personal

About my name

“Beau” has passed “Bo” in popularity as a male name, according to Social Security records:

beaubo

personal, philosophy, politics

On gender, bubbles, sociology and prejudice

There’s a fine line between prejudice and sociology.

I can’t remember when I first said that, and I can’t remember if someone else said it first. Google can’t help me with that because the thought somehow got in my head so many years ago. I found an interesting piece on the fine line between profiling and stereotyping, but that was obviously written much later.

That’s not to say I don’t respect sociology. It’s not just an easy major for Duke athletes. In grad school, I learned a lot about identity and explored the intersection of sociology and economics.

Sociology and other academic fields are very good at pointing out who lives in a bubble. We learn about white privilege, male privilege, etc.

Here’s the issue:

We are ALL flawed in our perceptions. We ALL have valid but partial experiences to share.

I emerged from grad school with some skepticism about postmodernism. The theme in some of my classes was that academia and the media had, over the generations or even centuries, typically overlooked the voices of people who were not in places of power. And that’s true. But many academics take this noble idea to an extreme, dismissing expertise in favor of experience, even if that experience only covers a small part of the complexities of a given issue.

The right wing, of course, has hijacked this notion. “Don’t listen to those pointy-headed East Coast elitists talking about global warming and citing stats on economics and crime that refute your perceptions. You live in “real America,” so your viewpoint is more important than theirs.” And in the media, we fall for it — fanning out to understand and empathize with Trump voters even when they’re blaming immigrants and supposedly unneeded government regulation for their economic woes.

We all bring unique flaws to the table. Men can’t fully comprehend what it’s like to be a woman, which we realize when we share pictures of ridiculous all-male panels discussing women’s health. We may be too old to understand youth culture. We may be too young to have experience. We may have insecurities that force us to reach for convenient labels to dismiss views that make us uncomfortable.

In short — we all have bubbles.

At the last meeting of one of my grad-school classes, our professor (a sociologist) said she enjoyed teaching our liberal-studies classes more than she enjoyed teaching undergraduate classes because we were more diverse. We weren’t. We were nearly all white NPR listeners. Yes, we had a wider range of ages — some fresh out of undergrad life, some in their 60s — but that’s just one of many metrics.

The perception this professor had was that Duke undergrad students were all ridiculously wealthy, moreso than the people who had spent their own hard-earned money to take these grad-school classes on top of their regular jobs. But I also went to Duke as an undergrad, and that wasn’t my experience.

Duke, being a well-known and often infamous university, spills out into the mainstream at times. New York magazine recently ran something about Duke’s role in the birth of the alt-right. Richard Spencer spent time in grad school there. Stephen Miller had a column at The Chronicle and the good timing to be there when the rape accusations against the lacrosse team turned out to be Exhibit A for identity politics run amok.

That piece included a few comments from Shadee Malaklou, who was also a Chronicle columnist overlapping with Miller’s time. It does not cite Malaklou’s recent piece taking her classmates to task for their letter criticizing Miller as abhorrent to Duke values. Duke shares the blame for Miller, Malaklou argues, because his columns ran in the school newspaper and people didn’t adequately protest against him or controversial statements in the lacrosse case. Those who regularly castigated Miller in the Chronicle’s letters section, or those who remember that Duke punished the lacrosse team so severely that it wound up spending the better part of the last decade in court, may beg to differ.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Malaklou’s perceptions not aligning with mine. I remember her Chronicle columns well. She wrote extensively on Duke’s hookup culture, participating in it but finding it unsatisfying.

As a retired sex kitten, I understand the appeal: The echo of a pounding beat in a dimly lit room, the triumph of a dry hump, the print of rosy lipstick on a frat guy’s cigarette and the sound and fury of college life, a la Old School and Animal House. It’s almost irresistible. until about midway through college.

When it comes to sex, Duke women don’t have much of a choice. It’s either hookup or bust. Duke is not a sexually predatory campus, but in the words of Donna Lisker, director of the Women’s Center, men set Duke’s social rules.

Malaklou’s Duke exists, though I don’t think that many students smoke. But it’s not my Duke. And my Duke also exists, and it shouldn’t be dismissed.

On a larger scale, studies show a big gap in perception and reality when it comes to the hookup culture. Like misinformed voters who think the federal government spends most of its money on foreign aid and PBS, we think everyone else is doing it, but the numbers just don’t back that up.

My Duke, the one Malaklou and my grad-school professor may have missed, included a bunch of people on financial aid with work-study jobs. It included Muslims and Christians whose religious views weren’t compatible with getting drunk and getting laid. It included all the people in my artsy coed dorm (or The Chronicle) who dated each other, in some cases leading to happy marriages.

Today’s Chronicle neatly captures Duke’s diversity. One column is a fond but slightly cynical look at the “secret society” that pops up to do weird things at the end of the school year. Another is written “to the sorority girls I never talked to.”

None of this means Malaklou’s experience is invalid. (And thankfully, she’s a much better writer than most academics.) It’s merely incomplete.

And that brings me to a a long PDF file on “emotional labor,” shared by a wonderful senior at a California college who has the intellect and idealism to make a difference in this world, for which we should all be grateful.

The rough definition, according the first paragraph, is “the work of caring.” But not just caring — it’s also figuring out what to do to make caring work.

The assumption here is that women do this “work” and “figuring out,” while men do not. Ouch. And it depicts a lot of would-be male feminists as the femi-bros in the great SNL sketch with Cecily Strong at the bar.)

The experiences shared, mostly complaints and realizations that women are expected to carry more of the “emotional labor” burden in our society, are valid. But as with everyone else in this discussion (and in the real world), it’s prone to bubble-thought.

I can counter one post with my own experience. A woman says that her husband who always took their daughter to ballet got “pity or adulation from women for doing this stuff.” I can relate to a point — I do most of the pickups at school and other activities. But I didn’t get pity or adulation. For a while, I got a lot of standoff-ish body language, as if I shouldn’t be there. After a couple of years, people got used to me, and I’m generally more accepted. I’m still not pitied, and any adulation I get comes from the fact that I have a reputation as a “dog whisperer.” It’s still not easy for me to start or maintain conversations with women at school pickup — I’m often ignored and frequently interrupted by other women on the assumption that their conversation is going to be more important than whatever I was saying.

I’m the one in our family who keeps up a lot of social contact — and frankly, it’s sometimes awkward. I’ve sometimes felt uncomfortable setting up a playdate with a friend’s mom — not because I’m unwilling to do the emotional labor, but because I sometimes get the sense that the mom is creeped out by this conversation with a heterosexual married man.

And there are a lot of specific examples from which you simply can’t draw a general conclusion. One example: A woman frets that her husband was mad that she wasn’t sending birthday cards to all of his relatives. I’d argue that guy isn’t that way simply because he’s a guy. He’s just a jerk.

My fear in this case is that men — all men — are simply the scapegoat here. She married a bad guy, and she doesn’t want to ponder the possibility that she made a mistake. If she’s able to chalk up her man’s faults as an issue that all men share, then voila, she couldn’t have done better. Men are labeled as the faceless, dehumanized “other.”

Again — this discussion has plenty of valid points, and no, I’m not empathizing here with the whiny “men’s rights” movement. Women are under tremendous pressure to be the workers in the emotional labor force. And it’s a pressure I can never fully appreciate, just as I can’t fully appreciate what it’s like to pulled over for Driving While Black or to struggle with gender and sexual identity issues. Having an identity forced on you seems like a really terrible experience to me, but that’s about the extent of what I can say about it, because I haven’t lived it first-hand. And I have to accept that limitation and just try to empathize as best I can.

But we ALL have to do this. AND we have to recognize that the people with whom we’re empathizing are as error-prone as we are.

Should we listen to people who voted for Trump out of economic fear? Absolutely. Should we accept their scapegoating of immigrants and others? No. It’s not even the empathetic thing to do. They’re actually voting against their own self-interest because they think government programs benefit federal workers and lazy “others,” failing to realize how much those programs do for them and their neighbors.

Should we listen to the sorority girls and fraternity boys? Sure.

Should we listen to the academic left, which is so underrepresented in modern life that we actually consider Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “liberal”? Yes.

And should we listen to middle-aged white dudes who are laden with all sorts of guilt (I’m Anglican, which gives me some residual Roman Catholic guilt as well as the knowledge that we basically broke away so Henry VIII could marry someone else, and I’m descended from Confederate officers) and would like to contribute to any discussion that makes us more enlightened? I hope so.

Not that everyone deserves a platform. I wouldn’t invite Ann Coulter or Richard Spencer to speak at my campus. I also objected when some Duke students promoted a speech by an African-American man who was a little less than enlightened about Jews.

But when we tally up all the issues in modern society, we rarely find that we’re listening too much. We don’t have to accept everything outside our safe space, but we should at least take a peek.

journalism, personal

Lent’s over. So where should I post and share?

Being a freelance writer of diverse interests is a bit like being a dog in a yard full of squirrels. Focus is always going to be a challenge too often attacked with snacks.

My social media restrictions over Lent were designed to impose a bit of discipline. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve learned something.

But I still have a lot of choices to consider as I try to find the sweet spot between satisfying editors, satisfying readers and satisfying myself. I have the luxury of being self-indulgent if I want, but I don’t want to be in a cocoon writing only for myself. I’d like to make people (especially, but not limited to, my friends) laugh and think.

Professionally, I’ll certainly keep writing for The Guardian, and I plan to do more youth soccer for FourFourTwo. I’m intrigued with the new sports section at OZY, and I’d like to write more for Bloody Elbow/SB Nation after the last installment of my old Inside The Ultimate Fighter book.

Speaking of books, I’m on the verge of finishing How the Hell Did I End Up Cageside?, though it’s going to be a mini-book, circa 30,000 words. I’ll likely put it up at Amazon in the next month or so.

Then there’s the stuff I write for fun — the now-monthly “What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?” series at Popdose and what I write here at Mostly Modern Media. I don’t expect any money from any of that.

That said, the line between what I do for fun and what I do for work is blurry. When I’m talking sports on Twitter, it’s fun, but it also affects my writing. And that’s one reason I can’t give up Twitter entirely, as tempting as that seems at times.

So I have to sort through a lot of priorities, not the least of which is “stuff I can do with my kids.” You might think it’s a distraction to tinker with keyboards, drums and GarageBand, but it’s a fun way to spending creative time with a son who is quickly surpassing me in every musical skill except reading music, which he rarely needs to do because he picks up melodies so quickly by ear and practice.

I won’t go through every single thing I’m considering. That seems a little self-indulgent, and I’m trying to get away from that. But I have a couple of questions:

  • Does anyone still use Flipboard? I hope so, because I’ve started using that as my medium for sharing global (mostly Olympic) sports news, and I’ve found I can toss a feed from it on SportsMyriad.
  • Am I right in thinking Medium is essentially a new-wave Huffington Post without the strident political overtones and anti-vaccine nonsense? I’m thinking of using that the way I used to use HuffPo — writing medium-length pieces that promote what I’m doing.
  • Does anyone have a Twitter-client alternative to Tweetdeck or Hootsuite?
  • If I decide to open up a library for public viewing on Diigo, will anyone know what that means?
  • SurveyMonkey or Google Forms?
  • What’s the best way to do voiceovers on PowerPoint slideshows and turn the end result into an animated YouTube video?
  • Is anyone doing good data journalism independently — say, on a one-person blog?
  • Why the hell does Snapchat still exist now that Facebook and Instagram are also offering temporary “stories” so you can put stupid artwork over inappropriate photos and not have a potential employer dig it up a couple of years later?

Those are my questions for now. I’ll check back after I eat, get my teeth drilled, write two stories due to run Tuesday, and do the PTA newsletter. (Geez, for someone with no actual job, I have a lot to do.)

 

 

journalism, personal

Getting started in data science: One journalist’s journey

Let me first say up front what you will not get in this blog post: A step-by-step guide to using whatever data tool you want. Using spreadsheets is beyond the scope of a blog post. Using R (and, I’d guess, using Python) is beyond the scope of the classes I’ve taken that purport to teach me how to use R.

What you will get is one person’s take on how to dip your toes into an ocean. I hope you’ll be able to get some advice on how to go from the occasional spreadsheet user to Data Journalism Deity and perhaps get some idea of where to go next. If this is the first thing you read about data science or data journalism, fine — I’m assuming no prior knowledge.

First: Reconsider what you mean by “education.” Seriously.

Remember back in college when you knew a bunch of annoying dudes who had figured they just needed to make a lot of great contacts in school, and the classes themselves were secondary? While you busted your butt studying and working, they were shaking hands and drinking beer?

I’m not going to say they were right. But they were on the right track. Here’s why:

Working with data is less about learning how to do it and more about learning where to ask.

Don’t believe me? Ask Vik Paruchuri, who made the liberal arts-to-data leap himself and has this to say about it:

data-problem

Check out his whole video. It’s 32 minutes, but you can skip the first couple of minutes because he took it from a Google Hangout and spent the first bit of it waiting around. (Expert on data science but doesn’t edit video in YouTube? Knowledge is specialized.)

He devoted a year or so to learning data science. But he also just jumped in. He started doing projects (because you learn by doing in this field) and going to meetups, all before he knew much code.

On the other hand, here’s how *I* did it:

I signed up at Coursera, an online-learning hub, for a nine-course series offered by Johns Hopkins University. I figured I would plow through the courses and get a spiffy certificate at the end, proving to myself and everyone else that I know my way around R (the en-vogue data programming language today) and everything else in the world of data.

Around the 13:30 mark of Paruchuri’s video, he says MOOCs (like Coursera’s content) are not the best way to learn. But by the time I watched his video, I had already gone past the “no refund” part of the Hopkins specialization. Oops.

That’s not to say I’ve wasted my time and money. Check that: I do think I’ve wasted quite a bit of time trying to pass quizzes that I really didn’t need to pass.

In retrospect, I wish I knew there are two ways to approach the Hopkins specialization:

  1. Make this your life, as if you were a full-time student, particularly if you don’t have a ton of prior programming experience or stats background. (The Pascal I learned in college and the JavaScript I learned 20 years ago weren’t enough. In stats, I’m comfortable talking about medians, means and even standard deviations, but I have little idea what a “linear regression” even means.) You’ll finish up with a certificate that might get you employed somewhere.
  2. Browse. Learn what you want. Attempt a few quizzes, but feel free to bail.

The seductive part of data science is that it seems so accessible. It seems like everyone’s doing it, from political bloggers breaking down government data to 14-year-old fantasy football wizards. But in reality, they’re just doing a small part of data science. When you start digging around and finding powerful data applications, you’ll find they’ve been developed by people with “PhD” in their LinkedIn profiles, not “BA in philosophy and music.”

Consider a music analogy. As Radiohead sang, anyone can play guitar. It might be a high school kid figuring out Rush songs (like me, many years ago) or your friend’s dad who suddenly whips out an old acoustic and plays Classical Gas. But how many people do you know who can sight-read just about anything on piano? Or teach band in an elementary school, helping kids learn every woodwind and brass instrument?

You don’t go to Berklee for four years to learn how to play Purple Haze or even to write your own guitar riffs. So why would you work your way through everything in the Hopkins data specialization to learn a few tools to use in journalism?

The funny thing here: The quizzes in the Hopkins sequence helped teach me that lesson and the importance of knowing where to look for the answers. Those quizzes — at least, once you get past the simple multiple-choice stuff in the intro class — are programming assignments. And the classes don’t teach you how to do them.

Kind of a weird way to approach teaching, isn’t it? And very frustrating if you, like me, don’t know what you’re getting into.

To pass the quizzes, you have to look around the Web for help. You may quickly find that the regulars at StackOverflow, an impressive online forum for sharing programming tips, are getting sick of answering questions from people who are stuck on the Hopkins programming assignments. But you can often find a couple of things that help.

The course itself has an online forum that substitutes for the interaction you’d have the teacher if you were taking this class in person. But they can only give you general tips, not answers. You click an honor-code pledge with every submission, just like we did at Athens Academy. (All together now: “I have neither given nor received any aid on this work, nor have I observed any infraction of our Honor System.” One kid made a rubber stamp with all those words to speed along his test-taking.)

The forum is manned by mentors who have survived the class already. And the general message is to get used to “hacking.” Get out on StackOverflow and other sites, then figure it out. Because that’s what you’ll be doing in the real world.

“Sure,” you may say, “but what am I paying for?” You’re really paying for the lectures, a nifty set of online tutorials, and a basic intro to some of the tools you need, like RStudio (a bit like Notepad with a whole lot of tools to help with your code) and Github (a sharing site). And if you have hours upon hours — other students have reported spending months on quizzes with an estimated time of “30 minutes” or so — you may be able to plow your way through and get the specialization.

At some point — and I’m writing this so you’ll do it before you take the course rather than partway into it like I did — you have to stop and ask what you really want to accomplish. Even if you want a full-time data job, there are so many different ones. Data scientist? Data engineer? Data journalist?

panther

You’re probably better off playing around with online data tools first, and then signing up for a course. That’s true whether you’re just looking to supplement your knowledge and skillset (like me) or going become a Full-Time Data Science Person (like Paruchuri).

One example: Paruchuri says 90 percent of the work is data “cleaning” (if you’ve ever seen a spreadsheet in which some entries say “Miscellaneous” and some say “Misc,” you get the idea). You could use R for that. It’s powerful. Or you could use a former Google tool called OpenRefine. Knowing a bit of programming logic may help with that, but it’s not as intense as learning complex operations in R.

So now that I’ve spent four months learning what I can, I’ve managed to define my goals.

First, what do I want to do? 

  1. Find an efficient way to do Olympic medal projections. I’ve used spreadsheets to track past results and use a few formulas to do them in the past, but it’s safe to say I spent far too much time gathering and processing data.
  2. Learn enough to try other projects on my own, perhaps a survey of North American curling clubs, for example.
  3. Learn enough to tell a potential part-time or full-time employer that I might not be a full-fledged data scientist, but I know the tools and have a good sense of what’s feasible.

Now bear in mind everything else I want to do in the next 2-3 years:

  1. Continue writing epic soccer pieces and other content for The Guardian.
  2. Finish retooling parts of my unpublished MMA book into a series of posts at Bloody Elbow.
  3. Finish retooling the other parts of that book into a small self-published book.
  4. Write another book on youth soccer.
  5. Write a bit more for FourFourTwo and OZY.
  6. Maybe find a steady outlet for Olympic-sports content (which could include a lot of data work).
  7. Maybe start working for a nonprofit (maybe even with data).
  8. Maybe even start the definitive book (or multimedia project) on creativity.

I’m not including high priorities like “be a good parent” or even low but unavoidable priorities like “mow the danged lawn.”

So from a data perspective, here’s what I should be able to do:

  1. Understand what I’m looking at when I check Kaggle, which turns data-science sharing into fun things like a March Madness contest.
  2. Navigate github.
  3. Use OpenRefine and any other good web tools I can find.
  4. Scrape data from reputable sources.
  5. Present the output in some coherent and engaging form.

I’ll pick my way through the rest of the Hopkins courses. I’ve also enrolled in a cost-friendly course at Udemy, which I started taking so I could figure out enough to pass the R programming course at Hopkins. (I passed two. The rest? You may consider me an auditor.)

And then I’ll just explore, like I did when I was figuring out Rush songs on my guitar. (Hmmm … can I process songs in R?)

personal, Uncategorized

Forty days to contemplate how to talk without anger or bull—-

I’m giving up Twitter for Lent. You’ll still see automated notices every time I post something at Duresport (on @duresport feed) or here (on @duretalk — and anything I post here will be about music or how The Blacklist fell off a cliff), but that’s it. Please don’t think I’m ignoring people … though, technically, I suppose I am. I’m also not going to talk about anything “political” on Facebook or elsewhere, and I’m going to use an expansive definition of “political” rather than my usual cop-out “Oh, it’s not political, it’s about journalism or philosophy or science or what not.”

It’s not just that Lent is supposed to be about self-denial. It’s also about reflection. And I do plan to spend some time contemplating how we represent ourselves in our words.

So before I go, here’s a bit of me indulging in a Mardi Gras of the mind and dumping everything off my chest. No … wait … I mean … here’s how I got to this point and what I’ll be contemplating.

And you’ll see that I really am contemplating. I haven’t made up my mind on things in advance of spending 40 days in contemplation of just how brilliantly correct I am.

A few weeks ago, I saw a rare Kate McKinnon sketch I did not like. My overriding opinion of SNL these days is that it’s terrific, and I think McKinnon is making a strong case to be considered one of the best cast members of all time.

This one, I found annoying:

I didn’t like it because I thought it plays to a stereotype of East Coast elitism. SNL’s best humor translates broadly. Wayne’s World could be anywhere. We all know a Church Lady. We’ve all had a Lazy Sunday, even if we prefer Twizzlers and Dr. Pepper to Red Vines and Mr. Pibb. This struck me as something for Broadway geeks only.

Then I second-guessed myself.

Why should SNL not do a Broadway sendup from time to time? Just because we all need to cater to the alleged whims of Middle America? Isn’t that just another twist on political correctness?

I thought of that again today when I read the story on Trump ordering an expensive steak — well-done, with ketchup. The Washington Post‘s snooty food critic had a bit of fun with it, and someone at Eater went into full-bore psychoanalysis:

A person who won’t eat his steak any doneness but well is a person who won’t entertain the notion that there could be a better way; a person who blankets the whole thing in ketchup (a condiment that adds back much of the moisture, sweetness, and flavor that the overcooking removed in the first place) is always going to fix his problems by making them worse. A person who refuses to try something better is a person who will never make things good.

As with the Conway sketch on SNL, I’m of two minds on this. As a picky eater myself (I’m not a fan of raw or stewed tomatoes, I’m generally averse to mushrooms, and I find raw sushi and all types of shellfish to be the rough equivalent to eating a softened hockey puck — and, ironically, I don’t like ketchup), I think these folks should lay off a bit.

That said … if you saw some dude on TV touting the superiority of his steaks, and then you saw him prepare and eat them like they’re McDonald’s hamburgers, you’d be inclined to laugh a bit, wouldn’t you?

Well …

So do we give him a free pass just because he managed to win an election?

From an ethical point of view, I don’t think so. But politically? How politically correct do we have to be about this guy and his followers? Do we need to tone down our sense of humor just to avoid triggering a backlash against Trumpist snowflakes? (Yes, I chose “trigger” and “snowflake” quite deliberately because those accusations reek of hypocrisy.)

I’ve obviously been thinking about this sort of thing a lot. Actually, I’ve spent several years wrestling with the idea of how much I should engage people. In some cases, I mean those people I respect and with whom I simply disagree. In other cases, I mean those who think global warming is a conspiracy of Chinese communists and Northeast academics. Or those who gripe about government spending when their states and their outdated economic engines are the primary beneficiaries. Or those who shut down a conversation by accusing others of “white privilege.”

Because I’ve spent too much time over the years dealing with this sort of crap …

https://twitter.com/howsyatouch/status/832999490118361091

(Yes, that’s the guy who regularly accuses me of being paid by MLS to argue against promotion and relegation. Which, among other problems with his argument, I do the opposite of.)

https://twitter.com/SerendipityMG/status/829492506811326464

https://twitter.com/davidsirota/status/829486738162712576

(Apologies if you’re a fan of David Sirota’s journalism. A lot of it looks pretty good. But he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to pot. Which is funny, because I’ve heard people touting pot as a cure-all for glaucoma.)

In fairness, I’ve also had a lot of positive interaction on Twitter. Probably a 5-1 or even 10-1 ratio in my favor, if you don’t include the Alex Morgan incident …

Yes, 972 “likes.” And 344 retweets. Read more about how that went — the occasional death threat, but also a lot of words of support — in this search if you’re so inclined.

And no, it’s not just Twitter. Way back before Twitter, a soccer fan had a web feature called “Turd of the Week,” which I won at least once, along with the insinuation that I was doing sexual favors for whoever I failed to sufficiently criticize.

And none of this even remotely compares to what female journalists, especially in sports, have to deal with on a daily basis.

Clearly, there are some dark alleys that simply aren’t worth exploring.

But we can’t afford to disengage entirely. We have to find the people who offer constructive feedback and interesting ideas, as difficult as it may be at times.

And we — as journalists and as citizens — have a responsibility to call out bullshit. We can’t just leave it to John Oliver, even if he does it remarkably well:

With that in mind, I’d invite people from all political walks of life to ask themselves this:

How much of the world’s bullshit is my responsibility?

If you watched nothing else in this post, please watch this (and pardon the vulgarity). It sums up how I feel not specifically about guns but about a lot of political discourse today:

By avoiding Twitter and political discussions for the next 40 days, I hope to cut down the amount of bullshit I encounter. I also hope to reduce my contributions — my “bullshit footprint,” if you will. Or my “anger footprint,” or my “‘I’m just trying to find the right words to make you come to terms with how wrong you are’ footprint.”

The conversations are important. Well, some of them. I don’t need to hear from Alex Morgan fangirls and fanboys ever again. There are other conversations we need to have. We need to elevate facts and the search for truth, and that takes patience.

But we should spend more time thinking before we speak. I’m going to take it to an extreme.

Forty days.

You’ll still see me on Facebook and in The Guardian and in Bloody Elbow and maybe Mostly Modern Media. But I’ll be sticking to sports, music, parenting humor and griping about yard work.

Then on Easter, all hell might break loose. But I pray it’ll have some thought behind it.

 

 

 

personal

Telling the truth about depression

Powerful read here in the Post: I told the truth in my sister’s obituary, so that others might choose to live.

The truth was that her sister didn’t just “die unexpectedly.” She suffered from depression and took her own life.

A lot of obituaries hide the cause. Sometimes, it’s a massive stretch. When I was working in Wilmington (NC), we covered a story of a shootout between a couple of drivers who kept going back and forth until one finally got the other. The funeral home’s take on the man’s death: “Natural causes.” Right. He was in a gun duel while driving, so naturally, he died.

The surviving sister in this case, Eleni Pinnow, didn’t want to hide. She wanted to speak to others who feel the way her sister did. And she gets it exactly right:

I told them that her depression created an impenetrable fortress that blocked the light, preventing the love of her friends, her family, and any sense of comfort and confidence from reaching her.

Depression is irrational. You might know it’s irrational, and yet it’s something you can’t just shove aside. Negative thoughts are not like food from which you can make healthy choices. You can choose what goes in your stomach. You can’t always choose what goes in your brain.

You can get a few tools — and perhaps medication — that helps you deal with what’s in your brain. You can weaken that “impenetrable fortress.”

But you have to understand that it’s real. Our brains can be marvelous things, and yet, they have the capacity to torture us.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve seen the fortress and gotten through it. Like the author, I’ve gone to the house of someone I care about and found a note. I was just a teenager. But the person in the house survived. The obituary would wait many more years, and when it came, it could honestly say “natural causes.”

Pinnow’s obituary is full of good humor — “She did not love France (they know why) and William Shatner (who also presumably knew why)” — and a stark call to action:

If the family were to have a big pie in the sky dream, we would ask for a community-wide discussion about mental health and to pull the suffocating demon of depression and suicide into the bright light of day. Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

I don’t know why mental illness is so prevalent today. It could be that our “fight-or-flight” mechanism is underutilized in our more civilized world in which we’re not hunting for our own survival and dodging diseases that made childhood a lottery. (While I’m preaching — get your kids their damn vaccines.) It could be our food. It could be our air.

Just know that it’s real. And if it affects you, get help.

And treat other people like they matter. You never know what they’re going through. You might just spread a bit of positive energy. Or maybe you’ll be able to weaken the walls of a fortress around someone’s heart.