Charlene Spierer (and My Kids) on My Mind

Until last weekend, I don’t think I had spent a total of 60 minutes of my life thinking about Amy Winehouse. I liked her music OK, but I found her brand of uglifying herself and her life unappealing. When, immediately after her death was announced, her parents and handlers said they didn’t see it coming (an opinion that they amended in subsequent days), my thought was only that how didn’t they see the train sliding off the rails. YouTube videos of some of her final concerts (Amy Winehouse’s Onstage Meltdown‬‏ – YouTube http://bit.ly/oTQiZt) show an out-of-it performer stumble onstage and even drag a backup singer to take over the vocals. She became more famous for her mishaps than her music.

Then I started thinking about her parents. Her father has stepped forward to announce that he will start a foundation in her name for people with addictions. (His assessment of the British National Health’s facilities for treatment is likely incorrect, however. The National Treatment Agency disputed Mitch Winehouse’s claim that there is a two-year waiting list. They say 94% of people who request treatment receive it within three weeks.) In some way this gesture must be therapeutic for him. But there’s still the undeniable fact that his daughter is dead, forever and ever.

I’m not sure at all how parents deal with seeing their adult children self-destruct. Even many of us with absolutely normal kids spend a lot of time agonizing over their happiness. My friends and readers have been aware that my main focus this week (besides the debt ceiling) has been my kids, their significant others, and the bar exam. They have been studying all summer, and on Tuesday they got up very early and sat down to six hours of testing. They completed another six-hour round today. Tomorrow my son and his girlfriend take the New Jersey Bar (which I maintain must have questions about the Jersey Shore, Pineys, and the New Jersey Devil). Yes, my children have done things that are dangerous (most of which I probably don’t know about), and they have at times given me due cause for worry. But they are alive, in Brooklyn, and I think that they’ll get over the hurdles of finding jobs and places to live. They are alive. They drive me crazy. They are alive and functioning.

I also spent time this weekend thinking about Charlene Spierer, the mother of the missing 20-year-old from Indiana University, a woman I knew when the family lived nearby and our daughters were besties in elementary school. As the search for Lauren has passed out of the news cycle, Charlene and Robert remain in Bloomington, waiting for answers. All the volunteers and the press have noted their graciousness, a perfect word to describe their composure during this trying time, their generosity to the community, their earnest wish—belief, rather—that someone who knows something will step forward.

Charlene wrote an open letter on their blog (http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com) six days ago describing what it is like to wake each morning hoping that today is the day they “find” her. How they in their hearts are defining “find” I cannot know. I can feel their pain, though, their anxiety. I think about how they “don’t know” and I get a headache, a heartache. I joke about a nightmare I had of being in the Apple Store and of the geniuses not being able to fix “it” (unspecified in the dream). It was a dream about my anxiety about my kids, though, and when I awoke, I felt I had a nightmare. Charlene, Robert, their lovely daughter Rebecca, their nieces Emily and Ariel, all the family, are in a living nightmare.

When she was 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, the years she was so close to Rebecca, my daughter used to say, “isn’t Charlene the nicest person you know?” Yes, the answer is yes.

Our kids do dangerous things. We worry. But some people have a lot more to worry about than others. Terrible things happen; some of them can be prevented, some of them can’t. Our job as parents is to be there for our kids, even when they’re adults. I called my son tonight and said, “It’s your cheerleader. I’m carrying pom-poms, making a pyramid. You go!” I called my daughter and said, “Wow. It’s over. What are you doing to celebrate?”

I plead with the parents of Lauren’s friends: Talk to your kids. Support them as they come forward and do the right thing. Think about Charlene’s nightmare. Your kids will be fine. They are alive.

The picture of Lauren is blurry because it was taken with a surveillance camera and is the last known image of her.

I know I always end with bullet points, but only two tonight:

  • Even something small could be big. The telephone number for the Bloomington Police Department is 812-339-4477. “America’s Most Wanted” is also taking calls: 800-Crime-TV (800-274-6388). For more information, check the website http://findlauren.com.
  • We are also facing a financial crisis in this country. Call your congress people. We live in a democracy; what we say counts. If you need your congress person’s telephone, check http://house.gov  and http://senate.gov. You can also find many of them on Facebook—like their pages to leave comments. Or if you’re on Twitter, tweet at them.

As always, I love your comments, even ones from nuclear physicists. You can find me on Facebook at either www.facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or www.facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. My Twitter handle is @wordwhacker, and on Google+ I’m gplus.to/lindabernstein.

Lauren Still Missing; Still Missing Lauren

“People just don’t disappear,” Robby Spierer said at a news conference about the search for his 20-year-old daughter Lauren, who vanished in the early morning hours of June 3, 2011.

Unfortunately, Robby is wrong. Young woman, girls, go missing every day, all over the world. And what we Americans don’t like to see is that young women and girls get abducted and forced into sex slavery here in the United States of America all the time. Amy Fine Collins wrote an amazing column about sex trafficking in the online version of Vanity Fair on May 24, 2011. For the women in this story, things mostly turn out OK. They have been rescued. The nightmare they endured is over.

But these particular words from the article haunt me: “Caught in the vice unit’s net was a fragile, ghostly, almost child-like blonde. Barely five feet tall and scarcely 90 pounds . . ..” That could describe Lauren: blond, barely five feet tall, scarcely 90 pounds. I am not positing that a pimp abducted Lauren and has turned her into a sex slave. I’m only calling attention to the fact that girls do go missing, girls just like Lauren. (Here’s the Vanity Fair article. Read it! http://vnty.fr/mSNleY)

As a mom—as a mom who knew Lauren Spierer when she was a child—I have been caught up in the “search,” but from afar. I blog; I tweet; I talk to my daughter, who was best friends in elementary school with Lauren’s older sister. Compared to those on the ground in Indianapolis, what I do barely crosses the threshold of nothing. There are people who put on hiking clothing everyday to search ravines and woods. Law enforcement agents sift through tips. Through this all the Spierer family has been resolute and dignified, eloquent.

Those in the Bloomington community have come to regard Lauren as one of their own, which she is. For them, even the hundreds who do not know her, finding Lauren has become a mission. And then there are the thousands and thousands who are following the blogs and Twitter feed. “What’s pulling them in,” I wonder. The wünderkind New York Times reporter Brian Stelter (twitter handle: @brianstelter) made an important observation in article on the Casey Antony case that the public suffers from a lurid fascination with tot killers. (http://nyti.ms/jP5VRO) To the list of what grabs an audience I would add “attractive young women who disappear into thin air.”

Still, all those people out there who have been tweeting and retweeting Lauren’s information are playing a vital role—because somebody out there knows where she is. Today we call it “crowd-sourcing.” It was through twitter “crowd-sourcing” that NPR reporter Andy Carvin (twitter handle: @acarvin. Follow him) was able to debunk the rumor that Israel was providing bombs to Libya. In 2004 New Yorker writer James Surowiecki called this phenomenon “the wisdom of crowds. This time we hope the crowd will be able to find Lauren. True, Robby was wrong: young women disappear all the time. But Lauren’s mom, Charlene, was right when she admonished: “Shame on you, shame on you” to anyone who knows something and has not come forward. No matter what you did or saw, the more time that goes by, the worse it will be for you. The more time that goes by, the worse it becomes for Lauren’s family. Be a human being. Say what you know.

Before I list a few things that Baby Boomers might want to think about, here are some important resources.

A woman in Indiana, who I’m not sure wants to be named, has been running a blog and twitter feed. Here’s some important information.

 

1. Twitter feed: @NewsOnLaurenS.

2. To find out how you can help online:

http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/10-tips-to-help-findlauren.html

3. For people in Bloomington, to help organize volunteers who want to search: http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/will-you-become-find-lauren-search.html

4. To remind others of the tip line and the reward. “Any information would be most helpful.”

http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/friday-evenings-tweet-please-rt.html

 

Malorie Janasek, who is young and hip and beautiful and an IU graduate, has a younger, hipper, more beautiful blog on her site: http://maloriejanasek.com. Read her. Follow her on Twitter at @maloriejanasek.

For a video of the press conference, see http://bit.ly/miCAlk, from Fox News Insider.

 

Takeaways for Baby Boomers:

  • Keep track. Sometimes the best way to stay close is to pull back and let our children have “their space.” But we need to figure out how to know their friends, their habits. Can we somehow be in their lives without being annoying? Suggestions here? (And I am in no way imputing that Robert and Charlene did anything they shouldn’t have or neglected to do something. As I wrote in a previous post, they are about the best people you’d ever want to mee.)
  • Do something about young people’s alcohol consumption. Bad things happen to young people when they are very drunk. But young people drink, and, it seems to me, there’s not much parents or even colleges can do to stop this. But any ideas? Are there ways for high schools and colleges to get involved without alienating their students? I remember my daughter had to complete an online course on alcohol before she started college. She made fun of it. But, I consider myself fortunate here, she doesn’t hold her liquor well and prefers being sober to being sick.
  • Rally for better safety surveillance. Yeah, this is going to go over big in a country that daily becomes more concerned about Big Brother and Big Government, whether it is healthcare or security cameras. Students won’t want to be watched, but more security guards and cameras might be the ticket.

 

Please leave your comments. I understand that since I moved the blog from Blogher to my own website, I’ve become impossible to find unless one knows the name of my blog. In other words, when one searches Google for “baby boomers,” I’m on, like, page 10. The more comments on the blog, the better the search engine optimization. I’m not saying I don’t love the emails and Facebook comments. I do! Keep those up too. You can all be my Facebook friends: friend me at www.facebook.com/linda.bernstein; like my page at www.facebook.com/lindabernsteinphd.

Two Girls Missing, One Real, One Fake

For the past week or so my Twitter feed has lit up with two stories: the unmasking of “Gay Girl In Damascus,” who turns out to be a 40-year-old white heterosexual guy from Atlanta currently studying in Edinburgh, and the disappearance of Lauren Spierer, a very real 20-year-old from Greenburgh, NY, who has been studying at the University of Indiana. How different these circumstances, and, yet, how well both illustrate the power of social media.

The first, the so-called Amina, was actually an invention of social media. Eager to combat what he misreads in our society as “liberal Orientalism” (yes, this Tom MacMaster fellow has evidently turned the pages of Edward Said’s influential—and I believe wrongly reasoned—book, Orientalism, but not much understood their content), MacMaster drew out a character, an American-born gay girl living in Damascus who claimed that she was the victim of more overt hatred when she appeared in America wearing a hijab than when she announced her sexual proclivity in Syria, a country under the thumb of a brutal dictator where homosexuality is against the law. He created a blog for her. When this character “Amina” was supposedly kidnapped (MacMaster said he wanted to end the blog), the Twittersphere went nuts. The American government got involved—she was, after all, supposedly half American. The FBI quickly concluded she didn’t exist, never had. The Twittersphere dragged it out for days and days more until they had final, conclusive evidence that no one had ever seen her or spoken to her voice-to-voice. MacMaster, not the most devious hoaxster, was easy to track down. He hadn’t even masked his IP address account. Everything could be traced to him.

Lauren is a real flesh and blood American girl. There’s no doubt she exists. I knew her when she was a child. She has a mom, a dad, a sister. She seems to have a lot of friends, and in the days since she’s gone missing, has amassed 20,000 “virtual” friends, people who are following the progress of the search on Facebook and Twitter. I am furious with the lawyers of some of the young men considered “people of interest” who have underscored that Lauren was drinking the night (morning) she disappeared, who have emphasized that she liked to party with boys. Oy, that’s what young people do these days. And I wish they didn’t. I wish they were playing chess or something else. But they’re not. And it’s so wrong to blame the victim.

At the beginning of the Find Lauren ordeal, I was struck by the professionalism of the person running the @NewsOnLaurenS Twitter account. She managed to get the most information into 140 characters or less—leaving room for retweets. She attached photos of Lauren, of the “missing” poster. She “live-blogged” the press conferences. She had a good hashtag (#FindLauren). She had a wonderful voice and a positive manner that has remained appropriate as we got past the 48-hours missing, one-week missing, and other timeline milestones. She had the good idea of contacting celebrities and asking them to retweet—and many did. Eventually all the major news organizations picked up the story. I asked my daughter who this person could be, and she conjectured a friend of Lauren or Rebecca (Lauren’s older sister, my daugher’s friend). When the Twitter-Master seemed to be having some problems setting up a feed blog, I contacted her. She described herself as, “just a woman from Indiana with some experience with social media, but nothing like this.” She is a true heroine of the digital age.

One thing about the social media community: they’re often generous with their time and knowledge. So when I contacted two ultra-super-amazing social media geniuses I know, Mo Krochmal (@Krochmal) and Amy Vernon (@amyvernon), they both came up with blogging solutions, and for Lauren’s Twitter manager, one of them worked.

The Facebook community that grew up with a page begun by Lauren’s friends quickly devolved into disaster. People expounded theories, called each other names, talked about other crimes. It provided very little real information about Lauren—though it did give people a place to vent and a space to offer love and support to her family. I’m not overlooking the importance of that. But it became too much drama, and to counteract that group (which I exited), her parents had someone set up a page where people could not leave comments and would only give information. But there is no information.

The parallels between the real girl and the fake girl have been bugging me for days. While people were using social media to seek real clues about Lauren, those burrowing into the Amina story were, in my opinion, largely navel gazing. Yes, MacMaster did something potentially harmful. The Syrian government now claims all anti-Syrian blogs are “false” in one way or another. He possibly also endangered the gay/lesbian community in Syria as they revealed themselves in comments on the “Gay Girl in Syria” blog. MacMaster stole the identity of a beautiful young English woman by scraping her Facebook page for photos. And, reportedly, he stole the heart of a Canadian woman with whom he exchanged flirtatious and sexually explicit emails. Compared to MacMaster, Anthony Weiner was dialing 411. Sadly, he is bound to make money off of this, something he says in a Skype interview with The Guardian that he deserves (Gay Girl in Damascus hoaxer: I did it out of vanity – video | World news | guardian.co.uk http://bit.ly/jQeQdz). But the efforts to ferret all this out—what do you have in the end? A lying asshole, a Syrian government as repressive as ever (and horribly uncaring and cynical, opening their border with Israel to “protestors” who will, of course, be repelled by some means eventually violent and thus deflect attention away from a government killing children), a woman with a broken heart? And a social media community that knows it was punked.

To those Twitter people involved with the Arab Spring and Middle East news, people with many followers who took the time to retweet Lauren’s information, thank you. And those of you who did not, to borrow Charlene Spierer’s words, “Shame on you.” You especially know the import of crowd sourcing. At this time, I believe, the police in Bloomington are trying to ID a car. Someone out there saw something, and perhaps a tweet, a link to a poster can help jog a memory of something half seen, not considered important then, but . . . . .

The hours tick by and reporters are still talking about Amina and those who “uncovered” the hoax are speaking to interested audiences. Go away, Amina. You never existed. Lauren Spierer does, and her family wants her back. Sure, maybe Lauren doesn’t have the social significance of a “Gay Girl in Syria” blogging about the revolution. Lauren just wanted to go into fashion. Have fun. Be a young person. She also probably wanted to grow up and have a job she loved and a husband and kids. Normal stuff that wouldn’t have changed the world, except for those who love her. Lauren would never have made this kind of social media splash, except that she went missing.

The woman doing the Twitter—she’s heroic and clever, linking the feed to the Twitter trending map. That’s also wishful thinking because, as the time draws out and the police have nothing new to say, fewer people will turn out for the searches, fewer people will spread the word. The news cycle is changing. Amina is hanging on, but Lauren might disappear from the public consciousness. And that’s why it’s so important that someone right now turns up something important so that the media refocuses its spotlight on Lauren.

I have no tips except:

  • Use Facebook or Twitter to get the message out. For information, go to Twitter.com and search #FindLauren or @NewsOnLaurenS.
  • Or just google Lauren Spierer. Email her picture and information about the reward and contacts to everyone you know. And people you don’t know.
  • Join Facebook or Twitter. Something like Lauren’s disappearance is a great argument for the importance of social media to people of all ages. A friend in Israel wrote to me, “your family is my family,” and then reposted my last blog about Lauren. (Oh, Ellen, what great values you have.) Yes, this is especially poignant to those of use who are parents and grandparents. Both Twitter and Facebook have enough tutorials so you can probably join yourself. Remember that google will lead you to VIDEO tutorials. And soon, when I have time, I’ll do a Baby Boomer special rundown so that soon we’ll all be tweeting. My dream: in our Twitter feeds now and then a young blond will turn up, saying something like, “Just had the best burger ever.” Earth moving news. Because we’ll know she’s alive.

Finally, please leave your comments.

Lauren Spierer Is Missing

Lauren Spierer has been missing for almost a week now. In the wee hours last Friday morning, she left a bar near her apartment in Bloomington, IN, where the 20-year-old is a student, and never arrived home.

A parent’s worst nightmare, this kind of disappearance, usually ending up unsolved or as a murder case happens all too often. (Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, kidnap victims who lived to tell their gut-wrenching stories, are exceptions.)

This time it’s particularly hitting home for me because I knew Lauren when she was a little thing. I mean, at 4 foot 11 inches weighing 90 lbs, she remained a little thing as she was growing into a beautiful adult. Her older sister and my daughter were best friends through elementary school, and then the Spierer family moved to Westchester where their girls would be safer. If they stayed in New York City, Rebecca would have had to take the bus through a pretty unsavory area to get to the wonderful middle school she had chosen.

We saw the Spierers now and again for a few years after they moved: the girls’ bat mitzvahs, a playdate here and there. Charlene worked at a high-end Florist, owned by her husband’s cousin, right near my apartment, and although my husband, daughter and I always said Charlene might be the nicest person I knew, somehow we had a hard time getting together. That kind of thing happens, I have discovered time and time again, when people wend their way through the paths of life.

At five Lauren was an amazing chatterbox, a little more outgoing than her serious (but fun-loving) older sister, who at the age of eight was determined to become a pediatrician. One of the perks of being an editor at the now defunct Sesame Street Parents was that we could recruit our friends with little kids to take part in the “toy test.” Every year the magazine editors would examine hundreds of toys. Eventually (in the early summer, actually), we sent out boxes of goodies to lucky children. The moms and dads would record the kids’ reactions, and finally after a few weeks everyone got together for a big focus group. Then I would write up the results. (I chose Tickle Me Elmo one year, even though the laughing doll scared the hell out of the kids, because I knew it would be a winner with the parents.) The article would appear in the November issue, just in time for holiday toy buying. One year Lauren got a beautiful doll in a trunk with lots of clothes. Another year it was tons of Breyer horses and stables and other equipment.

“Say thank you,” Charlene told Lauren when I ran into them.

Lauren just smiled. A huge smile. A much better gift to me than anything I could have given her.

Since the weekend, when the Spierers and the Bloomington police went public with the search, I have been on a Twitter list, @NewsOnLauren, which provides links to press conferences, etc. There is no real news. The Chief of Police said that they’re sure she isn’t in Bloomington. I asked my Twitter followers, some with followers in the thousands, to retweet the link to original “missing” poster and information. The social media community, always generous, retweeted. I believe that the more widespread her picture, the greater chance of finding her, if she is alive. Her parents, however, have asked for more “boots on the ground.”

If you’re on Twitter, again the handle is @NewsOnLauren. There are several hashtags, #FindLauren being the one with the most information. The link to her picture is http://yfrog.com/h2c8x9j. Ryan Seacrest has tweeted it. So can you. This is the link to her poster: http://twitpic.com/5842fw. You can put it on your Facebook page. A Facebook group, Missing Lauren Spierer, is sometimes updated by one of her cousins, but mostly has become a venting ground for spurious theories and expressions of love.

My own kids are at this moment probably safe in their apartments. Have they done unsafe things? Oh, you betcha. Will they do them again? Probably. As my son approaches 28, I think his judgment improves. My daughter is naturally cautious. But still.

Remember how we all used to have to REMEMBER to buckle up our seat belts? Now it comes so naturally that I reached for a seat belt the other day when I sat in the pedicure chair. I’d like young people to adopt safety behavior that becomes so ingrained it’s reflexive. Here are some of my thoughts about what we should be teaching them.

  • Always travel in groups, even if you’re walking a block. If you ask them, they say they do it. Evidently, they don’t really actually do so.
  • Find an adult you can call anytime, anywhere. Most everyone I know would get up in the middle of the night if a young person we knew called to say he or she needed help.
  • Carry a loud, loud whistle. Bloomington, IN unsafe? I guess so. Lauren disappeared in the space of a few blocks. Would one of the shrieking whistles been enough to scare whoever took her away? Maybe. It’s worth a try.
  • Pressure bartenders not to serve minors. Yeah right. But why can’t a bouncer make sure young people leave in groups? Why can’t the bar keep check to see the whistle around a person’s neck as he or she walks out of the bar after a late night of partying?

Have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them. I’d love for people to join me in advocacy for keeping young people safe. I’d love for anyone to put this on their Facebook page or Twitter accounts. I’d love for you all to leave comments below.