Nearly everyone in Zaine’s life had been anxiously monitoring that line for the past year and a half, ever since both of his parents died of heroin overdoses in April 2015. His parents had become two of the record 33,091 people to die of opioid overdoses that year in a national crisis that has been worst of all in rural West Virginia, where health officials estimate that overdose rates are now eight to 10 times higher than the national average. Middle-aged white men in this part of the country have lost a full year of life expectancy during the past two decades. Middle-aged white women have lost more than two years. The opiate epidemic has essentially wiped out an entire generation of health advances, and now West Virginia has begun to focus more of its resources on prevention and preservation among the next generation entering into the void.
These children are sometimes referred to by health officials here as opiate orphans, and three of the most recent ones live in a small house in South Charleston: Zoie, 10, who believed that her parents had died in their sleep; Arianna, 13, who was just starting to wear her mother’s old makeup; and Zaine, 17, who had been the one to discover his parents that morning on their bedroom floor, and whose grades had begun to drop ever since.
Madie, 53, had retired from her maintenance job at the public schools and moved into the house to help take care of the children after the overdoses. “Mah-maw,” they called her, and she told salty jokes, cooked their breakfast and slept in Zoie’s bedroom when she had nightmares.
But, on some nights, it was Madie who couldn’t sleep, when neither her doctor-prescribed antidepressants nor her occasional swallows of Fireball whiskey could quiet her grief or her rising anxiety. She had once struggled with addiction herself before getting clean. She had raised a daughter who had become an addict. Now she was responsible for three more children in a place where that same disease had officially been classified as a “widespread, progressive and fatal epidemic.”
As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.
In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…
Some people think the film I co-directed, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides,” is a paean to loving Japanese mothers. When one interviewer suggested as much to me and fellow director Karen Kasmauski, we exchanged a look that said, “Shall we tell him the truth?” The film, titled after a Japanese proverb, is about strong women, for sure. Warm and loving mothers? No.
They either tried, or were pressured, to give up their Japanese identities to become more fully American. A first step was often adopting the American nicknames given them when their Japanese names were deemed too hard to pronounce or remember. Chikako became Peggy; Kiyoko became Barbara. Not too much thought went into those choices, names sometimes imposed in an instant by a U.S. officer organizing his pool of typists. My mother, Hiroko Furukawa, became Susie.
There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.
Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)
I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…
Yesterday, Marc Lamont Hill tweeted, “I’m going to need all White people to denounce this ugly act of racist domestic terrorism.” This reading list is me denouncing the actions of a white supremacist terrorist, who visited a Wednesday night Bible study at one of the most important, sacred sites of Black religious and political freedom with the exclusive intention of killing attendees in cold blood. White people: we have to do better. We can’t deflect responsibility for this tragedy; we can’t blame this on mental illness (many of my friends and I deal with mental illness every day; none of us have murdered anyone). We have to demand accountability from one another and stand up for people of color—in the streets, in our Facebook feeds, in our offices and homes.
White Americans will not have to look in the mirror and ask, “what does it feel like to be a problem.” In the aftermath of recurring mass shooting events, and right-wing domestic terrorism, it is essential that they start to practice such acts of introspection in the interest of the Common Good.
In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Michael E. Miller profiled Andrew Jennings— a doggedly obsessed, “curmudgeonly” investigative reporter who helped expose the FIFA scandal that brought down Sepp Blatter. According to Miller’s piece, if Blatter’s downfall can be traced to a single moment it was when Jennings grabbed the microphone at a Zurich press conference after Blatter’s 2002 reelection. After the FIFA President was done speaking, Jennings asked a “deliberately outrageous question,” hoping to attract a source within the secretive soccer association:
“I’m surrounded by all these terribly posh reporters in suits and silk ties and buttoned up shirts, for God’s sake,” he remembered. “And here’s me in me hiking gear. I get the mike and I said, ‘Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?’”
“Talk about crashing the party,” Jennings recalled Tuesday. “Reporters are moving away from me as if I’ve just let out the biggest smell since bad food. Well, that’s what I wanted. Thank you, idiot reporters. The radar dish on top of my head is spinning around to all these blazers against the wall, saying, ‘Here I am. I’m your boy. I’m not impressed by these tossers. I know what they are. I’ve done it to the IOC, and I’ll do it to them.’”
The outcome was doubly golden. Blatter denied ever taking a bribe, which gave Jennings a great headline. But he also got the goods. “Six weeks later I’m in the dark at about midnight down where the river in Zurich widens out into the lake, standing by a very impressive looking 19th-century office block, wondering why I’ve been asked to go there by somebody I don’t know when the door opens and I’m dragged in,” Jennings recalls. “I’m taken into a very posh set of offices … and within half an hour a senior FIFA official arrived carrying a wonderful armful of documents. And it ran from there. And it still does.”