Archive for the ‘Social Activism’ Category

So that lovely and occasionally terrifying thing known as the Internet has informed me that April is Autism Awareness Month, and as someone who is on the spectrum, I felt I should contribute something.

The only question is, what should I contribute? I haven’t had any experiences like when I was asked to give advice on how to help someone’s autistic relative; I haven’t been prompted to record a video or anything like the one below, detailing a specific issue involving disability (by the way, that video recently passed the one-year anniversary of when it was uploaded, and also passed five-hundred views soon afterwards. I find that pretty cool); I haven’t had any revelations about my relationship with my autism; and no one’s asked me point-blank if I’m autistic recently. What’s there to talk about? What can I say that not only needs to be said, but I feel strongly speaking my mind about?

 

Well, I guess one subject I can broach is how autism affects adults, especially in terms of job searching and job security.

A lot of people associate autism with children. When they associate it with adults, I think the popular image is low-functioning adults who are being taken care of by their parents or at facilities. And while there is a segment of the adult autistic population that do need that sort of care, the popular image ignores the segment of the population who don’t require full-time care from facilities or parents, those who can and seek to live independently. And they face their own unique challenges and issues.

Now, I”m just going off my own experience and the experiences of others who have or are related to people with ASD, but the fact that we’re either experiencing or hearing about this says something.

I’ve mentioned before how, between October 2015 and about March or April 2016, I was on the worst job search I’ve ever experienced. Every day I would send out resumes and applications, only to either not hear anything back or to be passed over after being interviewed. One reason this may have happened is because I was open to my potential employers about the fact that I have ASD, and that it sometimes made social situations awkward. I have no proof, but it’s possible that knowing my diagnosis may have scared them off. People have this association with people with disabilities in general that we’re unable to do anything. And even if we’re skilled at something (sciences, writing, mathematics, painting, music, whatever), our needs are too much for them to handle as employers.

The reality, I assure you, is much different. At work, part of my job is being a disability advocate, and I can attest that people with disabilities not only do things, they do them very well. Not only that, but employers who treat disabled employees well find that not only are these employees hard-working and loyal, but several times less likely to turn over than the general population. Not only that, but accommodations for their disability usually aren’t burdensome: a quiet or obstacle-free workspace, or flexible schedules, or leave for medical appointments. And when it does cost money for accommodations, it’s usually not expensive. Seriously, I help handle accommodations at work. I rarely see the cost get anywhere near five-hundred dollars.  My own accommodations cost the organization nothing: I just listen to my iPod or audio books while I work (I pay for any new music or audio books) and I have a chair designed to ease my back pain (we already had the chair to begin with, so it didn’t cost any money to give it to me).

But still, a lot of employers are wary of employing the disabled, especially folks with ASD. They have this idea of a Rain Man-type character, someone who may excel at one very special skill, but needs all sorts of help in every other area of life and can’t do anything but certain tasks. For many autistic adults, this simply isn’t the case. Each of us may present our diagnosis differently, but it doesn’t affect each and every one of us that badly, and we are suited for a variety of tasks.

I’m lucky that I was able to get a job in an office where everyone is kind and gets that I’m not always the savviest person socially, in an organization that emphasizes disability hiring, accommodation, and inclusion. But not many people like me are that lucky. They have trouble finding jobs because employers see their disabilities as a huge barrier. I’ve heard from friends who’ve had this experience, as well as from others. And not just with jobs: I’ve heard from people who have told me that they or their relatives had had trouble finding services that help them cope with their ASD once they reach adulthood or when they’re diagnosed in adulthood. There’s plenty of help for minors, but for adults, it can be a challenge.

So this Autism Awareness Month, I’m writing a post urging people not only to support autism awareness, research, and therapy, but also to rethink how we approach adults with autism (and disabilities in general). The majority of us aren’t helpless individuals. We’re hardworking and want to be part of society. You just have to give us the opportunity, whether that be funding for programs that offer counseling, education, and job training to autistic adults, or actually giving a job to someone with autism. Quite possibly, you’ll be amazed at what you receive in return.

Thank you for reading, and have a good month of April.

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Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know that I am on the autism spectrum, and that I’ve had opportunities to speak about it a couple of times, including a widely-circulated video which I posted back in March. I was able to get my job partially because of my autism, and a lot of the work I do involves working with, accommodating, and advocating for people with disabilities in the workplace, including but certainly not limited to autism. I don’t go around everywhere broadcasting my diagnosis, but it does come up on occasion.

One of those recent occasions was for my organization’s newsletter. I was asked to write a short essay, about a page long, about having a disability, about the program that helped me get a job in my organization, and what that’s been like. That article was published recently, along with a couple of other testimonials, and it’s been getting around. A lot of people have been coming up to me and thanking me for being so open with my story.

Today, I got an email from someone in my organization who had read the article, and had contacted me asking for advice. His adult nephew had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, well past the point where intervention can be at its most effective. And in the  years since his diagnosis, his life has not gotten easier. I won’t go into details, but it was heartbreaking to read the man’s email and to hear about his nephew’s suffering.

At the end of the email, he asked what could be done for his nephew, and if maybe the program that helped me get my job could help his nephew.

What do you say to something like that? What sort of comfort can you give when there’s already so much pain?

I don’t know if I ever meant to be an advocate for people with disabilities. But over time, that role has kind of been molded around me. A good part of this has been because of my job. As I said, I have to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace. To that end, I’ve learned how to market to people who are able-bodied why they should hire more people with disabilities. I can tell them that people with disabilities have a much lower turnover rate than the general population, 8% compared to 45%, that getting them accommodations rarely gets anywhere near the $500 mark, and then back all that up by talking about my own satisfaction with my position, and how the only accommodation I’ve needed for my ASD was permission to listen to my iPod or audiobooks while doing certain tasks. I’ve also been asked to do essays, like I did for the newsletter, and the video I recorded back in March. And sometimes it just comes up, like when explaining how I got my internship in Germany (yeah, my ASD played a part in that), or using it to illustrate a point in conversation, or a hundred different scenarios.

One way or another, it seems like I was meant to be an advocate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m doing so well at work, living on my own, and even as a writer.

But as a giver of advice? I’m not sure I expected that. And I get why it’s happening. Autism is a scary diagnosis for anyone to get, as well as for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It’s a disorder that varies widely from person to person, it can never be cured, the cause is still unknown,* the number of people being diagnosed with it has grown exponentially with improved diagnostic tools. Depending on what traits are present or what other disorders are present with autism can also affect everything from therapy to school choices to possibilities in adulthood. And when the diagnosis is made in adulthood, as happened with the young man whose uncle emailed me, it can be a sort of terrifying that no horror story can tap into. With all that in mind, hearing from someone who not only has the same diagnosis, but is successful in the real world, can be a soothing balm for the mind and soul.

I just wish I had all the answers. Or that I was more confident in the answers I have to give.

But if I’m going to give any sort of advice, it’s that we shouldn’t deny or try to hide our diagnoses. We shouldn’t try to be “normal,” because normal doesn’t exist, especially not for us. We process the world so differently than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ashamed or afraid. I’m able to succeed and do the things I do every day because I process differently. So embrace your different. It may be called a disability, but it can be an asset too. Some of the greatest innovators and creators the world has ever known have been on the spectrum. And once we learn to work with the issues we have, we can learn to become those great innovators and creators.

And don’t be afraid to look for or ask for help. Even if you’re diagnosed later in life, there’s still plenty of resources for you. Many states, including my beloved Ohio, have programs that offer help and direction for people with disabilities and families, whether they be children or well into adulthood. Many schools have or are adding programs to ensure the disabled can take full advantage of their educations. More and more employers are recognizing the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and what they can contribute. We’re not being left alone like a ship in a storm. There is help.

Living my life strong, no matter what my diagnosis is.

And it’s important to be open about your diagnosis, especially with your friends, family, coworkers and teachers. Keeping it a secret has never helped anyone get by. It’s better to be open, so that those around us are better equipped to work with us, and join us on our journey as we work our way through life. I know it’s scary, and you don’t want to be any different than anyone else. But remember, there’s no normal. We’re all different, and many of us wear it on our sleeves. Might as well display this different too, if only to make life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful. I hope the man who emailed me today found my advice helpful. And if you or someone you know has autism, I hope that no matter what, you or your loved one is able to hold their head up high and know this: you are great the way you are.

*And if you’re about to comment saying some bull about vaccines, let me tell you a story, since anti-vaxxers seem to value testimony more rather than scientific consensus: my mother has told me a few times that I was different from the day I was born, well before I received my first vaccine. I was nothing like the baby books predicted I’d be, and it wasn’t until my younger sister was born that she saw any of that stuff. I trust her word, so that means vaccines had nothing to do with the way I am. And if you still insist that vaccines had something to do with the way I am, you may be calling my mother a liar, and them’s fighting words.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live long as God himself. Never.

Elie Wiesel, Night

This is really hard for me to write. I actually cried a little when I found out. It feels like I lost someone dear to me. A few minutes ago, a friend of mine sent me a message over Facebook. It was a New York Times article, telling me that Elie Wiesel had died. He was 87.

My only response was “No.”

Now if you’re unfamiliar with who Elie Wiesel was, he was a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, one of three survivors of his family. Ten years later, he wrote a 900-page account of his experiences in the camps, which was later shortened to the 127-page memoir La Nuit, later translated into English as Night. As time went on, and Night gained attention, Wiesel became a well-known speaker on the Holocaust, as well as other subjects, including Israel, genocides across time and the world, and human rights. He also wrote over 56 more books, helped to found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (where, on opening day, he famously interrupted one of the speakers, I think President Carter, by saying that all the niceties were meaningless when there were horrors being perpetrated in Yugoslavia), received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation with his wife, Marion, to fight intolerance and prejudice, and taught at Boston University as the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities.

I first met Mr. Wiesel as a boy. Not in person, though I would do that when I was a teenager. My father had a copy of Night, along with his other books Day and Dawn, in his office in the synagogue. My dad gave it to me, though I can’t remember why. Perhaps I’d been asking questions about the Holocaust, or maybe he just thought I’d get something out of it. Either way, I did. I read Night several times over the many years, stealing to my dad’s office after services on Saturdays to read the story of a fifteen year old boy who had experienced so much at such a young age.

I only realize this now, but Wiesel became, in my mind, one of the older kids whom I looked up to and hung out when I saw them. There were plenty of guys and girls like that when I was a kid, teens who tried and became real role models for the rambunctious young me. I always looked up to those kids, and Wiesel became one of them, esteemed more than any of the others.

I later got to meet this hero in my mind, though he was not the young man I always imagined in my head. I think I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My synagogue has a yearly event where some big speaker is invited to speak to the congregation. That year, we were excited to have a huge coup in our speaker.

I think I remember seeing him for the first time, and remembering how small and old he was. At my age, I was around the same height as him. It was quite the contrast from my mental image. But he was so kind. And even though my vocabulary wasn’t that big at that age, I knew that, the moment I shook his hand, I was shaking the hand of a giant. He was like the titular character of my dad’s favorite Yiddish short story, “Bontsha the Silent” (you can read a full PDF in English here), in which the main character finds out that if he only opened his mouth to complain about the world, he would’ve shook the heavens, only in this case, Wiesel made use of his power, and it resonated.

Sadly, I only remember a little bit from that evening. It was ten years ago, and you don’t tend to remember much from that age, even when it’s from great men. I do remember, quite clearly, that he started with a story about how a woman and her friends thought they recognized him on the street, only to conclude that it couldn’t possibly be him. I think you can tell a lot about a titan when they begin a speech with a humorous story.

And that’s what Elie Wiesel was. A titan. A giant. A being that was more than what “man” could ever constitute. He spoke louder than Bontscha ever felt the need to, and the world shook in response. It took notice. He made the world notice Bosnia, Darfur, all the horrors of the many genocides over the years, and then some. Through his foundation and his many books and speaking engagements, he educated the world, molded minds to be more cognizant of both the great evils and the great goods that human beings were capable of, and encouraged them to take action.

And that night, I got to hear him speak, I got to enjoy desserts with him and the rest of the VIPs at the event that night, and I even got a photo with him. When he left and I got the chance to say goodbye (we were both leaving at the same time), it was like using a huge force go by.

He wasn’t the friend I had in my mind. That was the only encounter I had with him outside of the books he wrote. But he was so much more to me and to so many more people out there. Perhaps one could make the argument that he was the greatest Jew of our modern times (sorry, Jon Stewart), and one of the greatest living people to boot. Across the world, people will hear the news and they will feel his passing. They will cry, like I did. They may even tear their clothes, a tradition in Judaism on the passing of someone important. And that’s what’s happened. Someone important has left this world. A great titan, in a form that spoke of gentleness and tolerance, has gone onto the next life, and we have all suffered a great loss because of it.

In the Jewish tradition, we often put a special suffix after the names of people who have died: z”l. It means zichrono liv’racha, which means “may their memory be a blessing.” The Holocaust was a horrible event, a memory that mankind would rather forget, but it produced one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And we shall remember him, and his memory shall be a blessing, encouraging us to be better in all circumstances. And I shall definitely try to live up to those lessons, even more in Wiesel’s death as I did in life.

Goodbye, Mr. Wiesel, z”l. We shall miss you so.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet.

I’m both shocked and, at the same time, not surprised that I’m on this topic again. I was really hoping to talk about something writing related this morning, but events this weekend have caused me to shift gears. So prepare, because I’m about to do one of my world-famous gun violence posts!

Now if you’re unaware, on Friday evening at 10:30pm in the city of Orlando, Florida, singer, YouTube star, and “The Voice” contestant Christina Grimmie was shot by a deranged fan who apparently drove from St. Petersburg with the express purpose of killing her. Grimmie’s brother (without a gun of his own, no less) tackled the shooter to the ground, probably preventing more people from being killed. Grimmie later succumbed to her injuries and died, leading to a powerful outpouring of grief on the Internet. Even I, who only had a casual acquaintance with Grimmie’s work, felt her passing deeply.

Just a little over twenty-four hours later, a man armed with an assault rifle entered the Pulse, a popular Orlando gay bar and dance club, and started shooting, leading to a hostage situation that ended with the shooter’s death. The latest numbers show fifty confirmed deaths and even more injuries, making this the worse shooting in American history, worse than Newtown and Aurora. All this happened despite the fact that an armed police officer (a good guy with a gun) was on scene at the club.

All this, barely a day and a half apart, in the same city, in a state with very lax gun laws and a high amount of gun violence. Both shootings involving guns.

I wrote last year after a spate of shootings that America’s gun problem is like a chronic illness, a constant condition that plagues and grieves us, and needs treatment to be fixed, even when the treatment isn’t always available or the subject doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, let alone that they need treatment. And that comparison still holds water nearly an entire year later. America is plagued by shootings. We’re the only developed nation with this much gun violence, to the point where it’s almost considered normal. Guns are causing more deaths than the United States should have.

These aren’t toys. They’re not meant for anything creative.

Now, I know some people will say, “But Rami, how can an inanimate object cause murder? People cause murder.” Well, people cause murder, that’s true. But guns, like missiles and military drones, are designed to facilitate killing. They’re made with that express purpose. The first firearms were used for military purposes, and so were the cannons and flintlock rifles that came later, with hunting being a secondary use for the latter. They were invented for the strategic purpose of taking enemy life, not for baking cookies or improving home decor. This is in direct contrast to knives, which unless made for military purposes like the Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife, has other primary uses like cutting and preparing food.

There’s no argument around this. Guns are made for killing, whether it’s animal or human life. 

In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be seeing renewed calls for restrictions on gun sales and ownership, as well as push back from the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates trying to frame this as a mental health issue (in the case of Christina Grimmie’s killer) or as an issue with ISIS or Muslims (early reports indicate that the shooter at the Pulse had ISIS leanings). And while I do believe that mental illness and terrorist ideologies may have played a part in these tragedies, Christina Grimmie might still be alive if the deranged fan had gone at her with a knife instead of a gun, and I doubt fifty people would be dead if the killer had a knife. Maybe a couple people, but after the first few attempts at stabbing, someone’s bound to tackle this guy.

And it’s hard to argue mental illness or terrorism when a man uses a gun to intimidate his wife, which happens all too often, unfortunately.

The problem is, both these tragedies, and so many more, have been made possible by the use of guns.

Luckily, there is treatment for this problem. In Australia, Canada, England, Japan, and many other developed nations, gun violence is at waaaaaay lower levels than in America. The difference is that they have restrictions on who can have guns and what kinds of guns. Not a blanket ban on all guns, but some restrictions are in place. And I’m sure, that if America were to institute similar restrictions, we would see the same results. In fact, states with more gun control measures have lower instances of gun violence than states that do not. If we were to implement the same thing on a nationwide level, imagine how much the loss of life could be lowered.

And for those who say that gun control measures don’t work because bad guys will still get guns, so it’s best to give the good guys guns instead, I have this to say: if there are still people who run red lights, do we throw out traffic laws and just let people drive as they wish without consequences? If a boat or a house has a leak and water comes in, do we destroy the boat or the house and say they were useless and never would have worked? No, we prosecute the people who run the red lights for violating traffic laws. We patch up the holes so that water can’t get in. And if people are still getting restricted weapons and committing acts of violence with them, then doesn’t that prove even more that they’re criminals, and that they were willing to go to unsavory means to commit acts of violence? I think it does.

Not to mention, how do you know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy? It’s not as if the good guys are marked in green and the bad in red when they pull out their weapons. And in a crowded room where everyone has a gun? Really hard to tell!

It’s time to put a stop to displays like this.

Treatment is available. We just have to be brave enough to take it.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to have incidents like what we experienced this weekend, and families will wake up without loved ones because tragedies that could’ve been prevented weren’t. We need to admit that there’s a problem, we need to take measures to stop the problem, and we need to do this now. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year, or in another years.

Now. Let’s push for expanded background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and banning assault weapons or other military-grade weaponry on the open market. Let’s also put aside funding for research into gun violence for the CDC, and expand the requirements needed to purchase and use a gun (a yearly gun safety course, for example, sounds sensible enough). If we can do that, I’m sure we can prevent more innocent losses of life.

Or we can go on as we have been doing. And we can’t allow that, under any circumstances.

Note: Immediately after finishing this, I saw a report that a man with weapons in his car had been arrested in LA near the Pride Festival there. Thank God law enforcement caught him, or who knows how many people might’ve been killed.

I’m taking a break from setting up Video Rage (more on that in a later post) to talk about a serious subject that needs to be talked about before serious damage is done to my state and to the transgender community here.

If you’ve been paying attention to developments in LGBT rights here in America, you’re probably aware that North Carolina has a transgender bathroom law that effectively bars transgender people from using the bathroom aligning with their gender identity, forcing them to instead use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. Mississippi has a much broader anti-LGBT law that includes this provision, and Kansas is considering a law that would force school districts to pay twenty-five hundred dollars to any kid who finds a transgender kid in their bathroom (how the schools are supposed to pay for that, I’m not sure. Kansas is flat broke).

Now Ohio’s got a bathroom bill. Or it will. A representative named John Becker from Clermont County is planning on introducing a bill that would “protect” families from “predators” who take advantage of businesses’ LGBT-friendly policies that allow customers to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identities. Becker says that the bill will have an exemption from LGBT individuals, which would make it different from the law in North Carolina. But with a bill like this, can you really just say there’ll be an exemption and expect people not to get worried?

And we should be worried about this bill, no matter what promises of exemptions or assurances that the transgender community isn’t the problem here. You know how I know this? Because people who would harass or harm men, women and children already exist! Not just in bathrooms, but in schools, homes, places of worship, government buildings, private businesses, public parks, and more than I can list in a single blog post! And you know what else? They don’t need to pretend to be transgender to do the attacking! They’ll just do it! I’m surprised we’re not getting more laws and outrage over that?

In fact, where is that anger? Where is that outrage, those proposed laws? Why aren’t we more upset about the rape that occurs everyday whether there’s a non-discrimination ordinance or not? Ke$ha was assaulted by her producer but is still stuck in a contract with a guy, even after several legal battles with him. A former Speaker of the House raped young boys in the shower (without putting on a dress, I might add), but nobody seems to care that he was only convicted for another crime. A well-known media critic has been constantly harassed online by people threatening to rape and kill her, but where’s the rush of politicians and clergy to pass laws to protect her? I find it very odd that the outrage only comes when there’s transgender people involved. Like allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice, rather than forcing them to use one aligning to their biological sex and possibly face physical assault, is somehow a recipe for increased assaults.

We should not be punishing the trans community for an imaginary fear!

Which it isn’t. Look at the research. A non-discrimination ordinance doesn’t increase sexual assaults. There are no recorded cases of NDOs leading to an assault in a bathroom. This is fact. This is just trying to punish transgender individuals. Sure, perhaps some of it is actual fear of sexual assault, but if this was the real focus, then we’d be seeing bills that more heavily punished sex offenders or took steps to do away with rape culture and the systemic causes of it. We’d be seeing all this outrage 24/7, no matter who is perpetrating the raping.

But these aren’t the only reasons this bill shouldn’t be passed. Oh, all that I’ve talked about are definitely the most important reasons, but they’re not the only reasons. No, there are other reasons, and these are the reasons that politicians who aren’t that sympathetic to the transgender community. The reason that they should get these folks against this bill is that if it passed, all of Ohio would be punished. Not just the transgender community in Ohio. All of Ohio.

Since North Carolina and Mississippi passed their bills, they’ve received such a backlash. Celebrities have canceled concerts or filming movies in those states due to these laws. Large companies like Paypal or the NBA have said they won’t do or expand business in North Carolina or Mississippi if these laws stay on the books. Entire towns and states have even passed resolutions not to have business with these states unless absolutely essential (my own Columbus passed such a resolution for North Carolina).

What would happen if that happened in Ohio? I don’t think we’d lose our swing state status come November (especially with the GOP convention in Cleveland in July), but we’d lose a whole lot in the process! Nationwide has its headquarters here in Columbus, and a lot of other major businesses have important branches in our metropolitan areas. We have several sports teams throughout the state at the college and professional levels. And prior to contrary belief, we get a lot of musical stars in Ohio during their tours. If this bill gets passed, those businesses may want to halt expanding in the state or relocate elsewhere, hurting our economy. Sports teams and celebrities may not want to play in our state, to the detriment of people who just want to see their favorite celebrities do their thing.* Entire states will say, “Sorry Ohio, we don’t agree with your human rights laws. Unless it’s absolutely essential, we’re discontinuing our business with the Buckeye State.”

This bill won’t deter sexual predators. It’ll just hurt Ohio, hurt its citizens, no matter if they’re trans or cisgender. So even if you don’t care for or dislike the the LGBT community, you should be worried for that very reason.

Now the good news is that there’s at least one petition out right now against this bill. At the time I’m posting, it’s got 7,022 signatures out of 7,500, and depending on how many people sign, it may go for even more signatures. This is great, and I hope more people, including you, my dear Followers of Fear, sign this petition. However, it’s not enough. It’s far from enough.

Not now. Not ever.

In order to stop this bill from becoming law and damaging Ohio, we need to make our voices heard. Writing blog posts, or writing or calling or tweeting Ohio representatives and Governor John Kasich, telling them that this bill is just plain wrong and that Ohioans will not stand for it. We have to make sure that when Representative Becker comes to the Legislature in Columbus, which happens to be one of the LGBT capitals of the Midwest,** that this bill is dead on arrival, and that no one is going to support such a hateful bill.

So do what I’m doing now. Make your voices heard, and don’t let anyone shut you up. Encourage others to speak their minds. Start petitions, talk to your elected officials. Make sure they know how the public feels about Becker’s bill. Because we can’t afford a bill like this, and we can’t afford hate in the Buckeye State. Not under any circumstances.

*We have a heavy metal festival in Columbus every year called Rock on the Range, that attracts bands and fans from all over the world. Imagine how bad next year’s festival will be if this bill is passed! Believe it or not, we heavy metal fans can be pretty liberal, and so can our bands.

**No seriously, Columbus is an LGBT power center! Our Gay Pride Parade and Festival attracts thousands of people every year. Not to mention that the rest of the year, we have a vibrant LGBT community active in our city. And a couple of really fun gay bars, more than a few within walking distance of each other. Believe me, I know.

I really think they could’ve worded this cover caption a little better.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of people attacking the Millennial generation. There were even two sketches on two different comedy shows making fun of Millennials  as technology-addicted, overly entitled misanthropes who drink a lot and prefer interacting with a computer than a real person. Apparently we also whine a lot when we don’t get our way and expect things to go our way easily, or we get super offended and feel oppressed.

Now, I’m not writing this post out of some sort of feeling of offense or oppression. More out of annoyance than anything else. And I know using a blog is kind of playing into the stereotype a little, but I’ve reached more people through a digital format with some of my posts than if I sent a letter to a print publication, so why not?

Anyway, I just need to clear the air. Some Millennials may be like I described above. There’s always going to be someone who seems like a perfect example of some stereotype or another. However, that doesn’t mean that all people in a particular group fit the stereotype of that group. I certainly am not a technology-addicted, overly entitled misanthrope who drinks and gets easily offended when life doesn’t prove simple. I actually resisted getting on Facebook and Twitter until my college years, precisely because I thought they were unnecessary and I didn’t want people to think I was addicted to those sites! I only got on them finally because I wanted to stay in contact with friends I’d fallen out of touch with and because I thought they might help my writing career (and to some degree, the latter has happened, though not as much as the former).

I didn’t even get a smartphone until this past year, and that was because I was graduating, possibly doing an internship overseas, and I thought it might be handy to have some more advanced tech to stay in contact with family, friends, and coworkers.

I also don’t expect life to be easy for me, and neither did a lot of the people who went to school with me. Yeah, a lot of us loved to goof around, have a drink every now and then, and just relax, but that was between intense studying and going to work. Yeah, a lot of us either had jobs or were looking for them. Don’t know if those disparaging my generation has noticed, but higher education is expensive! We’re taking on more debt than previous generations, and all in the hope that we’re going to get jobs that’ll pay for all that debt. Of course we have to make sure to keep our grades up! Otherwise we may lose scholarships, have to stay in school longer, or even get kicked out of school, among other things.

Yeah, we work hard to get what some of the previous generations think we feel we’re entitled to. Trust me, if I thought the way my generation is supposed to think, I would have twice as many books out now, all of them with very little editing (if any), and be very surprised that I wasn’t living off my writing in some big mansion, lunching with Stephen King and going to movie premieres with some hot actress or singer on my arm. Maybe I’d even throw a tantrum about it.

Reality is, it’s just not true. Most of my generation is hard-working, trying to get the most out of life despite humongous obstacles in our way. We’re aware of what’s happening in the world and want to change it, even if we don’t always think the polls are the best way to do that (or our time is so constrained we can’t go to the polls). And yeah, we’re on our phones a lot. But I think people were once saying Baby Boomers were addicted to TV and dancing to soul-corrupting rock music, and for the most part that generation and the one after it turned out okay.

Though those generations are also the ones who helped spur climate change along and are sometimes denying it exists. And they’re also the generations leading the companies that are putting out the technology that we’re supposedly addicted to. And…I’m going to stop there.

So instead of lamenting the current generation and making fun of us, how about you try to get to know us a bit better? Maybe you’ll see we’re not that bad, and have great potential. Heck, you might even come up with a way for us to use that potential to the max and make some positive change in the world. Plenty of companies like Change.org have done so, as well as corporations and charities who are sponsoring folks like this guy who’s working on a smart gun to save lives, and more than I can name here.

Unless of course you like, can’t even. You like, totally can’t even imagine, like, changing your opinions ’cause you like, so totally stuck in your ways. Then, like, whatever. Nobody cares.

Mark and Debby Constantino. Courtesy of their website.

Recently I read something online that made me feel downright depressed and mournful. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the TV show Ghost Adventures and the people behind it. I feel they’re actually out to prove the existence of spirits and I find them inspirational for my own writing. Frequently they bring guests on the show, including other paranormal experts. Two of these experts were Mark and Debby Constantino, who specialized in electronic voice phenomena, or EVP examination.

This is where it gets sad: Earlier this week, the Constantinos died horrifically along with one other person. Apparently there had been a history of domestic violence in their marriage, including a prior kidnapping by Mr. Constantino, who had been estranged from his wife. This week, Mr. Constantino, who was out on bail, killed a man at the house his wife had been staying at, kidnapped her, and then later killed her and himself after a standoff with police. You can read the full story of this tragedy here, if you want to.

Since this has happened, I’ve seen a lot of reactions to what has happened. Obviously, there are a lot of people wishing condolences to the victims’ families and to the victims themselves, and there have been a lot of people talking about domestic violence, its devastating effects, and offering help or links for those who have been or are being abused. That’s good. We should mourn those who have been lost in situations like this while also recognizing that what has happened could’ve been prevented and working together to help make sure that incidents like this don’t become a regular occurrence.

However, some reactions I’ve seen to this actually made me feel rather worried and at time disturbed, and they are the reason I’m writing this post. One reaction that’s really upset me is that people are making jokes over the Constaninos’ deaths based on the fact that they were ghost hunters. Examples include “Now come back and show us that ghosts are real” and “They can still star on Ghost Adventures“. That’s just awful. There’s no joke you can make about a woman who was kidnapped from her home, maybe saw someone she knew die, and then was held hostage by someone she’d once loved, trusted, and had children with, only to be murdered by that person in the end. Doesn’t matter what they believed or thought, this was a tragedy, and you’re not being funny or cool by making a joke of it. Doesn’t matter that on the Internet you can be anybody you want to be either. All that’s happening is you’re cheapening someone’s early and awful death and you know it. And if you still don’t see anything wrong with that, then I’m not so sure I would like to associate with you.

Another reaction I’ve seen is that some people think this may have been a case of spirit or even demonic possession, that Mark and Debby Constantino were oppressed and ultimately influenced to die by something otherworldly. Now, I know that for those who believe (including me), a spirit can attach itself to a person or persons and make their lives miserable. However, I don’t think this is a case of demonic possession or something like that. Why? Because domestic abuse happens to uncounted numbers of people worldwide everyday, sometimes leading to the death of victims, few if any related to the supernatural. While it’s tempting to write off what happened in the Constantinos’ marriage to something extraordinary, in truth what happened is all too ordinary, even if it escalated to the point that it did.

And I know some of you will point to how the Constantinos seemed so normal on TV or at conventions. Plenty of people who are abused or abuse others are very good at presenting a happy, perfectly normal public image. It’s in the privacy of their homes that they show their true colors, because that’s the only place where they know they won’t be stared at because a loved one is hurting them. And many abusers are experienced in finding ways to carry out abuse in ways that won’t leave bruises or broken bones, which allows them to continue doing what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s not even physical, it can be completely verbal, financial or psychological. You never know who could be suffering inside.

And the only way to even make demonic influence more than just a wild guess is some sort of recorded proof from the Constantinos themselves that they were being oppressed, and I don’t think that exists. Even if it does, I doubt the family of the deceased would release that documentation. I think the family would prefer to be left alone to mourn, and not have to deal with people focusing on whatever they released, questioning its validity and the motive of those who released it.

Ultimately, the most logical, and the most difficult conclusion, is that the Constantinos had a troubled marriage, those troubles were too difficult for them to solve alone, and this was the terrible result of that. And in the wake of such a tragedy, the best thing we can do is offer help when it is asked for, and look for solutions to the worldwide epidemic of domestic violence, no matter what form it takes.

My condolences to the Constantinos and their loved ones, as well as their colleagues and many, many fans. I can only hope that we can all take positive steps in the wake of such dark events.

If you or a loved one has or is suffering domestic abuse and would like help, to know your rights, or even just to know what constitutes as abuse, you can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or visit their website at www.thehotline.org for more information. Or you can talk to a trusted teacher, counselor, clergy member, or even a friend or family member. Wherever you are, there is someone who can help you.

Thank you and the best of luck to you.