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Tag Archives: Newtown

Making Noise With Silence

ART=AMMO

Times Square is all about sensory overload. Even during daylight the cacophony of lights and video are enough to give a person vertigo. Thousands of disoriented and staggering people whip their heads up & down and to & fro taking in any and everything. Advertisements flash and beckon from the sidewalk up to the sky. Spotting themselves on the jumbotron, visitors wave frantically to big brother. They squeal and scream in disharmony with ticket hawkers and coupon dealers. Underneath their sound is the white noise of traffic, preaching and ranting.

Yesterday the chaos of sound was silenced and the sight was undistracted for several minutes when a couple of hundred of us raised our hands in synchronicity and protest of gun violence. We held up our hands for 26 seconds, each second representing a victim in Newtown. Instantly the crowd was silenced. We slowly sank to the ground as our ‘partners’ held their hand over our hearts for 26 seconds, and then outlined our bodies in chalk. Lying on the ground, and hearing nothing, absolutely nothing was more realism than most of us bargained for. It was the subway rumbling underneath that reminded us to get up and chalk our partners’ body. We wrote inside the body outlines.; “Crisis” “Boy” “Joseph” “Glock” “Emilie age 6” and quickly dispersed. Making our way through the tour groups and Elmos we looked back. The ground was covered with chalk outlines in a chilling and strangely beautiful tableau. On the perimeter of the ‘performance space’ the assigned police officers still solemnly stood. Moments before the start time they had asked for their friend’s name to be chalked into an outline.

 

Thank you to ART=AMMO for organizing this event.

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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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When Progress Falls Short

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New York State is passing new gun regulations. They are the first to do so after the 2012 Newtown (Connecticut) school shooting. The legislation will be lauded for its expanded ban on assault weapons and a broader definition of those weapons. The part of the legislation that will probably get the least attention the mention of mental illness. We seem to agree (subconsciously at least) that massacring innocent people is not the work of a sane individual. We also collectively agree that there are many many people struggling with their thoughts and feelings every single day. Most of us would agree that if we have a mental health system in this country to speak of, it is filled with holes and dead ends. So any legislation that even begins to address the mentally ill is a good thing, no?

Not when the legislation is a directive to mental health practitioners to report patients who are going to harm themselves and others, allowing the authorities to then remove guns from that patient’s home. Talk about your paper tigers! If people struggling with mental illness had access to a practitioner we’d have reason to celebrate! If mental health practitioners could predict who will cause harm we would be living in a very safe world indeed. A person is determined to be a danger to him/herself or others when the patient says that he or she is a danger to him/herself or others. So this ‘dangerous’ group is now a minute percentage of the actual group of potentially dangerous people. Now compound that with the fact that this new legislation might deter someone with any hint of paranoia or delusion from seeking mental health support. Add to that mess the fact that the shooting that prompted this legislation was done with weapons belonging to the murderer’s mother, not the man himself. You see how this might be more smoke than substance?

This could and should be the opportunity to decree that people haunted by their thoughts and impulses should not have to work so hard to get care. This is our chance to say that mental illnesses are complex and challenging to treat, but so is cancer and like cancer we need to go at it with everything we’ve got. Right now before the voices or the rage or the hopelessness cause a person to lash out on a subway platform, or slash someone on the street or shoot a toddler with a handgun or burn down a home; is when we should say that decent people do not allow this to continue. Decent people know that when we choose to not fight for those that need us most we forever must bear some responsibility for the consequences. Decency doesn’t allow for empty gestures or placating. There is no doubt that any restriction on guns is good for our country, and this legislation makes an impact on that goal. The public may very well applaud the creators of this legislation. There may be pats on the back and a nice sense of achievement. But at the end of the day the authors of this legislation know that they missed a golden opportunity to make real, humane and lasting change and may have stalled whatever building momentum there was to do so.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Stopping The Madness

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When real news occurs technology and 24-hour access is a blessing. By patching together information from responsible radio sources, social chatter, and television visuals, we are able to piece together a reliable narrative. Our data gathering is confirmed and/or tweaked by the next morning’s newspaper. But when there is no more news, when we know what there is to know, the coverage still continues. The cameras and the microphone-wielding reporters scramble to create news after the fact.

Mobs of coffee swilling, logo wearing news personnel pass the time texting and chatting, waiting for a passerby to descend upon. They are rewarded for their perseverance by the person who desires to be photographed/interviewed. We could spend hours working out why anyone would want to place flowers on the ground while a swarm of dozens of camera people hover over one’s head. Perhaps it’s a similar motivation to wanting to go on record with “I didn’t really know him, he seemed different.” It’s odd but it is human nature to want to be part of something bigger.

But do we gain anything from the vulgar intrusion into people’s lives and the manufacturing of ‘news?’ The real events are usually horrific enough. No one need look for more horror. Every ‘expert’ frantically grabbed for a soundbite can pontificate from the news desk. If there is still news to come out of local offices, a reporter can be there and file the report the information. On-site cameras are not needed to report medical examiner reports or investigative results. Beside the stomach-turning element to covering mourning and grief is the danger of anesthetizing the public. While we don’t want to live in a state of perpetual sorrow, we most certainly don’t want to find ourselves numb and/or nonchalant about such horrific events. What is almost unthinkable is how the non-stop coverage can actually lead to more tragedy.

We can’t begin to ever really know what goes on in someone else’s mind. But we can look for clues and make educated guesses and predictions. A person ill at ease in the world, unable to connect with other people can retreat into a very dark world. If someone feels that they will never be able to be an active participant in life can look for ways to make their mark in death. No, it is not a simple equation and it by no means suggests that all socially awkward people retreat into darkness. But people who feel part of the world and valued by others wouldn’t look for ways to enact revenge on their path to death.

While there is no way to overstate that the time is now to rid our nation of guns and take mental illness seriously, it is also time to stop the media circus. Right now there is some compromised person watching this coverage and thinking of a way to become even more famous. The fact that I’m saying it doesn’t make it true, the fact that you feel it too, does.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Mental Health In Crisis

Unknown

During the first few hours after the school shooting in Connecticut there were vague and conflicting reports. The shooter was still being misidentified as the first rumblings of mental health issues began to surface. Amateurs and professionals began to pontificate on the need for meaningful support for first responders, victim’s families and witnesses. We have become much more comfortable in acknowledging the profound psychological impact of trauma. We can look at a (massively media covered) tragedy and think; “ah yes, this will have an impact.” What we have a bit more trouble discerning is mental health challenges that may not stem from widely covered events. We are also a bit challenged in trying to foresee lasting effects.

Our first thought when hearing about murdered children is about their parents. If we’ve been lucky, it is beyond our first hand comprehension. It is simply unfathomable to lose a child let alone in such a horrific manner. The parents’ lives, now unrecognizable to themselves, are forever marked by this loss. Our minds grasp for any detail that we can construe as offering comfort. Are there surviving siblings, someone to motivate the parent to go on? And then we remember that while it is a gift to survive it is a burden as well. The siblings, no matter their age, will forever be survivors. They will feel that label and internalize it in varied ways. Even siblings not yet born will wear that identity. It could color (and potentially burden) their entire lives.

Similar survivor issues may well develop in adults and children who could have been included in the count. It is tempting to not give survivor mental health issues the attention they warrant. These people still have their lives after all. But if we’ve learned anything from this (and other) barbaric acts it is that mental health care cannot be ignored. Many will need and should have access to a lifetime of mental health support. In the coming days we will learn more about the perpetrator and the details leading up to the massacre. We will demand serious and desperately needed real gun control. We will light candles and say prayers. And we must, if we hope to ever live in a humane world, give mental health care the respect and importance it deserves.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Well-Being

 

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