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5-GULCH newz

Hey. I finished my book. It wrecked my brain.

Reblogged from my writing diary:

Dear, 

I edited the hard copy (two weeks), then edited the digital copy (one week), and finally spent two 12-hour days revising on a larger scale, chapter by chapter, trying to fix things I could never seem to resolve and probably failing again. Then I sent 5-GULCH to a friend and threw the hard copy into a filing cabinet in a closed off, freezing cold office, so I wouldn’t be tempted to obsessively look at it and torture myself with all the bad sentences!! Revision binges aren’t good for me. Now everything I read sounds a little wrong. I need a break. I’m going out. It’s cold and foggy. It’s fine. I’m also remembering my plan to finish 5-G by last February, and it’s almost a year later, which is also fine and the way it had to be. Three years. I loved working on it, but the book is a lonely one and it was lonely writing it. Time to get out. ❤

– t

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Note to students and parents: The most effective way to report harassment is to contact law enforcement immediately. According to S.E.S.A.M.E., before reporting “it is best to have the emotional support of at least one individual and/or an experienced counseling entity such as the local rape crisis center, community mental health service, or child advocacy center.” Once you have the support you need, the organization urges that you “[d]o not hesitate to report your sexual abuse directly to your local, county, and state law enforcement agencies, district or state attorney’s office, and any child protection agency. All of these have trained sexual abuse investigators and most have supportive victim advocates. Schools have neither.”

I’ll add one more thing. In ten years, when the child is an adult, what matters to her will be whether anyone tried to stop it. If you’re an adult who witnesses misconduct, tell someone in a position of authority, and don’t stop there, because it likely won’t be enough. Knowing how hard it is and how it may affect your own life and career, and with the deepest compassion, please ask yourself if you really can’t try a little harder.

And if it *is* years later and you didn’t try, no matter how much time has passed, become an advocate *now*.

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My name is Tasha. My high school, Wind River, was among the string of small-town schools you fled without consequence after things became too complicated for you. I’m writing because I wanted you to know that you had an impact on my life, the result of which is: I can never not know—as long as you continue to coach and teach—that school administrators have once again endangered students by hiring you. My aim is not to threaten you (I know I am no threat) or to expose what was never a secret (your abuse and harassment of young girls). I’m asking you to stop. Stop coaching. Stop teaching. Allow girls to grow up undamaged by you.

I don’t know if you remember what it’s like to be vulnerable, or if you’ve ever experienced a time when someone used his authority to exploit you—a time when a person in power failed to acknowledge your humanity. It’s more than helplessness. You never forget this feeling.

As a coach, you were verbally abusive, of course. You were horrible. You were a bully. You were cruel. You were more than that.

Here’s what I’ve found out about you since you left us. Like all bad teachers, you bounce from school to school, shipping off to a new one as soon as you wear out your welcome, which could take six years, two years. You choose rural schools, small-town schools, places where sports are everything, where adults will overlook your arm around a girl’s waist, the palm of your hand pressed flat against her stomach. My stomach. You held me against you, pressed me against you, while I stood on the sidelines during a drill, in full view of everyone. You held me for a long time. Your hand covered my entire abdomen. I couldn’t move. You did other things—things I saw or heard about, and finally the thing that forced you to leave. I heard, at your last school, in Texas, you brought girls to your home (again), and like before, you used the presence of your daughter to make them feel safe. I heard you groped your students in plain sight. I heard that after a number of “strikes,” you were one step away from being fired. I heard you were going to resign, and the school was going to let you. You were up to your old tricks—manipulating parents, awarding favor (and game-time) to students who didn’t resist your harassment and bullying those who did.

Even if you retire someday, in all probability you will walk away with your dignity intact, a handful of coaching awards, some bad feelings toward you, and no real consequences for anything you did. It’s likely that your new school—also in Texas (but it might as well be Wyoming, Colorado, Alaska)—already knows about you. You’ve never needed to hide. That’s why I’m writing you directly. I’m asking you to stop, since no one will stop you. Protect those girls from yourself, as you would, I hope, protect your own daughter from someone like you.

You prey on the weakness of others, yet you’re never forced to consider the limits of your own power. You’re forced to resign, you move on, it’s no great hardship. You do not permit others to make you feel helpless—certainly not girls, certainly not school administrators, who, bound by their own limitations, won’t fire you.

I imagine many of your former students will never forget you. Maybe this satisfies you—a sign of your control, still alive and well in the world. It’s true, we remember you. But I doubt we remember you the way you’d like. We saw you. We see you.

Ultimately it’s not your power we remember—it’s your awful, consuming weakness, which is never more clear than when you terrorize those you consider unimportant, unable to fight back, mute, and helpless. Children. Girls.

Your students deserve better, and you—whatever you deserve—are obligated to stay away from them.

Tasha LeClair

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UPDATE: I never sent this letter, though I did send the following email to three school administrators (principal, superintendent, and president of the board) on 12/17/15, providing my name, information, and a link to this post:


Hello,

I’m a former student of ___’s. I’m writing because I believe he is a threat to your students. Over fifteen years ago, ___ taught and coached girls basketball at ___ in Wyoming, and while he was there he behaved inappropriately toward several female athletes, including myself.

I found out a few years ago that he was at [other school], and was horrified to learn that all this time he’s been coaching and teaching female students. My husband encouraged me to get in touch with the school, and I did. […] The former principal was aware for some time that ___ had been repeatedly crossing the line with female athletes (inappropriate touching, taking students to his house), and was trying to build evidence against him. I’m disturbed to see that she and the administration were unsuccessful, and that he’s already moved on to a new school.

I posted a letter describing a few instances of his misconduct here: https://prairietown.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/letter-to-my-high-school-basketball-coach/ . After I posted it, my friends–many of whom are educators, and some of whom are former students of his–urged me to get in touch with you.

I can’t substantiate my claims of harassment/abuse, but knowing even a little of his recent past at [other school], I feel obligated to alert you. I hope that you monitor ___ closely and don’t overlook even seemingly innocent physical contact or closeness with students. I’ve found S.E.S.A.M.E. to be a great resource on recognizing and reporting abuse in schools: http://www.sesamenet.org/survivors/reporting .

I don’t have much to add beyond what I’ve said in my blog post, but you’re free to contact me if you think it’d be helpful. Thank you for all you do in helping kids learn and grow in a safe environment. Most teachers and coaches I know truly care about their students, and I’m sure you’ll do everything you can to surround your students with those people.

Thanks again,

Tasha

as
As of 3/29/16,  ___ is still coaching high school girls basketball, and also coaches and teaches P.E. at the elementary school, according to the school website. The administrators did not contact me.

November Larches

For a month before we found it—someone else’s kill—we watched crows ascend from those trees and wondered. Any day now, what’s left of it will be covered in snow, then snow-drifts. By spring its bones will be strewn or buried, but for now they lie sheltered in thick brush, still touching, except for the head, which we took.

We walk a dry gulch bordered by thick pine and tamarack woods and criss-crossed with smooth, hard trails where snow won’t stick. Few people take the road all the way to Sawmill Gulch this time of year, preferring the lower access and its broad, well-traveled trails, but animals sleep and eat in Sawmill; from here they can reach town (and easy food) by crossing the hills to the west, or steal along overgrown logging roads to the east to reach the next system of gulches, where they can find water and sheltered routes to the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

Elk and deer scrape their antlers on saplings in the fall, and we follow these far into the brush. Ryan is bowhunting, and we’re quiet. We don’t come across any animals—though their trails plow through the trees on either side of us, broad as cattle paths and pocked with turds—but we do find a hoof, mounds of bear shit, and finally the skeleton of a medium-sized bull elk, complete with antlers and the smooth, buttery canines—its “ivory”—remnants of its ancestors’ tusks. The skull is huge but light, and we walk it down with us and stash it.

Weather moves in as we head east. We climb a ridge into the sun, while snow flurries slant over hills below us and disappear the valley. No animal sign up here, the sun is sinking, and we pull our coats and hats out of our packs and climb down, chilled, through a forest of young pine trees while wind roars in the next gulch. The movie goes silent and music seeps through the wall from the next theater—the wind is like this. Each gulch plays a different movie, and as you walk you pick up bits of dialogue or strains of song from a neighboring gulch. Someone’s always talking in the other room.

By the time we reach the meadow it’s dark and still, and a crescent moon hangs, orange, just over the treeline. Our feet hammer the ground, and the path is the ice-blue of a gravestone. Sometimes the dirt shatters to reveal long, thin crystals of ice just below the surface. Deer watch us from hillsides; they know it’s too dark for hunting.

November larches drop fire-orange needles on my head; they make their way down the back of my shirt, where I pull them out hours later, at home. Miles away larches shake needles over on an ice-blue path, and the ground is hard and cold and unhungry as a graveyard.

When I left my job as a street outreach worker at a center for homeless youth, I was just beginning to learn what it means to work with people who are experiencing crisis situations—what it means to be “in crisis.” Next week I’ll return to street outreach for the first time in almost two years. As a refresher, I’m digging up resources on the internet, including the PATH videos (produced by the Department of Health and Human Services), which aren’t perfect, but help me get back into the right frame of mind. And I’ve been working on this list:

  • Though someone may be having a tough time, other people don’t necessarily know what’s best for him.
  • Sometimes or a lot of the time you might not know what to do or say. There won’t really be a right thing. It’s more important to listen and offer support.
  • Adapt to the situation and the person you’re talking with. At the same time, don’t be too passive. If you’re uncomfortable with something, be honest. But remember you’re a guest in someone else’s space. Follow her lead.
  • If someone’s breathing fast, breathe slow. If someone’s talking loudly, talk softly.
  • We’re more than the worst thing we’ve ever done (Bryan Stevenson TED Talk).
  • Don’t go in with an agenda, or with the expectation that people will open up to you right away or ever. Don’t try to change people. Only see if there is a way to help. Sometimes the best way to help is to step back.
  • Let people approach you.
  • Homeless people are forced to occupy public spaces, but their lives are private. Treat people with dignity and respect and actually think about what those words mean.
  • Occasionally people will try to rattle you. They want to see how you’ll hold yourself, if you’ll talk down to them, if you fluster easily, if you think too highly of yourself, if you’re full of shit. Stay relaxed. Don’t be defensive. Be assertive. Set boundaries. Carry yourself with humility.
  • Expect the occasional threat. Expect that most people who live on the street carry weapons, because they have to. Be alert, but not closed off to people. You can’t help people if you’re afraid of them.
  • Don’t pity people. Don’t look down on them. Don’t assume anything. Know that most of us are closer to homelessness than we believe, that any person who lacks support at a critical moment is at risk for losing everything. Young people who have run away from their homes and stayed away have done so because their lives were unbearable or because their families threw them out. Many people you encounter on the street can’t access shelter because of PTSD or addiction problems. Many may suffer from severe mental illnesses—the cause of their homelessness or a result of it. People may be hungry and exhausted and sick. You’ll also meet people with violent criminal backgrounds, who have often been victims of violence themselves. You’ll meet pimps and pushers. It’s not your job to understand, and certainly not to condemn. It’s your job to identify immediate needs and try to meet them. No one should go hungry, and no one’s story is over yet. As you develop relationships with people, however, it is your job to try to protect vulnerable people from those who aim to take advantage of them or harm them.
  • Give the person you are talking with your full attention, but make sure you know what’s happening around you. This takes practice, and there’s never a perfect balance—do your best. Listen for changes in tone; watch for sudden shifts in activity. Know where your partner is. Keep an eye on the nearest way to safety and make sure it’s not being blocked.
  • Remember that getting to know people and respecting their space contributes to a safe environment better than anything else.
  • Move with extra care around places where people sleep. Announce your presence.
  • Remember, everyone is always watching. People who have been in survival mode for a long time are really good at reading signals that others are not, so make sure you’re aware of your body language and remember you can’t hide anything.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes.
  • Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for. People are often their own best teachers and know what they need better than you do. Your job is to help them guide themselves.
  • Learn to build within a city of doubt (John Maeda’s words on the nature of creativity).
  • Most days the need will seem overwhelming. If you know people long enough, you’ll begin to see cycles come to an end only to begin all over again. Some people will disappear or will die. Some will get clean, then become addicted again. You’ll become close to people. You’ll lose people. It’s your job to see pain and acknowledge it, and to be a constant, stable force and advocate—know that even if that’s all you can do, that it’s necessary.
  • People are stronger and better than they know.
  • If someone reaches out to you, make sure you act immediately and follow through. Don’t make empty promises. Celebrate small victories.
  • Keep records to remember who you’ve encountered and where so you can check in with them later, and for reporting purposes. Protect your clients’ identities.
  • Nonprofits don’t always offer the best ways to help people. You’re not giving up on people if you have to leave a program that doesn’t work. Find something that works.

“You meet [people] where they are,” says an outreach worker in one of the PATH videos, “geographically, philosophically, emotionally—you meet people where they are and walk with them for a little while on their journey.”

You can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be another person. But all most of us are trying to do is find out what it means to be ourselves and have the experiences we’ve had and find a way to come to terms with these things and maybe discover another way to be, and to belong to a community. I’m excited to be returning to outreach. It’s an honor to walk beside another person, to bear witness, and move into the unknown together.

Just a note to say my writing diary, Plague Dawgs, can still be found on Tumblr, and is still occasionally updated–you may have to scroll through a few reblogged photosets (but why would you? I have great taste!), but the diary lives on. In a recent post I attempt to answer “What is your book about?” and do my damnedess. (Also, you can find older 5-GULCH Diary entries here at Prairietown, in the April 2014 archives.) Thx – t

change in weather

Our neighbors across the drive are moving out. A potted palm has been sitting among boxes of trash outside their garage for two days—joined, today, by a dying Christmas tree. Christmas was three months ago. It’s March, unseasonably warm, though a front is moving through, bringing wind and rain. I’m grateful. I miss winter. Snow. Cold. Dark. Short days, people inside. At these times I go outside whenever I can, find comfort in winter’s silence and mass. At these times my thoughts are clearest, my heart quiet and capable of anything. So I’m grateful for the change in weather; I’m glad to see the palm fronds thrashing in the wind, for the roar of wind in the stovepipe, for the press of wind against the door—the weather making itself known, unmistakable. The weather making its way inside.

My old workplace, a center for homeless and at-risk youth, has been in the news lately. “Allegations surface against director of Billings youth services,” etc. The organization is called Tumbleweed, and I’m among the former employees who have raised these allegations. The word, “allegations,” seems imprecise. “Complaints,” perhaps. “Concerns.” I’d like to remove my words from the language of courthouses and lawyers and to restore a sense of reality to these things that happened while I worked there, and to my own memories.

These experiences are particularly painful because I had been forced to stop doing something that I loved, something that—even while I was doing it—became unforgivably obscured by the day-to-day realities of working in a corrupted place, a place I’ve referred to as “haunted” (I think of Hill House from Shirley Jackson’s novel, its uneven floors and endlessly shutting doors, its ugliness and decay—known to all, and yet beyond address). I say “unforgivably” because, even though there was nothing else to be done, I can’t accept the outcome: I left. Why does this feel like failure? Whom did I fail? I don’t know—all I know is the undeniable weight and shape of loss, the particulars of which I still struggle to define. I suspect such questions only serve to shift the focus from its rightful place. Like many, I hope that Billings’ youth remain at the center of our discussions, even as we talk about these allegations, these concerns.

I let the weather in because I can. I enjoy the cold because I don’t have to live in it. I refer to my own pain but I don’t dare call it trauma—I can’t. I have the choice to look at it, to decide whether I can stand more.

The board issued a statement almost two weeks ago in response to articles such as this one. Their claim that they are “continuing to look into data and into the former employee’s allegations” (“employee”–curiously singular, when the case is otherwise) was unconvincing. Most alarmingly, the statement places suspicion firmly on employees—whether current or former—who report fraud or who question potentially unethical activities. The statement also fails to address the enforcement of policies and practices that suppress such information and which contribute to an environment of silence and fear.

Looking outside, the weather is unmistakable.

I sit here, safe *inside*, and whatever clarity I might believe I have can’t tell me how to find the narrative, how to question those who do not answer, how to right—or even name—that which places itself beyond address.

okay. bye.

NOTE: I think of Prairietown as my home-base; I’m pretty sure I’ll be back someday. Until then, I post raw writings and pictures I like at my writing diary.

I’ve been trying to find a better way to say goodbye. I sort of sounded like a dick last time. I am, sometimes, a dick—especially when my mind’s on this thing I hate and hate and still hate doing: sending out work.

It’s difficult. This is just a blog, but writing here makes me happy. Happier even than getting something published elsewhere, in a Real Thing.

I was writing an essay about a book I read recently, with the idea of posting it here, when I decided it would be better if I didn’t; it would be better if I sent it out. So that’s what I’m going to do. But I have to say, I’m less excited about this essay than I was before; actually, I haven’t been working on it. Maybe I’ll find a way to get interested in it again. Or maybe it will find its way here—at least that way it will have come into existence.

I’ve been picking myself apart for years, but I can’t tell you why I’m like this. Is it that everything has to be *my* show? It’s true that I like to have my own space, where I can create my own things and share them when and if I choose. But I also want to see what other people create, and I want to visit their spaces, if they’ll have me. I like to find singular things made by individual people that offer something whole and vast and special.

My favorite things to read are story collections, especially linked collections, and novels. I read very slowly, and I read a lot of the same things over and over again. I’m into full-immersion.

Over the past year I’ve been researching literary journals, and while I appreciate them (some, like Hobart, are fucking gems), and admire the editors who read tirelessly (though they’re probably tired) to find new work and to create these important spaces for young writers, I have a hard time *reading* journals—I support them, buy them when I can, keep them on my shelf; sometimes I pick them up and look at them, but a reader like me will always struggle with the format. And I think it’s for this reason that I find it hard to get excited about sending my work out to journals. But maybe I’m not the only person who should get to decide how to read the things I write. I’m not the only person who gets to decide. How these motherfuckers are read.

Someday I’d like to return to my venue of choice—I guess what you’d call self-publishing. Now is certainly not the time. Now is the time for finishing my book and sending out old stories and new essays. I’ll try not to think of the submissions process in a you’re-just-doing-this-to-get-your-name-out-there-and-that’s-gross kind of way. I’ll try to send stuff out because–I’m-not-the-only-person-who-gets-to-decide! I’m happy to have come up with a good reason.

Alright. I’m really leaving. I’m happier with this goodbye, not completely happy; I just really have to get going. I just really have to go to bed. Talk to you later.

Onward. Love.