Friday, June 13, 2014

That Girl: Sometimes Words Are Just Words

If you've ever watched "Awkward" then you should understand the "That Girl" reference. Watching "Awkward" is the closest thing to re-living my high school years. You couldn't pay me to actually re-live my adolescence. There is no sum of money large enough for me to agree to it. (If you threatened me with the life of a loved one, then yeah, I guess I'd have no choice, but since that's not a realistic scenario, we'll just move on.) If Jenna were a real person, odds are she would grow up and feel the same. In fact, I think Jenna and I could be pretty good friends. But since she's not real, I'm thankful that I'm lucky enough to have some good friends already. Friends who were never ashamed of me, who would stand up for me, who were (and are) there for me whenever I needed them. 

If you haven't seen it, here's a brief summary:

Jenna, the main character, is a 15 year old girl who loses her virginity to a guy that is ashamed to be seen with her in public. Later that same day, she's blogging about how sometimes being a teenager makes you feel like dying (haven't we all been there?). She attempts to grab some aspirin and manages to trip, break the bottle so pills spill everywhere, bumps the hair dryer into the (full) tub, and busts herself up. Result: Everyone thinks she tried to kill herself and they keep referring to her as "that girl" who did this or that.

I can definitely draw some parallels between myself and Jenna. OK, so I didn't have sex until I was 18, and I wasn't the result of a teenage pregnancy (although my parents have been together since they were in high school). But I had some wacky friends, was less than popular, might've been a bit awkward here and there, wrote/typed up my every thought like it was my job (though I'm not nearly as witty as she is), and I was known as suicidal even though I wasn't. 

As you might know, in middle school, I wrote some kinda scary poems. Morbid? Maybe. But just words.

Then I tried to help out some friends starting an advice column and, in my infinite stupidity, wrote as if I were a girl contemplating suicide.

Again, it was a heavy topic, but it was just words.

I never had any serious suicidal thoughts until late high school, but from about age 13 on, I could just as easily have been "that girl" like Jenna. Maybe I even was. The only thing I ever remember people calling me was "the biggest crybaby at East" (I think I would rather have been "that girl"), but who knows what people said about me? 

Reality: Probably not much. 

In psychology, there are these two concepts known as the personal fable and the imaginary audience that sort of work together during adolescence to make us believe that everyone is paying attention to us and that everything we do is being scrutinized by our peers. But they're not and it's not. Most teens are too wrapped up in their own lives to give a damn about someone outside of their immediate world. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part it's in your head. Unfortunately, that's where teenagers live: in their heads. So it's hard to get away from all those thoughts. Really, really hard.

Jenna actually manages to turn her imaginary audience into a real audience when she lets her private blog go public, which is not a move I would advise unless you're comfortable with people knowing all of your business. I only divulge here what I'm willing for the world to know about me, and while some of it is pretty personal, I'm at a point in my life where I really don't care of strangers or even acquaintances want to judge me for my thoughts or actions. And I know that my real friends won't judge me. Mock me? Maybe. But not judge me.  

So who cares what random people say about me? Or what someone might have said? Words are just word, especially when they come from someone with no real connection to your life. What someone else thinks of me doesn't have to change what I think of myself. It has taken a long time to understand that, and sometimes I still wrestle with my own opinion of myself, but in the long run it's my words that mean the most to me.

15 years old is now half of my lifetime ago. And it definitely feels like it! Well, most of the time. Sometimes I still feel that insecurity trying to creep into my brain, knocking on doors that have been closed and locked for years to keep the darkness away. I still struggle not to answer, even though I know that nothing good would come from it. Sometimes I wonder if I would be brave enough to face what's hiding in those rooms, and I wonder if I should just open the door and let the battle begin. But the real courage lies in walking past the door without even a glance, leaving the past exactly where it belongs. I might not be strong enough to fight my demons, but I'm smart enough not to let them back in.   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blame is Fleeting

You probably knew it was coming, so here it is: my thoughts on the Slenderman stabbing.

I am Wisconsin born and raised. I love my state. I may not love long winters or bordering Illinois, but you put up with the bad to take advantage of all the good. So when something so tragic happens in the place I am proud to call my home, it hurts. I'm not saying it would have been any better or worse if it happened elsewhere, but I think most of us can agree that the closer to home something is (physically or emotionally), the harder it hits you.

I've read several articles about the incident, and I've read a ton of comments about it, and it seems to me that a lot of people are looking to place blame (duh). Some people are keeping it broad, suggesting that the internet is essentially the downfall of mankind. Others are getting quite specific, aiming their frustration toward the people behind Slenderman and I can write those both off as ridiculous notions. 

The internet is always going to have opponents, largely because people love to have something to argue against, so this is just the most recent brick laid on their never-ending path to nowhere. And blaming the creator of a fictional character, or a site that caters to horror writing (a pretty wicked genre if you ask me), makes about as much sense as using a steak knife to eat pudding. Could you do it? Sure. But your time would be better spent doing something else and you're probably just going to hurt yourself along the way. 

I think it was best said in the statement on "...I believe placing blame solely on an interest in reading/writing about horror, paranormal, myths, urban legends, etc for a tragedy would be off the mark. Hundreds of thousands of people read scary stories, play horror video games, watch TV shows about ghost-hunting and all other varieties of the macabre and creepy... and if we could truly blame any violent crimes solely on one specific form of entertainment as the trigger – well, I suppose it would be a relief as we’d be able to expunge said cause and clear the world of such awful happenings."

Also, an unsettling amount of blame is being thrown at the girls' parents. Yes, I understand that it is a parent's responsibility to know what their kids are up to. (In fact, I'm a big fan of people taking responsibility for themselves and their children. That's how it should be!) Monitoring computer and television usage is great. Spending time with your kids is awesome. But let's be realistic: most of us did things that our parents didn't know about. Even if you got caught doing something and were punished, the implication is that you were doing something they didn't know about in the first place. I'm not saying the majority of us were trouble children. It might have been as benign as using a flashlight after lights out to finish reading a chapter (yep, I'm a nerd), but odds are there was something you kept from your parents at one point or another. Does anyone out there truly believe that these girls' parents were aware of their daughters' plans and let it happen anyway?

I'm not excusing the parents completely. There must have been signs that something about these girls was a little off. Too much time online. Overdeveloped interest in horror or fantasy with no visible outlet. Something. I mean, some reports are saying that one girl's brother knew at least something about her obsession, though he admittedly didn't realize that it had gone from fantasy to reality for her and thought she was a "normal" girl. 

I think the hope is that if parents are paying enough attention to their kids, that they will see signs that something is amiss. The reality is that it isn't always possible. Parents don't always have the ability to oversee every part of their kids' lives, and even if they do see something disconcerting, they might not know what to do, or might not get to it in time, or might think they're misreading things. Not every kid who shows an interest in horror stories is disturbed, so at what point do you decide that it's gone from a normal hobby to something that will spark violent behavior? 

And possibly the most important thing here is that no one wants to believe that something is seriously wrong with their child or that their child is capable of something like this. Denial is as strong as it is dangerous, but it's human nature. How many times have you noticed something weird, but just ignored it and hoped it was nothing or that it would resolve itself? Maybe you convinced yourself that a mole you don't remember having has been there your whole life. Or maybe your car started making a funky noise, so you just turned the radio up and kept on driving. And if we don't want to admit that something is potentially wrong with our cars or even ourselves, I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent to accept that something about their child might not be OK.   

So whom, then, do we blame? The girls? Maybe. They're young, so it seems obvious that their brains aren't yet fully developed. Their understanding of right and wrong is still in the works, as is their capacity for making decisions and moral judgments. This is why younger offenders are typically not tried as adults: they simply don't have the same cognitive abilities as someone 5 or 10 years older. It's also clear that they had trouble distinguishing between works of fiction and the realm of reality, which we can chalk up to youth, mental illness, or a bit of both. But these girls are admitting to feeling little or no remorse. They put aside time and planned this attempted murder. They thought through their actions and they know what they were trying to accomplish. They said that they wanted to become "proxies" of Slenderman, and that they had to kill someone to do so. The key here is that whether or not they believed in Slenderman is far less important than the fact that they were willing to stab someone to death at all.

Honestly, I don't know who's to blame, and I'm not entirely sure it matters anyway. Regardless of the reason these girls tried to murder another girl, someone they called a friend. Whatever the justification, the act was horrendous. So instead of trying to figure out where to point our fingers or direct our anger and sadness, maybe we should just try to focus on what needs to be done moving forward. If mental illness is involved, let's get help for these girls and work on getting help for anyone else who needs it. If they're just sick girls who are OK with stabbing people, let's put them somewhere they can't hurt anyone else. Demonizing a website or the girls' parents isn't going to fix anything. Let's find something that will.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We Made it Through the Wilderness

Somehow, we made it through.

We went camping this past weekend. This is particularly significant for a few reasons. 

First, this was our first camping experience ever with Sgt Pepper. For the most part, he handled it like a champ. We had 2 minor incidents. 

1) We did kind of wear him out a bit on Saturday when we took a walk in a little park. OK, by "kind of" I mean "completely." Poor kid was so pooped that we had to carry him back to the car. And once we got back to our campsite, he made sure he was touching some part of the water dish at all times (since Hubby had just put ice in there, it was nice and cold), practically cuddling the damn thing. It was cute, but we clearly expected a bit too much from him in the heat. 

2) There was an intense thunder storm Saturday night. This was the first big storm we'd been through with Pepper and it had to happen while we were sleeping in a tent? Of course it did. Little man had super crazy eyes and wouldn't (or couldn't) stay still. We did our best to comfort him, but that thunder was insane. He was terrified. (Miss Maxine, of course, barely noticed anything was going on and slept through the majority of the insanity.)

Second, this was our first camping trip of the year. I always look forward to camping as a little family, and this year was no exception. Aside from the storm and packing up a bunch of wet camping equipment, it was a lovely trip. I'm already excited to plan for the next one!

Third, the storm itself. For anyone who has not heard, a young girl (10 or 11) died at Devil's Lake State Park this weekend. Reports vary a bit, but the gist of it is that a part of a tree fell on her tent during the storm and they were unable to free her. A quick Google News search will bring you up to speed, and is even sharing the story

The family was camping at site 435 in the Ice Age campground; we were at site 338. You can see that these sites are pretty far away from one another (via this map of the campground), but I heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles. I didn't know where they were or what was going on. In fact, we didn't find out about it until late Sunday after we'd been home for several hours. 

The thought of "it could have been us" is one that is lingering in our minds. In fact, before the storm even hit, Hubby had mentioned something about how he was terrible for checking for "widow-makers" (branches that could fall during a storm) when deciding where to set up camp. I kind of laughed it off, but damn. In this case, they're saying the tree looked secure, so I guess it really was just a freak accident. Still, my heart goes out to the family. It should have been a fun trip with lots of happy memories. It should have ended with the whole family driving back home, lamenting the end of the weekend and the horrendous traffic. It should have gone so much differently.

So, assuming you've made it through all that unpleasantness, it might be nice to know that we had a nice weekend, though we were VERY glad to be back home. I'm not sure camping is Pepper's favorite activity, but at least we know what to expect for next time. We made an awesome dutch oven pizza (with Rocky's pizza sauce... YUM!), took in some beautiful sights, spent a lot of time relaxing and talking, and just enjoyed being there together. Yay!