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Las Vegas shooting: Remembering the fallen

The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history left 58 dead and more than 520 people injured after a gunman opened fire on crowd of 22,000 concertgoers during a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

As the tragic news unfolded throughout the day, families and friends spoke to media outlets to talk about their loved ones.

At least 59 people were killed and more than 520 injured in Las Vegas Sunday when a gunman opened fire at a country music festival

Charleston Hartfield

The 34-year-old was an off-duty police officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for 11 years.

Charleston Hartfield was a Las Vegas police officer. He was one of the 58 people killed when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas over the weekend.  (LVMPD)

Hartfield was described as a well-respected and selfless member of the community. The military veteran had a son and a daughter. As a youth football coach, he helped every player to excel, said Stan King, whose son played on Hartfield’s team.

Troy Rhett, another friend, said he knew Hartfield was attending the concert on Sunday. After hearing about the mass shooting, he texted him to find out whether he was safe. Hartfield never got back to him.

Hartfield is named as the author of a book titled “Memoirs of a Public Servant” about his career as a Las Vegas police officer.

Dorene Anderson

The 49-year-old was the second Alaskan killed in the shooting, according to her husband’s employer.

Dorene Anderson was from Alaska and was attending the concert with her daughters.  (Facebook)

She attended the concert with her daughters.

Her husband, John, worked for the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. The company’s CEO sent out an email on Monday saying Dorene was killed in the shooting.

Anderson described herself on Facebook as a stay-at-home mom interested in the minor league hockey team, Alaska Aces. She was a member of the Aces’ “Cowbell Crew.”

“Dorene was the most beautiful, kind and giving woman I have ever known. She loved her husband and girls with a passion we could never match,” wrote Gayle Simmons White, a friend, according to KTUU. “I admired her every action. She was an angel on Earth and will forever walk in our lives.”

Denise Burditus

The 32-year-old mother of two and soon-to-be grandmother from West Virginia passed away in the arms of her husband, Tony.

Denise Burditus was a soon-to-be grandmother and attended the concert with her husband.  (Facebook)

“Denise passed in my arms. I LOVE YOU BABE.”” her husband wrote on social media, according to MetroNews, a radio station in West Virginia.

Just hours before the attack, Burditus posted a picture on social media from the festival, showing herself and her husband smiling as they stood in front of the stage. It was the second time the couple attended the festival. 

Lisa Romero-Muniz

The 48-year-old was a beloved high school secretary and advocate for students from New Mexico. She was described as an “incredible loving and sincere friend, mentor and advocate for students” by the Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools interim superintendent.

Lisa Romero Muniz was a 48-year-old wife, mother and grandmother. She was also a high school secretary.  (Facebook)

Muniz leaves behind a husband, children and grandchildren, according to the school district.

Sonny Melton

The 29-year-old from Big Sandy, Tenn., died protecting his wife when the gunman unleashed a hail of bullets, his family told Fox affiliate WZTV.

Sonny Melton was one of the people killed in Las Vegas after a gunman opened fire on a country music festival.  (Facebook via AP)

“At this point, I’m in complete disbelief and despair,” the man’s wife, Heather Gulish Melton, told the station in a statement Monday. “I don’t know what to say. Sonny was the most kind-hearted, loving man I have ever met. He saved my life and lost his.”

Melton, 29, was a registered nurse who worked at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tenn., according to his Facebook profile.

On Friday night, Melton posted on the social media site that he was attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with his wife, an orthopedic surgeon.

The couple worked at the same hospital and married in 2016.

“We were the couple that never should have met, fallen in love or had a future together….but life is funny and we believe God brought us together as soul mates,” read their wedding page on the website The Knot. “We have shared amazing times together and nearly unbearable heartaches, but through it all we have grown stronger in our love for each other and our families.”

Jordan McIldoon

The 23-year-old Canadian died in the shooting, according to multiple media reports. He was days away from his 24th birthday. A fellow concertgoer, Heather Gooze, wrote on her Facebook page that McIldoon died in her arms, CBC News reported Monday.

Jordan McIldoon, left, was attending a country music concert with his girlfriend when he was struck and killed by a gunman.  (Facebook)

The man’s parents, who confirmed their son’s death to the news outlet, said McIldoon attended the concert with his girlfriend and had planned to return home on Monday.

“We only had one child,” they said. “We just don’t know what to do.”

Adrian Murfitt

The 35-year-old Alaska native died during the concert, a family member said Monday. Murfitt worked as a fisherman, and went to Vegas to attend the concert to “treat himself to something nice and fun,” his sister told The Associated Press.

Adrian Murfitt of Anchorage, Alaska, was one of the people killed when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas.  (Courtesy of Avonna Murfitt via AP)

Shannon Gothard described her brother as a man with a hearty laugh and a former competitive hockey player who still dabbled in the game. “His whole life was always around hockey,” she said.

Jessica Klymchuk

The 28-year-old was an educational assistant, librarian and bus driver in Valleyview, Alberta.

From Canada, Jessica Klymchuk, 28, was recently engaged.  (Facebook)

“The scope of this tragedy is worldwide, and we are feeling its impact here at home,” the division’s superintendent, Betty Turpin, said in a statement.

A post on Klymchuk’s Facebook page says she got engaged in April, and was in Vegas with her fiancé.

Susan Smith

The 53-year-old was a California resident who worked for the Simi Valley School District since 2001.

Susan Smith worked for the Simi Valley School District. She was married with children.  (Facebook)

“Susan was wonderful with the kids and the staff and was an integral part of the school community here,” said Jake Finch, the public information officer for the district. “She was the hub of everything that happened at the school. If a kid is sick, she’s the one calling the parents and no matter how chaotic things got here, she was always smiling.”

Co-workers learned about Smith’s death from friends who attended the festival with her.

Guidance counselors were made available to students and teachers on Monday. And when students were told, they took part in activities such as writing letters and making cards for Smith.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but it gives kids something to latch on to, to make sure they felt like they were able to help in some way,” she said.

Smith was married with two adult children.

Sandy Casey

The 35-year-old was a middle school special education teacher who attended the Las Vegas concert with her fiancé and a friend.

Sandy Casey, 35, was engaged just five months ago in New Zealand.  (Burr and Burton Academy)

Casey was an alumna of the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vt., and Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., said Linda O’Leary, a cousin of Casey’s mother who is acting as a family spokeswoman. The family is discussing setting up a scholarship in Casey’s name.

Quinton Robbins

Quinton Robbins, 20, was a University of Nevada-Las Vegas student described as easily-admired. He had a “contagious laugh and smile,” according to his aunt.

Quinton Robbins, 20, was a University of Nevada-Las Vegas student.  (Facebook)

“I can’t say enough good about this sweet soul,” the aunt, Kilee Wells Sanders, wrote on social media. “Everyone who met him loved him. His contagious laugh and smile.”

“Please also respect their privacy as this is a devastating loss that is incredibly painful for the families,” she added as she asked for people’s prayers.

Angie Gomez

Angie Gomez was a 2015 graduate of Riverside Polytechnic High School PTSA in Riverside, Calif.

Angie Gomez graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School in Riverside, Calif., in 2015.  (GoFundMe)

“She will always be loved and endeared by our Poly Family,” the school wrote on Facebook.

Rhonda LeRocque

Rhonda LeRocque, 41, was described as “one of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life” who attended Sunday’s concert with her daughter and husband.

Rhonda LeRocque, 41, attended the concert with her husband and daughter who were reportedly not harmed.  (Facebook)

The devastated family confirmed her death to The Boston Globe. Her husband and daughter were not harmed.

“All I know is someone started shooting and people are running and she got shot in the head,” Carol Marquis, LeRocque’s grandmother, told the Globe. “And we lost a dear, close, good person — one of the nicest people you will ever meet in your life.”

The woman from Massachusetts was active in her church and worked for a design firm, the Globe reported.

Jennifer Irvine

A San Diego “bubbly, vivacious, pint-sized, aggressive attorney,” Jennifer Irvine, 42, was set to do “good things in her career.”

Jennifer Irving, who attended the music festival with her friends, was a “bubbly, vivacious, pint-sized, aggressive attorney.”  (Facebook)

She reportedly spent her final moments dancing and singing at the concert with her girlfriends, TIME magazine reports.

“Jennifer Irvine, you are a shining light that will not be extinguished by a gutless coward with a gun. You brought so much joy to others, including me. You left this world singing & dancing, but far too soon,” wrote Kyle Krasta, a friend of Jennifer’s.

“You made this world a better place simply by your presence. So long, my dear friend.”

John Phippen

A father from Santa Clarita, Calif., John Phippen’s son remains hospitalized after being shot. But Phippen died Monday morning.

John Phippen’s son was also reportedly shot by the gunman at the music concert.  (GoFundMe)

“If you didn’t know John you surely missed out,” family friend Leah Nagyivanyi said on a GoFundMe page for the father. “He had a heart that was larger than life and a personality to match. You felt like you knew him for years the first time you met him.”

Nagyivanyi said Phippen “enjoyed the simple things in life.”

“Even if you were someone he had never met before but were in need, he was there for you,” she recalled. 

Thomas Day Jr.

Thomas Day Jr., 54, of the Las Vegas area, was at the festival with his four children. He reportedly worked as a home builder.

Thomas Day Jr. had attended the festival with his children.  (Facebook)

Neysa Tonks

Neysa Tonks, 46, originally from Utah, moved to Las Vegas 10 years ago. 

Neysa Tonks had moved to Las Vegas from Utah.  (Facebook)

Her brother said: “She was pretty much a single mother who raised three boys. She was a great mom and a great sister and a great friend,” who worked at the IT firm Technologent.

Bailey Schweitzer

Bailey Schweitzer, 20, was described as “the ray of sunshine” by her employers.

Bailey Schweitzer, 20, was among those killed at the Las Vegas country music festival.  (Facebook)

“If you have ever called or visited our office, she was the perky one that helped direct you to the staff member you needed,” wrote Infinity Communications and Consulting CEO Fred Brakeman in a statement announcing the death.

Rachael Parker

Rachael Parker, a police records technician, was shot and ultimately died in the hospital, the Manhattan Beach Police Department said.

Rachael Parker was a police records technician for the Manhattan Beach Police Department.  (Manhattan Beach Police Department via AP)

Parker was among four department employees who were attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival while off-duty. Another suffered minor injuries.

“She was employed with the Manhattan Beach Police Department for 10 years and will be greatly missed,” the department said in a statement.

Jack Beaton

Jack Beaton of Bakersfield, Calif., was killed while covering his wife from gunfire.

Jack Beaton was fatally shot as he used his body to protect his wife.  (Facebook)

His mother-in-law told KBAX-TV that Beaton was an “incredibly friendly, caring and loving” man.

The news station reported that he was celebrating his 23rd anniversary at the music festival, and when the gunfire rang out, he shielded his wife.

Jerry Cook, his father-in-law, said Beaton covered his wife with his body and “got shot I don’t know how many times.”

“She knew he was dying,” Cook said of his daughter. “He told her he loved her. She told him she loved him, and she would see him in heaven.”

Beaton has two children, Jake and Delaney, according to KBAX.

Victor Link

Victor Link, 55, was living in San Clemente, Calif., his sister told KBAX-TV. He was reportedly killed by the gunman on Sunday. 

Victor Link, of California, was killed during the attack.  (Facebook)

Christopher Roybal

Christopher Roybal, 28, was described as jovial and fun-loving, despite experiencing intense combat during four tours in the Middle East.

“He is a guy that could always put a smile on your face … after all the stuff he had been through,” said David Harman, who founded a company that owns the Colorado gym where Roybal worked.

Roybal, 28, worked at Crunch Fitness in Corona and Riverside, California, before he moved at the beginning of the year to help open franchises in Colorado Springs.

“As far as responsibility and discipline and work ethic, there wasn’t any question about him coming on board with us,” said Harman, who has known Roybal for about 4 ½ years. “He was a good hard worker, a grinder.”

“He was the guy who if your car broke down in the middle of the night, you could call him and he would come help you,” Harman added. “He is that guy who would find solutions, not report on problems.”

Hannah Ahlers

A mother of three from Murrietta, Calif., Hannah Ahlers was one of the victims in Sunday night’s shooting, her father-in-law told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Heather Ahlers was a mother of three.  (Facebook)

Ahlers, 34, attended the festival with her husband and other couples. She was fatally shot in the head when the gunman opened fire.

Dave Ahlers, her father-in-law, said she was a “loving, caring and devoted mother” of children who range in age from 14- to 3-years-old.

On her Facebook page, friends remembered Ahlers as a “beautiful person inside and out.” One Facebook friend commented that Ahlers “would publicly declare [her] faith on” social media, something that was striking.

Kurt Von Tillow

Kurt Von Tillow, 55, attended the festival with some family members and was fatally shot. His wife, daughter and son-in-law managed to escape the concert unharmed; his sister and niece were hospitalized but expected to survive, according to KCRA-TV.

Kurt Von Tillow’s family described him as very patriotic.  (Facebook)

“My brother-in-law was the most patriotic person you’ve ever met,” Von Tillow’s brother-in-law Mark Carson told the news station. “Guarantee you, he was covered in red, white and blue, with a Coors Light in his hand, smiling with his family and listening to some music.”

A memorial has been erected outside of Von Tillow’s backyard, adorned with an American flag and flowers. During a gathering of friends and family Monday to remember the Californian, the national anthem played.

“He loved to golf, loved his club, loved his family, loved his country,” Carson told KCRA. “He’ll be really missed.” 

Carrie Barnette

Disney employee Carrie Barnette was among those killed Sunday night, Disney CEO Robert Iger announced on Twitter.

Carrie Barnette was a Disney employee.  (Facebook)

Barnette, 34, worked at Flo’s V-8 Café in Cars Land in Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., according to People.

“Carrie Barnette has been a member of the Disney California Adventure culinary team for ten years and was beloved by her friends and colleagues,” Iger said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with her family, along with our support, during this incredibly difficult time.”

Iger also took to Twitter to announce the loss of the employee.

“A senseless, horrific, act, and a terrible loss for so many,” Iger said. “Tragic.”

Rachel Steiman, who told the Arizona Republic that she was best friends with Barnette, said her “whole world is devastated.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to get through life without her,” Steiman said.

Barnette’s cousin, Janice Chambers, described her as “the life of the party.”

“Always smiling, happy and upbeat. She spent many recent years caring for my aunt and uncle until they passed,” Chambers recalled. “She was definitely grandpa’s girl…She was also a huge animal lover.”

Stacee Rodrigues Etcheber

The wife of a San Francisco police officer, Stacee Rodrigues Etcheber also died in the Las Vegas attack, the San Francisco Police Department announced.

Stacee Rodrigues Etcheber was the wife of a San Francisco police officer.  (Facebook)

“With heavy hearts, the San Francisco Police Department today mourns the passing of Stacee Etcheber,” Chief William Scott said in a statement. “Stacee was taken in a senseless act of violence as her husband, SFPD Officer Vinnie Etcheber, heroically rushed to aid shooting victims in Las Vegas on Sunday.”

Scott said Etcheber, 50, was a mother to two children and a hairstylist in Marin County.

“As we grieve, we ask the public to keep the Etcheber family in their thoughts, along with all of the victims of this tragic incident,” Scott said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Etcheber’s husband had instructed her to run away from the scene while he stayed behind to help injured people.

Dana Gardner

Dana Gardner, 52, was with her daughter, Kayla, at the music festival. Kayla was uninjured, but her mother died during the attack, KABC-TV reported.

Dana Gardner attended the music festival with her daughter.  (Facebook)

Gardner has two other children as well, Anthony and Ryan, according to KABC.

“We are devastated and still in shock trying to comprehend what happened last night. My family and I appreciate the outpouring of love and support and ask for prayers at this time,” Kayla Gardner wrote on Facebook Monday.

Gardner had worked at the San Bernardino County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk’s office for 26 years, the San Bernardino Sun reported.

“She had a lot of knowledge. She was a great employee,” Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk Bob Dutton told the newspaper. He also described Gardner as a “dedicated public servant” and a “go-to” person.

“Everybody here is still in shock. They’re waiting for [her] to walk through the door,” Dutton said.

Jenny Parks

A kindergarten teacher from California, Jenny Parks was among those killed during the shooting.

Jenny Parks had planned a party for her husband’s 40th birthday next week.  (Facebook)

Parks attended the concert with her husband, Bobby, who was shot in the arm and is awaiting surgery on his hand, Jessica Maddin, a family friend said.

Bobby and Jenny Parks were high school sweethearts and have two children together. Jenny Parks helped Maddin start the group, Jessica’s Hope Project, which provides care packages to troops.

Jenny Parks received her master’s degree in education in May, according to People.

Dr. Steven McCarthy, Bobby Parks’ uncle, said Jenny was “absolutely beautiful and very intelligent, had a wonderful sense of humor and was so kind.” He said she loved decorating for holidays and was planning a birthday party for her husband for next week before she died.

“They were the perfect family,” he said.

Bill Wolfe Jr.

Shippensburg Police Department said on Facebook that Bill Wolfe Jr., “has been confirmed to be among the deceased as a result of the mass attack in Las Vegas.”

Bill Wolfe Jr., was a beloved wrestling and Little League baseball coach.  (GoFundMe)

“Please continue to hold our entire family as well as those affected across the nation in your unending prayers,” the department said.

Wolfe was a youth wrestling and baseball coach in the Pennsylvania, according to WHTM-TV. He was in Las Vegas to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary.

“This league is far more than a sports organization. It is a family, and that was so evident by the amount of support shown by our Little Leagues families during this unfathomable time of sorrow,” Shippensburg Little League said in a Facebook post. “We ask that you all help us keep Bill’s memory alive through your continued commitment to this League and the youth that Bill impacted on a daily basis.”

“His family will forever be in our thoughts and prayers,” the league said.

Cory Forrester, the booster club president, remembered Wolfe as “just a good guy.”

“He was a go-to kind of guy, a guy you could depend on, a kind of guy you could be proud to be around,” Forrester told PennLive.com.

Austin Davis

A pipefitter from Riverside, Calif., 29-year-old Austin Davis’ death was confirmed by his girlfriend, Aubree Hennigan on Facebook.

Austin Davis, 29, was a pipefitter from Riverside, Calif.  (Facebook)

“My love, I can’t believe this happened. You didn’t deserve this,” she wrote.

Erick Silva

Erick Silva, a 21-year-old living in Las Vegas, worked for the Contemporary Services Corporation, WJBD reported.

Erick Silva, 21, who lived in Las Vegas, was among Sunday’s massacre victims.  (Facebook)

Melissa Ramirez

Melissa Ramirez, a 2014 graduate of California State University, Bakersfield, was among the shooting victims.

Melissa Ramirez, of Bakersfield, Calif., was a graduate of California State University, Bakersfield.  (Facebook)

Ramirez lived in Bakersfield, Calif., BakersfieldNow.com reported. Ramirez’s family, according to a GoFundMe organized in her honor, is in “absolute shock” and are mourning Ramirez.

Brennan Stewart

Brennan Stewart was identified as one of the 59 victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting.

Brennan Stewart, 30, died Sunday while reportedly protecting his girlfriend from being shot.  (Facebook)

Stewart, a 30-year-old Las Vegas native, died while protecting his girlfriend, Gia Iantuono, from gunfire, according to WSLS.

For those looking to get in contact with their loved ones, please call 1-800-536-9488.

Fox News’ Cristina Corbin, Nicole Darrah, Lukas Mikelionis, Paulina Dedaj, Kaitlyn Schallhorn and The Associated Press contributed.

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Can growing up without a father be a gift? Jay-Z thinks so

For boys trying to learn to be men, the rapper and businessmans autobiography can provide a guide

Can growing up without a father be a gift? That’s how Jay-Z counterintuitively described it, in his autobiography. “We were kids without fathers … and in a way, that was a gift,” the rapper and businessman writes in Decoded. “We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves.”

If you choose the right inspirations, growing up without a dad can be a gift. But, as the title of Jay-Z’s album Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse suggests, there’s a flip side. Many of us who spend Father’s Day wishing we had somebody to celebrate with haven’t chosen the right influences as substitutes. We might not be making many choices at all.

I grew up without a father regularly in my life. I would leave my mom’s house every morning searching for what was missing at home – the role models who could show me how to be a man. Like many kids in the same situation – and many of my peers were fatherless – I found those role models on television and in music.

Jay-Z was one of them: the pre-Beyoncé Jay-Z of the late 1990s and early 2000s, big pimpin’ and trading disses with fellow New York rapper Nas. His tough-guy bravado, glorification of crime, flashy jewelry and videos full of dancing women captivated me. I tried my best to emulate him and other rappers. My friends and I wanted to use drugs and thought selling them was cool; we got into fights, skipped classes and in some cases dropped out altogether. Studying seemed boring when compared with the gangster fairytales we shared. Delayed gratification, which is vital to living life with long-term benefits in mind, was a foreign concept.

I have no interest in blaming Jay-Z – or any other man – for playing a role in my life he didn’t ask for. My father uniquely carried the responsibility of setting an example for me. But he, too, had fallen to the curse of fatherlessness. Born an orphan in Kenya, he was re-orphaned at 14 when his adoptive parents passed away. He persevered, working his way from an apprentice at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi to a chef at the Hilton Hotel in London by the time he was 21. When the time came for him to have a family of his own, however, the curse caught up with him. He didn’t know how to be a husband to my mom or a dad to me. He had no examples from his past or his present to provide guidance. Unlike the years my father spent training with other chefs to learn how to succeed in the kitchen, he had no role models to show him how to be a family man. It didn’t take long for my father to give up and disappear.

My family is not alone in experiencing the curse of growing up without a dad in the house. Fatherless children are more likely to use drugs or alcohol, repeat grades in school, become teenage parents, go to prison and engage in criminal or other delinquent behaviours. A 2013 literature review by researchers from Princeton, Cornell and Berkeley universities concluded: “We find strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing externalizing behavior [such as aggression and attention seeking].” The review also notes these affects may be more pronounced for boys than girls.

Evidently, it’s not easy to fill the void – but even easier to find the wrong influences. Kids today are exposed to a much broader range of media technologies than I was in the 1990s through which to find examples for what a “man” is. Online communities formed through social media and discussion boards can exert their own kind of masculine peer pressure: incel (“involuntarily celibate”) culture, which became the subject of international media coverage after this year’s mass murders in Parkland, Florida, and my hometown, Toronto, is an example of how young men can develop resentful, angry and self-victimizing masculine identities while having these identities reinforced by an online peer group.

Barack
Barack Obama greets attendees at a My Brother’s Keeper Summit in Washington, in 2016. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

As president, Barack Obama made it a priority to deliberately and strategically steer vulnerable young men away from the negative influences that affect fatherless kids. His initiative My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) galvanized foundations, businesses, local governments and community groups to promote a milestones-based example for young men to follow, including reading at grade level by grade three, attending postsecondary education and staying out of the criminal justice system.

MBK offered a way to identify healthy role models at different stages of a young man’s life without being overly exclusive in defining who and what a man can be. MBK was renamed just before Obama left the White House and seems to have gone quiet as a federal government initiative. It continues as a non-governmental organization.

My search for role models wasn’t as deliberate or strategic as Obama advocates for, but after years of trial and error I was able to find positive role models in community college and then university. In particular, professors showed me how learn to read and write effectively, built my self-esteem and encouraged me to find new peer groups. Professors also connected me with role models in books, such as Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and WEB Du Bois, who demonstrated the diversity of ways men can and do exist in the world. With the right support, not having a dad became an opportunity for me to choose positive inspirations.

A few weeks into my first semester at Yale law school, Jay-Z published his autobiography. It turned out he had transformed over the same period of time I had. In an interview about his book, he recalled the lyrics to one of his songs that I loved as a kid (Big Pimpin’) and confessed: “I can’t believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing?”

Today, Jay-Z’s example as a husband and father, detailed in last year’s album 4:44, helps me when thinking about how to be a good partner to my girlfriend and a good father figure to her son, responsibilities for which I often feel deeply unprepared. Knowing that others are fighting a legacy of fatherlessness in their own lives motivates me to continue believing, trying and learning.

For those of us lucky enough to eventually see growing up without a dad as a positive opportunity, the challenge remains for us to help more fatherless kids find life’s gifts and escape its curses.

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What 800 Nerds on a Cruise Ship Taught Me About Life

Adam Savage, host of the tv show MythBusters, has a workshop in San Francisco’s Mission District. The walls and shelves—pretty much every surface, actually—are covered in movie and TV costumes and props, some actually used in filming and some replicas Savage acquired or made. Every time I go there I turn into Rain Man, compelled to silently identify and catalog everything I see, names and metadata popping up in front of my eyes like in the Terminator’s head-up display. Gun from Blade Runner. Glove from Hellboy. Go bag from The Bourne Identity. Time travel watch from Voyagers!

At a party at the workshop one evening I find myself talking to a Noted Writer, familiar from magazines and radio, a star of a kind. She is sitting on the edge of Savage’s brown-felted pool table. I introduce her to Paul Sabourin, half the comedy musical duo Paul and Storm, and explain that I’m about to write a story about the fan cruise he helps organize, the JoCo Cruise Crazy, named after its cofounder and headline performer, singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton.

After chatting with us for a few minutes, Sabourin moves on, and I’m left alone with the Noted Writer. “Do you know what all this stuff is?” she asks, motioning at the display cases with her drink. “I have no idea what any of it is.”

“It’s kind of my thing,” I say. “You know, theref’s a lot of overlap between liking this kind of stuff and the JoCo Cruise.”

“Right,” the Noted Writer says, frowning. “Nerds.” She puts her drink down on the pool table.

It has been years since I have heard anyone say that word, nerds, with contempt. It’s been a compliment for, what, a decade now?

“I’m really sorry about this,” I say, reaching to move her glass. It’s wet; it’ll hurt the felt. And even though it’s not my party and not my workshop, I’m suddenly feeling very defensive.

Jonathan Coulton loves cruise ships. He loves the weird artificial mall running down the middle, and he loves staring off the back of the ship into infinity. That’s not to say that David Foster Wallace’s famously dark assessment of shipboard vacationing (“There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad”) is unfamiliar. The lanyard that holds a laser-cut wooden JoCo Cruise name tag around my neck came printed with the phrase “A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.” Inside jokes are the coin of the realm around here.

We’re sitting in the courtyard of a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hotel; our ship departs tomorrow morning. Around us, other cruise-bound performers are gathering—Grant Imahara of MythBusters is introducing himself to NPR host Peter Sagal. The comedian Paul F. Tompkins is filling a plate with nachos at the buffet. This trip, Coulton says, he might break his rule not to go Jet Skiing, but he’s not sure what he’ll do with his glasses.

Coulton has built a career out of self-released albums and podcasts. Gentle and bearded, he’s the “one-man house band” on an NPR quiz show and was the “contributing troubadour” for the magazine Popular Science. Coulton used to be a software engineer, a nerd in a cubicle, but he dreamed of being a musician—and unlike most people with those kinds of dreams, he made it happen. Perhaps more impressive, he did it without a record label, through persistence and online savvy, including a year in which he podcasted a new song every week. That heroic origin story resonates with white-collar nerds who feel their spark of creativity getting dimmer while they screw around in IT or at a lab bench.

When Coulton was at Yale and a member of the Whiffenpoofs, the a cappella group had a gig on a cruise. They befriended a blackjack dealer and cadged an invitation to a crew-only party, a whole secret world belowdecks. Coulton says the party was a sweaty, dancy good time. So maybe it makes sense that for the past four years he has run his own alternate world on a cruise ship. “We think of it more like a convention than a music cruise,” Coulton says. “Actually, I’ve never been on a music cruise. I should probably go on one.”

Coultons song Mr. Fancy Pants inspires an annual shipboard fashion show. Ian Allen

Fan cruises are big business, of course, but for Coulton it’s certainly not about the money. He’d probably make more touring. “I just think of it as a thing that is really fun and feels really great,” he says. “And it has continued to get more and more special as we evolve these traditions.”

Allow me to push up my glasses and explain what the people on this cruise have in common: The performers are apex nerds, primary exponents of nerd culture. Owing to his past as a coder, his heavy presence online, and the fact that his songs often involve supervillains and zombies, Coulton has an epic following among the geekily inclined. The other performers on the cruise—led by Paul and Storm, and including, among others, the musical duo Pomplamoose, musicians Sara and Sean Watkins, the creators of the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast, and Lego artist Nathan Sawaya—are highly relevant to those interests.

And the passengers? This convention at sea has grown increasingly elaborate. For this year, the fourth, 800 Sea Monkeys (as they call themselves) are boarding the Independence of the Seas not just for nightly musical and comedy performances. They are coming for the 24-hour game room run by Wil Wheaton (famed blogger, gaming expert, cast member on Star Trek: The Next Generation), hot tub “office hours” with author and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, and a semiformal dance where fezzes and tiaras are de rigueur. They’ll commune with their fellows at their own shadow festival of karaoke, off-the-books parties, and events that they’ve coordinated for months on social media and, while at sea, on fan-built apps that use the ship’s Wi-Fi. “It’s a very tribal thing that happens. They certainly self-identify as nerds and/or geeks. I prefer to think of them as ‘enthusiasts,’” Coulton says. “I’m not being modest when I say that for many people this event is less about me and more about the community.”

Indeed, as we board it’s clear that the Sea Monkeys unite around much more than Coulton’s music. They share a love of cosplay, gaming (computer and tabletop), and science fiction. A disproportionate number are scientists and engineers. When the onboard PA calls out for every passenger to muster for the mandatory lifeboat drill, one of the Sea Monkeys in my group imitates the whistle from the intercom on the original Star Trek series. Everyone in the crowd laughs in recognition. On the cruise, everything that once signified outcast status becomes the triumphant plumage of a culture in ascendance.

So: A ship of nerds, of which I am one. A secret font of geek culture. A pop-up community that inverts the classic rules of social hierarchy and celebrates new ones. Which should sound pretty great to me. It really should.

This is a partial list of T-shirts that I see on the JoCo Cruise Crazy:

Batman logos

Superman logos (slightly fewer)

Supernatural (a long-running TV show about attractive young men who hunt demons)

Welcome to Nightvale (a podcast about a fictional town with supernatural problems)

Famous scientists rendered in line drawings (“There’s a key on the back,” its owner says.)

Firefly (the short-lived space adventure TV show from Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon)

A Tardis (the blue phone-booth-shaped mode of travel through time and space on Doctor Who)

“Math Is Delicious”

Grimlock (a Transformer robot who turns into a Tyrannosaurus rex and talks like the Hulk: “Me Grimlock!”)

United Federation of Planets (Star Trek)

“Bookwyrm” (with a picture of a dragon wearing reading glasses in a library)

Rubik’s Cubes in various states of disintegration (melting ones, colored squares as Post-its blowing away in the wind, etc.)

“Back to the Tardis” (The Doctor from Doctor Who, but instead of his Tardis—see above—he’s standing in front of the time-traveling DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies)

“Fake Geek Girl” (on a man)

Minnie Mouse as a monster-god out of HP Lovecraft, with a green face full of tentacles

“Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain” (Harry Potter. Everyone on this cruise was Ravenclaw.)

“Old School” written in early-1980s-style LED letters next to a first-generation Atari joystick

A Tyrannosaurus rex being lifted aloft by balloons

Evil Spock (with the goatee) from the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” rendered in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Obey print

Velma from the cartoon Scooby-Doo, looking postapocalyptic and armed with a gun and a machete, alongside a ferocious-looking Great Dane version of Scooby and a Mad Max-style armored version of the Mystery Machine that’s decorated with subtle memorials to the rest of the apparently dead Scooby gang

And finally:

A Jawa from Star Wars armed with a katana, pulling on chains an armless C-3P0 and armless silver droid that otherwise looked just like C-3P0 (this is E-3P0, who appears briefly in The Empire Strikes Back) across the Tatooine desert, just like Michonne does with two armless zombies in the comic book The Walking Dead

I bring up the T-shirts not just because they illustrate, literally, the common bonds that nerds like to assert—Hey, I like the things you like! Many of which are somewhat obscure!—but because of how utterly ordinary they are aboard the Independence of the Seas. For the weeklong JoCo Cruise, those T-shirts are not a declaration of otherness. They are a uniform.

The esprit de dork doesn’t stop with the shirts. At a dance party early in the cruise, Hodgman and his friend David Rees—known for the online comic Get Your War On and the TV show Going Deep—share DJ duties. They spent weeks before the cruise perfecting their sets. As they work the Sea Monkeys into a pulsing frenzy (and as I drink more), a pattern emerges on the dance floor. Look past the loony variability—the couple doing the polka to “Ring of Fire,” the woman dancing with an illuminated Hula Hoop, the kilts and utility pouches—and you see the congruity: This is the most unabashed display of nerdness I’ve seen outside MIT. It is a skyscraper-sized boat full of people who were once sequestered and who are now calling the shots for modern popular culture. It feels like a victory party.

Two days later, as Paul and Storm’s main-stage concert is reaching a crescendo, Sabourin asks for the house lights to come up. He looks out at the crowd. “This is like the analog Internet,” he says. “I think tech support in most of North America is down by 26 percent.”

Big laugh. On the JoCo Cruise, Paul and Storm have just slightly lower billing than Coulton. And their big hit, the song everyone is waiting for, is “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament,” referred to colloquially as “The Pirate Song.” It’s a chantey, sung from the perspective of a woman whose husband returns from more than a year at sea and brings his entire crew to stay at their house. The punch line is that the next morning, the wife awakens to find seamen everywhere. (“There’s seamen here in front of me/And seamen in the rear/My God—there’s even seamen/Hanging from the chandelier.”)

Because it’s the Big Hit, Paul and Storm like to wind the crowd up a bit, get them in a piratical mood. They ask the audience to give them a big “Arrrrr!” Like a pirate.

John Hodgman, a correspondent for The Daily Show, is one of the cruises apex nerds. Ian Allen

“Hit us two times!” Storm says.

“Arrrrr! Arrrrr!” the audience shouts back in unison.

“Hit us pi times!” Storm says.

“Arrrrr! Arrrrr! Arrrrr! Ar!” goes the audience. Accuracy counts, right?

Sabourin is satisfied. “All right,” he says to cheers. “Let’s fucking do this!” And they start playing the song.

It is the kind of moment that should make you love nerds—the camaraderie, the reveling in the obscure, the punch-line-as-emergent-behavior. I should have been ready to hit Paul and Storm with e arrrrrs and maybe even i more. I roll pretty hard when it comes to nerd-dom (if rolling hard means having a custom set of gaming dice). I wore a Ghostbusters pin on my knockoff Members Only jacket for all of eighth grade. In college I worked in a lab where my job was to collect sea urchin semen for a study of intracellular motility. The only sport I have ever shown facility with is fencing. I once played Magic: The Gathering for 18 hours straight. I have a personal relationship with the Force, know what powers a Klingon starship, tried to convince my wife to name one of our kids after a character from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and one year at San Diego Comic-Con got drunk with the cast of Stargate SG-1. I cover science. For WIRED.

There’s a reason Mr. Spock resonates—he was a genius, he didn’t understand emotion, and even if a girl liked him, he couldn’t really figure out what to do about it.

By rights, the JoCo Cruise Crazy should be, for me, a comforting voyage into a world of geek triumphalism. But even as the dance party hangover ebbs, I can’t get comfortable with all this … overtness. I am already in the club, but somehow I can’t identify as a member.

Three or four decades ago, being a nerd was isolating, lonely. Maybe you found some solace at comic conventions or via the Doctor Who fan club newsletter (my dad got me a subscription), but by and large, nerds mostly got made fun of for reading too much and ate lunch alone. Lacking the ability to form an empathic connection to other human beings didn’t help. There’s a reason Mr. Spock resonates—he was a genius, he didn’t understand emotion, and even if a girl liked him, he couldn’t really figure out what to do about it. (Poor Nurse Chapel, right?)

In the wild, that kind of person stood out and was victimized for it—like everyone who doesn’t live at the top of the stochastic distribution. But then a weird thing happened. Somewhere let’s say in the mid- to late 1980s, the overculture started seeking out nerds, geeks, wonks, whatever you called them, because they could do stuff that was starting to seem important. They needed us. “A lot of the stigma is evaporating, not because of anything nerds have done themselves but because of a realization that the qualities of the nerds are useful for the world,” says John Scalzi, a New York Times best-selling science fiction writer and veteran of two JoCo Cruises.

At the same time, the increasingly ubiquitous communications technologies that made geeks valuable also let them get in touch with each other. It turned out they—we—weren’t eating lunch alone. We were eating lunch together, just really far apart. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, Multi-User Dungeons, the Usenet … suddenly we could talk to one another.

Result: The overculture started the process of absorption and commodification. Nerds became an economic bloc to be marketed to. And with some strategic improvements in visual-effects technologies, other people—snorks, as they’re called here on ship—could come to appreciate the pop culture staples that had sustained us through the dark years. Now everyone is into geeky stuff. Now all the movies are superhero movies. That’s how The Avengers made more than $1 billion worldwide in 2012.

Will Wheaton played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hes a cruise regular. Ian Allen

The JoCo Cruise celebrates that mainstreaming but also manages to feel special, small, and isolated from the real world. Safe. “It’s very hard living on the outside,” says Rachel Baker, whom I meet in the bar at the top of the ship. It’s called Olive or Twist, but because it has huge, outward-projecting windows, Sea Monkeys call it Ten Forward. Baker owns a bookstore in Alexandria, Virginia. She’s sociable, tattooed, nicely dressed. I’m not trying to be creepy—my point is that anywhere else Baker would not trigger even my fairly sensitive nerd-dar. I’d be wrong; she gets misty talking about being an outsider. The cruise, she says, “is so special. I’m really happy to meet more of my own people.”

I am not. Where the Sea Monkeys see community, I see epistemic closure. All the shared references and common rhetorical tactics don’t feel supportive to me—they feel almost lazy, as if the triumph of the nerds means not having to meet the normals halfway.

Down where the games are, a lower-deck cluster of three converted conference rooms, someone has posted a sign on the wall: SNORKS ARE PEOPLE TOO! (“We the undersigned pledge to be nice to snorks and to refrain from making snarky snork comments!”)

Snorks are people too. The sign is supposed to remind everyone to treat them compassionately, to not insult them or look down upon them for being Other. In other words: Don’t be bullies.

The performers’ chill-out room is a nice suite on deck 10 with a long balcony, a baby grand piano, a decently stocked bar with snacks, and a creepy skinless robot cat that meows and purrs. The performers hang there just about every night, well into the early morning. They talk about the performances they liked. And they plan future collaborations. Coulton’s wife, Christine Connor, produces David Rees’ TV show. Coulton wrote a theme song for Scalzi’s book Redshirts. Everyone seems to have been guests on one another’s podcasts, or plans to be. Scalzi calls it “a ferment,” but that doesn’t quite do the gathering justice. These are the nerd illuminati.

The performers admit, though, to being a little astonished by the depth and reach of Sea Monkey culture. John Roderick, lead singer for the Long Winters, old friend of Coulton and Hodgman, and costar of a podcast with geek efficiency expert Merlin Mann, describes the common thread among fans on board as a culture thing, being “resolutely un-negative,” possibly to the point of a disconcerting social relativism. “The central dogmas are ‘do as thou wilt’ and ‘be excellent to one another,’” Roderick says. “It’s like Bill & Ted.”

So why would something so cultlike grow up around Coulton? He’s charismatic, but he isn’t leading any kind of movement to overturn the jockocracy. “Jon is a futurist and a utopian,” Roderick says. “To him, ignorance is the enemy of enlightenment. If you just learn, your prejudice will go away.”

“Oh God,” I say. “It’s Star Trek.”

Roderick pats me on the back: “Next Generation.”

Which, a couple of days later, leads me to Wil Wheaton. I find him on a couch in the performers’ suite, drinking 10-year-old Laphroaig. Since Star Trek, Wheaton has had a successful run as a writer and video host, along with gigs on The Big Bang Theory and other shows. His take: “We tend to be an inclusive, enthusiastic, welcoming group of people. If we can turn a Muggle into a gamer, then we have another person we can play games with.”

“But there’s a certain audience-maintenance aspect, right?” I am figuring that a cruise like this is an alternative to, say, touring or promoting a product.

“That’s a cynical, business way to look at it,” Wheaton says. “I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t enjoy it.” He says his agent hates that the cruise takes him away from Los Angeles in the middle of pilot-casting season. Wheaton comes anyway.

But now I’m working through a checklist of possible explanations for the cruise’s culture. “So is it a victory lap for nerd-dom?”

“I don’t think of it as a victory lap. I think of it as a celebration of our ability to find people who share the things we love,” Wheaton says. “We did have to live in the shadows because the so-called cool kids were cruel to us. A lot of us who grew up in that, we’re adults now, and it’s important to us to make a world where our kids don’t feel that.”

That churns up a few shards from the archive, I have to admit. Getting made fun of for using big words, for reading too much, for wearing a Spock shirt to third grade, for—

“One more thing,” Wheaton says.

“Um?”

“Get our culture right. I am inherently distrustful of all media. There are still journalists who would try to make it a freak show.”

Wait. What? I don’t even trigger Wheaton’s presumably keen nerd sensors? I am rendered simultaneously relieved and lonely.

Even though Wheaton hasn’t pinged me as a friendly, his words have an effect. He doesn’t dwell on it, but he was a Starfleet officer serving under the legendary Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the USS Enterprise. (On television.) (But still.) Also, Wheaton sports facial hair that has a kind of Commander Riker vibe. So for me this is a little like getting a peat-scented scolding from both the Enterprise‘s XO and Ensign Wesley Crusher at once. It is all I can do not to say, “Aye, sir.”

When we get to Grand Cayman, I go on an excursion: snorkeling. I am a lousy swimmer, but I went snorkeling once in Belize, and after I got over the fear of drowning and the weird acrophobia you get from floating high above a seabed and the claustrophobia of confinement underwater, it was pretty fun.

Not this time. I basically freak out as soon as I get into the water, listening to my own breath in the snorkel get more and more ragged and irregular, flailing around instead of floating. I can’t seem to move in any direction except dangerously close to the boat or dangerously far from it. Finally I give up.

While I am sitting on the boat’s edge trying to convince myself to get back in—when the hell else am I going to be in Grand Cayman, snorkeling on WIRED’s dime?—one of the other people on the excursion comes over. She is tall and thin with cropped, multicolored hair (mostly blue) and a pierced lip. She introduces herself as Sara, but I already know who she is.

This is Sara Chicazul, famous among Sea Monkeys for, among other things, having sold handmade custom fezzes to other Sea Monkeys to fund her cruise. This year she also made buttons that said “Hi,” so people who felt lonely would know that anybody wearing one was someone they were welcome to talk to. Chicazul is not her real name, of course. She does her textile work in a mostly blue vernacular, and having been on the Internet since she turned 14, she has systematically removed her true identity from all social media. In real life, Chicazul works in retail in Vancouver.

When she came up to introduce herself on the snorkeling boat, I looked alone, out of place, and frightened. I looked like a fucking nerd on a boat. She walked over to make that OK. And even though I sort of realize what she is doing, and in my head am making noises like, “Oh, no, right, I see, but I’m totally fine, and I’m not part of this because in my bag there is a notebook and I’m really just here as a reporter, though on the other hand thank you,” what I in fact say is my name, and we chat about how she got started making fezzes.

Looking back on it I have to think that Chicazul coming up to me, hair dye running down her forehead, shivering in the breeze, wearing the only articles of clothing she’d packed that she hadn’t made—bathing suit and a borrowed T-shirt—was just about the sweetest thing ever. “I was making a really aggressive goal this time of, if I don’t know someone, to walk over and introduce myself,” Chicazul later tells me.

After we talk on the snorkeling boat I go back in the water. It’s fun.

Peter Sagal, host of the NPR game show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, is built like a quad ATV. He’s an avid runner—he leads jogs every morning around the track on the Independence‘s upper deck. The group eventually dubs itself “Wait, Wait, Don’t Lap Me.”

Sagal’s big performance is a monologue, a reading accompanied by Sara Watkins playing a mournful pseudo-This American Life fiddle. It is a story of how he and his nerd friends used to try to “pass,” to not appear as nerds. “We studied sports,” he says. “We learned to laugh like a normal person, which is ‘ha, ha,’ not the nerd way, which is ‘that’s very amusing.’” Eventually, jocks raided his D&D game, but the nerds fought back—he calls it, to laughter, the Short Hills Riot—“the start of the nerd liberation movement.” The Sea Monkeys impress him, he says, because they are “proud. You’re out.”

Stipulated: Push on Sagal’s analogy too hard and it’ll break. No country has ever made nerdery punishable by imprisonment or death. No one has ever said that their religious text prohibits nerdy behavior. It has always been legal for nerds to get married. But still, Sagal is onto something.

Growing up, I wasn’t exactly proud and out myself. I tamped it down. In response to my own inability to function in polite society as a nerd, and in response to society’s inability to be polite to me, I tried to dress better. I learned to read cues to someone’s emotional state through observation and learned to manifest my own emotions in a believable way. I stopped quoting Ghostbusters all the time (mostly), and I tried to quit being such an arrogant jerk. Anybody at all close to me wouldn’t be fooled, but for purposes of casual consumption? I went into the closet.

When I was old enough, I channeled all that wariness, curiosity, and observational ability—the classic combination of chutzpah and insecurity—into a job. And now, even on a cruise ship full of my people, I hold up a notebook, force-field-like, between them and me.

My experience is hardly unique. One night I follow a bunch of the performers to the all-day buffet upstairs for dinner; they are playing hooky from their command table in the formal dining room. Todd Cooper, Sara Watkins’ husband, talks about having done the same thing I did—getting out of the nerd stuff, putting on nicer clothes. He plays in a band and suggests that some of the older nerds with the deep signifiers, the long greasy hair and weird beards and Bajoran nose piercings or whatever, are the equivalent of old punks, guys who are still trying to say fuck you to the Man. They choose to be Other.

So I’m … what? A sellout, an Uncle Tom, a “confirmed bachelor.” Hiding my true self.

I have, in fact, packed my own perfect T-shirt—dark blue with two winged B’s facing each other, an insignia from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. I could wear that shirt on the street and people would assume it was a band or a startup. But here? It would be … apposite.

And yet, once aboard the boat, I shove the shirt into the bottom drawer of the slick built-in cabinet system in my cabin and bury it under shorts. I put in my contact lenses. I exercise assiduously, wear linen slacks and nice shirts, shave every day. Amid ponytailed gamers and Magic-playing coders, my snork disguise stays zipped up and buttoned. Mostly.

Everybody does the conga on the JoCo Cruise. Ian Allen

The night of the big formal dance, the game room is buzzing. A Sea Monkey has set up a table to sell earrings she made from 20-sided dice. Somewhere a couple of guys are running a clinic for tying bow ties. Chicazul is here too, putting the finishing touches on her outfit, fitting grommets into a corset, trying to coax a little more oomph out of her portable sewing machine. As they do for a lot of Sea Monkeys, these cruises inspire creativity in her. “On the first trip I forgot a hammer and had to ask my steward to find one,” she says. “But now I have my travel grommeting kit.” People keep coming up to show her the fezzes she made for them, but she doesn’t evince any annoyance. One guy has one he made with long green flippers coming off the side and a single eyeball on a stalk coming out of the top.

“Is that a Lovecraftian tentacle or a dianoga?” I ask.

“What’s that?” Chicazul says.

“The dianoga was the trash compactor monster in Star Wars,” I say, regretting nothing. The mask has slipped; I couldn’t resist the impulse to nerdsplain.

Chicazul and everyone else is right about how gosh-darned nice everyone is. I mean, of course you still get the maladjusted dude with the dandruff-flake-crusted shoulders who, upon seeing a woman with a tattoo on the nape of her neck of a Japanese character and paw prints, walks over, invades her personal space, stares at the tattoo, and after way too long finally says, “I get it. Dogs,” and then wanders off. But at the same time there’s a programmer who has been on all four cruises and this year has brought his son, a recent college grad. There’s a guy in a perfectly nice gray suit with a white pocket square and a Star Trek insignia lapel pin. Also a guy dressed like a pirate, and the single best Doctor Who scarf I have ever seen. Turns out its owner made it himself. When I ask him about it he says, “You don’t put this much effort into it without getting it right.” But by then I can’t quite hear anyone, because we’re opposite the ship’s karaoke lounge and a Sea Monkey is singing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” but with lyrics based on Battlestar Galactica. “Adama! Oooh oooh! You’re almost the man we need!” “She’s just a skin job—nobody loves her.”

Finally we all make our way into the theater for the annual Paul F. Tompkins Memorial Mustache JoCo Live Band Formal Fezstravaganza Karaoke Night. Which is to say, Coulton’s fans sign up ahead of time to sing Coulton’s songs, accompanied live by Coulton and his band. To me, this sounds like an ironic Twilight Zone hell for musicians: forced to watch amateurs mangle their life’s work while they play along. But not only does Coulton do it every year, he cues nervous singers and speeds up or slows down for their tempo and dropped measures. When one fan forgets a lyric, the band plays around the gaffe. Coulton covers, prompts him with the words, and when the song ends sidelongs to the audience that “it’s just like a Jonathan Coulton show.”

After the karaoke ends, I walk with Coulton while he totes his guitar aft. “You must have the most Zen-like self-abnegation of ego and self,” I say.

“I have an entire cruise named after me,” Coulton answers. “I think I’m a pompous ass. Anyway, I love it. It lets me focus on my guitar-playing. That was the best set I’ve ever played.”

That right there is how Coulton could assemble such devout fans. In fact, it demolishes my earlier hypothesis. This cruise isn’t a victory lap. It’s more like communal worship—of the performers, and of each other. Sara Watkins tried to tell me earlier, but I hadn’t understood: “There’s something sacred about singing together,” she said. Coulton and Paul and Storm might have sparked something with their vague convocation to the faithful—be nice, be creative, be accepting—but upon that rock and roll the fans have built a church.

So I suppose that makes Chicazul a bishop. The day after JoCo karaoke I catch her in Ten Forward. And indeed, she is thinking about dogma. Chicazul has heard, for example, that some adherents worry that 800 people is too many. This cruise isn’t as intimate as the first one, which had only 300. She sees that, to first-timers, even she might seem unapproachable, “because I’m dressed as a princess,” she jokes. (Except Cinderella’s slipper wasn’t a Vibram FiveFingers shoe.)

Hence the buttons she made that say “Hi,” which she handed out at the cruise’s start: Creating an in-crowd among the Sea Monkeys would run counter to the spirit that made Chicazul fall in love with the cruise in the first place. “The thing about the Sea Monkeys that makes them special is the welcoming environment, open to new ideas, differences in people, trying new things,” she says. “And welcoming people who aren’t normally welcomed.” That’s what she felt on her first cruise, a feeling of belonging so powerful that on the last night she didn’t go to bed—she didn’t want it to end. “I am an introvert. I assumed when I first met a person that they didn’t want to talk to me and had better things to do,” Chicazul says. “After my first cruise, when we stayed in touch online, everyone told me they liked me. After a year of that I started to believe it. It made it easier for me to do things without worrying about other people’s opinions. Now I will never be alone.” There’s no zealot like a convert.

She wants to quit her job, do something more creative—like Coulton did. Never mind the messy facts about how he was already a singer, went to an Ivy League school, and was close friends with Hodgman while he was riding a fame trajectory. The salient point is that he’s nice, self-effacing, and changing his life with nerdiness. “The story of it is very compelling to a certain type,” Chicazul says. “Frustrated creatives—dreamers with a positive outlook. Those are the fan base.”

She’s already planning her outfits for next year’s cruise.

When the boat docks, I run like hell. I wheel my bag down the gangplank, fall into a cab, and head for the airport even though my flight doesn’t leave until much later in the day. I slept for just about six hours out of the prior 48, and the Florida sunshine feels like concertina wire in my eyes. Quiet time in an air-conditioned airport terminal promises to be therapeutic.

I’m sitting in the boarding lounge, glazing over, when a gate agent starts calling for departure on another plane. “Now boarding,” she says, “group A. A as in Aquaman.”

I look toward the agent’s podium. I want to see her face. Is she teasing?

“Group B,” she says, “as in Batman.” She sticks with the theme. C as in Captain America. D as in Daredevil. E as in—going obscure here—Elektra. I start looking around the terminal to see if anyone is wearing a nerd T-shirt. How can she tell? After a week of JoCo cruising I feel like I know every face from the trip, and I don’t see any of them. Nothing about me indicates where I have just come from. She can’t be pandering.

And yet I sit there wondering if she’s making fun of me.

If the JoCo Cruise is a church, I am apostate. That’s why I couldn’t stop worrying and love the Sea Monkeys. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a nerd anymore. It was that I did. Or rather, that I already, inescapably, was. That boat and those people? They were my hometown.

Like everyone’s hometown, mine embarrasses me. I have worked hard to lose my accent. I know every back-alley shortcut and every bit of secret gossip. I couldn’t leave soon enough. I miss it ferociously. I’m always happy to meet natives and always trying to avoid them. I’ll defend it with my life against any threat, even when I’m wrong.

So here I am in this Podunk airport, exhausted, and now crying—not at being made fun of but for having jumped to the conclusion, as I always used to, that I was being made fun of. And I realize: It’s not that you can’t go home again. It’s that you never really leave.

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Why your Facebook friends are checking in at Standing Rock

(CNN)Protesters are using a new weapon in their push to block the Dakota Access Pipeline: Facebook.

By Monday, hundreds of thousands of people had checked in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation on the social networking site.
    But many of them weren’t anywhere near the location where demonstrators have been picketing the controversial $3.7 billion pipeline.
    A post circulating on Facebook gave one possible explanation for the surge in activity, claiming that the mass check-ins were organized to prevent local law enforcement from tracking protesters on social media.
    The sheriff’s department denied that accusation on Monday, calling it “absolutely false.”
    Protest organizers could not be immediately reached for comment.

    Sparring on social media

    A court decision allowing construction of the oil pipeline across four states hasn’t dampened demonstrators’ furor over the project. The developer calls it an economic boon that will make the US less dependent on imported oil. But protesters — including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — say it threatens the environment and will destroy Native American burial sites, prayer sites and artifacts.
    The Standing Rock Sioux reservation straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota, and the projected path of the pipeline is near the reservation’s northeast corner.

    An advocacy group that supports the pipeline has argued that the project does not cross into the tribe’s reservation. The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now also said 100% of the affected landowners in North Dakota, where part of the tribe lives, voluntarily signed easements to allow for construction.
    Authorities and demonstrators have accused each other of using aggressive tactics during the protests, which boiled over last week when authorities clashed with protesters and arrested more than 140 people.
    And both sides have used social media to make their case.

    Showing solidarity

    By Monday afternoon, more than 600,000people had checked in at Standing Rock, according to Facebook.
    Some shared messages expressing solidarity with the protesters.
    Others copied and pasted a post criticizing “corporate enterprises that have deceived this country and stolen our freedom in exchange of profits and materialistic want.”

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    Logan Suicide Forest Paul Attempts to Save Career by Helping a Tiny Dog Cross a River, Pledging $1M

    Logan Paul has returned to YouTube after a three-week hiatus from social media following outrage after he filmed the body of a suicide victim for his vlog.

    The famed YouTube star with over 26 million followers on social media uploaded a somber, seven-minute video on Wednesday afternoon titled Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow.

    In it, he interviews Kevin Hines, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in an attempted suicide, and speaks with the founder of Alo House Recovery rehab center as well as the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

    Paul also pledged to donate $1 million to various suicide prevention organizations "with the first $250,000 going immediately to the national suicide prevention lifeline so that they can increase their capacity to help those in need," he said.

    The video was a departure from his normal daily vlogs, which consist mainly of stunts, pranks, and various adventures.

    In his comeback video, corny piano music plays softly in the background as Paul strolls through what appears to be a Japanese garden.

    There are several shots of him walking through the grass pensively, turning pebbles over in his hand, and at one point helping a tiny dog cross a river.

    "Kevin Hines is one of the many incredible people who I have met over the past three weeks as I aim to further understand the complexities surrounding suicide," Paul said. "I know I've made mistakes, I know I've let people down. But what happens when you're given an opportunity to help make a difference in the world."

    "It's time to learn from the past and get as I get better and grow as a human being. I'm here to have a hard conversation so that those who are suffering can have easier ones," he continued.

    Paul said that he knows he won't single handedly solve the problem of suicide, but that he wants "to be a part of the solution."

    "I think as a society and as human beings, we just have to be more compassionate. And that includes me too," he said.

    In the video he also lists five steps that anyone can take to prevent suicide, including reaching out for help.

    "For those who are watching I want you to know you are not alone, and most of the time crisis passes. So if you or anyone you know feels alone or trapped I encourage anyone to call or text the suicide or crisis hotline. Both of those numbers are below," he said.

    His fans, many of whom never abandoned him after his offensive behavior, were quick to congratulate him on his "lessons learned."

    "I just watched @LoganPaul's new video. As someone who has personally attempted suicide on 5 different occasions, this video speaks to me," one fan said.

    "I'm 23, not even a Logan Paul fan, but liked his video and he certainly redeemed himself with it," another person said on Twitter.

    Fellow YouTube star and former Viner Curtis Lepore‏ also congratulated Paul on Twitter saying, "Proud of you for this."

    "We all make mistakes, that includes myself, my father. Everyone. It's how you learn from those mistakes and grow from what you learned that we truly get to see what kind of a person you really are," Michael Green‏, another YouTuber with over 2 million followers on the platform, tweeted. "I see the growth and I see you really trying. Welcome back <3,"

    Other YouTubers were more skeptical.

    "@LoganPaul has a long way to go and people are right to continue to question his motives but today's video was a thoughtful first step," vlogger Casey Neistat said on Twitter. "Hopefully this is part of a true effort to move on from sensationalist content."

    "First off thank you for your video on suicide awareness. Trust, we are grateful you used your platform to teach your audience about an important issue, but let's take a step back here, and look behind the PR team that made this," said YouTuber and Feast Of Fiction host Jimmy Wong.

    "After you posted a vlog to 6 million views using a suicide victim's body and image as clickbait, we started diving into your past videos/tweets to see the number of ways you have continually treated and used other people as props and accessories for your success/attention," he continued.

    "The MAIN issue, obviously, was not just this single case of your gross usage of a suicide victim, but rather that you have a behavioral and mental problem to do this sort of thing non stop. It's been continually happening for your entire career and we finally slowly realized it."

    Paul's return to YouTube has been a topic of hot debate within the YouTube community.

    On January 2nd Paul posted a vlog where he tearily admitted he should have never posted the video in the first place and that if he could do it all over again he would have put down his camera. "There were a lot of things I should have done differently, but I didn't," he said. "And for that, from the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry."

    On January 16th Paul told a reporter from TMZ that he believes he deserves a second chance.

    Earlier this week, a leaked screenshot of a white board from an apparent planning session listed Wednesday as the date Paul would return to the internet along with the name "Ellen" which some fans took to mean he would appear on the Ellen show. An Ellen rep denied they had any plans to book the social media star, according to BuzzFeed.  

    His younger brother, social media star Jake Paul, spoke out on the controversy on Tuesday in a vlog where he said that what his brother had done was "very wrong" but that he believes Logan has learned a lesson from the experience.  

    YouTube scaled back its business relationship with Paul in response to the controversy.

    The platform removed him from its Google Preferred advertising program, slashing the revenue he's able to generate from ads on his channel.

    The platform also placed the star's YouTube Red projects on hold and said it was exploring "further consequences."

    YouTube also rolled out sweeping changes to its partner program last week, which several smaller YouTubers felt were sparked by Paul's. behavior.' The platform pledged that content on all its top channels would now be manually reviewed by humans in an effort to remove problematic content on the platform preemptively before it spreads.

    But though Logan Paul's actions were inexcusable, his video featuring a dead body was only a degree more offensive than plenty of other content on his channel.

    In the never ending quest for views and engagement on YouTube, vloggers have slowly been upping the ante and attempting to out shock their viewers and each other for years. Paul's "suicide forest" video was simply the culmination of this toxic culture.

    Though Paul may currently be in the midst of a redemption campaign, it's likely that his videos will eventually devolve into the type of drama-filled lifecasts that the YouTube algorithm still favors.

    As Julia Alexander at Polygon notes, Paul's video today was simply a crucial first step to getting his vlogging career back on track.

    "In the weeks that follow, Logan will be more reserved as he gets back to building up the channel that won him more than 15 million subscribers," Alexander predicts "But as the months go on and other YouTubers become the topic of conversation, Logan will return to the jokester that he was before everything came to a sudden halt."

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    ‘Bachelor’ Contestants Respond To Claims That Their Love Is A Publicity Stunt

    Yes, two “Bachelor” contestants found love with each other. No, they’re not doing it for the publicity. 

    Megan Marx and Tiffany Scanlon appear on the January 2017 cover of Maxim Australia after being named “Couple of the Year.” The two revealed that their relationship turned into more than just a friendship before “The Bachelor Australia” even aired earlier this year. One of the “funniest” and most pervasive rumors they’re heard thus far is that their romance is only for “publicity or money.”

    “I think without people properly knowing us, and seeing us together, it can all seem a bit ‘too good to be true,’” Marx told Maxim. “Some people can be fairly negative, but there is also so much support so we are trying to focus on that.” 

    “Usually we just say, ‘OK, you can think what you like,’” Scanlon addd. “I don’t have the time or energy to spend trying to convince the critics that we are together. It just makes me sad that we live in such a cynical world where a lot of people choose to believe it is a lie rather than having trust and faith in that it is the truth.” 

    Maxim Australia

    The two hope their Maxim appearance will help change people’s mindsets, particularly in their native Australia, where LGBT couples are still fighting for the right to marry

    “I’m feeling really proud, but also hoping it might change some people’s attitudes about same-sex relationships,” Marx said. 

    “I feel so incredibly honored and grateful to Maxim for believing in us and for helping us break down barriers and misunderstanding around same-sex relationships,” Scanlon added. “I love Megan so much and I’m excited to share that love with Australia.”

    Scanlon took to Instagram to share the cover and take the haters to task for their issues with her relationship. 

    “If you think that this is some fake anti feminist lesbianised [sic] sexual male fantasy then you are only aiding in the [judgmental] backward thinking of society whether you are straight, gay, bi or however else you choose to label yourself,” she wrote. 

    Oh hey hey there just me, the real human being with real human emotions behind this account. See my face…im excited and im super proud of what @megan.leto.marx and I have achieved here. I knew it would be controversial, i knew it would ruffle feathers, i knew there would be criticism and judgement but guess what, I did it anyway! Why? Because (a) im an experience junkie as per my bio and it was pretty damn awesome to be asked to be on the cover of Maxim. (b) I do what I want because I want to; not for any body else; not to impress or offend or any other reason than because I WANT TO and I honestly don't need anyone's approval. (c) I have always and will always continue to advocate acceptance and no labels in all areas of life. I dont label myself or my relationship; I simply live and love and create life on my own terms. (d) @maxim_aus may be sold as a mens mag, but what does that matter? I really like reading it! and they have shown us more support than most other Australian media and i am proud to shoot with a publication who is as much about pushing boundaries as we are. The shoot was tasteful and had less nudity than some of our other shared photos on social media and the interview had everything we wanted to say. (e) if you think that this is some fake anti feminist lesbianised sexual male fantasy then you are only aiding in the judgemental backward thinking of society whether you are straight, gay, bi or however else you choose to label yourself. #dropthemic #hatersgotnorighttohate #takeyourbestshot #enoughisenough #noregrets #nolabels #acceptance #stopbeingsodamnjudgemental #loveislove #lifeonyourterms #idowhatiwant #donttellmehowtolivemylife

    A photo posted by Tiffany Scanlon (@tiffany_janes) on Dec 21, 2016 at 5:31am PST

    You do you, Megan and Tiffany, and thanks for speaking up for the community.

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    A guy got banned from Twitter for telling a mosquito to ‘die’

    Twitter’s former CEO Dick Costolo once said his platform “sucks” at dealing with abuse and trolls. Well, it finally seems to have gotten its act together, banning a member who made death threats…to a mosquito.

    A Japanese user going by @nemuismywife reportedly went on a tweetstorm after being bitten by a blood-sucking insect, rightfully calling it a “Bastard!” and asking “Where do you get off biting me all over while I’m just trying to relax and watch TV?” A good question, but what followed lost him his Twitter account: “Die! (Actually, you’re already dead),” he said.

    While that might seem innocent to all but the most hardcore animal rights activists, Twitter had other ideas. Here’s the message the user received from the social giant, according to Japanese news outlet SoraNews24:

    “Thank you for using Twitter.

    Your account has been frozen because it was used to send messages containing threats.

    Tweets containing threats are not allowed under our terms of service. This account cannot be reactivated.

    Thank you for your understanding.”

    @nemuismywife later created a new account under the username @DaydreamMatcha. He had some pressing questions for Twitter.

    “My account was permanently frozen after I said I killed mosquitoes…this is a violation?” he wrote to Twitter Japan. The angry tweet was retweeted more than 30,000 times and liked by 27,000 users before it was taken down. It appears @DaydreamMatcha deleted his account or changed his username again.

    While Twitter never responded to @DaydreamMatcha, it’s likely one of its anti-abuse algorithms was triggered by his word choice and automatically banned him from the social media platform. In March, Twitter debuted an algorithm designed to curb abuse following criticism for its mismanagement of online bullying and threats. It appears the social platform was a bit heavy-handed when it wrote the code.

    H/T Mashable

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    Chris Evans Taunts Trump With Rewrite Of His ‘Fake News Media’ Rant

    Chris Evans may be signing off as Captain America, but he’s not done with trying to use his superhero powers against Donald Trump just yet.

    The “Avengers” star taunted Trump on Monday by rewriting the president’s earlier tweeted attack on the “Fake News Media.”

    “Help! I’ve never done anything wrong in my entire life, but somehow hostility is at an all time high,” Evans imagined Trump as writing.

    “Just because I kick beehives all day, it’s not MY fault when people get stung!” he added. “No one has EVER been treated so unfairly. Sad. Also, where’s Obama’s birth certificate?”

    Evans later responded to White House counsel Kellyanne Conway’s claim that Trump was “trying to heal the country” with a metaphor involving his dog.

    Evans has a history of taking Trump to task on the president’s favorite social media platform.

    He’s also used it to bash former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

    And he had this to say about pro-Trump rapper Kanye West:

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    ‘We’re having a menstrual liberation’: how periods got woke

    Periods happen to half the population so why are they still treated as something to hide? Meet the activists seeing red

    I am sitting in a hotel meeting room with 12 women, all of us squeezing menstrual cups against our cheeks. The blinds are down, the wine has been flowing for the past hour, and after a few people have taken selfies, Mandu Reid, an expert in “cupography”, explains how to use our menstrual cups.

    “Do you feel that gentle suction?” she asks. “That’s one of the most important features. It is one of the reasons why, if you’re good at using it, it’s more reliable than a tampon.” She goes on to demonstrate some of the best positions for inserting a cup – sitting on the edge of a toilet seat “manspreading”, standing with one leg up on the toilet seat (her own favourite), or lying down with your legs in the air, a pose she holds while we take pictures for social media. “The most important thing is for you to be relaxed. Put on some jazz, light some candles,” she jokes.

    This is a CupAware party, designed to get women together to talk about menstrual cups. It couldn’t be more different from the last bit of menstrual education I received, when I was 12 and the “Tampax lady” came into my school in her navy blazer and gave out freebies. The evening feels more like a hen do, except that most of us are meeting for the first time and the colourful silicone objects scattered across the room are not sex toys. The goal is to break the taboo around discussing menstruation, and to raise awareness of period products beyond the tampons and sanitary towels that dominate the market. Reid starts by asking a simple but revealing set of questions: how old were you when you first got your period? Who did you tell? How did you feel? The exercise, like the entire workshop, is enlightening. Responses cover everything from difficult relationships with parents, to gender identity issues, to the ludicrous lies we told our friends (guilty). There is something very liberating about sharing period stories, the woman next to me says: “And the more people talk, the more everyone wants to talk. It is like the sexual liberation of the 60s. We are having a menstrual liberation.”

    Reid is part of a new wave of period activists, determined to challenge the status quo of our flows. Despite being part of the lives of half the global population, there has been little innovation or big thinking around periods in 80 years – since the tampon was invented. Recently, however, there has been a flurry of activity, from campaigns to petitions, product launches to new advertising imagery.

    A
    The image that was removed from Rupi Kaur’s Instagram page. Photograph: courtesy of Rupi Kaur

    High on the agenda is the issue of period poverty: the millions of women and girls around the world who cannot afford period protection. There are campaigns to end the tampon tax and petitions to the government to provide free sanitary products for those in need. There is also an effort to drastically rethink period education and to shake off the shame bound up with menstruation.

    Reusables have been around for decades (menstrual cups were invented in the 30s) but the multinational companies that dominate the marketplace have prioritised the more profitable disposable products, such as tampons and sanitary towels. With a growing awareness of the potential risks associated with some disposables, including fears around what is in them (toxins, dyes, residual cotton pesticides), new companies such as TOTM and Lola are offering organic alternatives. Menstrual cups are becoming more popular for similar reasons – as well as the environmental and financial benefits of a product you need to replace only once a decade; there are now more than 20 brands on the market. Meanwhile, companies such as Thinx and Dear Kate have been creating period-proof knickers designed with leak-resistant and absorbent fabric. They can absorb up to two tampons’ or three teaspoons’ worth of blood respectively; on lighter days you could wear them without any other protection. Subscription services such as Freda and Dame will deliver period products to your door on a monthly basis, the latter offering chocolate and paracetamol as optional extras.

    The new period movement addresses not just financial and practical problems, but attitudinal: the idea that women shouldn’t have to whisper about their “time of the month”, or hide tampons up their sleeves on the way to the toilet.

    Nobody seems embarrassed at the CupAware party. It costs £15 to attend and the money goes towards raising funds for similar workshops for women who cannot afford to buy period products. The event is the brainchild of Reid, 36, founder of NGO the Cup Effect, and Gabby Edlin, 31, founder of Bloody Good Period, a charity that donates period products to those who can’t afford them. The two women met at the Women of the World festival in London earlier this year and bonded over all things period.

    “It’s unacceptable that there isn’t enough energy put into trying to make this part of a girl or woman’s life better,” says Reid, who began by taking a backpack full of cups to Kenya and Malawi in 2015. Reid’s mother grew up in rural Malawi in the 70s and her first experience of menstruation was steeped in fear and humiliation. She still remembers the shame she felt at being called to the blackboard by a teacher on the heaviest day of her period, with blood seeping through to her uniform. Since Reid’s first trip, 5,000 women in those countries have received cups through her NGO. Yet Reid wants more momentum. “We bleed so everyone else can live,” she points out. “It is a part of humanity that is just neglected.”

    Similarly, Edlin was shocked when she started volunteering at a drop-in centre for asylum seekers in London last year, and discovered sanitary towels were provided only in emergencies. “I thought, what has got to happen to a woman that we count her period as an emergency? Has she literally got to bleed on the floor?” What started as a whip-round on Facebook led to hundreds of donations within a couple of weeks. In the last year, Bloody Good Period has provided more than 300,000 period products to people in need in the UK.

    Reid and Edlin are not on a fanatical mission to convert everyone to cups, they say; they just want women to make an informed choice. Before tonight, it dawns on me, I wasn’t making one myself. I had no idea that a menstrual cup could hold three tampons’ worth of blood, demonstrated by Reid pouring red wine from a glass into a cup, then using tampons to soak it up. I had never seen a menstrual cup up close. Like most of my peers, I was never taught about reusable products when I was growing up. With hindsight, it seems odd that my menstrual education was left in the hands of a multinational brand – Tampax – but this still happens today. Several teachers in Sheffield, for example, recently reported that their school received and used unsolicited teaching materials from corporations. Campaigners such as Reid just want girls around the world to have access to better period education, unrestricted by the big brands. “I don’t mind if people aren’t into what I am into. I just want them to hear me out,” she says. “I want Mr Always to put a bounty on my head.”

    A
    An ad that dared to show blood as red rather than blue

    Also attending tonight’s CupAware party are Jade Slaughter, 28, and Hannah Lawless, 25, two charity workers who are campaigning to get free sanitary products in schools. “It’s ridiculous that in 2017 you’ve got children missing school because they can’t afford proper protection, and that schools can provide condoms and toilet paper and soap, but not sanitary products. It’s about giving everyone that equal right to dignity,” Slaughter says. Their petition has now passed 110,000 signatures. Both feel that change is finally coming, partly thanks to the internet. “Young people are used to oversharing,” Lawless says. “While some of that can be bad, when it comes to periods it is pushing things forward.” Slaughter agrees, citing her teenage sisters, 18 and 19, who now text her to say they are on their periods – something she would never have done.

    Another activist who has made an impact is Kiran Gandhi, 28, an American musician whose period started early on the day of the London Marathon in 2015. “I was going through my options,” she says. “Tampon or pad, and neither of them seemed good for a four-hour run.” She was worried about chafing, did not have a menstrual cup, and two years ago, the new genre of absorbent period knickers were not so readily available. Instead Gandhi decided to free-bleed as she ran and posted a photograph of herself at the finish line, complete with bloodied crotch. The image soon went viral. “It is so shocking for us as a society to see menstrual blood. That is why it trended on Twitter and Facebook for four days. It was so polarising,” Gandhi says.

    The reaction was largely positive, but inevitably there was some kickback. “The first criticism was that this is so gross, which was fine, because that was exactly the point: menstruation is still seen as something that’s disgusting, even though it is the very thing that gives life to all of us.” The second type of criticism was that it was unhygienic, which Gandhi describes as “a mask for the same misogyny. It is only unhygienic if I had some sort of blood-borne illness. It was just a non-issue.”

    Gandhi says radical activism is key to opening up the conversation. She cites as an example the artist and poet Rupi Kaur, who spoke out after Instagram removed a fully clothed portrait in 2015, because it featured a small amount of menstrual blood. Kaur posted, “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be OK with a small leak.” Instagram later restored her photograph, claiming the removal was “accidental”.

    Since then, periods have cropped up on the political agenda in the UK; this year the Labour party launched a period poverty campaign, promising to provide free sanitary products to secondary schools, homeless shelters and food banks. But in October, Justine Greening, education secretary and minister for women and equalities, was criticised when she said it was up to schools and parents to provide these products. Gandhi says the next important step is market change, when innovative companies begin looking for solutions. “At Soho House in Manhattan, I heard a guy interviewing his friend about her period. When she left, I asked him why. He told me he wanted to start a company that delivers tampons to women’s doors every month. If men are jumping on board, then you know we’re definitely moving into a better place.”

    Runner
    Kiran Gandhi (centre) free-bled in the London Marathon. Photograph: courtesy of Kiran Gandhi

    However, when Dame co-founders Celia Poole and Alec Mills appeared on Dragons’ Den earlier this year to pitch their period product subscription service, entrepreneur Peter Jones said he felt “very uncomfortable”, while presenter Evan Davis noted “it may seem counterintuitive to launch a product half the population may never have use for”. Meanwhile, when Miki Agrawal, co-founder of Thinx, started to pitch to investors her idea for period pants, she came up against a brick wall, as she told the Freakonomics podcast earlier this year. Every venture capitalist she met would say, “Let me take this to my wife” – which would inevitably fail as the men were ill-equipped to put the product into context. “And then they would come back like, no, thanks.” Even when Agrawal outlined the business potential in disrupting “a multibillion-dollar space no one’s touched in [decades]”, she failed to find funding, eventually raising $85,000 through Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns.

    Then, in 2015, the New York subway advertising network objected to a Thinx campaign. There were concerns that the images – half a grapefruit resembling a vagina, a raw egg representing discharge – were too suggestive. But eventually the ads were approved and the furore led to a public conversation about period shame, exactly the kind of publicity Agrawal wanted. (Less so the accusations of sexual harassment by a Thinx employee earlier this year. The complaint has since been settled privately.)

    Much of this new wave of period activism is linked with challenging the imagery associated with periods. For a long time, menstrual products have been hidden away, with advertising featuring women in white jeans cartwheeling through sunny fields, or blue liquid poured on to a sanitary towel; “we don’t bleed blue” is a common refrain from activists. Last month, Bodyform responded by releasing the UK’s first advert to depict real menstrual blood with the tagline “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too”, alongside the hashtag #bloodnormal.

    “This is what I’ve been working towards,” says Chella Quint, 41, a comedian and education researcher who has been one of the loudest voices campaigning for a rethink. “I am really excited.” Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Quint has spent the last 18 years in Sheffield, first as a secondary school drama teacher who was asked to tackle personal, social and health education (PSHE) “because I could say penis without laughing”. She did some standup comedy in her spare time, and in 2005 started doing sketches around some ludicrous old adverts. This led to a show entitled Adventures In Menstruating, and ultimately inspired her to study for a master’s in education. The result has been her #periodpositive campaign, a programme she distributes across schools and universities, designed to combat the negative discourse that surrounds menstruation.

    An
    An ad for Thinx’s period-proof pants

    I wait with Quint in a classroom in a London academy at the end of the school day. The head of PSHE is trying to find several year 8 students who have signed up to a period workshop, who eventually drift in, visibly squirming. When Quint explains she is a comedian who likes to talk about periods, one student says she must have the “most awkward job ever”. Three boys come in and huddle around a table, sniggering. (Quint is keen to invite both girls and boys to her workshops.) The students are late, we are running out of time and it feels as if this could be a disaster, but with her games, props and jokes, Quint seems to work some sort of magic. She gets them playing “period knowledge twister” and doing the “menstruation mambo”, where the recently mortified 12- to 13-year-olds dance in a circle as they sing “internal, external, disposable, reusable”, teaching them about the different products available. The group of 13 then set about creating their own period stains out of red felt. Soon they are all wearing them as badges – Quint calls it “leak chic” and says it is all about challenging the idea of periods as shameful. “Leaking should be as boring as accidentally spitting on someone. You might rehash it for a day but you don’t remember it five years later.” Finally Quint asks students to come up with #periodpositive slogans, before reflecting on what they’ve learned.

    The students bound out of the classroom, wearing their period stains with pride. Soon the school’s co-principal pops in to say he’s never had a year 8 student come up to him before declaring, “Look, sir, this is my period stain.” They are “buzzing”, he says. Quint, never one to miss an opportunity, hands him a period stain badge to keep in his office. She dreams of a world in which it is no big deal to ask your headmaster for a tampon. It might not be so far away – Quint has just got Sheffield to vow to become the first #periodpositive city, with Learn Sheffield and the council backing her to roll out her programme across the city.

    Quint is excited but cautious about a change in the conversation. Catching the zeitgeist is one thing, but actual transformation is not guaranteed. “It would be devastating if periods stopped being trendy,” she says. She praises Bodyform, but is wary of them “co-opting activism, and hashtag activism at that, to sell”. If they are going to position themselves as “the taboo-breaking advert-making menstrual product company”, then Quint has a few more requests: “I invite them to include reusable products and non-binary kids in any teaching resources they create, to stop offering hide-away tins with their products and to say ‘menstrual’ rather than ‘sanitary’.”

    The language surrounding menstruation is a real bugbear for Quint. “We are not unsanitary. Periods are no dirtier than other things. Anything that comes out of your body is not necessarily hygienic, but nothing else is called that. There are no baby hygiene nappies or sanitary men’s deodorant.”

    I tell Quint I was amazed by the students’ transformation from embarrassed to engaged. “It is a bit magic but it’s magic you can deconstruct. It’s about using fun and silliness and not being afraid, because there is already so much fear about periods.” Quint is keen to stress that her work follows in the footsteps of many others: combined with the accelerating force of social media, she sees this moment as the result of decades of work. Periods, she says, have finally got woke. “We are becoming more comfortable talking about menstruation. Our planet is finally going through puberty.”

    Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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    R. Kelly docuseries leaves behind a burning question: do black girls’ lives matter?

    (CNN)Following the “Surviving R. Kelly” finale, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chance the Rapper and other celebrities are asking, “Do black girls’ lives matter?”

    Kelly’s lawyer said the documentary is filled with false allegations, and has suggested the subjects are defaming his client for personal gain, according to Billboard.
    In 2002, Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography for a videotape that allegedly showed him having sex with an unidentified underage girl. He was acquitted, and his lawyers at the time said Kelly was not in the video, and suggested his likeness may have been computer-generated.
      In 2017, he was accused of having a sexual relationship with a teen. At the time, Kelly’s publicist denied previous allegations, saying they were “made up by individuals known to be dishonest.”
      But after Saturday’s last episode of the series, people who took to social media had one question: why did no one care about the girls?
      The conversation stems partly from a controversial statement Chance The Rapper made — and which was used in the documentary — in which he said he didn’t care about the allegations at the time, because they were coming from black women.
      Chance said on Twitter the quote was taken out of context.
      Chance published the full segment of the interview from which his quote was used, saying in it, “We’re programmed to be hyper-sensitive to black male oppression.”
      “Black women are exponentially a higher oppressed and violated group of people just in comparison to the whole world. Maybe I didn’t care because I didn’t value the accusers’ stories… because they were black women.”
      Others also admitted to looking away for too long.
      “We’ve all been inspired by this man,” singer Tank wrote on Instagram. “We’ve invested so much of ourselves into this man that it’s hard for us to let go. I no longer have that issue.”
      “I whole heartedly apologize for not coming to this realization sooner. I (CANNOT) separate the music from the monster! My 3 black daughters won’t let me,” he said.
      John Legend, who appeared in the series, along other celebrities like #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, talk-show host Wendy Williams and Kelly’s ex-wife Andrea Kelly, had a strong message for social media.
      “To everyone telling me how courageous I am for appearing in the doc, it didn’t feel risky at all,” he wrote on Twitter. “I believe these women and don’t give a f*** about protecting a serial child rapist. Easy decision.”
      Kelly’s attorney, Brian Nix, has not responded to requests for comment by CNN.
      “There is NO excuse,” singer Ne-Yo posted. ” Music is important. It really is. But it’s not more important than protecting our children, protecting our little girls. PERIOD.”
      View this post on Instagram

      There is NO excuse. Music is important. It really is. But it’s not more important than protecting our children, protecting our little girls. PERIOD. #IHaveADaughter #TF!?? #MUTERKELLY

      A post shared by NE-YO (@neyo) on Jan 6, 2019 at 12:06pm PST

      Jada Pinkett Smith: Do black girls matter enough?

      “R Kelly’s music sales and his streams have spiked substantially since the release of ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ docuseries, and I’m having a really difficult time understanding why,” Jada Pinkett Smith asked.
      “I really don’t want to believe it’s because black girls don’t matter enough. Or is that the reason?”
      View this post on Instagram

      How is it that R Kelly's music sales have spiked (substantially) since the release of the docuseries Surviving R Kelly? I need some help in understanding. What am I missing???

      A post shared by Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapinkettsmith) on Jan 6, 2019 at 10:02am PST

      “The sad truth is,” human rights organization BlackWomensBlueprint tweeted, “Survivors… still face pushback from naysayers who question their stories or dismiss the crisis of sexual assault — especially against Black women and girls. It’s a terrible burden to have to endure.”
      Executive producer and showrunner Dream Hampton says she hopes “Surviving R. Kelly” serves as a starter tool to “shift culture” and “talk about rape culture and organize against patriarchy, which harms us all.”
        Nonprofit advocacy organization Color of Change tweeted the “strength of Black women & girls is determined by how much suffering we can endure.”
        “The women in #SurvivingRKelly are our heroes. But damn it if they deserved better. Too many of us still do.”

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