Sandy Hook: An essay, and some links that should be shared.

I’ve been trying to think of something to write here since the horrific violence that exploded in Newtown, a community only 15 minutes away from mine, on Friday. I’ve tried to think of something meaningful to add to the conversations about the tragedy that took the lives of 20 children, their educators, a mother and a violently troubled youth, but almost everything I’ve wanted to write has just seemed like an addition to the online noise that has surrounded the shootings.

Should I write about my friends who live in Newtown? I know many Newtowners; they are my fellow alums and my former teachers. They are my former students. They are my friends. Their children have lost their own friends now, and the pain of those parents as they cope with the grief of their  children is palpable.

Should I write about the media? I’ve been an education reporter, which often means covering tragedies involving the young.  If I were still in my old job, I would have been on the ground in Newtown, as some of my former co-workers are. It’s a thankless, horrible job they are doing, because as much as we thirst for information about a horror when we are nowhere near it, we resent the intrusion of the press when they are in our own backyards to supply the information demanded by the rest of the country. Don’t think the reporters aren’t affected by metabolizing and processing all the awful details so that the public can read them. My worst days were spent writing about the deaths of children, and I never covered anything as terrible as this.

Should I write about all the parents who have been answering tough questions all weekend? Now must be a hard time to be a parent. I admit that it’s selfish of me to have been grateful since Friday that I have no children, and that I’ve been spared the pain of that anxiety.

Should I write about politics? About mental health? About gun control? Surely enough noise is being made about all of that without me adding my own uninformed and unorganized opinions to the fray.

All I can do is acknowledge the tragedy and my reaction to it, and pass on to some of the things I’ve seen and read that matter:

First, a fund to donate to. I have this (indirectly) from a school administrator who recommends this as a legitimate donation site. And of course it is the United Way: Sandy Hook School Support Fund
UPDATE: Here is another fund, set up by the Sandy Hook Community members. This was shared with me by a Facebook friend who vouches for its legitimacy.
UPDATE: If you wish to make a donation in memory of a victim, the Newtown Patch today posted a list of the charities chosen by some of the victims’ families.

If you haven’t read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” yet, you should. It’s a powerful and well-written essay about the state of mental health care in our country, and about the effect of a mentally ill child on a caregiver.

As, a follow-up, it’s helpful to read “I am Adam Lanza’s Psychiatrist.”

I haven’t organized my thoughts on gun control completely but Talking Points Memo offered a thought-provoking post on the subject a few days ago.

So that’s it, for now. Go. Live life. Grieve. Respect the grief of others. Acknowledge the validity of other people’s pain and work, and don’t take out the frustration we all feel on people who are just as stricken you are. That’s all I’ve got.

Taking a shot at relentless optimism.

By Arthur Waley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I like positivity as much as the next person, and I try to stay positive on social media, because, well, it’s social media. If you have a Facebook account you’ve seen the virtual train wreck that happens when people go negative: grown-ups posting anonymous, passive aggressive messages as statuses, private grievances aired out before 500 of one’s closest friends, obscenity-laden messages to people you’ve never met who blast loud music or cut you off in traffic.

But you know what’s equally horrifying? The cult of relentless optimism. You know who I’m talking about: the people who profess to never say anything negative, for whom affirmations are a way of life and who repress their negative thoughts until, presumably, they go around grinning grotesquely, like victims of The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie.

Why bash positive thinking? Well, I’ve tried it. I self-helped for years. In that time, I self-affirmed and envisioned and made vision boards and sent good, warm, rose-colored energy out into the universe.  I’ve self-hypnotized. I’ve tried to banish the word “should” from my vocabulary. And, as someone who is despite my best efforts, still on Tony Robbins’ mailing list, I can tell you that not only does relentless positivity not work, it’s also annoying.

Enter a breath of fresh air.

NPR’s All Things Considered ran this interview on Tuesday, making my evening. The gist? Author Oliver Burkeman has written a book that states the opposite of what most self-help books tell us: that relentless optimism actually makes people more miserable.

The book is called The Antidote and the message is refreshing, even if it seems like common sense.

Here’s a quote from Burkeman’s interview with NPR’s  Audie Cornish:

I think that what is counterproductive about all these efforts that involve struggling very, very hard to achieve a specific emotional state is that by doing that, you often achieve the opposite.

I’m someone who is irritable a lot, and I kind of enjoy being irritable. Being ecstatic 24/7 is not my natural state. So I agree that denying ourselves the full range of our emotions by concentrating only on the positive would be like trying to exist by eating only carbohydrates.

You might love carbs, but your body can’t exist without fats or proteins, and still remain healthy. Speaking for myself, I cannot live on happiness alone. I need rage, nerves and a side of the blues to be mentally healthy, and I doubt I’m alone in this.

Check out the NPR link above for more info. Burkeman’s put the crosshairs on both self-help and the cult of optimism, and that, ironically, makes me happy.

July: 2012 goals

It’s half-past the first of July already. I should probably post an update on my resolutions for 2012. For those who are just tuning in, feel free to tune right back out again. I post progress (or lack thereof) on my New Years goals every month. It’s something I do to hold myself accountable, but I don’t expect anyone to actually read this.

If you don’t want to read on, I understand. In fact, here’s an awesome Beauty and the Beast parody to distract you. You’re welcome.

And now for the sad, sad facts:

Although I made significant progress on several projects this month (and last month) none of those projects were part of my New Years Resolutions. The big project that I’m working on wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye back in January. I say this so that folks will realize that I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’ve just been diverted from my January goals.

Finish the second draft of my novel by April (September.) This may get pushed back even further than September. I am currently in the middle of another project that needs to be finished posthaste, so until that’s done, my novel will have to sit by and look on.

Get it sent to agents before summer. How ’bout before Christmas? Next summer? Before I turn 40?

Send out at least three short stories. I’ve been looking at markets for a few items, but I haven’t sent anything yet.

Read one two novels a month in 2012. I’ve been reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Slowly. I should have stuck to my original goal here, but I got cocky back in March when I was cruising through four books a month.

Make at least $20 off a piece of fiction. Done in March. I get my first royalties this month, so I’ll see how much I really have made. Maybe I didn’t actually make more than $20.

Other goals: I also set to work on two of my big conflicts this year: My feelings about my faith and my issues with anxiety.

I am happy to announce that I made some real progress on the faith issue. I had to be really honest with myself, and that wasn’t easy, but I think I finally have a handle on my beliefs. I’m not going to write about that now. First I’m going to wait to see if my self-discovery is the real deal, then I will write an essay. I will say this: though I may have resolved my feelings about faith and God, I have not resolved my feelings about the church itself. I think that’s a separate issue.

As for anxiety, I’m still practicing the techniques I learned in the beginning of the year: mindfulness and taking action. I’ve also been thinking about the nature of fear. I haven’t made any other progress, but I have averted panic attacks so far, and that’s something.