Monday, May 15, 2017

Small Span Of Time

I am caught
between heaven and earth
My body slowly pulled
in gravity's grip
My soul
falling upwards
Each day
I am a little heavier
and a bit lighter

wrestling within me
to claim the greater grasp

I examine myself
Shouldn't they show?
The patchwork seams
from when I have been broken
and been sewn together once more
by loved ones
or by my own clumsy hand
Uneven stitches only I can trace
for where a seed of hope was planted in my heart
Tree of eternal life

I can feel the roots
pressing gently against my ribs

I am an earthly being
Bound up in the beauty
of soil, sea, and sun
Yet it it when I think nothing
can be finer than this
I hear a whisper
of better things ahead
And it is when I feel nothing
can be more terrible
than this life of loss and pain and grief
I sense the assurance
that I am rooted in the sky

I am caught between
for but a little more

is the promise
planted safely in this patchwork soul.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Coffee Shop Musings

"I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Black coffee
Love's a hand me down brew
I'll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room"
 - Black Coffee, Ella Fitzgerald 

I'm sitting at a table for two in cafe Galletti in the Centro Historico of Quito. I'm sitting beside a huge window, looking out at the passerbys and the colorful buildings. There's a guard standing in a shaded courtyard across from me, and he keeps looking my way. Is he curious, wondering what I am writing? Is he suspicious of something? Does he think I am pretty, the woman with the short hair and the summer scarf thrown around her neck? Is he attracted, or merely bored?

Now another guard has walked up as I've been writing, and they are conversing. Soon I'll finish here and be up and off to coffee shop number two for the day, for nearly ever Monday morning (a half day off in leu of Sunday), I spend two-to-four hours in one-to-two coffee shops, writing and reading before going to buy groceries for the week. Sometimes I write poems or story-type essays, and sometimes I scribble down drifting trains of thought such as this. Always, there is coffee. Sometimes, there are encounters with strangers, with or without actually speaking.

Half an hour later ...

I arrive at coffee shop number two, also in the Centro Historico. Like the first one, this is a place I've never visited before. Sometimes I go to places which have become loved in their familiarity, sometimes I venture out to seek new places which could be added to my mental Rolodex. This shop is on the second floor, above a chocolate shop. I order a coratado, for I've developed a love of espresso. I sit at a wooden table with a glass top, coffee beans arranged beneath the glass. To my left is a mini balcony overlooking the street. There's a table with two small stools situated against the railing. It's exactly where I'd want to sit if I came here with someone, but for today at least it seems selfish to take what I feel is the prime spot all to myself.

My cortado arrives in a small glass. I sip it slowly: it is the perfect blend of rich and bitter, strong and smooth. The barista offers sugar; I smile at him and shake my head.

Someday I will greatly miss this. Even though it took about forty-five minutes for me to get downtown, partly walking in the sun and mostly standing on a crowded bus, I will miss being downtown like this. Quito has become my city. Maybe, even after I move away, I will visit and find that is is still mine, the way I believe Austin and Georgetown TX will always be mine. When a city becomes your very own, with special haunts and lovable quirks, it is a lovely thing. Quito is my own, for now at least, or perhaps forever.

I have decided: next time I visit this coffee shop, I hope to claim the balcony seat. My city, my view to enjoy and cherish.

Monday, May 1, 2017

13 Thoughts

There's been a lot of discussion about the hit Netflix show "13 Reasons Why". A quick summary of the book-turned-show if you're not familiar: a teenage boy named Clay receives a box full of tapes, all recorded by a girl named Hannah who committed suicide. As he listens to the tapes Clay realizes that it is the story of thirteen events which deeply hurt an already silently hurting Hannah. Each tape side focuses on a specific hurt: Hannah intones, "Welcome to your tape," - a phrase which has become a meme - when addressing each person. The listeners are all intent on keeping things a secret and would have destroyed the tapes except that Hannah made a back-up copy and entrusted it to a boy named Tony. Clay, however, who had a crush on Hannah, is both fearful to know how he hurt her, and determined to bring justice down on everyone else. In the end, is the story more of a lesson to be kind? To be mindful of how each action has consequences and to look out for people who are hurting? Or is it a tragic fantasy-revenge tale; a girl reaching from beyond the grave to mark those who've hurt her? 

13 Thoughts ... (full of spoilers)

1. Firstly, the series is certainly compelling. The story is riveting, with the viewer needing to know how Hannah (funny, pretty, sweet, hopeful) decided to take her own life, and what her classmates and others will do with the information on the tapes. The acting is superb, especially for the young adult genre. The characters are vivid, however there are some definite flaws with them.

2. First character flaw: Hannah's story focuses on how all these people hurt her, but doesn't delve into mental illness and the fact that Hannah must have been dealing with depression and possibly anxiety.  As an adult I can guess at what is going on inside Hannah to make the events she faces seem to be without hope, but I don't know that most teenage viewers do, not without having any personal experience. Interesting, Clay is shown to have seen a psychologist in the past and been given medication, but then that bit of information is dropped without any further explanation. Hannah, on the other hand, is given only the tiniest hint of anything in her past: her mother mentions the high school Hannah attended before they moved, and the horrible girls there, but nothing else. Was Hannah depressed then too? Has she had a history of being bullied? As truly terrible as some of the things she faces are (and they definitely are), it should be clear that she did not commit suicide based solely on other people. She made it out of tunnel vision of not seeing a better way out. But overall, I don't know that this message is clear enough.

3. Second character flaw: Tony is the keeper of tapes and secrets. Hannah trusts him to make sure the infamous tapes make their way into each perpetrator's hands without being destroyed. She trusts him because apparently he was the only guy she knew at school who wasn't a jerk to her, however we see the two of them together as friends a total of one time in the show. Not much to convince the viewers why he should be her secret keeper or why he cared enough for her to do it. Tony is also strangely untouchable throughout: he is cool, with his good looks and vintage mustang, casually being the perfect DJ for the school dance. He is gay, yet somehow no one at school knows or cares, which is odd given that Clay was teased and bullied by peers who called him gay though he wasn't. He comforts Hannah's grief-stricken parents and keeps a protective eye on Clay. Every teen at school who was forced to listen to the tapes and hear their cruelty is worried about good-kid Clay's reaction and goes after him, yet somehow Tony is never directly in the line of fire. He is untouchable, and it's a mystery. 
(Also mysterious is why Hannah did not ask him for any help besides handling the tapes. Further evidence of her mental state: Tony and other were there to help if she'd have let them.)

4. For a young adult show, there is sure a lot of swearing. It doesn't bother me, truth be told, except that it's teens saying these words to a vastly teen audience (or younger). It could have been toned down. Though there is definitely more disturbing content (more on that further on). 

5. I know that the producers purposefully made the decision to show Hannah commit suicide because they wanted to show what a terrible thing that kind of choice is, but I personally feel they were wrong. They could have shown her get into the bathtub with the razor and then go to the next scene. I feel that seeing her parents reaction upon finding her would have been painful enough (a scene which made me sob). Because as ugly and skin-crawlingly uncomfortable and downright heartbreaking as seeing Hannah cut her wrists was, the terrible truth is, it was still fairly quick. If a viewer is considering suicide, if they are depressed and getting to that point, I honestly don't think that scene would detract them. I fear the opposite. I fear some people who are drowning in enough pain might think, "If she could do it, I could." I've read articles from people struggling with mental illness say the scene, and other parts of the show, was a trigger they had to fight against. Though the show was meant to combat against suicide, I don't know that they were ultimately successful by choosing to film that scene. 

6. Hannah took her life because she was hurting too much to see that there were still people around her who would have been her life-line. Yet she also chose to record and distribute the blameful tapes, turning her death into a revenge. Because of you, says her recorded words, I am dead. Because of what you did and did not do, I couldn't go on. Spoiler: one of the awful things which happens to Hannah is rape. Not only to her directly: she drunkenly witnesses the rape of a friend and is unable to do anything about it. When she tries to go to an adult she feels shut down, and is so overwhelmed with shame she doesn't try a second time. Even so, revenge is never the answer, and most certainly death is never the answer. Another fear with this show: if someone watching is already in a place of wanting to die, what if this show inspires them to leave a legacy of revenge? Hannah's web is intricate and clever with how many people she can get back at. If someone feels hurt by other people, this story is like a fantasy for revenge. 

7. Tony reminds Clay that no matter what happened to Hannah, death was still her choice in the end. She ignored the fact that the two of them and others could have helped her had they known. I'm glad they include this reassurance, however once again the fact that Hannah was never outright shown to be depressed doesn't help the unknowing viewer to understand this. Though Hannah was victimized and caught in some no-win situations (including feeling guilty over a fellow student's death by not reacting in time), in the end she could have continued to seek help, but didn't. It WAS her choice, but her pain is explored through what happened to her from others when it could and/or should have shown what was going on inside her head before she even met them. 

8. One of the overall messages of the show is this: be kind to others. This is important, especially in an era where cyber bullying is far, far too easy. One photo, one comment, can shatter someone. Be kind. Consider others. I'll let this be: I've said plenty about Hannah making her choice despite what others did or didn't do. Be kind. 

9. As preoccupied as they might have been, there were parents, teachers, and other adults who would have helped if the teens would have reached out. I get that the kids were afraid and highly ashamed, but one of them should have had the courage to approach an adult. In the end, Tony gives Hannah's parents the tapes, but is even this the right move? Yes, they will get answers, but maybe more than they want - or even need - to know. The tapes should have been given to the police and done above board. Throughout the show was the looming trial: Hannah's parents suing the school in a devastated attempt to find answers. Since the trial never actually came it's an indicator that Netflix plans to produce a second season. It won't be surprising if all hell breaks loose once Hannah's parents have heard the tapes and know exactly who to blame. Meanwhile, one teen finally opened up to her father about the pain she's been drowning in: will anyone else learn, or will they continue to stumble around trying to handle everything themselves? Certain events in the show foreshadowed even more tragedies ... 

10. The show ends with the attempted death of a fellow student, Alex. (it's possible that another student, Tyler, who was shown with guns and also clearly upset tried to kill him, but I'm sticking with the belief that Alex tried to take his own life and that Tyler's anger and guns predict future dark events). Alex was one who hurt Hannah because he himself was hurting. Yet as close-knit as some of the students became throughout the ordeal of Hannah's death and tapes, still they didn't see how Alex was teetering on the edge. The news of his hospitalization is further reason to expect a season two (unless the concerned backlash against the show builds enough for the producers to walk away). But what is the message? That through everything, the kids and parents and teachers still hadn't learned to see the warning signs? Once again quoting studies on suicide, when one person in a community is successful, it very often leads others to do or attempt to do the same. Because to a desperately hurting person, it's not a loss as much as it is suddenly a very viable way out. Is the show wanting to explore that? Or again, are they unashamedly hoping to get viewers to push for a second season? 

11. Clay, at least, has a positive ending. In the last episode, he reaches out to a girl he realizes is hurting and lonely. His simple act of friendship, of noticing her, could save her down the line. This scene encourages viewers to reach out instead of bullying or ignoring. Hopefully, it will encourage people who are in pain to seek out the Clays and Tonys, the kind people who care about them and will help if given a chance. It may take more than one try (Hannah and Clay had a big communication fail which could have been remedied if she had explained), but keep trying. Hannah glimpsed happiness with Clay yet ultimately took that away from both of them. At the very least, it shows what type of human being Clay's character is for him to reach out to someone else instead of dwelling bitterly on what could have been. In the end, it is Clay's resolution to help others which should be the most inspiring. 

12. The show opens up conversations for sure. Because scores of people are talking about this fictional story, it means they are also talking about the very real issues of suicide, bullying, and mental health. This is positive. 

13. The negative: the show is a trigger for many people, and likely has been seen by far too many young kids who won't seek an adult to process it with them in a healthy way. If a kid watches and is able to have an open, healthy conversation about suicide and the rest, good! If they are left to think Hannah's death was the fault of others, and that if they are hurt that revenge of some kind - in the vein of showing people what they've done - is okay, then that is not good. Overall, I can't recommend watching it. I remember when the book first came out years ago and thinking how interesting the premise sounded yet choosing not to read it because I worried it would glorify suicide (read: make it in any way okay). "13 Reasons Why" is certainly all of the above: riveting, well-acted, and full of fascinating characters, yet in the end, it's a story about a girl who tragically took her own life and used her death as part of a planned out, complicated revenge. Although many viewers will see and be grieved by just how much Hannah had to live for, sadly many others will see and agree with what she had to die for, and that is the danger.