Sanity check? Find a better term

The topic of inclusive language grabbed my attention again yesterday when I caught part of a Slack channel exchange about something done as a “sanity check.”

Anyone close to the world of coding and computer science has likely heard the term or even used it without any idea of what effect it can have on others.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

It’s not my place to tell anyone what words to use or not to use, but as a writer and editor I do value clarity and effective language right along with empathy. I wrote something about why inclusive language matters back in January.

Beyond altruistic considerations, less than thoughtful word selection can prevent some of your readers or listeners from getting and understanding your message. Those of us who have experienced mental illness, either our own or through the struggles of loved ones and friends, might see something you don’t when you’re doing a sanity check.

One might flash back to the memory of a cousin who suffered from schizophrenia for years until she was beaten to death with a shovel by her schizophrenic roomie.

Another might remember checking a sister into a hospital in such a deep depression that she thought about taking her own life, or remember a young man who did just that.

Choose your words carefully if you want everyone to hear them. Alternatives are easy to find.

Check your language.

B.J.

What does a yard sign say about you?

In the months before the 2020 presidential election, every time we walked Red Dog to Golden Ponds and back we passed a house with a large Trump flag blowing in the wind.

Why does this arouse so much anger? The image is from this story about people being threatened by a neighbor over a yard sign.

The flag no longer flaps in the breeze but a little Trump/Pence yard sign remains nearby to this day.

Is absence of the flag progress, or is the sign a reflection of more stubborn defiance?

I always wonder what the people who live there are thinking. We nod and wave to each other, have met once or twice only to forget each other’s names, and we go on minding our own business.

The sign is a pretty clear message, though, as is the colorful sign a few steps closer to the ponds on the other side of the road.

Both tell us something important about our neighbors.

What do they say to you? What do your own signs and your own votes say about you?

The Missing Kite

Kalmo Bettis woke up in mid-snore from a rare midafternoon nap. His first thought was about the dream he’d just lost, hot seconds away from either carnal relief or more frustration. He rolled off the sofa, grabbed his service pistol from the coffee table and held the Glock 22 behind his back. Peering between the curtains, he saw no sign of either visitor or prankster who might have rung the doorbell. The street was quiet.

He opened the door and relaxed, then cursed himself for letting the lilacs grow so out of control that he hadn’t seen the kid. Bettis knew from experience that little ones seldom attacked cops. More important, he recognized this one. He hid the pistol in his waistband and stepped outside. “What do you need, young man?”

Bettis towered over the boy, who took a few steps back, ready to run. “I’m sorry to bother you, Officer, but my mom said I should report it to you.”

“Report what to me?”

“Somebody stole my kite.”

Bettis smiled and looked up and down the street. “I see. What’s your name, son?”

“James, sir. James Wagner.”

“I’ve seen you around. You live down on the corner, right?

James nodded.

“And how old are you?”

“Seven today. I got the kite for my birthday.”

Bettis sat on the top step and gestured for the boy to join him. James took a spot at the far end, leaving a couple of feet between them. Bettis shook his head, studying the row of houses on the other side of Blakemore. “Now that’s a real shame,” he said. “Some criminal stole your birthday present? Did you call 911?”

“No sir. My mom said that’s just for emergencies, like if my dad comes around.”

Bettis looked at him and nodded. “Your mom told you right, James. You listened to her. That’s great.” He reached over and gave the boy’s shoulder a pat, taking note of a slight flinch. “Does your dad come around very often?”

James looked down at his feet and shook his head. “Not much.”

“You have any brothers or sisters, anyone else at home?”

“No, just me and my mom.”

“Does he call?”

James shook his head again and turned to Bettis. “On my birthday. That’s about it.”

“Did he call today?”

“Yeah. He told me happy birthday and asked if I liked the kite. He said he dropped it off in the night.”

Bettis nodded. “And did you tell him you like the kite? What did you say?”

“I didn’t see it. There wasn’t anything inside the front door like he said.”

Bettis stood and locked his eyes on the house on the corner. A siren sounded in the distance. It grew louder. “What did your dad say then?”

James stood and followed the cop’s gaze to his house. “He started swearing and said someone must have stolen it and he’d get me another one. He wanted to talk to my mom.”

“Did she talk to him?”

“For a minute, then she said he couldn’t come over and she hung up.”

“And then what happened?”

“She started crying,” James said. “I told her someone stole my present and he was going to bring me another one. Then she told me to come over here.”

Bettis reached back and touched the Glock, reassuring himself that it was close. “Where does your dad live?” he asked.

“Over on Clayborn,” James said.

“Does he have a car?” Bettis stepped to block the boy’s view of the house as James described a rusting pickup that squealed around the corner and stopped. Close behind came a police cruiser with lights flashing and siren blaring.

James lurched down the steps. Bettis was quicker. He grabbed the boy and pulled him close.


This story first appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review in 2020.

Plague of violence hits Boulder

A few days ago our nephew visited Boulder with his parents to see the CU campus, where he hopes to go to college soon. From the roof of a building on Pearl Street, I pointed to where a star of lights shines on the side of Flagstaff Mountain at night during the winter holidays.

I was wrong when I told them it’s lit for just a while during those joyous times.

It came on last night – Monday, March 22, 2021 – to honor the 10 victims of mass murder in a grocery store not far south of the CU Boulder campus.

In a press conference just now, the Boulder police chief read the victims’ names and ages. Officials made a point of not using the shooting suspect’s name, although it has been released.

It will likely take months for the legal system to finish doing what it does. The county district attorney said it could take a year. We do not have to wait that long to name the enablers.

Note the flag fetish, too.

Among the most prominent and despicable enablers are the elected officials and others who refuse to prevent gun violence, who actively promote gun violence through their words and deeds, who fail to recognize the deep, deadly addiction to guns and their use that infests our society.

We all know who they are. I’ll name one here because I live in the congressional district he professes to represent when in reality he represents the National Rifle Association and gun peddlers: Congressman Ken Buck, Republican from Windsor, Colorado.

He is complicit as can be. His first tweet following the murders at the Boulder grocery store was about his prayers for the police. That tells you all you need to know about Ken Buck. Later, after being called out for ignoring the victims, he threw some prayers their way.

I will try to remember the victims when I see the Flagstaff star from now on, but I will remember Buck, too.

Peace,

B.J.

Rough beast

Sometimes you just have to stop and take the pictures. This guy made me think what rough beast…?

He (it?) wasn’t slouching toward anything, just standing there along the trail at Barr Lake State Park in Colorado.

Beauty is more than bark deep.