Monthly Archives: January 2013

New Column on Santa Claus Reform

Because I am a Very Serious Writer who Writes About Serious Business. Bah, humbug, etc.

My big regret with this piece is the lack of clarity in the line “He was being cruel,” which was meant to be a continuation of my sister’s (non-quotationed) string of accusations, but comes off ambiguously as though I might be accusing my father of being cruel. That is not my take on the situation AT ALL. I am extra anxious about this because, since I had to call him to confirm for my editors that he is OK with me using the anecdote and is not going to sue me or the Pitt News, he asked if I could send him the story in a rare exception to the “Dad doesn’t want to read my columns, and I don’t want him to” rule. As that rule might suggest, our relationship has been pretty rocky in the past, and while it’s a lot better now, I still expect him to be extra sensitive to perceived negative characterization of him in the piece. Whyyyyy did I think last night that I was too cool for quotation marks…

Anyway. Here’s why the rewards of the Santa Claus game as it’s currently played are not worth the price of teaching your kids that you are a lying liarface.

It was thus that my appreciation for “Rise of the Guardians” was impossibly tainted by my growing resentment for all stories that not only show Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy as real, but depict terrible consequences — fairies dying pathetic deaths, Santa Claus deciding not to bother with Christmas this year — brought about by kids who don’t believe anymore. What self-defeating propaganda. Either these stories are produced by people who don’t have children, or the way these tales compound the difficulty of explaining the truth to kids is lost on those whose kids aren’t sobbing, autistic 20-somethings.

In any case, one thing has become increasingly obvious to me: There must be a better way to do this Santa Claus thing.

Rethinking Santa

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Pitt Before Roe

I was late posting this, because I wanted to post it with a more in-depth blog about my gigantic screwup with my source Deborah, whose last name I originally forgot to edit out of the column. Thankfully, though, my editor fixed it within the day (the linked story contains no trace of her full name), and Deborah doesn’t hate me – in fact, she doesn’t hate me so much that she took me out for a drink at the Beehive tonight, because we had never gotten to meet in person.

The column, for better and for worse, didn’t get a lot of attention – not even close to what I saw with the rape column, though this one was more controversial and, I think, better written. There was no comment war, and no angry letter from Pitt Students for Life. On a professional and political level, that’s a little disappointing, but under the circumstances, with my forgetting to abridge Deborah’s name at first, it’s a relief. Revealing in a public venue that someone helped women get illegal abortions when she was an undergrad… if the column hadn’t flopped, I actually could have put her at risk.

So, the moral of the story is, do not unthinkingly out your sources, especially when they are incredibly generous with their stories, and especially when those stories are about abortion. Not everyone is as magnanimous as Deborah, and you would really hate yourself if they started getting death threats.

Without further ado!

Let me take you on a trip. You are a female Pitt student, and the year is 1970.

The Roe v. Wade decision hasn’t been made yet, and although 95 percent of Americans at the time engage in sex before marriage, birth control is taboo. You and the others in Holland Hall have a curfew — although your male classmates don’t — but its effectiveness is belied by the number of girls who drop out because of unintended pregnancies.

Student Health Services doesn’t prescribe birth control, but if you unintentionally get pregnant, you can appeal to the Student Government Board for a loan to pay for an abortion and the cost of traveling to New York, where the procedure is legal.

We Won’t Go Back: Reflections on the Pre-Roe Era at Pitt

P.S. The only comment on this link somewhat skeptically asks for the source on the 95 percent statistic. I am barred from  commenting on the website, but the figure is from Guttmacher. I listed it when I handed in the column, but it wasn’t published. http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/12/19/index.html


Column: Renting for your Mental Health

I have a column in this year’s Rental Guide, about what to consider for your mental health when you’re looking for a place to rent (because clearly what we all need for our mental health is MORE things to worry about when renting. duh.)

I personally try never to live more than two minutes from a reliable food source. I’m not talking Market District — CVS or Sunoco will do — just as long as I can go there at nearly any hour to buy milk, eggs, soup and Easy Mac. Don’t get me wrong — I’d rather not subsist on ramen and gas station hot dogs. But I have occasional depressive episodes, and if I don’t really cook. If I have a breakdown while living more than five minutes from a convenience store or small grocery, I’ll eat nothing for two weeks but cold pizza and shame.

“How To Rent An Apartment that’s Good for your Mental Health”

P.S. special thanks to my friend Mike for alerting me that the purple color I was using for the background of this blog was “frankly alarming.” It does look much better now that it’s white. For as fabulously well-dressed as I am, I have basically no aesthetic sense for anything that’s not on my own body.


Columns I Forgot to Blog

Trying to take advantage of the attention my last column got and dust off the blogging hat or whatehaveyou. To that end, here are my columns I forgot to post over the last few months.

November 22nd – Pitt’s scare-’em-straight posters of alcohol tragedies were tasteless and horrible:

When using a person’s death to raise awareness, it is always important to proceed with the utmost care because you are using the name and likeness of someone who did not — could not — consent to have that likeness used. While I’m assuming the victims’ families consented to have their children serve as cautionary tales — and I hope they saw and approved the final drafts of the posters before they were released ­­— family consent is only part of making an ad tasteful. You have to ask yourself: If I died in some tragic way, would I want to appear on a poster that looked like this? Despite the best intentions of the Office of Health Education and Promotion — which had not responded to requests for an interview as of press time — the “This Was [So and So]” posters fail that test.

November 29 – I went to a Survivors of Suicide Loss conference, and it was SO SAD, and I wrote a column that was sad too:

Some people had outbursts during the psychiatrist’s PowerPoint presentation. Some had to leave the room to compose themselves. Strangers cried in each others’ arms. This was an educational conference, not a group therapy session, but many attendees — some of whom had lost their loved ones only months before — had never attended therapy to help them cope with their loss or met another suicide-loss survivor in a therapeutic context.

December 4 – I wrote something fun for once, and it wound up on the site with a really redundant headline, but mostly you should shop at Groceria Merante because they are amazing.

Oakland is home to a great selection of small grocery stores with great prices and awesome food, belying the need to take the bus to Giant Eagle every time your cabinets are empty. I don’t know what it is that makes students decide it’s easier to schlep their bags home from Shadyside, but in case it’s fear of the unknown, I want to take you on a tour of just a few of the best local places to take your grocery list.


Follow Up, Victim Blaming at Pitt

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So yesterday a whole bunch of people shared my column on rape and victim-blaming on college campuses, which is unbelievable and I am so grateful.

Sadly, the column could have been better if I’d read the paper thoroughly last Friday, when the Pitt Police ran the “crime tip” featured above. For anyone who can’t read it, it says:

CRIME TIP

The Pitt Police Department has recently received reports that female students have encountered some dangerous experiences while drinking at local bars. We have heard the following scenario: A female student under the age of 21 produces a fake ID to the bouncer at the front door of the bar and enters. The female student is intentionally separated from her friends or may be alone when she purchases an alcoholic beverage. She then has no recollection of events until the next day when she wakes up in a strange apartment with an unknown male.

The purpose of this tip is to alert other female students to be on guard when socializing with alcohol.

Things To Consider

  • Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.
  • Fake IDs are illegal and punishable under the law. This can jeopardize your future employment.
  • Don’t be separated from friends. Always arrive and leave with your friends and keep your beverage in your control at all times.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember you have options:

Contact Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Contact Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

So, the tip never mentions sexual assault – in fact, they dance so far around it that it looks ridiculous. “dangerous experiences”? – until the very end when they list the hotlines, which is strange, since usually they list the crime in question up front (i.e. “CRIME ALERT: ROBBERY.”) For that matter, I have never learned from the Pitt Police whether a kid who was mugged had been drinking, whether they were underage, how much loot they were carrying, or whether they were foolishly walking alone at night. I have CERTAINLY never seen a robbery tip say “Don’t place yourself in danger; use your instincts.”

The ad veers toward the absurd with the “don’t get separated from your friends” tip, listed right underneath the fact that the perpetrator is intentionally separating victims from their friends. That is like describing a kidnapping where some thugs dragged a woman into their car, and then coolly advising, “Don’t get into a stranger’s car.”

It honestly reads like a moral tale the police made up to discourage women from using fake IDs – I’m confident that it’s not, but it does read like one. The focus on the fake IDs is so prominent that it nearly obscures the rape – in fact, the ad even goes out of its way to remind us of the penalties for getting into a bar with a fake identification, without even a nod at the perpetrator with a refresher course on Rape Is A Felony.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think victim-targeted warning messages are appropriate sometimes. I do not, for example, think that whatever serial rapist/group of rapists is drugging women on my campus would likely be dissuaded by a newspaper ad telling them to please not do that.

I would actually VERY MUCH APPRECIATE a newspaper ad warning me about a recent spate of drug-assisted rapes on my campus, if it said something like this:

CRIME ALERT: RAPE

The Pitt Police Department has recently received several reports of sexual assaults with similar features. The assailant(s) are targeting female students in bars, separating them from their friends and possibly altering their drinks with [insert whatever the Pitt Police knows, if anything, about what was actually put in these women’s drinks.] The perpetrator may be targeting students using fake IDs.

PPD is investigating these claims. In the meantime, we urge students to practice extra caution when drinking, and keep a close eye on their friends and their drinks.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, or have more information about these incidents, please contact:

Sexual Assault Services 412-648-7856

Pitt PD 412-624-2121

The victim or witness is not required to leave a name or phone number.

Do you see what I did there, with the treating sexual assault like an actual crime? Do you see how it WASN’T THAT HARD?

Bad Pitt Police. No biscuit.