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On this week's summit-level weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles pays tribute to the late Anthony Bourdain; This Modern World quizzes Rudy Giuliani on constitutional law; Jen Sorenson looks at the New World Order; Red Meat deals with some cattle problems; and Apoca Clips heads for Mars.

Published in Comics

Be careful ... this weekly Independent comics page will grab you by the ... mind! In it, This Modern World looks at the bizarro election of 2016; Jen Sorenson speculates on Hillary Clinton's internal debate; The K Chronicles tells a sobering story about a woman who chose to end her own life; and Red Meat learns about the creation of mankind.

Published in Comics

A great theater experience allows us to see our human selves reflected back—in a way that moves, informs and enables us to relate to the realities of the lives of others.

When I was 17, my father threw me out because I had stayed out all night. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant out of wedlock and contemplated suicide. I remember despondently standing in front of a bathroom mirror, ready to slit my wrists, and suddenly saying out loud to my reflection, “If it’s that bad, it can only get better.”

And it did.

Those feelings were overwhelmingly brought back when I attended the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production of Push, written by George Cameron Grant, and directed by Cathedral City resident Jeanette Knight. The play was this season’s Youth Outreach Production. I first experienced this CV Rep program last year, when the focus was on female bullying.

The theater buses in students from throughout the area to see a one-act play about issues to which they can personally relate. After the production, the audience discusses the play’s themes with the actors and the director, to explore their own reactions and experiences. It’s more than a learning experience: For some students, it’s the first time they have attended dramatic theater and realized its ability to impact an audience.

Push revolves around a young man who comes out as gay to his parents and faces immediate rejection by his stern father. After the boy is thrown out, he subsequently suffers another rejection—by the boy he has fallen in love with—and commits suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. The play follows the anguish suffered by his sister, who runs away from home and is discovered at the same train station, contemplating ending her own life. As she struggles with her own feelings, she questions whether her brother made a choice, or whether he was “pushed” by others to feel he had no other options.

The performers in Push were almost all students, some of whom have never acted before. Their ability to inhabit the roles and then discuss with the audience the impact of those roles as it relates to their own lives and experiences was not only educational, but also very moving.

Ron Celona, the founding artistic director of CV Rep, participated in the after-play discussion. He noted that the 1,400-plus students who had seen Push were not so focused in the after-play discussions on the bullying and rejection of the boy’s sexuality; instead, their focus was on the suicide, an issue they and their friends had already encountered, either personally or through troubled acquaintances.

Jeanette Knight, originally from Michigan, has been in the desert since 1997.

“My mother dragged me to dance classes, and I now thank her every day for it,” she says. “I stayed with dance, and that’s how I got into acting.”

Knight began doing musical theater, and “I fell in love with the whole theater crowd.” She completed a degree in theater at UNLV, but says, “I’ve learned so much more from doing it outside of college.”

Knight’s local experience includes working at McCallum Theater as the education program manager, running the Beaumont Actors Studio, teaching acting and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and teaching classes in improv at CV Rep. “I’ve learned so much about acting by teaching it,” she says.

When Ron Celona approached Knight about directing Push, she jumped at the chance. “I really like doing this kind of theater,” she says. “We can’t sweep these issues under the carpet. The kids who come to see these shows are our future.”

There are two local efforts devoted to assisting young people who feel unsafe or who are aware of someone else who feels threatened or hopeless: Sprigeo is an anonymous reporting and investigation service to deal with bullying, harassment or intimidation in or out of school, with which the Palm Springs Unified School District is affiliated. SafeHouse of the Desert helps teens in crisis; those who feel threatened can go to any Sunline bus stop or McDonald’s and get free transportation to SafeHouse.

My parents finally allowed me to return home, but only if I gave my child up for adoption. In those days, there was no real way a teenage unwed mother could make it, so I lived with the hope that my son had indeed been able to live a better life than I could have given him. My first-born son and I were happily reunited after over 40 years. He is a gay man.

At the end of Push, when the sister decides her life is worth living, and her father apologizes for having rejected his son and contributing to his death, I was overcome with tears. All I could think was: I am so thankful that something inside of me knew it would get better, and that my son was adopted into a family where he was loved and accepted.

CV Rep is truly making a difference. In Jeanette Knight’s words: “It’s rewarding to have a hand in art not just for art’s sake, but to be a part of theater that can help make the world a better place.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I remember my friend Jean every time I hear about the suicide death of a young person.

Jean found her 17-year-old son, shot dead by his own hand, in their living room. Although I have known others who lost a child (a reality I can thankfully only imagine), it’s Jean who stands out. The impact on her family was devastating.

That was the first suicide involving somebody close to me; sad to say, I’ve had others in my life. It was also the first time I heard the adage: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in ERs across the country. HealthyChildren.org says that suicide is one of the three leading causes of death for 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of four deaths every day.

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts with a firearm are usually deadly, while people who use drugs or other methods have a greater chance for survival. About 45 percent of young people use firearms to attempt suicide, and boys are more at risk to die: 81 percent of deaths are males—because they are more likely to use firearms.

“Even in the best of circumstances, when you’re in adolescence, you feel different,” says Palm Desert resident Carol Bayer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who counsels many teenagers. “Depression and despair can come from betrayal or rejection by a best friend, the end of a love affair, family conflicts, or just feeling isolated, alone, and without family support or coping skills. Even if they want to reach out, they assume others will say they’re just being ‘dramatic’ and tell them to get over it. But they don’t believe they have options other than ending the pain.”

A recent effort, specifically targeted toward LGBT teenagers, is the” It Gets Better” campaign, which uses videos—featuring people ranging from normal, everyday folks to high-profile stars—to reach out to bullied young people.

“Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are,” says the website. Organizers ask people to join their campaign and to pledge: “I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.”

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner is shining light on transgender suicide in her new reality TV program.

But it’s not enough to just tell kids it gets better. An analysis by Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates that for every age group across the country, “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide. … The vast majority of adolescent suicide guns come from parents or other family members.”

A 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund indicates the gun death rate for children and teens is four times greater in the United States than in Canada (the country with the next-highest rate), and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain. Even more disturbing, public health researchers found that 43 percent of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm.

The Children’s Defense Fund also reports that in 2008-2009, an estimated U.S. 127 children died from gunshots in their homes, and dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. More than half pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another child. At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured; 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, with 50 of them in homicides. The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

Research by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when doctors consult with patients about the risk of keeping firearms in a home, it leads to significantly higher rates of handgun removal or safer storage. Yet the National Rifle Association has fought against such policies, backing the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which prohibited doctors, even pediatricians, from asking patients about firearms in the home.

When a 2-year-old gets access to his dad’s loaded gun and shoots himself, or a 13-year-old gets hold of an unsecured rifle and blasts a 9-year-old in the face, or a 2-year-old is shot in the head before her father turns the gun on himself, or two young children shoot others and then kill themselves—when we have apparently become inured to the death of children at school, or we take as the new normal random killings in movie theaters, have we at last lost our ability to be outraged and insist that public policy respond to limit these horrendous events?

Even as violent crime rates overall have declined steadily in recent years, rates of gun injury and death are climbing. In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of doctors wrote: "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people or that people kill people with guns—the result is the same: a public health crisis.”

Meanwhile, Congress, under the aggressive and well-funded lobbying influence of the NRA, refuses to allow funding for federal medical research to study firearm deaths and injuries as the public health issues they clearly are. According to Mother Jones, “Political forces effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: (There have been) no relevant studies published since 2005.”

There are two types of gun-related public health costs. First, there are direct costs, exceeding $8.6 billion, with the largest portion being long-term prison costs; about 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. Second, there are indirect costs, adding up to at least $221 billion, including lost income, losses to employers, and losses based on court costs and awards to victims and their families. One would think that based on cost alone, Congress would be willing to act. Of course, that’s not the case.

As overwhelming as all these statistics may be, and as helpless as we may feel to impact public policy, there are ways to get involved and make a difference:

  • Moms Demand Action has a local chapter and needs volunteers who are willing to spread the message that we must act to protect kids from accidental or deliberate use of guns. Palm Desert’s Dori Smith (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the local representative, reminds us: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”
  • California law requires that guns in homes with children be kept locked away, preferably with trigger guards, with ammunition stored separately.
  • Never assume that children don’t know where guns are, or that they are unable to access them—they do, and they will. Grandparents, this means you, too.
  • Ask parents of your children’s friends about the status of firearms in their homes before your child spends time there. Better safe than sorry.
  • If your teen becomes depressed, and you have any concern about access to firearms, get guns out of your house for the time being.
  • Take seriously any thoughts of or mention of suicide, and immediately seek professional help. Go to the emergency room if no other option exists.
  • The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors an annual Out of the Darkness Walk, a chance to be with others who can share their experiences and coping skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Tell your elected representatives that you want medical professionals to be allowed to study and then implement firearm-related public health policies.

Most survivors of a suicide attempt are glad they were saved. Unfortunately, those who make that attempt with a firearm are usually successful. I can never erase from my mind the agony of my friend Jean when she found her son’s body. No parent should ever have to face that.

We must never accept this as the new normal. These are our children.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Richard Brautigan grew up in Oregon, convinced he'd be an influential writer. He rose to fame in San Francisco and later split his time between Bolinas, Calif.; Livingston, Mont.; and Japan. He published 10 poetry books and a dozen novels, including the once-banned 1967 classic Trout Fishing in America.

As his work's popularity declined, his alcohol use escalated, and in 1984, at the age of 49, he committed suicide.

While his distinctive, irreverent and illuminating work may have had its greatest impact on post-modern culture when first released, Trout Fishing in America became the moniker of an experimental school in Boston, a crater on the moon, a Grammy-nominated band and at least one baby. Brautigan continues to inspire scholarly dissertations, plays, songs, art, films, blogs and fansites today.

Even if you're not a Brautigan fan, it's worth picking up novelist and screenwriter William Hjortsberg's definitive new biography, Jubilee Hitchhiker, for intimate histories of 1960s counterculture in the San Francisco Bay Area (although Brautigan loathed being classified as one of the "Beat" generation) and of the 1970s "Montana Gang" convergence of writers and artists, including Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Tim Cahill and Jimmy Buffett: "Up in Montana, Brautigan encountered an unexpected literary scene … a group of writers who enjoyed trout fishing, drinking whisky, and shooting guns as much as he did—writers who rejected trendy urban coteries, yet remained passionate about art and literature."

Hjortsberg was Brautigan's neighbor in Montana. Their properties, friends, parties, conflicts, families and writing careers overlapped for decades.

Hjortsberg began Brautigan's biography in 1991, motivated by a contract and hefty publisher advance, and says, "If I'd known going in what it would take to get the job done, I would have quit right at the start." He conducted 169 interviews, read all of Brautigan's diaries, incorporated anecdotes from memoirs by friends and family members, traveled extensively, and found the father Brautigan never knew. Hjortsberg rarely inserts himself in the book, but his knowledge is intimate—as are the book's eight pages of revealing black-and-white photographs.

The procession of details—from where the wood of Brautigan's Bolinas house was milled, to dozens of flight and hotel room numbers—can wear a reader down. Nevertheless, Jubilee Hitchhiker is fascinating, both as a historical document and for its insight into Brautigan's innovative work and troubled life: "Death had walked by his side since childhood, kept at bay first by ambition and later by success. These props no longer supported him."

While no one can truly know what leads a person to suicide—especially someone like Brautigan, who left no note—this biography illuminates everything that led to his death: The sweetness, struggle, cruelty and genius are all laid bare.

This book review originally appeared in High Country News.

Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan

By William Hjortsberg

Counterpoint

864 pages; $29.95

Published in Literature