Of Monster-Mongers and Men

Despite exhibiting absolutely zero clue why the suspects bombed the Boston Marathon, the New York Times devoted the first third of its front-page piece to its unsubstantiated allegations that the brothers were radical Islamist Chechen separatists.

The first day of high school journalism class [La Puma holla back (gender errors and all)], we were taught about something called the “inverted pyramid.”  You begin your news article with a catchy lede; then you provide the most important / urgent data; then you fill in the background.  Part of the inverted pyramid’s rationale – that people rarely read a whole article, and even less frequently flip from the front page to B23580 for the last 70%, and thus your editor can just lop off the end wherever it needs to make space – is less relevant in the digital age.  But again, the basic premise is, give me the necessary information first, and if I have the time and the interest, I can learn more relevant, but less important, information if I want to.

Boston is chaos, the nation reels, and I awoke to learn that one suspect is dead and the other is on the run as I type.  (In the ten minutes I take to wrench this out, maybe the other will be dead, too.)

So what should we see in a news article?

The lede: one suspect dead, the other on the run, New England stay away from your windows, we’re working on it and will give you the real-time info to keep you safe.

The first few paragraphs: Here’s what we know: Suspect 1, killed, was [[[[]]]]].  Suspect 2 is [[[[[]]]]]]] – please look out for him, and tweet us @[[]]]] if you know where he is.

Or maybe this: Here are the acts of violence – the MIT murder, the 7-11 robbery, the carjacking – that transpired while you were sleeping.  Here’s the fallout.

Or maybe this: Look at how well local, state, and federal, and public and private, agencies are working together to identify the suspects in an amazingly short time; or to take care of the wounded; or to keep the city running; or to hold each other up.

But instead, the New York Times has posted a ~1775-word article[1], speculating for ~500 words, in the first third of the piece, about the brothers’ supposed Chechen origins and embrace of fundamentalist Islam.  On in the last third of the piece does the NYT report on the tangible, supported facts more relevant to its readers’ safety: Beth Israel’s initiative, the MIT  shooting, the obligatory “holy ballsacks I’m freaking the shit out” quotes from neighbors.

Compare the Grey Lady’s coverage to, of all papers, the Wall Street Journal[2].  Its front page article, which I accessed four minutes after clicking the NYT equivalent, highlights the lede: “U.S. authorities on Friday locked down the Boston area in the hunt for one of two brothers of Chechen background suspected in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.”  However, that is the last time the WSJ mentions the suspects’ ethnicity; instead, the article focuses on more traditional, pressing subjects, such as the shutdown of civilian aircraft traffic, local universities, and entire neighborhoods.

So here’s the problem: based on the actual NYT article, we can infer that the Times has NO FUCKING CLUE why these men set off these bombs.  The closest it gets is the following:

On Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social media platform, the younger brother, Dzhokhar, describes his worldview as “Islam” and, asked to identify “the main thing in life,” answers “career and money.”  He lists a series of affinity groups relating to Chechnya, and lists a verse from the Koran, “Do good, because Allah loves those who do good.”

Alright.  Good job; you found his social media presence.  He must be a Chechen separatist!  Because (1) his main thing in life is actually two: career AND money! and (2) that Chechen conflict is super fucking timely, bro!

The NYT doesn’t live in a cave: it is both a product and constructor of our ideas.  Here, it latches on to a narrative that, man, we’d love – more crazy Islamists! – and demonstrates that it, too is vulnerable to knee-jerk stereotyping and jumping to conclusions.  Furthermore, it fuels our desire to pigeonhole any mass violence into some Other category – Islam, of course, the most prominent one.

So, the Times is irresponsible because it’s implying that Islam fucked us over again, without providing any reason to believe that these two were motivated by some sort of religious fervor.  (That they failed to take responsibility or make political statements over the past week would also support the inference that they just might not be religiously-motivated).

Now, what’s more interesting (and less “not this fucking racist-ass shit again, newspaper”) to me is the paragraph that immediately follow the “AHHHH CHECHEN REBELS” stuff:

One former schoolmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Massachusetts described him as “very sweet,” adding, “I never heard anyone say a bad word about him.” Another, Meron Woldemariam, 17, the manager of the school volleyball team that Mr. Tsarnaev had played for, said that he had left the team in the middle of the season to wrestle. She described him as normal — sociable, friendly and fun to talk to. He was a senior when she was a freshman.

Here we have another classic trope: “oh, he was so sweet and quiet, but nobody knew him that well – I can’t believe he could do something like this!”

How we view these suspects just might be the perfect amalgamation of America’s two mass violence narratives: (1) fundamentalist Islamist and (2) misunderstood whiteboy-next-door.  Yes, they have funny foreign names, but they visually pass for so damn white!  Yes, they’re immigrants, but they have both parents and two sisters and live in Cambridge!

What will we do with this perfect storm of mass violence-perpetrator stereotypes?  Stay tuned, boys and girls!  Meanwhile, it is April 19, 2013, and so far this year, there have been at least 87 homicides in Chicago (pop. 2,707,120), 26 in Oakland (pop. 395,817), and the United States Senate shat on gun control reform (we love the Second Amendment) while the House passed CISPA (who gives a shit about the Fourth?).


[1] 4/19/13 Dragnet Shuts Boston, One Suspect Slain – Vast Manhunt for 2nd Bombing Suspect – NYTimes.com

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and MICHAEL COOPER

BOSTON — One of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings was killed early Friday morning after leading the police on a wild chase after the fatal shooting of a campus police officer, while the other was sought in an immense manhunt that shut down large parts of the area. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts said residents of Boston and its neighboring communities should “stay indoors, with their doors locked.”

The two suspects were identified by law enforcement officials as brothers. The surviving suspect was identified as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., a law enforcement official said. The one who was killed was identified as his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. The authorities were investigating whether the dead man had a homemade bomb strapped to his body when he was killed, two law enforcement officials said.

The manhunt sent the Boston region into the grip of a security emergency, as hundreds of police officers conducted a wide search and all public transit services were suspended.

Col. Timothy P. Alben of the Massachusetts State Police said investigators believed that the two men were responsible for the death of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and the shooting of an officer with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the region’s transit authority. “We believe these are the same individuals that were responsible for the bombing on Monday at the Boston Marathon,” he said.

Officials said that the two men were of Chechen origin. Chechnya, a long-­disputed, predominantly Muslim territory in southern Russia sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then fought two bloody wars with the authorities in Moscow. Russian assaults on Chechnya were brutal and killed tens of thousands of civilians, as terrorist groups from the region staged attacks in central Russia. In recent years, separatist militant groups have gone underground, and surviving leaders have embraced fundamentalist Islam.

The family lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, near Chechnya, before moving to the United States, said a school administrator there. Irina V. Bandurina, secretary to the director of School No. 1, said the Tsarnaev family left Dagestan for the United States in 2002 after living there for about a year. She said the family — parents, two boys and two girls — had lived in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan previously.

The brothers have substantial presences on social media. On Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social media platform, the younger brother, Dzhokhar, describes his worldview as “Islam” and, asked to identify “the main thing in life,” answers “career and money.” He lists a series of affinity groups relating to Chechnya, and lists a verse from the Koran, “Do good, because Allah loves those who do good.”

One former schoolmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Massachusetts described him as “very sweet,” adding, “I never heard anyone say a bad word about him.” Another, Meron Woldemariam, 17, the manager of the school volleyball team that Mr. Tsarnaev had played for, said that he had left the team in the middle of the season to wrestle. She described him as normal — sociable, friendly and fun to talk to. He was a senior when she was a freshman.

The older brother left a record on YouTube of his favorite clips, which included Russian rap videos, as well as testimonial from a young ethnic Russian man titled “How I accepted Islam and became a Shiite,” and a clip “Seven Steps to Successful Prayer.”

Alvi Karimov, the spokesman for Ramzan A. Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, said the Tsarnaev brothers had not lived in Chechnya for many years. He told the Interfax news service that, according to preliminary information, the family “moved to a different region of the Russian Federation from Chechnya many years ago.” He continued, “Then the family lived for a long time in Kazakhstan, and from there moved to the United States, where the members of the family received residency permits.”

“In such a way, the figures who are being spoken about did not live in Chechnya at a mature age, and if they became ‘bad guys,’ then this is a question that should be put to the people who raised them,” he said.

Early Friday, a virtual army of heavily armed law enforcement officers was going through houses in Watertown, outside of Boston, one by one in a search for the second suspect. The police had blocked off a 20-­block residential area and urged residents emphatically to stay inside their homes and not answer their doors.

The Boston police commissioner, Edward Davis, said, “We believe this to be a man who’s come here to kill people, and we need to get him in custody.”

In Washington, as well as in the Boston area, law enforcement and counterterrorism officials were scrambling to determine whether the two brothers had any accomplices still at large and whether they had any connections to foreign or domestic terrorist organizations.

Intelligence analysts were poring over the brothers’ e-­mails, cellphone records and postings on Facebook and other social media for clues. Authorities have also started interviewing family members, friends and other associates for information about the men, and any possible ties to extremist groups or causes, officials said.

Federal officials are also checking to see if either brother had traveled outside the United States, perhaps to receive training. “They will take these guys’ lives apart,” said one senior retired law enforcement official.

As the manhunt grew in intensity, law enforcement officials throughout New England tried to chase down leads.

The authorities in Boston notified transit police officials that there was a possibility the surviving suspect had boarded the last Amtrak train from Boston bound for New York City in the early morning on Friday, according to an official with knowledge of the matter.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police, which has authority over the tracks in New York and Connecticut, along with the police from Norwalk, Ct., stopped that train between the East Norwalk and Westport, Ct., stations;; the Norwalk Police Department’s

SWAT team swept the train, but did not find the suspect, the official said. While the authorities believe it was unlikely he was aboard, they were reviewing video surveillance footage from the stations in Providence, New Haven and New London to be sure that the suspect did not get off before the train was stopped and searched.

At least one Metro North train, operated by the MTA on the same tracks over which Amtrak travels, was also stopped by the Westport Police for reasons that were unclear, the official said.

And the Connecticut State Police announced that it had received information suggesting that the suspect could be operating a gray Honda CRV, with a Massachusetts registration number 316 ES9. “Connecticut troopers are posted strategically in our state and continue to communicate with Massachusetts authorities,” the state police said in a statement.

In Boston, where gunfire ricocheted around a tranquil neighborhood, residents were later told to go into their basements and stay away from windows.

The pursuit began after 10 p.m. Thursday when two men robbed a 7-­Eleven near Central Square in Cambridge. A security camera caught a man identified as one of the suspects wearing a gray hooded shirt.

About 10:30 p.m., the police received reports that Sean Collier, a campus security officer at M.I.T., had been shot while he sat in his police cruiser. He was found with multiple gunshot wounds, according to a statement issued by the acting Middlesex district attorney, Michael Pelgro, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas and the M.I.T. police chief, John DiFava. The officer was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A short time later, the police received reports of an armed carjacking of a Mercedes sport-­ utility vehicle by two males in the area of Third Street in Cambridge, the statement said. “The victim was carjacked at gunpoint by two males and was kept in the car with the suspects for approximately a half hour,” the statement said. He was later released, uninjured, at a gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge.

The police immediately began to search for the vehicle and pursued it into Watertown. During the chase, “explosive devices were reportedly thrown from car by the suspects,” the statement said, and the suspects and police exchanged gunfire in the area of Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street.

A Watertown resident, Andrew Kitzenberg, 29, said he looked out his third-­floor window to see two young men of slight build in jackets engaged in “constant gunfire” with police officers.

A police S.U.V. “drove towards the shooters,” he said, and was shot at until it was severely damaged. It rolled out of control, Mr. Kitzenberg said, and crashed into two cars in his driveway.

The two shooters, he said, had a large, unwieldy bomb that he said looked “like a pressure cooker.”

“They lit it, still in the middle of the gunfire, and threw it,” he said. “But it went 20 yards at most.” It exploded, he said, and one man ran toward the gathered police officers. He was tackled, but it was not clear if he was shot, Mr. Kitzenberg said.

The explosions, said another resident, Loretta Kehayias, 65, “lit up the whole house.” She said, “I screamed. I’ve never seen anything like this, never, never, never.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kitzenberg said the other man got back into the S.U.V., turned it toward officers and “put the pedal to the metal.” The car “went right through the cops, broke right through and continued west.”

The two men left “a few backpacks right by the car, and there is a bomb robot out there now,” he said.

During this exchange, an MBTA police officer was seriously wounded and taken to the hospital.

At the same time, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was critically injured with multiple gunshot wounds and taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, where he was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m., officials said.

A doctor who works at Beth Israel, and who lived in the area of the chase and shootout, said he was working at home around 1 a.m. when he heard the wailing sirens. He said at a news conference at Beth Israel that he recognized that something was wrong and alerted his emergency room to prepare for something.

Katharine Q. Seelye reported from Boston, and Michael Cooper from New York. Richard A. Oppel

Jr, Jess Bidgood, Serge F. Kovaleski and John Eligon contributed reporting from Boston; William K. Rashbaum and Ravi Somaiya from New York; Eric Schmitt from Washington and Ellen Barry from Moscow.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 19, 2013

An earlier version misspelled the name of a resident who described the police activity in Watertown, Mass. He is Andrew Kitzenberg, not Kitzenburg. An earlier version of this article also misstated where the suspects and police exchanged gunfire. It is Dexter Avenue, not Dexter Street.

***

[2]4/19/13 Boston Bombing Suspect Killed in Shootout – WSJ.com

online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324493704578432030609754740.html#printMode 1/5

Updated April 19, 2013, 10:30 a.m. ET

By EVAN PEREZ, J ENNIFER SMITH and PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

U.S. authorities on Friday locked down the Boston area in the hunt for one of two brothers of Chechen background suspected in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Authorities identified one suspect as 26-­year-­old Tamerlan Tsarnayev, who was killed in a confrontation with police in Watertown, Mass., according to a U.S. law-­enforcement official.

A manhunt was on for the second suspect, identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnayev, 19 years old. Both brothers were believed to be involved in the fatal shooting of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer during a chaotic series of events Thursday night.

Police warned residents that the at-­large suspect was armed and dangerous.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” said Boston Police Chief Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who’s come here to kill people. We need to get him in custody.”

The hunt for the younger Mr. Tsarnayev prompted a broad shutdown of public facilities in the Boston area.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick asked people throughout Boston to take shelter and stay indoors.

The Federal Aviation Administration closed the low-­ level airspace above roughly four miles in northwest Greater Boston as the search goes on. Logan International Airport in Boston tweeted that it “is open and operating under heightened security.” It urged fliers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

The younger brother was the suspect seen wearing a white cap backward in video and photos released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Thursday. The release prompted a large number of tips from the public, federal officials said. The older brother was wearing a black cap in the video and photos.

The younger Tsarnayev is a student at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, university spokesman Robert Lamontagne said. The university is located in southeast Massachusetts, about an hour south of Boston.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the campus has been closed,” he said in an email. “Students, staff and faculty who have not already evacuated have been told to shelter in place. No one is being allowed on campus.”

Authorities said the older brother was critically injured in the shootout and taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he was pronounced dead. Richard Wolfe, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine, said the man had multiple injuries from what appeared to be both an explosive device and gunshot wounds.

Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday morning briefed President Barack Obama on the latest in the manhunt. An administration official said the president and Vice President Joe Biden convened a meeting around 9:45 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with his top national-­security officials, to follow up on briefings he had received through the night.

Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), who sits on the House homeland security and intelligence committees, said he hopes the fugitive is captured peacefully. “I’m hoping they get the second guy alive and can interrogate him, so we can figure out, did they do it on their own or are they affiliated with a larger group?” FBI agents in Maryland are interviewing two of the suspects’ uncles in Maryland, U.S. law-­enforcement officials said. The relatives are cooperating and the activity isn’t related to any potential threat, the officials said.

Boston-­Area Standstill

The manhunt brought much of the Boston area to a halt on Friday. Mr. Patrick ordered the city’s subway and bus system to be shut down. As police conducted a sprawling search for the suspect in the Boston suburb of Watertown, authorities prohibited street traffic and told businesses there and in surrounding areas to remain closed.

Police were stopping cars at roadblocks as they entered Logan International Airport. Businesses were closed and taxi service was suspended in the city.

The websites of the MIT, Harvard, Boston University and Boston College said classes were canceled Friday.

“We do not want people congregating or waiting,” said Kurt Schwartz, the Massachusetts director of emergency management. The situation, said State Police Col. Timothy Alben, “is grave.”

The FAA has restricted all civilian aircraft within 3,000 feet of the surface over an area that appears to include Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts, an FAA spokesman said. On the FAA’s website, the reason listed for the restriction is “to provide a safer environment for law-­enforcement activities,” and the point of contact listed for the restriction is an FBI special agent. The FAA closed the airspace at about 6:30 a.m. local time and said it would remain closed until further notice.

Airport officials were not immediately available for comment.

The MIT Shooting

The violence began at around 10:30 p.m. Thursday with the robbery of a 7-­Eleven in nearby Cambridge, authorities said. The two men then fatally shot an MIT campus police officer and carjacked a Mercedes sport-­ utility vehicle at gunpoint, keeping the vehicle’s owner hostage for about a half-­hour, police said. The owner was released at a gas station in Cambridge, authorities said. He wasn’t injured.

As police pursued the vehicle, explosive devices were thrown from the car, authorities said. “There was an exchange of gunfire” between police and the suspects,” Mr. Alben said.

A Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer was wounded during the exchange.  Hundreds of police officers descended on the Cambridge and Watertown areas as the violence unfolded Thursday night, authorities said. Residents said they heard loud explosions and gunfire.

Katie Blouin, 24 years old, of Watertown, said FBI agents and local police entered her house, searching before telling her boyfriend to lock the house’s doors.

“I’m shaking,” she said. “It just makes you so nervous.”

Adonis Karageorgis, a 35-­year-­old dental student who lives in Watertown, said he heard a loud explosion from his apartment balcony. “I looked up and saw the sky light up,” he said. “You could smell the smoke.”

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center geared up for a potential mass-­casualty event when one doctor there—who lives near the scene of the gunfight— heard the commotion outside his home.

“When I started hearing the gunshots and explosions, given what had happened over at MIT and seeing all the police cars rushing into Watertown and past my house and hearing all the sirens, I knew or felt very strongly that this was related to the events from earlier this week as well as from what happened over at MIT,” said David Schoenfeld, an emergency physician there, during a news conference early Friday.

“Because of that, I felt as though something large enough was going on in the community that it warranted calling the emergency department and coming in,” he said.

The MIT campus police officer wasn’t identified. The officer had multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement on the Middlesex County District Attorney’s website.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, police were gathered in Watertown, and a stretch of the campus near Vassar Street and Main Street in Cambridge was cordoned off. Police were searching through woods with dogs and flashlights.

Dozens of police officers gathered at Massachusetts General Hospital, where the injured officer was reportedly taken. Officers directing traffic asked those who arrived in a panic: “friend or family?” A few officers wept openly as they hurried into the emergency room.

—Josh Dawsey, Jon Kamp and Jack Nicas contributed to this article.

Write to Evan Perez at evan.perez@wsj.com and Jennifer Smith at jennifer.smith@wsj.com

#11

Dear Dad,

I met a man to love, but I don’t love him. He is singular and sparkling and complementary and inspiring and he is young, a little too young still, but the world is better because he exists, and my life is better because he floated through.

As you lay dying I didn’t want to trouble you, to pile on. But she gave me away, and when I came to your side, you let me hold your hand. “You would have always had to lead,” you recognized. I’d been guilty I’d just worry you more, but yours was a cognizant benediction. Who saw me more clearly than you?

I love me, and so would not trade having you for the universe and its spoils. I wouldn’t trade you for enlightenment or transcendent romance. I love you with every colliding fucking atom and all the freedom, the peace of knowing my cells just won’t stop smashing up on each other. And my whole waking life, fron two years old, from when I was a wee bubby fitting four to a bathtub, I have held your leg, your hand, your shoulder; to heel, to guard, to close your eyes while you descended to Hades. I have never been awake without knowing you’d be gone. And so your love instilled in me some taciturn despair and #YOLOjoy and steely Fuck You that has drawn in every cop and would-be-assaulter and charming skinny nerd whom I’ve been to ignorant to notice.

We’re ten days into Lent (seems early this year). Last Sunday, the Dean emphasized that Lent is not about guilt or repentance, but instead exists to help us recognize the world on its own terms. I still don’t know what “irony” means (thanks, Alanis), but maybe something about focusing on the “world” in a space devoted to the heavens and eternity is it; or maybe here the “world” means all spaces; and to me, “world” means both what we’re in – what is seen – and how we view it – through what is seen and unseen.

What I do know is that when I remind myself to be generous with those who test my patience, or when I am brash and make fart jokes, or when I fart, or when I feel my 135 pounds shift from my left foot to my right, to my ankles forward to my toes and through my leg and my spine and into my delts and out my phalanges for a tight spiral, you’re as present as if you were just sitting in your chair, reading Larry McMurtry while I felt out some Bach, or as if you had pitched me a baseball I smacked right to your eighty-two-year-old groin, or as if I had driven 500 miles home to accompany you around the block and kick away stray sticks while using my right hand to balance you upright in your walker.

I met a man to love: one I name a “man,” which might mean that I finally think of myself, too, as “woman.” We are everything alike and somewhat not. He is bright and catalytic and handsome and honorable and fascinating, and I don’t love him, and I don’t regret him, and I don’t pine for him, and I know everything is better because he was there and I was there and I was gone and we were gone.

You and I love Bob Dylan’s autobiography, and so does this man. But I am indignant at the thesis that we drive Salinger and Dylan and whomever else underground. I find these men weak, despite the art I love so much. I understand that it could be terrifying to be adored and overanalyzed, and I appreciate that withdrawal is a wholly human response; but to gloss over their own neuroses’ responsibility for their public disappearances is to romanticize their lives for our own self-martyrdom. We didn’t make J.D. Salinger go hide in the woods. He did. And it’s absolutely okay that he did. But he wasn’t pulling no fucking Thoreau.

For decades I was terrified of everything. I don’t think people knew it. “Fake it ’til you make it,” that’s my mantra; and it works, and I keep making it. But for the past couple of years, I hardly ever feel scared anymore. For seven years, a man was beside me nearly ever single night; and then I broke free. I was still afraid of heights, so I say my best friend inspired me to start rock climbing. I was still afraid of being sawed apart, so I elected for local anesthesia when that doctor sliced up my face. I was afraid of scary movies, so I cowered into Devin’s chastity pillow when the Nazi zombies bleated their way across the Swedish tundra. And then I didn’t know what else there was to be afraid of; so I keep adventuring, and frankly, probably have been too irresponsible, ridden too many buses, tripped through too many foreign tongues, set off on too many solitary hikes, goated up too many cliffs, to satisfy my duty as my mother’s only child.

The last time we talked (the last time I tapped out some drivel to proffer up to the nonexistent heavens, your unlistening non-ears, your unseeing re-dusted eyes), I doubted the possibility of just war. And for years I’ve been angry that we – people like me – we don’t sign up. And it bugs and bugs and bugs, and it keeps me up at night – it keeps me up when I hold Nap, and it keeps me up when there’re Catholic-built men slumbering gently beside me, and it keeps me up when I’m failing to sleep on planes, and it keeps me up when I try to savasana in class.

And so when the Dean suggests we see the world on its own terms, I see that I am still scared, and that my fear cries, GO! And that in 1998, I didn’t know I had a match – but in 2013, I see that I can serve after all.

And so, Dad, I’m here on earth to do that one thing that would’ve changed your mind about Iraq. I am happy and lucky and interested and will Gatsby the shit out of biglaw. And I will do what’s right, and stick my money where my mouth is, and stand up for my boys, for the students I couldn’t help enough; for those friends I left behind when I deployed my straight teeth and my bouncy hair and my SAT scores and my servant leadership; for you and your friends, those boys in grayscale who had no choice – I will do my part, and I will join if they’ll have me, and I won’t be such a fucking hypocrite. Or at least, one tiny aspect of my life will be less hypocritical. And I won’t cast my mother as her proverbial skirt, behind which I hide.

Today, you are ninety-six years old. I’m unsure if you’d be happy or sad that I’m alone while I tap this out, sprawled in my cavernous bed. But I’m happy, I’m ecstatic, I’m in love with this life, so I know we’re okay. I love you with everything, forever, or at least until the med students start flinging my innards across their lab. And until then, I’ll keep trying to live better than you did: to actually apply intellect; to extend charm to benefit others; and to not just accept, but to cherish, human fault.

Happy Birthday, Daddy! Amo amas amat amamus amatis amant

Love,

55776_988446712734_3303251_52397739_2716832_o

Combray

The Pacific is my core. My ocean’s bouquet is what I’ve always known, but here, the Pacific’s as warm as the Atlantic, and crashes like it thinks it’s astride a craggy Highway 1. Bougainvillea wallpapers my sightline: magenta and scarlet and violet and insistent. So I’m back, a toddler in LA. And despite the indignity of wearing a stupid fucking frilly-ass polka dot bikini my mom loved because “it’s so cute” (I was never into being “cute”), I’m thrilled to be running around in the waves, my birthright. There aren’t many places where my three-year-old self felt free, but scampering and splashing in water up to my knees, with my parents multiple body-lengths away, was where my tiny little body and expansive fucking soul felt perfect. (“oh god it’s wonderful to get out of bed and drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes and love you so much”)

The shorebirds, perched atop their spindles, step with perfect elocution. The ugly pelicans chill, and ascend, and kamikaze, and kamikaze, and chill. I hoist myself up big fucking wet rocks and crouch for the perfect shot, hoping the crabs won’t crab me, but they scurry away in absolute terror.

Today I awakeninged myself into this Pacific, dropped to my ass. Lay back, consumed in the sea’s tightest fucking pull, its demanding pulse wringing me for everything. And this undertow could kill me, but I don’t care; because this – this, right here – this is where I’m calling from.

#10

Dear Dad,

At O’Hare, the uniformed boys keep getting younger, and I stay the same.  Our Army’s paged through camo pattern after pattern.  Today’s favored MultiCam didn’t even exist in those mountains until you’d been dead for years.  We’re still at war – that one you supported, until I asked if you’d had a son – and I wonder if we ever won’t be.

March 2003 was a fucking conflagration.  The AUHSD was cutting all the electives (wasn’t the economy okay back then?) and the President was about to announce all-out war, and I xangaed indignantly, railing against a man who dared send my friends to die.  What I didn’t understand, of course, was that my 94556 friends weren’t in danger at all.

You hardly glamorized war, and it didn’t seem to traumatize you.  You were grateful:”he liked me, so he sent me to radio school.”  And you were honest: “I probably wouldn’t have gone back to Yale, but then all my friends were dead anyway;” “your job is to kill people.”  But of course I’ve always been my father’s daughter, and you cultivated my interest.  You decked me out in the USMC gear I requested, and took me to the recruiters to get swag; and I papered my room in Semper Fi and bulldogs and The Rainbow Fish.

I don’t know how many times we trekked over to that Golf Course Road strip mall to talk to the recruiters.  And they were so sweet!  Lord knows what they thought of the whole proposition:  a 10-year-old girl and her 80-year-old father traipse in every few months, both grinning and charming and engaged and curious.  But one of the times the uniformed man bent down and asked if I wanted to be a Marine when I grew up, and I said “I don’t know,” and he was kind and understanding and unoffended, you – you were mortified, and you were pissed, and you berated me for wasting his time, and marched me back out again.  Left foot first.

By 1999, I’d decided I just couldn’t do it: I didn’t think it was the best alignment of public service and my own talents; and, sadly, less persuasive to me – I just didn’t want to learn to kill people.  I didn’t mind that others should, and did, learn; but twelve-year-old me didn’t want to do that to herself.

And in 2011, I’d swung back around again, seeing a way to help our uniformed boys, too many of whom enlisted because they were scared or angry or hopeless or unskilled, too few of whom will leave the military with clear life paths.  Because in 94556, one kid a year signs up for the military; and in 2005, the only steady job your crazy boyfriend can get is with the armed forces; and in 2007, you teach in Oakland Public Schools and realize that the ROTC is the only program well-funded or -liked.

And in 2007, my students, my boys, my sweet boys, my sweet boys we won’t sit next to on the subway or the bus, my sweet boys with their flash and their winks and their dullness and their hope, my boys are going out on the corner, or they’ll work in hairnets, or they’ll be dead, or they’ll enlist.  But whether clad in white Ts or dress blues, my sweet boys’ destinies are of violence and braggadocio.

Last year, I had the best day of my life: I made use of godawful German, Italian, and Croatian; hiked 15k; read a book; wrote a paper; and played pick-up water polo in the Adriatic after a school of Croat men overthrew their ball.  (Apparently, what a woman lacks in skill and size, she can compensate for with pure upper American cardiovascularism.)  And the next day, I trekked 140 kilometers into Bosnia, where a leather-faced ethnic Albanian soldier-turned-journalist strode up to me as I read on the banks of the Neretva and asked if he could tell me his stories.  “Mostar is my mistress, you understand;” he’d circle back to this phrase between urgent paragraphs, spilling with an urgency that the past seventeen years just hadn’t quenched.

When’s the last time wars were just?  Was World War II really just, or do just we post-hoc rationalize our way past all your dead friends?  Can wars, themselves, ever be just, as long as they’re subject to the whims of the few power-mad who actually want to lead nations, in the first place?  And even if they were, how could we call these wars just when we’ve broken from the draft to play out the narrative of millennia: promising dead-end boys that this, right here, right now, here is your legacy, here is your immortality.  But act now, while supplies last.

I love you forever and think of you daily and feel you in my lungs weekly when I breathe in that Episcopalian incense and have joined you in knowing all the words.

Love,

 

 

 

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Wouldn’t you like your eggs a little different today?

Shaving my legs.  It’s a lunch date and my heart isn’t in it.  I’m not getting laid, but I shave my legs anyway.  My underwear matches, so it’s lingerie.  But a primary color, a trustworthy color, and my heart isn’t in it.  I seduce with black, maroon; the colors of night, of purpose, of posture; I seduce with fall nail colors, not summer.  Yet I shave my legs and oil up and apply lipstick but don’t straighten my hair.  It’s raining, and this is just a pit stop.

I spot you and my heart falls.  You wear your jeans like a dad.  In my own mid-rise, I strive for Cindy Crawford, c. 1991.  The mole is implicit.  Every day, I try to move like Jordan Baker in her whites.

Cradling my tea, I close my eyes to fall into your blood-orange world.  My hood is on and I’m swaddled in blanket and the winter sun strolls through my bay windows and it’s twenty-three degrees and all my face feels is that star’s warmth.

I close my eyes to meditate, to cherish, to luxuriate in you being within me.  A deep closed-mouth inhale releases all of you to my ends.  You come in from everywhere.  Straight to my center, just to flow throughout me.  My breaths renew your slow roar.

We are expansive.

You are perfect.  Under my palms, your muscles follow your every command, stretching and tightening to bring us closer.

I can climb you to heaven.  You’re always here.  My beautiful, wild mountain, calling me to my most basic need: to summit you through prostration.  I’ll throw myself onto my belly, glad to embrace even more of you as we move toward and beyond.  I want to slide, caked in your mud.  I want every ride with you.  With you, to breathe is life.

for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die.

You threw your ice axe straight into my face and shattered me across my oceanic bed.  My pieces glittered and twitched.  In their reflection, I saw you come back for more.  Our eyes met in those uncountable mirrors and you bro-tipped your head back at me, so I seethed in despair.  I fumbled for painkillers I don’t own; I fell down the WebMD rabbit hole; I gnawed on my own flesh for hours.

A shroud swallowed me, relieving me of you.  But now I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t touch too great, and I lost any semblance of ninja sense.  And every time I thought I was in the clear – I mostly thought this out of sheer exhaustion – you darted your dagger through my cloak, reminding me who’s boss.  You sliced right into my rind and slid between me and my cover, peeled us apart, seeded me, gutted me, lit me afire.

You’d kneecapped me a decade prior.  It’s documented in sophomore Junior Prom portraits: a little more flesh where flesh doesn’t belong.  Right between my mascara and my necklace.

In 2002, this invasion’s main impact was to make me live Gulliver’s Travels.   Gulliver had an abscess.  I didn’t know what an abscess is, but I thought I had one, too.  Swift’s description mirrored my adolescent agony.  All I could think about was that sketch from a children’s adapted version, where Gulliver’s on his back and the Lilliputians have cris-crossed him with what must have been dental floss, staking these tethers to the ground while this big man can do nothing but watch.  And the doctors said this non-life-threatening, serious, silly thing could come back, or it could not.

So it lurked.

And in 2012 it returned, here to Christmas Past / Present / Future the shit out of me.

First, the pain.  The five weeks of pain.  The pain of someone throwing a hammer into your mouth, again, and again, every eight-to-twenty-three seconds, all hours of the day, merely dulled by thousands of milligrams of ibuprofen.  But worse than the pain – the real loss – was the struggle to hold onto any thought, any hard thought, any easy thought; to process any complex information, to learn a new case, to have the energy and discipline and desire to give a shit.  So first, it attacked the organ I have cherished and relied upon my whole life: that Brain.

And then, on a day I had to moot, my face began to swell.  Nobody could tell but me. But my lips and tongue knocked each other asunder as I tried to articulate my pain-dulled logic.  So then, it took the gift I’d known I’d had for a decade: my voice.

And then, it blew up.  And between my face and my now-fleshy corpus, I wanted to do nothing but hide; and I hated myself for my vanity.  So finally, it stripped me of the weapon I’d only recently learned to deploy: my looks.  (But to be fair, I’d already been bewildered that 2L girls knew me for my clothes; it’s still a little confusing to be known as anyone but a brash, bookish, bounce of a bitch.)

My body is mortal.  My left foot caves; my right knee pops; my left shoulder crunches; my right toe snaps.  Sometimes, in contexts I haven’t yet identified, my left ear rings.  I do not carry extra weight, per se, but deservedly soft patches are a frank reminder that I should convert potential to kinetic.  I can turn me.  That energy doesn’t disappear.  I am always turning me.

This body is just another black hole.  We add to it and add to it and add to it and it keeps accepting whatever we can push toward it, and we walk around with everything all the time.  So today I finished two new American books, and those are in me; but so are The Berenstain Bears and Magic Johnson and “Kokomo” tooted on my scratched-up plastic clarinet and the salty Pacific and that purple-and-neon-green frilly-ass two-piece I detested and my mom thought was adorable that I wore into the 1990 sea.

A season-old scar curves twenty inches up my right calf.  Hello!  Ms. Parks!  You are an idiot sometimes!  The scar mocks me for being so thoughtless to warp a solo ten-mile day hike into a seventeen-miler, and for discarding Leave No Trace as the sun dipped dangerously low.

I was lost, and the snowpack was light that year, so the lake was miles beyond where I’d expected.  So the shadows stretched and I couldn’t recognize the trails –> I plowed through all those fucking bushes in the way, I suicidally pulled myself up sheer granite faces, I, with my terrible balance, I trotted across logs and streams and rocks and gravel because they were going to be worried sick about me and it was all my own goddam fault and why the hell didn’t I think to use a map?  But I wasn’t scared, because I was tired and pissed and wanted to get my ass home; and I disgusted myself for taking a leisurely pre-triathlon Rest Day traipse and perverting it into the Oregon Fucking Trail, all green light and black void and continual crashing.  OkCupid tells the world I’m More Arrogant.  I’ve grown to recognize it’s right.

sing of me, you dyin’ of thirst

People work hard.  When you talk about Memphis, it’s usually First 48 or something bad.  But there’s good people everywhere.  And you don’t look bad on nobody because somebody went to the penitentiary or somebody did this.  You treat everybody the same because everybody’s got skeletons.  Some people just hide them more.

— Zach Randolph

*

I’m a hypocrite and I’m sick of modifiers.  I blanch at hyperbole.  Euphemisms induce wincing.  And this shit, our discourse, our media, the one we ask for, the one we deserve, shrieks and shouts and flails not just because it – because we – feel pain, but because we think we have to shriek and shout and flail to prove We Really Care.

The perpetrator is always the same: loner, misunderstood, incredibly bright, generally nice, reticent, male, Caucasian, suburban, fairly educated, absolute fucking psychopath, but you always kind of knew.

The place is always the same: peaceful, charming, America, small town, middle-class, picket fences, manicured lawns, expansive trees, decent schools, tight-knit community.

The victims are always the same: blameless, blank slates, named, faceless, young, Picture Day gap-toothed smiles, wailing fellow students, silent stoic parents, solemn town leadership, shattered futures, the next Marie Curie.

“On Friday, one human killed twenty-eight humans.”  Nobody says that.  The outlets that come close say “twenty-seven” – because apparently, the killer no longer counts as a dead human, as a victim.

“On Friday, a man killed twenty-seven others and himself.”

“A boy slaughtered his mother, twenty Kindergarteners, and five elementary school teachers, before turning his guns on himself.”

“A teenager slaughtered his own mother, twenty babies, and five teachers, before taking his own life.”

Any of these iterations, or any other that presents just facts – that sticks to nouns and verbs, instead of adjectives and adverbs – why the fuck isn’t that enough for us?  How is that not scary or awful or depressing or shocking or whatever else the shit we want?

Why go back to the tired narrative of genius misunderstood killer, perfect angel dead people, sleepy New England / mountain / rural town?

Why is my newsfeed full of people “liking” pictures that proclaim dead teachers are heroes?

Well, of course they’re fucking heroes.  But they’re heroes because they’re teachers.  They’re heroes because they had choices in life, and they decided  to spend their careers serving the public good, trying to educate Minis into productive members of society.  They’re heroes because they could’ve done something easier, but they wanted to do right.  You’re a hero, or you exhibit courage, when you exercise free will.

Bruce Lee said, “[u]nder duress, we do not rise to our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.”  The instinct that drives a six-year-old boy to tear out the door when a gunman strode in, the gut that hurtled this principal down the hall, the synapse that propels my right arm to block my dinner date from bouncing into incoming traffic – that’s not heroism or bravery or courage.  Maybe heroism or bravery or courage led us to train ourselves to perform in these ways under duress.  But that last moment, itself, isn’t what’s heroic.

So why the shit do we play out this narrative every damn time?  What, the bare facts here aren’t dramatic or terrifying or depressing or interesting enough for us?  Why do we want TV news to interview the Minis and ask them “how did it feel?  What happened?”  ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?  And why don’t we change the channel when a stranger with a camera and lights and huge microphones and a posse crouches over a Mini to ask her what happened, pretending like this child will give us answers, but really just titillated by it all.

We receive and devour the media we deserve.  Why are the bare facts not enough?  Why do we try to make it sound even worse?  We cling to the Victorian construct (yes, it is that new of an idea) of childhood purity; we act like Newtown is Stars Hollow, forgetting how dysfunctional Stars Hollow can be; we proclaim Adam Lanza is fucking crazy while muttering that he’s just like so many of those other weird boys we ignored in high school, those weird boys we were wary of in high school, those weird boys we were in high school.

We hide behind myth and adjectives to make the situation sound as crazy and unique as possible.  And we’re lying through our fucking teeth.  Because we wouldn’t work so hard to make this shit sound so crazy, so far from the norm, if we didn’t feel it bubbling within us every day, if those Buffy episodes of invisible girls and botanist monster boys didn’t strike a chord with every generation,

if we weren’t fucking ashamed and terrified and confused about how to deal with the mentally ill.

If the idea of America weren’t so fucking Manifest Destiny.  That American Dream: single-family home.  Two-car garage.  Freshly-manicured lawn.  Cement-block sidewalk.  A man’s home is his castle, his retreat; curtilage, and all; he is his house’s sovereign.  And you struggle with your family?  Take that shit inside.  Nobody wants to see you struggle.  And you’re ashamed to bring it into the light.  So let’s leave one woman to cope with her son – even though we all know there’s something “off” – she has that house, and the New York Times says she hired a landscaper just to put up her Christmas lights, so she can deal with her family’s private shit by her damn self.  Not our problem.

If the idea of America weren’t so fucking Manifest Destiny.  We flip over Janet Jackson’s nipples, but god damn it I am an American and I get to have my guns.  Why is it that we claim a weapon represents our nation?  How do we view ourselves?  Why is that symbol so important?  What does it stand for, anyway?

Twenty-eight people died on Friday and it is a tragedy.

Last Sunday, December 9, two people died of gunshot wounds on Chicago’s West Side.  One was sixteen.  One was in his twenties.  Here is the google doc, updated every couple of weeks, that lists all Chicago homicides in 2012.

As of December 9’s murders, there were 489 homicides in Chicago so far this year.  424 gunshot; 37 stabbing;  11 assault; 6 strangling; 3 child abuse; 2 auto crash; 1 arson; 1 suffocation; 1 trauma.

2012 isn’t over, and in Chicago, there have been at least 489 homicides, and 424 were committed by people shooting guns.  But I guess even Kanye West singing about it doesn’t make it newsworthy.  And I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why.

So what we have – what we have is a fucking public health crisis.  But guns aren’t the only public health issue.

Is it healthy to shun the mentally ill?

Is it healthy to stigmatize “personal” problems to force moms to deal with them in the shadows?

How stupid could we be to ever pretend the “personal” and the “political” aren’t one and the same?

What is our narrative, so that boys who are mentally ill explode outward, and girls turn upon themselves?

How sick are we, that a weapon is synecdoche for the world’s oldest democracy?

Who are we, to mourn Sandy Hook and ignore homicides all around us?

We blame gangbangers for bringing it on themselves?  We don’t think it’s a public health disaster for our own neighbors to grow up in war zones on our own damn land, in our own damn territory, in the heart of our country?  (Because every single bit is the heart of our country.)

And we don’t think kids killed by strays are as worthwhile as innocent suburban Kindergarteners?

And – maybe most terrifying for me – it’s not enough to say, “one human killed twenty-eight humans.”  We want it nastier.  We want it more interesting.  We want it more scintillating.  We want it more tragic.  We want to sensationalize Sandy Hook and turn it into our own damn soapboxes, Mitt Romney wink-and-nudging the Salt of the Earth while being so arrogant to think we’re above the fray.

This is America, and we want our adjectives.  The only thing we might want more?  Sunday Night Football.