I’m two days away from my four year blog-o-versary. I love blogging, more than I ever expected to, and for more reasons than I had imagined possible. One of those reasons involves the connections with others, and the occasional, amazing notes I receive from readers–some who I know from other forums, others I don’t know at all.
As discussed ad nauseam, I’m fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive group of online friends. One of those friends sent me a lovely message after reading my last post. Not a Fringeling, she read the post after another mutual friend shared it. In her note, she asked if I had ever considered writing a novel, and I debated an appropriate response. Laugh? Cry? Slit my wrists and bleed into the keyboard? I thanked her for her support, gave a way too long response of my history of writing woes, and obsessed over her thoughts for the rest of the day. Mentioned it to one of my writing friends, who promptly told me this was a gentle nudge from the universe. It’s nice to have friends with a glass-half-full outlook, my take was this was the universe reopening wounds I’ve been trying to keep closed.
What does this have to do with anything? The following morning, I received an “invite” (one of those Facebook invite thingies) to a reading, sent by another friend. I clicked on the invite, and in addition to the published authors reading, the evening includes open mic time slots. Not to be all metaphysical and shit, but the two incidents happening so close together did seem like some type of universal body check. I considered. I could do this. Could I do this? What would I read? Is there an actual mic involved? I’m fine with speaking in front of people, but not when I have to speak into a microphone. Surely there’s a long list of items I’d be better served spending $8 on. How long is six minutes, anyway? I asked Nerd Child the last question, he’s the one with public speaking experience. Hmmm, six minutes would eliminate any of the shorts I’ve got here on the blog, which was my original thought. I think. Unless I just read an excerpt. Why would I do this? I could just go, see a friend I haven’t connected with in a long time, support my friend’s friend, have a nice grownup evening, a couple of drinks, and bemoan my lack of legitimacy.
Husband woke early today, and was sitting at the table so I mentioned it to him. He, of course, said, do it. Holy fuck, I did it. Bought a ticket including a time slot to read. I think. Maybe I clicked the wrong box. Maybe they’ll sell too many of those tickets and I’ll be bounced, since I’m not a real writer, no pub credits. But what if I clicked the right box, and I’m not bounced? What the hell am I going to read?
I’ve got three weeks to decide what to read. Three weeks to chicken out.
I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to write any more posts about shootings for a while. Not mass shootings, not shootings of police, not shootings by police, not the ever-confusing shootings of and by toddlers. The horror of the shootings that make headlines is how easy it is, for most of us, to understand that it could be any of us. To understand something has gone wrong in our society, in our schools, in our definition of protect and serve. That’s been made abundantly clear. But somehow, as these incidents continue and grow, instead of addressing how to fix things, real discussion is at a standstill, and there’s a divide the width of the Grand Canyon where it seems no one is listening: “Black Lives Matter!” “No, Blue Lives Matter!” Sigh.
I want to post about my continued quest for the perfect moon photograph, the sad state of my tank, summertime in the city, how frustrating it is to be a peasant, finding laughter in the absurdity of the everyday, blather on about writingnotwriting.
But here I am, again.
The victim didn’t die, there’s nothing to debate, it’s a blatant fuck-up. I don’t have the words for this one, thinking about it wraps my intestines tight around my shins and makes agoraphobia sound like an attractive alternative to stepping outside. A man with autism, in Florida, was upset and ran away from his group home. He didn’t run far, and his behavioral therapist found him sitting on the street playing with his toy truck. Someone called the police, reportedly stating something about an armed suspect threatening suicide. Maybe that’s what the caller honestly thought, maybe they were just frightened and freaked out by the man. Either way, when the police arrived, Charles Kinsey, the behavioral therapist from the group home, was sitting/lying on the street with him. In some ways I’ve been Charles Kinsey, and I know what he was doing, working to calm his client, set him at ease, and get him back home safely. It’s a hard, frustrating job that can shatter your heart ten times a shift while it simultaneously fills you with hope and appreciation for the small moments and subtlest of victories. It’s exhausting. But of course, I’m not a black man.
After the responding officers were told by Kinsey what was happening, told the supposed threat was a man with autism holding a toy truck (not “even” a toy gun), and Kinsey was lying on the ground with his hands up, one of those officers shot Kinsey in the leg. To keep everyone extra safe, after shooting three times, they rolled him over and handcuffed him. It’s ok, though, an honest mistake, the officer had intended to shoot the (white) man with autism. *sarcasm* Kinsey was trying to convince his client to lie on the ground, but his client was sitting and rocking, very very common amongst autistic people.
I don’t want to hear how police officers all over the country are extra jumpy because of the recent shootings of fellow officers. I understand that, and every shooting, fatal or not, is tragic for those directly involved and our greater community. I don’t understand a police officer so poorly trained that he would shoot at an unarmed man lying on the ground who had already explained what was happening. I don’t understand why we have police officers so poorly prepared to respond to calls in the community one would think for a second shooting at a vulnerable, mentally challenged, unarmed citizen (with what is now a common disorder) is an appropriate response. Who was he protecting? Who did he think he was serving? Excuses aren’t reasons, and excuses don’t erase repercussions.
Yes, in the chorus of recent shootings striking chords, this one is an off-key aria that terrifies me. It’s terrified many of my friends; one of our biggest fears, spoken or unspoken, playing onstage now under a merciless spotlight. With or without a diagnosis of autism, many neurological disorders come with a processing disorder. CAPD–Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Processing disorders mean physical hearing may not be impaired, but sounds and speech are easily muddied, resulting in delays understanding what is being said, often requiring calm, quiet, PATIENCE, visual cues and clues, and repetition. Thousands (maybe millions?) of children and adults have this disorder, it goes hand in hand with many learning disorders, autism, epilepsy, add/adhd, developmental delays, and sometimes it’s the result of medications slowing cognitive function. There are also several seizure types that leave the person seemingly aware, standing, sitting, maybe even walking and talking, but in fact the brain has “checked out” for a moment, or three, or ten. FYI, autism and epilepsy often go hand in hand. I’m not sure I have any fellow special needs mom friends whose children (regardless of age) don’t have either CAPD or a seizure disorder. Without autism, that client, the intended recipient of three bullets, could have been my child. Could be my child tomorrow. Could be any number of friends’ children; yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Stop pretending police officers are superheroes, or are supposed to be superheroes. We don’t need superheroes, we need human beings with critical thinking skills and compassion, who are trained in crisis management and deescalation skills at least as well as Charles Kinsey. We need law enforcement officers who recognize and acknowledge the difference–before firing their weapons–between an imminent threat to their lives and a pain in the ass who’s making them run, the difference between someone pointing a gun at them and a child or mentally challenged individual holding a toy. Stop pretending every day on every street in uniform in America is equivalent to being dropped into a war zone.
Yes, being a law enforcement officer is an often dangerous, always stressful job. I appreciate those who choose to take the risk and join their local force. I would appreciate adequate vetting and training even more. If we can not and do not feel safe teaching our children to approach law enforcement if they are in need, we can no longer pretend to be a democracy, we are broken. Shooting those who are unarmed, shooting at our most vulnerable citizens, is unacceptable. Period. Stop pretending this is protecting and serving anyone.
I needed a little break from all the ugliness these days. “Manhattanhenge” is something that occurs about twice a year, I think, when the sunset lines up just so with the grid that makes up our city streets. I didn’t make it down to the streets that have the best views, just walked south with Art Child and my Mother-In-Law until we were able to have a decent vantage point. This amounted to me standing in the middle of the intersection every time the light was red, Mother-In-Law calling out the seconds I had left, and Art Child looking at us both like we had lost our minds.
Mrs Fringe: “Just this one next light, and then I think that will be it.”
I need a peaceful ocean pic this morning, the world outside my door feels too chaotic.
I’ve been writing this blog for close to 4 years. Over the past couple, my breaks have been more frequent, and often longer than they were initially. Part of me scolds myself, I should make more of an effort, but for the most part, I’m ok with it. Everything evolves, even a little drop in the cyberocean blog. And some of my slowdown has been specific, intentional. If you follow Mrs Fringe, you know I can be, umm, vehement. Excitable. Loud. Again, I’m ok with this. I yam who I yam and all that shit. But I don’t want to be reactionary. Obviously I don’t mean reactionary in the right-wing sense of the word, but in terms of just vomiting emotions through the keyboard about the issue or horror of the day without reason and perspective. A bit light on facts is okay, I’m not a journalist, I’ll provide links, do your research if you want to know more–but if I’m going to write about anything outside of my immediate four walls, there has to be some objectivity, even given the (more than safe) assumption that I’m always going to slant left.
I know some hear the phrase “with intent” and associate it with police procedurals and criminal charges. In my mind, “with intent” involves the choices we make about how to live our lives, what we’re working towards and who we want to be, as opposed to floating aimlessly or just scrambling to get by. I want my children to live their lives with intent.
So when Alton Sterling was shot in Baton Rouge three days ago, I didn’t immediately plant myself in front of the keyboard to yell about police brutality. I wanted to process what I was hearing first, get a few more facts. For some reason, despite the first, brief video all over the internet that showed him being shot, every link I clicked would freeze or not work at all, which helped with my intent to slow down and find out more information. I’ll be honest, after so many well publicized police shootings, my instinct was to assume he was shot because he was black. Even when I heard he had a gun. How many times have we seen this story play out? “He had a gun, I was in fear for my life…” Then video emerges–or eyewitnesses, videos being conveniently lost or malfunctioned–and it turns out the gun was a wallet, or a toy, or non-existent, or the suspect was shot in the back because he was running (or walking) while black. Then I read about a gang affiliation. Hmm, ok, if he was known to local police as gang affiliated and thought to be carrying a gun, maybe a step back is in order before screaming injustice. But our police are not supposed to act as judge, juries, and executioners–even if this was a bad guy, they aren’t supposed to decide his life is not worthwhile. Then the second, longer video emerged and I watched it. WTF? Does everyone in our country think we’re living inside a movie set? Maybe there was a gun in his pocket, but he was already pinned on the ground, already shot. Yes, his arm moved, but this isn’t an freaking blockbuster, and whatever Alton Sterling was, he wasn’t an action hero. He wasn’t in any condition to pull a gun out of his pocket, take aim, and shoot the police officers who were holding him down. Naturally, they shot him again.
I want to say, at least they had already called for an ambulance. I want to say how glad I am that Baton Rouge doesn’t seem to have hesitated or made an effort to block a federal investigation. But to hold those up as measures of progress is a smokescreen to divert focus from the fact that the police shot and killed a man they already had controlled and subdued.
Before I could process and begin drafting a post about this, Philandro Castile was shot during a routine traffic stop in Minnesota. Surprise! He was a black man. (If I’m going to be honest and disclose my own bias here, it’s that as a stereotypical New Yorker, I’m not sure I knew there were people of color living in Minnesota.) This horror of an incident couldn’t be worse. I don’t know how anyone can justify this shooting. Philandro Castile was in his car with his girlfriend and young daughter, no criminal history, worked at a Montessori school, for Pete’s sake. Montessori, the model of education based on respect, discovery, and inclusion. He was carrying a gun, for which he had a license, and disclosed this information to the police officer, the way he was supposed to. For doing the right thing, following the steps of the law and reaching for his license when asked for it, he was shot–four bullets–and killed. His girlfriend remained calm and live streamed the incident, and was arrested for it.
What could I possibly say about this incident that hasn’t been said and ignored ad infinitum in regards to the many, many police shootings in America? What could I possibly say that would be helpful to the black community, what would make sense to those who want to pretend we don’t have a huge problem in our police forces nationwide?
Protests occurred all over our country last night. Excellent. But with protests, there’s always fear. Will the protestors remain peaceful? Will the police? This next piece of news made me realize that my heart can, in fact, be more broken than it already was. I woke during the night to find Husband watching news reports of snipers in Dallas, Texas, who killed five police officers and injured several more. You know the way I said I want to have facts before speaking out? I don’t need the specifics here, these were snipers, no confusion, no other way to interpret what happened. This is wrong. It’s reactionary, it defies logic, it does nothing but inflame an already combustible situation. The same as I do not believe the answer to our problem with gun violence is more guns, I do not believe the answer to police violence is violence against the police. Anger and protests are justified, frustration is justified, murder is not. The same as I’m certain Philandro Castile was murdered, the same as it’s looking like Anton Sterling was murdered, the police officers last night were murdered.
I am afraid. I’m afraid for what comes next on a societal scale, I’m afraid on a personal scale. I’m afraid for my friends and family members, living their lives with intent, taking care of themselves, their families, their communities. Many of these friends and family members have brown skin and/or latino names. We, as a society, are living in fear. As a nation that loves to bluster about freedom, strength, and power, we should be better than this. The past week has been an American nightmare, it’s time for us to wake up, and live all of our lives, pass laws, make decisions, revamp and retrain our police forces, and move forward with intent and integrity.
Mystery flower. I’ve got a whole container of these, planted by an imaginary gardener.
We all have those friends, who you meet and connect with, where within a short time you can’t imagine your life if you hadn’t met–but you know life would have been different; poorer, tea from a twice-used tea bag. I have a garden of friends like those, a veritable field of wildflowers, though most of our shared tears, laughter, arguments, and wine have been cyber in nature.
I hate those memes that go around, the articles about clever art installations mocking our dependence on the internet and smartphones. Do we miss the point, the moment, are we hiding behind our keyboards? Maybe, sometimes. But often we’re connecting, building new friendships and learning about points of view we wouldn’t otherwise see. Those memes dismiss the relationships, the access to viewpoints and information that broaden our worlds. They negate the very real support.
My first full online experience was a forum where I met other parents dealing with the same issues as I was, asking the same questions, feeling the same fears and frustrations, laughing at the same gallows humor, sharing dreams, hopes, denial and acceptance. Equally important were the adults I met in that forum who themselves had the disorder. Also asking questions, sharing information, making jokes and living their lives. If memory serves, before then my internet experience was limited to brief jaunts with Ask Jeeves. Since then, I’ve been a member of several online communities with various special interests, and made some friends along the way in all of them. But that first forum was special. What a shock it was for me to discover not all forums were as wonderfully accepting and supportive, with statements carefully phrased so as not to be misconstrued and questions framed to help gather information, not attack.
Maybe the stars were aligned and the moon was in the seventh house, I don’t know. What I do know is that we formed a tight, tight group that remains intact to this day, though none of us actually use that forum anymore. We’ve supported each other through medical tests, diagnoses, hospitalizations, dance recitals, IEP meetings, divorces, jobs, life. We’ve discussed fears of seizures being misinterpreted by overenthusiastic and undereducated police. Many of us have been fortunate enough to meet a few face to face. Imaginary friends who send real gifts, offer real advice, real laughter, provide an army of support to each other though various challenges.
Our children are ours. Face to face or not, we’ve cheered successes and cried over setbacks, we’ve watched each other’s children grow. Our online village. Our community, not dissimilar to being a member of any minority group. But not all of our children grow up. Some have children that mature and leave home, some have children that will never be independent. A few have children who have died, or will die. Sometimes this is known well in advance, sometimes not. We lost one of ours this weekend. I’m not specifically close with this mom, she isn’t one of the women I formed a relationship with over and above our common bond, but her daughter was one of ours.
Imagine SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, what used to be called crib death) being a risk forever. Imagine a life where there is no age where the doctor says you don’t have to worry about that for your child anymore. In our world that’s called SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy). Certainly not a common risk, but one that’s all too real. I’m tempted to say it’s the fear and knowledge of SUDEP that brought our group so close together, but I don’t think so. Many of us didn’t even know this existed until we were years into our common journey.
Imaginary friends? Maybe, but much like the mysterious life in my planter, the flowers that have bloomed, flowers of laughter, love, tears, and mourning–are very real.