In Rememberance

First off, thanks to everyone who responded, in public and private, to my previous post. Clearly it hit a chord with folks– a somewhat scary and disturbing chord, perhaps, but a chord nonetheless. I hope it didn’t come off like I was trying to excuse or justify the killer’s actions, or even his feelings. There’s a difference between being able to understand how feelings might arise, and agreeing with or trying to justify them. My goal was to articulate a toxic culture– one that desperately needs to change– because of its potential to give rise to very hateful people.

But if you want to comment on that line of thought further, please do so on the previous post, or if you wish, feel free to contact me privately via any method in the Contact tab above. I’m writing this post because I want to focus on another aspect of the tragedy– and indeed, of all mass shootings, that bothers me a lot.

This was inspired by this Tumblr post and this WSJ article. The short version is that one of the motivations for mass killers is they want to be famous. They want to be remembered. They want society to recoil in horror from them, and they want their name to live in infamy. In doing so, they become far more famous and well-known than if they hadn’t killed anyone.

Well, fuck that noise. You’ll notice that in my posts and tweets, I haven’t mentioned the name of the killer, or linked directly to his words, one goddamn time, and I’m going to keep it that way. The mass shooters in places like Isla Vista, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, etc. don’t deserve to be remembered. They deserve to fade into the cesspool of history with hundreds of other faceless monsters and mass murderers. And in time they will– I just don’t think it happens fast enough.

I don’t want to remember the killers, but I do want to remember the victims. These people– who were very much like us, with families and loved ones and dreams and stories to tell and goals and hopes and aspirations far better and nobler than “mass murder”– these are the people that deserve to be memorialized and remembered. We should remember their names, then we should do what we can to ensure that the list of victims does not get any longer.

I hate that I can easily remember the name of the Sandy Hook shooter, but can barely remember the name of one victim, no matter how hard I try to remind myself, because the shooter’s name was repeated ad nauseum but the victims’ names blurred into a long list. There’s no too much that can be done about that now, particularly the latter part.

But here’s my challenge: I’ve listed the names of victims from some of the most well-known mass shootings in modern American history; ones in which you may know the killer’s names, but probably not the victims’. Pick just a few of these names, and try to commit them to memory. Try and make those one or two names be what you remember when you think of those tragedies– not the perpetrators, but the victims. Remember the victims. There’s a lot of them, but if each of us can remember a few, maybe the names and identities of the victims might outlast the killers in our individual and collective memories.

In each case, I’ve linked to a source with more information on each victim, if you’d like to read about their stories. I encourage you to do so– it will help you remember the names that you pick.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of shootings. It simply can’t be. But if there’s one you’d like to add to the list, if can add a link in the comments to a compilation of information of the victims, I will add it.

Isla Vista, California
May 23, 2014

Katherine Breann Cooper

Cheng Yuan Hong

George Chen

Weihan Wang

Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez

Veronika Elizabeth Weiss

 

Newtown, Connecticut
December 14, 2012

Charlotte Bacon

Daniel Barden

Rachel D’Avino

Olivia Engel

Josephine Gay

Dylan Hockley

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung

Madeleine F. Hsu

Catherine V. Hubbard

Chase Kowalski

Nancy Lanza

Jesse Lewis

Ana Marquez-Greene

James Mattioli

Grace McDonnell

Anne Marie Murphy

Emilie Parker

Jack Pinto

Noah Pozner

Caroline Previdi

Jessica Rekos

Avielle Richman

Lauren Rousseau

Mary Sherlach

Victoria Soto

Benjamin Wheeler

Allison N. Wyatt

 

Oak Creek, Wisconsin
August 5, 2012

Suveg Singh Khattra

Satwant Singh Kaleka

Ranjit Singh

Sita Singh

Paramjit Kaur

Prakash Singh

 

Aurora, Colorado
July 20, 2012

Jonathan Blunk

Alexander J. Boik

Jesse Childress

Gordon Cowden

Jessica Ghawi

John Larimer

Matt McQuinn

Micayla Medek

Veronica Moser-Sullivan

Alex Sullivan

Alexander C. Teves

Rebecca Wingo

 

Blacksburg, Virginia
April 16, 2007

Ross A. Alameddine

Christopher James Bishop

Brian R. Bluhm

Ryan Christopher Clark

Austin Michelle Cloyd

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak

Kevin P. Granata

Matthew Gregory Gwaltney

Caitlin Millar Hammaren

Jeremy Michael Herbstritt

Rachael Elizabeth Hill

Emily Jane Hilscher

Jarrett Lee Lane

Matthew Joseph La Porte

Henry J. Lee

Liviu Librescu

G.V. Loganathan

Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan

Lauren Ashley McCain

Daniel Patrick O’Neil

Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz

Minal Hiralal Panchal

Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva

Erin Nicole Peterson

Michael Steven Pohle, Jr.

Julia Kathleen Pryde

Mary Karen Read

Reema Joseph Samaha

Waleed Mohamed Shaalan

Leslie Geraldine Sherman

Maxine Shelly Turner

Nicole Regina White

 

Jefferson County, Colorado
April 20, 1999

Cassie Bernall

Steve Curnow

Corey DePooter

Kelly Fleming

Matt Kechter

Daniel Mauser

Daniel Rohrbaugh

Dave Saunders

Rachel Scott

Isaiah Shoel

John Tomlin

Lauren Townsend

Kyle Velasquez

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The Isla Vista Shootings, and Thoughts From a Former 22-Year-Old Virgin

There’s been a lot of debate in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Isla Vista, California. Prior to going on his rampage, the shooter posted a video on Youtube explaining his motivations. I won’t link it; it’s easy enough to find if you want. But to sum it up, the guy spends seven minutes whining about how he’s a 22 year old virgin. He complains that girls have ignored him– the perfect gentlemen– while throwing themselves at undeserving brutes instead, and therefore girls (and the guys luckier than him) deserve to die.

It’s the sort of rant that would sound self-absored, cliche and trite (indeed, it is all three of those things) except that was he armed, psychopathic, and actually killed people. But perhaps what’s most shocking about it is how well I can relate to the emotions he expressed. And I suspect a lot of men are in the same boat.

The vast majority of us don’t kill people, thankfully– but it’s worth taking a look at some of the common aspects of our culture that clearly had an influence on this guy. Like the killer, I was also a virgin when I was 22. A lot of people are– probably more than you realize, because society and culture have taught us that a man who is a virgin at age 22 is not much of a man.

Throughout our formative years, men are taught by popular media and culture to link their self-worth to how many times they’ve slept with someone. In almost any book or movie with a strong male protagonist, winning the girl is almost as important as accomplishing the objective. In this situation, girls cease to be people and become objects to be won… not just in stories, but in real life.

And if you’re a guy who can’t “win” a girl, well, then you’re emasculated. It’s particularly bad for geeks, because comic books, video games, and even reading and academic pursuits are often insultingly referred to as being “for people who can’t get laid.” Even people within the comic book industry regularly insult their audience with remarks like “How many people in the audience have heard of Martian Manhunter? Now, how many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?” For anyone in the audience who’s heard of Martian Manhunter and hasn’t been laid, it’s a brutally emasculating insult, making them feel bad about both their hobby and their love life. In reality, not only are the two unconnected, they have no reason to feel bad about either one.

Growing up, I received a lot of messages about what it meant to be “manly.” Real men are strong enough to overcome their problems on their own. Real men don’t cry, and they don’t show weakness. Real men don’t let other people disrespect them. Real men are always dominant and confident, and they always know what to do. And as stated before, real men win the girl. For those men who don’t fit the “real man” mold– who have self-esteem issues, or are physically weak, or shy, depressed, or have any range of mental health problems– seeking help from other people makes you feel worse, because now you’re even less of a man. Even admitting the problem exists can be emasculating.

This whole classic male attitude is super-toxic when it comes to dealing with women. If you’re a man who’s been taught that (1)you shouldn’t tolerate being disrespected, and (2)your self-worth should be measured by your sexual conquests, then it stands to reason that if a woman refuses your sexual advances, she’s disrespecting you. She’s making you less of a man. An attitude might develop that if you’re a worthy man, an alpha male, so to speak, that women should be throwing themselves at you. You may begin to feel entitled to sex– whether you’re getting it or not– because to admit that you’re not entitled to sex would be to doubt your manliness, and real men are confident. Real men definitely don’t doubt themselves.

Men’s need to boost their self-esteem by getting laid is so pervasive that an entire industry of “pickup artists” has risen up, teaching men supposedly surefire tricks to sexual conquest. In this game, women are nothing more than prizes, objects to be won, to be manipulated however is necessary in order to score the ultimate prize of sex. And for men who are self-absorbed, or just shy, or for any reason not so lucky in the world of love, it becomes easy to rationalize, to seek out causes other than yourself as to why that’s the case.

That’s where the old “women don’t go for nice guys” fallacy comes in. Or “women only sleep with jerks.” Rather than engage in self-examination (which is not manly), many men blame women– or other men– for having poor judgment, or being stupid. It’s not my fault, they just have poor taste.

I did this myself on occasion in my twenties. My lack of a love life depressed me, so as a shortcut to avoid depression, I would just think, “Eh, well, women don’t go for nice guys.” I was smart enough, generally, to know that it wasn’t true– sometimes I would blame women for not paying attention to the shy, quiet guys who are actually awesome– but that’s just as much of a copout as “women don’t go for nice guys.”

Watching the killer’s video, it’s easy for me to see how all of this played into the killer’s thought processes. After being fed a toxic diet of how men should behave and act, he decided to prove his alpha maleness by asserting his dominance in an incredibly visible, violent way… by taking the lives of other people. If you want to prove your dominance over others, it’s hard to do it any more thoroughly than by killing them.

As far as my own story, I eventually realized that as much as I felt unlucky in love, the fact was, I’d barely ever been rejected. Almost every dating relationship I had, had been broken off by me, usually through neglect. The problem wasn’t other people; the problem was me. It was two-fold: (1)I was scared of relationships, because it meant being emotionally vulnerable to someone else (men shouldn’t be emotionally vulnerable, and I wasn’t confident enough to risk it); and (2)I just wasn’t putting myself in a position to grow and meet new people. I hung out with the same people every weekend, and I rarely tried doing new things.

I solved number 2 by moving to Seattle. And by solving number 2, I solved number 1. It’s hard to get any more emotionally vulnerable than moving to a new city and surrounding yourself with new people; I sought support and friendship as a side effect of moving, and within three months, I was in a sexual relationship.

In retrospect, I suspect I was also just a late bloomer. Almost every sexual and relationship-type milestone you can think of– first kiss, first girlfriend, etc.– I did about ten years after what society would consider “normal.” Except for Senior Prom in high school, I didn’t even ask a girl out on my own initiative until I was 24. But because I’d been conditioned by society to feel bad for not being sexually active, I got deeply depressed as a result of just being myself. It’s a clinical depression I still fight to this day, despite having long since lost my virginity, and currently being in a happy, six month long (so far) relationship with a wonderful woman.

Overall, I’m happy with how things worked out. While I regret some of those missed opportunities in my twenties, I know that it doesn’t make a bad person, or any less of a man, or indeed, any less of a human being. Being a good person is independent of how many people you sleep with. And I know, for 100% beyond any shadow of a doubt, that if I have to choose being a kind and considerate person, or trying to sleep with as many as people as possible… well, I will never for a single moment regret being a kind and considerate person.

The day I felt most like a man was not the day I lost my virginity. The day I felt most like a man was the day I realized that being a man means ignoring bullshit cultural standards about what it means to be a man. That I can seek help for my depression and not feel bad about it. That I can be a good, kind, and emotionally available person without doubting my masculinity. That I should worry less about whether other people “disrespect” me and more about how I treat other people. That empathy is something to be proud of, not shy away from.

As a man, I want to be brave enough to put others’ needs before my own. I want to support my loved ones and my friends, to help those around me succeed, even if there is no immediate obvious benefit to myself. I aim to make the world a better place. I am strong enough to be the change I want to see in the world, and in the end, that is the only definition of manliness I give a shit about.

I Had A Horrific Weekend (in a good way)

Last weekend the annual World Horror Convention took place in Portland. It’s a slightly different sort of convention than ones I’ve been to in the past; it’s very small, and it was largely composed of a much different group of people than the sci-fi/fantasy cons in the area. One reason is that it was a very professional con; cosplay was not a thing there, and the focus was almost completely on the professional field of writing. So horror writers and editors came from across the country, while lots of writers who live nearby but don’t write horror stayed home.

I hadn’t realized until now just how distinct a genre horror was from science fiction and fantasy– at least, professionally speaking. There really aren’t any large publishers along the lines of Tor Books or DAW; publishers are small independent operations, and on top of that, there’s a larger focus on short stories. Horror seems to thrive as short fiction, even more so than sci-fi/fantasy.

Some of the differences can be seen in the categories of awards given out at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet. The Bram Stoker Awards are basically the horror genre’s equivalent of the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Horror Writers’ Association. Categories in the Bram Stoker Awards which are not in the Nebulas or the Hugos include Best Anthology, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best First Novel– all of which I think are superb categories, especially the latter two, which I’d love to see in the equivalent SF&F awards. (In fairness, Best Anthology is a category at the World Fantasy Awards.)

Attending the banquet required the purchase of an $50 extra ticket, but it was well worth it. I took plenty of pictures (even though, as is the norm for convention stage shows, the lighting was terrible, blinding the participants without the benefit of illuminating them for either the audience or the photographers). The food was decent, the wine at the table was free, and the company at the table was excellent.

Most excitingly, though, I had a personal interest in the Best Anthology category, given that my story Someone to Remember is the leadoff story in After Death…, which was edited by Eric J. Guignard and one of five nominees in the category. And much to my pleasure, Eric won! Which I figure means I can claim about 2% of a Bram Stoker Award.

Other highlights of the weekend included a trip with Scott Edelman and several other folks to Pok Pok, a well-known authentic Thai restaurant in Portland. That was quite good, even if the image of Scott with a fish head in his mouth, making the fish head talk, is one that may haunt my dreams for some time. Mostly, though, it was just fun to hang out with friends in Portland, meet some new folks, and celebrate Eric Guignard’s award with him.

Full gallery of photos here.

By the way, if you enjoy the photography I do at conventions or while traveling, please consider giving my Photography Facebook page a “like”, if you haven’t already. I’ll be posting a lot of galleries and photography-specific announcements there. And while I hate to be “that guy” who begs for likes or shares, I haven’t actually mentioned my Facebook page here before, and well, I’m at 99 likes! The obsessive-compulsive in me wants to hit a 3 digit number!