Twenty Years, Little Progress

Well, today is that notorious day. Yes, April 20. Hitler’s birthday (he’d be 130), Weed Day (blaze it?), and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Since Columbine, we’ve had a number of school shootings, and I don’t think much has really changed. Mental health and its importance to overall health has been given greater due in the media and by medical professionals. I don’t follow the gun control debate,* but I don’t think much has improved there. Video games have gotten more graphic, violent, and all consuming. Social media has made it harder to be a teenager… and teenagers will always be fascinated with death, to some degree.

I was reading in the news about an 18-year-old female named Sol Pais who was obsessed with Columbine, even to the point of having a strange online journal that looks to be straight out of the early Internet days of the 90s and imitating the musical tastes, writing/art style, and nihilism of the Columbine killers. It seemed like she was about to travel to Columbine from Florida to make a bizarre pilgrimage to Columbine and do some kind of damage. But it turned out that the only damage she did was to herself: she committed suicide.

Back when I was 18, I was fascinated by Columbine, mostly because I was roughly the same age as the killers and many of the victims. I liked the same music and had a fascination with darkness that most teenagers end up growing out of. I would skulk around community college wearing my then-boyfriend’s trench coat and his hat (turned around backwards), but I would never have hurt a soul. I think I just wanted to look like a badass, but in reality, I was just a shy, awkward nerd. And I obviously grew out of my fake-badass stage and became a somewhat reasonable adult.

The trouble is that it is difficult to tell which teenagers will grow out of this obsession with death and which will end up committing heinous acts. Nobody foresaw Sol Pais’s destructive tendencies. She was just a quiet kid, intelligent and talented in art. People probably would have thought she was smart enough to know better than to do what she did. I don’t have any good ideas of how to prevent shootings or suicides, and although help is offered and mental illness is not as stigmatized as it was in the past, some kids still will not ask for help or realize that they need help or be recognized as someone who needs help.

I suppose mandatory mental health screenings at school or the doctor’s office would be a good first step, but the person being evaluated could always lie if he wanted to. Maybe it’s just the way the world is. There will never be perfect happiness or peace. No amount of preventive measures can stop a killer whose actions nobody foresaw or a suicidal person who kept everything inside.

*I have never owned a gun and never fired a gun (except a paintball gun, but that doesn’t count). My ignorant thought on guns is that hunting rifles and tiny guns for self-defense are fine, assuming that the purchaser is thoroughly checked out, but the trouble comes when automatic weapons (and their ammo) that are designed solely for killing can be easily obtained. I don’t see the point of anyone other than the military having access to weapons like that, and they all ought to be banned. If a collector wants to have guns, he should only be allowed to obtain guns and not ammo.

Redeemed by Its Ending

SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to describe the entire ending, so if you want to read All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding, stop reading this blog post now.

For some reason, I’ve been reading books about serial killers lately. Must be all those postpartum hormones. Anyway, this one turned out to be really, really good, even though as I was reading it, I kept rolling my eyes because the characters were so vapid, but it was done in a way that was so ridiculous as to be almost humorous.

The story follows four characters whose lives have been affected by online dating in various ways. Our main character, 33-year-old Paige, has been using online dating sites for a long time and was recently dumped by her live-in boyfriend, causing her to live with her 70-year-old mother, Joan, who was widowed a while back and wants to get into the online dating scene. Heather, Paige’s cousin, has been her rival since she was born and serves only to be the most annoying, reprehensible character in all the books I’ve read so far this year. Finally, we have Chloe, Paige’s best friend, who has two young children and an awful, abusive husband, who has been illicitly meeting women on online dating sites.

All four of our main characters are connected by the villain, whose real name is never revealed, but who goes by “Mr. Right Now” on the many dating sites he frequents. Mr. Right Now’s idea of a fun night out is to take his date to his apartment, where he prepares her a gourmet steak dinner, then ties her up and butchers her, all the while lamenting that she did not enjoy the steak. (Gee, I wonder why??)

What made this book different from other thrillers I’ve read is that there is no mystery surrounding the villain. The reader immediately knows who he is, what he does, and why he does it. As you read, you’re supposed to be hoping that the villain doesn’t get with Paige, who is presumably the most intelligent out of all the women he’s dated (and killed). I did not find her to be particularly intelligent, but I guess all his other victims were pretty stupid… I mean, who the hell goes back to a guy’s apartment to be alone with him after the first date?* Nobody in the universe is that good looking or that persuasive, even though the author portrayed the villain to be incredibly handsome. But still… it’s a pretty dumb decision.

I thought Chloe should have been the heroine of the book instead of Paige because she managed to get herself and her children out of a terrible situation by divorcing her husband. She was the only character who had her priorities straight and didn’t sleep around, but because she had little to do with online dating (other than being on a site very briefly to snoop on her idiot husband), she would not have served the book’s purpose.

Paige annoyed me. She was supposed to be so intelligent, but she was fixated on finding another guy right after her boyfriend broke up with her. She met another guy, Sam, on the dating site, but she ended up being too immature to fully appreciate what a good guy he was. Of course, they ended up together at the end of the book because she had supposedly matured, but I would have told Sam to head for the hills… and keep running.

Joan annoyed me because she was so willing to jump on the online dating bandwagon at 70 years old because she is a “child of the 60s” and therefore very liberal about sex and love and birth control (although at 70 years old, that doesn’t matter) and what have you. I could not sympathize with her at all.

And Heather. Don’t even get me started on Heather. She was probably the true villain of the story, even more of a pain in the rear than Mr. Right Now himself. She was the true reason for the demise of Paige’s relationship with her live-in boyfriend, as she seduced said boyfriend into sleeping with her, then repeatedly rubbed it in Paige’s face. She is the stereotypical female that I personally can’t stand: obsessed with hair, shoes, makeup, and fashion, a slacker at her job, two faced, and completely narcissistic. I wonder if the author knows that if you rearrange the letters in “Heather,” you get “hate her.”

What made this book so great was the ending. Most books I’ve read recently have had disappointing endings, but All the Wrong Places wrapped up so satisfactorily that I was literally laughing out loud. To make a long story short, Paige is about to go out on a date with Mr. Right Now, which would inevitably end in her demise. At the last minute, Joan has some kind of health problem and Paige drops everything to tend to her mother. Heather somehow gets ahold of Paige’s phone, and being the annoying nitwit she is, decides to masquerade as Paige in order to go on the date with Mr. Right Now. She’s seen pictures of how handsome he is and naturally wants to steal him for herself.

The author doesn’t explicitly state it, but the book has Heather going on the date with Mr. Right Now and presumably being murdered by him. Mr. Right Now is on the verge of being caught in the middle of his serial killing activities because he’s getting sloppy out of sheer arrogance. So we can safely assume that both of our villains have been or will be eliminated shortly. Now that’s a satisfying ending, and that, along with the outrageous soap opera elements, made the book five out of five stars. Fast-paced, quality entertainment and another cautionary tale about online dating. The author knocked it out of the park. Seriously.

*Rhetorical question. Apparently many people do this, although it totally goes against common sense.

Day Designer

Beginning-of-post apology: I should have written this post at the beginning of this year. Oh, well. Time got away from me.

Planners. Boy, am I picky about choosing a planner, partly because I have to look at it and use it for an entire year and partly because I am a huge fan of stationery in general.

A planner can’t be too big because it would be too bulky to fit in my purse (or diaper bag). It can’t be too small because I combine my work and personal stuff into a single planner and that can sometimes take up a lot of room. It can’t be too flimsy because, as I said, it’s got to last the entire year. It has to go from Monday to Sunday, not Sunday to Saturday, because I’ll get confused and write stuff on the wrong day. The planner also has to lie flat when open or be spiral bound so I can fold it over (the better to write things with one hand).

It’s helpful if the planner has room in the back for general notes, and it’s extremely helpful if the planner has a pocket in the front (or somewhere). It’s nice if the planner looks pretty, but I choose functionality over looks all the time. Last year’s planner was plain old black, but I covered it with stickers to make it look more exciting. (No, you’re never too old to cover things with stickers.)

So anyway, all my nitpicking nonsense aside, I found the Day Designer planner at Target at the end of last year, and it checks all the boxes. Bright and colorful? Yes. Spiral bound? Yes. Not too big and not too small? Yes. Durable? Yes. Inside pocket? Yes. Blank pages for notes? Yes. Week starts on Monday? Yes. Enough room to write without having to make my handwriting too tiny? Yes.

My only issue with the Day Designer is the name. When I first heard it, I thought, Ah, the best-laid plans… You can “design” your day all you want, but days have a way of getting away from you. Calling it a “planner” doesn’t sound quite as ambitious, so that doesn’t rub me the wrong way. I suppose “agenda” is an even better term (that’s what we called it in middle school), but it always makes me think of ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

*brace yourself or click away; this post is about to get religious* I’ve come to realize, after years of fighting this reality, that God is the ultimate Day Designer. Humans can plan all they want, but in the end, God decides and designs your future. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make plans at all, but be mindful of the fact that your plans could change at any time. I am still so bad at accepting this, but having a child has made it easier.

So I covered up the “Day Designer” text on the cover of my planner with a sticky label and wrote “God makes all things new” on it. That reminder is good enough.