From Tracie

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Will Be Wasting Time On The Internet And Maybe Changing The World

I've been doing some exciting things lately - including attending my very first blogging conference a couple of weeks ago. It is hard to believe I've been blogging for nine years and just now made it to a blogging conference. I learned a lot of things there, and left with some serious blogging inspiration. And life inspiration. I have a few posts started about Bloggy Boot Camp, taking a MegaBus, and helping my best friend ready the nursery for her new baby. Those will all be coming to your computer screen soon.

Tonight I want to talk about other things.

Mostly because I'm still working on the posts above, and need to edit pictures. But also because I read an article today that reinforced some feelings I've been having about blogging.

There is a big focus in the blogging world to only publish polished pieces. To think of things in terms of "evergreen" content. To have the best graphics and titles and SEO. To view every blog post as a resume. To not put out anything that is less than perfect.

I think this is to our detriment.

Before you object, I'm not saying to throw junk out there on your blog. This is not about pushing mediocrity. A little editing is everyone's friend. It is beautiful to take the time to craft something truly special with your words. Your blog absolutely can bring opportunities into your life, and it is smart to be mindful of what you are putting out there for the world to read.

But I have been doing this blogging thing for nine years, and I remember when things were a little less structured and maybe...just a little bit...more fun.

I want to give you my best writing, my best stories, my best thoughts. But sometimes I just want to send a message out to the world. Sometimes I want to say, "I'm so excited that Grimm is back on tv this year! Can we talk about Nick-getting-his-powers-back theories?" Sometimes I need to say, "I'm struggling today. Your prayers would mean a lot," and I don't have it in me to write a beautiful example of depression that will open people's eyes and change the world. Sometimes I just have one picture to share - and it isn't the most perfect picture in the world, but it makes me happy and I think it might make you happy, too. And sometimes the little things in my day aren't enough to make a whole post, but I still want to share them with you.

Social media could be the place for a lot of these things, but as much as I love social media (and I really do), I like having all of my words together in one place. I like that my blog is a record of my life for the last nine years. Almost a decade of big and small things. Some more exciting than others. All important to me in some way. It means something to me.

This isn't true of just my blog. Your blog means something to me, too.

I love the blogging community as a whole, and the opportunity we have all been given to share pieces of our lives. It is a powerful thing. But sometimes it is just an, "I am watching Grimm, and you should watch it, too, so we can talk about it" kind of thing. And that is okay.

I am concerned that the pressure to always be on, always be perfect, and always have a post that lends itself to a great pinnable graphic, is stealing some of the soul from blogging. I want to get that soul back.

The University Of Pennsylvania is offering a new creative writing class called Wasting Time On The Internet. I know some of you are sighing exasperatedly and mumbling about the state of higher education just looking at that title. We can debate the merits of the class, but I really enjoyed the explanation the professor, Kenneth Goldsmith, gave for his new class,
"I'm very tired of reading articles in the New York Times every week that make us feel bad about spending so much time on the internet, about dividing our attention so many times. I think it's complete bullshit that the internet is making us dumber. I think the internet is making us smarter. There's this new morality built around guilt and shame in the digital age."
He went on to compare the writing that happens online to poetry.
"We're writing an enormous amount, but somehow the culture keeps devaluing that. I think, yes, this is real writing. If we can claim that writing as poetry, that alienation and guilt can be expunged and the writing can be celebrated. We can look forward to wasting time on the internet instead of deriding it."
I don't know that everything I write online could be considered poetry. I don't even particularly enjoy most poetry. But I do like this thought that "we're all building an incredible portrait of what it's like to be alive now." That is true, and pretty awesome.

So maybe not all the time we waste on the internet is really a waste. I've felt that way for a long time - especially where blogging is concerned. And I'll happily submit these words to the poetry of the internet, with the hope that they inspire you to write a little bit more, and not hold back the things that don't feel big enough to share.

We can change the world with our words tomorrow. Today, let's just share a little bit of ourselves with our friends. You might be surprised to find that this is actually the first step on the path of changing the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is Honey Boo Boo's Mom Dating A Child Molester?

I received an email from my friend this weekend asking me if I was planning to write a blog post about Honey Boo Boo being cancelled. I had to look the story up, because I don't follow the show, and hadn't heard the news.

The story is this: TLC cancelled the show because Honey Boo Boo's mom, June "Mama June" Shannon, has reportedly resumed dating an old boyfriend, registered sex offender, Mark McDaniel. He was released from prison in March after serving 10 years for an aggravated child molestation conviction in 2004. Anna Marie Cardwell (apparently called "Chickadee" on the show), June Shannon's daughter, has publicly identified herself as his victim.

Has June Shannon resumed the relationship with her child-rapist boyfriend?

Shannon says she isn't dating him. She released this statement on the Honey Boo Boo Facebook page on October 24th:


In the video she says, "The statement of me dating a sex offender is totally untrue. Um, Pumpkin has openly said that I did not - I did not date him - and also his son. I would not ever ever ever put my kids in danger. I love my kids too much. That is my past. I have not seen that person in ten years, and don't seem to want to see that person."
But, TMZ released a picture of the two of them together at a party in a hotel room. It was followed by pictures of them looking at a house together, seemingly holding hands. At least one of her daughters was present for this outing, by the way. (Is that "Pumpkin"? I don't know.)

If that wasn't enough evidence that she has at least seen McDaniel, TMZ released a picture today that appears to show McDaniel with his hand on 9-year-old Alana (Honey Boo Boo) as they walk down a flight of stairs. Reportedly this picture was taken a month ago.

Honey Boo Boo Child Molester Picture
TMZ Screenshot

So. Is June Shannon dating a child-rapist? I don't know. I'm not involved in  her life - I've never even seen the show. She might not be dating him. They might just be hooking up. Maybe they are just friends. But it is pretty clear she is seeing him. And if the TMZ timeline is to be believed, she spent time with him more than once since his release from prison, and then lied about it in the Facebook video, so any credibility she might have had is gone now.

Why does this matter? Is it really my business who she dates?
It matters because she is responsible for the lives of her children, and her actions are clearly putting them in danger. It is everyone's business to not stay silent when they see children in danger.

But there is another reason to talk about this situation. I think it demonstrates something many people don't realize - there are a lot of women who stay with the men who sexually abuse their children. And, sadly, the fact that this woman would resume any sort of relationship with a man who was convicted of aggravated child molestation against her own daughter is heinous, but not unbelievable.

There are four categories of women* who are in relationships with child molesters:
  1. The woman who does not know her husband molests children, and will walk out on the relationship immediately once she finds out what he has done. 
  2. The woman who does not know her husband molests children, but will refuse to believe the child, defend the abuser, and stay in the relationship once she finds out what he has done.
  3. The woman who knows exactly what is going on, but stands in the place of denial, and refuses to admit to herself or anyone else what is happening. This woman will most likely try to defend the abuser, and stay with him even if the abuse is revealed.
  4. The woman who not only knows about the abuse, but also participates in it - either by actively helping to cover up his actions, supplying him with children to abuse, or physically taking part in the abuse herself. 
I can't say for sure which category June Shannon fits in, but we can find some clues in an interview her daughter Anna Marie Cardwell gave to People about what happened during her childhood:
Cardwell also says that after McDaniel was arrested, Shannon was skeptical of her story about being molested. 
"A week or so after it happened, I talked to Mama and she was upset, crying and saying, 'I don't believe you, I don't believe you, why would you do this to me?' " Cardwell says. "And I was like, 'Mama, he did that to me and I can't do anything about it. You were never there to see it you were always at work." 
In this interaction I see a story playing out that I have heard time and time again from childhood sexual abuse survivors. The mom looking at the child and saying, "I don't believe you. Why would you do this to me?" She does not express any concern about her child who was being sexually molested, or more accurately, raped. All of the concern is for herself, and what is happening to her world.

Shannon got out of the relationship with McDaniel once he was placed in prison, but that doesn't mean her opinion about his crimes changed. And now that he is out, she is right back with him, spending time together.

She might not have known what was happening ten years ago when McDaniel was raping her daughter, Anna Marie, but she absolutely knows now, whether she wants to admit it or not. And that isn't stopping her from spending time with him, and exposing her children to danger by bringing them with her. And it isn't stopping her from saying with her actions, once again, that Anna Marie's pain does not mean anything to her.

There are a lot of snarky things I could say about this woman and her family, starting with the fact that I had to type the words "Honey Boo Boo" as if they were a legitimate name. There is also a lot to be said about the fact that they rose to fame because of participation in the child beauty pageant circuit, which is questionable at best. But I think the seriousness of this situation rises above all of that.

I am reminded that 90% of childhood sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator, and that children are most vulnerable to childhood sexual abuse when they are between the ages of 7 and 13.

Hopefully the public attention on this case will result in a an investigation being opened by child protective services. I don't say this lightly. Her children deserve a caretaker who does not knowingly place them in harm's way. If their mother won't be that person, if she won't put their needs and safety first, then she should not be in the position of having custody of them. I have no pity for a woman who believes a child molester over her own daughter, and then gives that same child molester access to her other children.

*These same four categories would apply to men who are married to child abusers as well, because there are women and mothers who physically and sexually abuse children. This is not only a male crime.

Friday, October 17, 2014

John Grisham Accidentally Let Us Know Exactly What He Thinks About Child Pornography And Those Who Download It

John Grisham had something to say about pedophiles and child pornography earlier this week in an interview with The Telegraph.
"We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain.
"But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn."
Oh my. These poor sixty-year-old white men who pushed the wrong buttons. What a tragedy. How could we possibly convict them of a crime?

This narrative of "accidentally" ending up viewing child pornography is an interesting one. Is it possible to click, click, click your way to accidentally ending up on a site with pornographic pictures of children? Maybe. But as Grisham continued talking, he offered up the story of "a good buddy from law school" that paints a very different picture.
"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'. And it said '16-year-old girls'. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff - it was 16 year old girls who looked 30." 
"He shouldn't ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people - sex offenders - and he went to prison for three years." 
"There's so many of them now. There's so many 'sex offenders' - that's what they're called - that they put them in the same prison. Like they're a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We've gone nuts with this incarceration," 
"I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, "God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that's what they're getting,"
Let's take this story step by step.

This law school buddy had a drinking problem. He was out of control.

Then he went to a website labelled "sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that." Does this sound accidental to you? What about the next sentence, "And it said 16-year-old girls. So he went there."
It said 16-year-old girls. So he went there.
That is not the description of an accident. This is the description of a man who went to a website looking for underage girls. And then he found them.

But what did he do next? Did he click away as fast as he could, and wash his eyes out with soap? Did he call a friend, and say I need to get my drinking under control? Did he immediately leave that site and search for "fully grown naked women in their 20's"? No. He did something else entirely.

He downloaded some stuff.
"So he went there. Downloaded some stuff - it was 16 year old girls who looked 30."
One might (and I still believe this is a very far stretch), might end up on a site with child porn accidentally. But one does not download pictures of sixteen year old girls, clearly labeled as sixteen year old girls, accidentally. It just does not happen. You have to click more than one button to do it. You have to choose which file will store these pictures. There are several small steps on the path of downloading a pornographic picture of a sixteen year old girl, and this law school buddy took each one of them. So when the FBI showed up at his door, and he got a three year prison sentence, he should not have been surprised.

Now that we have set aside any thoughts of this being an accident, let's talk further about what Grisham was actually saying about child pornography in these statements.

john-grisham

What Did John Grisham REALLY Say About Child Pornography?

If John Grisham was trying to prove his law school buddy was unjustly persecuted, why did he say so distinctly the age of the children? I believe it was because of this line, "It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'."

Sixteen year old wannabee hookers. They wanted it, these sixteen year old girls. They wanted to be hookers. They wanted to display their naked bodies online so men could masturbate and fantasize about sex with an underage girl. They wanted his law school buddy to look at them. They wanted it. Just like every victim of rape who is questioned about how she was dressed, or if she had led the guy on, or a myriad of other questions designed to put the blame squarely on her shoulders, John Grisham pointed to these girls and said, they wanted it.

Grisham goes on to make a clarifying remark about the looks of these girls. "It was 16 year old girls who looked 30."

16 year old girls who looked 30. What am I supposed to infer from this? Maybe the girls were actually 30? His law school buddy was able to tell the age of the girls just by looking at them, and that is why he downloaded those pictures - pictured clearly labeled "16-year-old girls"? Or am I supposed to take away the idea that these girls confused his friend with their 30-year old looks? If only they had looked like proper 16-year olds, he wouldn't have looked at them or downloaded their pictures? And what was it about these girls that made them look 30? It doesn't matter how old the girls looked. What matters is the fact his law school buddy viewed and downloaded pictures of sixteen-year-old girls. As a lawyer, Grisham should be aware that sixteen-year-olds are minors.

Then, Grisham makes a distinction between these girls and other victims with, "He shouldn't ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys."

It wasn't 10-year-old boys. It isn't just an age distinction he is making, some lame plea to recognize the difference between a 10-year-old body and a 16-year-old body as if having a developed body somehow changes the rights and protections of being a child. No. He makes a distinction between boys and girls. It is a subtle rehashing of the age-old misogynistic narrative that boys are more valuable than girls. It wasn't as if he victimized a boy; that would be a real crime. Girls are there for our pleasure, especially girls whose bodies have developed like a 30-year-old, and who want to be hookers. It isn't as much of a crime when you victimize a girl. This is the real message he is sending with these words.

Grisham goes on to say that his law school buddy didn't touch anything. Revisiting his early words that they,"never harmed anybody" and "would never touch a child." Maybe it is true some of these men have never touched a child inappropriately. But it doesn't change the fact that viewing and downloading pornographic pictures of children is a crime and it is a victimization. By doing this, they have harmed someone.

If you have never thought about what that looks like for the girls (and boys) on the other end of those pictures, or if you think pictures are not really that big of a deal, I would encourage you to read The Price Of A Stolen Childhood, and note this quote from Judge Emilio Garza,
“It seems to me that we’re in this brave new world, where not only was there an actual rape, but I’m going to suggest to you there is a continuing digitized rape,” the judge said. “Possession of the digitized recording of the rape contributes to the system, contributes to the economic benefit of those who produced this thing.
These pictures do matter. In the original Telegraph article, the author notes that there is debate in America over sentencing for sex offenders and those who view and download child pornography, and points out there there have been instances of people who viewed child pornography being sentenced more heavily than people who committed physical acts against children. I won't deny that this does feel wrong. It does not mean we need to lessen the sentences of those who viewed child pornography, but rather, that we should heighten the sentences of those who committed physical acts against children.

Grisham wants us to believe that his friend is neither a pervert nor a pedophile, but his actions prove him to be exactly that. His friend wasn't viewing and downloading sexually explicit pictures of children because they grossed him out.

John Grisham's Apology

In a statement on his personal website the next day, Grisham said,
"Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. 
My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. 
I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."
I understand that he regrets having made these statements. But his apology rings hollow for me. It does not convince me that he does not believe the things he said, only that he is sorry to have said them in a public forum. And saying he thinks people who view child pornography "should be punished to the fullest extent of the law" does not mean he agrees with the law as it is written now, only that he believes the law should be enforced. That is a slippery lawyer apology right there.

An Important Update.

After the original statements from Grisham were made public, Salon did some further digging into this case of John Grisham's law school buddy. What they found was interesting, and I believe it enforces my interpretation of Grisham's story. Salon and The Telegraph both point to the case of Michael B. Holleman who attended the law school of the University of Mississippi and, like Grisham, earned his degree in 1981. In the 90's, Holleman was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 18 months for "sending and receiving" child pornography.

This is hardly the three years Grisham would have had us believe his law school buddy was in prison.

The story is not quite as "accidental" as Grisham tried to paint it, either. The Telegraph obtained unseen newspaper reports from Holleman's 1997 trial from the Sun Herald newspaper. In these papers we are told,
"An undercover agent who asked for some of Holleman's pictures over the Internet earlier this year received 13 images, all of children under 18, some under 12. They depicted children during sexually explicit conduct, including intercourse," said the report from November 1997, quoting a US justice department lawyer, Kathy McLure.
It seems that his 18 months sentence would have been higher, with additional charges of transmitting pornographic images to Maine added on, if he had not pled guilty.

Grisham's friend clearly did not just stumble upon child pornography. He was viewing it. He was downloading it. He was sending it to other people. This was no accident.

And as to that, "it wasn't 10-year-old boys" statement Grisham made, it was clearly under-12-year-old children of some type. So how does that (invalid) qualifier help now? Did these children under the age of 12 look 30? Did they "want it"? Were they boys? It doesn't matter. We are still talking about the same crime. Holleman was engaged in viewing, downloading, and disseminating child pornography. Period.

Are you wondering what happened to John Girsham's old law school buddy Michael B. Holleman? He is now working as a personal injury lawyer in Gulfport, Mississippi. His law license was reinstated in 2002. During that hearing, Holleman's petition for reinstatement was supported by approximately 60 letters of recommendation, one of which was penned by John Grisham.

John Grisham, who wrote a letter asking the Supreme Court of Mississippi to reinstate his buddy's law license, must have known the real facts of this case, even as he presented them very differently to The Telegraph to make his point that 60-year-old white men are being unjustly imprisoned. You don't wade into something this serious without looking into what actually happened.

So, yeah. Grisham doesn't show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes - he only tries to diminish the extent of their crimes when speaking about them publicly and writes letters to help them regain their law license.

Thanks for that clarification, John.

I will be sure to remember it the next time I'm deciding which book to purchase at the bookstore.

Monday, October 06, 2014

I Read Elenor & Park, And Then I Lied About What Time It Was

"I'm going to read just one chapter before I go to bed."

This is the biggest lie a reader can tell themselves.

Especially if it is a new book. Even more so if it is the kind of book that pulls you in emotionally by the second page, and doesn't want to let go.

Eleanor & Park By Rainbow Rowell Cover Art

I know this, but I didn't think about it when I decided to start Eleanor & Park around 1 o'clock in the morning.

"Just one chapter. Maybe two," I promised myself, "I just want to see if I'm going to love it, and then I'll go to sleep."

Hours later, I was still reading.

Thomas stirred beside me, and rolled over, one eye opening cautiously against the light. "What time is it?"

"It is around 2 o'clock-ish," I replied quietly, hoping he would roll back over and fall asleep.

But it wasn't to be. As he reached for the tv remote, I knew it was all over.

He was going to discover what time it was...and so was I.

I'm not saying I lied to him. I didn't know what time it was exactly, and I didn't really want to know (as I needed to be up at 5am), so I reached for a time that didn't sound too awful. 2 o'clock. And I added an "around" and an "-ish" to amp up the vagueness.

It wasn't my fault that Eleanor & Park had torn my heart into tiny pieces, and I couldn't put the book down until I knew for sure it was going to stitch them back together again.

"It is 4:15!" Thomas exclaimed, "Four fifteen. Why am I awake right now?"

"I don't know. You should really go back to sleep."

"Why are you awake right now?"

"Well, I, um..."

"You are reading a book."

"Yep. Eleanor & Park." and then I said, all in one breath, "The author's name is Rainbow Rowell, which is the best YA author name ever. It is all about this girl named Eleanor who has a really messed up family life, and she meets a boy named Park. But it's better than that. The narration is split between the two main characters, and it is set in the 80's. Every single teenage feeling happens. It has music and comic books, but not in a stupid way. Their relationship is so sweet, and real, and in the moment. And Park's mom is an issue, but then she isn't, and you have to love her. And Eleanor and Park work so hard to learn how to communicate. You just want to cheer for them. And then this thing happens that is horrible. But the response to it is so perfect. Then it is heartbreaking again. But I have five pages left, and I'm hoping for something amazing."

Thomas stared at me with half-opened eyes, "Okay. I didn't get most of that, but it all sounds really emotional and angsty. I'm going back to sleep now."

I needed to be up in less than an hour, so I finished the last five pages of Eleanor & Park, blew my nose (because, yes, there was something amazing, at the end, and then there were tears), and started my day. Some books are worth staying up all night to finish.

And just so you know, Rowell did stitch my heart back together at the end.
I loved this book.

Have you read Eleanor & Park, or any other Rainbow Rowell books?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I Wouldn't Ask For Help

When I was a new mom, deep in the fog of postpartum depression, I remember one of the first Sundays of going to church with my daughter. Between breastfeeding and diaper changes, I missed most of the service, and felt stuck in a little basement room after church while everyone else was socializing.

There were tears, from the baby and me.

It was not a good time. But I was determined to be (what I now understand is an unattainable standard) a perfect mom, and that started with breastfeeding and not ever being the woman whose baby interrupted the church service with even the smallest squeak of noise.

I thought I was projecting an "I have it all together" air as I snuck out the back door of the sanctuary, but actually my imminent melt-down was visible to the people who knew me well.

I know this, because I overheard a friend talking to his wife and my husband after church that day, "She won't ask for help, but she definitely needs it."

She won't ask for help.

Was that me? You bet it was. Every single bit of it. I would do everything on my own, and it would be just fine - as long as you ignored those tears and the desperate look in my eyes.

In the months that followed, I remembered those words often. I was thankful for the offers of help that came my way, and I even managed to ask for help myself a couple of times. That might not seem like a lot of progress, but it really was for me.

Help Me! - It is okay to ask for help.

Eleven years into the future, and I'm in a different place in my life. I'm parenting a tween now. I have different struggles and new lessons to learn. But I still think back to that hot summer day when I heard, "She won't ask for help."

Am I still that person? Not asking for help?

Some days I am. It is hard to know what to do in this life.

But I do know one thing for sure, even if I don't take my own advice when I should: I know there is nothing wrong with asking for help. It isn't weak. It isn't a sign of failure. It doesn't make you less than in any way. Because recognizing your need, and reaching out to have it met, is actually one of the strongest things you can do.

Today, I'm feeling very strong.

Which is why I can tell you honestly how much I need help every day.

Sometimes it is little things like realizing the sink is full of dishes and I won't be finished with work before it is time to make dinner. And sometimes it is issues that are much larger and more serious. But no matter the size of the problem, I am still learning to ask for help.

Help from the Lord. Help from my husband. Help from my daughter. Help from Google. Help from friends who walk similar paths. Help from believers who pray. Help from family and friends who love me unconditionally. Help from people who know more than me, and are willing to share that knowledge.

Help. I need it. Chances are, there are times you need it, too.

Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for that help. You are not alone.

*******************

  • If you are in immediate crisis or struggling and need help, or you want to help a loved one, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
  • If you are the victim of domestic violence and need help, or you want to help a loved one, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 
  • If you have been the victim of sexual assault and need help, or you want to help a loved one, you can contact RAINN or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
  • If you suspect that a child is being abused, or if you are a child or teen who is being abused, you can contact Child Help or call the National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
  • For more helpful resources, check out this Find Help resource list from To Write Love On Her Arms.