When true crime comes home to roost

burke-obrien-wanted-poster-750x562.jpg

So several years ago, as Serial was just making a big splash (or bomb depending on how you feel about not having a pat ending that explains everything), I wrote about Burke.  It feels odd to say "my friend Burke" because he wasn't.  He was a camp counsellor and trip leader that I never had.  He was the big man on camp and while I did do a trip or two with one of his younger sisters, I was never in his orbit.  

However, when someone is killed, the degrees of separation seem to collapse. Since Burke was gunned down on a NYC street 14 years ago, he has been Burke, the camp counsellor or "this guy I knew".

This is coming up for me because this morning a camp/facebook friend, who married one of Burke's sisters, posted a view preview of a new podcast that is coming out, Murder on Orchard Street, the latest true crime podcast/news experience that is all about Burke's death. 

My first response was to burst into tears.  I'm not sure why that was my response, but I bawled.  I think it was partly seeing people I knew (I don't pretend to know them now, but again those degrees and years of separation collapse when things like this happen), talking about something that I experienced at a distance. 

Not to make it all about me, but Burke's death was the first "big" thing to happen to me.  I don't remember how exactly I found out, but somehow I was at school (in my last year in high school), and someone I knew thought I should know.  This was before the days of social media so I think they sent me a link to a news article. 

I haven't decided whether I'm going to consume this product, but if I do it will be the podcast only.  I can't see images of Burke and his family, that is just going to push me off my orbit.  I know, from being a facebook creeper, that the O'Brien family has thrived and grown in the year's since Burke's death and so I hope that they get what they need out of this experience, because they are the only ones who matter on this. 

If you want to watch, it starts tomorrow, October 3rd. I'm sure you can find it. 

So Let's Go - This year's Word, well, phrase

Last year, I set an intention for the year.  Inspired by Cassie at Wholefully (formerly Back to Her Roots), I chose the word(s) Want & Action.  

Overall, that was a success.  I still struggle with WANT, and I always will, but I started to get the hang of this ACTION thing.  In the past year I've started doing things, I sorted through some of my digestive issues, made new friends, increased my activity level, developed new (good) habits.  And all of this has made me a happier person to be around, I enjoy my company much more than I did this time last year. 

I've had some setbacks and holdups, but right now I'm sitting in the sunshine listening to a favourite album (Gordon by the Barenaked Ladies and just now I switched to Somewhere More Familiar by Sister Hazel), looking at my cat snooze in his basket, having finished a good coffee, connecting with friends and family online, thinking about the good food I will be making to get ready for a week of work at a job I love. 

With all of this, I was looking for my new mantra/intention for 2017 and I thought back to what has been my motivation all fall (which for me feels like it was part of 2017 thanks to my job which makes me more like a school kid for schedule) and I was listening to one of may favourite new albums, So Let's Go by Alan Doyle. 

And then it hit me, that's what I need, more So Let's Go in my life. 

For me So Let's Go means - 

  • Making the things that matter to me
  • Doing things that matter to me
  • Saying things that matter to me
  • Being with people who matter to me

Rather than just thinking and wanting, sitting on the couch waiting for the world to come to me, I need to look at myself and So Let's Go myself into the world and into what I want. 

For me, So Let's Go, will be words that will help me do what needs to be done.  Whether it means getting up early so I can get in the pool so I can be a stronger swimmer and recertify my Lifeguarding Qualifications, or saying So Let's Go when I need to make myself a nutritious meal and all I want to do is pull a Skip and eat popcorn or when all I want to do is go home and have a Netflix and chill with my cat, I figure out whether I should So Let's Go out with friends or home with my cat.  

Also, So Let's Go is about trying new things, going new places and challenging myself to grow as a person.

SO for 2017 I will be documenting my adventures that come after the worlds So Let's Go here on the blog and on my Instagram.

Okay, here's to 2017 and So Let's Go!

My One Word: Want and Action

Authors Note: This is my third attempt at this post, Squarepace and Safari keep conspiring to eat it. However, in the spirit of this post, which I want to write, I'm persevering. So, if things don't make sense it's because I tried to recreate writing and I didn't have a backup.  Also, this time I wrote it out in Pages and pasted it here, because fool me once ...


I’m not one who loves the “New Year’s Industrial Complex”.  I don’t like crowds, champagne, loud parties or resolutions, which for me makes the whole December 31/January 1 transition not my favorite time of the year.  However, I am human so despite my understanding of how a person sets good goals, I’m always pulled in by a good blogger, with a good handle on how to photoshop words onto a poster and a great selection of hand-drawn typefaces.  So this year after having the idea rolling around for a while, I decided to identify a my word for the year. 

I was first introduced to the concept from Cassie at Back to Her Roots.  In 2015 she identified her word as “fearless” and the way she intended to use this idea in hear life was quite fearless and inspired.  As I thought about what word would best encapsulate the way I wanted to conduct myself this year I kept coming back to two words, WANT and ACTION. 

While ACTION is a typical inspirational word, WANT is a bit more out of left field, however for me it is an important in keeping me down the path I started down in 2015.  

In order to understand my words, you need to know a little bit more about me.  As a child my mother said, and still would probably agree, that I was one who got in trouble for inaction, rather than action.  I didn’t get in trouble for drawing on the walls, I got in trouble for “forgetting” about a school report until the night before its was due and I needed to have spent my weekend observing birds at the feeder.  In high school, the closest I got to getting in big, big trouble was not for sneaking out to a party, but when I didn’t check in when I took the car (with permission) to Girl Guide/Boy Scout camp and it was my first long, solo drive and the deal was I could do it as long as I let my mom know that I got there safe.   In the years since then I’ve developed a habit of “forgetting” things until it was too late to make them happen, like application deadlines. 

Hand in hand with that was a generally sense of apathy about the fact that I didn’t get what I wanted.  This was likely due to my general inaction.  Rather than realizing that I could get what I wanted if I advocated for myself and made it happen, I decided to not really WANT things, and accept what I was able to get. 

Unhappiness happens when expectations don’t match reality, so in my case I generally decided to manage my expectations rather than trying to change my reality.  

However, nearly two years ago I was working a dead end job. The details aren’t important, but my family helped me realize that I needed to do better for myself.  I managed to fall into another not-right job and left that just before my 30th birthday.  I decided that rather than managing my expectations down, I WANTED better and I was going to better.  By last spring I was making things happen for me.  I managed to get a job, still part time but in the field I did my Graduate Studies in, just by being persistent and making it happen. 

When my current position was presented to me in May, I went for it.  Finding meaningful work, that utilized in all the skills I’ve accumulated over the years, was something I WANTED, and while the opportunity could have slipped through my fingers by “forgetting” to send a resume, something I had done before. Instead I took ACTION, I sent the resume, and made the call, and went for the interview and somehow ended up having the most amazing summer and finding my way into a field that sometimes seems tailor-made for my interests and skills. 

So the best thing to happen to me in years happened because I WANTED something better in my career and I took ACTION.  So I want to carry these words formally into the new year and bring this positivity into the rest of my life. 

So how I’m planning on brining these words to life are a follows:

  • I am going to be honest with myself with what I WANT. After so many years of not wanting anything in order to protect myself from sadness I’m very out of touch about wanting.  So I want to actively look into my wants and pour through them and admit them to myself and document them.
  • I am going to be open about my WANTs and share them with the people in my life. Unless I’m able share my wants with those I love, and who love me, I am never going to make them happen.   By sharing what I want they can help me make a plan to get there.  Also, by sharing with them I make myself accountable to them to make it happen. 
  • I am going to take ACTION on the things I WANT.  I know this seems obvious, but I know that without this step, I will be behaving like I did in my mid-20s, starting to WANT, not getting it, and then giving up. 
  • I am going to persevere when the ACTION is tough to get me to my WANT.  As someone who “forgets” or readjusts my expectations when things get tough, I want to be the person who is able to get back on track and get to where I want to to go. So I am not going to let this be another thing I wanted to do, but couldn't quite get done.

I think this is the best approach I’ve ever made at the new year.  The year ahead looks bright, I have a job I love, co-workers I adore, a nephew who makes me experience a new kind of love I haven't felt before, a family who supports me and is so excited for me. I’ve never had a better chance making me happy in a way that I know is possible. 

Here's to 2016, may it be as good for you as I plan on it being for me. 

I plan to make some images to go along with this post, however I didn't want to hold up saying these things for some magical images I don't really know how to make, so I'm putting this out there and I may come back and share some more later. 

Something old, something new

It seems that everything that's old is new again in TV land.  The most recent zombie to rise from the grave is The X-Files, and I'll be damned if I'm not excited. 

I know I'm a little late to the game on this one, but I'm still getting the hang of this personal blogging thing (as opposed to my fiber arts blog Lone/Maple Studio) where I feel less compelled to talk about what's making me happy this week.

So, back to The X-Files.

I want to believe, that this new series will be good

I can remember the very first episode of The X-Files that I ever saw.  It was Mind's Eye, a standalone "monster of the week" episode, where a blind girl was able to remote-view through the eyes of a killer, and it turns out SPOILER ALERT (for an episode that aired 16 years ago) that the guy who's vision she is sharing is that of her father, who had killed her mother while the girl was in utero.  In the end the girl kills her father so she no longer has to share his vision. 

While generally considered a middle of the road episode, as a 13-year-old, it was totally scary and wonderful at the same time.  And I was hooked.  However, this was back in 1998, getting back episodes of anything was a challenge, and flipping expensive.  I would save up my allowance to buy the VHS sets that would have 6 episodes and cost $50.  I recently found my stash of X-Files on VHS in my parent's attic and donated them, well not the tape with Jose Chung's From Outer Space, because I wore that tape out.   There is something that my younger cousins (who were born after this episode came out and are now older than I was when I started watching it) have no concept of, wearing out a VHS, or please be kind, rewind.

Also speaking of VHS, I happen to have a copy of the finale (from 2002) at my apartment.  It was recorded by my friend Sarah (who has an AMAZING blog and is all around awesome person) because I was away that weekend at Girl Guide camp.  I think I was suppoed to give it back to her over a decade ago, so I will be sure to bring it to her next time, because I'm sure she has a VHS player to watch it on, rather than pulling it up on Netflix.

While this rambling digression doesn't really tell you how much I enjoyed the show but maybe my contributions to a website called Mulder and Scully's Bogus Journey might.  I was the Ara of Ara's Top 8.  Thanks to the good people at the WaybackMachine you can read this site in all it's glory, circa 2003. 

So there are few details about the new series, other than it will be a handful of episodes and will not be a reboot or a retcon, but a continuation of the series. That we last saw in the dreadful X-Files: I Want To Believe in 2008, a sad victim of the Writer's Strike. 

So much has changed since the X-FIles first graced our screens, the internet (as we know it today) for one, the size and reliability of cell phones, and 9 years and two movies fewer of mythology.  

The show is coming with some serious baggage, some of it called William Mulder (the magic child of ... oh never mind it will take far to long to explain), and some of it the foretold destruction of the world as we know it in 2012 by aliens.

Thankfully lots of the best writers have been lured back to the series, and so with good actors (Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man will also be back!) and good writers, this thing has half a chance of being quite enjoyable.

There has been some discussion of getting the band (Macavity, Ara, The Amazin Beardo, and The Nicotine Gum Chewing Man) back together, but there has been no consensus, as some of these people have PhDs now.  But I'm pretty sure The Amazin Beardo still has a beard, so all is right in the world. 

It's nice having things you love come back, and build on their universes, however after being burned by Arrested Development Season 4, I'm a little worried, but really it can't be much worse that "I Want To Believe" so I await the return of the X-FIles.

Just MAKE!

Last night as I was watching Much Ado About Nothing, the 2012 version directed by Joss Whedon, I was reminded of a quote of his. I think I first found this quote on pinterest, but it actually popped up on Lifehacker last year.

I recently read an interview with you in Mother Jones magazine. “Geek God” I think was the term they used for you. How do you feel about your success? What advice do you like to give other “geeks” with good ideas? — Jennifer Russell

If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.
— Joss Whedon

Then this morning I came across a tweet by Abbey Glassenberg, who runs the popular and fabulous While She Naps blog (and designs sewn soft toys, something I might have to learn more about now that I'm going to be an Auntie!)

And you know what, I need to start making and doing.  Rather than talking about doing, just doing.

Recently I was speaking with my father, who is a great advocate of just doing, about his experience on a board of directors for an organization that is going through some significant financial challenges.  One of his comments to me was that he is frustrated by the way that the board has a habit of discussing whether they should discuss their problem, rather than just doing something about that problem, or even discussing what changes they can make and how to implement them.

Far too often the board of directors that run my brain have this problem, where I think more about the work I have to do than actually doing the work.  This has been something that has followed me from childhood, just one mention of the "bird report" is enough to make me still fill shame, and trigger memories of other situations throughout my schooling.

Today, I work hard to not avoid the work I don't want to do, or am too embarrassed to ask for help with when I get in over my head.  As with everyone I'm a work in progress, but my latest technique for dealing with these situation is to just MAKE, in all caps.  

Thank you Joss Whedon, in addition to giving me some of my favorite TV shows (Firefly & Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) and being the glue behind the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka. all the Marvel movies) you have given the world a great clue on how to be important. 

Of course not everything he has to say is incredible.

So I'm working on MAKE-ing and best as I can, and now I have to get back to work, because I have some work to do!

Serial and the unknowability of truth

As a fan of podcasts, particularly The Moth, This American Life & 99% Invisible, and the Savage Lovecast, when the new podcast Serial was announced back at the start of fall I added it to my listening queue. I was quickly engaged by the story and Sarah Koenig (who I've always liked on TAL- This American Life) is a masterful storyteller and reporter. 

Today the last entry in the first season was published, and was the culmination of 11 weeks of podcasting and 15 months of reporting by the Serial team.  

For those who are unfamiliar with Serial, it is basically the podcast/audio version of the longform feature piece from a magazine told in serial form.  This first seasons story revolved around the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student from Baltimore, Maryland, and the story of Adnan Sayed, her classmate and ex-boyfriend who has been convicted, and remains incarcerated, for her murder.  The story was about, well the story of what happened to Adnan (as he is referred to in the story) since January 13th, 1999, the day Hae went missing, her remains were found a few days later.

Through the weeks we've been through the call logs, learned about cell phone technology, about the strange flasher who found Hae's body who was a potential suspect at one stage.  We learned about the mindset of Adnan's lawyer, who was censured for other reasons after his case, we learn about his "friend" Jay who seems to know what happened but his narrative of the day never seems to line up with the rest of the evidence.  We learn about what makes people snap, but also why some people remember what happened that day, even if Adnan doesn't.

However, the punchline of all this is that Adnan has been in prison for 15 years, rightly or wrongly.  And after the final episode, what we are left with Sarah's (the lead voice on the project) suggestion that if she had been a juror she would have voted for acquittal, because while he may have done it (she never makes a final ruling for public consumption of her own mindset), what the State presented at trial did not meet the burden of "beyond a reasonable doubt".   As well, she was left with a tantalizing clue about a potential serial killer who was at large during the period of Hae's murder, and committed a sexual assault and murder of a Korean woman in Baltimore in December 1999.  

What all of this brought be to is the true unknowability of truth.  Adnan says it beautifully, and morosely, right at the end.  The only people who know the truth are himself and the person who murdered Hae (Adnan has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, his incarceration and the podcast).  We as the public have no way of truly knowing if what we are getting to is the truth, if we know anything at all.

This story has impacted me for a couple of reasons, other than the obvious answer of it being a damn compelling story told masterfully.  I was 15 in 1999 and would have been a couple years younger than Adnan,, Jay and Hae (and the rest of the cast of characters).  I was in a new high school in Ottawa and for the first time was exposed to a greater diversity of individuals.  After years of living in very WASP-y communities I was able to meet and interact with students of Muslim, Jewish and Hindu faiths, and with strong family ties to the Middle East and South East Asia (mostly Pakistan, where Adnan's parents come from). So on one level I couldn't help but place myself into their world and imagine what it would have been like to have that happen to students at my school.

A second reason was that in January 2003, a guy I knew from summer camp was killed on a sidewalk in New York City and to this day his killer has never been apprehended, nor have any suspects been brought forward.  Burke O'Brien, who was from Chicago, was visiting friends NYC and interviewing at a bank in Manhattan. He was older than me, I was 19 he was 25, and one of the trip leaders and a golden boy. He was a jerk, but one of those people who's personality was so magnetic you were drawn to him.  And he was super cute, too.  His younger sister, Carleigh, was in my age group and we went on a couple of trips together over the years at camp.

His story garnered press attention from the New York Times and ABC among other, but nothing ever came of the investigation.  Burke, his sister Raurie, who I also knew from camp, and a group were headed back to where they were staying on the Lower East Side.  Raurie and others were in the first cab and had headed up to the apartment while the second cab, with Burke in it arrived.  The exact details aren't known but I had always heard that Burke went to get money to pay the cab and was shot.  Raurie raced down to the street to try to administer First Aid and he died in her arms.  Initially, the friend of Burke's was questioned, but then released, and since then there has been nothing.

I will never know what happened to Burke.  The only people who know what happened are Burke and the killer.  They are the only ones who get to know the truth about the thing.  Not his family, not his friends, not the people who saw the obituary in the paper.  

The sad coda to this story, is that Burke's father, in an effort to get some emotional resolution after his son's death, went to our summer camp in August 2004 for a trip in the woods Burke loved so much, and on the drive back from Temagami, Ontario to Chicago was killed in a car accident in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Law & Order, NCIS, CSI, Criminal Minds and the genre of crime TV has trained us to believe that all answers are knowable.  That there is a single truth, that it is findable, knowable and prosecutable.  This is not the truth.  

While watching these shows, we may know that they are fiction, that they are too perfect (as anyone who has had a family member undergo an autopsy knows, the results are not back in 20 minutes). For my uncle Leo, who died when I was in university, we were still getting the lab results, which substantiated that he died of a combination of an overdose, and the variety of chronic illnesses he had, they were never able to definitively declare a cause of death, foul play was never suspected by my family or anyone else.  My uncle had schizophrenia, he had managed throughout his life, however when my Opa died in 1997 he started slipping and then when my Oma died in 2002 he wasn't able to manage his condition much longer.  

I don't get to know the true truth about his death, but I don't need to.  However, by contrast to Burke and Adnan, there isn't anyone suffering because of our knowledge gap.  

I will be an enthusiastic listener of Season 2 of Serial, I enjoy the medium and I trust Sarah and the team to be honest telling of a story.  If there is any true truth to be known in their next story I hope they find, however I'm not holding my breath. 

Ferguson

As I sit here at my desk in Muskoka, I'm worlds away from the anger and frustration of the people of Ferguson, Missouri.  I am white and so is the world I exist in most of the time.  However, I try very hard not let my privilidge blind me to the realities of most of the world.

As much as I would like to think that the violence done to young black men across the United States, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice to name just a few, is a problem of backwards unenlightened buffoons of the Southern US, it is not. 

The kind of thinking that leads to people supporting the cops and wannabe cops (I will not take the focus off the victims by naming these perpetrators) who exert an unrelenting force on the everyday lives of black folks, and other visible minorities, is not limited to "those other people".  

Yes, there are many good cops out there, who respect the people they police and do right by their communities.  But as is the case so often, a few bad apples poison a basket.  And the racisim is not an American thing, as much as Canadians would like to believe it is.

Now, how does this all tie back to planning?  

Thanks to a great piece by Janee Woods at Quartz, "12 things white people can do now because Ferguson" it is easy to draw the connections.

In the piece, which was written in August following the shooting of Michael Brown and the original protests, outlines what those of us who are White, and upset/outraged can do now.  

1. Learn about the racialized history of Ferguson and how it reflects the racialized history of America.

Michael Brown’s murder is not a social anomaly or statistical outlier. It is the direct product of deadly tensions born from decades of housing discrimination, white flight, intergenerational poverty and racial profiling. The militarized police response to peaceful assembly by the people mirrors what happened in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.

Umm ... housing discrimination, white flight, police districting, that all sounds like things that planners have been responsible for over the years.  While today we would like to believe planning is a field where we can help cities and people work together, it has a dark history of causing the problems we are now tasked with resolving.

 Now, where do we go from here?

With the decision of the Grand Jury it is clear that while the cop will not be traveling through the criminal justice system. However, a new greater conversation is starting and I hope to participant in it.  To be part of remaking is a privilege, and because of my whiteness I plan on listening.  And to continue to examine my own privilidge and discomfort.  

Oh and stay mad, because the Grand Jury pulled a bullshit move, one that is highly uncommon (unless of course the accused is a police officer)