Killing our children

memorial for Joe and Jadin Bell

memorial for Joe and Jadin Bell : photo credit, Brendan McCampbell

Jadin Bell dreamed of being a cheerleader.

Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan had all been high school cheer-leaders. In their day, cheer-leading had been an all-male activity. Until as late as the 1950s, in fact, female cheer-leaders were banned.

“The reputation of having been a valiant cheer-leader,” wrote the editors of The Nation in 1911, “is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.” But, like so many other things, cheer-leading in America has changed since those days.

During his sophomore year at high school in La Grande, Oregon, Jadin successfully tried out for the cheer-leading team – the only boy to do so in recent memory. Jadin had hoped that cheer-leading would be a path to some measure of social acceptance in his broader community. It wasn’t.

On the afternoon of Saturday 19 January 2013, carrying a length of rope, the fifteen-year-old climbed onto his school’s playground equipment and hanged himself. A passer-by found him nine minutes later, but in that time all brain activity had shut down, and Jadin never regained consciousness. After ten days, his parents, Joe Bell and Lola Lathrop, decided to take him off life support, and Jadin died on 3 February 2013.

Jadin Bell’s suicide, in the words of Pauls Toutonghi, “became part of the nation’s ongoing dialogue about bullying,” (See Note 1/ below.)

In late April, Joe Bell set off on a walk across the country to share the story of his son’s death and raise awareness about bullying.

On 15 October, The New York Times published an item under the headline, Oregon Father’s Memorial Trek Across Country Ends in a Family’s Second Tragedy. On 9 October, Joe Bell’s life had “ended in an instant on a two-lane road in rural eastern Colorado. He was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer whose driver had apparently fallen asleep, the state police said.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year in America, 4,600 young people take their own lives,” Pauls Toutonghi tells us. “This number is astonishing in its bigness. Yet the shocking truth – the idea that the way we live, as a society, is killing thousands of our children each year – produces little disturbance in our collective consciousness. Maybe this is because each suicide feels so individualized.”

On National Coming Out Day (11 October 2013), Brendon McCampbell wrote: “I am queer. With the loving acceptance of my family and friends, I can unabashedly admit this. As a child, however, I struggled greatly with my sexuality. I was poisoned by our society to believe that there was something wrong with me. The truth is this: there is something wrong with our society. We need to accept, support, and love people regardless of sex, gender, race, shape, ability, religion, or politics. Today is National Coming Out Day, and I hope you accept everyone in your life. We need to live in a world where Jadin was accepted by his peers and lived happily with his father and family.” (Facebook, 11 October 2013)

In his posthumously-published autobiography, Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From My Life: Poetry and Truth), Goethe wrote that “suicide is an event of human nature which, whatever may be said and done with respect to it, demands the sympathy of every man, and in every epoch must be discussed anew.”

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NOTES:

1/ Much of the information I have used in this post was adapted from Pauls Toutonghi’s heartfelt article – “They ripped him apart”: Searching for answers in the suicide of bullied teen Jadin Bell – published in Salon on 8 September 2013.

2/ Read about the passing of Joe Bell on Joe’s Walk for Change. Also see La Grande remembers Joe and Jadin Bell: ‘Stand up to a bully’ .

“The Road Home” takes some wrong turns

“I think most people embrace religion because it gives them a set of rules,” Sam said. “They tell themselves as long as they follow those rules they’ll be happy. But how often those same people hurt others, or themselves? How often are they still miserable? That’s what I find so interesting. They follow the rules and they still aren’t happy.” (Michael Thomas Ford, in The Road Home)

The Road Home (cover)

The Road Home (cover)

The review posted by Jackson Case on After Elton — “the pop culture site that plays for your team” — does some straight talking: “The book is definitely readable, written in Ford’s trademark breezy style. But somewhere along the way, the plot takes several strange turns. 

“Weirdly, the most important storyline in the book, the romance with the 20-year-old, never really goes anywhere.”

Click on the image to read the review in full, or take a look at what various other reviewers say about the novel on Amazon.

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Ford, Michael Thomas. 2010. The road home. New York: Kensington Publishing Group [p191]

Words … an essential element?

He wonders if words aren’t an essential element of sex, if talking isn’t finally a more subtle form of touching, and if the images dancing in our heads aren’t just as important as the bodies we hold in our arms. (Paul Auster, in Invisible)

Seems the author of Invisible is, after all, able to capture the attention of my ears.

Rest assured that it was not the word ‘sex’ that made the difference – this is page 181, remember, and all manner of things have happened since the beginning of the book.

The passage I’ve cited here raises several interesting issues. I’m certainly not convinced that words are “an essential element” of anything. For some people, no doubt, this notion might ring true; in my own experience, however, great moments tend to take me beyond language. As for the subtlty or otherwise of talking as touch – sometimes, yes; but words can be anything but subtle. Examples of how this is reflected in our vocabulary and syntax: a stinging riposte; a cutting remark; a vicious (verbal) attack.

On the other hand, I agree that “the images dancing in our heads” are often “just as important as the bodies we hold in our arms.” As H P Lovecraft said:

All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.  (H P Lovecraft) 

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Auster, Paul. 2009. Invisible. New York: Henry Holt and Company [A Frances Coady Book] [p181]

Ménage

Time for another book.

I’ve just finished reading one, but – whilst quite readable – Chosen by Lesley Glaister contained virtually nothing that made me sit up in the bath and start reading aloud to myself. So there wasn’t really much to write about. Which was a bit of a pity, really … because it had a lot to do with a fictitious cult, and I’d have liked to have got stuck into some of that.

Now Ewan Morrison’s Ménage is much more to my taste. Once I get a bit further into it, I’ll have a better idea how to treat it.

“Ménage begins with Owen, a sometime art-critic, watching an 18-year-old American student frig herself on a webcam while he wears the used “pink frilly girlie panties” she has FedExed him and cogitates.” (Matt Thorne)

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Morrison, Ewan. 2009. Ménage. London: Jonathan Cape

A question of balance

Of all the worldly passions, lust is the most intense. All other worldly passions seem to follow in its train. (The Buddha)

A bit of lusting after someone does wonders for you and is good for your skin. (Elizabeth Hurley)

Not safe. Not civilized. Not shared.

What is the essence of sexual attraction?
Fantasy.
Not safe. Not civilized.
Not shared.
Fantasy is at heart solitary. It needs no reciprocation. Reciprocation leads to familiarity and the death of fantasy.
(From Natasha Mostert’s 2009 novel, Keeper of light and dust.)

We have a seemingly insatiable appetite for myth-making. We relish ‘meant to be’ and ‘made in heaven’. We allow ourselves the luxury of ‘falling in love’. And then we braid these myths together with our fantasies, tying ourselves up in knots that are virtually impossible to escape.

There’s nothing wrong with fantasy. Fantasies are very useful: they get us out and about, hooking up with one partner after another, looking for Mr Right, or ‘the girl of my dreams’.

From a Darwinian point of view, we might think of this as helping to maintain the diversity of the gene pool. And for the optimum success of such a stratagem, our quest for the perfect partner needs to fail repeatedly. 

Is this the truth? I don’t know.

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Mostert, Natasha. 2009. Keeper of light and dust. New York: Dutton, published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. [p178]