Wednesday, January 31, 2007


This afternoon I went to a going-away party for the current director of Doug's House, the AIDS hospice I started volunteering at last year. After 4 years, she's decided to move on, not surprisingly. It's an emotionally draining, low-paying and probably fairly thankless job.

I haven't been back since the end of the last school semester (early last December), but everyone seemed happy to see me. I met the new director of the place, a really nice middle-aged guy who seems really enthusiastic about coming on board. In fact, while I was talking to him, he offered me a job.

Basically, I would be doing the same types of things I was as a volunteer, except.... with a lot more responsibility, and well, literally getting my hands dirtier. I would probably have to deal with a lot of bodily fluid clean-up, including poop, vomit, blood, urine, and whatever else comes out of human bodies when people are dying. And since I would be a paid staffer, I wouldn't be able to refuse like I could (and did!) as a volunteer. I would also have to track and distribute medication, which makes me a little nervous.

On the plus side, it pays $2 more an hour than I'm making right now at an increasingly intolerable retail job. On the down side (in addition to poop, vomit and blood), the hours would be irregular, not guaranteed, and possibly not the most desirable (at best). Like working overnight on Fridays.

In talking to the director, he said he would like to work with me to try to set a more regular schedule that would be to my liking, but maybe wouldn't be able to set anything in stone.

So I also always have the option of just cutting down my hours at said Intolerable Retail Nightmare, to, perhaps, 18-20 a week, and pick up the rest at the hospice. At least until maybe I get more comfortable and sure that I want to continue doing that. So I told the director I'd think about it and get back to him. It's very tempting.

Of course, according to Malcolm Gladwell, I've probably already made my decision. Now I'm just trying to figure out the best way to go about it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tomorrow's Forecast: Chaos?

I'm not one to buy into "fear hype" typically, but there is one area where it works on me every time: global warming. The prospect of environmental global chaos, water shortages, and all the other sundry issues that go along with it, is probably the most terrifying thing I can imagine. More than terrorism, more than an alien invasion (don't laugh, that's my #2 fear. I'm serious), more than...I don't know what. I know it makes most people nervous, but it really does keep me awake at night if I think about it. I think it scares me so much because it's something that (at least by the time it gets to that point) is completely out of our control.

Yeah, you can always just check out, but for some reason, the thought of doing that because I'm more or less forced to makes me realy mad and apprehensive. As opposed to the idea of doing it because I choose to, which makes perfect sense to me. It's just another alternative to living. But what if you want to live, but wars are being waged over water, and the globe is in complete anarchy, and everyone is suffering?

It scares me bad.

On a somewhat related note, the new Explosions in the Sky record is fucking awesome. Of course. I love the first song the best.

Peformance Art Indeed....

I guess we should have known. Well, I guess some people did.

It seems so elaborate just to be a joke. But it's a good one.

Monday, January 29, 2007


is one of those movies that does the whole "day in the life" thing, where every event has an unexpected consequence of some sort, and everybody's lives bounce off everybody else's, and at some point, someone's hidden past comes back to bite them in the ass, and it has a ricochet effect, and by the end of the film, everybody's life has changed dramtatically, and oh so meaningfully. I have to confess to being drawn to these sorts of movies because I think a lot of the time they have some really beautiful and true moments in them, but for the most part they're heavy-handed, self-important, and rife with cliches and serendipitous conclusions that are supposed to anchor it all, but just feel desperate and cheap most of the time.

Heights could easily be Magnolia, v.2.0 - Manhattan,
except that it doesn't have even a quarter of the heart, soul, insight, emotion, or true gravitas of Magnolia. I know a few people who didn't care for Magnolia; thought it was exactly what I'm claiming Heights to be, but that's okay. Those people are wrong.

Out of all of this overwrought (but still somehow totally boring) mess, there did shine a few little moments of inspired wisdom. One of them was a single line uttered by a character at the end of the film which I won't tell you about because it would involve way too much explaining and backstory, and frankly, it's just not worth it. The other is the very first scene of the whole film, in which Diane Lee, played by Glenn Close, who is supposed to be a super-famous actress of theater and screen, is leading an acting class, and as her students are speaking (not quite acting) Shakespeare, Close jumps up on the stage and starts raving about passion. They have no passion, she screams, and relates the story of Medea to them, and how to get revenge on the man that left her, she kills their children, one of them only a baby, by bashing its skull on a rock. Obviously her character isn't advocating filicide, but she is trying to make a point that at least Medea was passionate. She goes on to complain that our society has been infiltrated and devastated by an entire population of people who have become tepid, fearful, and sedentary, and that no one has any passion anymore. People are too polite, too afraid to scream, and wail, and become furious, and take chances, and put themselves on the line. Then she urges her students to go out that weekend and do something dangerous, something that scares the shit out of them.

After this scene, I had very high hopes for the film, and hoped to see some serious hysterics, but was only left with a lead actress (Close's character's daughter) who walks around the film blank-faced and completely emotionless the entire film, and her fiancee (the oh so dreamy James Marsden) who has the far more interesting story-line (he's the one with the hidden, dubious past) pushed off into the corner, only to have his story be relevant in the last 5 minutes. And then it becomes retarded.

But hey, at least I got to hear a great speech about passion and feel a little more justified at how I've treated my last two boyfriends after they both broke my heart.

I wasn't crazy, I was just...passionate.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy

This semester is already shaping up to be much more pleasant than last semester (which I hated). I really like all of my classes, with my Intro to Guidance and Counseling by far being my favorite, and my second favorite being Abnormal Psychology.

For starter, there is no homework and there are no papers in the class. Our entire grade is based on only 3 tests, which is somewhat intimidating (especially since papers are, like, my thing) but I think it will be all right.

The professor is this really dry middle-aged woman who seems like she probably smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day, and may or may not be a lez, I can't decide. But she's hilarious, and clearly loves the material. She gets such a visible glee out of talking about mental illness and out of drawing pictures on the chalkboard for us of body parts and surgical procedures.

Yesterday she showed us a bunch of "training videos" from mental wards in the 1940's of various mental illness procedures. Some of them are incredibly gruesome, and some just look horribly uncomfortable. She started out light, showing us footage of "patients" getting water treatments, which involved stripping them naked, tying them up while standing with their arms pulled out (think Abu Ghraib) and then being sprayed with, basically, a firehose of freezing water. Next there were glucose treatments, where patients would be injected with glucose, so their blood sugars would drop and they would basically go into a coma. Watching their bodies twitch and convulse and fall into the comas was pretty hard to watch. Then they would get injected (after the correct amount of time) with sugar to bring their levels back up, and they would awaken from the coma, supposedly cured.

After that we watched a bunch of footage of electroshock therapies. These were much worse, obviously, than what they do today, and it was pretty remarkable the way the bodies would curl up afterwards, almost as if they were trying to fold in on themselves. A lot of people would have grand mal seizures, but this is supposedly what would rearrange the neurons and "cure" the patient.

Then we got to the footage of the lobotomies. I don't think I've ever squirmed so much watching anything in my life. It was grainy, and the only sound was voiceover, but knowing these were real people was pretty tough. The pre-frontal lobotomy was invented by a Portugese doctor, Antonio Egas Moniz, in 1936, which involved drilling holes in patient's heads, then destroying the tissue connecting the frontal lobes by injecting them with alcohol. By the 40's, and the time of these videos, they didn't do so much alcohol injecting, but would chip away parts of the skull (after slicing the whole head open and peeling the skin back; and yes, we watched all of this), then get into the brain and literally cut synapses or just carve out chunks of the brain.

Later they started going in underneath the eyeball and snipping away parts of the brain, which did away with having to cut the whole head open.

The saddest parts of the videos, though, was the footage of the "success" stories. A lot of these people had what would today be considered very treatable illnesses (though some of them were schizophrenic), like excessive anxiety or depression. After their lobotomies, they would be much better in regards to their original problems, but most of them had been rendered totally childlike. Some of the these people were very well educated with PH.d.'s, and were doctors and professors. They showed footage of some of them playing cards with nurses, to show how "normal" they now were, but they would giggle, and wave at the camera like a child, and often just look up and stare off into space, their faces totally blank.

Incidentally, and my professor loves this story, you can tell by the way she smiles when she tells it, the Portugese doctor who invented these lobotomies was murdered by one of his former patients on which he had performed one of these surgeries.

In case you weren't already confused enough.

42 of the biggest unanswered questions in science.

It makes the brain hurt just thinking about them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Singles Going Steady

At work, one of my managers is a real hip college girl I'll call A. We like to pretend like we're going out, or "going steady" as I say, and which A. thinks is hilarious. We pretend to make out in front of the other managers and flirt a lot, but really we just gossip about which boys we think are cute that work there.

Anyway, sometimes she likes to walk up to me when I'm with a customer and look real mad and say things like, "So, I thought you were gonna come over last night after you got off work, but I heard you went to that other girl's house. I even rented Gone With the Wind for us to watch! But you never showed up!" And then she'll storm off, leaving the customer completely perplexed, and myself a little embarassed.

Now, there's another manager, also a female, whom I'll call N., who has never really participated in any of these shenanigans, and is usually the picture of professionalism. You know, one of those types who's nice, but kind of stuffy and takes her job way too seriously. A few weeks ago I crossed her a bit by doing something I probably shouldn't have done, but which nonetheless wasn't a big deal, but she totally freaked out about it. Even the other managers told me she was way overreacting and not to pay any attention, because it didn't matter. Anyway, she and I get along just fine, and after a couple of days after the "incident," it was forgotten.

So today I'm working, minding my own business, helping a customer, when N. walks up to my station and just stands there staring at me. And she looks pissed. I look over at her and kind of furrow my brow in puzzlement, but she just continues to stand there staring at me. I'm assuming she's waiting for me to finish my transaction before she says anything. So, heart pounding, and with fingers suddenly trembling, I keep going. But damn, this lady's buying a lot of stuff.

Finally, while the customer is still standing there, N. says, "You are in so much trouble."

I immediately feel my face redden and can't believe that she would start scolding me in front of a customer. But I try to be cool, and I'm all, you know, real casual-like, "Oh yeah?"

N. nods. "Oh yeah," she says. "I heard that apparently there's some other girl here who's under the impression that she's going steady with you. And I think you need to set the record straight."

I swear to god, my jaw and the customer's jaw dropped simultaneously. But then N. and I both started laughing and she walked off.

I guess I have a really guilty conscience. And now I wonder if N. and A. are planning some kind of double assault.

"They doubt that I am a real person as well."

I also stole this from Sullivan. It's a video made by an autistic woman; the first half is in her language, and the second half is in "our" language. It's absolutely heartbreaking. It made me want to cry, it's so innocent, but frustrated and confused.

I've done a lot of thinking about austism since last summer, and if I really felt it was in me, I would absolutely go into the field of working with autistic kids. It's not my cup of tea, but I find autisim completely fascinating, and just for one day, would love to be able to experience what their lives are like. I realize how patronizing that sounds and I don't mean it to be, but I just can't wrap my head around it. But I really want to.

Incidentally, here's a picture of me from Monterrey last summer, and Rodrigo, the autistic boy that I did horse therapy with. I actually just found this in an old email the other day; I forgot I had it.

Un. Fucking. Believable.

This isn't science fiction folks. It's real.

He shouldn't just be fired, he should be disbarred. I first saw this on the Daily Show two days ago, but Andrew Sullivan posted a longer version up today.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

They said, "Tammy, stand by the jams."

I have to confess that one of my favorite singers of all time is Tammy Wynette. Her voice is just so full and rich, and glides over your senses like...I don't know what, I'm bad with metaphors, but like something nice and warm and lovely.

Tonight Dylan and I watched the episode of The Simpsons where Homer befriends Lurlene, the country singer, and he rockets her to stardom, but then at the end, despite his temptation, realizes that he only loves Marge. I seriously got tears in my eyes when he goes back to Marge and Lurlene sings the song on live TV about how she just lost her Homer. Anyway, "Lurlene" is clearly modeled after Tammy Wynette, and the episode made me bust out the one Tammy Wynette CD I have and listen to it while I was fixing dinner.

Hillary Clinton once decried "Stand by Your Man" as the most insipid and most unempowering song ever written, and part of me agrees with her, but another part of me wants to tell her to lighten the fuck up. It's definitely in my top 10 of favorite songs ever, but honestly, I can see her point.

But check this shit out:

There's a weird part of my brain that I have to turn off when I listen to Tammy Wynette, and that's the side of me that wants to tell her to stop being such a cry-baby and a victim and a doormat, and just get the fuck out. But then I realized that that's the true beauty of her music.

Anybody who listens to old country just has to get over the fact that it's completely mysoginistic, and if people talked about homos back then, I'm sure it would have been incredibly homophobic as well. But the thing that appeals to me about that (at least the songs written for women, and Wynette's seem to be a little worse at crying about victimhood than most of the others) is that they're totally visceral and just... so fucking sad. Which is of course why I love them. There's no pretense, there's no bullshit, the songs are just about pure, unadulterated emotion, right from the gut.

Take one of my favorite songs of Wynette's, "My Arms Stay Open Late," for instance. The first line of the song is, "The baby cries/I could almost die from lonesome." The entire song is about how she's stuck at home taking care of some schmuck's baby while he's out carousing around, drinking, and having a good time. But nevertheless, there she is at home, the loyal wife, waiting up until dawn to greet him. One of the concluding lines is, "But when the lights of Broadway go off/and every honky-tonk is closed up/My arms stay open late/So you'll come home."

Another song, "It Keeps Slipping My Mind," is all about how she keeps meaning to tell her husband/boyfriend/whatever he is that he's neglecting her, she's lonely, and she wants to leave him, but, well, she just keeps forgetting because darn it, she just loves him so much.

Yet another one, "It's My Way," is all about how she thinks her husband/boyfriend/whatever he is is cheating on her, and there's evidence, but if she freaks out and accuses him of it, and he's hurt, well, she's real sorry. That's just her way of loving him. By being hysterical and ignoring evidence that he is, in fact, cheating on her???

The closest any of her songs that I'm familiar with come to about taking a stand on anything, which happens to be my #2 favorite Wynette song, is called "I'm Only a Woman," except that, well....she's the other woman in the song. And the man won't leave his wife, so she's putting her foot down about it. And leaving him, because she knows that he'll never leave his wife. So, yeah, there's still sort of that victimization aspect of it. But, I mean, who can resist a line like, "Don't you know it hurts to know her arms will hold you/Don't you know how much I wish those arms were mine!" In the most pained voice imaginable.

I realize things were very different back then, but good God, it wasn't the stone ages! But like I said before, it's the pure Sadness of these songs that really gets to me, and, I suspect, everyone that listens to this crap. They're good songs; they're catchy, mid-tempo, incredibly melodic, and her voice! Ah! It's amazing. And it all seems so genuine. And despite what anyone may say to the contrary, I think we've all had these kinds of feelings for people, or been in these terrible situations that we didn't want to leave for one reason or another. It's a universal sentiment, but so few people ever want to admit that they've been that weak, or vulnerable, or just...that in love before. Or, frankly, are that comfortable playing a victim. So that's why I'm so happy Tammy does it for me.

But then again, speaking of victimhood, there's this....

Andrew Sullivan's Take

Well, you've asked me directly for my view, so here it is. At the risk of spoiling the illusion, the God Hates Fags video is, when you examine the site more closely, and watch the video more attentively, a brilliant piece of performance art. So brilliant it illuminates what it satirizes more deeply than any argument could.

I wonder what he means by "examine the site more closely."


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Okay, I guess I'm a little obsessed....

For those of you who may not have seen the video before it was removed from the previous post due to "Abuse," according to the web site, you can still watch it here.

Let's take a minute, though, shall we, to just, you know, run the second verse by ourselves again and really pay attention to just how many double entendres are in there. Do you think it's coincidence (emphasis mine)?

"Read the Bible
You'll be sure
to enter Heaven
there's no back door.

Righteous man
Get on your knees
There lies no virtue
in sodomy."

All sung with that cute little mischievous grin of his. He's kind of cute. I bet this guy was a total hit with the bear crowd that loves to go hang out naked in the woods. I wonder what turned him off of that scene? Maybe they didn't like his pink shirts.

I also love how on his web site he has a list corruptive gay bands for parents to watch out for. But then next to Morrissey's name he has "(questionable?)"

Huh? I thought it was a pretty astute list until I got to that. It even has Le Tigre on it, for crying out loud. But Nickelback, Metallica, Eminem??? You'd think this guy would be a fan of Eminem. His safe bands list is real boring, predictably. Except for the inclusion of Cyndi Lauper. I have no idea what that's about.

All right, I'm done. I'm off to read all about crazy Mormons slaughtering innocent women and little babies which I started reading last night and is totally fucking fascinating. You wanna talk crazy....

I had no idea such unbridled self-loathing and scary hostility could have me rolling in stitches on the floor laughing!

I mean, come on. Are you really singing that with a straight face? (No pun intended.) It's like a Saturday Night Live skit. Regardless, it is hi-larious. I mean, you know, if it weren't so sad.

NSFW, by the way, unless your boss is a raging "ex-gay" homophobe who thinks gay people should die.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I never did care much for pepperoni pizza.

An interesting two-some. Denesh D'Souza and Ted Haggard?

While we're on the subject of evangelicals and homosexuality, one would think that the recent spate of de-closeted evangelical preachers would produce an honest reckoning from the religious right. Haggard and Barnes are nothing new; leaders of the "reparative therapy" movement often get caught sleeping with men. So if the religious right's own leaders are gay, might that not alter these people's perception of homosexuality, just a tad bit? Eh, not so much. You see, for this crowd, it doesn't matter that homosexuality has existed throughout human history and across cultures. So have rape, murder and theft. Homosexuality is merely behavior: misbehavior. These preachers are not homosexuals, they're straight men who succumbed to improper impulses, like an otherwise perfect driver who takes a left on red.

Yeah, I know. More of the same....

"Scratch any cynic, and underneath you'll find a disappointed idealist."

Yesterday in the NYT Magazine, they had an interesting article about how your positive or negative outlook invariably affects you. Which essentially means that your attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which I mostly agree with, but not always.

The most interesting part was when they talked about people's global attitudes and feelings about the future, and how they're pretty much always bleak, while the same people tend to overestimate the positivity in their own lives.

My favorite part, though, was the part about clinically depressed people, and how most people who suffer from serious depression do so not because of a lack of hope or positivity, but generally, because of too much of it. In other words, reality can never live up to their lofty expectations.

A couple of decades ago, the psychologist Shelley Taylor proposed that “positive illusions” like excessive optimism were critical to mental health. People who saw their abilities and chances realistically, she noted, tended to be in a state of depression. (Other psychologists, taking a closer look at the data, countered that depressives actually show more optimism bias than nondepressives: given the way things turn out for them, they are not pessimistic enough.) And there is new evidence that optimism may in some ways be self-fulfilling. In a recently published study, researchers in the Netherlands found that optimistic people — those who assented to statements like “I often feel that life is full of promises” — tend to live longer than pessimists. Perhaps, it has been speculated, optimism confers a survival advantage by helping people cope with adversity.

Hmm. I agree with all this, but perhaps I should take it more to heart: I'm not feeling horribly positive about much of anything today.

Friday, January 19, 2007

That's what I wanted to name my pug....

Lauren Ambrose, the actress who played my second favorite character on Six Feet Under, Clare, the angsty little sister, just had a baby with her weird looking husband. She's so cuuuute!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Weak. So very, very weak.

The smearing has officially begun.

No Bush at SMU

Sometimes I'm very proud to have been raised a Methodist. They're good people.

Also, Protect SMU.

The fact that it's Laura Bush's alma mater makes it even more delicious. And technically, since I'm a member of the church I grew up in (I was confirmed in 6th grade) I can sign the petition. Which I proudly did.

I always knew there was something wrong with those people....

UFO's in Arkansas?


Go Stacy!!!

Congratulations on getting published in Filmmaker magazine. A real, live, glossy magazine. That's awesome. The article is great; I'm proud of you (and a little jealous!!).

Article online here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Faggots and Maggots

I wonder what it says about me that people like Denesh S'Souza no longer make me angry, they just make me sad and remind why I've dropped out of obsessively following politics like I used to.

He was on the Colbert Report last night promoting his new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. And ironically, by pretending to agree with Mr. D'Souza, Mr. Colbert actually gets him to admit that he sympathizes with the terrorists. Sort of tricky and under-handed, yes, and D'Souza clearly doesn't get the joke and that it's on him, but perhaps he should do his research before he agrees to appear on talk shows.

Crooks and Liars has the video up here. Trust me, it's well worth watching, if for no other reason than to see this asshole hang his head in humiliation at the end of the interview.

There's also a pretty brutal Washington Post review of the book here.

Okay, so maybe the snow days are starting to get to me a little bit....

In the true spirit of winter, I've been sleeping almost 10 hours the last few nights (thank you, St. Eds, for cancelling classes!) and eating like there's no tomorrow. For instance, for dinner last night I ate a plate of lasagna, then my managers at work made chili, and I had a huge bowl of that, then I came home and ate two bowls of beans and rice that Dylan had made, then I had two brownies and finished off a pint of ice cream. Then I saw a pizza commercial and a Taco Bell commercial and I wanted them both. The last three mornings I've gotten up and made giant waffles from scratch, too, which were absolutely delicious and drowning in butter.

Also, I have been doing a lot of YouTube watching this morning.

This is one of the most unintentionally hilarious videos I've ever seen. My favorite part is near the beginning when Stephen Dorff throws all the magazines at the paparazzi. I burst out laughing. Then he just goes on throwing things. To, you know, show how angry he is.

I have to admit I've always really liked this song, though.

"It is up to you to be Lacanians if you wish; I will be Freudian."

Last night I just finished reading what was perhaps the most depressing, but also most fascinating, book I've ever read in my life: The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma by Annie Rogers, PH.D.

Miss Rogers is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with traumatized children in her practice. This means that she generally works with children who have been horribly abused somehow, usually sexually, and most of whom have then in turn acted out their abuse on other, smaller, more helpless children than themselves. She has worked with some boys in the past, but for this book, she focuses specifically on girls, and on her own abuse as a child at the hands of her depressive, alcoholic mother which caused her to lapse into psychotic and schizophrenic periods as an adolescent and young adult.

The book is divided up into quarters, the first and fourth quarter about the author's own struggle with mental illness, the second quarter focusing entirely on one case study of a girl named "Ellen" who was horribly abused by her older male babysitter for three years before she told her parents about it, and the third quarter about a series of girls in a mental hospital in Boston who are all there because they were abused in unimaginable ways and reacted violently to that abuse themselves by engaging in their own torture, rape and abuse of other children.

The stories in this book are indescribably awful, and at several times I had to just put it down for a few days and (somewhat begrudgingly) come back to it; it took me over three weeks to get through it. The cast studies are described with matter-of-fact details, and only occasionally does Dr. Rogers write about her own emotional reactions to any of it.

What's fascinating about this book, however, is the method that Dr. Rogers uses, which is a language referred to as "the unsayable." According to Rogers, who herself is working from a framework set forth by the French psychoanalyst Dr. Jacques Lacan, people, especially children, who have been through highly traumatic events in their lives, sometimes lasting over periods of several years, lose the ability to speak about it in everyday terms and language. In other words, what they've been through is so horrific that words fail them, and the human language (no matter the language) will never be able to live up to the task of conveying the true horror of what they've been through. So "the unsayable," in other words, is the language of the subconscious, that every single person on Earth speaks through in some form or another.

It's like the idea of subtext in a screenplay; the Unsayable is all about the patterns people speak in, the words they leave out, the repetitions they engage in, their physical behavior that betrays their inner life. What Dr. Rogers is trained to do is decipher this "language" in her young, damaged patients, to try to see through it, interpret it, and then parse out what it is, exactly, the girls are trying to get across to her. Or, alternately, what they're trying to hide, but unintentionally revealing anyway through all of the above. Many of the girls she worked with don't even remember years of their lives, such as the girl who was 12 or 13, started being abused around the age of 7, but has zero recollection of anything in her life between the ages of 7-11, when she attacked another child and was put into this home. Already a quarter of her life is missing from her consciousness! It's in there somewhere, obviously, and it's Dr. Rogers' job to pull it out, make it known to the girl, put it into a language and context she can make sense of and handle emotionally, and then work through. It's certainly not an easy job, and in the case of the girl who was abused by her babysitter for 3 years, Rogers worked with her for almost 10 years, at least once a week, often more often than that, to get to the heart of her own disturbing behavior.

The language of the Unsayable stems from Freud, originally, and I have to say, this book made me look at Freud through a whole new light. Rogers spends a few pages towards the end of the book lamenting how Freud has been hijacked by the mainstream and often made a joke of by people who don't really understand what he was really all about. To Freud, the subconscious is not really about what most people think it is. It's not about things that are buried, necessarily, and that you're not aware of. It's about things that are buried that are trying desperately to make themselves known to the consious mind through various avenues I've already mentioned. Rogers came back around to Freud through the French analyst Lacan, who himself was a Freudian, and did much work to advance understanding of this "unsayable" language of the unconscious.

Lacan himself describes it this way: "Freud's central insight was not [...] that the unconscious exists, but that it has structure, that this structure affects in innumerable ways what we say and do, and that in thus betraying itself it becomes accessible to analysis".

Hence, what is known as a "Freudian slip."

Lacan developed several phases that an unconscious develops, mirrored to Freud's own Oedipal crisis stages, like the Anal, Oral, Latent, etc. He expounds upon them, however, using his own language and interpretation, which is far too complex to go into here, but if you're interested, they are laid out in the above link.

Also in the last chapter of Rogers' book, she talks about a school she attended in Canada, the Freudian School of Quebec, which has had quite a lot of success in treating young psychotic adults who have been deemed untreatable, including severe schizophrenics who went on to have productive work lives and have honest to God relationships with people. People who wish to go through their own Lacanian psychoanalysis (and anyone can, as Rogers did) should expect a treatment of 8 to 9 years, but gets to the heart of what it means to become a professional analyst. According to Rogers:

What does it mean to become an analyst? It isn't about acquiring a piece of paper that gives you a title and it isn't about gaining a theoretical expertise, per se. It isn't about having a couch and sitting behind it. To be sure, it is a long process that may not lead you where you think you are going. Willy Apollon says, "We are not a school of analysts; we are a school of analysands." That's the heart of becoming an analyst: a long route through your own unconscious, and the courage that's required to experience anxiety and anguish as you face your own life's failures - before you sit behind a couch and pretend to be an analyst with someone else's suffering.

I know what she means. Even in the brief period that I was in therapy in 2005, it was intense and by far the most painful and unsettling experience I've ever had. And we'd barely even begun to scratch the surface. If you've ever been through this yourself, you can start to understand why psychotherapy really has such a low success rate. It's too excrutiating for most people to go through, even if you think you're ready. My therapist told me once that he's had clients that it took years of counseling to before they would get to the real reason they were there. Years! Imagine it. Now apply that same logic to a child, who has been through unspeakable circumstances and can't even begin to make sense of it, and what a painstaking process it must be to get to the heart of their trials and behavior.

Thank God for people like Annie Rogers. She's my new hero.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Novocaine for the soul

The professor for my Intro to Guidance and Counseling class this semester is a very soft-spoken middle-aged woman who wears cute sweaters and cuts her hair very short, and looks like she should be playing an organ in a suburban church somewhere in Iowa. She's very sweet, though, and I like her a lot.

Today we were talking about bringing our own values into therapy sessions with clients (assuming, of course, that we were all the therapists) and she told us a story about when she was in grad school. She didn't say where she went, but she said it was on the east coast, and was a very conservative religious institution. As a student, she had to enlist a student willing to undergo five sessions with her acting as the therapist to the student, and the student had to be willing to have the sessions recorded for later analyzation by my teacher's own professors at that time.

Anyway, she cajoled a young man she vaguely knew into doing it, who was suffering a fair amount of angst and anxiety after going through what he had said was a pretty rough breakup. They talked it out for five sessions, but throughout those five sessions, the student only referred to his other as "the person I broke up with." Over and over again he would say that, never supplying a name or any kind of real identity to the person. Naturally this discouraged my professor, so when the young man agreed to come back for a sixth session, without being recorded, in other words, with true confidentiality, my professor asked him if he would just humor her by providing a name, any name, to refer to his ex. So with some hesitation, the young man said, "My ex's name is David."

Several students in my class has already figured out that this is what was happening, and there were some nods and smiles of recognition. Anyway, my professor went on to say that she was stunned, and the first thing she wanted to do was stop everything and call her professor and ask what she should do. She said she'd never had any experience working with homosexuals, and had never even, to her knowledge, known any.

But she continued on with the session, doing her best to hide her discomfort. She said at that time that it would have been so easy for her to have said something to have severely damaged this man who was clearly already suffering a great deal, and even she wasn't sure what her values were in this case, and whether or not this was something she wanted to take on.

After that session, the man convinced her to take him on for another 6 sessions, unrecorded, just as client and therapist. She somewhat begrudgingly agreed to do so, but figured it would be an interesting way to challenge herself and perhaps try to figure out what her values really were. She also admitted that this could have really backfired and was pretty irresponsible of her; in other words, figure out your values first!

Long story short, she and this young man clicked really well and ended up forming a very intense and healthy therapist/client relationship, and the young man started telling all of his friends about her. "Pretty soon," she said, "I had every gay guy on campus coming to see me." My class erupted into laughter when she said this.

So, obviously, everything turned out well and she said she learned more than she could have imagined from this man. They lost touch, but she said that she wished she could find him now and tell him how much he changed her life and outlook.

I just thought that was a sweet story.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When you hear temptation call, it's your heart that takes the fall

So, do ya'll remember "Toy Soldiers" by Martika? Man, I used to love that song! I heard it on the radio tonight driving home, but only, like, the last half, and I was really pissed, so I immediately came home and found the video on YouTube.

So, what's this song about anyway? Is it really just about drugs? That seems too obvious. Is it supposed to be a metaphor for bad relationships? What's with the first verse about inviting him to stay, and never knowing he would stay so long? Does she mean the drug habit? But then there's the dude in the video who seems to be seducing young girls. Then I thought maybe it was about abortions, but no, I don't think that really fits either. There's also the requisite shot of her at the end running up and then slamming herself against the wall that's totally awesome. When I was a kid, when she says, "only emptiness remains," I always thought she said "only empty nests remain," because a friend of mine who was two years older than me (that I fucking worshipped) told me that's what she said, and that the song was about kids going off to college and leaving their parents alone. Hmm. Somehow I don't think that's what it's about.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More grains of salt against encouraging hope

Again from Andrew Sullivan:

The Pew Research Center has just done their latest survey (PDF) of attitudes among the young. They are markedly less religious than their elders - and previous generations. The percentage claiming they are agnostic or atheist has doubled in twenty years to one in five today; they regard heavy drinking as worse than smoking pot; they have become much less Republican than they once were. George W. Bush has persuaded most of the younger generation to vote Democratic, reversing Reagan's gains among the young. They are much more pro-immigrant than their elders and 74 percent favor some privatizing of social security (yay!); but they're dovish on the use of military force. They are divided equally on gay marriage (47 - 46 in favor, compared to 64 - 30 against among those over 25) but overwhelmingly support gay adoption. I find myself sympathetic to most of their views. Maybe my views are getting younger as my beard gets grayer.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What makes a conservative?

Today, Mr. Sullivan has a link up to a very provocative article in Psychology Today about what personality traits go into a person becoming politically conservative or liberal.

It begins by talking about a woman who went from being staunchly left to staunchly right after 9/11, and discovered so many other people that had done the same thing that she even formed a group called the 911 Neocons. I totally disagree with her reasoning (On the political left, she wrote, "There was little sympathy for the victims," and it seemed to her that progressives were "consumed with hatred for this country" and had "extended their misguided sympathies to tyrants and terrorists."), but it makes for an interesting foundation on which to write about various studies conducted on what exactly goes into political determinates.

A lot of it talks about personality traits such as liberals being messier, more voracious readers of a more broad range of subject matter, less religious, people who enjoy traveling more, etc etc. Which is all very interesting I guess, but what really fascinated me was the studies they did on childhood dispositions and political affilitions. You can take it for what it's worth (and the scientists insist that the evidence is emperical, proveable, and non-biased) but they had this to say:

In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children's temperaments. They weren't even thinking about political orientation.

Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects' childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

Aside from that, and this would seem to back up the above finding, the article talks about how a fear of death and cultural zeitgeist has as much to do with political leanings as anything, hence the upsurge in support for Bush after 9/11. They talk about numerous tests performed on people who make close associations with death (or with 9/11 specifically) and how that affects their answers about social and political issues immediately afterwards as opposed to the same questions when asked to just "think rationally" about them for 30 seconds. The results are pretty astounding.

To test the theory, Jost prompted people to think about either pain—by looking at things like an ambulance, a dentist's chair, and a bee sting—or death, by looking at things like a funeral hearse, the grim reaper, and a dead-end sign. Across the political spectrum, people who had been primed to think about death were more conservative on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage than those who had merely thought about pain, although the effect size was relatively small. The implication is clear: For liberals, conservatives, and independents alike, thinking about death actually makes people more conservative—at least temporarily.

And then:

Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.

"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.

American Fascists

Yesterday on Salon, there was a great interview with author Chris Hedges about his new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The same book got pretty much slammed in the NYT Book Review on Sunday (and they have valid arguments), but I really want to read it anyway. Hedges sounds like a really interesting, thoughtful guy, and the fact that he himself is a hardcore Christian offers a little more validation to me. At least you know it's not just some super hardcore atheistic liberal with an axe to grind.

I know some of you will be rolling your eyes, and saying, "Yes, but he's still using the word 'fascist,' with all its connotations to Hitler and what not, but the Salon interview addresses that in the very first question:
Let's start with the title. A lot of liberals who write about the right see echoes of fascism in its rhetoric and organizing, but we tiptoe around it, because we don't want people to think that we're comparing James Dobson to Hitler or America to Weimar Germany. You, though, decided to be very bold in your comparisons to fascism.

You're right, "fascism" or "fascist" is a terribly loaded word, and it evokes a historical period, primarily that of the Nazis, and to a lesser extent Mussolini. But fascism as an ideology has generic qualities. People like Robert O. Paxton in the "Anatomy of Fascism" have tried to quantify them. Umberto Eco did it in "Five Moral Pieces," and I actually begin the book with an excerpt from Eco: "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." I think there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini's Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.

He goes on to talk a lot about what exactly many of the factors are that create these types of movements in typically more "liberal" societies, what will push America past the tipping point, and what Democrats are and are not doing to address these issues.

Yeah, the economic is part of it, but you have large sections of the middle class that are bulwarks within this movement, so obviously the economic part isn't enough. The reason the catastrophic loss of manufacturing jobs is important is not so much the economic deprivation but the social consequences of that deprivation. The breakdown of community is really at the core here. When people lose job stability, when they work for $16 an hour and don't have health insurance, and nobody funds their public schools and nobody fixes their infrastructure, that has direct consequences into how the life of their community is led.

I know firsthand because my family comes from a working-class town in Maine that has suffered exactly this kind of deterioration. You pick up the local paper and the weekly police blotter is just DWIs and domestic violence. We've shattered these lives, and it isn't always economic. That's where I guess I would differ with Frank. It's really the destruction of the possibility of community, and of course economic deprivation goes a long way to doing that. But corporate America has done a pretty good job of destroying community too, which is why the largest growth areas are the exurbs, where people have a higher standard of living, but live fairly bleak and empty lives.

But my favorite quote comes when he's talking about when these things have happened in other societies and people didn't even see it coming, and had they, they would have packed up their shit and gotten out:

Well, most people didn't pack up and go. The people who packed up and left were the exception, and most people thought they were crazy. My friends in Pristina had no idea what was going on in Kosovo until they were literally herded down to the train station and pushed into boxcars and shipped like cattle to Macedonia. And that's not because they weren't intelligent or perceptive. It was because, like all of us, they couldn't comprehend how fragile the world was around them, and how radically and quickly it could change. I think that's a human phenomenon.

Hitler was in power in 1933, but it took him until the late '30s to begin to consolidate his program. He never spoke about the Jews because he realized that raw anti-Semitism didn't play out with the German public. All he did was talk about family values and restoring the moral core of Germany. The Russian revolution took a decade to consolidate. It takes time to acculturate a society to a radical agenda, but that acculturation has clearly begun here, and I don't see people standing up and trying to stop them. The Democratic policy of trying to reach out to a movement that attacks whole segments of the society as worthy only of conversion or eradication is frightening.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why I hate the Ivy Leagues, #247

My love/hate relationship with Ivy League schools is officially over: I hate them.

I mean, come on!! How much stupider or more pretentious can you get??? Naked parties to relieve stress? Rebelling against having to get dressed up to go out? "Ooh, look at us, we're so progressive, ooh, we're so evolved, and anybody that thinks it's lame is such a square!"

The Pundits, founded in 1884 as a society of “campus wits,” have a history of rebelling against Yale tradition, often through elaborate pranks. They organize six to eight covert naked parties a year, which attract anywhere from 30 to 300 people to off-campus houses, neglected rooms in classroom buildings and even small libraries on campus.

“It’s one of those things people feel they need to do before they graduate,” says Megan Crandell, a senior who estimates that she has been to a half-dozen naked parties during her time at Yale. “The dynamic is completely different from a clothed party. People are so conscious of how they’re coming across that conversations end up being more sophisticated. You can’t talk about how hot that chick was the other night.”

Uh, yeah, okay Megan, yeah, I'm sure you're really sophisticated. Give me a fucking break and go live in the real world for, like, 30 seconds, and then talk to me about being fucking sophisticated.

Students invited to a party at Columbia last year got this e-mail message: “Compadres, join us in refusing to comply with a culture that tells us to hide our body, to be ashamed of its scents, secretions, curves, and hair, to conceal those parts that have been dealt sexual connotations.”

Oy. Sometimes I'm really glad I didn't go to a regular college at the regular time I was supposed to. I don't know why this article made me so mad.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Authentic Happiness

I think this is my new favorite website, mostly because it has lots of self-evaluation tests on it, and I'm a total sucker for those things. It's bananas. The New York Times Magazine had a really great article in it today about the psychology of the longetivity of happiness, and what actually makes a "meaningful life."

So, the site has a quiz on it (it's 240 questions...) where it rates your top 24 strengths in descending order. In case you're interested, here are my top 5:

Your Top Strength

Kindness and generosity
You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.

Your Second Strength
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Your Third Strength
Bravery and valor
You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.

Your Fourth Strength
Capacity to love and be loved
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Your Fifth Strength
Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

I'm pretty happy with those. This is one instance where if you disagree, I don't wanna hear it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Beyond the good and the bad

On the pilot episode of Six Feet Under, the Fisher family's patriarch is killed on Christmas Eve in a car accident on his way to the airport to pick up his oldest son, Nate, who has come home for Christmas from Seattle for the first time in 5 years. This begins the trajectory of the show, as Nate is posited, basically, as the prodigal son who years ago ran away from the family funeral home business, but who gets (arguably unwittingly) sucked into it, and thus the storyline begins.

That first pilot episode deals largely with grieving, and how various cultures (and individual people) grapple with it. Nate is enraged at his own father's funeral at what he considers the "sanitization" of grief, of overwhelming, unbearable, soul-crushing grief. He is disgusted by his family's business, of the way the modern funeral industry tries to "hide" the grieving widows or other family members, if they get too "out of control" by whisking them away into a private room to sob out their tears in private. He hates how composed everyone is expected to remain at funerals, and while standing over his own father's grave, begins to throw dirt into it and curses him for being absent and screams at him for all the anger and resentment he feels. The guests look on horrified, as does Nate's uptight younger brother David, but their mother, Ruth, gets the message and collapses on her knees over the coffin, and begins sobbing uncontrollably, while herself throwing wads of dirt on top of the coffin. David is humiliated and tries to stop her, but Nate stops him and encourages her. Nate later tells David a story about how when he was in Sicily he witnessed a funeral procession of an old man whose widow and children literally fell over themselves on top of the coffin, screaming to Heaven and cursing God, and how it was the only sincere form of grieving he'd ever witnessed.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist who studied grief and the phases of it, and found in the people she studied a pattern (which is familiar to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of psychology): Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally, Acceptance. She never claimed that they all happened consecutively, and in an orderly manner, but people often waffle back and forth between stages for long periods of time, sometimes years, and frequently get stuck in various stages. But overall, according to her, a healthy, normal grieving phase followed these patterns.

While still being respectful of her great accomplishments in the study of how people grieve, and ultimately come to terms with their own mortality, most modern therapists agree that the grieving process is far too individual, personal, and culturally-based to fall into such a tidy process.

Most mental illness has at its root a sense of intense loss, whether it's a metaphoric loss or a physical loss, if not a severe trauma of some kind, but usually goes unnoticed over many years.

The British developmental psychologist John Bowlby posited things a slightly different way: he outlined various processes and psychophysiological components to grief such as Shock and Numbness, Yearning and Searching, Disorganization and Disrepair, and then Reorganization.

I've done a lot of thinking about grief in the past year or so, and what exactly it means to feel, or not feel, grief, and what grief even means to people. Once you've felt it intensely, do you ever really stop, or does it just become absorbed into you, and become a part of who you are? In the area of severe trauma, particularly, I've been interested in how people feel things and continue trying to live a "normal" life, and if it's even possible. Collier and I were discussing this at one point last year, and she suggested that people who have suffered tremendous loss in their lives maybe just have a different idea of what constitutes happiness and making things manageable. I guess that makes sense to me. I mean, everybody has a different idea of that stuff, so it would serve to reason that especially people who have been through unspeakable things would have a radically different take on life and "getting by" than someone who has not been through something horribly tragic. How is it that emotions sometimes feel like they can kill us? And why is it that they don't? Somehow, someway, the human spirit just keeps on keeping on. Here is an interesting response to that sort of enquiry anyway. Which, after having done some research, is not far off from how most major psychologists view life after grief. Probably the one that makes the most sense to me (which is touched on in the letter) comes from Miriam Greenspan, who said that when you're feeling like an emotion is going to kill you (I'm paraphrasing here), just imagine that you are an animal. Animals don't analyze, or philosophize, or even try to get rid of pain, because, obviously, they are animals and don't have the mental cognizance to do so. What they do, as animals, is just feel it. That's the only choice they have! They can't even intentionally run in front of a car or stick their head in the oven, because they don't know to. They just have to feel it through, without even a slightly numbing glass of red wine, and certainly without any Xanax. How tragic, I agree, but that's what they have to do. And to my knowledge, no animal has ever died from grief.

Though I do remember as a child, I had two dogs, and one of them had to be put to sleep, and for almost a week afterwards, the surviving dog did nothing but sleep behind a big chair in our living room, crammed up against a wall, not even coming out to eat. That made a very big impression on me as a child.

Tonight it's raining and cold, and my heart is heavy and my head is full of so many things. But at least I've got a nice new bottle of red wine to help me sleep a little better.

From the "Mystic Odes of Rumi," via season 5 of Six Feet Under:

Our death is our wedding with eternity.
What is the secret? "God is One."
The sunlight splits when entering the windows of the house.
This multiplicity exists in the cluster of grapes;
It is not in the juice made from the grapes.
For he who is living in the Light of God,
The death of the carnal soul is a blessing.
Regarding him, say neither bad nor good,
For he is gone beyond the good and the bad.
Fix your eyes on God and do not talk about what is invisible,
So that he may place another look in your eyes.
It is in the vision of the physical eyes
That no invisible or secret thing exists.
But when the eye is turned toward the Light of God
What thing could remain hidden under such a Light?
Although all lights emanate from the Divine Light
Don't call all these lights "the Light of God";
It is the eternal light which is the Light of God,
The ephemeral light is an attribute of the body and the flesh.

...Oh God who gives the grace of vision!
The bird of vision is flying towards You with the wings of desire.