Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A New Hope

Disclaimer:I like Star Wars, but I am neither an expert on it, nor an obsessed fanboy. I like to think that I represent the healthier majority of kids from my generation who grew up on the films and daydreamed up some hella sweet light saber duels in my head, but left it at that. I’ve never read the books of the “expanded universe.” I’ve never belonged to a Star Wars message board and I’ve never dressed up in costume as anyone from the films. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just not for me.

I liked the original three Star Wars films a great deal. I watched each at least a dozen times between the age of five and ten years old.

I left Star Wars behind, like so many childhood things. While I wouldn’t speak poorly of the films, nor did I re-watch them much, if at all, once I had reached middle school.

I left it all behind until the unthinkable happened midway through my high school years—a new trilogy! Three new Star Wars films to bring me back to a galaxy far, far away, even longer ago, and with modern special effects to make the trip worth my while.

Special effects aside, the newer films were bad.

Really, really bad.

At five years old, I overlooked Luke Skywalker’s whininess, instead, looking up to him as a near-ideal hero.

At fifteen years old, I couldn’t ignore Anakin Skywalker’s gift for irritation.

I hated him.

I was so disenchanted with the Star Wars Episodes One and Two that I didn’t bother with Three until my mid-20s. Two hours later, I had that all-too-familiar sensation that I was two hours older, two hours more bitter, and man did the movie that happened in between suck something fierce.

In October of last year, Disney bought LucasFilms. Shortly after, the news followed that three new Stars Wars films are coming, the first in 2015.

Let’s think of it as a new hope.

A new trilogy means a new opportunity to make things right and carry on what, in my mind, Star Wars is supposed to be. The franchise is about far more than laser fights, cool ships, and space monsters. It’s about values.

Kids who grew up on the original three Star Wars films picked up some powerful lessons:
-unlikely heroes might accomplish incredible things. (See: Orphan Luke)
-the truest friendships might transcend superficial and cultural differences. (See: The Han-Chewie bromance)
-a disloyal friend might redeem himself. (See: Lando Calrissian)
-antiheroes are ultimately no less heroic (and probably a fair bit cooler) than goody-two-shoes good guys. (See: Han Solo versus Luke Skywalker)
-warriors must be judged not by their physical height, but by the size of their fighting spirit. (see The Ewoks)

I don’t feel the same lessons came through in the prequel trilogy, relegated to a tragic endpoint pre-determined by Episodes 4-6, and doing little else to say anything meaningful.

Three new films. New characters. A new plot. New messages. New hope.

A new generation of young minds are waiting to be molded. Some will come for the sweet light saber duels. But hopefully they’ll stick around for much more, having reason to one day look back on this new series of films with the warmth reserved for the great stories of our childhood. The stories that make us whole.

I’m ready to believe again. Disney, make me proud.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love Letter Stories

In my teenage years, I got into the unfortunate habit of writing love letters to girls I had crushes on.

More fortunate: I had the good sense to file away most of these letters and share very few. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the good sense to file away those ones, too.

Not that any catastrophes followed. While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that recipients chortled over them in private (or even amongst their friends) I was spared any very public humiliation. More than anything, I think the letters just made things a little more awkward than they needed to be. They put feelings that were better left unspoken on display. They provided tactile evidence of what was going on in my head--evidence that might still remain today, tucked in some scrapbook, or perhaps more realistically crumpled up in the corner of a closet floor or beneath a bed, never to be seen again until the recipient’s childhood home is sold and cleaned out. Even then, unlikely to be re-read.

Still, there’s a part of me that stands by the imperfect logic of my youth. I was always better at writing than talking. And while none of my pre-college crushes would really go anywhere, there’s a part of me that’s happy I removed what slivers of doubt I might have had--for every love letter I sent, I can never say, “I wonder if she liked me, too, but she never knew how I felt.”

I know.

Rather than linger on defeats and humiliation, I’d rather focus on two love letter stories that I can look back on and smile, even as I shake my head at my younger self.

In my early teenage years, I spent three summers a couple hours from home at a sleepaway camp. One of those summers, I met Alaina.

Alaina was two years older than me and the single coolest girl I had ever met. She lived in Manhattan during the year, used cool city slang, had cool short hair, wore cool black tank tops, and--albeit in contrast to the whole cool motif I have going here--was incredibly hot.

Alaina and I met when we both signed up for a week-long movie-making activity. We ended up filming a series of skits, and it was in the writing and filming of them that I had my limited interactions with her. After the week was up, I would see Alaina around campus but we never spoke again.

Then I got a hold of her email address.

It’s not exactly accurate to say that I sent Alaina a love letter, though there were many superficial similarities. I wrote her an email after the summer in which I let her know how cool I thought she was. And how I wished I had talked to her more when we were in the same place. I didn’t ask her out or go too far over the top about about my affections or any of that. I was direct, honest, and, for my age, pretty sensible. And I never expected that I’d hear back.

But I did.

Two days after I first wrote her, Alaina replied to my email. She thanked me for complimenting her, and said that of course she remembered me, and that she’d love to get me know me more.

It was the stuff of bad, bad fiction. The cool city girl and the small town nerd striking up a friendship over email. And yet, it happened.

I wrote to her about starting high school and how much bigger the building was than my middle school, and how confusing I found the layout. She wrote to me about readjusting to New York after life at camp, and the movie she had just seen. In a throwaway line, she wrote, “don’t speak too soon, ‘cause the wheel’s still in spin.” In the weeks that followed, I devoured the better part of the Bob Dylan catalog, courtesy of CDs and cassettes available at the public library.

For a month or so, we maintained this pen pal relationship. I had visions of us asking one another for advice, confiding in each other, and maybe even meeting up the next time I visited my grandmother in Queens.

Then she stopped writing.

Alaina didn’t reply to one of my emails for about a week, so I wrote her again. When she didn’t get back to me again, I let it go.

In retrospect, I’m fully aware that I put Alaina on a pedestal, but I’m equally aware that two people with only so much common experience between them are only liable to stay in contact for so long. The school year gets busy. You meet other friends. You move on.

It was as happy an ending as I had any right to expect from that love letter story.

Ready for one more?

I promise the next one is shorter.

I’ll let you enjoy a halftime break with one of pop culture’s great love letters, courtesy of my boy Brian Krakow.

And we’re back.

This second story is all about a dream.

Another year, another girl, and a set of unsent love letters. I finished writing one of them just before I went to sleep one night. In that dream I was on a boat, for a scene something like the 5th grade whale watch my elementary school had sent us on. In this dream, the girl had read my letter, only I hadn’t signed it. I followed her around the boat like a ghost, waiting to hear her reaction.

She loved it.

She loved the letter and said she was in love with whomever had written it.

The funny thing about this dream is that I didn’t rush to tell her that I wrote the letter. Nor did I craft some elaborate, romantic gesture to bring us together. I left her and looked out on the water, studying the way the sunlight reflected off the waves.

I was happy.

And I think that dream sums up what both my love letters and my early teenage crushes were for me, and all that I really hoped to get out of them. It wasn’t about sex, or relationships, or status, or even love, really. It was about expression and affirmation. About little more than today’s hope that you’ll read this post and like the link that I posted on Facebook. Except all of that effort was focused on one person at a time.

I dreamed that a girl loved my letter. And at the time, that was just as good as her loving me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On “Nice Guys”

As of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of backlash against supposed “nice guys.”

A few examples:

This.
This.
This:

Allow me to preface the remainder of this post by saying that I consider myself a feminist, in the sense that I subscribe to the theory men and women are equal, should have equal protections under the law, and deserve equitable treatment in society. I realize that I’m skating on some thin ice, and my objective is not to antagonize, but rather to temper an argument I’m concerned is growing out of control.

I understand the “nice guy” backlash. Kindness isn’t superficial. It’s a core element that some people have and some people don’t.

Some men call themselves nice because they bestow kindnesses on others for the purpose of getting laid. Some men call themselves nice as a scapegoat and as a euphemism for being shy, socially awkward, or unattractive.

The men described in the preceding paragraph are not nice. I don’t like them and I’m not defending them.

We’ve all heard the saying, “nice guys finish last.” More often than not, it’s a consolation for the nice guy who got dumped, rejected, overlooked, fired, or otherwise faced one of life’s many disappointments when a seemingly less nice guy did just fine for himself.

And you know what? It’s not entirely false.

Sometimes a man is legitimately nice, but he is unlucky, lacks a skill set, or just plain isn’t attractive to the woman he’d like to court.

And that’s disappointing.

I could wax hypothetical on this topic all day, but let’s get down to something concrete--my own, selfish motivation for writing this post.

I’m single and I consider myself a nice guy. I do volunteer work regularly. I hold the elevator for strangers. I let people pull in the road ahead of me at red lights on my morning commute. I do my best to compliment colleagues on jobs well done.

None of this means that I deserve sex.

That said, I’m as disappointed as anyone when a woman rejects my advances. And I’m human.

It’s not fair to judge a whole class of people based on how they act in their worst moments. I’ve had girlfriends curse me out with very little provocation when they were in bad moods. I’ve had friends stand me up for dinner because they carelessly forgot our plans. I've had parents of my students lambast me because they're angry and trying to protect their children.

When inconsiderate, belligerent, or entitled behavior become recurring patterns, they’re not aberrations--they’re defining qualities. And when these actions are so severe that they actively hurt another person, then you can’t brush them off. At minimum, if in a qualified sense, they make the perpetrator a jerk.

All of that said, if I get rejected and choose to have a few a drinks and vent my frustrations to a friend, I don’t think that I compromises my status as a nice guy, sans quotation marks. It's not the most constructive choice. It's not necessarily healthy, physically or spiritually. But sometimes that’s the catharsis I, as a human being, might need in order to externalize my hurt feelings and move on.

I’m particularly troubled by the attacks on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in (500) Days of Summer, Tom Hansen. I very much like the film. I identify with the character. Moreover, I remember one particularly ironic conversation in which I discussed the film with a woman I had dated briefly and pined for for months after.

The irony?

She identified with Tom, too, by way of a busted relationship from her own past.

Films are open to anyone’s interpretation, and I can’t claim to have the definitive one. But I don’t read Tom as a wolf in nice guy’s clothing. I read him as a nice person who has a normal human reaction to one of life’s great disappointments—and then carries that reaction a bit too far, a bit too long. Not in ways that are destructive or mean, but in ways that are a little pathetic and certainly damaging to his own psyche.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never reacted similarly.

Here’s a stark reality I think “nice guys,” nice guys, and haters alike should all hear.

We define these categories and we divvy real people into them.

These categories are bullshit.

I’ve never met another human being who acts with 100 percent consistency in all conditions at all times. The “nice guy” paradigm getting thrown around the interwebs does address a problem. But it also creates one when it demonizes nice and “nice” people alike.

Some further truths, as I see them.

People who let their anger define them are, by and large, jerks.

People who think sex is transactional are jerks.

You should do what’s right. Acknowledge that you’re going to make mistakes. And that other people will, too.

You should apologize if you do something wrong and it will help someone else feel better—not because it will make you feel better, or, worse yet, because you think it will help your chances of “tapping that” later.

If you can forgive someone, do it. It will feel better for everyone involved.

If you can’t forgive, the world will have to accept that, too. After all, you’re only human.

We are all human.

Except this guy:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Speculative Fiction Anthology

My first publication of 2013 came early, with the release of a new anthology of speculative fiction from StoneThread Publishing, entitled Things You Can Create. As part of the promotional effort for the anthology, I’ve been asked to participate in a “blog hop,” where I’ll join other authors featured in the anthology in answering questions about my work and linking you to their sites. Things You Can Create is available exclusively in electronic form. Before we get to the questions, let me direct you all to where you can buy the anthology. While it’s also available on Amazon, I encourage you to purchase it at a lower price director from StoneThread, using the coupon code LL29S for a 1/3 discount off the cover price.

Without further ado, the questions:

1. What is the title of your story?
“Clown Faces”

2. Describe your story in 1 sentence.
Two young women go to college to learn and love and grow and drink--only it’s clown college, and one of them might be a sociopath.

3. Where did you get the idea for this story?
I work in the kind of office that has committees for everything, including planning department birthday celebrations. One day, we each wrote words on strips of paper, crumpled them and threw them into the middle of the table. We drew random pairings of words to generate party themes. The words “clown prom” got me thinking about clowns in an academic setting. While the characters in “Clown Faces” don’t get to prom (at least within the confines of this story) those words nonetheless served as the seeds for Shanaran, Arabullonia, and the rest of the crew at Spiddledy Clown College.

And for those who might have wondered, we never did have a Clown Prom party. But Dinosaur Christmas and The Robot Fiesta were excellent.

4. If your story were optioned for film, what actors would play the main characters and why?
I hadn’t had these folks in mind when I wrote, but to approximate some Hollywood folks in the role, let’s say Jennifer Lawrence for Shanaran, Brittany Snow (as a redhead a la Pitch Perfect) for Arabullonia, Zachary Quinto as Galoofus, and Michael Caine as Professor Herumpumpum.

Excluding the faculty, it has to be a pretty youthful cast to pass for college students. I think the type of vulnerability Lawrence demonstrated in Silver Linings Playbook would be just right here. Snow is more of a gamble, but she'd certainly handle playful side of this role, and it would be intersting to see what she could do with the edgier part. Quinto could add some layers to a character that's, by design, on the "white bread" side of things. And, besides his professorial aura, come on--if I ever get to cast a film based on one of my stories, how can I not find a role for Michael friggin' Caine?

5. Who are your favorite writers? Why?
Recently, I’ve really enjoyed catching up on the works of Philip Roth and John Updike. Other favorites include John Irving, Michael Chabon, Jeanette Winterson, and Joe Hill.

6. What else about this story will enthrall readers?
Arabullonia studies at Spiddledy with a concentration in magic, and much of the story hinges on her legerdemain and disappearing acts. While Shanaran’s the character with whom I imagine most readers would rather be friends, as I wrote and rewrote the piece, it became increasingly clear that the story really belonged to Arabullonia and her magic.

There's also a lot to be said about characters who never see each other's faces without a coat of paint--what faces they choose to show one another and how those faces change over the course of the story.

7. What are you working on, now?
I’m working on a collection of interlocking stories about circus performers. The one I’m drafting now focuses on The Bearded Lady.

I encourage you all to follow the Things You Can Create blog hop.

Other contributors posting today:
Dawn Knox, BE Seidl

Contributors posting next week:
Diana Swift, Don Braden

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ones You Don’t

I met her in an emergency room.

Let’s back up.

My friend Stephanie texted me after midnight. “You up?”

(For everyone’s reference, I hate text messages like that. Either I’m up or your text just woke me up. Or else I had the good sense to turn off my phone before I went to sleep and I won’t see your message until morning.)

That particular Saturday night, I was up mining YouTube for clips to use in a series of A Cappella Blog columns. Not exactly a riveting night, but I’d just as soon have kept it quiet.

But I texted back.

And she texted back, “Could you drive me to the ER?”

There are times when you don’t ask questions. Even if it’s against your better judgment and even if you’re curious.

A friend says she needs a ride to the hospital. You go.

I texted her again when I’d arrived outside her apartment building. She walked gingerly but quickly from her door in a hoodie and sweatpants. No visible wounds. Not so much as a cough or a sneeze.

The streets were slick with autumn rain and my tires needed changing. I hit the brakes early and often. After the small talk, and after I succumbed to hitting the next track button on “Colorblind” because the CD was skipping too much; after I rolled down the window because it was getting too warm, and after I rolled it back up at the stoplight because I didn’t like the look of the guys smoking cigarettes on the corner--I finally had to ask. “Why are we going to ER?”

“You don’t want to know.”

I looked at the clock. “It’s 12:37 in the morning. I want to know.”

“I had a date tonight.”

My male protector instinct geared up. I grew less annoyed with the glib answers. Ready to rage. “Did he do something to you?”

“Sort of.”

“Jesus Christ, Steph, tell me what happened.”

“It got stuck.”

“What?”

“The condom.”

“Where?”

She didn’t need to answer that one. I thought of asking why her date wasn’t the one who was still up and driving her, but figured I might not want to know the answer to that either. Besides Adam Duritz singing “I Wish I was A Girl” seemed like a less than appropriate soundtrack to the conversation. I skipped a couple tracks ahead to “St. Robinson in his Cadillac Dream.”

Most places I’ve lived, the ER is the only place to get late-night medical care. This means that the people waiting there fall into one of three categories—the obviously injured (the guy holding a blood-soaked towel to his forehead and moaning), the ambiguously ailing (take my friend), and those who are there to offer moral support. The people from the former two categories are too stressed about their current condition to take small talk, which leaves the third group to stare at the spots on the tile floor where the fluorescent lights reflect back at themselves. We third groupers run an internal monologue of speculation about what happened to everyone else in the room. Or maybe that’s just me.

We faced a pair of women, sisters by the look of them, each with strawberry blond hair, one’s straight and a little longer. The one with curly hair kept hers at neck length and wore glasses over her mask.

The two of them both wore those oval-shaped filter masks over their mouths and noses. I wondered what they were keeping in. Particularly because the one with glasses and I kept making eye contact and, though I couldn’t see her mouth, I could have sworn she smiled at me.

Stephanie got called in. A few minutes later, the sister with straight hair did, too. Once she was behind the door, the one with curly hair pulled the mask down so it covered her neck.

I looked at her. Quizzical.

She was definitely smiling then.

“What’s with that?” I moved my hand in a circle over the lower half of my face.

She looked behind her to be sure her sister was really gone, then crossed the aisle to sit next to me. “My sister’s a basketcase. Total paranoia. Total hypochondriac. Every time we set foot in a hospital she says we have to wear these or we’ll get SARS or swine flu or MRSA.”

“I didn’t think you could--”

No one thinks a mask is going to keep you from MRSA. No one except my sister. Who, if I didn’t tell you already, is batshit crazy.”

I offered her my hand. “I’m Mike.”

“Luna.”

We shook. Her hand was cold and dry.

“You don’t look like a Luna.”

“You were expecting the girl from Harry Potter?”

“More the professional wrestler.” I usually don’t volunteer my embarrassingly encyclopedic knowledge of pro wrestling in mixed company, but I suppose after one a.m. in the ER all bets are off.

“You know, I just had the vein tattoos removed from this side of my face.”

“Those weren’t actually tattoos--they were painted on.”

“You’re really going to argue about this?”

She was right, of course. I’d found a pretty girl who recognized a reference to Luna Vachon, and here I was arguing the finer points of her facial accoutrements.

“The boys at school used to tape pictures of her to my locker,” she said.

“So you’re not a fan?” I asked.

“Sorry.”

“No need to be.” I shifted in my seat so I could stop craning my neck and face her. “So what’s your sis here for?”

“I told you she’s a hypochondriac.”

We talked for the next 45 minutes or so. She shivered. I offered her my jacket. She hugged it around herself like a blanket, not putting her arms in the sleeves.

Luna’s sister returned to the waiting area ahead of Stephanie. She talked to the woman at the front counter, and Luna and I both stood up.

Luna removed my jacket from her shoulders and handed it back to me. Subtle as I could, I sniffed it as I put it back on. It smelled like daisies.

“What you, think I have BO?” she asked.

There are moments when you can make a move. When you can lay your cards on the table and make the best of your hand without waiting or plotting or subterfuge. You can kiss a woman. You can ask her to dinner. You can tell her you smelled your jacket because you think she's pretty and she smells nice and, at that moment, you'd like nothing more than to get her phone number.

Or you can let the moment pass. In a self-conscious moment of thinking that you can’t deal with rejection at 1:30 in the morning in a waiting room in front of a bunch of strangers with little better to do than eavesdrop on whatever attempt you might make--

you can let the moment pass.

I reached out my hand to shake hers again. “It was good talking with you, Luna.”

She licked her upper lip, grinned and pulled the mask back up over the lower half of her face. She walked away to her sister, leaving my hand hanging in the air behind her.

Stephanie came out a couple minutes later. She said she spent most of her time waiting for the doctor. The procedure, for what it was, was over inside a minute.

I thought of Luna as I watched my reflection in the glass doors before the automatic trigger pulled them open to release us outside. My hair didn’t look quite right and I wore an old summer camp t-shirt I wouldn’t ordinarily try to make a first impression in. Fact of the matter was, even if I had made my move, things may not have turned out all that differently.

I got home, sat down on the couch and looked Luna up on Facebook. I couldn’t find her. Name like Luna, I figured she might have made it up. A name she gave boys she thought might flirt with her at bars, at parties, in hospital waiting rooms.

I all but forgot about her until another night, maybe six months later. Maybe it was the late hour that reminded me of a similar time. I looked her up on Facebook again, no reason to think I’d have better luck this time around. And yet, there she was. Luna. In her profile picture, she had her head back, her eyes closed. A guy had his arm around her and he kissed her cheek. I could only see so much about her, what with privacy settings and the two of us not being “friends.” But I could see that she was listed as married.

There are the chances you take. And there are ones you don’t.

Conventional wisdom would say that if she was married six months later, Luna was probably engaged when I met her (though she didn't wear a ring) or at least in a serious relationship.

But what if she wasn’t?

Could it just as easily have been me holding her in that picture? If she was a part of one of those families that pressured you to get married to every boyfriend, would I have withstood that tidal wave? Or gotten swept up in all that romanticism and sense of obligation and maybe even love?

Perhaps worst of all, as I looked at that picture, I still wasn’t sure if this destiny that might have been my own was a missed opportunity or a nightmare I had lucked out of.

And I guess I’ll never know for sure.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bullies, Balls, Beatdowns

I tell this story.

I was a high school freshman. Stood about 6 feet tall. Weighed about 130 pounds.

Across the gymnasium floor stood the starting quarterback. About three years older and five inches taller than me. Lean, but muscular. He palmed a red dodgeball in one hand and patted it against the other.

I protected the cone.

The phys ed teachers at the school had embraced a variation on dodgeball in which a game could end when every member of one team was eliminated (hit with balls they could not catch, or had balls they had thrown caught by the opposing side), or when all three traffic cones set up on a team’s side had been knocked down by the opposing team.

The QB stared me down as I stood in front of the last remaining cone. He said, “I would move.”

I considered the options. I could bear brunt of his throw--a throw from an arm specifically trained to throw a heavier ball across a football field, hard and fast enough that it wouldn’t be deflected or intercepted. Or I could move and both look like a coward and singlehandedly sacrifice the game for my team.

I wish I could say that I made decision either way in that moment. In reality, I pondered long enough that the quarterback stopped waiting and let a rip. The ball hit my thigh. It smarted, but I could walk to the sideline without assistance, where I sat and waited for that game to end and the next to begin.

When I look back on that moment, there are plenty of takeaways. At my best, I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t abandon the cone automatically. It speaks to not only an inkling of courage, but an inkling of integrity. That as meaningless as a game of high school dodgeball may be, I cared about not losing.

But the truth of the matter is, winning, losing, and integrity were all pretty minor considerations in the moment. Far more significant and far more telling were the conflicting notions of fearing that throw and not wanting to look like a coward.

For shying away from physical pain would make a coward, right? A baby. A wimp. A pussy.

And what of the QB? Did he have a choice? Could he have thrown at a more evenly matched opponent? Could he have thrown at a softer speed, right at my chest to maximize the chance that I might catch the ball, and give me a rare moment of gym class glory?

Present day, I harbor no ill will toward that quarterback. While he didn’t show his best self at that moment, few of us do with much consistency, particularly when we’re 17 years old. And if we’re going to talk about bullying situations, trust me, like many of us, I’ve faced far more violent, severe, meanly spirited and longer term iterations.

When I think back to that particular gym class, I resent the situation. The confluence of a situation an educator contrived and the culture that dictated how we all of us acted under the circumstances.

I weathered the blow of that ball. And I didn’t speak my mind about it to the gym teacher afterward. Or to the principal. Or to my parents. To do so would only demonstrate further cowardice, right? Not fighting my own fights? Tattle-taling?

Let’s skip ahead.

I’m in my late 20s, visiting with an old friend. He tells me I have to see this show. He fires up his DVR and moments later, we’re watching Bully Beatdown.

The basic premise of the MTV series Bully Beatdown is that victims of bullying serve as corner men for professional mixed martial arts fighters, who pummel the bullies. (The bullies have an incentive to take the pounding because, if they last certain periods of time, they earn cash incentives.) In my limited experience with the show, each episode progresses in essentially the same fashion. The victim describes how he has been tormented. The arrogant bully talks about how he’ll hold his own in the fight. The professional fighter decimates the bully within 30 seconds. The bully apologizes and suggests he’s learned a powerful lesson.

There’s a certain catharsis to a show like Bully Beatdown as we imagine bullies from our own lives getting their comeuppance in the clutches of a gogoplata or a flurry of expert punches. And the show certainly taps into a public fascination with MMA.

If we think more critically, though, about the core of this show and its message, it’s a pretty empty viewing experience—not only predictable, but suggesting that situations of emotional torture and/or physical assault, rooted in power differentials, can be resolved in a meaningful way the smack is laid down upon the aggressor.

It doesn’t works that way.

As we watched the show, my friend went on to say that he doesn’t know why bullying still happens. How it seems like everyone has been a victim at one time or another, and how that victimhood seems to be at the root of so many stories with unpleasant outcomes--serial killers, shooters, sociopaths, and just plain sad people born out of more or less the same phenomenon.

I talked about the zero indifference policy my employer uses to confront bullying behaviors, emphasizing that adults address any situation that looks like it could be bullying or the antecedent thereto. And while I do think it’s a step in the right direction--an approach that I like to think has helped any number of young people--it’s far from a silver bullet.

At the moment you’re reading this, I have little doubt that some boy is getting a pushed around by someone older, bigger, or stronger. That some young woman is figuring out how she’ll face her peers at school after a “mean girls” stunt.

It’s troubling that we haven’t figured this out yet, and I can’t help but imagine a part of that has to do with our own desires to forget our lowest moments. To make peace with ourselves for having been victims.

To forget.

To dodge.

I feel its right and even important to forgive ourselves, and where possible, those who bullied us, as well as the people who facilitated the bullying process. Forgiveness does at least as much (and often more) for the forgiver than the forgiven party. It’s how we truly move on and how we grow from experiences.

But we shouldn’t forget. We, as a society and as a collective consciousness need to keep thinking and keep trying. We need to set positive examples. We need to recognize differences in power for what they are and talk with our children about what these differences mean. We owe it to our younger selves. We owe it to ourselves today, as survivors.

We owe it to the future.