24 July 2012

Old Forge

This past weekend found me and my husband in Old Forge, New York. Let me tell you something about Old Forge.  It is a hamlet located in Herkimer County, in the heart of the Adirondack State Park.  I couldn't find exact population statistics for it, but I can tell you that it is the principal community within the larger incorporated Town of Webb, which, according to Wikipedia, boasts just under 2,000 full-time residents.  Old Forge tends to attract large numbers of tourists in the summer.  People come to paddle the Fulton Chain of Lakes, climb the ancient mountains (the Adirondacks are among the oldest peaks in North America), hunt, fish, splash around at the big water park in the center of town, or visit their children at one of several nearby summer camps.


Old Forge is several hours - a full day's drive - from our home near New York City.  We drove in on Friday evening, winding our way through the old pine trees on Route 28.  We passed the many small tourist motels in Old Forge, noticing that a large group of motorcyclists seemed to be staying at one of them.  We ourselves stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast in nearby Thendara, right on the Moose River, where we watched deer, ducks, and hummingbirds playing just paces away from our chairs on the back porch.  

That night, we had a delicious Italian dinner with some dear friends and discussed the shooting that had occurred early that morning in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  My husband had read that one of the victims of the Aurora shooting had actually been a survivor of an earlier shooting in Toronto and had blogged about that experience.  We were all horrified at the weird coincidence and distraught and puzzled by the tragedy, and we discussed, generally, the issue of the role gun violence plays in American life and what, if anything, can be done about it.

On Saturday morning, we learned that Old Forge had suffered its own gun-related tragedy overnight.  Apparently the motorcyclists we had spotted on Route 28 were a group of motorcycle enthusiasts from the Rochester area, some of them police officers, spending a long weekend together.  Included in the group were a father and son, Michael and Matthew Leach.  According to reports, Michael, 59, was a police officer and Matthew, 37, was a security guard.  Shortly after midnight, Matthew, having forgotten his key, attempted to break into the motel room where his father had been sleeping.  Michael, mistaking his son for an intruder, drew his .45-caliber service weapon and shot Matthew dead.

The Aurora shooting and the Old Forge shooting are, of course, two very, very different situations.  They have in common the fact that they are both gun-related tragedies in which innocent people were killed.  Both killings were committed with weapons that are not designed for hunting or sport, but rather for the express purpose of killing human beings.  Both of the shooters were in legal possession of their guns.  One of them was apparently a sociopath.  The other, though - Michael Leach, a retired captain in the Rochester police department - was presumably highly trained in the safe handling and emergency use of his weapon.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (I have my pocket copy right here, don't you?) provides that:

 A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Americans have been arguing for a couple of centuries about what, exactly, that text means.  You've heard all the arguments before.  Those on the extreme right argue that every American has the right to possess whatever arms he or she wants, without interference from the government.  Those on the extreme left argue that the Founders were talking about feeding their families and defending themselves in an era where there was no standing army or police force and that, in this day and age, no civilian needs or has a right to carry a gun.  Most people are somewhere in the middle, taking the position that guns should be heavily regulated; that civilians should not be in possession of assault rifles or other military-type arms; and that background checks and waiting periods serve a useful purpose in averting tragedy.

And yet the tragedies of this weekend were not averted by any sort of regulation.  The Aurora shooter purchased his guns legally.  (The laws vary from state to state.)  The Old Forge shooter was in legal possession of his service weapon.  (Police officers are allowed to carry their weapons even when they are off duty.)  Purchase restrictions, waiting periods, training, licensing, experience - all irrelevant to the people whose lives were ended prematurely.

What's the answer?  No one knows, least of all myself.  I'm no expert on these things.  But I do know that no one would have died in either of this weekend's incidents if guns had not been involved.  I'm not a hunter; I don't handle or fire guns for sport or necessity.  Maybe I'd feel differently if I were, or if I did.  But I am a watcher of movies and a stayer in hotel rooms.  I go out in public all the time, and I send my kids out too, constantly, to the mall, to the movies, to school and camp and the airport, always confident that they will return alive.  I'd venture to guess that the mothers of those who died this weekend share my sentiment: the relationship between guns and Americans has gotten out of hand.  It needs to be reset.  We need to step back and reexamine what sort of society we want to live in, and then make it happen.  Soon, before anyone else dies.

And the winner is...

The winner of a brand-new copy of Karen Bergreen's novel Perfect is Overrated, selected from all five of my loyal readers, is:

You wouldn't believe how long it took me to figure out how to copy and paste this.  The things I do for the five of you.


Congratulations Sandra!  E-mail me at jenniferbarlin@gmail.com and let me know where to send the book.  Also, if you can wait a week or so, I can get Karen to autograph it for you.  Let me know if you'd like that or if you are just dying to get right into it.

Everyone else:  I love you and I wish I were rich enough to buy copies for everyone.  If you purchase your own copy using the link here on my blog (scroll down - it's on the right), I will be happy to have Karen autograph it for you.  Just let me know by e-mail and we will figure out the logistics.

I hope you are all enjoying your summer (or winter, for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere.  Yes, I know you are out there)!  I'll write a "real" post soon.

17 July 2012

Giving It Away

One lucky reader of my blog will become the winner of a brand-new copy of Karen Bergreen's Perfect is Overrated, a hilarious novel about a stay-at-home mom and former prosecutor who finds that the key to curing her postpartum depression might lie in her ability to solve a local murder or two.  Karen, the author, is a former attorney and an old school buddy of mine who now does stand-up comedy and writes some pretty entertaining novels.

To qualify to win the book, you must be an official follower of this blog and you must leave a comment on this post.  I will randomly select a winner one week from today, Tuesday, July 24, 2012.  I'll post the results in this space and ask the winner to e-mail me his or her mailing address.  I don't mind shipping anywhere - just be aware that if you live very far from New York City, it might take a little time.

Good luck and thank you as always for reading.

11 July 2012

How to Heal

A friend of mine, six and a half months pregnant, recently took a bad fall in her basement and lost her baby.  The pregnancy had been the result of years of trying.

Needless to say, she is absolutely devastated, as are her husband and the rest of the family.  Her mother asked me what she should say or do to make her daughter feel better.  As if I am some sort of expert on how to ease someone else's unfathomable pain.  I have never been through what my friend has been through.  Sure, I suffered a miscarriage last year, but I was not quite four months along - and those two and a half months make a big difference, physically at least.  I had a D&C.  My friend had to have an emergency c-section.

Besides, there is nothing anyone can say to make it better.  As I recall, in the days and weeks after my loss, every single thing everyone said just made it hurt more.  Most people try hard to be kind and understanding, but telling me that it was meant to be or that something had been wrong with the baby anyway or that I should consider myself lucky to already have three healthy children just made things worse, because they made me feel greedy and guilty for wanting the child.  And yes: I wanted that child, even if it had been flawed, even if it had been thirteen years younger than its next sibling, even if it had set our retirement plans back by twenty years.

People offered advice about how to deal with the loss and (horribly) sent me articles about other people's miscarriages and how those people were dealing with it.  Someone suggested I hold a funeral.  Other people prodded me to talk about it before I was ready, often with people I didn't know who had "been through the same thing."

Nobody had been through the same thing.  My loss was my loss.  I wasn't interested in other people's misery or advice.  I am sure my friend isn't, either.

The best reactions people had were the silent reactions.  My neighbor who let herself in through my back door while I was at the hospital, plugged her Crock-Pot in on my counter, and filled my refrigerator with food.  The priest who just sat there with me.  No loud prayers or wailing or advice.  Just silent sitting there.  The next best reactions were the notes and the cards that were simply written.  "I'm so sorry for your loss.  Thank you for letting us know.  We are here for you."  When I was ready to talk, one friend took me out to lunch on a rainy day and listened to my entire awful blubbery story.  She did not offer an opinion, just an ear.  And on that very day, I realized what an incredibly good friend she was, and I started to heal, slowly.  I began to realize, again, how very many blessings I have in my life.

So, to my friend's mother: your daughter is not going to get better.  Nothing you can say will fix her broken heart.  This tragedy is going to be with her forever.  In time, she will probably be ready to talk about it, but don't push her.  When she is ready, just listen.  Don't say trite things like, "Oh well, you can try again," or "Focus on your older daughter - she still needs you."  Just be quiet and be there.

In the meantime, if you need to do something, remember that your daughter has just had major and traumatic abdominal surgery.  Help her recover physically - make sure there is plenty of good food available (but don't force her to eat), and make sure she rests as much as possible.  Drive her when she needs or wants to go somewhere.  Take her older daughter out to do fun things: to the mall, to the beach, or to an amusement park, so that she gets the attention she needs from Grandma while Mommy recovers.  Don't shield the child from what happened; explain it honestly and simply.  Bad things sometimes happen to good people.  When they do, we try to understand how those good people feel - cheated, devastated - and to be there to help them.

Please send my friend good thoughts - and if you are the type to pray, prayers for a speedy recovery.  Life goes on whether or not we want it to, and the things we appreciate and remember the most are the people who help us to get through it.

09 July 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I'm just home from a weeklong vacation alone with my husband.  (My kids are away at summer camp and the dogs are at Grandma's.)  We swam in the ocean, climbed a mountain in a rain forest, explored an underground cave, worked on my crawl stroke in the pool, spoke a foreign language, slept till 10 A.M., and lingered over breakfast until mid-afternoon.  It was heavenly.

I managed to read a few books, too.  I finished The Hunger Games trilogy, which I had been working on for a while.  I'm reading Jenny Lawson's (you might know her as the Bloggess) ridiculously funny memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened.  (I keep having to put it down because I am laughing uncontrollably.  At first my husband thought this was cute, but after about three sessions of laughing-so-hard-that-I'm-crying, it lost its charm.)  And finally, finally, I had a chance to read Fifty Shades of Grey.

Guess what I thought?  Thin plot, poorly written.  There's a lot of very, very explicit older-wealthy-man/young ingenue sex, and if you like that, the book is worth your time.  There's a lot to be said for a good, trashy summer read, and this book fits the bill.

But I am bothered by poor grammar and vocabulary.  I can't help it.  I think good grammar and interesting word choice are the kinds of things that make writing flow well.  If an author is incapable of using good grammar, then an editor should pick up the slack.  Neither happened here.  The book is full of comma splices and run-on sentences, and I spotted the occasional lack of subject-verb agreement.  In addition, the author repeats the same phrases and words over and over again without variation.  For example, she uses the phrase "oh-so-sexy" to describe the romantic hero, his demeanor, and his hair - sometimes more than once on a page.  She also repeats the phrase "my breath hitches," "his breath hitched," etc. whenever someone gasps.  (This happens a lot, given the nature of the story.)

In the end, I'm glad I read it.  I'm happy to know what all the fuss is about and to be able to speak about it intelligently.  I'm not sure whether I'm going to complete the trilogy, though; I'd need a lot of free time to do that, and I don't know whether it would be worth it.

And so back to real life.  I'm going to get my dogs back from Grandma today and talk to a painter about repainting my daughter's room before she returns from camp.  I'm grateful for a wonderful break alone with my best friend.  I feel recharged and ready to move forward.  That's the best thing about a vacation.

02 July 2012

Early July Update

A lot has been going on in the legal world.  I am in the process of writing a series of guest posts on the Affordable Care Act, the United States healthcare law that was just upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court.  You can read the first installment here.  Please let me know what you think, either here or there.

I have just turned on "comment approval," a Blogspot option that requires me to approve comments before they are published.  This is just an attempt to reduce spam comments, of which I have had many lately.  Please be patient with me, as it sometimes can take a little time for this process to work.  I value your comments and your feedback greatly.

Finally, I have received some feedback on my blog lately that interests and, I'll admit it, disappoints me.  My most popular posts, according to my statistics, seem to be the ones in which I express an opinion about a current event or a personal experience, but several of my readers have recently called me out for being judgmental.  Looking back on my recent posts, I'm not all that sure that this characterization is inaccurate.  What do you think?  What would you like to see me write about in this space?  What are your favorite and least favorite past posts?