Reconciling Skeletons

Hi Friends,

When I walked into my 12:50 abnormal psychology class, I didn’t expect to see a ghost. That’s the thing about being haunted: you never see it coming. On November 9th, 2009, my maternal grandfather finally died. He had been comatose for a while, after my mother found him unresponsive at his home. By the time we got his brain scans back, he had already been long gone – his lungs just preventing the flesh from decaying. But even in death, he was still finding ways to leave a tornado-like path of destruction through our lives.

He was, to be frank, a pathetic drunk. More correctly, though, he was a suffering alcoholic.

It wasn’t a secret growing up, though I never fully understood what it meant until after he had gone. I doubt there are many kids that don’t directly see the drinking who do understand it. I knew that Grandpa frequently went away to places called rehab; I knew he was rarely around, and when he was, he wasn’t around for long. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about the affair, the absenteeism as a father, and the drunk driving.

He wasn’t alone in the alcohol problems department. Several cousins, my father, uncles, and a host of others in my family all wrestled (or wrestle) with alcoholism. Cognitively, I know it’s possible to drink for fun – my sister and mom do, but every time I consider taking a sip, I remember feeling like a stranger at my grandfather’s funeral (a funeral which, by the way, my mother and aunt were both banned from due to my grandfather’s mistress-turned-wives deep-seeded hatred. My cousin and myself were the only representatives from our side that were there.), and, worse, hearing people on the pulpit bemoan his loss. Two boys from Seattle (1,500 miles away), grand-nephews or something, were devastated. He was such an important figure in their lives. The mom could not stop crying. I was thirty minutes away, yet had only a handful of memories. In that pew the seeds for the decision to never drink were planted.

In my psychology class today, we were asked to share our experiences with drugs and alcohol. Each time I’m asked, there’s a moment of hesitation. How do I represent myself as not being on a high horse, not being a prude, but also not detailing my long history, the things I’ve shared with you, and the things I haven’t? It’s a question I get often, and will get even more often after I’m 21. And I still don’t have an answer.

Each time I think of grandpa, holed up in heaven somewhere, asking for a beer. How do you reconcile with someone who isn’t here to say sorry, to someone who maybe never even wanted to? How do you answer these questions?

I don’t share this to shame alcoholics. I share it for the kids stuck at a high school party who can’t take a drink. I share it for the college students in classes on addiction, who could almost teach the course with their first hand experiences. I share it for the middle aged woman at her daughter’s wedding who turns down the glass of champagne.

For the people who still don’t know how to answer the question (and the few who do): I’m sorry you’re walking this road. I know it’s a long one. But it is not one you walk alone. When your table mates stare you down after detailing their drunken adventures, and hearing that you’ve never drank, know that I’m with you in spirit. I’m with you to stare back.


Note: Also, I owe you all an apology. Remember when I said I’d post on Tuesday, like four weeks ago? Well… whoops.   

I was in and out of doctor’s offices, ER’s, and Urgent Care facilities for most of April, and trying to catch up on school and work when I wasn’t in waiting rooms. Regardless, I’m sorry for my absence (and I’m also cognizant of the fact that I owe you all lots of book reviews). Hopefully I’ll be able to get caught up on this blog now that I’m feeling better! 

Book Requests – Norway/Scandinavian

Hi friends!

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a couple weeks! I was on spring break and then trying to reenter into a new quarter (and am somehow already drowning). Regardless, new reviews will be coming at you Tuesday!

That said, I am desperately seeking books that are either:

a) Non-fiction books about Norway/Sweeden/Finland/Iceland/etc.

b) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in ENGLISH

c) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in NORWEGIAN

d) Middle-grade/beginning chapter books in NORWEGIAN

If you know of any, please comment below, message me, tweet me, or recommend to me on Goodreads!

I will seriously love you forever.

 

Thanks!! Like I said, I will have regular content every Tuesday again starting April 4th!

Love to you all,

Ben

Jeg Er Norsk

Hei! 

Let me briefly explain my friend group. There’s the native Alaskan, whose mom is from Mexico and whose paternal grandfather was a tribal chief. There’s the Hawaiians, one of which attended a cultural charter school and was recently featured in a documentary on the effects relearning native Hawaiian culture has on students. And there’s the friend who speaks fluent Spanish to her mother when she’s on the phone.

Then there’s me, not lacking in cultural heritage, but lacking any link to it. My great grandmother was full Norwegian, and raised by her grandparents who had traveled through Ellis Island in search of a better life in America. She spoke fluentely, and learned English, as many immigrant children do, as a means of survival. It is partially in honor of her, who tried desperately to get her children to learn norsk, and partially to have more respect for my own roots and life, that I decided, on the eve of my twentieth birthday, to learn Norwegian and more about my  Nordic heritage. I want to explore Norwegian culture, but not forget about the Danes and the Swedes (even though we’re supposed to hate them).

Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose? All of these questions have haunted me, and now that I’m finally sitting down to pursue them, I’ve felt a joy and a passion I’ve never felt before.

Over the next few years, I’ll be blogging occasionally about my experience hunting down my Norwegian heritage. You can expect to see more Nordic books in my book reviews, hear about my struggles trying to pin down indefinite and definite nouns (which is somehow harder than I thought it would be), and (hopefully in a couple years) see some pictures from my Nordic vacation.

I’m excited to be going down this path, and I hope you’re looking forward to walking with me.

 

A Mother’s Reckoning: Book Review & Reaction

Friends,

This month has been challenging for me. Three funerals, ending the quarter, and a shocking and appalling election season, have left me feeling burdened, scared, and alone. I had solace though, a woman I have never met, though I have always been connected to kept me company as I grieved and writhed in anger. Her name is Sue Klebold. She is a teacher, an administrator, a mental health advocate, and the mother of “Monster Next Door” Dylan Klebold, who committed one of the worst atrocities of the century.

A few months ago, my parents sat in on a lecture called “Leaving the nest,” to help them as I left community college and entered university, 1300 miles away from home. In it, a psychologist, tasked with consoling our parents, gave a brief summary on life through our eyes. He said that Newtown was our Columbine, and while I understand his point in a macro-generational sense, it simply does not describe me. For nineteen years I lived five and a half miles from Columbine High School, nestled into a Littleton Neighborhood. Our high school had a club dedicated to Rachel Scott, the first victim of the massacre. Every April 20th, beginning about the 18th, the air becomes heavy and Littletonites will tell you the tangible feeling of doom and dread the date brings with it.

I grew up with Columbine, and while our community upheld (and continues to uphold) our promise to never forget, my mother taught me another lesson too. She taught me to pray for the Harris’ and the Klebold’s, and more the hundreds of parents just like them. My mother always made it clear in our household how disgusted she was with our town’s reaction to Eric and Dylan’s parents, and I, too, always mourn the lives of Eric and Dylan, and send a prayer up for their parents, each April 20th, as I mourn and pray for the victims. So you can imagine my discomfort with reading reactions damning Sue Klebold for writing her story and trying to educate other parents on the nature of “brain illness.”

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy is a hard but important look at the life of Dylan Klebold, and the legacy he left for parents Sue and Tom, and brother Byron. Klebold is honest and heartbreaking. She seeks to, not pardon Dylan, but to humanize him, to wake up the people who think something like Columbine would never happen to them. She wrestles with the question: how do you mourn someone the world has come to hate? How do you acknowledge your own grief, and also mourn the lives your son stole?

Sue Klebold’s knack for writing is apparent but her editorial team let her down. While beautiful, her research-infused memoir is chaotic and disorganized, perhaps representing her own psyche as she grapples with guilt and suffering.

Klebold had a front row seat to the unraveling of a nation, and she and her family suffered the eye of the rage and silence of the hurricane. Her memoir is never self-serving or naive, and her heart is spilled out on every page. While it took me a while to muster up the courage to dive into this, I’m so glad I took the time, and took it when I did. If you need a friend, or someone who understands, turn to Sue. She has few answers, but her tolerance for questions is inspiring, and her anger, confusion, and grief is present of every page. I urge every person to pick this up, and to approach it with an open heart and mind.

Thanks for reading! Hope you all are able to check these out!!! Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Tumblr, and read along with me on Goodreads. This November I’m reading: A Manual for Cleaning Women, The Social Life of DNA, and The Goldfinch.

How Love Can Still Win

The overwhelming feeling I have right now is hopelessness. It’s been growing this whole week, long before any election results were in and it has hit a fever pitch tonight.

It’s no secret, if you’ve been following this blog, who I voted for, but I think hatred and vitriol has been seen on both sides of the aisle. Yes, Donald Trump himself has demonstrated more of this. We’ve seen it at his rallies, we’ve seen it on his Twitter feed, and we’ve seen it in his policies. But Clinton supporters can’t be let off the hook. Hatred and a refusal to understand has been seen on the blue side too.

We’ve done what we can for the presidential election and for our states. We will have a winner, and more and more it’s looking like the orange man won. I’m not interested in him. Frankly, if Hillary pulls this out (and I hope to God she does), I’m not interested in her.

What I am interested in, is you. You have a choice to let love win. We will have little say in policy. We will have little say in what happens in government after today. We will have much say in how we respond to our brothers and sisters and friends somewhere in between. Take time this week to bake cookies for your neighbor, smile at someone on the street, or ask someone, sincerely, how their day was.

Reach out across the aisle and ask questions, not to be right or to be wrong, not with assumptions or with your preconceived notions, but to genuinely ask what their worries are. Who do you they hate and why? How do they feel about America and why? What do your hopes and dreams for the country look like?

You no longer have a say on which party wins the election. You do still have a say on whether love or hate will win. You still have to decide, right now, whether we can heal or whether we will burn. Love can still win. I have to believe that; I choose to believe that. Whether you voted for Trump or for Clinton, you can decide whether or not love will win.

Dear University of Chicago

Note: this post contains sensitive topics. Please read at your own discretion.

To the University of Chicago;

Hello! This letter may seem a bit out of place as I have never been to the windy city, and, quite frankly, don’t plan on being there any time soon; I opted for the rainy city for my college days. However, I came across something that rather upset me, and I figured I join the conversation, especially seeing as how you all “fost(er) the free exchange of ideas..

Now, your letter to the freshmen class seemed well and good enough. If you, as a place of higher learning, are simply saying you won’t withhold or censor individuals for holding opposing, even controversial, perhaps difficult, viewpoints, then I applaud you for that commitment. The first amendment is a crucial part of the Constitution and an imperative part of our society (not to mention something I utilize often right here on this blog).

It isn’t your stance that’s concerning me – it’s your diction. And, frankly, through no fault of your own, the reaction to it.

Trigger warnings exist for a reason, yet I do understand the challenge they pose. I’ve said myself how impossible it is to account for every possible trigger, something this comic may help explain. However, blanket disregard for sensitivities your students face is upsetting. Worse, though, I fear you may be distressingly naive to the world some of your students live in.

I don’t need you to tell me the world isn’t a “safe space”; I’m perfectly aware. When I was held down in a park on a cold January night, a man sucking greedily at my mouth, grasping hungry at what’s supposed to be a very safe space, I’d venture to say I knew just how unsafe the world could be. When I wake up seemingly each day to another rapist that’s gotten off free because the court system doesn’t want to “ruin an individual’s college experience over one mistake,” I fully understand how unsafe the world is, and I’m betting the women and men who are victims get that too.

I have friends, multiples in fact, who have, watched their father or their sister or their mother, ejected from the car they were in, and seen their loved one splattered on the pavement, never to move again. I’d venture to say they understand that the world isn’t a safe space.

Does this mean that we, as a community of educators, should continue to enforce this notion, as it will make little difference as to what our world consists of? If the world is already ugly, does it matter if we remove the barriers that trick us into thinking it’s safe?

See, your very concept of a safe space is flawed. In your eyes, this is somewhere people go to seek refuge from big, scary ideas, and can continue to live in their prepubescent bubble of security and happiness and familiarly. In truth however, the concept of a safe space isn’t as big and scary as all that. A safe place is a space in which I’m free to reconcile my experience with the world, with new information, in a way that’s psychologically safe for me to do so. That, I’d say, requires a high level of cognition, and I don’t see the harm in it. I can understand how, to someone who has never seen trauma or been affected by it, it’s difficult to comprehend the flashbacks and body memories associated with trauma, that make safe spaces so necessary, and sensitivity so crucial.

Imagine the worst day of your life – or picture your worst fear if you can’t come up with anything. Picture holding your dead child’s body, in vivid detail, every day for a year. Imagine how he felt in your hand, how stiff and cold and unlike itself, and relive it every day for a year or two years or ten. Then imagine finally burying him in your head, getting him locked away so that the memory of his dilated, lifeless eyes staring up into you feel more like a bad dream than a reality. And imagine seeing a child who looks like him at the park, or reading about it in a blog post, and being right there, feeling his weight in your arms all over again.

This is what it’s like to live with trauma, to need a sort of place you can go and decompress and seek refuge from a world that tells you you’re not open to discussion and knowledge because you’re a weak person who had something bad happen to you; a world that has the arrogance and ignorance and privilege to imply you’re stuck in a childhood fantasy when you are intimate with the world’s darkness and you carry it with you like a dead thing in your chest.

To the university of Chicago – if you’re saying that the world shouldn’t be censored to comply with previous knowledge and experiences, edit your implications and continue on. If you’re saying that people who have lived through hell need to stop being so pacified and consoled, kindly remove “University” from your title; your ignorance is boundless and you have so much left to learn.