talking about the things she should be talking about, all with the threat that he’ll hang up, and the assertion of his ‘needs’—how he just can’t go on without Joan, but really needs someone to ‘hold his hand’ at the end.

We are supposed to find it comforting that once Stanley/John insists that it is, in fact, too late for a rescue, he compliments Heather, saying, “you’ve been wonderful. You’ve been a wonderful friend to me.”

But Heather is not Stanley/John’s friend, and isn’t supposed to be acting in that capacity. And really, if Heather was either doing her job right, or actually acting in a capacity as Stanley/John’s friend, she would have done more to try and help him.

And then we get the most maudlin endorsement of suicide ever committed to film—we see the ambulance arriving outside Stanley/John’s home. The camera switches to an interior shot of the home’s front door. We see someone arrive, and…it’s Joan! We never actually see Stanley/John, only hear him talking to Joan for a while.  She talks about how she’s “been looking for” him, and they both agree that they’ve missed each other. So, we get this reunited-in-death sap that makes this suicide seem cute, since it helped an old couple get back together.

'What, John?  You've gone and killed yourself?  You go to hell for that, don't you know?'

‘What, John? You’ve gone and killed yourself? You go to hell for that, don’t you know?’

It’s no surprise that director and co-writer Max Kirby comes out of the world of commercials and music videos. The Phone Call is practically a commercial for suicide, with all the depth of the average music video. It’s a concept piece that tries to press emotional buttons, while keeping the audience from engaging in too much thought.

As we watch The Phone Call, we are not meant to think about the value in going on with life, and finding meaning after loss. We don’t even get a serious look at suicide, depression, or mental illness, because we are given only the most surface reasons for Stanley/John to kill himself. We are supposed to take this all as somehow romantic—the sad, old man who just can’t go on without his wife. Isn’t it sweet that he’s killing himself?

And perhaps even more aggravating is the summation of the movie from its official website: “Heather works in a helpline call centre. When she receives a phone call from a mystery man, she has no idea that the encounter will change her life forever.”

I’m not sure exactly what we are supposed to take away from this tagline—that the big change in her life is that she is now carrying the burden of having sat through this man’s death, while being derelict about trying to help him? The big scene we are supposed to take as evidence of change is one in which we see Heather following through on part of the conversation she had with Stanley/John—to go back and visit a jazz club she used to frequent. We see her getting cozy with call center co-worker, Daniel, a potential relationship that was hinted at early in the movie. ‘Gee whiz, isn’t it nice that all it took was the suicide of an old man to make me get out and live a little? Isn’t this rosé delightful?’

To clarify, my reaction to the movie is not meant as some discussion about the right to die, but about the way crisis lines operate, and the absolutely awful way this is portrayed in the movie. It is simply not the job of crisis line workers—paid or volunteer—to just “hold a caller’s hand” while that caller dies by his/her own hand.

It is a hazard of working at a crisis line that one may end up on the phone with somebody as that person dies. But this is much different than such an occasion being the purpose of that work. A police officer has the potential hazard of being shot on the job—but it is not the police officer’s work to be shot on the job. A teacher may be subject to the hazard of being verbally abused or even hit by an angry child—but it is not the teacher’s job to be verbally abused or hit.

And what kind of horrible people would you be attracting to work at the crisis line if you told them that part of their job was just to listen as people die? What would be considered an appropriate level of intervention if just letting people die was considered an acceptable or even desired outcome?

Heather, like any crisis line worker, when confronted by questions of listening versus intervening, should make it clear that, as much as crisis line workers are there to offer support, they are required to intervene in order to prevent callers from completing suicide. And with experience and training, one will gain a better idea of just when that intervention needs to take place.

In the case of The Phone Call, there was an admission that a suicide attempt was already underway; and for all intents and purposes, Heather did nothing. We are supposed to see that as somehow touching, and even life-affirming.

Don’t just feel about that. Think about that.

 

And now for the obligatory ending: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the national (U.S.) suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-TALK.

 

Clarity of Vision

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

I need to get glasses. I’ve been saying for at least two years now that I need to get glasses. I’m not having terrible vision problems or anything. But every once in a while—like when trying to read the instructions on a medication label, or the code on a sim card to activate an iPhone—I’m reminded that I just plain can’t see teeny tiny print.

Offhand, I can think of plenty of reasons for the tremendous resistance I’m experiencing, or creating/enforcing.

For one, the last day of third grade, when I was able to cast off my glasses ‘forever’ was one of the greatest days of my life. Of course, in true ‘me’ fashion, I waited until school was out to retire those glasses. I didn’t want to go through the last school day of the year answering questions about where my glasses were, and (oh, the horror) hearing congratulations if I were I to say I no longer had to wear them. The attention was not something I wanted.

Now you see them, now you don't...the incredible disappearing glasses.

Now you see them, now you don’t…the incredible disappearing glasses.

Another element in all of this is just the general difficulty of eye exams. Back in my early elementary school, glasses-wearing days I had an eye doctor—an optometrist—who was keenly aware of the foibles of my vision—or more accurately of my left eye.

My left eye has the peculiar property of shifting out of focus more and more the longer I rely exclusively on it. It’s sort of like, over the course of about a minute, the world shifts from a slightly out of focus photo, to a Seurat painting, to the obscured logos of non-sponsors on the clothing of reality show participants. My optometrist referred to this as a “lazy eye”—not in the traditional sense that the left eye was moving or tracking more slowly than the right eye, but in the sense that my left eye was perfectly willing to let my right eye do all the work, the left eye apparently feeling that playing its part in allowing me to see in three dimensions was work enough.

For a time, I had to intermittently (read: as little as I could get away with) wear a patch over my right eye—and not a cool, Snake Plissken kind of patch–bug a beige piece of plastic that clipped onto the top of my glasses frame, over the right lens—the lens which had no purpose whatsoever, aside from maybe keeping my glasses from tilting too much to the left. (It just now occurs to me that perhaps that thicker left lens carries some of the blame for the uneven positioning of my ears, which always confounds anyone trying to even out my hair in the final stages of a haircut.)

The patch was the kind of odd instrument that caused some of that previously mentioned, unwanted attention, as classmates asked what it was, and why I had it—almost inevitably leading them to stare at my left eye to see if they could tell if something was wrong with it, or to them asking if I could take off my glasses and look from side to side so they could see just how bad this lazy eye was—leading to the necessary, “Not that kind of lazy eye” explanation.

Beyond the attention, the patch just caused me aggravation, as anything I tried to look at would shift out of focus in short order, even through the “corrective” lens.

Ultimately, I’m not fully sure why I was allowed to abandon the glasses. I think it had to do with my hating them so much, along with indications that the ‘corrective lens’ was doing nothing to improve my left eye. Nor was the vision in my left eye deteriorating at all. Since the defect in my vision didn’t bother me or cause any particular problems, I was set free from the need to wear a delicate contraption of metal and glass, of which my care was substandard.

And despite my sister and me having many a laugh over the nose hair of our optometrist—which, in a darkened room, as he tilted his head back to look into our eyes, would be illuminated by the various contraptions he was using—I trusted him like no other person who has ever checked my eyes. Perhaps those were just warm feelings aimed at someone who had the final say in whether I continued wearing glasses—and who chose the way I was praying he would.

Then again, there could be more than a bit of fear stemming from various encounters with other people who checked my eyes. One encounter in particular, with a school nurse, caused much consternation in our household.

First grade year, or maybe second, when we were getting our various health checks, a school nurse came around to each classroom, tacked a vision chart to a wall in one corner of the room, and we all got called up, alphabetically by last name, always keeping the line about three or four deep, to have our eyes checked.

Mind you, by this time in my young life, I had already been wearing glasses for some time, and went in for regular check-ups with our trusted family optometrist. (I never have asked my mom how she kept up with the optometry bills for herself and six kids, all wearing glasses.) So, from the get-go, I didn’t really see why it was necessary for me to get another eye exam, when I’d had one before the start of the school year.

Still, I went up and dutifully got in line. But there was something off about this eye test.

My own optometrist had eye charts with multiple letters. RSTLNE—my sister and I joked about how we had memorized this, the smallest-print line on one of the charts. But the chart the school nurse had brought along was populated with various iterations of only one letter: capital E.

Some of the E’s were positioned as they normally would be. Others were backwards, or lying on their backs, or face down. And rather than the school nurse just having us read off the letters on the chart, (E…backwards E…E…upside-down E) she instead had a stick with a small hoop on the end. The idea in this particular eye exam was that the examiner would position the hoop, encircling one of the E’s, and then the examinee was supposed to point in the same direction that the prongs of the E were pointing.

By the time it was my turn, I had picked up on the fact that we were supposed to be pointing (although that concept was, to me, rather weird for an eye test), but hadn’t quite picked up on the particulars of the pointing.

So when I got to the front of the line, and confirmed that I was in fact, the person connected to the next name on the clipboard, the school nurse asked only if I knew how to do the test. “Yes,” I’m sure I responded. After all, I knew how to do an eye test for Pete’s sake—maybe not this one; but I’d been through much more involved eye tests. And for this one I didn’t even have to know how to recognize multiple letters, just point.

I like to think that I had some particular system in mind when I went through the test—like ‘point in the direction the E is standing’—if it is right-side up, point up—that’s where the top is; down on it’s face, point to the right—that’s where the top is; on its back, point to the left—that’s where the top is; upside down, point down—that’s where the top is.

Then again, maybe I was just thinking, ‘just point in different directions each time she moves the damn hoop, and I’ll be done with this soon enough—after all, I’m already wearing glasses and see a real eye doctor multiple times a year.’

Clearly, by the alarm I caused the school nurse, I wasn’t doing the test right. Again, she asked if I knew how to do the test. Again, I said I did, although I was a little less than certain at this time, and pretty sure I was about to get in trouble.

I don’t recall the school nurse ever actually explaining the test to me—i.e., if the three bars of the E are pointing to the left, point to the left. Perhaps she felt that my vision was so impaired that she had no way of conveying such information to me. Or maybe, by the time she actually did explain it to me, her fear that one of the students in her school had gone blind on her watch was so palpable that I was entirely too caught up in her terror to pay attention to what she was saying.

Now, I don’t specialize in child psychology—and it’s a fair bet that the school nurse didn’t either—but I’d think that if you had to deal with young kids on a daily basis, you’d figure out that when a kid says he knows how to do something, but is really doing a bad job of it, then maybe that kid really doesn’t know how to do whatever that thing is.

When you’re faced with a few possibilities—one being that a kid doesn’t really understand how the eye test works, and the other possibility being that the kid is legally, if not totally, blind, I would think the obvious choice would reveal itself. I mean, I was able to get through my school work each day, and I ran around in gym class and on recess without my glasses on, and nothing terrible had ever happened that might indicate rapidly deteriorating vision.

But, all other evidence to the contrary, the school nurse assumed the worst. And my mom got a phone call. And I may just have had to go to an ‘emergency’ appointment with my optometrist.

So, yeah…I was going to call for an eye appointment today. But maybe I’ll do that tomorrow…or maybe next week.

 

A Christmas Wishbone

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Christmas morning, I found myself cleaning the remains of a chicken and stuffing out of the Crock Pot, to make way for the roast I was going to crock—which I suppose made it a crock rather than a roast.

As I scooped stuffing from the pot, and rent that flightless bird’s flesh from its bones, I came across a fully intact wishbone. I paused in my work, rinsed the wishbone, and set it on the kitchen windowsill.

Not quite a partridge in a pear tree, but you take what you can get.

Not quite a partridge in a pear tree, but you take what you can get.

Continuing on with the operation, packing the chicken and stuffing away, neat and tidy in Pyrex containers, then prepping the roast…er, crock…the tradition of wishbones rolled around in my head. I’m not talking about the origins of the whole wishbone thing—where it came from, who was first to practice it, but rather, the more personal memories around it.

I can’t say as I have a whole lot of specific personal memories around wishbones. I know if mom was cooking a chicken, then there would be at least a minor squabble around who would get the wishbone—or, perhaps more accurately, when somebody found the wishbone, there would be a minor dispute around who would get to break it with the lucky discoverer. If one of my older brothers came across it, there would be inevitable teasing, just to see if they could get a rise out of one or more of us.

And then there was that time I won the wishbone-breaking contest and was rewarded almost instantly with the new bike I had wished for, and then felt bad because I could’ve wished that my cousin Brad’s hypochondria would be cured instead.

Okay, that never happened.  I don’t even have a cousin Brad.

I thought on how I had witnessed my kid and her best friend, when they were probably about seven years old, engage in the wishbone-breaking contest immediately on finding one during dinner, despite my having never taught/explained it to my kid. There is, perhaps, some lesson in there about kids picking up all kinds of things beyond the specifics of what their parents teach them, but I’m not really sure what to make of that, or its importance. Weird things permeate the culture? I failed in this particular instance of ensuring that I was the one to pass a bizarre superstition on to my offspring?

I briefly entertained the question of whether two people could conspire to wish the same thing, thereby increasing the chances of the wish coming true. After all, so long as they didn’t speak of it afterward, they couldn’t truly know what the other had wished. A wishbone technicality would still invoke the magic—right?

At any rate, as soon as my wife got up from her mid-morning nap, and got herself a cup of coffee, I presented her with the wishbone. She immediately grabbed hold.  I warned her she needed to think on her wish. She closed her eyes briefly, then gave me the nod.

It was on.

After a few seconds, she remarked on how the wishbone was too wet (from its days packed in chicken-fat-soaked stuffing at the bottom of a crock pot) and not likely to break.  She relaxed her effort. There was a brief pause where I hadn’t quite processed what she said or did, and continued on with the match. Then, just as I followed her lead, conceding that the wishbone was, perhaps, too saturated to complete the fight, she resumed the pull, and…snap. She won. Was it a brilliant strategy, or dumb luck? I didn’t ask, just conceded. Victory was hers.

Victory is hers!

Victory is hers!

I like to believe she wished for something like I wished for…you know, that silly garbage about another year of relative happiness, good health, and enough stuff.

Still, I daren’t ask. Because maybe she did wish for that same silly garbage. Or maybe she wished for world peace. Or maybe she wished for a new bike.  Or maybe something much better…or much worse.

But whatever it was, I don’t wanna jinx it.

 

 

Honey Boo Boo Needs Some Real TLC, Not Abandonment

by JC Schildbach, LMHC, de-commissioned ASOTP

Not quite a month ago, The Learning Channel (TLC) announced plans to drop production of its ‘reality’ show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as well as shelving an entire season that has been completed, but not aired. The reason? “Mama June” Shannon was photographed out and about with her former beau, convicted sex offender Mark McDaniel. Even worse, a few days after the original story broke, a photo surfaced showing June, Mark, and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson together.

McDaniel was convicted of “aggravated child molestation” for sexual contact with Anna Marie Cardwell, who is June’s daughter, and Alana’s half-sister. McDaniel served a ten-year sentence for the molestation, having been released from prison in March.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.   I’ve seen occasional clips on other shows, and watched most of one episode when I came across it while flipping channels. But in that episode, I saw that the family was accepting of Alana’s uncle, who is gay, without making a big deal about it. And, despite my unease at the general weirdness of the child pageant circuit, the family members seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And then the show concluded with Honey Boo Boo climbing up on a chair and sticking her butt in the air to fart loudly, which, strangely enough, served as the lead-in to a very somber, ‘feed the children’ infomercial.

At any rate, speaking of the weirdness of the child pageant circuit, having seen a few episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras, the TLC show that spawned Honey Boo Boo’s spinoff, I am disturbed by what can only be described as the sexualization of little girls on that show. The contestants are small children who are essentially treated identically to adult beauty pageant contestants—made to wear too much makeup, with piled-up hairdos, wearing a variety of—I guess you’d call them revealing, although that sounds weird when talking about children—dresses and bathing suits, while performing routines involving dance moves that I pray the girls don’t understand the origins/meaning of.

I’ve had offender clients specifically mention Toddlers in Tiaras as a kind of ‘gateway’ form of visual stimulation leading to seeking out even more exploitative material. And, while such ‘gateway’ comments are often spoken with the intent to limit the personal responsibility of those clients—the whole ‘society is sexualizing young girls, what am I to do?’ complaint—it is somewhat difficult to view the show without thinking, ‘Wow—pedophiles must really enjoy this.’

So, while I could start shaming Mama June for putting her daughter in the beauty pageant circuit, or for taking up with a man who molested one of her daughters; instead it seems a better course in all of this would be for TLC to invest some more effort and money in the show, and maybe take it in some completely different directions—maybe even directions that would involve some actual learning.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit--Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit–Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

That is to say, it’s very odd to have a show built on the highjinks of a family that is portrayed as a bunch of unsophisticated rubes chasing a weird dream, and then to turn around and cancel the show when the matriarch of the family does something that shows she really doesn’t understand what’s at stake in a particular situation. According to Anna Marie’s own statements to the media, June minimized McDaniel’s behavior, telling Anna Marie that McDaniel wasn’t all that dangerous because Anna Marie was McDaniel’s only victim.

Such a statement is a big red flag that Mama June just might be buying a whole lot of lies from McDaniels—the kind of lies that offenders tell all too frequently. ‘It was just the one time;’ ‘I was drunk;’ ‘It was a mistake;’ ‘The victim did X first;’ ‘I paid the price/did my time;’ ‘I won’t ever do that again;’ etc, etc.

I don’t know what kind of treatment McDaniel may or may not have received in prison. But unless McDaniel has developed some understanding of his own behaviors, and unless Mama June has been educated on exactly what McDaniel did, how he did it, how he justified it to himself, what kinds of things Mama June needs to look out for in McDaniel’s behavior (preferably coming from McDaniel’s own confession); and unless she’s been given instruction in what McDaniel’s behavior means for the safety of her other children, and how to reduce risk (risk can never fully be eliminated), then it’s a little hypocritical of TLC executives to cut her off, claiming that it is in the best interest of the safety of the children involved.

And just for context, here’s the statement issued by the network at the time of the show’s cancellation: “TLC has cancelled the series HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately. Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being.”

Great, TLC, but where’s the support? I’ve seen many mothers of victims continue on in relationship with the men who molested those women’s children. And a supportive and appropriate relationship with an adult partner can actually reduce risk for re-offense. However, that risk isn’t (generally speaking) reduced when the offender is allowed back around likely victims, particularly without the partner being fully informed as to the nature of the offender’s behavior, and how to provide adequate support for the offender and for other family members. But maybe TLC executives are just looking at this as another example of the stereotypes they’re comfortable promoting–of poor, Southern folk accepting child molestation as a routine part of life.

It is potentially extremely damaging for victims of molestation, like Anna Marie, to see their mothers return to relationship with the offender, or to, in any way, be given the impression that they are being treated as secondary to the perpetrator of sexual violence. It definitely sends some disturbing messages about who is being given priority, and where the concern of the mother lies. It is possible to mitigate that damage, but only with some very involved, professionally-guided therapy.

I don’t want to over-simplify things here, but a major reason for women to continue on in relationship with offenders is economic. I don’t have any idea if McDaniel has any real way of providing for June’s family, but since TLC just cut off the family’s current main source of income, they are increasing Mama June’s likely reliance on someone who can provide support—and at a time when the person June is in relationship with is an offender who is very much putting Honey Boo Boo—that “remarkable child”—at risk.

So, again, why not take the show in a new direction? A learning direction? I don’t mean to advocate for making an offender a reality TV star, but TLC could at least build in scenes to Honey Boo Boo’s show, or maybe a spinoff, that follow McDaniel through treatment, and through all of the difficulties he now faces as a convicted offender trying to rebuild a life outside of prison, in conjunction with Mama June’s exposure to McDaniel’s treatment process.  The audience could see scenes of June attending sessions with McDaniel—scenes of McDaniel explaining his ‘offense cycle’ to June, of McDaniel explaining his actual offense to June, of June going through a chaperone class where she learns just what limits need to be placed on McDaniel and his contact with June’s children.

And what about making sure Anna Marie’s okay? How about, instead of channeling any income to McDaniel, any money involved in a standard TLC reality-star fee, over and above the cost of his evaluation and treatment—funded by TLC—goes to Anna Marie to make sure she can get some ongoing treatment herself?  Perhaps let Anna Marie gain some economic benefit from the exploitation she’s already suffered? She’s had various media outlets contacting her to ask how she feels about the man who molested her being released from prison. How about making sure Anna Marie’s not being re-traumatized by all of this? After all, how many victims of molestation really want the molestation being made public, and then want to have to address it, with complete strangers, for the purposes of having it blasted out all over the airwaves and the Internet?

Of course, TLC doesn’t have to do anything in this case. Perhaps TLC executives were grateful that a scandal of this sort came around when Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was pulling ratings of less than half of its peak performance, just so they had a good excuse to cut their losses. Then again, TLC could really do some good in this case. TLC could truly support the “health and welfare” of their child stars. TLC could really help advance public discourse on offenders, offender treatment, and victim advocacy.

Or TLC could just leave Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and the rest of the clan dangling—dangling over a cliff where falling means families torn apart and potential acts of child sexual abuse—and move on to whatever other ‘reality’ show goofballs America wants to laugh at, until ‘reality’ creeps in and undoes them as well—leaving TLC to cut its losses, abandon its ‘stars,’ and run.