Bob Freeman: He’s The Man!

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May 8, 2016

As one of the three men who pioneered the upkeep of a law that gets people to “do the right thing,” Bob Freeman is a highly regarded and respected resource for collecting data that people deserve.

 

He spent about an hour an a half with a class of University at Albany journalism students Tuesday night discussing what he does, how it works, and encouraging the students to take advantage of what is available to them.

 

Freeman is the executive director for the New York State Committee on Open Government, and one of his major responsibilities is overseeing and advising regarding the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

 

As the Committee on Open Government site states, FOIL pertains to the public’s right to gain access to government records. Freeman clarified that it is records, not information, that FOIL offers access to, and he admitted that that title could be misleading.

 

Records include things like audio or video from meetings, and minutes kept at those meetings. The difference between written and recorded records are that audio and video can be deleted after four months whereas written records are kept forever, according to Freeman.

 

Although it has its kinks, the law is one Freeman is enthusiastic about. New York was one of the first few states to have this sort of resource for it’s people, and Freeman’s job was, subsequently, one of the first of it’s kind. He’s travelled all over the world sharing what he does with others.

 

He is the man to go to if anyone, and he means anyone, wants assistance or advice getting access to records. “It’s easy to be the man when you’re the only one,” Freeman said.

 

His position is a valuable resource because getting access to records is a process that requires both specificity and knowledge about what one is looking for, for example who to ask.

 

Additionally, Freeman said, “I think there are a lot of agencies who are intentionally resistant.” His job is to help get around resistance, and hold people accountable, by law, for denying records. “The laws that we are talking about are based primarily on common sense,” he said. He believes, “everything is open, except to the extent that disclosure would hurt.”

 

“Hurt,” Freeman admitted, is an intentionally vague word. Hurt could mean a lot of things depending on a situation, but the rule of thumb is that if the average person would say it’s nobody’s business, records can be kept private, like medical records. If not, like emails, Freeman said it’s covered and those are records that should be released upon request.

 

 

With the impending presidential elections in mind, a student asked Freeman what he thought about Hillary Clinton’s emails. He said if she were a state employee, FOIL covers access to her emails, both official and private, meaning the public would have access to them.

 

Since Clinton is not a state employee, her emails are not necessarily covered. He noted that as an issue with the federal act regarding records, and said he does not believe that it is expansive enough.

 

Freeman said he wants to see issues like this change in the future. He said he always strives for a “better law than we have today.”

 

About his career, both since 1974 and about the future of the Committee, he said he views the law as evolutionary. “The ultimate goals never end,” Freeman said.

 

“In the late 60’s in college we sat around the dorm talking about how we were going to change the world…and you find out that if you’re really lucky, you can make a dent. And I like to think that I’ve made a dent.”

 

The UAlbany Journalism Program

April 26, 2016

Enrollment in the University at Albany’s journalism department may be driven less by the program than by the perceived lack of job opportunities after graduation, based on interviews with about two-dozen journalism students.

 

The most passionate among them are enhancing their options by supplementing classes with internships and working for the school newspaper, and they say this is the most valuable learning experience they have had, over their in-class education.

 

Enrollment in the UAlbany journalism program has decreased from 197 in the fall of 2009 to 142 in the fall of 2015. That makes a 28 percent decrease.

 

In an interview, Kerry Kleinertz, a 19-year-old journalism major, said they are hoping the program will help them be a better writer. Luke Mosseau hopes they can use what they learn to become a film critic. Students also said they are interested in public relations and communications, and various other career paths for which journalism offers some foundations.

 

While journalism commonly refers to specific field of reporting and investigating, that is not all that students hope to get out of it. UAlbany offers a handful of courses that teach other styles and categories of journalism, but its main focus is reporting and newswriting, the title of two of the program’s five required classes.

 

With many students citing the program as a supplement to the other goals they have, journalistic or not, it seems that one of main causes for a declining trend in enrollment may be that the program does not offer enough in the way of other types of journalism. It doesn’t change nearly as frequently as the field of journalism does, and it does not include enough variation. “There are not very many courses offered,” transfer student and journalism major Molly O’Bryan said.

 

Therefore, while it is understood that there are a few core classes that are required, students might be more interested if the additional classes had more variety. The program could take a yearly survey of its students to find out what they still want from it.

 

Rosemary Armao, program director, said she plans to have an exit survey placed on students’ chairs at graduation this May that asks them just that.

 

Comparing UAlbany journalism courses to that of Syracuse, Armao’s alma mater, UAlbany seems to offer basic overview classes whereas Syracuse has more specific courses within the sub-categories of journalism. There are seven photography classes at Syracuse and only one at UAlbany, an issue raised by Brittany Gregory, who said she has only “sort of” been able to enroll in classes she is interested in. Syracuse also offers courses on travel journalism, magazine editing, and newspaper editing.

 

Armao said one class she would add to UAlbany’s program would be data journalism, a specified field course, but noted that Syracuse has an entire journalism department, not just a program, so they do have more resources. Still, their ideas could appeal to more journalism students as they cater to specific goals. Honing specific skills in journalism can be useful, but students, especially the six seniors interviewed, don’t believe it is enough.

 

Tameka Abraham, a junior at UAlbany said, “I feel like the program spends too much time on the newspaper aspects and the foundations of journalism rather than helping us understand the world we live in today.”

At a journalism roundtable, the six seniors interviewed cite their internships and work on the school’s independent newspaper, the Albany Student Press, as more valuable experiences than what they learned in class. One student, Madeline St.Amour said, “You’ll learn the most outside of your classes.”

While it may not be a bad thing that students feel they learn by experience, the most involved and successful students are saying that they learn more out of the classroom. Armao said the new phase of program, paired with communications rather than English, is a much better fit.

Armao explained that in 2008 there were a lot of major plans for the program. There was going to be a concentration in science reporting, political reporting, and a visual concentration. Unfortunately, due to the issues with the economy at that time, these changes could not be made. “It’s the reality under new economic conditions,” she said.

In the few months Armao has been serving as director, she has been focused on and concerned with retention. “We get students into the program and we’re not keeping them,” she said. According to Armao, this is a University-wide issue. She said UAlbany’s retention rate is half that of other SUNY schools like Buffalo and Binghamton.

“Some of it is natural,” Armao explained. As the interviewed students touched on, journalism is a field of learning that you have to be willing to go out and do. “Journalism needs a lot of really dedicated reporters right now,” Nick Muscavage said. And not everyone wants to do it, which Armao says is okay and its healthy to move on for that reason.

However, she argued students complaint about not having enough to learn in journalism classes. “You’re crazy if you come in and take only journalism required classes. You do the required classes and then branch out,” she said, “There is a lack of imagination, maybe on all of our parts.”

Armao believes the resolution to the issue of non-specific classes is to branch out to other departments. Students who see only one photojournalism class can take an art class on photography and do what is called cross listing. Armao said she is happy to sit down with students and work out what classes they can take in other disciplines and give hem journalism credits for it.

“Journalism is a lot about just figuring it out for yourself,” Armao added. The successful journalism students are following that path, and as for retention and enrollment rates, with a new director looking into the issues, we may see new trends in the future.

“Ctrl+Alternative+Del”

April 2, 2016

Ctrl + Alt+ Del is not just the combination of computer keys to quit a non-responding program. This is the inspiration behind the name of University at Albany’s WCDB fm radio DJ Laura Buskey’s show.

 

She explained, “I’m an alternative rock radio DJ and like I’m kind of controlling the music and I want my listeners to have a say in what they’re listening to,” and so Ctrl + Alternative + Del was born.

 

Buskey is a 20-year-old UAlbany sophomore from – air quotes – Plattsburgh, NY. “I’m from such a small town that Plattsburgh is like the closest thing anybody would be able to identify me by,” she said. She’s actually from a town called West Chazy, where she graduated with a class of 58 people.

 

“See that’s funny, that’s one of the reasons why I chose a big school like this,” Buskey laughed. In seventh grade, Buskey’s class went on a tour of the UAlbany campus: “Little me who hasn’t been to New York City…seeing the towers for the dorms I was like ‘these are skyscrapers!’”

 

UAlbany kept a special place in her heart since that trip, and she said “I’m a firm believer in following your instinct, if I had that feeling after visiting for a day in seventh grade I was like maybe I’ll like it here.” Buskey applied to a few other schools, but knew in her heart Albany was her place.

 

Buskey has been a DJ for WCDB for about a year and a half, and although the atmosphere of the school clicked with her immediately, her experience with the radio station wasn’t quite the same.

 

“When I first heard of the radio station, I definitely didn’t think it was for me,” she said, “I can’t even usually have a conversation let alone like be on air!” What really got her into it were the people. When she met some of the DJs, she felt she had so much in common with them, and decided it might be worth starting the training process to become a DJ herself.

 

“I fell in love with just like being able to express yourself over airways and I’ve been in love ever since. I met some really great people here,” Buskey said, “but like my passion, I definitely found it.”

 

Surrounded by people who inspire her and enhance her love of DJing, Buskey has spread the love herself. A fellow DJ with a news show, Connor Murphy, said about Buskey, “one only needs to look at the WCDB superlative she got.” Buskey was awarded “Station Sweetheart.”

 

Her favorite part about being a DJ is connecting, with fellow DJs and music enthusiasts as well as with her listeners. A man from Clifton Park called into her show one night to tell her he loved listening, listens every week and would continue to tune in. It was exciting and heartwarming for Buskey to know people are listening and that they come from all over.

 

Now, Buskey is passing on the inspiration to a close friend of hers, Andy Araya, who is currently training to be a DJ. He said they met last year, and when he saw how much she enjoyed being a DJ and how it shaped her personality, he wanted to give it a try too.

 

Buskey’s favorite band is called Modest Mouse. It’s a band she’s listened to since she was younger that stuck with her, as things often do for Buskey: “I love experiences like that.” She cited Float On as her favorite song, and Araya shook his head in disapproval saying, “that’s like their biggest song.” At WCDB, a motto to live by is nothing from the top 40.

 

Every now and then, Buskey will play a song she really likes, and then notice that some listeners have tuned out. She said, “its like aah, a little shot,” but she tries to learn from those experiences, and build her show for her audience and what they do like.

 

Right now, being a DJ is just a hobby for Buskey- in addition to her love of drawing and working two jobs. She balances it all with an overarching desire to succeed. “I’m very motivated to get my life together,” she said.

 

If she stays in the Albany area after school, she said she’d love to keep up her show because WCDB is a place she feels truly happy and comfortable. But for the future as a DJ, she said, “I’m not going to rule it out.”

 

Buskey is majoring in psychology and English with a minor in education.

 

“A lot of people judge you when you say psychology major.” Buskey joked, saying everyone told her she would change it and that everyone majors in that at first. However, her plans with psychology are so close to her heart that she is determined to be successful with it.

 

“In my family, my mom has some mental illnesses so it like kind of inspired me from a young age to want to help people like her.” Her mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder, or multiple personality disorder. “She’s not always her and it was like that thought always interests me…growing up I was always like ‘I want to learn more about this.’”

 

Although Buskey feels she has had a lot happen in life that could have been setbacks, she has always made it a point to persevere. She put herself in an unusual position by going to a big school like UAlbany, and joining the radio when she was shy to speak, but the uncomfortable experiences are proving to be the most rewarding.

 

Doing things you aren’t used to is tough, but Buskey loves the experience. Now she proudly says, “I’m willing to fearlessly be myself.”

Now, Buskey is passing on the inspiration to a close friend of hers, Andy Araya, who iscurrently training to be a DJ. He said they met last year, and when he saw how much sheenjoyed being a DJ and how it shaped her personality, he wanted to give it a try too.Buskey’s favorite band is called Modest Mouse. It’s a band she’s listened to since she wasyounger that stuck with her, as things often do for Buskey: “I love experiences like that.”She cited Float On as her favorite song, and Araya shook his head in disapproval saying,“that’s like their biggest song.” At WCDB, a motto to live by is nothing from the top 40.Every now and then, Buskey will play a song she really likes, and then notice that somelisteners have tuned out. She said, “its like aah, a little shot,” but she tries to learn fromthose experiences, and build her show for her audience and what they do like.Right now, being a DJ is just a hobby for Buskey- in addition to her love of drawing andworking two jobs. She balances it all with an overarching desire to succeed. “I’m verymotivated to get my life together,” she said.If she stays in the Albany area after school, she said she’d love to keep up her show becauseWCDB is a place she feels truly happy and comfortable. But for the future as a DJ, she said,“I’m not going to rule it out.”Buskey is majoring in psychology and English with a minor in education.“A lot of people judge you when you say psychology major.” Buskey joked, saying everyonetold her she would change it and that everyone majors in that at first. However, her planswith psychology are so close to her heart that she is determined to be successful with it.“In my family, my mom has some mental illnesses so it like kind of inspired me from a youngage to want to help people like her.” Her mom has Dissociative Identity Disorder, ormultiple personality disorder. “She’s not always her and it was like that thought alwaysinterests me…growing up I was always like ‘I want to learn more about this.’”Although Buskey feels she has had a lot happen in life that could have been setbacks, shehas always made it a point to persevere. She put herself in an unusual position by going to abig school like UAlbany, and joining the radio when she was shy to speak, but theuncomfortable experiences are proving to be the most rewarding.Doing things you aren’t used to is tough, but Buskey loves the experience. Now she proudlysays, “I’m willing to fearlessly be myself.”

Parking at UAlbany

February 14, 2016

Parking at the University at Albany during peak hours is chaos. Students circle Colonial Quad lot stalking their peers to claim a space, and snake up and down the aisles of Dutch Quad lot in the hopes of making the long walk up to the podium from their car just a little shorter.

 

But that’s the issue, it’s just a little shorter. At a school where one of the core values is sustainability, Jason Jones, director of Parking and Mass Transit Services (PMTS), wants to dissuade the campus conception that there is not enough parking and that students have to walk too far.

 

“There is more than enough parking,” Jones said, but, “it’s not on the 50 yard line.”

 

At UAlbany, there are 7,500 parking spaces and 11,000 registered vehicles. Allowing for the fact that not every student is on campus at the same time, Jones is confident that there is sufficient space.

 

Still, there are a few issues that do threaten that space.

 

On Jan. 14, 2016, PMTS issued an email announcing that the Northwest Gold student lot no longer allowed overnight parking. That is the lot right across form Colonial Quad, where the overflow park when Colonial is full. In an already hectic area, students wondered why this change, further limiting parking, was in effect.

 

Jones reiterated the email that said the change was implemented to aid in snow removal. Last year, the University declared two snow emergencies. Jones said students were notified and asked to move their vehicles. However, many, especially in Colonial lot, did not comply.

 

According to Jones, 17 cars had to be towed. Jones said rather than making students go through the hassle of retrieving their cars from a garage and paying all the fees on top of the towing, being able to take them to a lot on campus is a preferable method, so they were thought to Northwest lot.

 

According to Jones, as a preventative measure, the Northwest lot was closed to overnight parking, and therefore, open to opportunity. He said last year, “Colonial lot was unsafe,” due to the cars blocking plowing. If another snow emergency is declared, PMTS can also now direct vehicles to the Northwest lot for effective snow removal of Colonial lot.

 

While this preventative measure may come in handy when the weather acts up, the issue of parking lot lurking for the closest spot remains a reality.

 

To combat that, Jones encourages students to make use of the buses. Shuttles travel around the UAlbany campus and transportation on the CDTA is just one unlimited swipe of a student’s SUNY card away.

 

Jones works closely with the Environmental Sustainability groups on campus and hopes more and more students will choose to take the bus and continue to lessen the University’s carbon footprint. According to Jones, the CDTA gives over 1 million rides to university students each year, and he hopes that number will continue to rise.

 

He plans to introduce an express route called a BRT, bus rapid transit, which is a non-stop route from Alumni to campus. This will eliminate the extra travel time students face on a regular CDTA bus that makes frequent stops.

 

And although Jones maintains the hope that students would park farther from the podium, where many spots are open, and walk the difference, he understands that students might not be satisfied with that response.

 

For this reason, he disclosed a long-term plan he has that has been effective at other schools in speeding up the parking process. The idea is to implement sensors at the entrance and exit of the lots that will be able to tell how many cars are there. This information is fed to a screen at the main entrances to the campus, informing drivers of which lots are full and which are not.

 

Though that is a long-term plan, Jones is working daily to improve the experience of the on-campus commute. He answers all of the complaints that come into his email, and he writes back when students make a comment on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Parking and Mass Transit Services is an “easy punching bag,” Jones said, but he wants to “change the perception of it.”

 

Reach Jones at jjones6@albany.edu

Do something that scares you

Sarah Kearns

11 April 2016

There is no feeling more terrifying than quiet. In the absence of sound, my ears compensate with a peculiar ringing noise, as though I’ve just come home from a rock concert. My eyes devise specks of dust in the thick dark air around me, and my tongue seems to dry out as I realize I’m breathing them all in.

The room goes on for miles, light-years, as I click the lock, enclosing myself into emptiness. Cemented at the threshold, I brace against the handle releasing a deep breath from my nose I’d been holding onto from the outside. I dawdle, inspecting the texture of the door paint with the pads of my fingers, waiting for my lungs to fill again. I’m a swimmer, so we might be here a while…

I finally attempt a courageous gulp, swiftly interrupted by my own saliva catching in my swollen throat. I gasp, pleading with myself not to cough, desperate to maintain composure, and find myself trembling when the fit subsides. I stretch my arm out to the adjacent wall- its closer than I expected- and I lean myself against it, using the last bit of light left in my eyes from outside to slide my roommate’s empty shampoo bottle into the corner.

The tile is chilling beneath me as I deaden, still panting, into fetal position. The darkness grows with my descent. The cool creeps up my jeans like a current around either side of my thighs slowly until it meets at the top of my knees- an unwelcomingly frigid sheath. I press my back into the wall, enough to cause pain, imagining it would mallow out and cradle me like a pillow.

The thought turns sour without a moments delay as I imagine falling through a hole in the wall to my death. I envision my legs flailing, arms at full wingspan, and I dig my nails into my palms, arching my back away inconsequentially, before my mind sees the landing. I try to reimagine it like Alice in Wonderland.

I begin to survey my surroundings in a way I’ve never examined them before, even on cleaning day. I know if I release one hand from the iron grasp of the other and reach down, I’ll touch the grout. It’ll be gritty and I’ll enjoy the texture. But a small part of me worries I’ll reach down to find I can’t feel the floor beside me because it’s gone. Can’t take that chance.

I feel isolated in my spot. I’m terrified of looking up. I don’t even look up at ceilings when the lights are on. Now that they’re off, though, the feeling that someone is hovering, watching, and waiting becomes certain. And if I look up, he’ll know I know he’s there.

To prove to myself nothing has vanished from below, I scoot an inch to my left. Then another. Then another. I keep my back to the wall, and remember watching my first scary movie with my childhood best friend. Her mom watched with us, and offered me a pillow before it started to “cover my scary spot.” Apparently, everyone has a scary spot. For a lot of people, it’s the stomach, others it’s their hair. It’s the part of you, for no scientific reasons I’m aware of, that you feel most inclined to protect when you’re scared. Mine is my back, and I wish I’d brought a pillow with me to protect it now.

As I continue to slowly inch along the wall, I begin to develop truly absurd quantifications of the room. Anything to keep my mind busy. I find that the door is about three huddled Sarah’s away from the shower. I wince at the thought of pulling back the curtain, and shuffle myself back, half a huddled Sarah, into eye line with our ‘porcelain throne.’ Bad thought. My brain runs with that, erecting anonymous threatening figures sitting there before me- I squint my already sealed eyes and rock my head side to side as if to dump the thought out of my ears like pool water.

I know I’ve been in here a while now, and I begin to wonder why I am still so afraid. Nothing happened yet. I’m still okay- my fingers do a little dance all along my body to make sure I’m still all there, kind of like the dance I do before getting in the shower to make sure I took all my jewelry and socks off. I’m all here, though.

In an act of bravery, I begin to chant to myself encouragement to stick my legs out in front of me. It sounds something like the little engine that could. And right when I tricked myself into thinking I was going to do it, the twinkling of my phone alarm from out on the counter began to ring. I mustn’t have taken a deep breath that whole time, because I felt a sharp pain in my chest when I inhaled, saved by the bell!

As quickly as the wave of relief rolled in did it wash right away again, leaving concern in its place. Do I open the door first, or turn on the light? How many seconds do I have to get from here to my bed before whatever was waiting by the ceiling and behind the curtain emerges?

Do I turn on the light and face them? Or lock them into the darkness again, just like any other time? On my knees, I reach up toward the empty space between myself and the wall that holds both the switch and the door.

It hovers there, as I make my decision.

“Do something that scares you.” I adjust my shoulder and puff my chest. I’m aiming for the switch when the air heaves on, swirling down from the vent above, draping my hand in silky creeping air. Spiders run down my back as I throw the door open, snatch my still ringing phone, and swan dive for the bed.

I am inexplicably, absurdly terrified of the dark.

Fashion Month 2015

Originally Published at  http://www.albanystudentpress.net/fashion-month-is-here/

September 28, 2015

By Sarah Kearns

As New York welcomes the crisp fall air, Kendall, Karlie, Kors and more are off in Milan dressed for spring and summer as Fashion Week is still in full swing.  Fashion Week happens four times in four of the largest fashion capitals in the world: New York, London, Milan, and Paris.

Although you’ve missed New York and London by now, Milan continues through Sept. 29 and Paris will start Sept. 30 and run until Oct. 7.  Those wishing to access the shows without actually travelling – and likely sneaking in to the exclusive runways – may view livestreams provided online, as well as video recaps of those New York and London shows.

In New York, BCBG showed a boho collection with lots of patchwork and mixed patterns, finishing off most looks with chunky, pale-yellow-and-beige suede shoes and striped knitted sweaters, scarves, and leg warmers.  They contrasted the thick knit with flowing chiffon and silk dresses. There was a lot of layering, with long sleeve T-shirts beneath sheer chiffon prominent. Each of the models wore a patchwork hat nearly covering their eyes, and their makeup was bare, making them look fresh and clean.  It will be interesting to see how well those leg warmers catch on in the warmth of the spring and summer seasons, but the boho look is definitely going to be a trend to replicate.

Chunky shoes appeared again at Michael Kors in New York, as well as more flowing chiffon.  The colors stayed neutral in blacks, whites, nudes, with a few orangey-reds featured on high necklines and button-up shirts with blazers.  An obvious trend for the upcoming season is mid-length skirts that hit right around the calf.  Many outfits in the show were accessorized with belts ranging from three inches wide to just half an inch.  Kors also showed some knitted sweaters, so this may be something to look out for.

Oscar De La Renta showed a lot of florals in New York with red and orange tones, colors that are appearing to be the color of the season, along with more chiffon and chunky shoes.

In London at Burberry and in New York at Givenchy, black lace was everywhere, and it was sheer — almost looking like lingerie at times.  Burberry’s dresses had some of the sheer chiffon that was seen in other shows as well, so daring style is a big upcoming trend.

In an increasingly popular way over the past few seasons, menswear slipped into the womenswear collections.  While menswear often influences the structure of womenswear blazers and pants, now male models wear these looks and weave seamlessly in between the women and dresses.

To view the upcoming shows, get information, and stay up to date with live feeds and recaps, visit fashionweekonline.com.

“The Worst Mistake I Ever Made”

*From an assignment to write a story from someone else’s perspective*

I was asked to sign the bullet my ex-boyfriend planned to use to take his own life. There are only a few instances in my life in which I felt responsible for someone other than myself, but how could I not be responsible if I signed my name. It would be etched into that casing deeper than the rifling pattern.

I learned all too early, and yet circumstantially not early enough, that there is nothing respectable about allowing someone to control you. I learned the very real lesson that my mistakes don’t impact only me, that mother does usually know best, and that standing up for myself is never worth compromising.

***

A month or so ago my current boyfriend asked me if I was going to be able to come to his Military Ball. I told him I’m studying for my nursing boards right now, and the likelihood of me feeling secure enough to skip a whole weekend of studying- just days before the exam will take place to go to a party- is slim to none.

I have a job waiting for me on the other side of that test, and if I don’ pass, I lose it. I knew he wouldn’t be happy with that answer. I don’t expect him to be pleased when the answer is no. But my test, and my future, comes first. If I don’t go to the Military Ball, he still gets to graduate West Point and become an Officer. But if I don’t study and pass this test, I don’t get to be a nurse. And I will be a nurse.

One might be surprised, now, to hear that the biggest mistake I’ve ever made was changing myself for a guy. When I was younger, I thought I knew it all. For some scum-bag guy, I treated my mom poorly, I treated my friends poorly, and I treated myself poorly. I allowed myself to be controlled, and I became someone else, something that people who only know me from after that relationship would be surprised to know I did.

As a 15-year-old sophomore, being asked out by a guy a grade ahead of mine made me walk through school with a little more vitality. Although my hands were tied behind my back the whole time, I put that spring in my step and flipped my hair whenever disapprovers walked by.

When I went out with Mike, my mom would weirdly set curfews. Although she was never glad if my siblings and I stayed out until midnight, she wasn’t a terribly strict woman. She raised us to take care of ourselves. But with Mike, she would make it clear; “You’ll be home by 11.” Of course I thought, “F-you,” I’m going to stay out if I want to. And Mike and I take the back roads home, intentionally returning a half hour late.

At 15 I was always like, “oh it’s not a big deal,” about what I did or how Mike acted. When I wanted to get my ears pierced and my friend Amanda offered to do it, I couldn’t have sat down with a cube of ice and some rubbing alcohol faster. I looked in the mirror at my newly glimmering lobes for hours doing poses and making silly faces with Amanda. When I presented my gorgeous new earrings to Mike, he hadn’t taken so much as a glance and a breath before telling me they looked stupid. As the day progressed I began to feel the weight of those small gems as though there were dumbbells tethered to them.

I figured I would tell people that they just hurt my ears, or that I didn’t like the way it looked as much as I thought I would. I took the earrings out. And I told myself I wanted to.

“I knew when it all started,” my twin sister Laura said. “Before Mike, [you were] bubbly and outgoing.” She reminded me that during the time I was with him, I didn’t want to hang out with her and our girlfriends and I was much quieter than I used to be. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hang out with the girls, it was just that Mike and I were together so much of the time.

Laura specifically noticed a problem with his prom in spring of 2010. He told me I had to wear a blue or red dress. But I had this beautiful tan, and I picked out a coral dress that complimented me so well. Laura helped me get all ready, and we were so giddy and I felt stunning. When Mike saw me, all he told me was that the dress was ugly. I swallowed it, but Laura was right. It was moments like that that, in hindsight, exemplified the type of control he wanted over me.

I’m not even sure he thought the dress was ugly, but it wasn’t what he told me to wear so it wasn’t acceptable. “Who does this guy think he is,” Laura demanded. If he was willing to freak out over a prom dress, it should have been a red flag. Laura saw it, and that certainly wasn’t the only red flag she ever saw. He would message her on Facebook, telling her she was trash. “He tried bringing me down too,” she remembered.

And although I saw that his negativity was seeping into my family and friend’s lives, I still fought against their judgment. I regret that everyone was involved, that the situation didn’t just affect me, and that I ignored the signs.

I treated my mom the worst, and I said some really regrettable things to her. She was always limiting my relationship with Mike because she didn’t like him, and knew he was not a good person for me to be with. But all I saw was his mom allowing him to drive all over town without a care. His mom didn’t set a time he had to be home. But mine did. She would tell me how she felt about him and that if I insisted on being with him, she expected me to follow the rules. Of course I would be like, “what do you know, I’m going to do what I want.”

She never gave up, though. She’s that kind of mother and she would remind me what she thought of him and how I was with him all the time. When the “what do you know” excuse ran out, I finally said “well you and Dad aren’t happy so why should I listen to you?” That one still burns to think of, even though she forgave me.

I could tell I was becoming someone different. Although I have no problem asserting my independence, I wasn’t fighting my mom for my independence like I thought, I was fighting her for my dependence on Mike.

It didn’t happen all at once, but his little negative comments here and there began to build up. And one day I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

His car was rumbling the night we sat in my driveway talking. It was a little more than a year into the relationship, 13 months if I remember correctly.  And I told him, flat out, it was over. While I knew he wouldn’t be happy about my decision, I had no idea how badly he would take it.

The details get fuzzy as time goes on, but I distinctly remember in the dark, empty evening that had fallen around us, the faintly glowing green and yellow dashboard lights somehow glimmered against the shiny metal bullet he picked up out of the cup holder. All I remember is silence while he retrieved it, and I know confusion spread over my expressive face. I might have even smirked.

“You should probably sign this because you’re the one killing me right now,” he said. My heart thudded. Suddenly he got out of the car, walked back to the trunk, and returned with a gun and a hunting knife. I couldn’t fathom what was going on. This is the kind of stuff that only happens on General Hospital. Any trace of humor was bleached away.

I took back what I said when he handed me the knife, and I told him things would be okay and we could work it out. This was in July, 13 months after we started dating. A month later in August, things weren’t getting any better, and I was only getting wiser. The situation has escalated from controlling comments to full on threats. At first I was terrified that if he killed himself it would be my fault. But I was not the one pulling the trigger. It couldn’t go on, so this time I decided to call him.

The rhythmic buzzing matched my careful breathing as I waited for him to pick up. I needed to be strong, and stay strong. If the last try was any indication of what would happen now, I needed to stick to my choice. When he picked up, the conversation was short before I clearly stated I was done. He responded hysterically. Breathing wildly, he told me he would kill himself.

The contents of the conversation from there were irrelevant. All I could pay attention to was the garbled background voice, his mother, telling him to put the gum down.

The relationship had only lasted about a year, but it was a very long year for all involved. He didn’t shoot himself. Actually, he tried to come back after that phone call, and Laura answered the door. She said she literally laughed in his face. She told him to go, but to no-one’s surprise, he wouldn’t budge, begging to see me.

That’s when my mom confronted him. She closed the door behind her as she walked him off the stoop and down the driveway. I’m still not sure what exactly she said, but he never showed up again, so whatever it was, it was good.

He did Facebook message me for a while afterward, but I never answered. The day I called him and broke it off for good was the day I really became independent. In July when he said he would kill himself, I felt responsible for his life. But something changed in me when I gave him that last call, and I realized that the relationship was unhealthy and unfair. And anything he did to harm himself was blood on his own hands, not mine. And I can’t blame my actions on him either. I only wish I figured that out earlier.

The College Cook

Sean filed through the dish rack searching for a fork…

Or a spoon…

Or a spatula…

Or a knife, at this point, jeez!

 

With the victorious enthusiasm of an archaeologist who’s just located a solid-gold hundred-year-old gravy boat, he held the four crooked stainless steel prongs up to the one ceiling fan bulb that hadn’t burnt out yet and examined it for residual crusted food particles.

 

He closed his eyes briefly and smirked, deeming it satisfactory, and took to the pot of spaghetti.

 

“I should be done in a minute,” he said. Sean took a premature bite followed by a slurp of air to cool his singed palate.

 

Instinctually he wondered ‘What’s missing?’ A long list of spices boarded his train of thought and he considered each as it passed.

 

“It probably needs salt,” he called into the living room where his three roommates waited eagerly, “Do you want to taste it? It might need something acidic like lemon or vinegar…”

 

He added two shakes of salt and whirled it around in the pot to mix. Dropping his elbow, he tossed the whole thing with the confidence of Julia Child. His roommate Nick came in for the taste test.

 

The experience was temporarily daunting. Sean was in control, something equally empowering and terrifying, all riding on the bite his roommate now chewed. If he were on Hell’s Kitchen, this is when they would zoom in on that bead of sweat charging toward his eyebrow.

 

Though it was just simple pasta, Sean considered with every meal that if it was bad, it was his fault, and if it was good, he could feel proud of himself.

 

Nick announced the results: “It’s good!”

 

The thought train came screeching along the tracks again as Sean remembered the times, more than 10 years ago by now, that his step mom stood close enough behind him to step in only if there was a fire or spill. She guided his early culinary education in such a way that was inspiring without demanding. She let him watch her cook, and when he was ready, she gave him the spoon.

 

With good roots in the enjoyment of preparing food, Sean carried on learning what goes well together and what foods are quick and easy yet delicious and capable of serving an apartment of college guys.

 

When he opens the butter dish only to find a few crumbs hanging onto hardened yellow streaks left by a serrated knife –eye roll- he fishes out the margarine from behind the stacked, 18-count egg cartons.

 

When there was no buttermilk for the pancakes last weekend, he gathered the two bottles of lemon juice –one is always mostly empty, however that happens- off the door from behind a club-size ketchup. Lemon juice can be mixed with milk for a similar effect.

 

Sean took the fork back from Nick, and resolved to add one last shake of salt and a pinch of paprika, and killed the burner.

 

“Okay, start getting plates,” he directed, “double them up so the oil won’t soak through.” Plates could be gathered, but they’d have to fend for their own utensils.

 

Using the dishrag no one could remember who had washed last and therefore couldn’t decide who should wash next, Sean lifted the pot off the stove and scanned through the cutting board, small appliances, likely dirty bowls, and crumpled paper towel for a place to set it down.

 

After shifting his weight and gaze from left to right a few times, he plonked the pot back on the stove. Everyone would serve himself a plateful straight from the pot.

 

There wasn’t one piece of silverware left that matched another, the counter was too dirty to clean, and the pot was too small for the amount he made, but still, out of it all bore a little feast of Italian cuisine. And he and his roommates savored every bite.

 

 

 

 

 

Bystanders

Well past party time on a Friday evening, the habitual nuisance of shrieking women, stumbling in heels out in the hallway of an apartment building, arose three residents from their slumber.

It was nothing unusual to hear people unknowingly using their ‘outside voices’ as they schlepped home from a night out. In fact, few residents would be surprised if someone told them the doors were made of plywood and the walls were paper maché.

It is a mundane task to fall back asleep after a group of partygoers disturbs one’s otherwise quiet room. But this time, the three residents would not go right back to bed.

The shrill screeching of what sounded like three women was not the usual clamor.

Three apartments doors creaked almost simultaneously like curtains being pulled at the start of a show. The residents stayed within their thresholds but craned their necks nosily out into the hall. Two women raced up the stairs and the third trailed behind slopily screaming profanities at the others. The back and forth of insults that called the residents to the scene had subsided by now.

The solitary woman passed without making eye contact and blurted, “just go,” to her audience. “Just go,” she repeated, quivering. She paused at the first stair landing and slumped against the railing. She took in quick breaths of air, either calming herself down or crying.

Bewildered expressions smeared across the resident’s faces as they all watched her, and then met one another’s eyes. The voices of the other two girls faded away up the stairs.

Words of comfort and concern rushed to the lips of the residents, two of them half-opened their mouths, angling their chins toward the girl to say something, but their eyes are locked on one another. They both had something to say but waited for the other to go first.

Someone poked their head out from their room within one of the apartments and asked if everything was okay, but nobody knew the answer. Their eyes all darted back to the stairs when the sound of a door slamming a few floors up commanded their attention.

The crying woman was gone.

The residents looked at one another once more. Someone suggested that maybe they should call someone. Nobody commented back, a few shrugged in confusion and widened their eyes intentionally to appear concerned. Yet, without another word, they slowly allowed their doors to shut, holding down the handles down so they wouldn’t make a sound.

And then everyone returned to sleep.

It is hard to say if anyone knows what happened before this incident, what was going on during it, or what followed it. But one thing is for sure, no acted to find out. They should have said something to her, shouldn’t they? They should have asked what was wrong before she left, or followed her to make sure she was all right, no?

Maybe they should have, and they probably all wanted to. But they were simple bystanders.

The bystander effect is a puzzling societal norm in which people psychologically do not believe they have to get involved. This lack of involvement is called diffusion of responsibility, and it concludes that the more people observing a situation, the less likely any one of them is to get involved. The idea is, if you look around and there are others watching, they will do something so you don’t have to.

There may also be the thought that if no one else is helping, why would you get involved? This is a dangerous phenomenon that has been perpetuated for a very long time.

In a famous case, Kitty Genovese was murdered in 1964. She was stabbed to death right near her apartment building, and the residents who heard her scream and saw her struggle from their windows did nothing.

Her murderer actually left the scene temporarily, and Kitty managed to drag herself to the entryway of an apartment building to hide, but the murderer returned and found her there. He continued to stab her until her death in that building entryway, and someone at the top of the stairs actually opened their door to see what was going on. But they closed it promptly and never said a word.

Maybe it was fear that motivated all these bystanders to stand by. But they all had a telephone they could have picked up to quietly call the police. No one did. They all believed someone else would do it.

This is one of the most well known cases, but it happens all the time, even on a small scale. In Psychology Today, Melissa Burkley describes her student who had a question, but looked around the room before raising her hand to see if anyone else looked confused. When they didn’t appear confused, she put her hand down so as not to look stupid.

There are many terms associated with the bystander effect like mob mentality. But at least mob mentality normally refers to action. The ‘mob mentality’ of the bystander effect is inaction with the hope or belief that someone else will act, or that you don’t have to because no one else has.

There are some who seek to change the pattern. Dr. Phillip Zimbardo has an entire website1 devoted to encouraging individuals to be champions of action. Dr. Zimbardo wants to change the social norm we have developed so that more people will help. Better three people call when something is wrong than none.

Dr. Zimbardo believes this effect can be stopped if individuals who are conscious of this issue devote themselves to being the one to act. If individuals resolve to always do something, something will always get done, and then the social norm of expecting someone else to help should be diffused.

But is understanding what this bystander effect is, and resolving to say something next time one observes a potentially dangerous situation enough? Will individuals actually act next time? Should we be content with the fact that this is how society currently works? Can the cycle be broken?

Hopefully with a spread of awareness and increased consciousness, more people will begin to feel comfortable standing up in day to day situations and subsequently when an emergency situation occurs, though everyone around them is keeping quiet, they will do something.

 

1 bystanderrevolution.org

 

I wish I had put a date on this one but I found it in a notebook from 2011

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‘I fell hard when I was dropped. It didn’t make any sense. There I was, so suddenly. They didn’t know what was happening at all, and still, they knew more than me. They weren’t trying to help me. They weren’t giving me any explanation. Here or there they would say something that would become a clue for me, but they didn’t say it for that reason. They didn’t even care that I was there. I wonder if they even knew. Then it hit me. How did I get there. Who dropped me? And why? I’m not hurt, but I was dropped, though. Wasn’t I? Crazy, foolish, mad. Dazed and confused and probably lost. Unaware of where I’m lost from. Am I even lost? Who dropped me? Who lost me? Panic. I panic with these thoughts, but my only instinct is to go on. Follow these strangers as they walk along a path they seem to know very well. I am as with them as I am not. But I’ll carry on. Because although I was dropped, I can’t put this book down.’

On reading a book that starts in the middle of things- In medias res.

It’s one of my favorite ways to write because it’s my favorite way to read. I used to have this obsession where before buying/ borrowing/ reading any new book, I’d read the very last sentence first. It was something about the last sentence and how important it is to the story. It could be a very boring book, but if I read the last sentence first, I feel some sense of desperation to find out what that sentence means. As I grew up, I thought maybe this meant I should read more mysteries or thrillers. But you needed a parents permission to borrow the “Goosebumps” books from my elementary school library, and even at 9 there was something about that that made me want to protest reading them altogether. Thats another story though- I eventually read quite a few of them and they’re lovely books. But I’m just not that into mysteries. I love CSI and figuring out puzzles and all, but not as much as I love delving into a petticoat with Jane Austen. Not to say that Mansfield or Bronte or Austen didn’t ever fall into a mysterious category, but any book becomes a mystery as long as you read it that way. I think I like doing this more so now because I am trying to learn from my favorite authors, and so I try to guess what will happen next as I read to train my mind to be a step ahead of myself in my writing. I’ve had a lot of suggestions against my last-sentence-habit, but I can’t say I’ve listened. It’s just how I read. And I’d be lying if I said I’ve never written a story backwards before. It’s just how I write. starting at the end, and ending in the middle!