Friday, August 6, 2010

Lucky Me

I’ve been lucky.
That’s true for a million reasons, but especially because I’ve only had to face the realities of death a handful of times in my 23 years so far.
I first dealt with the much less enormous grief of losing beloved pets, including the sudden death of my youngest dog just days before I left the country for two months.
In high school, there was a snowboarding avalanche accident which killed a senior I barely knew, but I had gone to school with him for many years. It hit me really hard, probably largely because I was at that age where every emotion feels monumental before you learn to work with them. His funeral will always be in my mind for a number of reasons, not limited to the fact that it was the first I’d attended.
Then, when I was 20, my grandfather died, and that has left marks on me that I will never really heal from.
He’d been dying my whole life. To make the story as short as I can: he first had cancer before I was even born, and continued to beat the odds, living through cancers that doctors would normally have called terminal. More than once, I recall rushed trips to Regina, where my extended family lives, to have my “last visit” with him because doctors said this was it. He always made it. The last time, the doctors said the same thing they’d said before, so while I was told to expect it, I’d already learned that doctors were wrong when it came to his chances, so when he actually died, it was a shock. It had been a long time since he’d been himself, but I’d always been close to him, and I still deal with many moments where I can’t even process the grief I feel about the absence of him in my life.
Other than that, my experiences dealing with death had always been second hand. Like I said, I’ve been extremely lucky.

On August 1, the world lost a great young journalist, Alan Mattson. Truthfully, I have a feeling he’d hate being described as a “great young journalist,” so perhaps instead I’ll call him another thing that he was: a friend of mine.
I met Alan when we started in the journalism program at Mount Royal in the same year. He struck me as one of the smartest and most capable people in the program. More than that, he was popular and seemed to be able to make friends with everyone; I was totally jealous. But, by the end of first year, I’d actually spoken to him, and honestly, it’s hard not to like him. Part of the journalism program is the social aspect: parties, pubs, communikoke. He was fun to be around.
In third year, I was on the Journal’s editorial team when he was editor in chief. Weekly editorial meetings, plus many hours of budgeting, production and post-mort. He was far from the “tyrannical” editor stereotype. He was the editor who was there doing his job from early until late, and then went out for drinks with you afterwards. Even if something was falling apart because of someone else doing everything wrong, he was patient, and though there were many, many times when it seemed like that damn paper was never going to get finished, it always did.

I’ve had two days so far to figure out how to respond to his death. I don’t think I’m responding well, because my logical mind which knows it’s true refuses to connect with the rest of me. I only know he’s gone on an intellectual level, and I keep feeling confused by that. To be a bad cliché for a moment, my head knows something that my heart doesn’t. I can’t reconcile the two things. At least, not yet.
This experience for me is totally new, I suppose. With my grandfather, I was devastated, but my feelings were relatively uncomplicated; I was sad and grieving, both for myself and for my family members. In no way was that a simple experience to deal with, but I understood what exactly I was feeling for the most part.
With the other student in high school, it was slightly more complex, though much less difficult for me, as much as that sounds contradictory. I remember thinking I felt worse than I should since I didn’t know him well, and I remember very acutely feeling my own mortality for the first time ever, since he was 17, and I’d never had to deal with anything but the abstract knowledge that death was always possible. I also distinctly remember writing helped me untangle those feelings. Eight years later, my feelings on his death are really only the abstract sadness I would feel for any 17 year old’s death. Age and time have helped me, I suppose. Maybe wisdom, I hope.
But this time...I’ve never had to deal with the death of a friend. But it’s more complex than that too because I wouldn’t have called us close friends. Not because we couldn’t have been; we got along both when working together and at the social functions we saw each other at. I guess the problem is perhaps that I’m trying to decide how upset it’s socially acceptable for me to be, when I know that everyone experiences death differently, and putting that kind of expectation on myself is ridiculous.
This really isn’t a rhetorical exercise for me anymore, just for the record. I really am figuring things out as I write this down.
While I have, for the most part, felt numb since I found out, in the sense that I’m still overwhelmed by the impossibility of it, I had a few minutes last night where it felt real. I’d just spoken to my mom on the phone (some MRU people might know her, and I’ll add too that she actually taught Alan a couple years ago), and as I hung up, it felt real and heavy and I didn’t stop crying until the impossibility of it set back in. I think it had something to do with seeing articles on the Cochrane Eagle website written by people I don’t know, talking about his death. That was, somehow, so much more real than seeing all the messages people are posting to his facebook profile right now.
I haven’t been able to do that. I can’t figure out how I would write it. It’s ironic, actually; I’m literally writing a book where the entire project is writing addresses to dead artists and yet I have no idea how I would write an address to him now.
I suppose I’ll figure out how to write something there, because I want the people who read his page to know that I too thought he was an amazing guy, and that I’m glad I knew him, no matter the pain it’s causing me now. And I know that however affected I am by this, there are people whose grief is so much deeper and wider and harder to live with. If me writing down that I’m happy I knew him has any potential to ease even a tiny bit of their pain, then of course, I’ll figure it out. It’s just taking me some time.

“So there goes my life/Passing by with every exit sign/It's been so long/Sometimes I wonder how I will stay strong/No sleep tonight/I'll keep on driving these dark highway lines/.../But I will see you again/I will see you again/A long time from now”
-“Hello, I’m in Delaware” by City & Colour

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Blame the Technology

Note: I'm home now, so this blog is changing. I'm going to use this as a place to post some things some of the time, including this post, a response to a former fellow journalism student, Alicia's blog where I had too much opinion to contain to the comment box (it told me my comment was way too long to post).

Here is the original post that this is in response to: The invention of laziness: Please read it first to understand the points I'm making, relative to her arguments.

I agree with a few of your points, Alicia, though I also strongly disagree with a few.

I think you're totally right that TV in general can lead to a lazy population. However, like the internet and nearly any technology, that's really all about how we use it. What about the news (surely, a topic we've talked about too many times in the course of getting our j-degrees)? Isn't there value in that for children? Growing up in my house, we always had plenty of channels, and part of that was watching the evening news with my parents, during and after which, my parents would talk about news items and include me in the conversation. I like to think it made me a more informed person than my peers, especially when I was younger.

I also really take issue with your statement that the quality of tv has necessarily sharply declined over the years. For starters, sexism (including unflattering portrayals of masculinity) has always been prevalent on tv. There was a time when it was funny (at least to many people) when Ralph threatened Alice “Pow, right in the kisser” and to send her “straight to the moon.” This was a show that families could watch together. I think the things that teaches kids are pretty apparent, but I’ll gloss them anyway: violence is okay, threats are okay, husbands rule the household and should discipline their adult wives when they do something “wrong,” etc. I totally agree that there are serious problems with the common sitcom portrayal of a bitchy nag wife and a husband too stupid to boil water who still life the “blissful,” traditional life of career-oriented man and child-oriented woman. However, if I’m deciding which is the lesser of two evils between that and threats of domestic violence as comedy...well, I know which one bothers me more.

You’re right that there is more sex and violence and “strong language” used during primetime slots than there used to be (and more aired on Canadian tv than American), but I don’t think this is always a problem. Some of the violence I take issue with because it’s often in the context of sexy, powerful mobsters and glamourized killing, and the real consequences can be glossed over. I think it’s a very puritanical North American view that sex and swearing are always bad for children to hear about. In many European markets, they are actually much more liberal with what they show on television. For starters, in North America, female bodies on tv are almost always sexualized. In other areas, this isn’t always true. Have you ever seen the original British “How to Look Good Naked” series? It has a few problems (which I won’t get into right now), but it shows women’s real bodies, sometimes in their stark entirety, cellulite and all, and celebrates them as sexy because they are real and comfortable. I think that this is exactly the sort of message we actually need to be teaching children when they’re young: bodies don’t need to be size zero, plucked, tanned, polished and fat-free to be sexy, nor do they need to be sexual at all times. Hiding the sexualized form from curious children at all times doesn’t actually do this; however, it does add a taboo factor that is damn near irresistible for kids. As for the language argument, I know this is a matter of taste, but I tend to believe that words are just words and they only have power when we give them power over us. There are certainly words I don’t think are appropriate, but for me, it’s things like racial slurs that are problematic, not the “f-word,” as we euphemistically call it. I know that’s entirely about upbringing and value, and my mother actually is quite bothered by “vulgarities” like that one, but I think that in shows that are meant to reflect a reality, words like that are part of that reflection because they exist in the real world we live in, and that to censor them all as problematic is a huge overstep.

All that being said, tv can be a problem. Studies have shown that small children who watch even educational shows are worse off than those who interact with parents, and other children and adults instead. TV has always been linked to increased violence and sexual violence (as have video games and unrestricted internet access), but to me, that suggests that a more middling view of tv (and other technology) is best. It’s not the evil destroying our kids, but a technology and medium that is message dependant.