Tag Archives: gun laws

Hanging On

Thank god this week is over.  I am moved into my new place.  My mom and her husband are moved into their new place, although we had to ask the movers to return furniture to their old house because it wouldn’t fit into the apartment.  I spent yesterday unpacking and arranging so my mom will feel at home when she is discharged from the hospital on Tuesday.  It was a lot of work, but the six of us pitched in and nothing broke and no one cried or said anything they’ll have to apologize for.

Today I will drive to Milwaukee.  By the time I get there I expect my back will be in a rigor mortis-like state from all the lifting, bending, and reaching I did yesterday.  But I’m going for a wedding, and I love weddings.  My niece is getting married.  She and her betrothed are Native American.  When I RSVP’d I joked, “I’ve always wanted to go to an Indian wedding!” but I think she is so stressed that she didn’t get it.  The venue is the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the family is staying at an Irish-style hotel.  My cousin got his Universal Life Minister license in order to officiate.  I’m going to wear the fascinator I bought in Eton this summer.  This is not my fascinator, but I wish it was.

Back to the south of England.

Lynn and I, emboldened by our successful use of public transport to Abbottsbury, decided to hop a bus into Lyme Regis.

No one I have ever met in the UK drinks and drives.  Not even one drink.  The blood-alcohol limit is the same as in the US (.08%) but lower in Scotland (.05%).  Of course some people drink and drive, but in general I think people in the UK take “drink driving,” as they call it, more seriously.  You see more drunk people on buses and trains as a result, but at least they’re not driving. We didn’t want to get drunk, but it would be nice for Lynn to be able to have one drink.

We checked out a charming mill area with shops, art museums, and a brewery.  Most were closed for the season.  None of the open ones accepted cards, and there were no working ATMs.  Lynn wanted to buy several pieces pottery but between the two of us we could only scrape up enough for one.

“There is an ATM up the hill,” said a cashier, “but it’s been broken for months.”

I bought two pints with the cash I had left and we sat in the sun and had a great conversation about the differences between the British and American characters.  “Do you think it’s true,” I asked, “the Pink Floyd lyrics: ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way?’  Stiff upper lip … keep calm and carry on and all that?”

In this cash machine situation, it seemed that—with tourist season around the corner—no one had done anything to get it fixed.

“Americans would be storming the bank to demand action—now!”

“We would see that as pointless,” said Lynn.  “You know how British banks are.”

She didn’t say it, but many Brits would also find the American approach undignified.

Another example, below.  Maybe they tried really hard to find another chef to fill in, and couldn’t.  Sadly they will not see us again because we were tourists.

Another cultural difference of note, in light of the Las Vegas shooting: the attitude toward guns.  Lynn’s husband has a gun room.  He’s got hunting guns galore, but no hand guns.  They are all registered, and the police can show up at any time to make sure they’re locked up and that Lynn doesn’t have the key.  If a friend or neighbor notices him acting irrationally, he can be reported to the police, who can revoke his license.  This is fine with him because Brits have the attitude, “We’re all in this together.”  This would never be tolerated in the US, where we care more about our own rights than the rights of society as a whole. So I have little hope that our gun laws or culture will change.

Notes from an Anglo-Irish-German-Czech-American Jewish Atheist

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

Desra gave us a ride back to the Air B&B.  Inside, Lynn said pensively, “If I went to dinner in London with someone who was Afro Caribbean, I don’t think the subject of race would even come up—but we spent the whole dinner tonight talking about race.”

Of course they don’t have African Americans in England.  The race labels were confusing when I lived there, especially who was covered by “Asian.”  In Minnesota, Asians are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, and Thai.  By far the largest group, the Hmong, are mountain tribes people from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and China—where they are called the Miao. That’s pronounced “meow.”  Our newest arrivals are the Karen, an ethnic group from Burma/Myanmar.

In England, an Asian is most likely from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.

Lynn herself is Anglo Indian because her ancestry is English and Indian.  Note that the Anglo comes first, whereas in the U.S., we say “African American” or “Muslim American.”

This labeling is all very fraught with the peril of offending one side or another.

“What if you were having dinner with a Pakistani or other Muslim?” I asked Lynn.  “Would race or religion be a theme in every angle of the conversation?”

“Hmmm…maybe,” replied Lynn. “Yes, that might be it.  It’s not that we don’t have prejudice in the UK.  But I think it’s the Muslim population that’s getting the brunt of the suspicion and animosity, especially since September 11 and seven seven.”

July 7, 2007—the day on which 52 people were killed and 700 injured on the London transport system in an Islamist terrorist attack.  I remember watching it on the news, in Spanish, from my bed in a hotel in Cusco, Peru, where I was vomiting my guts out into an ice bucket after eating some bad guinea pig. That’s a story for another post, but here’s a free tip for you: never use a hotel ice bucket for ice.

We reference so much with these simple dates: 9/11, 7/7.   So much has changed.  In the U.S., half the population—the conservative half—replaced its constant fear of a mass attack by communists with fear of a Muslim attack, which has made possible the rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump.  The strange thing is, they don’t fear the white guy next door with 50 guns who just lost his job and his wife and is acting strangely—just “the Muslims.”

The third major terrorist attack in the west was 11-M, the train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004.  Almost 200 people were killed and 2,000 were injured.  I don’t remember where I was that day.  But I do vividly recall being in Spain sometime after 9/11 but before 11-M studying Spanish.  I was chatting with a British woman and somehow 9/11 came up.

“Now you lot know what we’ve been living with all these years from the IRA,” she said casually about the attack in which nearly 3,000 people died.

Back in St. Louis after a good night’s sleep, Lynn and I were preparing for our last day on the road.

“What do we do with the doughnuts?” she asked.

I carried the box out with us, thinking I would take them home to Vince.  Then I spotted a kid on the porch of the house next door and approached him.

“Hey kid, want a box of doughnuts?”  He was chubby and his eyes said Yes as he also backed away from me toward the door and called, “Daddy!”  The father came rushing outside, looking panicked. I could just picture myself at the police station: “No officer, really! I just wanted to give him the doughnuts; I wasn’t trying to lure him into my car.”

I offered the box to the father, who looked inside to make sure they really were doughnuts (I wonder what else he suspected could be inside?  Snakes?).  He looked up at me with a grin, thanked me, and the two of them hurried inside, where I could hear the boy calling out excitedly, “Mom! We got doughnuts!”

Happy New Life, Again

Happy New Year!  I am re-posting this from January 1 of last year.  I hesitated to share such a personal story then, but it has been the most-read post of the 232 Vince and I have written.  Maybe it’s the story, or the encouraging advice.  Or maybe it’s the guns.

If you received this twice, that’s because I accidentally posted it for January 1, 2015.  Off to a good start, I say!

Three years ago, I hit bottom. I had lived with depression for as long as I could remember, but then….  I had to have a tooth pulled—boy, will that make you feel old! Then during a Christmas Day blizzard my car was towed and I spent four hours waiting in line outside at the impound lot to pay $300 to get it back. I then drove to Fountain to visit Vince. The trailer he shared with Seth was full of guns, beer cans, and smoke. I figured what the heck, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so after he assured me that none of the guns was loaded, we posed for photos that became my holiday cards to my friends in the UK, where they had a good laugh over us gun-crazy Americans.

Vince (11)Vince (7)

Due to the blizzard I spent the night in Seth’s 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom; she was at her mom’s. Here’s a tip for parents who smoke: Keeping your kid’s door closed doesn’t keep smoke out. I couldn’t open the window and after tossing and turning until 5am I slipped out and drove home. On the way I started itching. Great—now I had bedbugs!

I contemplated suicide. I leaned my forehead against the screen of my 20th floor window. I had turned 50 the year before. Thinking about being depressed every day for another 30-40 years wasn’t real appealing.

Here are the things I had tried to manage depression and anxiety:

Meditation

Medication

Prayer (including begging, pleading, and bargaining)

Acting normal

Abstaining from drinking

Cutting down on coffee

Self-help books

Alanon

Exercise

Getting outside every day

Appreciating beauty, be it fine art, nature, music, babies, or kittens

Gratitude lists

Avoiding negative people / avoiding unnaturally happy people

Running away to other countries

Denial

Journaling

Telling myself, “At least I’m not a refugee / amputee / blind / fill-in-the-blank.”

Psychotherapy

Retail therapy

Sleeping, drinking, and movie binges

Reaching out to friends, even when that was the last thing I wanted to do

I thought that jumping out of my window would be exhilarating, until I hit the ground. I had some leftover pain killers from the dentist, and my prescription for Restless Legs. I googled an overdose of the two and learned that they wouldn’t kill me, but that I would likely need a liver transplant. I decided to keep living.

That spring, I visited Vince again and this time, made a reservation at a B&B.  On the free-book-shelf there, I picked up a tattered copy of, “Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy”, by David Burns, MD. I read it and did what it told me to do, and I stopped being depressed. For good.

The book was about Cognitive Therapy. I had been instructed to use it at least twice in the past, but I’d been too stressed out to do it. Basically, you write down your negative thoughts and then argue with them rationally until you’ve de-fanged them. Writing it down is important; if you try to do it in your head you’ll end up down a rabbit hole.

So was a lifetime of depression cured overnight by one book? No. I think it was all the other things I had tried over the years—the good things, anyway—and then I added this on top of them and together they all added up to a breakthrough.

I still feel sad sometimes–there’s plenty to feel sad about–but I’m not depressed and I’m committed to living.

Sorry for the long post but, if you’re struggling, I want to encourage you to keep an open mind, keep plugging away, and keep trying new things.

PS: I didn’t have bedbugs after all.  I think I was just itchy from the smoke and dry air.  Living with addiction can turn you into a drama addict.

Crazy Eyes, Evil Eyes

The massacre in San Bernardino is really weighing on me.

Right after it happened, I wrote a post in which I suggested that mental illness could have been a factor, just as it is in many other cases.  Why do we assume that white guys are deranged, but Muslims are evil?  In this case, there was an additional question mark for me about possible post-partum depression, since the wife had given birth six months earlier.

But then we learned that both of the shooters in San Bernardino had been radicalized and had been planning some kind of attack for years.  I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy staring at photos of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

They don’t look like these guys:

imagesimages (4)images (3)download (1)

They don’t look crazy.  They look dead.  Cold.

download

What kind of woman leaves her six-month-old infant behind, knowing she’ll never see her again—knowing her baby will be removed from the family, that her life will be tainted by a legacy of death?

What kind of son leaves his mother behind, knowing she’ll be interrogated by law enforcement?  Maybe the mother was involved, too.  In which case, what kind of son would leave his mother to face life in prison?  But these are silly questions.  This couple murdered 14 people and injured many more.  Why would they care about an old woman and a baby?

If they weren’t mentally ill, were they evil?  And what does that mean?  We can sometimes catch mental illness early and intervene.  But how would we spot evil?  Who would we call to report it?

There have been so many mass shootings in the U.S.  Until now I have reacted the same as anyone else—shaking my head, feeling bad for the victims, wondering when we will finally enact some reasonable gun reforms.  Then I’m over it.  Until now.

Where I work, at the Center for Victims of Torture, many of our clients come to us after suffering unimaginable torture during ethnic or religious conflicts in their home countries.  There is always the possibility that someone from the enemy side could enter the U.S. and come looking for them, just when they thought they were safe.  If someone would shoot up a center for developmentally disabled people, like the one in San Bernardino, why wouldn’t they shoot up a torture rehabilitation center?  There have been so many mass shootings, but this was the first one I could really imagine myself being involved in.  I imagine myself hiding in a bathroom stall or coat closet.  Of course I always—miraculously—am one of the survivors.

A father whose six-year old daughter was killed in the Newtown shooting was interviewed on public radio last week.   He and his wife are both scientists and they have started a research foundation to look into the connections between mental illness and violence.

The father said, “We have to recognize that, of course, all of our behavior comes from our brain. So just like any organ can be healthy or unhealthy, when there’s risk factors that lead to malfunction of certain circuits or regions of the brain, that’ll lead to bad behavior.  And yes, it is preventable. It’s a matter of chemistry and not character.”

I hope he’s right.  I hope someday we’ll discover that evil is a biochemical imbalance that can be fixed with a pill.  Maybe some day we’ll routinely test kids’ DNA and put them on medication if they’ve got the gene that could turn them into the next mass shooter.

A Crazy Idea?

I woke up in the dark at 5:40 am and wished I still believed in God.  Fourteen people dead at a center for developmentally disabled people in California.  I wished there was a higher power to whom I could appeal for help.  Help for us all.  For a moment, I thought I could feel something, then … nah … wishful thinking.

It’s up to us, people.  What “it” involves is a matter of dispute.

Someone asked on Facebook, “will this turn out to be a mentally-ill person?  Someone with extreme ideology?  A workplace grudge?”

There’s still a lot unknown, but it looks like it could be all three.  And I’m curious to learn if post-partum depression played a role in this latest incident, where a young mother dropped off her baby then went on a shooting rampage which she knew would result in her death or life in prison.

Here’s the liberal argument I hear: “Why do we label the white attackers mentally ill but the Muslim ones terrorists?”  I think what is really being expressed, by the conservative “side”, is that white attackers are deranged while Muslims are evil.

I’d like to flip that around and suggest that instead of considering every horrendous act an act of murder terrorism, we consider it an act of mental illness.  Hear me out.

I’m not a mental health clinician, but I have worked at two mental health clinics, where I have observed that mentally ill people often have religious fixations.  They think they are Jesus, they hallucinate angels, they hear demons telling them to do bad things.

A number of members of my family have suffered from Bipolar Disorder.  One was convinced that the Catholic Church had a conspiracy that had something to do with the numbers on the clock.

Anne, haven’t you noticed?  The numbers on the clock—there are 12 of them!  It’s so obvious that the Catholic Church is behind it.”

“Behind what?” I would ask.

He could never explain to my satisfaction what the numbers on the clock had to do with the Pope and the Catholic Church, but I would hear him out, hoping he wouldn’t call his parents next and burden them with his ranting.

If mentally ill people can have wacko Catholic theories, why wouldn’t they have wacko Muslim theories?

I was in the Middle East for work in February.  We were in Bethlehem on a long lunch break between meetings.  My two Palestinian colleagues and I were smoking shishas while my colleague from Minnesota gagged.

I had arrived in Amman the day ISIS released a video of them burning to death the Jordanian pilot they had captured.  The streets were packed with people waving the Jordanian flag and shouting.  They were angry, and I didn’t blame them.  I wish Americans got angry about wrong doing and demonstrated more often.

Omar turned to me.  “Tell us, what do you think about ISIS—these people who do such things?  We really want to know what Americans think.”

I had been thinking about this a lot.  “I think there’s an element of mental illness involved.  Who is it that most often gets schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses?  Young men.  Who is it that is almost always behind violence?  I’m sorry, but it’s men.  And then you get them in a group—call it group think or herd mentality or whatever—and fire them up with ideological rhetoric, and put an AK47 in their hands…”

My Minnesota colleague disagreed.  She asserted that poverty and hopelessness were to blame.

Of course those are factors.  But I’ve been poor and hopeless, and I’ve never even shoplifted.  Millions of people around the world are desperately poor and they don’t kill people.  Many members of ISIS and Al Queda are not poor—they’ve got engineering degrees and come from middle class families.

If we do assume that mental illness is behind sadistic killings by ISIS or mass shootings in California and Connecticut, this does not mean the murderers are not responsible for their actions.  It does mean we can have hope, at least in the US, because there are effective means to identify and manage mental illness.

Alone in the City of Dreaming Spires

I spent Thanksgiving in Wisconsin with my cousins, which is what I do every year. Vince couldn’t come because he is not allowed to leave Minnesota.

After eating way too much food, I made the mistake of checking Facebook right before I turned out the light. There were a couple posts from Vince. He sounded so lonely.

I couldn’t fall asleep. I laid there thinking about the time I learned to be alone. I think this is one of the most important skills we have to master in life.

I had moved to Oxford, England four months before my birthday. I rented a house with a three-legged cat named McCartney and housemate who went home to Scotland every weekend. I had a great job. I had joined a posh gym. I had made some acquaintances through work and Alanon meetings.

Red Door

This was before Skype or Facebook or What’sApp. My family and friends used email to communicate with me, but there was no internet at the house.

I don’t normally even care about my birthday. I hadn’t told my housemate or acquaintances it was my birthday because I didn’t want to seem like I was fishing for a fuss.

I walked into town to see a movie. February in England is dreary and drizzly. Well, most months are. In comparison to November, the sun was setting later (almost 5pm!) but the sky really only went from murky black to dark grey and back to murk again.

I got some popcorn and found a seat. Someone behind me said, “Pssst!” Hurrah! It was a friendly woman from my Alanon meeting named Rebecca. I wouldn’t spend my birthday alone after all! But she just said, “Nice to see you,” and that was that. I thought, unreasonably, “Why couldn’t she have invited me to sit with her and her friend?” I felt really put out.

The movie was Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic. There’s a scene where Johnny is drying out and his family confronts a drug dealer with shot guns. The theater exploded in laughter. “Typical Americans!” I could hear around me.

I had picked a bad time to move to England. George W. Bush was using their air bases to transport terrorists and political prisoners in black helicopters, and most Brits were not happy about it. Most people were nice enough—if reserved—but I had been confronted by several very angry people who took me to task for everything my country had ever done wrong.

It really hit me that I was not only lonely but alone. I was on an island with 64 million people and I didn’t know a single one of them beyond asking the time of day. It was piercing.

I went home and had a few beers while I stared out the front window like some tragic heroine in a period movie. People strode past with their hands deep in their pockets and their heads down. I wallowed in self-pity. But somehow I knew I would get through it, that I wasn’t going to die of loneliness, that everything would change eventually—if not the next day then next week or next month. Everything did change. I’ve had a lot of great adventures on my own and with other people.

Now we can feel like we’re never alone by floating along on endless social media streams of cutsie platitudes and cat videos and political rants and “breaking news.”

Did Vince know that nothing stays the same forever? I finally fell into a worried, fragmented sleep. I dreamed that Vince fell into a river and was swept away into a big pipe. I ran along the river bank until I came to an opening in the top of the pipe. I could see his face underwater, looking up at me. The iron bars over the opening were wide enough for my hand to slip through so I could touch him, but too narrow for me to pull him through. Ugh. I woke up crying. I don’t need a psychiatrist to analyze that dream.

Beautiful France

ANNE

I am writing this the day after the latest terrorist attacks in Paris. There were multiple terrorist attacks in Lebanon the previous day which are getting a lot less attention in the west. I don’t think this is callous disregard for people in the Middle East. I think it’s about what Paris stands for.

I’ve been to Paris and it’s wonderful but the trip that helped me appreciate joie de vivre was to Provence in 2012. I went for a Mini Cooper festival. Yeah, it’s a thing. Specifically, Iggy Pop was the festival headliner, and seeing Iggy Pop in concert was on my bucket list. So off I went.

I had taken a heavy-duty meditation class for three months prior to this trip, so I was as chill as I will ever be. I missed my flight from Paris to Marseilles because I was too absorbed in watching planes come and go through the cavernous windows at Charles de Gaulle airport. I got to Marseilles after dark and chose to drive the two-hours to my hotel in the dark instead of spending the night in a hotel. So part of my perception that France is “so laid back” was my own state of mind, and the fact that I was on vacation. If I actually lived in the south of France, had to get up and go to work every day, pay bills … well, I’d be willing to try it to see if it was as stressful as daily life in the U.S.

I turned the corner out of the rental car company into the enormous tunnel under the port of Marseilles and ran smack into a thousand-car traffic jam. Here’s where I first noticed something different. In the U.S., people would have been laying on the horn, screaming the F bomb, and abandoning their vehicles to “go get someone to straighten this out.” I witnessed something like this when I was in a 25-car pileup on the freeway in St. Paul during a blizzard a few years ago.

But not in the south of France. People were honking, but only in a half-hearted, “I’m bored so I’ll toot a tune on my horn” sort of way. We all had our windows rolled down because it was a hot evening and there were diesel fumes and of course most of the people were smoking. My fellow travelers were listening to a comedy show on the radio. It was in French so I didn’t know it was a comedy show until the people around me started laughing and it echoed throughout the tunnel. Some of them looked over at me and I fake-laughed. Not one of the thousands of us got out to “go find someone and get this fixed.” Eventually we started moving and were on our way.

My friend Heidi flew over from London for 24 hours for the festival, but after that I was on my own for however long I was there. A week? 10 days? I can’t even remember. Time seemed to slowed down.

I went for a hike along the Mediterranean:

The Med

Yes, there were vineyards, and sections of the trail smelled like pizza because they were planted with rosemary and oregano.

Vinyard

I drove around the mountains in my rental Peugot, which was smaller than my Mini Cooper. I stopped at a farmer’s market and bought some fresh produce, Roquefort cheese, a small bottle of champagne.

French Farmers mkt

I ate at a seaside restaurant. I was there for hours—no one came to whisk my plate away and deposit my bill the moment I’d taken my last bite.

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France, in my mind, stands for beauty and enjoyment of all life’s moments and pleasures. Food that tastes like food, drinking (and—gasp!—even smoking) in moderation. Seeing and appreciating beauty, not just rushing blindly through life checking off items on a to-do list. I know France has got plenty of ills, but I believe these are some of the reasons she is targeted—because fundamentalists (of any faith) hate beauty and pleasure. Not to mention topless sun bathers.

Sun bathers

Today, I will be French.  I will appreciate the sunrise from my front window.  No terrorist can take that away from me.

Sunrise