Sunday, July 10, 2016

Police State

I have nothing but empathy and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The overreach of police is an enormous problem that has me genuinely fearful. I don't believe this is a new problem. Just one that can finally be documented. So the time has come to seriously address this issue.

And I know I am saying this as the little white girl from White Bread Salt Lake City.

But, like many people I am sure, I am maintaining two parallel thought tracks in my head. This police aggression has to be walked back. But this violence against our First Responders is obscene.

And we should really be talking about guns.

But right now, I want to talk about cops.

I've had a long relationship with cops and First Responders.

When I was 16, I was working as a camp counselor at the JCC. One day, I took my group of six-year-olds on a field trip up the canyon for a picnic at one of our beautiful ski resorts. We were having a lovely afternoon, until about 2:00 p.m., when we observed storm clouds quickly filling the sky. Kids were ushered into the van, heads were counted, and hands were on noses as we closed the van doors. The skies opened up as we were pulling out of the resort. Opened up with a vengeance. We drove slowly, winding down the canyon road with the windshield wipers frantically batting away the quarter-sized raindrops.

Until we had to stop because the road had disappeared under a river of mud and rocks.

A mudslide blocked our way, covering the only road out of the canyon. So we turned the van around to head back to the ski resort, knowing we would be safe hunkered down in the summer-emptied lodge. Except that, only a couple miles from the lodge, we found the road once again covered with a river of mud. Once again, blocking our way.

Four counselors. Only one that could legally drink. None that could rent a car. Twenty five-year-olds. No snacks. And, by the way, no cell phones. It was 1988.

Fuck, I'm old.

Anyway, we found a little roadside coffee hut that catered to skiers needing breakfast on the way up the canyon and hot chocolate on the way down. It had maybe six tables sitting in a room not quite as big as my current living room. But they let us hang out there. They fed us grilled cheese sandwiches and offered us their phone to call parents to let them know we were stuck, but OK. One of those parents that I called was my own.

We were stranded there for hours. But eventually, we saw a police car pulling into the small parking lot. And in walked a man in uniform. And the first thing he said was, "Is one of you Elys Bank?"

My dad had called his friend, Salt Lake County Sheriff Chief Deputy Mike Wilkinson, to rescue his daughter. And that was what he had done.
My next encounter with Chief Wilkinson was when I got my internship with the Sheriff's Office during my last semester of college. I wasn't working directly with him, but I would see him daily as I went to the Administration offices. I was interning in the Public Relations office with some amazing officers, who took me shooting and trusted me to handle national press inquiries. Who let me ride along for SWAT trainings and asked me to write press releases.

They also asked me to put together the program for the funeral of Deputy Mike Welcker, who was shot and killed while trying to arrest a fugitive that had barricaded himself in his apartment. The assailant shot through the door.  The bullet shot at Deputy Welcker found a tiny vulnerability at the top of his Kevlar vest, directly under his armpit. It hit his heart. He died almost instantly.

I had never been around such sincere and profound sadness as the time I spent with the Sheriff's officers the week of Deputy Welcker's death. I'm not sure I ever have since. It still greatly impacts my feelings on police officers.

I've dated a firefighter. I've dated a police officer. Two of them, actually. I've a good friend that was saved on 9-11 when he was pulled to safety by a police officer whose name he never learned. I owe much to First Responders.

It's funny how life can come full circle. My new job is as the Instructional Designer for The International Academy of Emergency Dispatchers. I am developing training to support our First Responders. And every day, I get reminders of how important this job is.

Our world is very complicated. And becoming more so every day. What do we do from here? I have no idea. I do know, for a fact, that most First Responders are amazing people. People that risk their lives for us on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Missing Inaction

I've been neglectful of my blog in the last couple weeks. My apologies. But here's why:
I got a new, amazing job (more on that later), I got into a little fender bender that is taking a ton of time to remedy (stupid old ladies driving too-big SUVs and stupid insurance companies), and I have had some personal-life storminess (more on that way later, after things calm down).

But--and here is where I think you will forgive my absence a bit--I've been writing. And writing. And to the phase in my writing where I have to stop writing for a moment and be read.

Which scares the shit out of me. So I am going to go ahead and take the plunge by offering this piece for you to (hopefully) enjoy.

As a little background: Two Novembers ago, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo in which I produced 50,000 words that could be only charitably described as a hot mess. I titled it Trapped in the Badlands and Other Natural Disasters.

The title is the only thing about that "novel" that hasn't changed. It has evolved into a collection of linked short stories, where each story can both stand alone and enhance the over-arching narrative. Those very embryonic stories are what I took with me to the writing retreat in Ireland this last March. And it was there that they started to bloom.

The Hag of Beara

The Anam Cara retreat focused on writing women as heroes and the mythology that surrounds female warriors and deities. And that was what Badlands was missing. A warrior.

Brigid, Irish goddess of fire, poetry, arts, and crafts
So here it is. Wildfire. Any and all feedback is welcome. Just click on the link below. Now, excuse me while I head off to the restroom to vomit a little.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Great Adventure

I've had a few requests for some pictures from Ireland. So here are a couple, along with some thoughts:

We were incredibly lucky to be in Ireland during the Centennial Remembrance of the 1916 Easter Rising, Ireland's first steps towards independence from England. 

Sometimes, I really can conquer my fears (in the name of adventure).

I saw great big beautiful things. 

And little tiny sweet things. 

Grand beauty...

Painful history...

And my favorite room on earth (so far).

St. Patrick's Day was insane. 

Where should we go next?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Camp Jitters

I've got 22 days until I cross the Atlantic for adventures in writing on the Emerald Isle. And I've got full-on Camp Jitters. Because the Singing Over the Bones writing workshop--taking place at the postcard-perfect Anam Cararetreat--is going to include full-on legit writers. And I'm feeling nervous. I'm feeling anything but full-on legit.

I know I'm a writer in the most basic definition of the term. But (like most real writers, I can only assume), I am insecure about my work. My goal for this retreat is to come away with a half-way-decent rewrite of the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2014. I need to smooth out the rough edges. Buff up the story. Surgically connect all the pieces. Make it... well... a book.
I'm the Pinocchio of Communication majors. I just want to be a real writer. And that is why I have camp jitters. I'm sure you are familiar with this particular variety of jitters.

What if they don't like me?

What if I'm not good enough?

What if they steal my underwear and run it up the flagpole? No, wait. That was the summer camp after 6th grade.

I found this article from the Child Mind Institute*: 13 tips to get your child ready for summer camp 

Here are the tips they suggest to ease Camp Jitters. I will be replacing every instance of "your child" with "Elys" and "camp" with "workshop." Kind of like rhetorical psychology Mad Libs.

1)   Let Elys feel a sense of ownership over the workshop experience. 
I'm gonna own this.... I'm gonna own this.... I'm gonna own this....

Maybe if I keep saying it. Just like Cam Newton. Oh, wait...

2)   Help Elys get excited about camp. 
I've been packed for a month. So, yeah, I'm excited.

3)   Avoid focusing on what makes Elys anxious.
This is a tricky one, because I am feeling most anxious about the very thing that is at the core of this whole trip. The writing. I am not a nervous flyer. I know how to find my way with a map. My phone will work to stay in touch with the Kiddo. I'm only nervous about one think. It just happens to be THE thing.

4)   Don't trivialize Elys's concerns or offer glib reassurances. 
Actually, all glib reassurances will be welcome at this point.

5)   Focus on concrete details in conversations leading up to and during the workshop
Oh, the details. The beautiful, beautiful details.

6)   Reflect on your own formative experiences away from home and share positive aspects of them with Elys
One of the things I want to get out of this retreat is new perspectives on my writing. I keep finding myself driving my stories to a dead end. But instead of backing up and starting over, I think it's important for me to learn how to simply blow through those walls. I'm looking for that ammunition. I think I will find it in Ireland. 

7)   Go through "rehearsals." 
Pfft. I've been "rehearsing" my writing for years. I need to actually take it to the public at some point. Might as well be now.

8)   Don't linger at the bus stop. 
I'm going to miss my Kiddo so much! But I know he is safe and happy with his dad. 

9)   Make communication easy and accessible.
Anam Cara has WiFi and Verizon has an international plan. So, done and done.

10)   Have goals for each letter or conversation, so Elys will come away focused on how she is adjusting, rather than on how much she wants to come home.
But what if I never want to come home? That seems like the real danger. Especially in this election year.

11)   Try not to communicate your own anxiety.
I don't know about this one. Knowing other people are anxious about this retreat might actually help ease my own jitters.

12)   Help Elys formulate realistic, goal-oriented plans for making friends or toasting the perfect marshmallow or passing a swimming test. 
I've already solved the friend issue by bringing my best friend with me. I highly recommend that approach. As far as other goals go, my main goal is to sculpt my Badlands book into a form that I can share with other people.

And then, share it with other people. 

13)   If Elys has psychiatric or learning issues, don't keep them a secret.  
Oy. It has become more and more evident that I never do learn. But, most artists are crazy, right? Even if it is only a little bit crazy? 

Stupid fucking camp jitters. What if they don't like me?What if I'm not good enough?

But what if... just what if... I find out I really am kind of a decent writer?

I think with that, I will sign off this blog for a while, and move over to my travel blog. Where I guarantee you will find lots more insecurity and nervousness. And a lot of pictures of wonderful Ireland. Follow along with my "camp" experience at TravelPod.

*Let's be honest. My mind is not childlike. But probably right at home in an institution.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


The Space Shuttle program has an interesting place in my life.

In the late fall of 1982, one year before Sally Ride became the first woman astronaut, my dad took two of his girls (his youngest was just out of toddler-hood) to see the launch of STS-5, the fifth Space Shuttle mission.

And I remember it like it was yesterday. I was awestruck watching the Columbia accelerate to 17,500 miles per hour as it punched through the earth's atmosphere. After we could no longer see the rockets, we stood there, looking up, watching the steam and smoke and contrails dissipate. Then, we spent the rest of the day exploring the Kennedy Space Center.

Yes, I am the boy-like child on the left.

And, as we boarded the bus to return to the hotel, I made a decision. I wanted to be an astronaut.

Thirty years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff. I was watching that launch too.

For many people, they remember that day so vividly that they swear that they watched it happen. But, in 1986, cable television was in its infancy and hardly ubiquitous. The newly formed network CNN was the only station running a live feed of the launch. Hardly anyone actually saw it live. But, because of NASA's Teacher in Space program was taking Christa McAuliffe into orbit, NASA had arranged for the launch to be shown in thousands of schools across the nation. Most of the people that did actually watch the shuttle disintegrate were children.

And I was one of those children. I was in 8th grade and seated in our science classroom, watching the launch and listening to the audio from Launch Control. None of us had any sense of danger. No one yet knew what an O-ring was.

But even as barely-pubescent junior high kids, we did know something about those solid rocket boosters. We knew that they were built about 90 miles north of where we were sitting--in the small town of Brigham City--by a group of engineers from Morton Thiokol Inc.

Those same engineers that strongly recommended that the launch be scrubbed due to the unforeseen abnormality of extreme cold in Florida. They warned NASA administration that the Challenger might explode at launch.

It did not. It took a little over a minute to do that.

And, even after that day, I still wanted to be an astronaut. 

Then, on February 1, 2003, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated upon reentry after a 16-day mission. I remember exactly where I was when I saw that the very shuttle I had seen launch 20 years prior was gone. I was in the post office, where the TV was showing the footage on CNN. The first Israeli astronaut died that day.

Two of the five Shuttles were gone. Fourteen of the 355 Shuttle astronauts have been killed. The odds of a catastrophic Shuttle launch is about 1 in 100. And if NASA had offered me a seat on the next trip to space, I would take it without a second thought.

Twelve years after the Columbia was scattered over Texas--34 years after I was first there--I found myself at the Kennedy Space Center with my dad. Again. Only this time, with my son and my nephew. And we were all so excited to be there. We wandered through the displays, took a tour up to the launch pad, and had lunch with an astronaut.

It was so amazing to see my boys (and that includes my dad) so excited about the exploration of space. We learned about the science of space. We learned about the challenges engineers face in their quest to rocket humans out of the atmosphere. We saw gigantic rockets and buildings with garage doors eight stories high. We found out really cool shit. (Did you know that all the "smoke" you see when a rocket launches? It's not smoke. It's steam from the water that is released at launch. And it serves a purpose. It absorbs the noise of the launch. A noise so great that--without the water--it would tear apart the launch pad.) We all came away knowing that the sky is no longer the limit.

And you know what? I still want to be an astronaut.