Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

fiftyshadesI first posted this review on my Goodreads account over here.

I try to be fair with reviews. I really do. If I don’t like something, I tell you why I don’t like it, and/or what I typically DO like, so that you (Gentle Reader) can evaluate my judgments, and decide for yourself if the things that bother me about a book are also likely to bother you. I’m not the arbiter of taste. I understand that.

And it’s not like I have super high standards. I don’t need my books (or any of my entertainment, really) to be High Art. I don’t hold a lot of truck with high falootin’ lit’ry achievements. I’ve given positive reviews to Stephen King. I find Tom Clancy and John Grisham entertaining. I enjoy Jodi Picoult. I watch more CSI and Law and Order than any self-respecting human should. I don’t need my stories to change my world. I don’t need them to be soaring artistic achievements. I just need solid tales, decently told.

All that said: I cannot even with this book. 50 Shades of Grey is bad, Gentle Readers. Infuriatingly bad. I know it’s popular (it’s outsold Harry Potter in the UK), but if ever there was an exemplar for the idea that popularity and quality do not necessarily overlap, this is it. I’m sorry if you like it. Not just sorry that I’m about to spend the next 2000 words offending and angering you (though I am), but also sorry that you apparently haven’t been exposed to more good stories, the better to compare this to. I suggest you branch out and read other things and expand your tastes, because this is bad.

As I read the book, I was so annoyed and frustrated that I started taking notes on the things that annoyed me. To whit:

  • It’s in present tense. Gah.(This actually works in the book’s favor during the sexy scenes, but for the rest of the time, it’s just jarring and annoying. There’s a reason why 98% of novels are written in the past tense).
  • In the opening scene, Ana is preparing to interview some tycoon (Christian Grey, who becomes her sexual partner) for the school paper because her roommate, the newspaper’s editor, can’t make it. I can tell you as a veteran of a school newspaper: This would not happen. First of all, in an interview as important as this one, more than one student reporter would go (and the photographer would go as well, making the whole scene in the other chapter with the photographer moot). If Kate (the roommate) couldn’t go, she’d call another editor on the paper (there are likely several), not rope her roommate into pinch hitting. Second of all, the interview is apparently a three hour drive away. Does this school not have Internet access? Skype is not a thing? Phone calls? The interview has to be in person?
  • Ana describes an elevator as “whisk[ing her] at terminal velocity.” Elevators do not do that, not even super fancy modern ones.You would be dead. The elevator would stop at the top floor and your body would continue to fly upward and would splatter you into pieces against the elevator ceiling.
  • A conference room in the office is described as having “at least 20 chairs.” Seriously? Pick a number. She’s sitting there waiting for her interviewee to become available, it’s entirely plausible for her to count them. Also, it’s a work of fiction, there’s no reason to be vague about the number of chairs.
  • In the interview, Christian Grey says he employs over 40,000 people. That makes his company twice as big as Enron. And he seems to have founded the company, not inherited it (though EL James is not specific on this point). This makes the company maybe five years old at the outside. Enron existed for 15 years before it folded. I’ve heard of fast growing companies and all, but this stretches credulity.
  • During the farcical school newspaper interview, Ana asks Christian if he’s gay. She, at least, is horrified and embarrassed (as she should be), but this comes out of nowhere, with no lead in, and at no time is Ana’s roommate (who came up with the question) challenged on her ridiculous premise that Christian must be gay because he’s never photographed in the society pages with a woman. (He’s spent the last five years building a company that’s become twice as big as Enron. I think a much more logical assumption is he’s never photographed with women because HE’S WORKING.)
  • Christian Grey is the CEO of his company, but he says he doesn’t have a board. Now, apparently, this is not a contradiction: The only companies that must have boards are ones that are publicly traded (something I’m sure Grey, control freak that he is, wouldn’t do). Most companies past a certain size have boards whether they’re publicly traded or not, but they don’t have to. And while a CEO is a common board position, there’s nothing that says that a company can’t have a CEO on his own. But still: It took me like fifteen minutes and asking four people about this before I came to the conclusion that EL James wasn’t actually wrong about this. 15 minutes that I could’ve spent reading the book. Fiction isn’t supposed to send you on fact-checking hunts, especially not this early in the game. I already distrust this author and that’s not a good sign.
  • Ana drives three hours, asks seven questions that were written for her and maybe another seven that she thought up herself in the moment. That is an extremely crappy interview, maybe half an hour long (I would read the conversation out loud to see, but I can’t bear to open the book again). It took 9 months to convince Grey to schedule the interview, and this is supposed to be an in-depth profile, and you ask seven questions? I’ve had interviews over an hour long for a 500 word article. I couldn’t even tell you how many questions I asked–I started out with a list that was maybe a page long, that I used as a guide when the conversation needed steering. Also, Christian Grey asks Ana if she wants to be shown around, and she says no. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. YOU ALWAYS SAY YES TO THAT. Even somebody with no journalistic instincts whatsoever says yes to that. Again with the “Why is Kate sending her roommate on these shenanigans and not calling another editor on the newspaper staff, especially since this is so important, and Ana is so clearly bad at it.”
  • EL James explains characters’ jokes for us after they say them: “Obviously, he’s referring to my earlier less-than-elegant entry into his office.” Yes. Obviously. So obviously you don’t need to tell us that, Ms James. Your readership is not stupid.
  • Ana goes home and offers to make her roommate a sandwich, and her roommate accepts. Even though she just had the flu a few hours ago. If the roommate–driven, tenacious roommate–was too sick to do the interview, she’s too sick to be eating a sandwich now. And yet here she is, eating a sandwich.

And that’s just Chapter One, Gentle Readers. It goes on like this. I tried to stop taking notes, I really did, but I couldn’t because this nonsense is just so frustrating:

  • Everyone mind’s everyone else’s business whether it’s needed or wanted. At a bar, Ana’s roommate Kate is about to leave the bar with a guy she just met. Ana tries to follow her on the grounds that she needs to give Kate “a safe sex lecture.” Kate is 22, and Ana is not her mother. I really hope that Kate’s learned about safe sex by now. Also, Ana is drunk, making her impulse to be the responsible mom figure somewhat laughable. Leave Kate alone, Ana. (This is outweighed by my total annoyance at Kate generally, who keeps going out of her way to make Christian angry/jealous on purpose. Interference of Roommate into Ana’s relationship aside, playing stupid high school games with guys is just….stupid, immature, and high school.)
  • At some point, Christian scolds Ana about her hair being damp. Of course it is. She just got out of the shower, Christian. Which you know because she’s in your hotel room. And you’re the one who told her to take the shower. Shut up.
  • Ana has apparently gotten through four years of college, from 2007-2011, without an email account. I refuse to believe that a middle class American girl born in 1989 did not have an email account before now. (On the other hand, I was so relieved when they started emailing each other, because James included header and signature text from all the emails, which made turning the pages that much faster.)
  • Christian has told her to start her BDSM research on Wikipedia. Sigh.
  • The narrative voice is inconsistent. Ana is the narrator, yet halfway through the book I still don’t feel like I know her. At the beginning of one chapter, she takes a moment to “admire the pretty” that is Christian standing in front of her. Later on, she says,”His gaze is impassive; his eyes cold shards of smoky glass.” It’s jarring to just switch tone and mood this way. Either Ana is Hannah Montana, or she is Jane Eyre. She cannot be both.
  • For someone who says she’s never been drunk before, she drinks a lot of wine, with almost every meal, whether she’s with Christian or not. She also never eats.
  • And this is without even getting into the assumption, which goes completely unchallenged here, that everyone who gets into BDSM is messed up or damaged. Or Ana’s assumption, also completely unchallenged, that Christian just needs to be shown what true love and acceptance are to mend his ways, and thinks that that fixer mission makes it okay to completely disrespect his needs and desires–which he went out of his way to state to her, clearly and honestly.

A few chapters into the book, I started thinking of John Laroquette’s rant from his appearance on the West Wing about hitting people with cricket bats, and couldn’t stop. And I hadn’t even gotten to the sexy tying up parts yet. (I also started sending angry texts to my friend Skippy, who doesn’t want to read this book, and didn’t want to hear about it, and now knows more about it than he ever wanted to. But he didn’t tell me to shut up once. Patient man, is Skippy.)

And yes. Most of these are petty details that I should overlook. I know. People read this book because they want to read the sexy tying up parts. They don’t care about Ana’s graduation ceremony, or the length of the interview with Christian, or the fact that EL James doesn’t seem to know that “army” should be capitalized when you are referring to someone’s employer or profession, ie, “ex-Army.” But you know what? The little details irk me. They pull me out of the story. By the time I get to the sexy tying up parts, I’m angry and frustrated and I don’t care anymore. And frankly, it’s insulting. Because if EL James doesn’t have the barest minimum of respect for me as a reader–if she did, she’d notice that she said “besieged” twice in two sentences, or think for three seconds about whether Ana can see Christian’s feet and tell us about the shoes he’s wearing when there’s a desk between them–she’d care enough to get this stuff right. I can’t tell you how aggravating it is when I just want to fall into a story, but I keep getting knocked out of it by these stupid little details. I respect you enough as an author that I spent a week reading your story. The least you can do is not treat me like I’m stupid.

We deserve better than this, Gentle Readers. We deserve solid tales decently told. Even if all you want is a story that, in the words of James, “makes desire pool in your belly,” you can do better than this (or you can search on the internet for files put together by helpful people who excerpted all the sexy bits of the 50 Shades series and put them in a single document, so you don’t even have to bother with the story). The internet has entire terabytes of bandwidth devoted to better erotic and/or BDSM tales than this. (And if this book has made you curious about BDSM and/or you want to try this with your partner, for the love of god, use something besides this book and ever-loving Wikipedia as sources/inspiration/guides.)

To make matter worse, (though it was, in retrospect, a really useful juxtaposition for reviewing purposes), I read 50 Shades of Grey the same week that I listened to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on audiobook, specifically the part where Whitman is recounting his experiences as a nurse in a Union Army hospital, dressing the wounds of injured Civil War soldiers. One is a story about a silly girl whose biggest problem is that there’s a disconnect between what her brain is telling her she should want and what is actually giving her orgasms. The other is about the indomitable human spirit and the sacrifices that men make, about pain and courage and friendship and humanity. I don’t understand half of what Whitman wrote, but I feel like a better person for having read it. 50 Shades just made me want to hit things, and not in a fun sexy way, either.

I think if I was offered a choice between reading this book again, watching The Human Centipede (a movie which is, I’m pretty sure, the absolute nadir of creative human output), or getting punched in the face, I’d have to think about it. And then I’d probably choose getting punched in the face. Immediately after reading this book, I started listening to the audiobook for Stiff by Mary Roach, about human decomposition and what cadavers donated to science are subjected to. It’s gooey and mushy and contains phrases like “intracranial steam,” which is what happens when the inside of your skull gets so hot that your brains literally melt out of your ears (don’t worry, you’re dead by the time this happens)–and it’s so much more entertaining and less disturbing than 50 Shades of Grey.

Approach this book with extreme caution, Gentle Readers. I wouldn’t have given it even one star but the computer didn’t give me the option of negative numbers.

I never felt like a Warrior.

photo-1.JPG For a long time, I didn’t tell people that I was from Littleton. I didn’t go to Columbine–I went to Arapahoe–but whenever people learned I was from Littleton, they wanted to know if I went to Columbine, or even assumed I did. And I just didn’t want to deal. Surprisingly enough, repetitive and painful conversations about mass murders are not the sorts of things I want to engage in with strangers.

Just when I started telling people I was from Littleton again, in 2010 or so (it took ten years for people to stop talking about Columbine, and even then, depressingly, that was only because more horrific mass murders eclipsed it). And then James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, and I stopped again. Not at first–at first I thought to myself, fuck that guy. He doesn’t get ownership of my town. I’ll claim it for mine. And then a woman in a store in New York City ask me, looking all aghast, how I felt about “all these” mass murders that keep happening in Colorado. (If I hadn’t been so shocked and angry, I might’ve asked her how she feels about all these terrorist attacks that keep happening to New York, but I didn’t). And now–a year after Newtown, almost fifteen years after Columbine–guns have returned to Littleton. But it’s different, now. Fifteen years and who knows how many school shootings later. The kids are different, the country is different.

The biggest thing that sticks out for me is the growing refusal to name shooters in the media. Rachel Maddow no longer does it. The Arapahoe County Sheriff won’t do it either. The sense of horror that I remember so clearly after Columbine is shutting down and being replaced by impatience and psychological exhaustion. We still don’t know why these things keep happening, what goes wrong inside these kids’ heads, but our patience for learning why is waning. Once you bring out a gun and start shooting people, we no longer care to sympathize with you and whatever bad thing is going on in your life that’s destroyed your will to live (or to allow others to live). If you do this thing, we will no longer speak your name, or admit that you ever walked the earth. If you read accounts of Columbine, you will often see it said that thirteen people died that day. But it wasn’t thirteen–it was fifteen. Fifteen people did. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are so far beyond cursed that we don’t even count them among the dead anymore. And admitting this is hard, but here goes: I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, that kind of hard, bitter boundary can be a deterrent. Or at least, we hope that it is. But on the other hand, I don’t think anyone is beyond forgiveness, beyond grace, or whatever you want to call it. And I wish we could phrase ourselves in such a way so that even lonely strangers feel loved (in a non-creepy, non-boundary crossing way).

The problem is, when you’re depressed, and you feel yourself edging toward that hard boundary that you know is there, beyond which lies only exile, it doesn’t help to know that people feel that stony about people who do things like what’s inside your head. It doesn’t bring you back from the edge, it pushes you over it. It doesn’t make you feel more loved to know you haven’t done this thing. It makes you feel more alone. More like a monster. Because only monsters do this sort of thing, right? That your brain is even contemplating something like this makes you different than everyone else. Makes you special. Makes you a monster. Just the act of contemplation places you beyond redemption, so you might as well play chicken with the devil.

What I remember from Columbine, my first reaction when I learned about what the boys had done and why they’d done it, my first reaction–before the media started spinning its own stories–was that I knew those boys. I knew how they felt. If they’d been at Arapahoe between 1996-2000, I probably would have been their friend. We probably would have hung out.

There but for the grace of God, right?.

I didn’t know what made me different from them. I didn’t know why it happened at Columbine and not Arapahoe. I still don’t. And most people, when they think “There but for the grace of God,” are referring to not getting shot by a bullet, rather than not being the one who fired it. Now that I’m older, I know that I’m extremely unlikely to ever raise a weapon against another person (which is not to say I won’t ever raise one against myself). But when I was seventeen, I didn’t know that. Here’s what I knew:

We are all of us angels and devils.
All of us sinners and saints.
Equal parts Judas and Jesus, Nazi and Jew.

And maybe if we were better at admitting that, at articulating it, maybe–just maybe–the kids who start losing the battle with their internal monster wouldn’t feel so alone. Wouldn’t feel so damned. Wouldn’t feel so beyond redemption, when they haven’t even done anything yet to exile themselves. In Littleton, after 1999, a popular bumper sticker for a number of years read “We Are All Columbine.” If that’s true, then we are all of Columbine–Isaiah Shoels and Corey DePooter and Rachel Scott and Lance Kirklin and all the rest of them. Including Eric and Dylan. All of them are within all of us.

Because you don’t pull shit like Columbine, like Arapahoe, like Newtown, like Virginia Tech, if you think you can be redeemed. You pull that shit when you think you’re already beyond it. Already damned. When you believe the monster’s already eaten you–it’s after that that you get truly consumed, not before.

We are all in danger of being eaten by monsters, only they’re not the monsters that our parents warned us about. And I think about all this, and about my own dark inside corners, and I feel pity for these kids. These murderous kids. Jesus Christ, they’re just fucking kids.

And then I remember that they’re murderers. And that there’s a reason we don’t speak their names.

And you know what, Karl Pierson? Fuck you. What the fuck is wrong with you, you stupid, entitled little shit? How arrogant and selfish must you be, to think that walking into school with a shotgun because you had some kind of dispute with your debate is an appropriate course of action? I don’t care what he did, I don’t care if he hit you, I don’t care if he molested you, because instead of telling the cops who could have helped you, you shot an unarmed girl and then offed yourself when you realized that actual adults were about to get in on the action. When the actual reality of the shit you’d started came crashing down around your head. Who the fuck taught you problem-solving skills as a child? Who the fuck taught you how to screw up and then learn from it? Who the fuck taught you how to deal with anger, humiliation, and embarrassment?

Fucking nobody did any of those things. Clearly.

You self-righteous, selfish, immature, misguided little twit. You colossally stupid fuckwad.

I wish that you’d told somebody what you were thinking. Just so they could say it back to you, and you could hear how idiotic it sounded once it was outside of your own head. Just how far out of scale your reaction was to whatever the actual dispute entailed. I wish someone could have told you it was small and petty and insignificant and that nobody cared, and that neither would you, in six months, after you graduated and went to college and never saw that fucking teacher again. I wish someone had smacked you across the back of the head and called you an asshole.

Maybe then you’d be alive. And more importantly, maybe Claire Davis would be alive, too.

Priorities

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“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” –Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Sometimes, I procrastinate posting something for so long that it becomes relevant again, or my thoughts on the matter actually change or mature. Today’s one of those days, so, huzzah, I suppose?

I sometimes have trouble getting worked up about things I should probably care about (positively or negatively). One that comes most immediately to mind is “inspiration porn” stories of people doing something nice for a kid with disabilities (This story of a boy with autism getting put in his school’s basketball game and scoring many points is a really good example; or any story of a high school senior with Down syndrome being made Homecoming Queen/King). Doing nice things for kids with challenges is just as much (if not more) about making us feel like we’re good people as it is for the benefit of the person. And, if you don’t interact with disabled people in your day-to-day and the only time they cross your path is when they’re bagging your groceries or when one of your friends posts a story like this on your Facebook wall, you may be led to the logical but perfectly erroneous impression that the best thing you can do for a person with special needs is give them one overwhelmingly awesome experience of awesomeness and make their day. I don’t have the patience for people who indulge in that kindhearted but misled attitude. I love the effort, I’m glad you want people with disabilities to have good experiences, and if you want to share them on Facebook that’s fine, but they just don’t generally touch the happy space in my heart.

On the other end, I had a really hard time getting worked up back in mid-August when a family was sent a shockingly horrendous letter about their son, a 13-year-old boy with autism.* Again, this should be right up my alley, right? Defending people with disabilities is right in my wheelhouse. If I was a superhero, I would haunt the places where adults with disabilities hang out and just wait for neurotypical teenagers to show up and start taunting them, and then I would go all Batman on their asses. But the letter really didn’t horrify me, for two contradictory reasons: one is that I think a lot of people are dismissive or hostile or annoyed by people with disabilities, though they’re obviously less caustic about it than whoever wrote this letter. To all the people who were shocked and appalled by the letter, the dark and cynical corner of my heart wonders, where have you been? Where were you in middle school when kids were calling each other retarded? Where were you when Ricky Gervais was pulling “mong faces” on Twitter, and then dismissing the opinions of everyone who was insulted by telling them they were oversensitive? Where were you when Ann Coulter called the President of the United States a retard? Where were you when Margaret Cho said that all the remaining eggs in her ovaries were “retard babies”? (And to all my queer, liberal, feminist, fat-positive friends: Do you understand why I cannot, will not, indulge in your Margaret Cho love?) Do you see how not caring about the language used to describe disabled people leads directly to bullshit like this? But on the other hand, and contradictorily, I also know that the letter writer’s feelings are atypical of the general population. I know that pretty much everyone, once they meet my sister, loves her and wants her in their lives. They want what’s best for her. They want to protect her. They want to keep her around. My sister is extraordinarily well-loved, and that love provides a buffer for me (and for her) when it comes to hostility from misinformed and maladapted strangers who don’t deserve to know her anyway. Haters gonna hate, as they say.

So yeah. Don’t really care about your hate, don’t really care about your feel-good human interest story. I’m tired of it, I’ve heard it before, I want us to have a new discussion. I have bigger worries on my plate than people thinking my sister is a one-dimensional happiness angel, or even people who think she’s a one-dimensional waste of oxygen.

All you people who post the above stories on Facebook, who want to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities: Where were you when voters in my county defeated a ballot measure that would have eliminated the county wait list for services available for adults with disabilities, and improved their quality of life? Where were you while the rate of sexual assault of disabled adults got frighteningly, absurdly high? Where were you when my parents tried to figure out how to financially support my sister when they die, so she doesn’t end up homeless or in a state-run group home or dead? Where were you while Goodwill was paying prison wages or less to their disabled employees thanks to a law that apparently hasn’t been updated since 1939? When disabled adults started living in poverty and homelessness at several times the national average for neurotypical adults?

My sister needs people who love her and care for her, yes. She needs people who respect her and treat her like a person. And she has that. But that’s not all she needs. She doesn’t need people cooing and coddling over her. She needs people who will make sure that her safety and her financial stability are high on the list of priorities. Who know that her quality of life on a day-to-day basis matters. Who won’t let her fall through the cracks. And on that score, somehow, I don’t think I have a hope of getting a million Facebook likes. I don’t have a prayer of convincing anyone in Washington that any raise in the minimum wage should also close the loophole that allows disabled adults to get paid so little. I feel like there’s nobody in the world in between my sister and a life of poverty and danger except for me and my family. And that’s not a confidence-inspiring feeling. That feeling that Samwise Gamgee had, looking down into the pits of Mordor, knowing that all that stood between Sauron and the destruction of Middle Earth was two small hobbits? And moreover, knowing that the responsibility of keeping Frodo safe fell on him, and him alone, in that whole big bad world? Yeah. That’s the feeling.

*The response of the boy’s mother is worthwhile reading, more worthwhile than the original letter, anyway.

It happens here. And here. And here. And here.

samstreetEver since Columbine, I’ve had trouble dealing with mass-murder type news stories. Which is only natural I suppose. Just like since Katrina, I’ve had trouble with natural disasters. I have dishonored the victims of the earthquake in Japan, hurricanes in New York, floods in south Asia, and shooting victims in Ft. Hood, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere by simply not being able to dredge up the depth of emotion that tragedies of that scale require. On some level, I feel like this makes me a bad person, but on another I don’t stress about it too much because it’s obvious, even to me, that my level of reaction is out of my control. I promise you there’s only so many times you can look at a weather radar map and burst into tears before you have no tears left. And Columbine grated on my soul–over the whole community’s soul–for a year or more. It faded from the national spotlight relatively quickly, but it was a constant presence in Littleton for a long time, and it wore me away. When Sept. 11th happened, and everyone was freaking out about how we weren’t safe anymore, my reaction was more or less, “Well, of course not. You’re just learning this now?”

Sometimes forcibly not paying attention is my only source of protection. So I understand that this is a delayed reaction of sorts, especially given our high-speed high-def instant-access world. But this is kids. Twenty kids. You can’t not pay attention to that.

Who wasn’t paying attention when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were asking their friends to buy them guns at gun shows? Who wasn’t watching when they drove into the Colorado foothills for target practice?

Who didn’t notice when Jared Lee Loughner started talking to himself, rambling incoherently, laughing at inappropriate times?

Who saw James Holmes booby trap his apartment and order 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and thought nothing of it?

How much longer can we characterize kids who are hurting–kids who are a danger to themselves and others–as quiet people that nobody really noticed?

I don’t know. I know other people are having discussions about gun rights and gun control. I’m not pragmatic enough to manage it. My thought process is something along the lines of, “I don’t care about gun control because KIDS ARE DEAD,” which I understand is illogical and nonsensical, but it is what it is right now.

If guns don’t kill people, as gun rights defenders are fond of saying (and I happen to agree), then it follows that guns don’t protect people either. People protect people. (People hurt each other, too, most notably the people they know: as a woman, I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know. When I was a child, I was most likely to be kidnapped by someone I know. If my household has a gun in it, I’m more likely to be shot with that gun than I am to defend myself with it. It’s simple statistical truth; it’s just how the world goes.) So while others talk about banning assault rifles and keeping guns out of the hands of “the deranged” (which I agree with) (I’ve been treated for depression, does that make me deranged?), I’ve also been asking what would it take to get us, as Americans, to protect each other a little more and prey on each other a little less. About what it is that makes us prey on each other at all. If guns really protected people, then the South Side of Chicago would be the safest neighborhood in the country. Because guns really have very little to do with whether or not a person is safe. Safe neighborhoods are ones where peoples’ basic needs are met, so they don’t feel the need to rob them from other people. Safe neighborhoods are places where people have the interpersonal and educational skills to solve conflicts in ways that don’t involve (escalating) violence (that is, even if my middle-class white dad gets in a fist fight either somebody, even if it’s someone he knows, he can be reasonably certain that when the fist fight is over, that’s the end of it. The other guy’s son isn’t going to come after my dad the next day demanding a rematch). Safe neighborhoods are where people have economic options in between “drug kingpin” and “McBurger Flipper.” Safe neighborhoods don’t have 40% unemployment rates. Safe neighborhoods, ironically, are where a dozen children die all at once in a hail of bullets fired by a madmen. Dangerous neighborhoods lose children every day, one at a time.

I do know this, though: we need to stop saying that things like this “don’t happen here.” Things like this happen everywhere. I learned that in April of 1999 (And what does it say about our culture that Columbine happened so many shootings ago that it doesn’t even make most people’s shorthand list of mass shootings anymore?). To say that it doesn’t happen *here* implies that there are places where it does, where it’s inevitable, where it’s supposed to happen. Where we can live with it happening. A place over *there* where kids are expendable, the price of keeping our kids over here safe.

Either all of our kids matter, or none of them do.

Things I Hate About Depression

IMG_0371.JPG1. It turns into things that I used to like to do and turns them into things that I “should” do because they would be “good for me.” It used to be that I loved to go to concerts; you could not keep me from concerts; I lied to my parents and stole their car and took the bus for hours and did all sorts of things to get myself to a show. Now I’m just as likely to stay home because of inertia, and I have to make myself leave the house because I tell myself that once I’m out of the house I’ll have fun.

2. My insecurities lie to me, and my depression makes me believe them. I think things like “I have no friends,” and I believe it because I’m depressed, when really I have many people who love me and care for me and who want to help me, they’re just not geographically close enough to help me to not feel isolated.

3. It takes me forever to do everything. Simple tasks take twice as long as they should.

4. Depression makes me selfish and self-centered. When I’m depressed, I want to fix it, I want attention to be paid and I need something to be done about it. I flail around looking for answers and things that will be helpful. The problem is, when I’m depressed, it takes over my brain. It becomes the most important thing. I can’t connect to others because I don’t care how they’re doing because I need to fix this first. It takes over everything. I talk about it with my friends. I think about it all the time. It becomes all about me and sometimes I don’t even think to ask my friends how they’re doing.

5. It takes things that used to be fun and makes them horrible. I started crying at a Slackers show a few months ago. Slackers and Pietasters, a lineup I would’ve killed to see in high school. So I go to this show, and instead of having fun with the music, I start thinking about how I’m not here with friends and can’t stop fixating on the couple near me who are snuggling just a little too much, and I start feeling lonely, and the next thing I know I’m crouched down against the wall crying. At a fucking ska show. Fucking fantastic. I then feel stupid and shitty about myself for the next three days, because what kind of person can’t get it together long enough to enjoy a concert?

6. It makes me tired.

That’s enough for now, I think.