As a mother of a boy, I remain terrified

Another tragedy, a massacre orchestrated by a young man who felt entitled and spurned. Another young man who thought women owed him their affection and their bodies by virtue of his wanting them, and who, by ignoring him, earned violence.

He was broken. I don’t know what broke him or when, but it was a snap loud enough to have repercussions far enough outside his sphere of existence that I am now writing about him, an entire country away.

There is a little boy in my care and it is my job to teach him how to live in this world. No small feat, considering I barely have a handle on that myself. It’s on me to teach him to respect boundaries, to understand that nothing is owed him, and that women are not a reward or something he is entitled to. That he is not merely an animal who cannot rise above his hormonal instincts and base impulses. That he cannot lash out and hurt just because he is hurting.

That last one is important because it is something I haven’t mastered in my thirty-two years on this big blue rock. The difference being, of course, that there is a canyon between lashing out with passive-aggressive verbal barbs and lashing out with bullets. A canyon, right? But the two actions arise from the same stupid little neuron firing, don’t they?

I wrote after Newtown about how terrifying it is to be the mother of a boy. To know that he might carry within him this need to lash out violently and take as many as he can down with him in a spectacular display of self-destruction. Or, more likely, that I will not be able to develop in him a full understanding of what it means that women have agency, that they are not merely receptacles for your hopes or dreams or pride or scorn or spit or sperm. So many seem to struggle with this concept. The whole world over, this is still up for debate. For all our progress, we’ve gone nowhere.

This YesAllWomen thing is interesting and feels necessary in the face of this insanity, but I find it exhausting and depressing. I guess that’s the point. The state of being female in this world is pretty exhausting and depressing, when looked at objectively. Somewhere out there right now someone is grumbling while reading that sentence and saying, “Sure, whatever — the state of being human in this world is pretty exhausting and depressing.” Without a hint of irony.

I remain at a loss.

Lighten up: News design, levity, and fighting the impulse to be So Serious

I haven’t posted about news design here in a long time. Did you guys know I still do that for a living? Oh boy, do I ever.

My time working for newspapers has now stretched into a decade. In that time, I’ve had the honor of working with eight daily newspapers, each with its own distinct flavor determined by a combination of location, publisher whims, editor disposition (this goes all the way from the top editor to the last copy editor who proofs the pages before releasing every night), ad/marketing department attitudes, staff makeup, money woes or triumphs, and more.

If there is one thing that has cropped up time and time again that can impede good design, it’s an editor’s fear of levity.

Editors want their papers to be taken seriously. I get that, and I believe a paper’s credibility is what can ensure its longevity. But there seems to be this idea that newspapers are above needing to be fun or interesting, as if fun and interesting are beneath us as journalists. It’s such a dangerous mindset, particularly for midsize metro/regional papers. I’m not talking about the New York Times here.

Just think of all the amazing things that vie for a person’s attention every day. We carry around these Infinite Information Machines in our hands everywhere we go. We can read whatever we want, make art, or play games on these things. There are giant, beautiful television screens with whiz-bang graphics streaming across them at all hours, bringing us nonstop data and entertainment. We sit down at smaller screens and stare into the glowing rectangle for hours and hours, an entire world’s worth of knowledge at our fingertips. When do we actually stop and notice a piece of information and show it to someone else to spread our delight with it?

When it is unexpected, memorable or funny. When it brings us a ping of satisfaction.

They are small but important parts of our experiences as humans in info-saturated 2014, those little moments of fun. Build up enough of those experiences with a product and you will start to feel a connection that can grow into brand loyalty.

Newspaper editors are so reticent to play that game — a game where frivolity might exist alongside seriousness — that they often opt to squash everything but the seriousness because We Are a Real Newspaper, after all. But what does that mean now? And how is that working out for you, anyway?

Google doesn’t put that doodle up to make money. Google puts that doodle up because it’s fun and it expands the experience of using Google into something you’re going to want to do regularly, to see what silly/sweet/funny/wacky thing they might come up with next. And then Google makes money because once you get caught up in the Google brand, they’ve got their meathooks in you everywhere you go on the web and are running behind you, picking up the loose change falling out of your pockets.

So, what is the harm in letting your paper bring levity to your readers if it’s done in a smart way? Particularly if your paper has access to a designer or editor who is really good at identifying when and how to bring unexpected elements of fun to your pages?

It has sort of shocked me over the years to watch editors shoot down really, really clever ideas by designers for pedantic or overly literal reasons. Editors sometimes have a habit of letting small, inconsequential qualms that can easily be addressed blind them to the overall greatness of an idea. That’s why designer-editor collaboration — and having editors with strong visual understanding and designers with strong editing chops — is more important than ever. And why trust and building smarter teams is more important than ever. Our staffs are smaller so we need to work smarter. The people still left in the newspaper industry need to be the ones who shine the brightest, not just the ones who happen to be left over after years of staff hemorrhaging.

(And, yes, I know what a tall order that last sentence is. Still, I hold out hope.)

Part of my current job is to go to bat for ideas I think are worth fighting for, even if editors don’t get them or think they are silly. I have lost count by now of all the interesting, quirky, memorable design ideas we’ve pitched to editors that have gotten shot down outright for being a little too much, a little too forward, a little too weird, or that have made it past initial reactions but then got henpecked by editors who weren’t sold on the idea to begin with and built up enough steam over the evening to get it killed. Or, worse yet, ideas that started out really fun and engaging, but that end up getting twisted and mutated when editors ask for disparate concepts to be mashed together so that they don’t have to pick one idea over another.

Many editors would much rather go with something straightforward and boring than something that might be a little edgy, something that might give the reader a little wink wink nudge nudge to get the point across. But which of those approaches is actually going to get noticed? Or remembered? Can you remember what your daily newspaper looked like in the rack this morning?

I’m here to make a plea, in overwrought wording so you know how serious I am: Editors, be ye not afraid of memorable, unexpected news design. Be ye not afraid of silliness sometimes. Remember that more than ever before, people expect to have interesting, worth-talking-about experiences in conjunction with the products we sell*. We’d be foolish to ignore that and insist that providing moments of delight is beneath us.

So, wonks and pedants, literalists and newshounds, hear my plea. Give your readers some moments of delight every now and again. Have a sense of humor in your pages, where it counts and makes sense. And take some time to enjoy that delight yourself. I promise it will not kill you.

* And yes, the newspaper we sell is a product. I have reluctantly come to understand and embrace that concept. It’s a product with a noble purpose, of course, so that helps.

This week’s marriage progress

“The desires of adults should not trump the needs of children.”

This is the talking point that is bubbling up on the Sunday talk shows right now by the folks who are upset about the Supreme Court rulings this week that struck down DOMA and then kicked back California’s Prop 8 law to the state court that had already invalidated it.

And I love that quote because it is such a duh statement in general but also such an outrageous statement (because it is often stretched to be used in the context of abortion). And this statement — uttered by people who would rather see children sit unadopted in foster homes than be adopted by gay couples — is laughable and disingenuous. (Not to mention that it is also being uttered by people who deny that climate change is real, much less a problem for future generations.)

Using the children angle for a “defense” of “traditional” marriage is slimy. The ability or desire to have children is not a prerequisite for heterosexual couples to get married, nor is having a happy, loving marriage a requirement for keeping your children. Children of loving gay couples fare as well as children of loving straight couples. Saying that marriage has always been one-man-one-woman and has always been about bolstering the nuclear family is a lie. The definition and purpose of marriage has been constantly evolving. And there is nothing wrong with that. We evolve.

I was a homophobe (like so many others) in my country-ass high school and managed to come around to the idea of gay men and lesbians as nondeviant when I was college. (Phew.) I remember wearing my ugly little pink CafePress Marriage For All T-shirt back in 2006 and even then actual marriage equality seemed like a cultural impossibility in America. And now it’s a real thing and it’s really happening, and it’s really being held up as the standard in so many places. But I’m with the others who know that we can’t get comfortable, who know that progress isn’t an easy inevitability, that there will be many states (including the one I live in) that will fight this rising tide with much wailing and gnashing of teeth that is going to affect and hurt real people. We will see many more attempts to codify fear and hatred and we will have to endure endless complaints about how our insistance that intolerance not hijack our laws is itself a form of bigotry.

It’s not.

Don’t let them get away with saying that.

Twenty empty bedrooms

I’m thinking about those twenty empty bedrooms and I can’t stop crying.

•••

My house is empty. Just me and the cats. Everyone told me to come home and hug the boy tighter than ever, and I would have, but he’s a couple of hours east of here with his daddy visiting his grandma. I’ll see him tomorrow and I’ll scoop him up and he’ll squeal and wiggle because he loves his mama and I will bury my face in the crook of his neck and I will make a silent plea with my maker to keep him safe. I don’t usually ask for favors but this one’s not for me.

•••

I want answers. I find myself wrecked, again and again, and I want some fucking answers.

I watched the news this afternoon, sobbing in bed with no pants on like a depressed lunatic. I cleaned up and got to work and sat down amid the silence and set about my day. But I don’t work at a place where I can go to just ignore the awfulness of the day. I work in a place where the day’s awfulness is amplified fivefold. Figure out how these five papers are going to play this horrific story. Coordinate. Encourage them to put that irrelevant local story downpage or kick it inside; they are going to look silly tomorrow morning otherwise. Pick colors to highlight the entry points to entice people to read this horrific fucking story. Make it look nice, even if it’s about something that makes you want to vomit over and over and over.

I got caught sobbing at my desk a couple of times. I opened up my 1A and cycled through the photos that had been included with the main story and just fucking lost it. That one of the kids being led across the parking lot, single file. That one of the tiny little girl, face contorted in pain and confusion and fear as a man held her close.

I want answers.

Who was this kid, the shooter? Twenty years old and up for matricide and mowing down a classroom of 5-year-olds within just a couple of hours. He reportedly had some mental or personality issues. Reportedly. What was he on for that? What cocktail of antidepressants or antianxiety pills did he take every day? Or not take?

Did he play video games? Did he hang out in subreddits that would make you want to claw your own eyes out? Where’s the dad? Where did the fucking guns come from? Why the FUCK is this monstrous thing legal to own?

I want some fucking answers and I don’t care if I get on your nerves asking them.

“Now’s not a good time. It’s disrespectful to the victims.”

When is a good time? I’ll put an alert on my phone if you’ll give me a day and time. Or will you text me to let me know when it’s a good time? I kind of feel like we should do it soon; we’ve had two of these things this week and six this year and dozens since Columbine and I don’t feel like this crazy train is slowing down. I’d like to pencil in a serious chat before the next one if we could; I’m betting the victims and their families and friends would prefer that option too, if we could do that. If that’s not too much of an imposition, America.

•••

I think about my boy and I am terrified. The terror is splintered in many directions. I’ve been chewing on it all day.

Writer Elizabeth Stone has this great quote that I love that I saw tonight while looking at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s 1A: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” It’s really on point, that quote. Being a mother has certainly upped my empathy quotient, not to mention made it nearly impossible for me to hear stories about cruelty to children. I can’t handle it. It rips me up inside. It’s a cliché, but one of those true ones.

I imagine my tiny child — my sweet, silly, shy little boy — in an array life situations and my heart just breaks again and again, even when what I imagine isn’t particularly sad. Because I remember being there. I remember the dull sting of youth’s constant awkwardness, punctuated by humiliation and triumph. How basic rites of passage could be so labored. I think about Holden walking into a kindergarten classroom for the first time and it plucks at something deep and reptilian in me and I just want to surround him with my mother-wing and protect him, usher him back toward the nest, and keep him away from the world so it doesn’t hurt him. So it doesn’t even get the chance.

And today I could not stop thinking about my boy in that kindergarten classroom, hearing the screams of bullets and classmates, not understanding what was happening, wanting his mommy and daddy, not knowing who would protect him, not knowing anything about pain or mortality, but feeling that surge of fear and adrenaline that his brain would supply. I cannot handle the thought. I think about the monster who would put a child in that situation and I want to fucking rip him apart. For all those parents who aren’t living hypotheticals but who are living an actual nightmare, I want to burn the whole evil world down. I am sorry for them. I am so fucking sorry that the world broke in this way and I am terrified.

Here is an awful, awful confession: I am terrified that we are going to do something wrong and create a monster. This kid, this Adam kid, murdered his mother and moved on to murder children. I don’t know what broke in him but I am terrified that my boy will break in some way too. I want to believe that every horrible thing that happens is done by someone who was obviously mistreated and is acting out but I don’t think reality bears that out. Some people who do fucked-up things have relatively normal families, inasmuch as any family can be normal. Is it a lack of love? Is it just brain chemistry that’s off? Did they see it coming? Can anyone ever really see it coming?

I want my love to be enough. A mother’s love is never enough to overcome all the ways a person can become broken. And that scares me, down in my soul.

•••

Are you ready to talk about it yet? Is it time to talk about the gun thing yet? Can we at least agree that, culturally, we have a big problem? It doesn’t matter if the guns were bought legally. How do these lunatics keep getting guns legally? Oh, they were his mother’s guns? Jesus. How can we keep responsible gun owners’ weapons away from their deranged relatives? And are you ready to talk about why this should be legal to purchase yet? I feel like we’ve waited long enough to talk about it. I don’t want to speak for them but I suspect the parents turning off the lights in those twenty empty bedrooms tonight might think it’s time to talk about it too.

The one about the Weiner

Like everyone else with a functioning limbic system, I am sick of hearing and talking about Anthony Weiner. But this is one of those controversies where so many people seem to be willfully missing important points, and before you know it, the Dow’s back in the crapper and planes are falling out of the sky while we’re all yelling at each other about a socially retarded congressman who sent prick pics to near-strangers. It’s stupid. But I am going to contribute to the noise because I need to get this out of me so the toxicity of even having to think about this crap does not eventually give me cancer.

I’m glad he’s resigning. I hope this means all the news people will stop saying his name and we can move on now. I think it really, really sucks for the Democrats to lose him because he was an incisive, funny, politically whip-smart pain in the ass to the Republicans. The party needed someone like him because the rest of them, by and large, seem to be able to engage the public about as easily as rotten carp. But you know what? He’s not my ally anymore. He did something exceedingly stupid, he lied about it, he got caught, he needs to go.

Some people keep bringing up other Great Mean in History and pointing to their unsavory personal lives as proof that what Weiner does in his personal life has no bearing on his life as a politician. Saying Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. were dogs with the ladies is a stupid argument. You mean to tell me that American men were freer to womanize without consequence decades and decades ago? When women couldn’t vote or own property or, later, when women were fighting for their civil rights to be recognized as full people and not just homemakerbots and babyfactories? You mean there were men of power who took advantage of their privileged station in life to fuck (and fuck over) whoever they wanted without having to answer for it? Next thing you are going to tell me is that toasters aren’t powered by wishes. Well then, let’s just all agree that since men once upon a time could point their penises at things and declare “WANT!” to a backdrop of trumpet blasts and rainbows, we might ought to keep it that way, or there might not ever be another Great Man In History ever again!

Horse shit.

On that note, the Bill Motherfucking Clinton argument needs to go on and die a stabbed death. “Bill Clinton actually had sex with someone who wasn’t his wife and he didn’t step down!” Believe it or not, Dems with amnesia, there WERE people on your side saying that Clinton should step down. Clinton abused his power in egregious ways and then lied about it (just like some of those other presidents Dems love to villify). He should not be awarded sainthood, he is not the best president ever, and conveniently forgetting about or glossing over his fuckups does not make them disappear. Letting Weiner slide because Bill Clinton lowered the personal-morality bar is a dumb thing to do.

Saying “so and so did a much worse thing and kept his job!” is a non-starter. If we continue to set the pace of the present and future based on how much we let people in the past get away with stupid, egregious fuckups, we are heading for trouble. How does that give us any incentive to evolve toward something greater, to strive to be better tomorrow than we were today? Isn’t that the chief charm of progressivism — to move forward, make progress?

Oh, and here’s something to think about: The fact that we consider abusing power in order to get sex a much less serious issue than abusing power in order to get money says something about how we value the human body and human dignity, doesn’t it?

There is a bit of “boys will be boys” attitude floating among Weiner’s defenders. Again, who’s the wacky man-hater in this scenario? Here’s that bitchy man-hating feminist, who wants all people — especially our supposed leaders — to aspire to be better people than the average flailing dumbass with his dick out on ChatRoulette. And then here are people defending Weiner by saying that men are just programmed to be complete idiots who are at the constant mercy of the muscle twitches of their genitals. Hint: It’s not me, the bitchy man-hating feminist who actually hates and devalues men. I think men are better than the bullshit standards they are often held to.

This scandal is not exclusively about sex and wanting Weiner to go away does not make me or anyone else anti-sex. This is not about legislating morality. It’s about judgment, doing the right thing, leadership, and earning the right to be a representative of the public. We’re not talking about a man who is polyamorous and in a marriage where his wife knows about his sexual proclivities and agrees to them. (If that had been the case, then I’d be the first to say we should all shut up and let the man work. But that requires that all parties involved in the the activities are up to speed on what’s going on. Clearly that is not the case.) We’re talking about deception. Sneakery. He took an oath of total commitment to his wife — who is having his child — and look how he treated her. How on EARTH could he ever treat constituents with any more respect than the one person he promised in a fancy frigging ceremony to put above all others?

Remember when we argued that saying George W. Bush is the kind of guy you could have a beer with is a dumb argument for why he should be president? This is along the same lines. I want my leaders to be better and smarter than the average douchebag. Saying “Anthony Weiner is just another dbag in pursuit of poon so give him a break” is not good enough for me. I want my leaders to be better than that. Smarter than that.

It’s a disservice to continue to think that it’s impossible for us to ever expect that kind of goodness from our leaders.

Week thirteen

What a wacky week to be in utero. Or hell, out of utero. We went to three days and nights of loud and crazy concerts, lived through near-nonstop rain and what could end up being historic flooding, watched the Grizzlies steamroll the Thunder in game one of round two of the playoffs, and heard the news that Osama bin Laden took one to the head.

Last week I could still suck my gut in, even though wearing pants was getting to be uncomfortable. This week the bulge is unmistakable and I can’t suck that sucker in anymore. Ashley generously let me borrow her Bellaband, which has made wearing pants much less tortuous, since instead of buttoning them, I can cinch them closed with a hair band. Going to the bathroom presents a unique challenge now. I repeat this mantra: “DO NOT DROP THE RUBBER BAND IN THE TOILET. DO NOT DROP THE RUBBER BAND.” So far so good.

I have my first stretch mark. The string of expletives that flew out of my mouth when I discovered it shall not be reprinted here.

My balance is starting to get all out of whack. I suppose my center of gravity is shifting, and I can certainly tell when I stand up or even when I lean one way without thinking about it a little bit.

The baby this week should be getting up to either the size of a peach or the size of a medium shrimp, depending on what publication you read. Thinking of big nasty sea bugs being anywhere near me makes me barfy, so let’s go with a sweet little peach, complete with a fine coating of fuzz (lanugo, they call it). The little guy or gal is in there moving around and pissing to his or her heart’s content, as beautiful and disgusting as that sounds. I can’t quite feel any of that yet, though. The organ-punching is still to come.

We’ve got a big weekend coming up. Ray’s graduating from law school and his family is coming to stay for a few days. I have never actually met his mom or dad, so I’m excited to finally see where he came from. I think my mom’s coming down too. It should be a hoot.

This person apparently does not understand what ‘news’ is

this person apparently does not understand what "news" is

Screencapped from the comments of this story. You didn’t click, did you? What if I said it was a story about a BDSM-fetish B&B in Collierville? Clickadoodledoooo!

Anyway, I’m sure Hillybob looks forward to the days when news outlets will be capable of reporting on every fucking mundane thing in the world AS IT IS HAPPENING.

Another batch of news designs

Don’t mind me, I’m just clicking and dragging and portfolioing.

Shelby Farms: Urban oasis
A story about the growth and change Shelby Farms is experiencing, accompanied by stunning photos.

11/28/2010 SUNView0V1

11/28/2010 SUNView0V2   11/28/2010 SUNView0V3

11/28/2010 SUNView0V4   11/28/2010 SUNView0V5

Check out the story here, as well as Jim Weber’s beautiful photo gallery.

In the shadows
A follow-up to the shocking CA story about civil rights photographer Ernest Withers’ secret life as a FBI informant.

Withers part two design 1

Withers part two design 2   Withers part two design 3

Withers part two design 4   Withers part two design 5

Check out part two of the Withers saga here.