A Coloradan’s perspective on this week’s Texas shooting

Having enrolled in kindergarten the year of the Columbine High School massacre and graduated high school the year of the Aurora theater shooting, I am no stranger to these tragedies. Here are my thoughts on what happened in Texas.

When I started kindergarten out-of-district at Ralph Moody Elementary School in Littleton, Colorado, it was because my grandfather taught there. It was August or September, 1999.

Moody was fifteen minutes away from Columbine High School.

I have no memory of the massacre that killed twelve students and a teacher, but it took place on my grandmother’s birthday that same year – Tuesday, April 20, 1999. She had to spend her fifty-fifth watching the news for any updates on the lockdown and evacuation at Moody.

Lucky number thirteen years later, she would relive that same anxiety over the Aurora theater shooting. I woke up the morning after the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Sheridan to dozens of missed calls and text messages from her about the news.

Like how the post-September 11 world is… well… “worlds” apart from the pre-September 11 world, Columbine shaped the trajectory of my educational experience, whether I was aware of it or not. For example, I can remember the anti-bullying campaign that visited my class at the turn of the millennium.

I realize now it most likely came to be as a result of Columbine.

Indeed, Littleton rests an hour south of Fort Collins, where Matthew Shepard succumbed to his wounds from the hate crime he suffered in Wyoming, and an hour north of Colorado Springs, where Focus on the Family is headquartered. Since LGBTQIA+ youth are already at greater risk for bullying than their straight, cisgender counterparts, it only makes sense that one of the possibly bisexual shooters would feel isolated and marginalized from the students surrounding him at Columbine, and why that might leave him vulnerable to the other shooter’s psychopathy.

Speaking from personal experience, Littleton is crawling with white, upper-Middle Class evangelicals who hoard their resources and privileges from all “outsiders.” In many ways, it is a typical postwar American suburb, but in some ways, its history is exceptionally sadistic. After all, 2013 saw another school shooting in the area at Arapahoe High, a sister school to my own alma mater, Littleton High, as well as the high school my mother attended before she dropped out, across the street from her family’s house.

My mother’s family will someday see their story told in a memoir all its own. Suffice to say, their communal narcissism and sociopathy embodies the Littleton community.

Now, I attend the University of Denver, whose founder, Governor John Evans, oversaw the Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory that killed upwards of six hundred Cheyenne and Arapaho people at the hands of the United States military – yes, Arapaho; the same nation my home county is named after.

I cannot stress enough that Adolf Hitler studied American racism for sources of inspiration behind the Holocaust.

Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine taught me the killers targeted one of their victims for being Black, and one can’t help but wonder if this week’s first responders in Uvalde, Texas, would have neutralized the suspect with greater urgency if the students at Robb Elementary School were majority-white instead of majority-Latino. Either way, America’s past is uniquely violent for the success with which the European race displaced all other cultures living on this continent, and these tragedies are our reckoning.

Take it from a Coloradan.

Running on fumes

On Tuesday, May 24, I messaged my Talkspace counselor about how to combat feelings of emptiness. What I at first thought of as a symptom of my borderline personality disorder turned into something more.

Earlier this week, I texted two Millennials – an “elder Millennial” in his forties, and one more my age (late twenties). I asked them both if they ever felt “empty.”

They both answered enthusiastically and emphatically in the affirmative.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it? According to Fortune, “the average millennial carries about $28,317 in debt, not including mortgages.” If the federal minimum wage is seven twenty-five, then it would take just shy of two years of working full-time, before taxes (or any other expenses, for that matter), to pay off such a debt, which doesn’t even calculate interest.

And I use the minimum wage as the extreme example here because many Millennials – myself among them – are “underemployed,” meaning we’re working outside our educational fields (and we’re paid like it, too).

In other words, we accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for college based on the false promise that these graduate degrees would land us higher-paying careers. Instead, we’re working jobs we settled for like we’re indentured servants to these predatory student moneylenders.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to get by working two jobs, and one of them is an internship paying more than twice the minimum wage. What days off I do get, I spend resting up for the following work week, when I come back in and repeat the cycle all over again of generating revenue for faceless elites who don’t even know I exist, much less that they’re effectively feeding off the best years of my life. Indeed, these individuals surround themselves with ambitious sycophants who lie about the injustices that prop up their disproportionate privileges, and it is they who make up the institutions of oppression which threaten the very future of humanity with war, climate change, and an ever-widening economic gulf between the billionaire class and the global majority.

So, no, the “emptiness” I feel isn’t some pathological symptom of my borderline personality disorder, because my friends without BPD feel the same way.

It is a perfectly logical response to a life I never asked for, and wouldn’t have, if given the choice.

Mayday!

Lady Gaga released her second full-length studio album, “Born This Way,” eleven years ago on Monday. The anniversary brought back memories of high school, and reflections of where my life has headed since then.

It rained Monday, May 23, 2011.

I remember because that was when Lady Gaga released her second LP, Born This Way. I’d become a fan in January 2010, after she reissued her debut, The Fame, under the EP, The Fame Monster. I’d watched, live, as she announced the title for Born This Way at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards while wearing that historical dress made out of raw meat. Sitting by my side was a fellow Little Monster whose birthday was also May 23.

She was born this way. She was born this day.

Eleven years ago, I’d borrowed my grandparents’ 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier so I could drive to Sheridan and buy the CD at Target in Riverpoint with their money. I played it on my way to Littleton High School, where my junior year had drawn to a close the week before. I dropped off an assignment for the International Baccalaureate program, stained with raindrops. I drove home, listening to the gay anthem on my radio.

I would go on to graduate from Littleton the following May. “The Edge of Glory” blasted on my alarm clock the morning of, when I sat down for another IB exam before the ceremony. My involvement in that program earned me the diploma which would help yours finish his four-year degree in three at Colorado State University Fort Collins. My commencement as a Bachelor of Arts in entertainment journalism took place in May 2015.

Gaga herself was the primary source of inspiration behind my critical theory.

So, with Facebook’s “Today in the Past” feature reminding me of these milestones, why is it that they leave more “bitter” a taste than “sweet” in my mouth?

Simply put, I am more nostalgic for that summer before I became a graduate than I am for anything to come after. Dancing to “Bad Romance,” first in front of the senior IB History class on my eighteenth birthday, then in front of the entire school at a pep assembly, won me “prom king.” People invited me to their grad parties not out of genuine friendship, but out of social pressure and obligation, and, as a teenager still, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Indeed, what did I have in common with the straight, rich, neurotypical kids?

Either way, this crowd would abandon me in droves by the end of the summer, catalyzing a depressive episode of my then undiagnosed bipolar I disorder which darkened my undergraduate experience like the rainclouds overcasting the sky on Monday, May 23, 2011. Too disabled with major depression to focus on much else, I graduated college to half a year of unemployment, which forced me to settle for seven years of working outside my field as of this writing.

Such a lifestyle of “fighting to survive” instead of “enjoying life” has contributed little to my mental wellness.

Now that it’s Monday, May 23 again, and I find myself working a fourteen-hour day to make ends meet as well as supplement my master’s degree with even more professional credentials than I already have, is it any wonder that my favorite song has shifted away from Lady Gaga’s pop-tastic “Hair” to Pierce the Veil’s suicide-preventative “Hold on Till May?”

For a friend

On Sunday, May 22, I met a former coworker in downtown Denver for dinner and a movie. This is her appreciation post.

I hadn’t visited an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’d never gone to the one on West Colfax before Sunday afternoon. I arrived twenty minutes early so I could find someplace to park in time for the two o’clock showing, which meant by the time I walked to the theater, it was ten ’til.

I waited for someone I hadn’t hung out with since February or March, whenever it was we saw the West Side Story remake together in Highlands Ranch. That was in the early stages of the “endemic,” when the pickings were still slim for Hollywood entertainment. (The “endemic,” of course, turned out to be short-lived, with my campus internship transitioning back from biweekly to weekly COVID tests as of this writing).

No, today, we were seeing Men, which aligned more with our shared taste. I paid this time because she paid last time, and it was to our benefit that I bought the tickets in advance online, because Men proved to be the kind of independently produced A24 horrorshow worthy of attracting a crowd of local hipsters, gentrifying the area, to indulge all the craft brews and “alternative” charm the Alamo has to offer.

By the time my friend found her own parking spot, the previews were almost finished. We met in the lobby and rushed to our seats just in time for the opening credits to roll.

In the end, Men was a surreal, subversive experience only we could appreciate together. After the year I lived, when strangers on the street ganged up on and violated me, it was refreshing to join that many people in watching Rory Kinnear and Paapa Essiedu try (and fail) to horrify unconditional love out of Jessie Buckley. It gave me hope for the future of A24 and their output in the current of a mainstream more preoccupied with selling action figures to eleven-year-old boys than testing the more “creative” waters of the filmmaking form.

And this friend, a fellow “film school” Millennial whose education landed her in retail alongside yours truly, was the right one to lament with over “Royales with Cheese” in BarFly after the movie about George Lucas (and, yes, West Side Story director Steven Spielberg) commercializing the cinematic culture beyond all pretense to the “higher” arts.

More than that, this friend called me two or three times throughout the day on Monday, February 7, when I finally told people about the date-rape and mugging I’d survived the Friday night before. She treated me to dinner that evening. She offered more support than those closest to me.

Our very friendship is a middle finger to the institutionalized oppression that Men critiques. If we still worked together, we would have been fired for “fraternization” by the capitalist leaders who expected “productivity” out of us, rather than “humanity.” We trauma-bonded over our progressive ethics. We encouraged each other through the irreconcilable differences between our own psychiatric disabilities and our employer’s losing war with Jeff Bezos.

I would like to thank this friend for the burger, and reminding me to live for our next movie together in the future.

New study quantifies hiring discrimination against marginalized TV writers

As per a recent Nielsen poll, eighty-seven percent of respondents are “interested in seeing more content featuring people from outside their identity group.” Yet the data shows that TV writers rooms continue to exclude historically underserved dramatists.

Because audiences and advertisers both crave more diverse, inclusive, and equitable content, the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity – a consortium of working TV writers sponsored by Women In Film, Los Angeles – has surveyed more than eight hundred seventy-five working writers for their fourth annual report, “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion & Equity in TV Writing.” Deadline reports that the TTIE’s findings are sobering, but not surprising. Women, BIPOC, the disabled, and low-income writers continue to square off against measurable favoritism in Hollywood.

I recently wrote about the bigoted hiring practices I’ve faced throughout the field of content creation in this blog post as a gay, gender-queer, disabled man. Since American capitalism dominates our post-Cold War world, it is an act of systemic and institutional violence to deny these communities the access to resources they need for survival. Yes, I work a day job that pays the bills, but it is increasingly incompatible with my life-threatening mental illnesses to daily settle for less than my passions, my qualifications, and my talents.

“The Philadelphia Inquirer” calls for us to use a different word than “manifesto” to describe the Buffalo shooter’s writing

“The Grammarian” is a columnist with the “Inquirer.” He argues the dictionary definitions of “manifesto” elevate the Buffalo shooter’s rantings.

The eighteen-year-old accused of killing ten people at a grocery store last week in Buffalo wrote a hundred-eighty pages of racist and deplorable literature leading up to the crime. The Philadelphia Inquirer, though, says it is unethical to refer to this diatribe as a “manifesto,” like so many mass media outlets have done (including the Inquirer itself). NPR is quoted in this column as saying, “‘Not using the word ‘Manifesto’ in no way deprives our audience of information, it helps deprive the shooter of the platform he was looking for.'”

The shooter “seeks to be an ‘individual … of public relevance’ — a status we’d rather not grant him,” writes “The Grammarian” about the first dictionary definition of the word “manifesto” he discusses here. “If it’s the second, then his screed’s propoundment of the ‘great replacement’ theory — a racist assertion that white people are being ‘replaced’ in America and Europe by nonwhites — suddenly becomes a ’cause,’ and we also shouldn’t grant him that.” The news has come a long way since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, when shock rocker Marilyn Manson castigated them in Rolling Stone for making “folk heroes” out of those two murderers, but until violence in America becomes a thing of the past, we must always critically deconstruct these stories at the word level.

Less than a week left in the “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge at Vocal

The deadline is May 30. If you feel so inclined, enter today for a chance to win!

“I’m sorry, Mama… I never meant to hurt you… I never meant to make you cry…”

These Eminem lyrics inspired the title of my entry in Vocal’s “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge, “Cleaning Out My Closet.” In this personal essay,I come out as gay to her.

Writing competitions are key to gaining exposure for both emerging as well as established authors. The “Mother’s Day Confessions” Challenge encourages entrants to write either a nonfictional or fictional open letter between six hundred and five thousand words based on the prompt, “Hey, Mom. I never told you this before, but…”

The first-place winner walks away with two thousand five hundred dollars; second place, one thousand; and fifteen runners-up will receive fifty dollars each.

In the interest of full transparency, you do have to pay for a Vocal membership to participate in their challenges. Mine costs me ten dollars per month. But they do pay you three dollars and eighty cents for every thousand reads, and the audience who finds you through one of their communities can tip you directly.

If this sounds like a worthwhile investment for you, then I encourage you to visit vocal.media.

Maine poet writes through terminal cancer diagnosis

Nick Stone is a former corporate lawyer who started writing poetry in his retirement. In August, when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer and given twenty months to live, he decided to keep writing.

Eighty-nine-year-old Nick Stone has written dozens of pages of “left-brain” work, such as legal briefs and filings, for decades. However, the Portland Press Herald reports that he started engaging the right side of his brain when he composed poetry for the first time after retiring to Maine from his career as a corporate lawyer in Boston. Now that he’s diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and has just months left to live, “Stone only wants to keep writing.”

It is almost otherworldly, what comfort writing can bring – even to the dying. Stone’s poetry gives him something to come alive for. No matter how late in life it is – even near the end – a writer’s time can come.

Program in Iowa encourages fifth-grade students to write about the environment

This next generation will face the most direct impact from climate change, young people of color most of all. That is why the Iowa Youth Writing Project’s latest program, Writing on the Environment, is working to engage elementary schoolers in Iowa City with this reality.

On a field trip to the park at Cangleska Wakan in early May, students from Iowa City Community School District were tasked with composing nature journals, eco-poems, and nonfiction about their experience. According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, “It was part of the Iowa Youth Writing Project’s new program, Writing on the Environment, which invites students to write about the subject through lessons and exploration.” Three schools were selected for this initiative based upon their student populations who “may have higher economic need and those with more students of color,” since “‘communities of color are more affected by issues of climate change'” and “‘if we want to make a difference, make inroads in addressing those problems, we need to make sure that those communities are involved in finding solutions,'” says Patrick Snyder, elementary science and social studies coordinator with ICCSD.

Everyone reading this should applaud the IYWP for recognizing the intersection between science, literature, and social studies, as well as how critical that overlap is to inspiring meaningful action. Indeed, Melanie Hester, a fifth grade teacher at Alexander Elementary School for the past seven years, “observed how one of her students, who has ‘barely’ spoken throughout the year, ended up leading his group through the trail and back to its meeting spot.” With this kind of encouragement, children like that can grow up empowered to overcome otherwise insurmountable challenges for the good of all.

Who is Jack Trades, Master of Arts?

Introducing the new face of my blogging re-brand: a nom de plume which began as a play on words in a social media bio.

It began as a jokey Facebook bio – “Jack of all trades, Master of Arts, in creative writing.” The quip was part of a larger content marketing overhaul; after all, when I first launched this blog site, I was a Bachelor of Arts in film journalism from Colorado State University Fort Collins, and the posts here reflected it. I wasn’t prepared for how comprehensive the professional creative writing program would be at the University of Denver when I declared my concentration in creative nonfiction there – I didn’t even comprehend what creative nonfiction was, misunderstanding it as a “journalistic” genre when, in fact, it’s more “literary” than that (but no less fact-based). As I practiced fiction, poetry, and drama in my core classes and learned how to translate those devices into my own memoirs and personal essays, I broadened my horizons beyond the limitations of critical film theory and happened upon the inspiration to forge an online community for all creative writers where we can celebrate the power of our literature to leave our readers more compassionate, empathic, humane, and enriched than we found them.

And so when I was struck with a rare bout of humor, “Jack of all trades, MA” evolved into “Jack Trades” in much the same way Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” turned into a stage name for Lady Gaga.

After all, I plan to write about memoirs on my professional Facebook, personal essays on Instagram, short stories on Twitter, novels on LinkedIn, scripts on YouTube, poems on TikTok, and “revolutionary” works on WordPress’s very own Anchor, a podcast-hosting platform. All the while, these series will contribute to the output of nonfiction.

Speaking of Lady Gaga, a Warholian pop performance artist who embraces her creativity as though it’s life itself, isn’t it somewhat dystopian that content creators have to become their brands now in order to market their texts across the post-Zuckerberg multimedia landscape? According to late-stage capitalism, the difference between our “bodies” and our “bodies of work” is virtually indistinguishable.

Doesn’t it behoove us, then, to approach our own bodies with enough love to salvage the Hell-world around them?

And that’s who Jack Trades, Master of Arts, is.