Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2nd Life

A short story

I remember everything. It has been almost 30 years now. It seems like another life. It was another life.

Let me explain. I don’t remember everything. Especially not my births. Thank god I don’t remember my first or my second birth. I think that regardless of the nature of a soul, there is something that prevents people from remembering such incidences. I do remember the big stuff. The same stuff that everyone remembers. I just remember it for two lives.

I’m not too sure what killed me the first time, something probably from behind. I definitely didn’t see it. And it was probably unexpected because I can’t even remember the exact day that it was. And I know I died right before I was born because my last strong memory is of 4 days before my new birthday.

But my life has been odd. It was tough to be trapped in a child’s body with all the memories of a full-grown adult. Most of my childhood was rediscovering how to be a child again. Needless to say I was homeschooled. I stopped talking about being reincarnated about 4 years after I was born. No one believed me for many obvious reasons.

When I turned 7 I made a resolution to change it all. I would change who I was before. I didn’t like the nobody I had become in my last life. I would take my mistakes from before and do something meaningful. Meaningful because I had been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I did that.

Childhood was tough; I was a chameleon until I couldn’t be one. I could never be one for long. I did do something that I never regretted ever. I stood up for the underdog. I reached out to the children, even the mean ones, and I made them better. And at some point, children would not want to spend time with me anymore; they sensed that I didn’t belong in their world; that I was against nature.

Adults similarly made that connection. They were impressed by my knowledge and conversational ability; freaked out by the fact that I was smarter than them. I realized that would perpetually be my fate. Revolutionary until I was a complete outsider. I could fix the world but it would never want me.

I descended into bitterness, something that does not sit well on a 12 year old. So I hid away my body. It would only hinder me. I sent correspondence all sorts of ways; I made every sort of proposal for every sort of skill I already had. I was born with a PhD in Business Politics and Advanced Project Management. I took that knowledge and by the time I was 15 I had found my backer. He gave me a small budget, probably because he was curious to see if a 15 year old could do what I had proposed, and I turned that into a $45 million dollar corporation by 17. When I turned 22, I was in control of more assets than half the world’s governments and had enough economic activity in so many parts of the world that I had enforced a sort of uneasy peace due to economic necessity. If one nation went to war with another, it would disrupt my supply chain and halt the economies of 2/3 of the world.

By the time I turned 25, 14 separate governments, 4 corporations, and 2 psychopaths had tried to kill me. But that didn’t really worry me, I had died before. What worried me was that I couldn’t end the suffering or the violence. War between nations had stopped. I fed everyone in the world. No one wanted anything, but they still fought. I withdrew into my room. I disappeared. No one was there for me; the world had turned itself against me. I gave everyone everything, but I had nothing. No one could understand me. No one could believe who I was. I was just the outsider again, and the whole world knew it now.

They rejected the peace I had given them, and I was isolated. Then I found her. Lovely, perfect, wonderful. The biggest mistake I made in my old life was that I gave myself away to people that couldn’t take it. They would drop my heart on the floor and carelessly let it get stepped on and kicked around. She never abused me; never asked for anything more than me. And she opened up to me. The first person to ever open up that space; the indefinable and vulnerable space of her heart. And I could explore that space. Live comfortably there. She gave me a home where I felt I had none.

And it felt like she got me—understood something I could not explain. She was a new experience. We both saw something in the world from a perspective no one else had. And I gave myself wholly and completely to her.

I told her about being reincarnated. I told her about my life. I opened up to her. She told me that it was cheating. We laughed about it, finished eating our dinner. We made love and fell asleep.

That was two hours ago. Five minutes ago I woke up with her sitting on me holding a scythe over my head. She wore white. My beautiful muse, the woman that had inspired me. She held the scythe gracefully over my head, poised to thrust it into my heart.

The angel of death. She had come to take me finally. I owed her my life, both of them. I looked at the clock 11:58.

“Can I have another chance at this?” I asked her.

“No, you are an anomaly, and you will remain so. After your death, a newly uncovered draft of your will demolishes your empire and the world goes back to the way it was.” She said it without emotion.

“I’m the only one like this, ever?”

“Jesus and Methuselah, but nothing like you.” This she said with some intonation; I suddenly felt special in her eyes.

“You look beautiful,” I held back a smile.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Her voice hinted at a darkness; a regret. She was losing something.

“I would have married you” I meant it wholly. I would happily give up my life to be with her, no longer isolated from the human race, “I love you.” 11:59.

“I love you too.”Her eyes watered, the clock struck 12:00, “happy birthday.” And she plunged the scythe through my body, a streak of red. Then blackness.

Bright lights flooded my eyes; I was engulfed by warm water. Hands pulled me out of the tub; and I breathed for the first time of my third life.

Art in Madness

I know I have been doing a lot of these lately, but I am quickly running out so...
Anyway, it is an essay about Madness in Art from my freshman English class.

Art portrays madness as an ever changing subject, fluid to the definitions of the artist. The art produced by the artists on the subject reveals much more about the artist and his environment than it does about the true state of madness. With the presence of the mad witches during the dark ages it becomes apparent that the madness is a projection of societal fears at the time. In the art of the witches it should be noted that they hold the staff of madness until they evolve into whimsical flying mystics that can destroy order in a tenuous world. This is especially intriguing because, the witch and the mad man are obvious distortions created by the church to help it accomplish its ends. The Catholic Church is notorious for denying women equality and for excluding pagans. The pagan women were mad for being free and bringing independence to a fiefdom. If the church could demonize the woman, such as Eve, then it could control the serfs by explaining their freedom as possession and the way of the devil. No person would dare harbor Satan-spawn, and thus no person could take in an alternative to the Catholic Church
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Similarly, men of the pagan religion were made into pariahs. The drawing of the stick of madness as a tree branch hints strongly at the tie between worshippers of the earth and madness. Mad-men would carry trees and love the earth, whereas the good Christians would shun temptation and live a joyless, sinless life tending small plots of land under an oppressive monarch chosen by God to rule. The mad men, those who carried tree branches were in reality sinners that were in a desperate bid to reap a man’s soul for the devil. Thus the Pope could comfortably sit and reduce opposition through superstition. Christianity was allowed to flourish and paganism was slowly assimilated into a gloomy culture that spoke of a distant paradise beyond life. It was fortunate that the bible has no definition for a witch, just a recommendation as to a witch’s treatment—death. The Pope was free to define his most pressing societal enemies, bands of free-thinking earth worshippers that believed in an earthly paradise instead.

The mad-man as a tool of otherization makes him an extremely important figure historically. The madman is the societal scapegoat and a “cure” would be to release him of his wild sloth and turn him into an obedient worker. The madman’s cure was to become slave labor, like everyone else.

An Account of The Five Minutes You Were Gone

A story told in a few ways, an exercise from my English class:

At 3:15:46 yesterday I put down the phone and life suddenly came into clear view. I realized first that I did not like the curtains that you love so much. I removed them. Sorry. It then occurred to me that this was an exciting event. I had to write about it. I did. I took out my sharpie and wrote about it. In the middle of this glorious description I noticed the dog you adore had become frantic. I asked it what was wrong, and it told me that it needed to disguise itself. I proceeded to use the sharpie to turn it into a black cat. The dog had trouble with its self-identity. He wanted to be a cat. Like a transgender. It must have been trans-species. I then continued writing an account of…I had to switch sharpies. The other was tired. I then continued writing an account of the glorious revelation of the curtains. I guess you are wondering why I decided to use the wall as my stationary. It is part of the minimalist direction I want to take with my life. By the way, he called. He has the tickets to Florida. I thought you were going on a business trip. Oh well. I’m leaving you. It’s part of my new minimalist direction.

Haiku
I put down the phone
I destroy what you love the most
Broken hearts do that

Senatorial debate
What the honorable Senator (asshole) neglects to mention (because he’s an idiot too) is parties that are invested in the proposition other than the American public. Chiefly among which are corporations (that have bought the honorable asshole) that, to put it lightly, appear to be in bed with some members of this chamber. Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you to look closely at this proposition. It is a blatant and inexcusable violation of the eighth amendment; more specifically the clause on cruel and unusual punishment. If this chamber passes this (which it already has because this whole chamber is owned) then we will have state sanctioned torture. This torture manifests itself chiefly in the form of a broken heart. I warn you, the people will not stand for it; they will lash out and seek out revenge. Vigilante justice against the torture will occur and after the dust has settled, the people will leave us because we have not safe-guarded them. And this senate (full of stinking, festering corruption) will be dissolved and the people will find a better one (let’s hope). So, I implore this chamber not to pass this proposition. Thank you.

Vonnegut Jr. (Surrealist?)
Even though Miles saw it as inevitable, he was not prepared for the rapidity with which everything descended. We know that Miles was going to get his heart broken but Miles only knew he would go crazy. Miles did go crazy. But first he put down the phone calmly. He was calm for a time. This calm was merely a valve that let Miles slowly release his emotions to his liking. On this day at this time, Miles turned the valve on full. He took Cindy’s most prized possessions and lashed out at them. He took the curtains down. He wrote on the wall. He drew on the dog. His pen ran out of ink but he had more. He continued to deface Cindy’s love because, even though he didn’t quite understand it, she, Cindy, had defaced his love. To a passive observer he was just crazy, but to us—and especially to himself—everything he did was just perfect. He would never know, however, that the tickets were for him and her. Cindy and Miles.

Hemingway. Minimalist.
Miles was shocked by the news. He put down the phone. He picked up the pen. He wrote on the walls. He tore down the curtains. He drew on the dog. He cried the whole time. She loved everything he ruined. He knew it. He didn’t care. She ruined everything he loved. She knew it. She hadn’t cared. Finally, he left her.

James Frey.
The stench comes through the phone. I experience blinding rage. I tear at the first thing I can see. It’s the curtains. I feel them rip in my hands. Tearing. Crashing. Infuriating. I hate the curtains. I hate everything they stand for. No thoughts. Just get rid of them. Tear. Pull. Rip. Nothing will be left. Nothing. A pen. Yes. A pen. Take it. Use it. Write. Write an account. Show her your rage. Blinding rage. All of it. Gone. But she knows now. She knows why the dog is covered in black ink. She knows why her precious curtains are on the floor. She knows why they are in a million little pieces. My rage subsides. Pain. Uncontrollable pain. My heart breaks. My heart shatters into a million little pieces. I need to leave. I find my way to the door. Lovesick and homeless now. She was cheating on me. This whole time. Two tickets to Florida. She didn’t invite me. As I stumble down the street I cry.

Proposal for More Humane Executions

A short story from my Scribner Seminar, a thought experiment

To: The Office of the Governor of the State of Virginia
From: Office of the Assistant Attorney General
Subject: Proposal for More Humane Execution Technology

It has recently come to my attention here at the office that there may be a sudden change in our methods of executing prisoners on death row pending the ruling of the Supreme Court. Whether or not I agree with the decision to outlaw lethal injection, if that be their decision, is of no concern because there has been the need for a reform of our current methods anyway. The goal of the new methods will of course have to be concurrent with the 8th amendment as well as Sections 11 and 15 of our state constitution. As a matter of public preference and peace of mind for all involved in the process, the methods must retain the utmost humaneness as well as conforming to budget constraints and feasibility. Through extensive research and consultations with experts and actual executioners it has become obvious that the most effective of these methods is the use of poisonous gas.

There is a severe stigma over poisonous gas or the gas chamber as it’s commonly called, but once we can get past its obviously bad history in light of the holocaust the gas chamber is efficient, effective, and, if used properly, humane.

First let’s address efficiency. Considering the number on death row and the already massive cost induced by constant appeals, we as a state need to reduce the cost at least on the far end where all resources are exhausted and actual execution can commence. The use of poisonous gas can be broken down to a fifteen minute process and can be done at almost any time at a moment’s notice. All that is needed is the transportation of the prisoner to the cell, the release of the gas, and the oversight of the doctors. It is that simple. The gas itself need not even be a chamber per se.

If in fact, legislation will allow it, we could easily improvise using our old lethal injection equipment or old strap-downs from the electric chair to secure prisoners down. Then we can have a reverse gas mask of sorts where hosing is installed from the mask to the source of the gas. This usage would dramatically reduce the amount of gas necessary to carry out the removal of said inmate.

Or, if costs are prohibitive in the sense that there are too many people involved in the process we could easily fashion an air tight Plexiglas enclosure that the prisoner steps into and he/she could comfortably sit down or lie down in. Instead of the barbaric leather straps we could just walk the inmate into the cell, release their shackles etc. and allow them to choose how they would like to die. Giving a prisoner the option to sit or stand or do however they please is probably the easiest way to keep abolitionists at least partially off of our backs and out of the media. With a thick Plexiglas enclosure, there would be ample viewing space for overseers while also providing protection from the gas itself. Previous models of usage for these enclosures were built before the widespread use of plastics and so lacked the cleanliness and safety that these items now assure; although to be clear, there has never been a mishap with gas where witnesses became unwitting victims.

In order to also assure the safety of the witnesses, a ducting and ventilation system separate from the rest of the complex will be rigged to the chamber. The system will have a vent and industrial fan to vent the gas immediately. As you will see this is not a hazard. After the actual administration of the gas, clearing it out could take as little as thirty seconds. Once the air is cleared and the gas has been cut it is simply a matter of removing the body and giving it to the family of the deceased. The whole process is very scientific, and fast.

When the inmate is actually in the process of death, wireless heart monitors as well as other necessary equipment will be attached to the prisoner to prevent any botched executions. Most if not all of this equipment can be stripped off of old injection equipment and applied to the new methods.

It is unequivocally clear that the process is fast, efficient, cost-effective, and safe. It may not be humane though, and that is because the gas used could be quite painful. I don’t think I really need to remind you of the terrible war stories of mustard gas or the systematic destruction of people by the Nazis. It can be humane though, and not just humane but truly painless. No other method has that claim. It is all in the chemicals used. The method that I strongly recommend is nitrogen gas.

Pure nitrogen gas would cause the inmate to suffocate without feeling the effects of suffocation. The feeling of suffocation is caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the brain according to Steven A. Creque and multiple other experts. The use of pure nitrogen prevents the buildup of carbon dioxide in the body and thus makes asphyxiation painless. That makes this method proven. Whether through the use of a modified gas mask or a chamber, nitrogen can be routed into the device and in a matter of moments pure nitrogen will be flowing and the body will not receive any oxygen, effectively killing cell functions and starving the brain. All of these effects though go completely unnoticed by the inmate, because nitrogen composes about 80% of our atmosphere it is breathed by humans every time they inhale. That means that we cannot taste it, smell it, or even detect it. It is regularly in our body all the time, and because of that the body does not notice it and continues to breathe as normal reducing with each breath the amount of oxygen in the body.

The strongest evidence for nitrogen execution actually comes from NASA where two technicians accidentally asphyxiated and killed themselves without knowing it by wandering into a tank filled with pure nitrogen. By the time that anyone realized the situation the two technicians were already deceased. There is other odd anecdotal evidence to say with certainty that nitrogen is effective and painless.

As for the matter of cost, nitrogen, because it composes 80% of our atmosphere is relatively easy and available. The process of getting pure nitrogen is easy, ask any chemistry lab. It would be far easier to obtain than the chemicals we currently use in lethal injection, and significantly less expensive.

It is also extremely safe for use as a gas. If it is vented into the atmosphere there will be no environmental risks, and no one will be harmed. It can be vented by merely putting a fan into the chamber or blowing it out of the mask. Either way, witnesses, experts, and doctors should be safe from succumbing to its effects.

Let’s review what the proposal briefly. Due to the nature of the Supreme Court and capital punishment’s continued necessity, an alternative to lethal injection is needed. That alternative is poisonous gas. It can be administered using either a mask or a custom built chamber. If nitrogen gas is used it is safe, effective, and cost effective. Not committing to at least keeping it as an option would be a severe loss to the methods and procedures that science continues to improve on and would be a loss to the state as a whole. For everything contained in this letter I strongly recommend that nitrogen gas be used as a means for administration of capital crimes.

Respectfully Submitted,


Office of the Assistant Attorney General

Killing State

Capital punishment in at least one form has existed since the beginning of civilization. It has been brutal, it has been fast, and always in America it has been an option. Over the years however, it has made a drastic transition. It has transformed from a common ruling later proceeded by commutations and leniency to one of rare sentencing and aggressive efforts to see it through. In the brief passage from Scott Turow’s Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty he briefly explores capital punishment’s current state by referring to its history in context to other emerging ideas at the time, and comparing that to the societal norms that allow us as a people to incarcerate and kill fellow humans.

One of the central principles that led to the founding of our republic was that of humanism, the belief in a universal morality that could always be applied through rationality and human appeals to logic. This is particularly evident in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence that lists a largely logical and fact based series of complaints as to how Britain has neglected the colonies and reasons for breaking into a separate government. Essentially, that as long as people are rational thinking beings they can be reasoned with and no actions can be taken against said persons without proper legal process. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration though, it became painfully obvious that the king had not been rational nor had he been receptive to legal actions, therefore the colonies had gained the right to become independent. This same reasoning allowed for the death penalty and capital crimes to permeate into the fabric of American society. Theoretically, society appeals to the criminal on multiple occasions—during development, at school, during social events, etc.—and if he or she cannot be rational and not overstep society’s boundaries then the criminal forfeits his or her rights to “life, liberty, and property” as defined in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Of course, all of this must happen in a court of law and the criminal must be given due process.

This gives way to the central argument of capital punishment, that by the time the criminal is on death row he or she is “irredeemable” and society can do nothing to rectify the person. The criminal is no longer a human with a soul, just an irrational animal that poses a danger to the world. And usually, the only solution for uncontrollable dangerous animals is to kill it. It follows quite dangerously down the road of thought that the death sentence changes a person from a him or her to an it.

Quite possibly this was intentional, more likely than not it was the product of a lazy and decadent empire that could not deal with rising unrest and social change that such a global enterprise usually elicits. Historically, the easiest way to get rid of criminals in the British Empire was to ship them overseas away from government business. Even if they weren’t criminals, but dangerous to the government’s power, the offender’s were simply excommunicated to distant places. The puritans that landed on Plymouth Rock in the 1600s were these very people. The whole colony of Australia was composed of such criminals. They were unwanted by their country and if they returned they could have quite possibly been executed. It became obvious that the government just didn’t have time to deal with these people. The solution was simple but in the case of criminals would never actually rectify the situation. It was simply moving it out of sight. The government never had or has time to address issues of poverty, crime, abuse, and societal malaise, instead it focuses/ed on headline grabbing foreign affairs specifically in the instances of the British Empire and the New American Nuclear State. This lack of concentration on the prevention of crime and subsequent rehabilitation of criminals creates the justice system that is on our hands today. The penal system is aptly named, with over 2.1 million prisoners incarcerated in jails there are relatively few programs concentrated on making prisoners into functioning citizens again, and for those scant programs all are under funded and the first to be cut in times of budget pinches. In a system where the people in it are treated as lost, it becomes a natural next step to say that these things who no longer require intellectual stimulation, good hygiene, real social interaction, or even their basic human rights anymore can be executed or forgotten about, left to rot away in an indifferent system.

In the passage, Turow explains simply that this inherent right to take away life, liberty, and property is not so inherent at all. In fact, the premises would never have entered into the social consciousness without John Locke. Along with a government’s right to give these rights to the people, a government also inherently reserves the right to take these rights away; Locke writes strongly, when the “social contract” is broken, as Locke calls it, then the offended have the right to ramifications. In the case of the Revolutionary war that right was the seed for the free world, but in the case of prisoners—and specifically death row inmates—that idea is the ticket to captivity. So the Death penalty becomes almost paradoxical, in that a right traditionally reserved for the people to prevent abusive government is used to stop abusive citizens and protect the government.

Based strictly on the constitution, the death penalty appears to be legal, but in Turow’s passage, he realizes that this concept is outdated and impractical in today’s world. Turow’s specific reference to the past and the death penalty’s associations with old Imperialist Britain illustrate fully its inadequacy and radically ancient application. A look at relevant documents from the time indicates that there was a change of mindset somewhere along the way. There is a subtle but distinct evolution from freedom-fighters to governors of a free-state. This difference is the cinch that allows the death penalty. Observe that in the Declaration of Independence, it asserts vehemently that all men are created equal and that there are certain rights that can never be taken away. Those “inalienable” rights are Life and Liberty. In the constitution however, these inalienable rights are now “rights” only in the sense that they are inherent but not in the sense that they can never be taken away. That simple phrasing in the 5th amendment, that life and liberty can be taken away with due process, essentially allows the death penalty.

What is due process though? The inability of a proper judging mechanism that is sufficiently objective and knowledgeable in this country means that “due process” often results in sham cases that strip Americans of those essential rights to life and liberty. As long as juries can be swayed by emotional appeals, as long as judges can ignore poor representation, and as America consents, then the death penalty and its injustices will continue. Due process is a fair trial that irregardless of those factors can deliver an objective and truthful verdict. The proof that due process so far as it is known in the states isn’t that lies in the sheer number of acquittals based on DNA evidence, and the disproportionate numbers of poor, retarded inmates that occupy death row.

Who knows how many innocent people have been killed because the justice system and its founding principles are both outdated and inadequate. The use of the death penalty in a system as broken and irrelevant as America’s will always result in innocents dying, rich guilty men walking, and injustice being served all around. Turow is right to say that the death penalty is marred by its history, and he should have also noted that it will continue to be marred until such time as fairness can be guaranteed. Without said guarantee, we will be no better than the very people whose bonds we broke all those years ago to become a free, better nation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Delusions of Progress: The Difficulty of Schizophrenia

An essay I wrote on Schizophrenia and the difficulty of diagnosis and treatment of the illness:

Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness that affects about 1 percent of the world’s population, that’s 65 million people. The diagnosis of schizophrenia seems to be very direct: hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, and affectivity (emotional indifference, autistic withdrawal, and loss of drive and initiative). The diagnosis is not the disease though. Schizophrenia appears to be something far different from what we know and expect. It is an elusive and possibly false disease. That is not to say that there aren’t people that suffer from these symptoms, but that schizophrenia may be an umbrella statement for multiple diseases and conditions. Schizophrenia has become the poster child for many of the issues plaguing our modern sciences; instead of an objective and concerted approach to deciphering schizophrenia’s mystery, the psychiatric community finds itself fighting political agendas from the outside and within its own field. This politically charged misdiagnosis extends all the way into treatment and therapy of the individual. Beside the current issues, schizophrenia even suffers from revisionist history to a certain extent. These issues have culminated into our modern vision of schizophrenia as a controlled disease with progressive diagnosis and treatment filled with a history of powerful scientific efforts to find a cure in the near future. This is not the case. While people continue to be diagnosed with and suffer from this debilitating condition, doctors, politicians, and the American public continue to argue about how to deal with it.

At its heart is the issue of what schizophrenia is beyond the list of symptoms. Symptoms can be treated; symptoms can fade away and disappear. Symptoms are not the illness. Even after extensive study and massive amounts of energy poured into efforts to better understand the nature of schizophrenia, it still remains a mystery.

The reasons behind schizophrenia vary widely. Many doctors involved in the diagnosing process acknowledge that developing schizophrenia is a complex process. To cut through the double-speak and proposals, schizophrenia’s origin is unknown. The various proposals include environment, nature, nurture, genetics, viruses, bacteria, neurology, sociology, and any combination thereof. Each hypothesis has very impressive numbers to back up the claim. A recent Scientific American article asserted “that up to one fifth of all schizophrenia cases are caused by prenatal infections (Wenner, 1).” But then there is the strong genetic link. “There is evidence for up to 14 ‘risk’ genes (Heinrichs, 188)” that could be heavy contributing factors for schizophrenia, but even amongst identical twins there is still only a 48 percent chance of developing schizophrenia (Heinrichs, 186). Even beyond the genetic, environmental factors such as stress could be the trigger that forces schizophrenia to exhibit itself. The general consensus is that nature and nurture have an intertwined relationship that has each element playing off of the other. Someone with a genetic predisposition could, given the right environmental factors, eventually develop schizophrenia. There are a lot of conditional parts of that statement.

These conditional factors make predicting schizophrenia an extremely hard prospect, and scientists are constantly looking for a test that would make diagnosis straightforward. The nearest test that exists is a brainwave analysis relating to an auditory test. If a person is schizophrenic, they will have a certain brainwave pattern called P50. This test is not nearly as accurate as its proponents would want the public to believe. In fact, it is easily confounded by variables as mundane as smoking. Researchers continue to point to this test as evidence of schizophrenia’s imminent breakthrough cure even though the test is shaky and inconsistent.

The prospect of diagnosis on the basis of a test or a gene is just too exciting and doctors are eager to find the one root cause of schizophrenia, but the evidence available indicates that psychiatry is facing a far more complex dilemma. Schizophrenia may not be one illness. All the tests, all the diagnoses, and all of the work seem to indicate that schizophrenia is not a uniform disease. Based on the variety of people diagnosed with the illness—their non-uniformity as a group—schizophrenia is most likely several conditions or diseases where the symptoms are similar. This could explain the varying and unpredictable results of different treatments. If the origin is viral, therapy would have very little effect; it would be like curing the flu by talking it out. Therapy does work for some though, which indicates that some schizophrenics could be mentally damaged as opposed to infected virally, lending strong support for the multiple disease theory.

Further confounding the crisis of diagnosis is the definition of a schizophrenic. A schizophrenic does not even have to exhibit one symptom to be diagnosed with schizophrenia: “Although schizophrenia, like all diseases, is defined by its symptoms…no single symptom is obligatory…There is no uniform, invariant presenting symptom or set of symptoms for schizophrenia.(Heinrichs, 27)”. What? The DSM-IV-TR, aside from its flaws as a tool for diagnosis, is still a baseline for making any sort of assessment, but doctors don’t have to follow it at all. Schizophrenia, as well as any mental illness, can be a completely subjective diagnosis.

This is all a major reflection of the egotism that is involved in the process. As an example is an article by Nicholas Tarrier contained in the very thick Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders called “Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders” which outlines CBTp (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ) as the predominant method of treatment for schizophrenics in preventing relapse. The editor, Barlow, touts Tarrier as “represent[ing] the front line of our therapeutic work with these severely disturbed patients (Barlow, 463).” Throughout this “promising” article the author references himself. That’s right, the author’s predominant source of studies or articles is himself, and for the ones that his name does not appear are colleagues that he works with in other articles that he references.

While, the benefits of CBTp are touted in the 2008 Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders the results tend to be statistically insignificant considering the correlation varies widely from -.32 to .99 over 16 studies. What does this tell us? It tells us that the correlation is not statistically uniform; it does not cluster itself around a mean of .4. Effectively, the benefits touted by the article can be nullified by the huge standard deviation of .32. in simpler terms, the numbers represent a correlation between the two variables, usage of CBTp and effective treatment of schizophrenia on a sliding scale of -1 (a negative correlation) to 1 (a positive correlation). The closer to zero the two variables are, the less related they are. The mean represents a 40 percent correlation between the two variables, which sounds good. The problem is that because the 16 studies are so inconsistent in their correlations, a 40 percent correlation is misleading. The median of the 16 studies is probably more representative of the actual correlation because it is more resistant to outlying studies. The median takes the most common result as its measure. The number is even lower, it is .33, 33 percent of the variation in the recovery of schizophrenic patients can be correlated to the use of CBTp. The .33 is higher than zero, but is it statistically significant? Let’s take a look at the range of the results of the studies. One study found the correlation to be as low as -.32, meaning that CBTp actually had a negative effect on patients in at least one study. Furthermore, a look at the standard deviation (.32) reveals that the studies encompass over a third of the possible outcomes on the scale of correlation. The standard deviation is so large that it renders the median statistically insignificant. Half of the studies are contained in close to half of the scale’s range, rendering the numbers useless. The article does start to acknowledge these setbacks: “Evidence that CBTp speeds recovery in acutely ill patients to the level of achieving a significant clinical benefit is more equivocal [to other treatments] (Tarrier, 465).” But then the author reneges on this point: “There are promising…results that full psychosis can be prevented in vulnerable individuals (Tarrier, 465).”

This article is just a mild reflection of the group think that occurs in the field. The Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders is supposed to be a Step by Step Treatment Manual as its sub-heading states. The inside covers even state that this book is a “widely adopted text and clinical resource” that “provides state-of-the-science guidelines.”

The psychiatric community is suffering from a vicious cycle; long the runt of the scientific community, psychiatry has been struggling since the 1950s to be seen as valid by the public. This fight for legitimacy has put the whole field on the defensive. Every study that comes from the psychiatric community has to reaffirm the importance of the field in its results. There isn’t some great conspiracy, but, rather, it is because psychiatry has lost its vision as Sheldon Gelman states in her critique Medicating Schizophrenia. Psychiatry wants to be on the cutting edge. Psychiatry wants to progress and make progress.

What is progress though? How can it be defined in such an elusive disease? Even Gelman acknowledges that there are several periods of “progress” in psychiatric medicine and therapy. This means that there has to have been at least some progress over the years. According to Gelman “better results equal psychiatric progress; dramatically better results, revolutionary psychiatric progress (Gelman, 13).” This seems like a very agreeable definition, but Gelman continues on:
Assessments of therapeutic outcome often provoke hopeless, apparently irreconcilable disagreement. The effectiveness of nineteenth-century moral treatment (humane care in an intensely regulated setting) remains sharply disputed; lobotomy garnered powerful endorsements, including the Nobel Prize, as well as opprobrium; some distinguished psychiatrists of the 1950s regarded insulin coma as better than medication. (Gelman, 13).

Obviously, progress is not clear cut. In this instance, we’ll stick to Gelman’s initial definition of progress to see if methods are progressing or just changing. Even the terminology used in psychiatry disguises the fact that modern treatment has advanced very little. Jesse F. Casey performed two studies of Thorazine in the 1960s. Casey found that it was effective in minimizing symptoms of schizophrenia “yet his write-up of the results differed in notable ways (Gelman, 51).” Chief among the differences was a language change. In the first study chlorpromazine (Thorazine) was referred to as “tranquilizing agents” whereas the second consistently referred to the same drugs as “phenothiazines.” According to Gelman, “the idea of medications as tranquilizers was…falling out of favor (Gelman, 51).” Psychiatry was willing to change terminology because the field was afraid of failure. But it did fail. Psychiatry, under intense scrutiny, became consumed with the idea of progress. Psychiatry has repeatedly failed in the past or “overreached (Gelman, 12)”. For psychiatry, progress “imparts a sense of momentum,” and “this puts the often mixed outcomes of using medication in a better light (Gelman, 12)”. Eventually, this dedication to progress became an obsession. Gelman likens it to a religion; the psychiatric community, without adequate scientific basis for their work, according to critics, continued looking for answers and ways to progress without having a clear vision of the future. Psychiatry eventually behaved as if past studies proved the hypothesis of the 80s and 90s. The reality of the situation was that there was very little research into psychotropic medications and their side effects during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s. In the 1960s and 1970s, medication of patients was seen as a universal solution. By 1986, schizophrenics were still being diagnosed at the same rate as well as being medicated with the same or similar drugs. All of this despite the fact that leading researchers in the field, George Gardos and Jonathan Cole, wrote: “The recognition of tardive dyskinesia …and the realization that the drugs are far from curative and often fall short of producing satisfactory symptom relief (Gelman, 179).”

The current methods of treatment are relatively similar to the ones in the past. The changes in treatment are less one of evolution and more one of diversification. In the 1950s and 1960s the main medication was Thorazine. Eventually, the available medications multiplied into a whole family of phenothiazines. All of these medications have severe side-effects, but for the psychiatric community “alarming findings were not refuted; rather, the entire matter was largely ignored (Gelman, 183)”. Finally, in the first half of the 1990s, several studies came out and declared tardive dyskinesia a severe problem, but even these undermined the dramatically damaging effects of the condition. As newer research came out, it appeared that change could happen: research into atypical medicines began, tardive dyskinesia was given a more thorough look, and psychiatry began to step outside of its shell. Sadly, the “progress” has slowed down again; after a burst of creativity on the matter, psychiatry found a new equilibrium, and that continues today; tardive dyskinesia is seen as a side effect, but not serious enough for doctors to cease treatment, even though it can be potentially lifelong and debilitating.

Gelman notes that the field of psychiatry is perpetually trying to prove its validity and its place in the public eye. Psychiatry is a puppy looking for attention and affirmation. As such, it is unwilling to admit its mistakes. Schizophrenia is probably one of psychiatry’s largest shortcomings, and so it quietly ignores the spotty treatment record and moves forward cautiously. Schizophrenia is an enigma; treatment is a difficult proposition. It is therefore easy to see how group think has perpetuated itself in the field. If a new treatment has a fractional bit of success, it is easy to jump on board. Schizophrenia’s elusive cure has been frustrating the medical community since the 1950s, when anti-psychotics first came into use.

Medicine isn’t just to blame. Psychiatry has withdrawn into itself because damaging findings would take away from the prestige of the field. The progression of treatment from revolutionary new drugs and therapies to the stagnant atmosphere of today is because we (observers of the field) feel that the journey is done, but as Heinrich’s last chapter states, it is just “the beginning of the end.”

The idea that therapy combined with powerful drugs in this age of science can adequately treat our mentally ill is a sad reflection on the unreal expectations pressed upon a field that already feels the pressure of previous failures. Unless there is a concerted effort on the part of all parties to openly acknowledge the unknown and embrace the necessity of change, the field will continue to stagnate, and schizophrenics will continue to suffer.

Stephen Hawking said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” That’s where psychiatry is now on the issue of Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is supposed to be a definite illness, Schizophrenia is supposed to be easily manageable, and Schizophrenia is supposed to be closer to a cure. But that is not the status quo; schizophrenia’s true nature needs to be analyzed; it needs to be re-examined carefully. If schizophrenia is multiple diseases, syndromes, or conditions then it needs to be divided out into its corresponding elements and treated individually. The human body is still an enigma, especially the brain and its corresponding illnesses. The uncertainty within the “modern age” must be acknowledged. Psychiatry needs to be allowed to make mistakes; it needs to get back to its scientific roots and explore the possibilities. These elements combined will allow schizophrenia to stop being the elephant in the psychiatric room. Progress will not be a goal or a catchphrase, it will be a real and powerful force that opens up new avenues for diagnosis, treatment, and possibly a cure.

Bibliography

Gelman, Sheldon. Medicating Schizophrenia. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Heinrichs, R. Walter. In Search of Madness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Tarrier, Nicholas. “Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders.” Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders. Ed. Barlow, David H. New York: Guilford Press. Fourth ed. 2008.

Wenner, Melinda. “Infected with Insanity: Could Microbes Cause Mental Illness?” Reprinted from Scientific American 17 April 2008.

Collapse

This is a short story I wrote a while ago. I know it isn't the required 365, but I am going to excuse myself from the rules for a little bit. It is 297 words, if that is a major problem, people can suck it.

Collapse. Onto his bed. Collapse. Crushed. The weight of the world. Infinite class, infinite friends, infinite world. Day after day he would do the same thing. The best part of his day was gone, and his own tragedy remained unaddressed. How could he even sleep, eat, drink, breathe without the accompanying happiness?

A quiet body shrunk into itself. His soul collapsed. Collapsed. Crushed. Held inside his shell. And he took a shallow breath. He felt miles of atmosphere enter his lungs, filling his body with life. Life he didn’t care to keep. Because what was a shell of a human? It wasn’t a human, it was a scarecrow. Propped up by sticks, unable to hold itself. He was just a scarecrow.

But scarecrows couldn’t feel their bodies collapse onto themselves. And he couldn’t hold it in. He spread out. And he let the weight of the world crush him.

He got up. He picked up the phone. He dialed, each tone ringing out in his ears to infinity.

“Hey mom?” the words escaped slowly, “I was just calling to see how you—yeah,” he wanted to scream out, his voice was gone though. His words barely slipped off his tongue. “I want you to know I miss you mom. I want you to get better.” He said that with strength. A sorrow gripped him, and he took it all in.

Then he heard her cry. His mother, his strength, his childhood. Crying. She was a human too, and she loved him more than anyone ever could, she had given everything to him. She wasn’t fighting for herself; she was getting better for him. And he would be there for her.

He took a deep breath in. The air was thick, but it surrounded him, a warm embrace.

Hear Music: Memories

Sometimes I hear songs that are from my past. Sometimes I hear songs that should be part of my past. Sometimes I hear songs that define my present.

Sometimes I will hear a song and try to breathe deep to smell the places it reminds me of. Sometimes I will hear a song and try so hard to see the settings they remind me of. When I listen to Hear Music Vol. 2 I am transported to eleven o’clock at 1930 Hillman Ave, Belmont, California. My father is drinking a glass of white wine, and the back porch door is open. The light in the house is rich and colorful. The house is newly remodeled, covered in modern lights, granite and cherry wood. The summer air drifts in smelling heavily of oak and humidity. The windows reflect brightly but I can see into the valley that is Belmont and I can taste the rich night air; streetlights mirror the lights inside. My father’s speakers blast the music and I am sleepy, but going to bed is the furthest thing from my mind. My mother is asleep on the new brown leather couch with the Navajo rug draped over it, and I am sitting in the old white leather seat. I can smell the old leather; in it is our first house, the first place I ever lived. Billy Bragg and Wilco permeate the house, drowning out the crickets I know are outside. I stare at the bright track lights and let my mind drift outside. The potato vines that cover our fence, the little flowers that fall over the retaining wall, the plum tree that hangs in the corner of our property; all tell me I live in a veritable Eden.

Bap Kennedy flows gently from the speakers and suddenly I am in Reno. It is summer again. The air is dry and warm, the air is earthy and full of sage, the air is ambient and light. I am in the front yard, I am in the backyard. In the front yard I watch cars pass on the distant roads. I wait for my friends to arrive. In the backyard family friends are here, Natalie is on the trampoline, the pool lights are on, and the laughter of old friends layers itself over the tracks. Inside, the dishes need to be done, but everyone has eaten well. A bottle of white wine sits on the coffee table, it is empty and everyone’s glasses are half-full. Our house is a warm yellow, rich with varnished wood, and I am home, living on an oasis in a desert.

Bruce Cockburn takes a turn at my memory, making an abstract picture of my past that is as much the song as my memory. It pulls me into Arizona, I am much younger now. It is gray out; soon I will be exploring Arizona’s beautiful terrain, the intricate canyons and native tribes. It is midnight, and a couple young teens bike past going to a friend’s house. I can hear the gentle clack and click of the wheels running under the gears. A warm full breeze blows past. It fills the air with the scent of desert flowers and dry warmth.

Over all these tracks is the one memory. I wanted to share this with Ciera. So I did, one night, sitting at two in the morning in her bed. We looked into the gray dark—a city dark—holding each other. One headphone in each of our ears we listened to the tunes off my iPod, the screen casting long shadows over the messy room. I couldn’t ever fully explain the love of those songs to her. The Boston spring air drifted in through the window. The sounds of the early morning city faintly accented the songs. Each track steadily re-imprinted itself upon my memory, this time with the darkness of a hotel room, the security of a relationship, and the insecurity of the future. Unable to make sense of the newly vast world, we fell asleep. The profound pain of our separation and first year of college escapes from Joseph Arthur’s guitar. The smell of her hair clings to Neko Case’s voice.

But then there are songs that define my past without being part of my past. The songs that I hear for the first time and know I have heard for all eternity. David Byrne and Brian Eno, Modest Mouse, and The Magic Numbers, all transport me to a past before they existed. They fit in the crevices of my memory without hesitation, filling in the blanks, becoming a soundtrack that wasn’t there before.

The last song is the song that is my present. These are the pop songs my peers seem to like so much. Fall-out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down” is 16 years old. Kevin Rudolph is February, 2009. MIA, “Paper Planes” is spring semester 2008. These songs are the songs I can’t escape, and they define my present without hesitation. They so strongly define my present that I feel uncomfortably human when I listen to said songs. Sometimes I will have random outbursts of words or names; I am recalling awkward situations, I can’t escape them. They are so present in my mind that time does not allow it to erase, merely to imprint stronger on my mind. The songs of my present are the songs of development and change: unstable, transitory, not of my choice.

David Ford's NGL


My cousin writes and draws a weekly comic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plate Tectonics




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Women's Studies 101

Sandra Rattray-Hahn was kind enough to let me interview her about her experiences in college for my women's studies class. She was open and wonderful, lending me enormous insight into her experience, I apologize that it is a 101 report and not an extensive biography:

In the four years that Sandra went to Mount Holyoke college in Massachusetts, she experienced an inundation of ideologies and political energy. The small women’s college atmosphere of Mount Holyoke made it easy to become a vocal and involved participant in the many activities on campus.

Sandra, a naturalized citizen from Panama, grew up in inner-city New York. As a half-latino, half-black woman it was a struggle just making it to college. What the 95% of other women on campus experienced as a fairly simple transition from high school to college was a difficult accomplishment for the other 5% of women on campus. Sandra found the transition to be liberating. Once on campus, Sandra stuck her hand in every cookie jar, sampling the excitement and freedom of a decade as well as the college atmosphere. As treasurer of the SGA she worked hard to get African American speakers, and organized many events centered on the recurring themes of feminism, civil rights, and anti-war sentiment. Sandra’s curiosity in politics and current events was squeezed into an already jammed schedule: she worked three part-time jobs, was a biochemistry major, commuted to D.C. to see concerts and speakers, and was an active member in the SGA.

With this political awareness came the harsh reality of the times. Sandra lost many friends to the Vietnam War. The war refused to call itself racist or classist, but the truth is that Sandra’s friends were all inner-city blacks that could not afford to go to college or get deferments. Sandra found this a disheartening tragedy. In that same respect, it made things difficult when bridging the gap with white women. They did not share in the pain that was the Vietnam War in the same way. They were detached moral objectors whereas Sandra’s first-hand experience lent a powerful and deep connection to the senselessness of the war. This kind of disparity spilled over into other topics as well. When Sandra helped establish the African American Cultural Center, she found that many of her peers were confused and unable to comprehend the necessity of such a center. But it was put there anyway, a testament to her perseverance. Working on SGA was difficult too because the issues that were brought to the table, very often were issues that did not interest her.

College came and went, the 1970’s came and went, but Sandra remained herself and continues to fight on with the ideals and fervor that made her time at Mount Holyoke so enriching.

Sandra Rattray-Hahn

Anwar, Chris, and I were playing Axis and Allies in his living room. We had done it several times. Axis and Allies is a WWII themed strategy game. We never actually finished playing. The complexity of the game made it difficult to win. The game was a war of attrition and no one ever really won.

We enjoyed ourselves anyway. The room was a mental storm. The three of us fought hard, pushing our lines against each other. It was a quiet day in very early spring. It was still brisk out, the sun seemed to set too soon still, and patches of snow decorated the sidewalks.

We lost track of time. It was dark, and suddenly there was a terrible rumbling in our stomachs. The door clicked open, creaked, and gently closed with a double-latch. I heard bags rustling, the sound of boots being taken off. Anwar’s mom was home. She had a shock of white hair. A graceful woman, powerful, and beautiful. She snuck into the kitchen while we played out a battle in the Pacific. I heard the paper bags rustling. And then a gentle scent reached my nose.

I looked up and noticed that she had gotten Chinese food for us. She brought the food to us and we ate voraciously. She smiled at us, walked upstairs, and left us to our game.

Anwar is a homebody. Getting him out of the house was always a task. Not because he was anti-social or anything. Merely that being at home was important to him. I now truly understand the power in that. As his friends we never faulted him for wanting to stay in and spend an evening with his parents. They were wonderful people to be around. The Hahn family was so warm, open, and caring. The space exuded a calming love to it. I could always tell that it was a family that was held together by an unusually strong love toward each other.

Last summer Anwar told us that his mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer. It wasn’t the kind that people recover from. Anwar spent a lot of time at home last summer. As his friends we tried to support him, be there for him. I visited his house one time since then. She was tired from her job and I did not get to see her.

Last Saturday she passed away. I didn’t get to thank her. I’d like to do that now.

Thank you for the smallest things that you did for us. Thank you for setting up the Halloween party junior year of High School. Thank you for the Chinese food. Thank you for opening your house to me. Thank you for talking to me, every conversation I had with you I remember well. Thank you for being an amazing mother to Anwar, he is a strong and loving human—beyond a capacity I have seen in few other humans. Thank you.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bob, Beehive, Harp


I met Bob. “Hey I'm Bob.” It was noisy so I didn't think I heard him right. He obviously had a much more complex name.

“Bob?” I repeated.

“Bob.” He looked me directly in the eye. I guess his name was Bob. And he was with Anna's friend from high school—Liz. Three letter names. Easy to remember.

Liz had straight blonde hair and was another version of Anna: short, excitable, and slightly wide-eyed. It wasn't bad. But truthfully I never pinpointed Liz. And I never pinpointed Bob.

Bob had a stocky build, was about five eleven, and a large square jaw. He had light dusky blonde hair and a green coat on. He was an intern at an architecture firm—24 and living in Brighton. He was a nice guy.

We walked back to the apartment from the T; I had to drop off my bag and get ready for the night ahead. My t-shirt would no longer suffice and I tossed on my green polo instead. Before hitting the bars, we sat around in the kitchen hanging out, just shooting the bull. Meeting new people is exceedingly interesting. Everyone kicked back a beer. In a rare instance of impatience, I was rearing to go. I didn't have a lot of energy so I knew that the earlier we left, the longer I would be able to stay out.

We ended up at a really cool basement bar called the Beehive. It is converted out of the first floor and basement of two adjacent buildings and now has a stage and a balcony. It is a bit nicer than most pubs but it was totally worth it. The place was crowded but not packed, and there was a live Irish band playing. I love live music and the performers were on their game. The best part was seeing how much they enjoyed their art form. It was easy to tell that the members of the band liked making music and lived for their tiny bar scene. There was a harpist, a flautist, a guitarist, and a drummer. The sounds that came from them were definitely Irish but at the same time had a distinctly American flavor. The Beehive is expensive.

Well worth it though. I started crashing, finished my drink, bid adieu to Bob and Liz and Anna, and headed on home with Ciera. The day had finally ended, I fell into bed and dreamed about driving, meeting new people, and urban chaos. New York awaited.

Irish and Japanese


St. Patrick's Day is my favorite holiday. I love dressing in green, pinching people, searching for leprechauns, and have a grand time for no real reason. The holiday is Irish, it doesn't really have much significance for America. I suppose the fact that it is a silly holiday where there are no obligations to anyone (no handing out of candy, gift-giving, roses, etc) is my cup of tea.

It is a test of the fidelity of a relationship to celebrate a holiday with someone and the only obligation is to interact with them. I suppose that's why there is so much drinking involved. That, or it could be the Irish roots.

I woke up and dressed all snazzy for the day. I had packed my St. Patrick Is My Homeboy t-shirt and my Ireland jacket just for the occasion. It was a perfect day for it all too, the weather was over 60 degrees, there was a nice spring breeze, and green was appropriate for the holiday as well as the season. Everything just perked up.

And so Ciera and I headed back from the North End of Boston to the South End to meet up with Mark and Kelly. Ciera met Mark during her show, Awesome 80's Prom, and he and his wife Kelly have been wonderful friends with us since. Mark is extremely energetic, a bull in any sort of shop. Kelly is much more subdued and quiet, but her statements tend to be much more concise and well thought out. She is currently 6-ish months pregnant and going through a tough time. She is constantly tired and stressed out. It is somewhere between funny and sad watching Mark try to perk her up while she nods off during conversation.

Anyway, they took us to Douzo, a nice but expensive Sushi place. It is always great to chat with them. They are in their thirties, older but not anywhere near our parents, and are about to start a family. It is great to see the anticipation and excitement of a first child. As much as they are worried about a million different things, it shows how badly they want this baby. I wonder if my parents were similar.

We ate sushi on St. Patty's. Irish and Japanese—a fitting combination given my heritage. The dinner was a stirring combination of Mark and Ciera alternately yelling stories while Kelly fought off sleep, and I tried to sneak in a couple of words. It was the same as it always is with them.

And it was great. After stuffing myself with the art as food, we parted ways to let Kelly sleep. Ciera and I had plenty more night ahead, we headed to Back Bay to meet up with Anna and her friend.

St. Patty's Day


I am three days behind. I knew this would be a problem. Procrastination, a sedentary lifestyle, the mainstays of the American life. I spend so much time exploring the world and at the same time I cannot keep up with my entries about it.

Is that bad? I am experiencing and doing so much, but at the same time I cannot process it. What does that mean?

The short story is that I have been spending a wonderful week here in Boston. The old brick buildings mix wonderfully with the modern architecture in this city. Everything seems so nice—when it's sunny out. The city has a vibrant peace to it that one would not expect coming from such a dense environment. But the mixture of old facades, brick sidewalks, and lazily drooping trees make for an atmosphere that is simultaneously buzzing with energy but full of peace.

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. My favorite holiday. What better place to celebrate it than Boston? The answer to that question is anywhere in Ireland. But for the less adventurous explorers, Boston is the pinnacle. And Boston does not disappoint. After donning my many articles of green clothing, I proceeded to wander the city and find “the party.” That happened to be everywhere.

It was a wonderful and sunny day. Bright blue sky, Boston skyline, and the Boston Commons. I sat by the skating rink which was halfway to being Frog Pond again, and watched as people passed. There were multiple bands playing to raise money for Japan, there were hundreds of children running around, and there were awkward first time skaters trying to hold onto the winter for just one more day.

I met up with Ciera and her theater buddies—Teal, Nick, and Michelle—and we wandered north to Fanueil Hall to get in the mix. Bars, exploding with people in various shades of green, sat before us and we wandered through to grab a beer before making our way back to the South End. Every Irish pub was so packed that we had to find a bar at the edge of the North End (the very Italian section of Boston) just to find a bartender that wasn't inundated with shouts for Guinness, Jameson, Car Bombs, and Bailey's. But it worked well in our favor; the bar was crowded but not packed, the place was festive but not obscene.

A couple drinks later and the night was upon us; just the beginning of the St. Patty's celebrations.

Fight Club Part 4: Neutral


Fight Club Part 4: Neutral

Neutrality is difficult because it doesn't exist. It is an ideal more than anything else. Yet we strive for it. Neutral means equal and without judgment. It means objective. It means all the things that we can't really do. Humans are subjective things; a wall is an objective thing. Nobody wants to talk to a wall.

So mediators find the balance. We are not walls, but our input does not favor one party over another. It is a complex dynamic that requires the mediators to remember their role. And remember that they don't look like brick walls.

I am a young mediator. I am not black, gay, latino, a woman, mentally or physically disabled, old, infirm, Middle-Eastern, or many other things. I do not appear to be any of those things to those I mediate. But the parties in a mediation meet me and do form a preconceived notion of who I am during the session. Similarly, I have a preconceived notion of them and who they are.

They and I bring these thoughts to the table and interact with these thoughts in mind. As a mediator, I have to be constantly aware of that bias and try to work around it. Bias doesn't just disappear. I work with it, use it as a tool though. Often, in the mediations I do, I get the feeling that the parents often look at me and think, “you don't know anything about raising kids.” And I don't. But I don't have to. I use that bias as a cover for asking questions that would otherwise be seen as stupid or obvious.

The stupid and obvious questions often lead to very rewarding outcomes. The parties often stop, think, and answer in a way that isn't part of their script.

Neutrality thus becomes a synonym for innocence and curiosity. If I can ask questions without believing I know anything, I can often help open new doors of communication. Communication, the mutual giving and receiving of information, can best be helped by my neutrality. If I am perceived to give a stronger voice or side with one party, then communication breaks down and bad things start to happen.

So I stay vigilant about the shifts in the safety and neutrality of the mediation. I continue to ask questions and help people communicate effectively. I try hard to give equal voice to everyone in the room. If I am successful, the parties find their own solutions together; hopefully someday they won't need me to be there. And that is neutrality: present without investment, compassionate without preconception, innocent and curious.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Not Going to Be Easy


There has been a lot of talk of privilege on Skidmore's campus recently. I am inclined to dismiss that talk. Not because it doesn't exist, but because the rhetoric further isolates our campus community. As someone working hard to rebuild the broken bonds on this campus, the seemingly intangible relationships that have frayed to the point where students, faculty, and administrators do not feel comfortable on their own campus, I have mused carefully over the human to human interactions all the way up to the societal and global implications of the things I do. It is tough to draw conclusions. What purpose does our rhetoric serve? Are we educating people? Are we silencing voices? What am I doing every day to make it better? Is it good enough?

The short answer is I don't know. And neither does anyone else.

The longer answer, I believe, is far more complex than the rhetoric that says one student is privileged and another is not. My first grievance on this campus has been the automatic equivocation of privilege to race. I have yet to hear about gender, sexual orientation, ability, economics, or a myriad of other issues.

Last week's dialogue was a new and unique attempt at breaking into the collective psyche of this community. With a turnout of around 100 people, and a two hour discussion on the campus climate and how it has devolved into an unfriendly and at times unsafe place, many new issues came to light on this campus. Race was one of them. Another was the general feeling of isolation here; similarly, friends and the strength of bonds we develop here on campus were another issue. Drinking and partying were notable motifs as well.

Something that struck me about the devolution of this community, “if I were to smile and say hi to someone I didn't know on this campus, it would not be returned, and I would be thought of as weird.”

College is a shock for all of us, it is a strange new world. Some adjust faster than others, some are always adjusting, and sadder still, some never do and transfer or find themselves alone on campus. My job in the Office of Campus Life makes me privy to many great deeds of people from all walks of life on this campus. I have been struck by the dedication that students have to helping people of all types in this community. John Mendenhall has been working closely with Crystal Moore on helping mentally disabled Saratogians attend classes at our college. Freshman Class Council has been raising money to improve the Franklin Community Center which helps alleviate poverty in Saratoga. Claire Throckmorton and Joe Yanks have been working tirelessly at the Center for Sex and Gender Relations to get rid of Sexual Misconduct and the sexual inequalities of power that accompany it on our campus. And there are many more. Take one look around this campus, ask someone what they have been doing recently that has been consuming their time, and you will almost certainly hear a positive and altruistic answer.

Yet the question—and the problem—persists. If we can help all of these people, why have we been seemingly unable to help ourselves? I have heard the usual cries for rallies, for more action from the institutions, that people aren't doing enough. I don't disagree. But I think that change can come immediately. I think that change can come without a great epiphany or call to arms. I think that simple changes can make a big difference.

I spent hours as a child dissecting Aesop's famous moral: no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Kindness does not have to be sitting down and talking to everyone you meet. It does not mean signing over checks to everyone in need of cash.

Kindness is acknowledging the basic humanity of everyone in this world regardless of greater societal structures. As president of Conflict Resolution Club on campus, I have been working hard to take human to human interactions at all levels and turn them into productive conversations where people find the solutions that work for them.

Everyone carries pain with them. There is no way to tell whose pain is greater; whose cause is better, who is more right. We all carry pain unique to our own experiences. I say, let's start there. Let's try to understand that people are just that, people. They do not always do right by us, they also do not always do wrong. We do not have to condone, excuse, or forget. In my experience, we should open the door to forgiveness—which is not any of the previously mentioned things. It is a moral response to another's injustice; it is not reconciliation (the restoration of a relationship) but it can lead there.

It is releasing us of our pain and taking control of our futures. It is finding that place within us to face our truths, our own role in perpetuating pain, finding the harms caused, and making amends to the best of our ability. It is a radical notion, one of the most difficult things in the world, but it is also the most personally rewarding. It gives each of us as individuals the power to fix the world around us. We can, everyday, acknowledge our personal pain, and make a commitment to being human to everyone we meet that day.

I have the power to be kind to everyone I meet, to take them as they wish, and to give their pain and experiences voice. I will everyday, strive to maintain that—just for the day, until my head hits the pillow. Then, when I wake up, I will do it again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

16W? Do I need to get on 28? 3? 6? 6A? No. 93?!

There were signs everywhere but I couldn't find a single one. Sandwich. The picturesque little town on the coast of Massachusetts. No edible sandwich could compare to what lay before us today; a visual feast, a delight to our senses and yearning for freedom—an appetite no two pieces of bread and filling could ever sate.

Ciera and I had woken up and found ourselves in that weird space known as Daylight Savings—also known as, “it doesn't feel like 11 am.” To make the most of our day we hurried off to the car that Claire had so generously lent us for the week and drove to Cape Cod. After spending a while in the stark landscape of Sandy Neck in spring, we made our way to Sandwich.

The Cape is adorable, a doll's house model of the little American lifestyle. Beaches and marshland give way to thick forests and provincial towns. It was as if they were towns on a model train kit. I felt I could pick them up and examine them close to my face.

Sandwich was our model town for the day. A church built in 1638, a mill pond, cobblestone crosswalks, adorable young babies, and cute dogs. Pleasantville does exist.

I never knew what people meant when they said they were going antiquing. Now I know. If it wasn't a cute little bed and breakfast, it was definitely an antique store. Or a church. There are tons of churches in New England. The Protestants really must have had a work ethic to build that many churches; and then attend mass every Sunday. It was quiet today.

It was New England in March—50, windy, and partly cloudy. But it was so much more. Every color burst today. It was a day to remember forever. The chill air makes the sky bluer, the clouds whiter, the sand more perfect, the grass more golden, and the still hibernating trees more brown. The energy bursting forth from the dormant nature was almost tangible. Spring will be here in a matter of weeks, pushing gently out of the frigid winter to remind me that graduation is only a short spring forward away. I know that as easily as I was caught off guard by the loss of an hour today, I will be tackled by the disappearance of the remaining two months.

I better not sleep in.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Week; Break

Jasper Fforde just released his latest novel, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, and it is awesome. Ciera and I have been reading it aloud and together all day. It is the sixth book in the Thursday Next series; another great installment from the genius mind of mister Fforde. Saying more would be ruining the story.

Spring break was supposed to be relaxing and fun. Sometimes life throws curve balls at you though, and really getting a read on the plan is not part of the plan. I did have a nice week; don't get me wrong, but a few things happened that sort of weighed me down—a lot.

As you may have noticed, there is a post about Ciera's grandfather (generously contributed by Ciera herself) and a post about my great aunt Yae. Both went into terminal states this week with little chance of recovery. It has been difficult for Ciera and I; I have also been so very happy to have someone there for me in a time of great pain. Ciera has been a rock, supporting me and helping me through my shock.

She has also brought me back to earth. Yae's condition was a complete shock for me, and I have been drifting off into thought. Unproductive thought, escapist realities.

I had a dream that I was reincarnated. I could remember my life before, everything. My new life was a second chance, an opportunity to do everything right. And I was excited to make the world a better place.

But that's just a fiction, and I know I have only one chance. I aspire to do good like my Auntie Yae, to be a wonderful and accepting person. Ciera's grandfather believed that a measure of a man was how many people showed up at his funeral. He does not want a funeral. He needs no measurement.

When I die, I don't want a funeral. I want a party. I want a celebration where I am less remembered and more where I am an excuse to bring people together. I want people to come together to celebrate their lives. To celebrate the potential and power they have. I want my death to be a rallying cry for people to live better.

I think Yae has done that. I think Ciera's grandfather has done that. And I will try.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Basic Adult Piano Course


Ciera enjoys the practice rooms in the new Zankel Music Center.

Sunset Today


Walking to the parking lot. The beginning of spring break

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grandpa Barkley

Something From Ciera, a dedication:

My Grandpa has always been the most stable man around.

Growing up, Grandpa lived in a little red house one street over from me. His yard was always perfect, and he was the only person who could ever keep enormous white couches white despite his seven messy grandchildren. Each identical beige shirt in his closet is starched, as are his many pairs of beige pants. He watched Jeopardy every day with his faithful dog Greta, an adopted golden retriever who he was “just watching” for a few weeks for his son, but kept for the rest of her life.

My Grandmother Eleanor died unexpectedly 23 years ago, and Grandpa kept everything she had in his house to this day. Her knitting is still in a little box in the closet and extra needles in the drawer by his desk. Her apron is still in the kitchen, her wallet and drivers license in the top drawer of his dresser. And her most important possession, a beautiful, black baby grand piano sits perfectly in his living room with a plaque on the inside honoring her life. I am her namesake – Ciera Eleanor Iveson.

When I was sixteen, he gave me her car – a little 1984 Cadillac Cimarron with red leather interior and red felt…everywhere else. It has a major break down once a year and we always have to debate about if it is worth fixing. It always is. Because he loved that car as much as Eleanor did, and I love that car as much as he did. After he got sick, I drove it up to visit him. Despite being wheelchair bound, he asked me to take him outside to see it and check how many miles were on it. As I was wheeling him out of his hospice room, he tried to get everyone in the home to come with him, to look at his favorite car.

When we got outside, I showed Grandpa our Cadillac. He wanted to see both sides, the interior, and the mileage before making one last attempt at getting someone else to see the car. I must admit at this point that my car doesn’t really look like much- it’s a well used car missing one hubcap with only markings left where the old Cadillac insignias were glued. One of the employees who liked my Grandpa a lot came and took a look and listened to his story. He was so proud to tell the story of my Grandma and I loving and driving the same little car twenty 23 years apart.

A year and a half ago Grandpa had a series of heart attacks. I can’t remember all the details now, but they had to bring him back a few times on the table. We thought it was the end, but through his very frail state he started to gather his strength. He moved to a home in Portland for a while to be closer to one of his daughters and get rehabilitation. When he was there he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and he came back to Reno to go into hospice.

Along with being the ultimate gentleman, Grandpa had a sharp sense of humor. In regard to the huge scar on his chest from open heart surgery he told the women in his home that it was from a knife fight in Tijuana and “you should see the other guy”. That was probably my favorite. But he always kept us on our toes, even when we thought he couldn’t hear us.

Over winter break he got really sick and we thought it was the end. But yet again he pulled through. The last time I saw him I brought my boyfriend Nick to meet him in his new home, somewhere that he would hopefully be a little happier. He had more freedom there, it was his own little apartment. He even kept Nick on his toes with a lengthy interchange to position his clock at the perfect angle to his bed – after a while I think he was teasing Nick a little.

Grandpa’s cancer has metastasized to his brain. I haven’t seen him since this happened, but its my understanding that he isn’t responsive to people anymore.

But he has been talking to Eleanor.

Each According

A little Sci-Fi short story:

I went to the touch screen in my kitchen, looked at the available balance and checked for any new bonuses. None. No one was quite sure how the bonus system worked, but there were some well documented cases of major bonuses; some almost double the daily stipend. I sighed, asked for a new order of coffee and heard a gentle whirring in the bowels of my quarters. The sound of air, an enormous exhale, came from somewhere in the basement. I opened the breakfast cabinet and pulled out the coffee. Forty three cents were subtracted from my daily stipend.

I was frugal. I could save up for upgrades and pleasure products while most people spent their stipends on required items. The secret was that most required items were actually suggested items. I would eat certain foods and have a balanced meal waiting in any of my meal cabinets, but I hardly ever ate rare status foods like tuna. Similarly, the 3 month burn on clothes could be ignored if one took care of their wear and didn't do laundry quite as often.

I sipped on my coffee. The day would be nice. The weatherman had said last night, in extraordinarily long detail, how the surplus of rain meant that the weather service would cut back on rain and give us a breezy spring morning. I was excited. I would go for a run along the esplanade and soak in the sea breeze. I needed something to let me get away from all of the technology before I got to my passion.

I looked out the window. Dense clusters of living quarters stacked on each other. A beautiful metallic sheen with organic sweeping lines. I lived on the third floor, but the mega structure extended almost 650 stories above the ground. The architects had done a great job making a system so efficient and beautiful. The mega structure seamlessly melted into the flat earth around it. I knew that around 20 stories of basements and sub-levels extended below the earth, an intricate root system that delivered all goods to the surface.

I never thought I would live in Kansas, but when I heard that they were making improvements to megastructure 1094 and that they would extend the Gulf of Nebraska to megastructure 1094, I couldn't resist. My passion was mobile, it only required a little office and an internet connection. I packed up from my space in Spokane and moved to Kansas. I had been here three years.

After my run along the beautiful esplanade, I strolled into the office. My passion was simple, I loved tinkering with the tiny robots that do the work in our world. In my six years since I finished grad studies, my passion had delivered several pieces of which I was very proud. I had streamlined the circuitry of one of the vacuum bots. There were basically twice as many neurocircuits as were necessary for the job; a bit of clever programming and the bot could function 12 percent faster and at half the size. What could I say, it was my passion and the system had found my according needs.

I browsed through a few different bots. There was a subway bot that controlled the circuit changes, there was a synthesizer bot that redistributed food orders and made complex concoctions, there was a builder bot that checked on structural integrity, and there were a few more that were even more dull. I heard the almost whisper-like sky rail pass by on the super pillars.

I decided that maybe a walk would be nice and refresh my ideas. I had recently reached some dead-ends. I wanted to take the old bots and make completely new ones. There was so much potential in what was possible, but it didn't fit any real needs. People were content and without needs. The governing system had cured us of our needs. We were free to do whatever. The system functioned perfectly. I knew that more than probably most. Every bot in the system managed our resources perfectly. In fact, beyond optimally. A new category of passion had started to arise in the last 10 years, the sedentary life. Some people had chosen to stop their old passions and had started to do nothing as their passion. Nothing isn't the correct term. Some people would drink, others would watch tv, and even more had given up their living quarters, opting instead for the transient life. I say nothing because they would not produce anything. They didn't even blog about their experiences. Some had taken to calling their passion by a different name. Work. What bots did.

I had my lunch and stared into the sea. Miles and miles of ocean, recently not even there. The spring winds blew across the sea, sweeping different shades of blue across the expanse. This world was perfect. Everyone could eat when they wanted, sleep when they wanted, do anything they wanted.

Since the third wave basic need had been eradicated from the world. The capitalist system transformed into the Neo-Marxist Capital System and everyone submitted to Happiness Doctrine. It was a load of complex jargon to describe that hunger and poverty were eliminated from our vocabulary. Work was relegated to the bots after the third wave. Humans were left to pursue their passions. In a perfectly managed system like ours, humans could disappear from the society and everything would keep working.

As I stared out, I wasn't sure if the loss of humans would be a bad thing. We had largely reversed any damage we had created before the third wave. Ecosystems flourished, our resource harvesting and maintenance was fully sustainable and approximately 40 percent of it was getting synthesized out of dirt anyway. If humanity were to disappear tomorrow, we would leave eternal markers of our existence. Megastructures that would self-maintain for millenia, and we would fade into blackness. Our history preserved in beautifully clean museums—maintained by the bots I made so efficient they would never break down.

The sun would burn out and disappear before our history turned to dust. The third wave proved something though; conflict isn't based on basic needs. People managed to find ways to hurt each other emotionally, and fight digitally still. Competition was part of the human spirit, a paradoxical element in our search for peace.

The sea continued to amuse me, a great blue expanse. Beautiful old sail boats moved across the water. Regardless of the peaceful society, I had managed to find my peace.

Diseased

A (kind of) short story from Olivia:

I wouldn’t be on this bus headed to a “sanctuary of healing” in northern Washington, probably the closest I’ll ever get to Canada or the dreams I had aspired towards, if I hadn’t run over Cecil’s cat. It’s not like the cat was the brightest or most useful thing, obviously not bright since it was hanging out at the end of my driveway. What a stupid cat.

We pass a sign; Canada 153 miles. Canada, I once figured I’d be going to college up there, thought I might major in the arts at UBC. It’s a nice campus, my Mom and Dad took us all up there to look at it; this was when I was seventeen. I was pretty bright then, I just hide it now, no one appreciates a genius these days. I close my eyes, I guess we have another hour before arriving at “camp-heal-yourself,” but all I can dream about is that damn cat and how it screwed me over.

I had been running late for work, my alarm didn’t go off, or I slept through it, I don’t know, either way I was late for work. I was running around my house trying to find my other heel, it was this cute black knock-off Steve Madden one, but I couldn’t find it so then I had to change my outfit, because I was going to have to wear these little black flats, and my pants were too long for flats. I was digging around for my ‘Marbs in my purse when I pulled out my heel, literally the heel. I couldn’t find the shoe, maybe I could have glued them together, but then I remembered I threw it away in the garbage can outside of Louise’s, pissed off and drunk. Damn Raspberry turn-overs, Captain (don’t know why his name is Captain, never asked) makes them too strong, says he calls them turn-overs because there’s so much alcohol in that tiny little shot, it’ll make your stomach turn instantly. I wonder why he doesn’t call them black-outs.

Around 8:00 a.m. my bagel was done, and I took a few painkillers to make the day easier and downed my Mimosa, the smell of my bagel made me want to puke, I chucked it out into the yard, I figured something would eat it. By the time I was in my car it was 8:20, I had ten minutes to get to work, but it usually took me about twenty. I was so late. I backed out and felt my car hit some speed bump at the end of my driveway. Now I was pissed, my coffee had spilt all over my cup holders; they were going to be sticky.

Then I saw it, this fuzzy clump with its intestines oozing out of its butt lying perfectly stiff and dead in my driveway. Fuck. I had just run over Ernest Hemingway. Not the human, the cat. Cecil was going to kill me.

I jumped out of my car and got a garbage bag and some garden gloves from the garage. The cat didn’t even stink yet. Its eyes were all rolled back into his head and his tongue stuck out making the famous Hemingway look slightly retarded. I looked over at Cecil’s house and scooped Ernest-the-bloody into the bag. I ran to the hose and sprayed off the mess then tiptoed across the lawn to Cecil’s and plopped the bag on the doorstep. I thought about maybe just shoving it in the trash, but I felt Ernest deserved a better burial.

That was a terrible mistake, I should have just thrown Ernest into the trashcan, then I wouldn’t be on this bus, and Cecil would have just thought the cat ran away and would still let me live in his guest house so I’d have a place to come back to after rehab. I despise my brother and his stupid cat.

I made it to work late, like I had anticipated. I was rather pissed off at Cecil; he should have watched his cat better. I worked as an administrative assistant at Master Trade Co. mostly doing data entry and copying files. My job was boring. I don’t work there anymore, I was forced to quit, but that’s not Cecil’s fault that was someone else’s.

Danielle came to my cubicle, she was glued to her headset, the only thing louder than her voice was her boots. I could hear them across the office, clack, clacking all the way over to my desk. She pulled a lacey red thong out of her pocket and dangled it in front of my face. Danielle was my drinking buddy on weekends, but she knew I liked to go out on weeknights too. She threw the undergarment onto my keyboard, I saw this lacey thing lying across it and then I recognized the thong, like a mother recognizes her baby after years of separation. I wasn’t separated from the thong for years, just days. It was my favorite though; red drives men wild. She tapped my desk drawer, explained to me how she didn’t have a pen (she suspected Dana in marketing to be stealing them) and how I was the only kind and generous person in this office that would give her a pen, so she knew I wouldn’t mind if she went through my drawers for one and so that’s what she was doing when she found “Sexies” in the drawer. She finished her story with a sneaky little I-know-what-you’re-up-to smile. What I was up to? Sonny, my fuck-buddy. I had a lot of buddies at work.

I had been with Sonny for three years; I’d only been working at Master Trade Co. for two years, it wasn’t until he hired me that I found out he was married. We were working overtime in his office when I saw the picture of his family. I stared at his wife and kids while I fucked their loving husband and father. Sonny was a hairless, cheating, lying bastard. I despised him, but that’s what fueled my lust for him. I am so sick and perverse. I drew pictures of him dying extravagant deaths on my post-its. I had a whole drawer of these little flip books. That morning, Sonny’s wife came in, they were in his office for their usual time; fifteen minutes. That’s about as long as he lasted. Sonny told me she was his therapist. I guess he really needed that therapy, sex therapy that is. He was an idiot; he didn’t think I knew he was married, even though he called me her name sometimes during sex, Jeanine.

We stop on the side of the road, and most everyone on the bus jumps off for a smoke, even the driver. People who can appreciate a proper drink are the only ones who can appreciate the sweet relief of sucking the life out of a cancer stick. After all we’re the ones that do it most often. A cigarette with every drink. That will be my new saying. That has some class. I wonder what made others get on this bus, or more specifically who made them get on this bus. My family forced me onto it, my family and Danielle. I can’t imagine anyone willingly subjecting themselves to being called “diseased” and wanting to “learn how to cope” with it. My life is fine. My life was fine.

Danielle conspired with my family to get me on this bus just because I slept with her Fiancé. We had all gone out drinking, it was his first time coming out with us and my first time meeting him. I wasn’t a slut, I just liked to party. The night was going fine, we went out to Grizzly’s then stopped at Louise’s, hopped over to The Q, then made our way over to Vibe, it was this new dance club that had just opened. I had gone straight to the bar; I was already one too many drinks in. Danielle and her fiancé were dancing on the floor. What a nerd, he was flailing his arms around awkwardly and swaying his hips in this stiff rocking motion. It looked like he was humping the air, but what guy didn’t? The guy next to me must have mistaken my legs for the word of the day, because he asked if I wanted to go back to his place and spread the word. I declined, but for his pathetic effort told him he could buy me a drink. I walked him to his car only ten minutes later, as he drove off, I returned to the club with his wallet. Drinks were on him that night.

Danielle was on this pole freaking with it and some other girl. I wasn’t that kind of drunk. Everyone in that club was drunk or on some sort of high. I don’t even remember the guy’s name, Danielle’s fiancé. So I’ll call him Bob. I bought him a drink. Actually the guy I met earlier bought him a drink. It was hard to hear, and Bob was trying to have a conversation. I hated small talk. I especially hated it in bars. I took my ‘Marbs out to let him know I was ending the conversation for a smoke. But Bob didn’t get it. He followed me, because like most men, Bob was stupid. He bummed a cigarette and then leaned against the wall, I could tell he was pretty drunk. He wanted to talk about philosophy. Philosophy for Christ Sake; that’s the worst, someone who wants to sound intelligent and intellectual by discussing a whole bunch of hypothetical situations, as if they have some merit to them. I hate philosophy. I sucked the life from my cigarette just a little bit faster.

Danielle saved me from his philosophy, or whatever it was that he was babbling about. She charged out of the club, barefoot and a mess, sweaty and hanging out. She was fired up. I swear Danielle was like the energizer bunny, with this radioactive electric glow that made her just keep going and going and going. She saw Bob smoking, punched him in the nuts and sprinted across the street. “Come on Pussies! Let’s go to Club Z and get this party started!” God she was so loud. Bob was hunched over puking all over himself. The smell, made me want to shove my cigarette up my nose. What the hell did he have for dinner? Danielle screamed something along the lines of “What the Heck? Go home Boob!” She had already caught up with another crowd walking down to the next neon lights that said “open.” I was usually with her. I should have been with her, but Bob, shit-head Bob was so pathetic, he needed someone to get him home. I put my cigarette out on some chick’s purse and dragged Bob to the car. I could barely see straight. I had to drive.

When I pulled up to their driveway he was still whining about how he didn’t know, but really did know, but didn’t want to know if Danielle was cheating. I leaned over him to open his door to get him the fuck out of my car, when he grabbed my chin forcefully and jammed his tongue down my throat. I tasted his regurgitated dinner and alcohol in the back of my mouth. I pushed him away but his lips felt like Jerome’s, my ex-fiancé, the only guy that could make me feel like shit. I wanted more, and I got more. He called me Danielle when he came. Then he got out of my car and puked all over his driveway. I had one cigarette left. I thought about driving off a cliff, or going head on into another vehicle on the freeway. Or electrocuting myself in the bathtub, I had the perfect thing to do it, this old eighties boom box that sparked when I plugged it in with no water included. It would only be right to have the only things I ever loved at my deathbed, my trusty boom box, my ‘Marbs, and of course my vodka, McCormick’s, he was always there for me. I blacked out after another two bottles of wine. I woke up in my lawn chair on the sidewalk in front of Cecil’s house, with some Hispanic Reggaeton playing.

Danielle didn’t know about what happened that night for some time. The day she found out, I didn’t see her at work. I thought she was sick or running late, but an hour after I arrived she came out of Sonny’s office. She knocked my stuff off my desk while passing me. What a bitch. When I was picking it up, Sonny called me into his office.

“You have to quit.” He shoved a resignation paper at me. I imagined him falling out the overly huge and grotesque windows in his office, falling and cracking his neck on the pavement. Snap! With the crack of his neck the image went away. I remembered I didn’t take painkillers that morning.

“Fuck you Sonny, what makes you think you can make me quit!” I tapped the cigarettes inside of my pocket. I was furious.

“You have to, if you don’t I will fire you, but I care about you baby, so I won’t. You have to quit.” He tried to take my hand. Don’t call me baby, is all I wanted to
say, don’t call me baby. No words left my mouth.

“Listen, Danielle knows that we’ve been you know, rendezvousing. She is going to tell my uh, my therapist.” What a laugh. His therapist.

“You mean your wife.” I signed the paper. I didn’t like the job anyways. I lit a cigarette in my cubicle and tossed everything into my bag, took as much of the office stuff as I could, the fire alarm went off. Then the sprinklers. Sonny came out screaming, he was probably upset about the wife comment, “I’m going to write down you were always drunk! That you drank on the job! You’ll never get a job now!” I flipped him the bird, it was the most liberating feeling I’ve had in a long time.

This lady sits next to me on the bus. She smells like some kind of cheap perfume, something by Britney Spears or one of those media-whore pop singers. She offers me some gum, she seems alright, but I don’t want friends, I just want to get this over with. I have a life to get back home to; I’ve got people to be angry with. This lady tells me, she forgets things, that she almost forgot to get on the bus, or that she almost forgot to pick up her kid at school, or that she almost forgot to cook the turkey on Thanksgiving. I want to slap her, there’s a difference between almost forgetting and forgetting. She wouldn’t notice the difference, because she hasn’t forgot, at least not something important.

When I had reached my car, I was sopping, and had been called an “idiot” four times on my journey to my car for smoking and setting the sprinklers off. My car had “SLUT” written in lipstick across my windshield. Lipstick smears. Windshield wiper fluid does not remove it either. Thanks Danielle.

I went to a park with a flask of McCormick’s and sat on the swings. A drink for every person that ruined my life, Danielle, Sonny, Cecil, Mom, Dad, Ashley, Don from fifth grade, Ernest Hemingway the cat, Teresa Black for pantsing me in seventh grade, Taylor Black for tattling on me every day, Jerome Gerraldi for breaking off the engagement because of my drinking. I finished the flask before I could even get through all the people that had caused me pain. I had another one in my jacket pocket. I drank because it made me feel better, I drank because it made me forget, a different kind of forgetting though, the kind that numbs you from your core out. The only welcome feeling I wanted, needed, was the feeling of weightlessness, being able to walk around and feel so heavy while at the same time feel as if I were floating, just gliding along my everyday life. This was why I drank. I would give anything up for that feeling.

On my way home I drove past some kids in the park, I leaned out and yelled as loud as I could, “Get a job Mother-fuckers!” They were in fourth grade. I landed myself on my doorstep, with a glass of wine and a grilled cheese. I was staring at my toes, staring until they looked disfigured and I hated them. Cecil came across the lawn and sat next to me. I hated Cecil. He was twenty-eight and still dressed like he was twenty. He thought he was so cool when we were growing up. I can’t believe I ever admired him. Cecil was a mouth breather.

“What are you doing over here?” My toes start to curl in and they start to look a little bit more deformed.

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Don’t you have a cat to confide in?” Oh yeah, I had killed it.

“No,” Cecil was choking up. Damn, I killed his cat.

“What happened to the great Mr. Hemingway?”

“He was brutally murdered and shoved into a garbage bag with my gardening gloves.” I could feel Cecil’s eyes boring a deep spear of fire through my chest, willing me to crumble up on my doorstep and wither into nothing. My toes looked deformed.
“Imagine that…that is just, just so sad. I’m s¬¬¬--- "

“Save it. I know it was you, you left the garden gloves in the bag, which came from my garage!”

“So that’s what you want to talk about. You are delusional Cecil! I didn’t kill your fucking cat. I just found him and put him in a bag, I didn’t know what else to do, I was late for work.”

“Bullshit Kat! Bull-fucking-shit! You think you’re the only one with eyes, you think you’re the only one who sees through people? Guess what Kat; I know you did it because Ernest is ground into your tires and the driveway! Yeah, I checked it out, not at first, because I thought ‘Gee it couldn’t be Kat, she wouldn’t do such a thing, she’s changed, she’s more responsible now, she goes to AA!’” Cecil was talking through his teeth. When we were younger, he would follow up his teeth-talking with a punch to the face. But we’re older now.

“C, I didn’t kill your cat. You always blame me for the most ridiculous things,” I stood up and tried gaining my balance, “You think I’m always lying, always doing something irresponsible! Just because you haven’t gotten laid in like…forever—does not mean I killed your cat. Go take your sexual frustration somewhere else!” I grabbed my wine, but Cecil knocked it out of my hands.

“You’re drunk! Unbelievable.” He stomped across the yard shouting, “AA my ass!”

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving dinner when Cecil did the toast that he forgave me for killing Ernest. His toast went something like this; “It is not often that we get to see each other in our busy lives. But today is a special occasion and of course we must all be here for that, we are truly blessed to all be at this table in good health and good fortune, feasting on this bountiful meal! Oh and I’m so grateful…well I think we all are grateful that Katherine finally showed up to a family event. Not drunk.”

Cecil is a comedian now?

“ And oh, before we cheer, I also want you to know, I forgive you, Katherine, for killing my cat. If only Mr. Hemingway were here today.” He looks up to the ceiling as if his dumb cat is looking down on him.

“Cheers.”

Who did Cecil think he was? Moses? I could not believe my family cheered to that. This was when Ashley took the opportunity to stand up and also forgive me, “I also forgive Katherine for accidentally leaving my daughter at the store.” Uncalled for. My parents nodded. Dad asked if anyone else wanted to forgive me. No one spoke. I imagined Cecil and Ashley choking on their turkey and cranberries, then face planting into their food.

When I left Georgia at the store, I had been drinking. The day had been fine, I picked Georgia up from school we went to Ming for Chinese food, their food is amazing and cheap, the only place I’ll ever take anyone for lunch, I can’t risk good money on bad food. Ming was a sure bet. Georgia reminded me that her mom, who also happens to be my irritatingly perfect sister, asked me to pick up some dog food for their perfect family pet, their golden retriever. Things were okay then, I had been going to AA meetings, well I went to two, but my sister trusted me with her kid. I felt like this would get her off my back.

Georgia wandered off in the store. I didn’t forget about her, I just had too many things on my mind. So I checked out and I left. I got to my house and saw the dog food in my rear view mirror. Shit. I had left Georgia at the store. I thought of excuses the whole way back to the store. When I got there she was gone. I searched the isles, I looked between the isles, I asked employees even. Until someone told me her mom had come to get her. I drank vodka out of a water bottle on my way back home. I stuck a pack of gum in my mouth and chewed until my jaw felt like it was going to fall off. Ashley couldn’t know that I had been drinking. She knew though. Georgia told her. It wasn’t until two years later at Thanksgiving dinner that she forgave me. Ashley should have picked her kid up from school. She was so irresponsible sometimes.

The bus winds up this long dirt driveway, with willows along the side. The lady next to me tells me she used to have a willow in her yard. What the hell do I care? I smile and tell her how wonderful that must have been. We approach this extravagant sign that says, “Nature’s Healing Facility.” Welcome to camp-heal-yourself where your loved ones send you to become “cured.” But I don’t have a disease, and it’s not my fault I am here.

I get off the bus and light a cigarette while I watch everybody unload their bags from the bus, ah the sweet, sweet taste of cancer. The lady I was sitting next to on the bus, glares at me, like I’m doing something wrong. Fuck you lady, go hump your fucking willow tree. Someone else can get my bag, they have a whole bunch of people in “Nature’s Healing Facility” shirts, why aren’t they carrying our bags? Stupid plump, umpa lumpas, shaking everyone’s hand in their stuck up polo’s. All these smiley bitches telling everyone carrying their bags in, “Welcome, this program will change your life, it changed mine!” The only thing that changed in their lives was their pant size, probably resorted to withdrawal eating, until they were bloated enough to be on the set of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Fuck!

I see out of the corner of my eye this one guy watching me, he’s been staring at me since I got off the bus. I glance at him. He’s not too bad, he kind of looks like what I imagine a much younger Sonny would look like with hair. I decide he’s going to be my new fuck-buddy, I got to keep myself busy somehow in this god-forsaken fort from hell. My new fuck-buddy comes over, I assume he wants to talk. God, men are so predictable, it’s disgusting.

“Hey.” Hey? Really that’s the best he can come up with? No sleazy pick-up lines? Maybe he’s not my new fuck-buddy.

“Hey.” I just want him to go away now, what a fucking creep.

“So I noticed you’re not getting your bag and taking it in like everybody else, you too cool?”

“Excuse me? What the fuck is your deal man?”

“Well my fucking deal is you’re just like every single person that comes to this place.”

“I’m not fucking low-life scum, I don’t suck crack dick, asshole.”

“Oh, but you don’t get it, you are. You are just like every single person that comes in here, think you’re going to beat the system huh? Play it cool, pretend like you’re healed then walk on out of those doors and first thing you do is take a drink, smoke some rock, snort some coca cola, and you’re going to be fine? It’ll all be behind you, just another day blurred in with the rest of your memories?” Fuck you man! I want to punch him in the face, instead I exhale my smoke into his ugly mug. He smiles. I am such a snake charmer.

“Wow, you just really think you are something don’t you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Cause you’re not. And I bet you a carton of cigarettes a week, you’re not going to make it through this program, you’re not strong enough. You’re just going to go right back out onto the streets and continue drinking your life away, shooting up, sucking crack dick, whatever it is you got to do to get your fix. Until one day, you’re just gone. And nobody knows, and nobody cares. Nobody, I mean nobody will give two shits about you not being here. It’s not like they even give a shit about you now.” I bite my tongue so hard, I can taste the blood flooding my mouth. I can’t look at him, I can’t look away from him, I’m so fucking mad! What a piece of shit. Who is he to tell me who the fuck cares about me! What the fuck makes him think I care? Fuck!

“What the hell do I care? I can get cigarettes anywhere.”

“Not in here you can’t.” He smacks my cigarette out of my mouth and walks towards the entrance. Unbelievable, this guy is such a little shit. I don’t even know this prick, and he starts walking all over my shit. I start crying, fuck, I don’t even know why. I’m not going to let this sonuvabitch get away with thinking he’s right. I start walking towards the entrance ready to fucking clock this guy in the back of his head, like a train into a stuck car. I’m envisioning WWE: rehab edition, right here, right now. Then he turns all smiley and shit and points to my bag.

“Your bag is over there, don’t forget to get it.” Shit. All the umpa lumpas are gone; I have to take this fucking thing in myself. He keeps smiling at me as I drag my bag into the facility. I’m going to need those cigarettes.