The Pen Is Not Mightier Than the Sword If It Is Silenced Forever. (On Charlie Hebdo.)

Unless you live under a rock, or the only news you read yesterday was about how many models Leonardo di Caprio left a recent party with (the answer to that is 20…he left with 20 models), you heard about the coldblooded massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris yesterday.

For those even further under a rock, or who have been living on the planet Mars for the past five or so years, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical newspaper that routinely prints comics that are, for lack of a better term, brazen. Other terms that have been used to describe the paper have been: offensive, over the top, outspoken. While not exclusively religious satire, a fair amount of its sentiments are focused on religion. Most recently, Islam.

Back in 2011, the old headquarters of Charlie Hebdo were attacked by fire-bomb and website hack, presumably in response to their prior special edition of the paper which named the Prophet Mohammed as “editor-in-chief” of the paper, with a cover depicting Mohammed. If you know only one thing about Islam, it’s this: caricaturing their Holy Prophet is considered passe. Actually, it’s not even passe (that would imply it was at one time OK to do) – it has never been accepted, and in fact is considered to be of the utmost insult to the core tenants of the religion.

Muslim leaders and lay people from around the world had two responses to the fire-bombing: (a) we do take offense to the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, (b) we don’t condone violence in any form.

No religion really has been spared, though – several years back the Pope was drawn on the cover holding a condom, which is when I (a cradle Catholic who never goes to church out of frustration with the Catholic church) even started to question just what is going on with this paper.

When you get down to it, the artists and editors at Charlie Hebdo are – yes – expressing their political and religious sentiments, and moreover describing for the world where their own self-professed atheism lies. Beyond that, they claim to be calling out and setting the stage of shame for the extremest of extremists within religious groups.

Now that we’ve caught up on our history, we can get down to the aftermath of this terrible, ideologically-charged, coldblooded murder yesterday. For the pen is not mightier than the sword if it is silenced forever.

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In the immediate aftermath, candlelight vigils with people holding pens up in solidarity, as well as signs that said Je suis Charlie, were held in support of the 12 individuals tragically slain.

And this is when I started to balk at how people are handling this. On one hand, the murder was an act of terrorism, with no terrorist or religious group taking the credit. On the other hand, it is the terminal silencing of 12 individuals. 12 individuals who I would not say were “asking for it” – I would never say that; but it is undeniable that they were routinely fanning the flames with not only fans, but buckets of gasoline.

The statement Je suis Charlie – I am Charlie – implies that we all are those working at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Fan the flames with buckets of gasoline. We all – artists, writers, cartoonists, editors – are just trying to get our message out there in the most effective way we know how. In a way that will appeal to people and make our point, and leave a lasting impression on the world.

I. Am. Charlie.

So will you be publishing this on your blog, or your magazine; your newspaper, or on the corner space you have of your community group newsletter, next week?

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Will you spread your message like this?

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When people criticize you, threaten you, entreat you, implore you, or even sit down with you  calmly – your most trusted advisors and best of friends – and have a conversation about whether or not you are effectively getting your political and religious ideas out there, would you still print this?

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Or when readership is dwindling and the funds are running dry, as was the case with Charlie Hebdo, would you just continue to print again and again these types of images, rather than doing a little bit of personal reflection and market evaluation, to see what will get you out there, rather than silenced?

And more importantly than that: do you really believe this is the best way to express your beliefs?

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The Charlie Hebdos of the world are not what you will ever get here in in the United States. The Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker will never run anything quite like the satires of Charlie Hebdo, for many reasons above all which includes wanting to get the message out there without losing readership.

Does that make the artists and cartoonists and editors at those other papers – not even just American, but all around the world – censored and less real in their statements, because they don’t run caricatures of the Pope giving Mohammed a blow job?

With dwindling circulation and constant pleas for fundraising coming from actual Hebdo headquarters, combined with criticism from virtually every aspect of society – even staunch atheist groups – you have to wonder just how effective Charlie Hebdo’s message was. I’m not talking about whether or not it was right, everyone is entitled to an opinion. I’m talking about how it was said.

Some have even gone as far as to call out the paper for its flagrant hypocrisy, as if the term “freedom of speech” can be used conveniently, even when describing a situation that was previously considered unacceptable – even for an opinion.

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Readership and funding and circulation and whether or not you would actually publish any of this stuff is not the point. Because you are not Charlie, just as I am not Charlie. And in reality, none of us can ever be Charlie Hebdo or the Wall Street Journal or Jim’s Neighborhood Circular if our pens are silenced, for whatever reason.

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More baffling is that people seem to have lost the meaning of “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Suddenly cartoons, again in solidarity, are being published like the one above: of the pen stopping the gun. As if the pen can literally stop violence – stop the madness, stomp out the crimes, and outlive the violent actions that tried to take it down.

That’s not what it means at all.

To say that the pen is mightier than the sword is to say that written words and other passive, expressive art forms are more effective in stating a message than the use of direct violence or malicious attacks. It doesn’t stop violence. It’s just a better way of making your point (presumably because people are left to continue making it, rather than all dead and gone).

I won’t argue that the Charlie Hebdo drawings are on par with coldblooded murder. But I would say that they are more than merely expressive works of art. I might go as far as to say they are malicious, and I would certainly say they are not passive.

So where does that leave us?

Well, it leaves us with 12 people dead. Gone. Their pens broken and silenced, forever.

It leaves us reminded that we live in a terrible world in which killers don’t even care about what they are fighting against, or who they are killing; just how many they can take off before getting caught. Coldblooded, psychotic murdering done just for the sake of murdering.

It has left us confused. Bewildered. Unsure of anything.

We are left with soundbites and snapshots to remember the victims. (“I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees” – a religious sentiment from the slain editor in chief, that has now gone viral and will be applied to every out-of-context situation imaginable.)

There are statistics we have still. Like the Charlie Hebdo circulation: roughly 50,000. Versus the other leading French satire paper, Le Canard Enchaîné: 500,000.

Versus the publicity of this coldblooded murder: millions.

And we are left with the reminder that sometimes it isn’t about what you say, but how you say it.

The pen is not mightier than the sword if it is silenced forever. It is a travesty that those 12 pens, and the countless other pens in recent and ancient history, have been silenced. May they rest in peace, and may their deaths be not in vain but rather in a reminder that expression of your beliefs is effective only if it is heard.

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WWRWD? (What Would Robin Williams Do?)

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Unless you live under a rock, or are involved in a much more catastrophic, international crisis (like the one going on over in Iraq; yeah – hello – did people forget about that one?)…then, you are aware of a few certain tragedies that occurred over the last few days; most discussed being the deaths of Robin Williams by suicide, and that of Lauren Bacall of stroke.

Let’s be clear about something: the loss of any human life is, in and of itself, tragic. The loss, for any reason. Any. Reason.

But as the outpouring of sympathies, grief, and broader discussion about depression, mental illness, and suicidal tendencies overtook the world of social media as a result of Williams’ death, the conversation necessarily took a certain tone. A tone that was less about the loss and the future, and more about the moral.

Everyone, mental illness is real – get help.

Everyone, Robin Williams is smiling down on all of us.

Everyone, let’s imagine that a man who committed suicide is now laughing in heaven, because that’s totally what religious doctrine that suggests such a place exists says will happen to people who take their own lives.

I’m no atheist, and I’m also no Bible thumper. But if I know one thing, it’s that some, if not all, religions say people who commit suicide go to hell, or at the very least purgatory. So if you believe in heaven, you should be believing that Robin Williams is actually toasting on the devil’s pitchfork right about now.

Even Williams’ What Dreams May Come has the suicide victim stuck in the middle of hell.

These droves of pithy suicide and depression morals then turned into the haves and the have nots, the haves being those that felt their positivity and opinions on suicide were absolute truth; and the have nots being anyone who said anything the haves did not like.

It started with people talking about whether or not suicide is a choice, which it – by definition – is. (Arguably, it is the most personal choice, as the truest consequence is to no one but the decision-maker.) Calling it a choice pissed a lot of people off.

It continued with people railing on about whether or not suicide is ever justifiable. This is when the “suicide is so selfish” posters came on the scene; and when the know-it-alls of the world came out in droves to claim that suicide is an idiotic, narcissistic thing to do. (For the record: it is neither idiotic, nor selfish. Some of the most intelligent and selfless people I have ever known, or known of, have taken their own lives; Robin Williams is included in that group.)

Then Matt Walsh entered the room, and everyone lost their fucking minds.

For those of you unfamiliar with Matt Walsh, he is probably the most hated blogger on the Internet; so much so that his sometimes-controversial positions have garnered him the infamous title of “douche dick.”

People (mostly bloggers) hate this guy so hard for almost anything that comes out of his mouth, no matter how innocuous it may be. They post long diatribes about hating him on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Often. Then they get very dramatic at the end with “I just don’t want this guy to get more page links, I’m not going to link him…nope, not going to do it, I would feel terrible if he got page hits by my hand!!!!”

Because (1) none of us know how to use Google (apparently), and aren’t now intrigued enough by your psychobabble to go look his newest offense up; and, (2) we should all just blindly believe everything you say.

Absolutely everything, no questions asked.

Well, today I believed it, at least for a while. I believed that Matt Walsh probably made some callous remarks about Williams’ death, and it would just annoy me. I’ll admit to having read things he said that made me mad in the past; not all things he’s said, but definitely some. Still, I agree with more of what he says than probably anyone else on the Internet. I’d never get so crazy about my disagreements so as to talk publicly about him being a douche dick, or whatever the cliques are calling him these days. But we’ll leave it at: I’ve always had mixed feelings about him, so I figured there was at least some probability he’d said something out there.

So I ignored it and moved on with my day. I was busy, so you know…

But suicide is different. It’s very personal to me. It’s very visceral. It’s happened to two people very close to me, within the last two years; so the wounds from their deaths are still open and bleeding. Going about my day, therefore, still kept the question about what Matt Walsh said in the back of mind, just as the discussion of suicide and it’s consequences had been there since I heard of Williams’ death yesterday afternoon. Has pretty much always been there for the last two years.

Then I saw someone share a site called “What Matt Walsh Is Wrong About Today.” That was when I decided to actually read Walsh’s original post about Williams’ death. And as I toggled between the two – one calling Matt Walsh “a dick,” “callous,” “careless” and “ignorant;” the other a (seemingly) careful analysis of suicide and the discussion that needs to be had, I realized that there is a lot about suicide that people don’t seem to understand.

Even more they don’t understand about what Matt Walsh said.

(EVEN MORE about acting like adults. That a group of people have gotten together and made a website to single out someone they disagree with, or don’t like, says a lot about why bullying is so rampant in our culture.)

Without going into all the details of the Walsh controversy, it started with a tweet from Walsh, stating that “When we talk about depression we shouldn’t pawn the whole thing off on ‘chemical imbalances.’ It’s not just clinical. It’s spiritual.”

The responses to that tweet, both on the What Matt Walsh Is Wrong About Today site, as well as Twitter, are insane. As I read through some of them, I realized that people are so ignorant, uneducated, and closed-minded, it’s baffling. Baffling. Suddenly they all seem to completely deny that there is such a thing as non-clinical depression. Clinically, there is – it’s called situational depression (my 10 year old daughter suffers from this). There’s also a depression called “existential depression” which is related to existential (versus acute, situation, or clinical) anxiety (I suffer from this). This is the kind of fantastical ideas that the Existentialists and Shakespeare’s Hamlet talked about.

And it’s even more complicated, and there are even more classifications, than that.

Do you people see yet how complex depression and suicide can be?

There was nothing callous, incorrect, or horrible about Walsh’s tweet. In fact, it’s a discussion that needs to be had, because clearly people aren’t getting it. Because Robin Williams is one of millions that have taken their own lives, and will continue to, until people wake up and stop romanticizing these terrible and tragic emotional situations.

No one seemed to like Walsh’s elaboration on the point (in his lengthier blog post), because people responded in kind by calling him negative, insensitive, one-sided, and – again – a dick. They called his very thoughtful comments ignorant.

If anything, I think Walsh’s post was insightful; and in some ways comforting to know that someone – finally, anyone – understands that the depths and the hells of depression and suicide are so much more complex than just one thing; that it isn’t just about chemicals or illness or disease, but about choices, personal circumstances, and an understanding of the abyss that only the person committing the act of suicide could possibly have.

That these things have to be had in the conversation about suicide and moving forward to prevent them. That you can’t just chalk it up to a disease; that it may not always be simply negativity making the decision to take the pills or slit the wrists, or in the case of Williams, hang from the rafters. That you can’t just say “they’re in heaven now smiling on us, get help if you need it, moving on with my PTA meetings and other mundane bullshit that exists for everyone but those that have succumbed to nothingness.”

Because that’s what suicide really is, that no one wants to admit. It’s succumbing to nothingness. People don’t commit suicide because they want to shine down on us from fucking heaven. They succumb to nothingness because they want the dark, black, nothing of non-existence. They want life to stop, which makes the people referring to suicide’s afterlife sound like the only true idiots in the room.

At the end of Walsh’s post, he talks about joy, and it’s absolute necessity to life. He says

So this, for me, is always the most essential moral at the end of these kinds of sad, terrible stories: we are all meant for joy. We are all meant for love. We are all meant for life. And as long as we can still draw breath, there is joy and love to be found here. I believe that. If I didn’t, I would have left a long time ago.

Joy and love. There might not be much else for us on this Earth, but these are the only two things that matter anyway. These are the forces that brought the whole universe into being, and these are the forces that sustain it, and us, and all life.

I just don’t understand how someone can read that and call the guy a dick. Or a douche dick, or whatever they say about him. And it’s when I read that, and I toggled through even more posts about Matt Walsh and his terrible ways, that I began to wonder what Robin Williams would do. What anyone, really, who has committed suicide, or thought about committing suicide, would do. Would they call this guy names, and personally attack him for talking about these issues holistically and from the point of all sides?

Or would they act with compassion and understanding and the knowledge that only someone who has looked into the abyss could have?

 

I Am Not Changing My Parenting Because of Newtown

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A lot of blogs – mom blogs in particular – have gone relatively silent since the tragedy in Newtown, CT befell our country, just a little over a week before Christmas. The only thing people posted on Facebook were statements of shock; promises to hug their kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews a little bit tighter. Then came the commitments to attack parenting with a “do what you want” kind of attitude from now on, because who knows what could happen when you send your little ones off to school the next day?

For the most part, this seems to have died down. But still, I see the memes about hugging your kids continue to crop up. I see the posts that were previously about needing to hide in the bathroom and drink straight whiskey to get through the day; now about how guilty a particular mother may feel about being stressed out by her kids. This morning I saw a friend post that Sundays are now “ice cream breakfast days, in honor of the kids in Newtown.”

It is undeniable: the tragedy in Newtown has changed us forever. But I think it’s fair to say that there were other tragedies before that have been slowly changing us. The Oklahoma City Bombing. Columbine. 9/11. As time has gone on, each of these tragedies has worn on us. They have worn on our value systems. They have replaced a strong need to parent with a strong fear of the unknown.

To me, this has only made the problem worse.

Ice cream every Sunday for breakfast? Not yelling at your kids because they did something wrong? Cutting down on the punishments “just in case?” Repressing your own feelings for the sake of being passive? How this all translates into a better, more well-adjusted society is beyond me. I actually think we should react to the Newtown, CT shooting in a different way. We should be looking at how we’ve let our parenting get far too un-parent-like.

I’m not saying that I’m the perfect parent, by any stretch of the imagination. I definitely have those moments of things that I’ve done and now regret; or things I’ve said out of emotion that may have been over the line. But I also am committing to not change my parenting because of Newtown.

#1 There will be no ice cream for breakfast, or “whatever you want”s for dinner

My job is to raise healthy children. Healthy children that understand what healthy living is like. Healthy children that don’t lay on the ground and pork down onion rinds like there’s no tomorrow, unless seven servings of fruit and vegetables have been porked down first. Healthy children that understand the concept of moderation, and more than anything understand the fact that when a particular food is put in front of you, you eat it.

The other day I read an article (by a guy that is neither a parent, nor a parenting expert) in which he claimed “because I said so” is no longer a justifiable excuse to children. Children need “good reasons” to do what we say, he said. We need to spend more time giving excuses for our “requests” to our children, he said. I have never heard more backwards, anti-parenting thinking in my entire life. So not only will there be no ice cream for breakfast, or “whatever you want”s for dinner, but what I put on the table is what is being eaten. Because I said so.

Nothing is more rude and awkward than a dinner party with adults where one of them doesn’t eat their food, because they “don’t like it.” Why are kids being raised to act like this as adults? And it goes without saying that the obesity problem in this country could easily be solved if “I don’t like”s or “give me a good reason I should”s were not an option.

#2 I will continue to yell and administer timeouts, and I will not feel bad about it

When I was a kid, if I got out of line I got yelled at. I’ll never forget the time I was in Girl Scouts and we were on some trip, and all of us got in trouble because we left our hotel room even when we weren’t supposed to. I have never had the fear of God struck into me quite like that day when our Troop Mom was yelling at us. And to this day, I know that her yelling was absolutely and without a doubt the right thing to have done, or we would have done it again.

And did I ever do something like that again, faithful blog followers? Absolutely not. When you don’t yell at your kids, they have no concept of consequences for their actions. I’m not talking about screaming here either; I’m talking about raising your voice.  You know? Making it sound stern, like they did in the 50s? Same goes for punishments: time outs, no dessert, grounded from TV.

I have no idea where our culture got the concept that raising your voice or punishing children for bad behavior was a bad thing, but it isn’t. Positive reinforcement is wonderful, when it works. But there are always going to be times in raising kids that a consequence for a bad action is necessary. And why? Because that’s how life is. Adults reap negative consequences all the time, and if kids aren’t taught the concept, then they run the risk of growing up with a huge misunderstanding about the way the world works.

#3 I will allow myself to feel stressed out, and not feel bad for talking about it

I have always been a firm believer that there is nothing more unhealthy a person can do than conceal their emotions. Positive or negative emotions, they are a part of who we are and to deny them is to deny our selves.

The other day Pookie did two things that reminded me just how much kids model their behavior after their parents. First, she cracked a joke at my expense as we had guests over for dinner. (She said I went to graduate school to do nothing.) Then, she concealed her hurt feelings for a whole day because she thought that my husband had showed her that was the right thing to do.

Kids learn how they are supposed to act as an adult from us. So while I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing to go into a nervous breakdown in front of your kids, and it’s similarly poor taste to chase your bottle of Xanax with the third margarita your kid’s prepared for you; I would definitely argue that hiding your feelings and pretending like everything is peachy all the time is just as (if not more) bad as the former suggestions.

Being a parent sucks sometimes, especially being a stay at home one. It’s OK to feel that way; and it’s OK to express that. You aren’t less of a parent for feeling so. All the tragedies in the world do not change an adult’s need to have interaction with other adults. All the horrific and malicious shootings of innocent people do not make it wrong to still need a break from your kids, and regularly.

I felt like a real jerk after the Newtown tragedy, not because of things I had done as a parent when “one of those kids could have been mine,” but because I mentioned on Facebook that I didn’t understand why people were rushing home to hug their kids. I thought, and said, “shouldn’t we have been hugging our kids all along anyway?” But as I thought about it more, I realized that I wasn’t a jerk. I was just questioning why these tragedies always make us question ourselves. Rather than look at what we’ve done right while also acting with compassion and empathizing with the terrible pain the families of the victims are going through, we’re always turning it into being about us. Do you think the Mom whose child was shot in Newtown is agonizing over the fact that she didn’t let her kid have whatever he wanted for breakfast the morning of the shooting, or that she took away his Nintendo because he beat up his sister? No. She’s agonizing over the fact that her child is gone, and she will never have the opportunity to punish him again. Period. End of sentence.

Now sure, if you really don’t know the last time you hugged your children, well then you do have a problem in the way you parent. But let’s remember that one of the most important ways we should work to prevent future tragedies such as the one in Newtown, is to actually be parents.

My thoughts and prayers continue on for the victims and their families of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I promise to not change my parenting in honor of those children, and in hopes of raising a future where tragedies like that no longer happen.

What Is Wrong With You People?

This afternoon I was cleaning up the various clutter that has taken over my house when I got a message from my friend Raynor.

We had just gotten home from our girl’s lunch. We went to Yama Sushi and had udon and yakisoba – my favorites, especially when it is cold. While there the tragedy in Connecticut was on the news, and I explained what happened and how we pray for those innocent children and educators, and for their families. Pookie told me that she hopes Jesus lets those kids play with our dog Watson, who died a few years ago.

So we were cleaning clutter and Raynor sent me a message with a meme attached. He was upset. He actually said he wished he knew who created the meme, because he would go kick the living shit out of the person. If you knew Raynor, you would know that Raynor doesn’t normally talk like that.

CTAs I looked at the meme I was pretty horrified. And here is where I ask: just what is wrong with you people?

Raynor sent me that message on Facebook, and so I then perused through the updates in my newsfeed. Almost everyone had posted about today’s tragedy, although a few were rambling on about guns not killing people, people killing people, and how there is no resolution to the mental health issues this country has been ignoring for decades. Another said that it’s sad, and she’s glad to know that would never happen in her town. I commented on six of those updates, each of them the same: what is wrong with you people?

Earlier this year when the Dark Knight Tragedy in Aurora, CO happened, I felt physically ill when I watched the news and saw an interview with an average movie-goer in Hollywood who said “that’ll never happen to us.” Then and now, I am just dumbstruck by the attitude with which so many people seem to be carrying on their lives.

What is wrong with you people that you cannot see that we have to change everything about our way of thinking, living, and breathing, or this same bullshit is just going to keep happening? What is wrong with you people that it all comes down to your guns and your freedoms and your tax dollars you don’t want to be spent on things you consider “needless”? What is wrong with you people that you cannot see that this culture of “it’s sad but it will never happen to me” is the biggest part of the problem?

I am not advocating for ridding the country of guns. I am not advocating for keeping them either. I am not saying all our tax dollars should go to mental health services. I am really not saying anything political or ideological, I am just saying that we need to wake up. Something is wrong with the entire way we are living our lives as an American people, and to me it seems that as a nation we are stuck in a hazy somnambulism. Everyone is asleep in the cozy comfort they have wrapped themselves in until something like what happened today happens to them.

What is wrong with you people that you can’t see it is wrong to politicize a tragedy? What is wrong with you people that you truly believe your ideological viewpoints are worth preserving more than the lives of innocent children? As I continued to message back and forth with Raynor about that terribly crass, and ultimately pathetic, meme he was so upset over, I kept perusing through my Facebook feed until I reached a point I could not take it anymore. That point was an update where someone posted: “What is wrong with people that they would take the lives of innocent children like that? No one is safe anymore!”

I signed out of my Facebook and thought about what I believe the real issue is. It isn’t that people are sick, people are demented, and that no one is safe because of them. It is that no one is safe anymore, so long as America is asleep. What is wrong with you people that you can’t see the only way to protect the innocent is to to wake up and make a change?