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

Image

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.


My column on the stark underfunding of the counseling center

So of course, I’m crazy excited about the election. But I’m going to write more about this when I post the link to the latest WPTS on the Radio discussion, in which my fellow columnists and I were asked, “Does the Republican Party have any hope of getting back the youth vote?” My answer: “Probably not without changing practically everything they stand for.”

But for now, this column. I am proud of this column; I wanted to write it over a year ago and was repeatedly blocked from bringing it to fruition.

I don’t have a lot of reporting experience, and it was very awkward for me to interview Counseling Center representatives for a piece that was ultimately about their failure to meet student need for services. But I hope they (and readers) realize aspersions aren’t being cast on them – they don’t decide how much funding they  get – but on the people at Pitt who decide how the money is used. In short, the Counseling Center is the rugged hero of this story, not the villain.

The Talk About It program, whose very success is likely reflected in the increased demand for services, becomes a cruel joke when sufferers who decide they do want to talk about it learn that they’ll have to wait until next month. Outreach is no substitute for treatment, and Pitt has talked too much talk about promoting mental wellness on campus to fail to provide for its students in this area.

To Meet Increased Demand, Counseling Center Needs More Resources


Stiff Upper Lip

Election Day is in 48 hours and I’m anxious.

I’m having a party on Tuesday night – a feelings-drinking party, champagne if Obama wins, your personal sad drink if Romney wins, with the exception of my one Republican friend. Last night, drunk, I told my friend Mike that if Romney wins, he’ll want to leave right away. He won’t want to see me. I promised weeping and wailing, sobbing in the streets. I meant it, too.

I went to bed and dreamed about not being able to vote, about standing in line juggling weird forms in an office that looked like my high school. I dreamed that Bush won somehow and I sat at a desk frantically calculating how that could possibly happen because he’d definitely served too many years already to run again. I woke up irritated.

This morning I asked my mother who she was voting for, out of curiosity. My mom is one of those low-information voters we talked about on the radio last week. She told me it was none of my business.

“OK,” I said, surprised by this reaction from the least confrontational person I know. “You don’t have to tell me. I was just wondering.”

“I don’t have to tell you?” Now she’s surprised. Now we’re in familiar territory; she expects to be bullied.

“No, of  course not. I was just wondering.”

“I don’t like either of them.” She blurts out. “I might just go eenie-meenie-miney-mo.”

“Oh God,” I said, “don’t do that. You can vote for Romney if you really think he’s the better choice, but don’t throw it away.”

Now that I’ve given her permission, she tells me; she’s voting for Romney. OK. Deep breath. “OK. Cool. I was just curious.”

I think some unkind, unfair things. My mom has voted the same way as the man in her life – first my dad, now the equally-conservative boyfriend Nick – for as long as I can remember. Last year Nick went Obama for no discernible reason, and Mom did too. Now Romney. OK.

I think back to 2004, when my dad learned his mom was voting for Kerry and threw a hissy fit. I remember him in our kitchen, pacing with the cordless phone, screaming at her. He said if Kerry wins, he’s moving our family to Texas. His mom probably laughed at him – Kerry will still be president in Texas. She wasn’t fazed. She was the kind of mother who let him hold his breath in the grocery store until he passed out, and this wasn’t any different. But at 13, I was petrified. I don’t want to go to Texas! I’d have never seen my school friends again.

I silently, briefly, obnoxiously congratulated myself on being more mature and respectful towards my mother at age 21 than my dad was in his 40s, then pulled my shit together. Dad didn’t move us to Texas when Obama won, and he didn’t do any weeping and wailing that I witnessed, though sometimes if we’re fighting he’ll yell at me for making Obama president even though I was 17 during that election and couldn’t vote.

But frankly, those kinds of dramatics do nothing for anybody – and would certainly have been inconsiderate to my one Republican friend, who is attending my party because I told him he was welcome. If Romney wins, I will tell people it’s going to be OK. We’re going to be OK. As honestly as I think a Romney presidency would suck for me and most of the people I care about, we’ve all been through things that sucked. I will try to be very stereotypically British about it. I will nurse my hangover with some tea. I will take up meditation and watch the news selectively and work very hard to donate a little money to the places that will be hurting for money if Romney wins the presidency, and the world will not be over and we will all keep calm and carry on.