Judge Todd Baugh & Stacey Rambold: MURDERERS

 

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I have the tendency, which in this day and age is often a curse, to be long-winded.  It stems from a desire to be thorough and persuasive.  But in the era of reading pixels I know that I have to truncate even when a subject triggers an avalanche of words.  I will not rehash the entire case of Judge Todd Baugh and high school teacher Stacey Rambold and the teenaged girl who lay down in her mother’s bed and shot herself in the head after being repeatedly raped by Mr. Rambold.  You can read the whole story here or elsewhere.

 

When I read the short article on CNN’s iPhone app (on Labor Day in the lovely Cascade Mountains while my toddler played in the sun nearby, I might add, which indicates I need some boundary work), I felt a confusing form of rage take shape in my gut.  While a 49 year old teacher who grooms and then repeatedly rapes a 14 year old student has committed a monstrous act and deserves to be severely punished, this type of male violence/power is as old as our species.  Weak men succumb to strong biology.   I realized that the preponderance of rage I felt was saved for Judge Todd Baugh.  Upon handing down a 30 day sentence to Rambold, the judge said the following about the dead teenager: “She was as much in control of the situation as her teacher…she was older than her chronological age.”

 

That misogyny lives on among men of power is no mystery—and is the key reason why that particular form of oppression persists so strongly in our society.  But when men with power use their position to make statements defending misogyny and the sexual abuse of girls, they have stepped far outside of their rights to bigoted opinion. While we might naively hope that judges would leave their bigotries and biases at the door the courtroom, we all know that’s often not true.  But to demand accountability for publically singing the defense of child rape as a judge, from the bench, seems incumbent upon every single person who loves a female in this culture.

 

Fourteen year old girls who act out sexually (if indeed that was the case at all, as the defense would have us believe) need mental health support.  That at least two men of authority and responsibility in her life offered her victimization and demonization instead is a horrific precedent to witness in 2013.  If I had it my way, Mr. Rambold would spend the full 15 years in a prison; if I had it my way, I’d meet Judge Baugh in the ring.

 

Sign the Change.org petition to demand Baugh’s resignation here

Sign the Moveon.org petition here

Watch CNN’s Dr. Drew almost lose his shit tearing Judge Baugh apart here

The Blind Alley & the Mirror: A Dream

 

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I turn down an alley, aiming to enter wherever it is I am going through a back entrance.  The typically grimy and dumpster-cluttered stretch lays before me, fire escapes climbing the dripping walls like metal spider legs and shards of cardboard thrown like oversized blank playing cards in puddles.  It appears this is a blind alley, which causes me to wonder when and why someone constructed a wall to seal it because it was not always this way.  But as I approach I realize the alley has always been blind, only there’s a long, tall mirror that stands against the wall so that normally it reflects you coming as well as the opening at the other end.  But as I draw nearer, I see the mirror has tilted forward, the top right corner catching on a loop of rusty wire so it hasn’t fallen, but it’s leaning toward the ground, reflecting only the dirty blacktop, which is why, of course, it looked as if the alley had been blinded/sealed.  As I approach the mirror, it undulates, as if it’s just plasterboard mirror glass with no backing and now it’s cracking and small pieces are falling off and I realize I’m in my underwear and have this enormous, possibly deadly item in my hands and am dancing around with it now, trying to figure out how to let go of the mirror in a way that will keep it from slicing me to ribbons.

Dear North Carolina Redux

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I’ve written before about my deep love for North Carolina, where I spent three raucous literary years, not only writing memoir, elegy, love stories and creepy fiction but also learning unwieldily lessons about myself, the south, teaching and healing trauma and grief with the pen.  I was taken down a peg by thoughtful, slightly conservative farm boys who became some of my best friends, and I prevailed hard upon their senses to rethink some of what I perceived as assbackwards values.  I spent a lot of time as an infantile leftist in my college years and after, so the immersion in an old Southern city like Wilmington for graduate school and exposure to thoughtful opponents was very good for my  tolerance and moved me forward in being able to communicate respectfully instead of shout.  Of course, I couldn’t help but hope that North Carolina would bleed out of its bigoted, hateful history in time for the first black President.  Like many a guilty white boy, I had my eyes on race (also, it’s quite difficult not to focus on skin color given Wilmington’s particular history–see Philip Gerard’s Cape Fear Rising for a full account).  But last year when NC voted down gay marriage–or to “protect” traditional marriage–I was deeply saddened, out of proportion to my expectations that should have been low, I suppose.  I wrote a sad letter to North Carolina, published here.  What I failed to note in my writing then was that it was nothing less than a miracle that North Carolina came as close as it did to joining the progressive tide on the issue of gay rights.  I failed to see progress from another angle.  

 

I’ve heard snippets of newscasts over the last few days. In one, I was told the anecdote of Governor Pat McCrory delivering a plate of chocolate chip cookies to pro-choice protesters dressed as 50s housewives.  He insisted it was a “peace offering” (read: you can’t have abortion, but you can have cookies…peace!) without a trace of irony.  In another brief reading of some article between various tasks at my desk, I understand that North Carolina has made it legal to bring guns into bars, which makes sense, because, you know, drunk people are dangerous sometimes.  And in yet another blast of newsworthiness from NC, radically restrictive abortion regulations have sailed through as a rider on a motorcycle safety bill.  After all, motorcyclists need more protection just as the whores who get pregnant out of wedlock or because they’ve been raped (probably due to their own impure actions) need to know they’re not going to be able to just get rid of that baby “safely.”  So, in a way, it’s kind of poetic–you know, motorcycle “safety” and abortion danger.  

 

It’s really like a dystopian novel unfolding in a way, shit you just can’t make up.  

 

But I’m not going to make the mistake I made last year in writing a scornful, sad and dismissive letter to North Carolina.  Because I’ve grown up some more and had the great good fortune of insightful thinkers, both southerners and godless Pacific Northwesterners, to push my thinking around usefully.  North Carolina is flying a purple flag today; North Carolina is a battle ground; North Carolina is in the midst of a beautiful struggle and every single week dozens or hundreds of brave people put their bodies on the line in the effort to haul North Carolina–like an old school dredge that cut through old swamps of the state–into the bright future of progressive social values.  All of the brave people who populate the movements in North Carolina are defying history and defining the future and they deserve letters of encouragement and love, not disappointment and shortsightedness.  Here is mine for today.

 

(Oh, and if you want to know the whole political story, google “Art Pope.”)

 

(And if you want an encapsulated, hilarious version, read Dave Gessner’s cartoon)

WHAT DOES MANHOOD MEAN TO YOU?

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Recently Ross Reynolds of KUOW’s the Conversation (who will interview me August 12th about my memoir/love story Clearly Now, the Rain) did a brilliant interview/call-in show about “what it means to be a man.”  Lately I’ve also been reading this radical, raw and thoughtful blog called The Good Men Project.  So I was just very slightly more prepared than I ordinarily would have been when my Treating Internalized Oppression instructor told me I absolutely had to work on my internalized male oppression. 

 

Now.  What this means in the context of Jerry Saltzman’s class is that you write up everything you can remember or have ever felt about being a man—every stumble, every shame, every sorrow—you send it to the other twenty people in the class and then you go face to face with Jerry for a counseling session in front of said class.  He is as consistent and vehement in his warnings about how emotionally traumatizing the course will be as he is laudatory of those of us “courageous” enough to go through it.  I get to go first. 

 

Like many people, I’d imagine, I have been trying to cognitively get a handle on what exactly “internalized male oppression” looks, feels or sounds like.  According to the model in the course, every identity comes pre-stocked with oppression.  The price of identity is, in fact, oppression.  Jerry talks a lot about “contradictions” as psychotherapeutic interventions.  I can say this much: simply the notion that a guy like me could be considered oppressed (in addition to oppressive) is a wallop of a fucking contradiction to every analysis I’ve ever rendered. 

 

But in preparing my outline for the class, some things did start to shift.  I realized that my view of how to properly be a man is quite dialectic—or to be more honest, contradictory.  There is so much about “traditional” maleness and male roles that I’m not ready to abdicate, and I don’t mean about privilege, I mean about responsibility.  I know that there are feminists out there (still) who would probably prefer you not hold a beefy door open for them, much less posse up with your boys to beat down a rapist (that was a long time ago).  I’m not so naïve—especially at this point in my pursuit of a psych degree—to fail to realize that rape is about power and only manifests as violence and so using violence to disempower a rapist is probably only maintaining homeostasis in the bigger sick system, etc.  But still.  It’s better than doing nothing—turning a blind eye, actively condoning, shrugging.  And I still think that when I see a man strike or bully a woman or a child, it’s my responsibility as another man to do something.  But I know both men and women who would make the argument eloquently that my notions are chauvinist and do a disservice to the cultivation of a true gender equality.  I know men who despite employing what I might feel are inappropriate ponytails and limp handshakes, probably are keeping it more real in terms of true gender equality than I am.  Maybe part of gender equality means letting go of trappings of maleness and sliding somewhat toward the center of what many people now consider a spectrum. 

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to be a man?  Or a feminist man?  What are not willing to let go of?  

Small Talk

You’re getting a Master’s degree in psychology.  People want to know what that means.  They ask you if you’re going to be able to write prescriptions.  They ask you if you’re going to be testifying in murder cases.  They ask if you’ve been offered any decent jobs by the FBI.  They want to know if the things they heard on mushrooms last month mean they are schizophrenic.  They want to tell you about their love stories with “psychotic” exes (you explain that they probably mean “psychopathic,” but that that’s unlikely, too).  Often, they want to hear that not remembering most of your childhood is ok and normal and does not mean that they’ve repressed recollection of a ritual sex ring.  So you explain that actually what you’re training to be—what you’re already doing, only in internship so you don’t paid—is family therapy, or, if it seems more prudent, youth counseling.  Sometimes the fire of interest withers in their eyes at this point.  Sometimes they tell you how wonderful you are (especially if they also ask how much you’ll make).  Often, they want to know the harrowing details of your clients’ lives.  If you share anything, they want to know how you do it, how you leave your work at work and protect your heart.  You do fine with all of this, usually.  There is only one thing you do poorly with: when people—almost always older adults with grown children—express head-shaking sympathy for the poor parents of these fucked up kids that you serve.  Then you want to tell them in no uncertain terms what it actually means, this whole “family therapy” thing: that the state of a kid’s mental health is, nine times out of ten, a response to the family he or she lives in.  That we are only as “sick” as the family systems we form a part of.  That the next time a parent brings in a skateboarding “defiant” fourteen year old boy or a purging, self-harming sixteen-year old girl for you to “fix,” you’re going to have to take some deep breaths before responding.  

Stubborn Ounces: A Question

I’m sitting in the offices of the Social Justice Fund on the 8th floor of an old office building in the heart of downtown Seattle.  I’ve spent dozens of hours in this space, watching dust motes in the sunrays and, alternately, discussing and debating grant proposals, race and class issues and strategies for social change.  I’m no longer a board member after four transformative years, but it still feels a bit like work—and a bit like a kind of home.  I’m back here to sit on a committee that will pool brainpower for the efforts of large-scale fundraising. 

 

On the wall is a handwritten copy of a poem by Bonaro Overstreet, which a staff member pinned to the wall to break open the last long meeting I sat through here (if memory serves).

 

Stubborn Ounces

 

You say the little efforts

Will do no good, they will

Never prevail to tip the hovering scale

Where justice hangs

In the balance

 

I don’t think I ever

Thought they would.  But I am

Prejudiced beyond debate in

Favor of my right to choose

Which side shall feel the stubborn

Ounces of my weight

 

On the way here this afternoon, Democracy Now’s daily podcast played in my ear through the new Bluetooth earpiece that I bought to raise my safety quotient (though on a motorcycle, it’s really neither here nor there since I wouldn’t likely be noodling my phone with one hand anyway).  As per policy, DN throws their beams of light around neglected corners of the days’ dark news.  In this case, that meant spotlighting the numerous and passionate street protests that have indeed erupted since the Zimmerman verdict came down on Saturday night.  Without the char and bite of blood and fire from riots in the air, the MSM would have us thinking that all was quiet on the sweltering blocks of America.  Not true: instead, as one youth activist stated on the show, young people are smarter than riots now—they have social media and savvy and history lessons and, just slightly, the momentum of the modern world on their side. 

 

But I wonder how all the young activists in the streets of Austin and New York City and Oakland and Tallahassee feel about stubborn ounces.  I can recall wrestling with this notion myself in college, long before I ever heard of the poem.  In 1997 I marched with the United Farm Workers through Watsonville, CA to protest the brutality and exploitation embodied by the strawberry industry (I also got tossed from an IHOP for distributing flyers to waffle-and-compote munchers, which felt carefree compared to the march under central Cali heat and the glares of state troopers).  I remember telling a friend who’d tagged along for the adventure of it that “I’d march even if I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to do any good for the workers—it’s still the right thing to do.”  I was more thinking aloud than articulating a philosophy; I was asking myself the question more than stating a principle.  It just came out as conviction like so much of my hubris did then. 

 

But in truth I am not sure I’ve answered the question fully.  I’m not as sure as Overstreet.  When placing your stubborn ounces costs you tears, blood and sweat, does it make sense to place them when you don’t necessarily believe they will tally a victory or a change?  Does it make sense instead to place them on scales that they can tip?  And what does that mean?  What does that look like?  Should I finish my module on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy instead of blogging about Trayvon Martin so I can serve my clients with more clinical skill tomorrow?  Should I go home and play with my son tenderly to inch him toward a man I can be proud of in this world instead of attending another SJF meeting?

 

What do you think?  

COLT 1911: A Partial Timeline

 

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Colt (n.):

 

young male horse;

inexperienced young person

 

The M1911 is a single-actionsemi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge,[1] which served as the standard-issue side arm for the United States armed forces from 1911 to 1985. It was widely used in World War IWorld War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The M1911 is still carried by some U.S. forces

 

[Patented April 20, 1897, September 9, 1902, December 8, 1905, February 14, 1911, August 19, 1913, Colt’s Pt. F.A. Mfg Co, Hartford, CT, USA, United State Property No. 1138164, M1911 A1 U.S. Army]

 

***

1943

 

The man-boy is slope-shouldered and a very long way from central Illinois.  He walks the battlefield with a gait that would be considered leisurely if he were barefoot on a beach or even sneaker-shod on his suburban block back home, strolling to a cheerful country store for this or that staple.  But the slow scissoring of his legs now navigates him through trenches, disappearing his sodden boots in muck and gore.  He moves across charred ground, between and over corpses in some cases still smoking from the heat of their end.  These are Germans—Krauts—and he is American—brave and righteous—but I imagine that he glimpses the features of other human boys fading like the cordite clouds wafting around him.  I imagine that he has drawn the 1911 and grips it like one might the bar of a roller coaster or the armrest of the seat on a turbulence-tossed jetliner.  I imagine that he spools through his marksmanship training in his head, sees pumpkins on some Midwestern range, orange planets burst against the horizon by his rounds and tries to take comfort from that.  I imagine that at least once a body not fully finished with the grisly kinetics of this world jerks and that the boy fires an unnecessary round into a thigh or shoulder or face.  I imagine that there is something of both unveiling and of disguising in the macabre work he begins to do: plucking two pound steel swastikas from around the necks of the gone boys in the mud, tugging away helmets that despite his gentleness retain a lock of bristly hair, the more familiar and mechanical unholstering of Luger pistols that he then slips into his belt on either side of where the 1911 will ride when he can afford to release it from his ready grip.  I imagine that taking these things is, for a soldier, bittersweet vengeance and ritual, but that in this removal of Nazi symbols, he is also returning these boys to boyhood, hiding them in the mass grave for innocence he and his generation were digging faithfully.  I imagine that this disrobing of the accoutrements of war is, to him, a counterpoint to what he has done, does, will perhaps have to do, with his 1911.

 

I imagine that this is what my father imagined of his own father; it’s what I remember seeing in my mind, more or less, as a result of the words my father spoke about this.  But my father is dead and gone now and my aunt chops down my version with a brief email correction even as I type the last line.    

 

My father was first commissioned into the army as an officer. He was transferred to the Navy as Lt. JG and serviced on the ship the “Normandy.”  He was assigned to the ship’s store and as far I know, he remained in that capacity until the end of European invasion in 1943 (?).  He reached the rank of Lt. Commander. 

     Your version would make a better story, but his war memorabilia was acquired through his shipping connections.

He was quite a collector.  I think it was his curiosity and the love of documentation taught by a beloved aunt. 

     He was a Delta Kappa Epsilon with its incumbent appreciation of aromatic spirits of the beverage variety.

 

I must have imagined the traumatic traipse of another man across some savaged dirt of France. Perhaps my own father did, too. Maybe I’ve written pure fiction about the original journey of the M1911 Colt—then again, given the truth of that memorabilia in my basement, how pure could it be? 

SELECTED DISPATCHES FROM THE GUERRILLA LIT GRIND

May 14th, 4:16 a.m. PST (Facebook)

 

I finished your book last night. It’s going to stick with me for a very long time. It’s achingly beautiful. You did Serala right in this book. And yourself. I kept coming back to the fact that I’ve never come close to any of the experiences you’ve been through, and yet I could totally, completely understand everything, and feel, deeply, for every single person in your book. I found myself folding down page after page because I want to go back and read those pages again and again.

 

May 4th, 1:03 p.m. EST (Facebook)

 

NOT interested.

 

 

May 3rd, 3:57 a.m. PDT (email)

 

I bought your book and it came two days ago and I just finished it, spending many more hours last night and tonight reading rather than sleeping, and wanted to thank you for the journey of your life that you were willing to share through the memories written across pages. I think you are very brave.

 

I cried hard in the end, for your pain, for “serala’s” resiliency and sorrow, and for the many glimpses of myself that I couldn’t deny.

 

All this to say, thank you. And well fucking done.

 

 

May 9th, 8:00 p.m., EST (a visit to X local indie bookstore)

 

“Hey, how are you?  I’m a local author, just released a book this month.  I’ve been in touch with you guys a bit as I think my publisher has.  I wondered why I couldn’t find my book here…?”

 

“Hold on.”

 

[Slim hipster slides to the computer monitor and strikes keys, slides back].

 

“Well, we had two in stock, but it looks like they sold out right away.”

 

“Oh…..great…..?”

 

“Yeah. So, we’ve ordered two more.  They should be on their way.”

 

May 10th, 2013, 10:15 a.m. PST (text)

Reached out to X (mega-indie) bookstore for you.  No luck.  Here’s the response: ‘I looked into Eli’s book and our buyers elected not to carry that title in stores.  We don’t bring inventory into stores though events, so we would decline a request to host Eli.  This goes without saying, but this is not a judgmento n [sic] the quality of Eli’s work, we just can’t carry every title that get’s [sic] published each season.’

 

January 15th, 2009, 10:15 a.m., PST (email)

 

Dear Author:

 

Please forgive this impersonal note regarding your query, which we have considered but must decline. As we receive a tremendous number of queries, we are unable to respond to each submission individually, but we thank you for the opportunity to review your work.

 

We encourage you to keep writing and to try other agents.

 

Yours sincerely

 

February 26th, 2011, 3:53 p.m. EST (email)

 

Dear Agent X: I’m glad to be able to finally get something like an initial offer out for you and Eli…. But I want you both to know, no matter what happens, that I truly love this book. I’m haunted by it, and honestly, I’m kinda in awe. Now. Still.

 

To get it into enough folks hands we’re going to have to be creative in how we market it, and we’re going to have to get Eli as involved as possible—talking about it to anyone who’ll listen.

 

And then, hopefully, a couple great reviews. And then good word of mouth….

 

And finally, again hopefully, it really takes off.

 

It deserves nothing less.

 

You know I wish I could offer the moon, but this really is fuzzy and uncharted territory for ECW. I honestly don’t know how the book will do—all I know is that it has to be done.

 

 

 

 

March 19th, 2013, 14:25, KCJD, Delta Hall

Today, the doors are salmon.  Well, all days the doors are salmon—what I should say is that today we are in Delta Hall (instead of Echo Hall or King Hall or Lima Hall or), which is the same as all the other halls in every aspect except for the fact that the cell doors are salmon.  This lone stroke of individuality and color, this solo suggestion that monochrome and uniform is not necessarily the tyrant it seems, has always struck me as odd.  What was the bureaucratic process like that ushered in the decision to brightly paint the cell doors of juvenile detention?  To enforce a rigid standardization that is straight up disorienting—even after five years of Tuesdays in here, I still walk the wrong direction down the hallway half the time—but to allow (or did someone insist?)—upon a blaze of primary color for the cell doors, a shocking slate of liveliness to host the stenciled black numeral 1 – 10.  It is a small triumph but I can only say that, perhaps, as a visitor.  Maybe if I were a resident I would see it as a taunt, or a jibe.  The carnivaling of the enclosure.  The truth is that these colored cell doors frame rectangular portions of kids’ faces when they press against the plexiglass window in curiosity, desperation, fear, expectation of release.  Maybe seeing dozens of pairs of kids’ eyes framed in that little window became too heavy for the (after all) heart-bearing guards swiveling at their control posts.  Maybe someone fought the fight to make sure the sets of eyes were properly framed by fresh color.  Maybe these doors are nothing more than rose-colored glasses, a way of fooling oneself into seeing cheer instead of devastation.

 

Still, I like the salmon, and the canary yellow, though I am unsure about the hue of blue down in Lima.

Crocus Punch

 

 

For FP

 

It’s true to say that there were April freeways—

More true, in fact, than to say that there was pain

 

Pain is a squirrely concept, sullied and conflated

As it is with time’s inevitable rot

 

April freeways are sleek black ribbons

Beneath blue canvases like God Frisbees and

 

Always there is the bang of a stock car stereo uncontaining

Guitar licks and the sunroof doing that

 

Thing with the cigarette smoke as well as

Dark glasses and her dark locks like bullwhips

 

In the wind and most importantly of course

There are bends in the road and countless

 

Possible destinations