Friday, December 28, 2007

you can't see the thin air

I had a medical appointment today. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be a referral for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, so I went in all ready to explain that techniques for correcting irrational beliefs in order to improve one's outlook on life are all well and good, but if my beliefs are rational CBT isn't going to be helpful. I firmly believe that my expectation that my health is not going to significantly improve in the future is realistic, and furthermore, that accepting this hard truth is more helpful and healthy than continuing to deny it in the hope that positive thinking will magically cure me.

Turns out this referral wasn't actually for CBT, it was for drugs. The doctor I saw wasn't at all interested in hearing about my memory, concentration, or comprehension problems, and she wasn't at all interested in my history of extremely bad reactions to ridiculously low doses of various medications. What she was interested in was writing me a prescription for Prozac.

I'm not excited about the prospect of taking Prozac, although I agreed to it, of course; I don't ever feel comfortable not agreeing to a suggested course of treatment, because I'm very afraid that if I am ever the least bit non-compliant, for ever after every doctor will point to it and say "Well, it's too bad you didn't agree to this treatment, or you'd be well now. It's your fault you're ill." I'm not sure how rational this fear is, although it has some basis in how I was treated in the Army. Anyway, taking Prozac isn't that big a deal. I am fairly certain it will make me ill just like Effexor did, and I will vomit for a few days, lay about in bed feeling like I'm dying and then I'll recover and not take it anymore. I just wish that I could hurry up and get past the phase of treatment where doctors insist that making me more ill is the best way to treat me.

When going through my medical history with this most recent doctor, we discussed previous medications' lack of benefit on the pain relieving front. She was concerned that I may not be taking medication with the right attitude; her worry is that my cynicism is actually preventing the medication from working like it's supposed to, causing medications that would otherwise relieve my pain to do nothing.

This philosophy that attributes supernatural powers to my emotions is, I think, the worst thing about going to the doctor. I'm not a religious person, nor am I superstitious. I let go of my childhood faith when I could no longer convince myself to pretend to believe in a gigantic Santa in the sky causing good things to happen to good people and bad things to happen to the bad; I couldn't even believe in fate. Things happen because they are caused to happen by real things that exist in the real world, not because you wish they would happen, or pray for them to happen, or believe that they will happen, or deserve for them to happen. This is true of disasters and good fortune alike, and it's true whether I like it or not. It's also true whether you like it or not, which is why mostly I don't give a crap what other people believe about the world. I recognize that there is a human inclination to assign causation to things, and as this seems to be a fairly universal trait (that even I haven't missed out on) I might as well accept it.

It does get to be a problem, though, when it interferes with my health care. I wish I knew how to change things.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Whenever someone asks me how I am, I am reluctant to lie and say that I am doing well, but I am also reluctant to lay bare the truth; I am afraid if I mention constantly how much pain I am in, people will see me as nothing but a whining hypochondriac. So in order to keep people asking me how I am, I don't tell them how I am. Instead, I tell them that I'm cold. It communicates that I am clearly miserable, and yet it's not so negative that no one wants to hear about it. In fact, in the current situation it's interpreted as a reaction to my first winter in the Midwest, and so people are eager to tell me all about how cold its been and how to stay warm and about their thyroid problem that made them always cold.

However, for Christmas this year, I got: a sweater, a down coat, slippers, a hat-glove-scarf set, long underwear, and the most fabulous electric blanket.

I'm going to need a new strategy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-W.B. Yeats

the Evil Hermit

It's 3am Christmas Eve, and I'm sitting awake contemplating the merits of consuming large quantities of energy drinks and coffee tomorrow so that on Christmas morning I will be vomiting my guts out. I wouldn't have to go out and be cozy with people whose names I can't remember. I wouldn't have to smile and nod and say "thank you" when people give me things I don't want and pretend like I feel like family. I could stay home in bed alone, ill but at peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation—it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages—all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers—yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders—everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn’t they?

They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered.

They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket—that and nothing else.

- "War is a Racket", Major General Smedley Butler, 1935

Monday, December 17, 2007

Too scattered to blog, but I thought I'd preserve this link. It's a good post: You Don't Have to Be Pretty.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Til we crack the code

Mitt Romney gave a speech today somewhere in Texas, purportedly to rescue his campaign from the rise of Mike Huckabee, who is a Southern Baptist preacher. Romney is, of course, a Mormon, and he gave this speech hoping to calm fears about his religion among the evangelical base. I remember, when I was young, seeing books and pamphlets and videos that warned of the Evil Cult of Mormonism and equated it with Satanism and the Heaven's Gate cult (I really think that in some ways Heaven's Gate was preferred, as at least they had the decency to off themselves and save Good Christians the trouble), and so it amazes me that he thinks he ever had a chance of getting elected in 2008. The idea of the fundies being forced to choose between the Evil Cultist and Hitlery is amusing, but I really think they would mostly just stay home instead of voting.

Religion is a terribly political issue in this election, right up there with gender and probably more so than race. I've seen people freaking out because Obama's middle name is Hussein, which means he's a Muslim, never mind that he's a member of the United Church of Christ (I think). I've read at least three or four different articles about how the Democrats, those filthy atheists, have suddenly discovered the religious voter. Issues are cast in religious terms; even global warming is 'stewardship of the earth,' health care laws are moral because Jesus said to take care of the poor, and of course the War on Terror is an apocalyptic battle between Islam and Christianity.

While I've known enough religious people who are genuinely good to believe that religion in the public square is not necessarily pernicious, I think that it often can be. Christianity in the form of modern evangelical millenialism has influenced American public policy in subtle ways; I think it was at least partially responsible for the invasion of Iraq, it is certainly responsible for our support of Israel's rights over the rights of other countries and peoples, and it's responsible for things like abstinence-only sex ed and reduction in government support for contraception. Religion can be very very harmful.

Which is why it irritates me that the current electoral climate requires Presidential candidates to say things like this:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

like Romney did today, in order to reassure voters that they're electable.

Contrast this with someone who did, in fact, get elected to the Presidency of the United States:

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

(Ok, so maybe "elected to the Presidency" is a simplification, but he was Vice President and then President and, of course, wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a genuine Founding Father, and so maybe he ranks a little higher than Mr. Romney in the conservative hierarchy of political thought.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Torture and Blubber

While looking for the quote in the post below, I spent a fair amount of time browsing quotes from Kurt Vonnegut's books, as I was under the mistaken impression that the neon-tubes in the forehead idea was Vonnegut's. This is actually one of my more reasonable recent memory glitches; I mean, really, that sounds like something Vonnegut would write.

Anyway, I found this interesting little essay written by Vonnegut in 1971, titled "Torture and Blubber", which apparently was published in the New York Times. It was written about the war in Vietnam, but it applies to the war in Iraq equally well. A few gems from the piece:

I am sorry we tried torture, I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we will never try torture again. It doesn’t work. Human beings are stubborn and brave animals everywhere. They can endure amazing amounts of pain, if they have to.

The American armada to Indochina has been as narrow-minded and futile as the Spanish Armada to England was, though effectively more cruel. Only 27,000 men were involved in the Spanish fiasco. We are said to have more dope addicts than that in Vietnam. Hail, Victory.

Never mind who the American equivalent of Spain’s Philip II was. Never mind who lied. Everybody should shut up for a while. Let there be deathly silence as our armada sails home.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"And don't tell me God works in mysterious ways," Yossarian continued, hurtling on over her objection. "There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else, He's forgotten all about us. That's the kind of God you people talk about - a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a supreme being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when he robbed old people of their power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?"

"Pain?" Lieutenant Schiesskopf's wife pounced upon the word victoriously. "Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us about bodily dangers."

"And who created the dangers?" Yossarian demanded, He laughed caustically. "Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! Why couldn't He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead? Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn't He?

"People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the middle of their foreheads.

"They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupified with morphine, don't they? What a colossal, immortal blunderer!"

-Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Monday, December 03, 2007

Social Safety Nets in Action

Gary Farber is just some guy. I don't really know him; he has a blog, but I don't read it, and he comments on Obsidian Wings, which I read, and maybe a few other places but I've never really talked to him. He has health problems that keep him from working, that have kept him from working much for years and years; because he's been ill for so long, he doesn't have enough credits in the Social Security system, and so he is not eligible for Social Security Disability. He's applying for SSI, which he's been denied and is appealing, but even if he does get approved for that, the maximum amount he's eligible for is $623/month. It's been a year since he applied, and best case scenario is it'll be another year before he knows if he's eligible or not for any aid.

In political circles, people talk about welfare like it's easy to get on, and once you get on you're set because the government pays for everything you need. In reality, if you're poor and ill in America, the government would really rather you just lay down and died. I am not sure if its really true that society has some sort of obligation to the weak and ill and poor. If there is no obligation to help your neighbor, what's the point of society? But I'm hesitant to say there is an obligation, that anyone is owed anything. Prescriptions for the behavior of others are always dangerous.

However, even if it isn't necessarily morally wrong not to help those who genuinely need it, it would still be neat if we could figure out a way to structure society so that the ill, the disabled, and the needy were treated with dignity and respect, and were provided for when they can't provide for themselves. The only other options are what Gary is facing: eviction, hunger, medical needs going unmet, homeless in the winter in Colorado, death by freezing under a bridge somewhere. Maybe there is no moral obligation for society as a whole to help the people who face these things, but it would sure be nice.

And it's not like anyone reads this thing, but still, Gary has a set up for donations and subscriptions to his blog so that maybe he can keep living indoors.

Also on the social justice front, a Lt. in the US Army, Elizabeth Whiteside, is being court-martialed for attempting suicide while in Iraq. Its a complicated story- what suicide attempt isn't- but the bare details are these: she was in charge of a trauma team in Iraq, working nonstop in the middle of the results of war; she became more and more depressed about the situation, which included a senior male officer who harassed his female coworkers and subordinates; she regularly received very high marks on performance evaluations and was loved by the team she led in Iraq; she had a dissociative panic-attack-type episode and shot herself in the abdomen, but hurt no one else; charges against her include "wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service;" if convicted, she may be put in prison for life and will absolutely be ineligible for any kind of veteran's benefits, including physical and mental health services.

This unhealthy impulse to blame victims for their circumstances in order to deny them any help scares me. I don't want to live in a world that is so heartless and difficult, and I don't understand the people who work to make things this way. I mean, I get that if you have compassion for someone, that means empathy creeps in, which means you start to imagine what life would be like for you if you were in that situation, but I don't understand the depth of cowardice that refuses to face that fear and instead chooses to deny all possibility that disaster could befall Our Kind of People.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Its just as cold and dreary as it looks.


Hairy-legged bra burner

Walking about with bare legs while warm air blows through the house from the heat vents is an incredibly different experience when one's legs are covered in hair. The sensation does tend toward the creepy-crawly, but it's mild enough that I have yet to experience it as pain, and after much thought I have to say I kind of enjoy it. Being able to feel the air currents with your legs is neat, and its still so unexpectedly noticeable a feeling that it resets my expectations about life.

Not shaving my legs is one of the things that has led me to re-think feminism. I don't remember ever calling myself a feminist seriously, although of course I believe women are equal with men in all important ways; I grew up knowing that I was perfectly brilliant enough to do anything I wanted to do, and it never occurred to me that anyone would think my gender had anything to do with that. Although I did encounter people who believed that a woman's place is in the kitchen, this idea was completely foreign to how I viewed myself and the world, and so I never took them very seriously. They were infuriating, but it was so clear to me that they were wrong that I never invested much time in the philosophical objections to their point of view.

Ceasing to shave one's legs, though, is for some reason almost a capital crime in this patriarchy-influenced world, and nevermind that I did it mostly to reduce the amount of pain in my morning routine, the reactions that otherwise rational people have had to my decision to do this have drawn me to feminism. I've started reading a selection of feminist blogs on a daily basis (Echidne of the Snakes, Figleaf, Shakesville, and Feministing among others); I came across this article in the New Statesman, entitled Is feminism dead? via Figleaf, although it was written by one of the contributors to Feministing, Courtney Martin. Martin's description of feminism is one that I can really get behind, particularly this part:

Radical authenticity: This facet of feminism gets talked about far too little in my opinion. A visionary twenty-first century feminism should aim to support both men and women to be their most authentic selves in the world, shedding prescribed gender roles and really getting in touch with their authentic desires, passions, and ethics. Feminist workplaces, for example, would nurture both men and women having present relationships with their children and fulfilling work lives. Men should be empowered to express a complex range of emotions, just as women must learn how to handle conflict healthily and assertively and take care of themselves, not just everyone else.

Figleaf's commentary on what feminism means for men has also been great; as a man, he focuses more on how anti-feminist worldviews hurt men. Which maybe reveals something about me, that I think including men in feminism is a big priority, but really his feminism is humanism, concerned with everyone's happiness, which I think is something to strive for. Like he says, "radical authenticity and not some kind of made-up crap about how women are just life-support systems for pussies and men are just wallets with feet" leads to more satisfaction with life for everyone. Changing our cultural story about gender is not a zero-sum game where women gain at the expense of men; we can all gain.

I'm still not sure I'd call myself a feminist, at least not primarily. Feminism intersects with a lot of things in my life, not just civil rights causes like disabled rights but also my personal search for who and what I am, now, what my life should be and what is most worth doing when the resources I have are so limited. I've always tended to the philosophical, but lately I've been forced to become a little monk, not really able to move and so I do nothing but sit and think. The feminist paradigm is an interesting one, and it rings more true the more I learn about it, but I'd rather have a term that includes feminism as part of a comprehensive human rights worldview. I suppose humanism might the term, but I don't know. Maybe there isn't a term like this yet, but there ought to be.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

no title

Pain is not simple or discrete. It is not homogeneous, straightforward, or consistent. At the same time, it is both enduring and in constant flux; it never goes away and yet somehow it is never possible to shine down a grating white light and stick a pin through the middle of pain so that it can be held down and examined from all angles.

Rather, it bleeds through the body in endless permutations, flaring brightly at a touch and casting flickering shadows in the compression of a muscle. In stillness, it pools like rot or quicksand, and in movement it blares like an unexpected accident, so sharp it barely registers.

The colors of pain are more varied than the human brain is capable of believing. Even I who am so well-acquainted with pain, as soon as it moves or changes I cease to believe in the form it took before. I forget. When the pain I feel is blue and brown like an old bruise, or green and sharp as the smell of limes, I don't believe in the crimson and orange pains of sudden, foolish movement. Primary colors aren't the end of it: the deep dark reds of core muscle fatigue are different than the fresh new slap of pain in the skin or the dull firelight ache of a headache that's settled in for a long stay. There is a pain that is nothing but shadow, and then there is the white hot pain of cold temperatures soaking into the bone through muscle and tendon and skin.

I know that all of these things exist, because I have lived through them and will again, but still, I forget how bright the colors are so quickly. I am over-exposed to the brightness of existence, and so as often as possible my mind chooses blindness; it is blindness to past and future pain, and so I am left with only the present and the colors that inhabit my body in this moment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Week of Food

Sometimes it's easy to forget how fortunate I am. I'm a complainer by nature, always negative, and circumstances lately have reinforced that tendency. I'm glad, though, that I live in a country where if I am so poor that I can't afford to buy all the food I want to eat I can fill out tons of annoying paperwork and get food stamps. Not everyone is so lucky. The smiles on the faces of the family in the last picture in this photo essay astound me; I think that if I had so little, I would be angry and despairing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Raven Steals the Sun

I don't remember what I was doing but somehow earlier today I stumbled upon this picture of a tattoo, which shows Raven, which in the folklore of many of the Native tribes on the northern west coast of America is a creator god figure. There is a story that many tribes tell in different ways, but which comes down to this: once upon a time there was no light in the world. The light was kept away by an old man (or Eagle or Seagull in some variations) who kept it locked up tight so that only he could possess it. Raven tricked his way into a place in the household via the old man's daughter (some variations say he courted her, some say he turned himself into a tiny pine needle in her tea so she swallowed him down and became pregnant) and stole away the light, scattering it across the world to form the moon, sun and stars. The old man was angry but in the end he could see how beautiful his daughter was so Raven got away with it.

I really like this story, for a lot of reasons. I think monotheistic religions are poorer for their lack of trickster role models. Ravens have always symbolized the battlefield in my mind, and I like that this story puts a harbinger of death in the position of one who brings light to the world. This is probably not the spin a Native storyteller would put on it, but it was the first thing that occurred to me when I heard this story. I like that the hero of this story is a frail bird who obtains his goals through subtle trickery instead of violent confrontation. I think it tells a true story, in the sense that it says things about the way the world works that are true.

Anyway, so this tattoo is something that I wouldn't mind getting. I won't, because I don't want to lay claim to a culture that, when it comes down to it, my ancestors purged from the land in a violent genocide; I don't really have any right to it. Its a beautiful tattoo though.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Being poor means always watching where your money is going, and keeping a stranglehold on all those dollars spent on frivolous things. Americans are taught by advertising and the lifestyles portrayed as normal in media that shopping is an essential pursuit. Buying things, owning things, having a life full of objects, is fundamental to life. Everyone is supposed to be upper middle class, which means owning an extravagantly large house in a suburban neighborhood, and filling it with things you don't need, just because that's the default in our culture, even if you can't afford the things you buy, and even if they don't make you happy.

This kind of consumerism was on ample display today, Black Friday, the biggest collective orgy of spending all year. All the stores have sales, so of course everyone has to run out and see how much they can spend so they can show off their wealth to their family and friends. On the way home from my mother-in-law's house on Thursday evening, we passed by a line of about 40 people camped outside a Best Buy. It was only about 6:30pm, but they were camped out there in the 35 degree darkness, ready to wait all night until the store opened at 6am, so they could get in first and get the special sale on whatever.

Combine this disgusting wealth obsession with the celebration of genocide we call Thanksgiving, and this weekend has made me rather squeamish.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The trap I set for you

Sometimes it seems like dozens of separate events are conspiring to force me to think about one thing, chance conversations, books read and YouTube videos happened upon all focusing me on a single idea. Its odd that I think of it like this, as though there is some agency manipulating my world, even though I don't believe that the world works that way. I suppose it's part of what makes me human, the tendency to view unrelated things as part of a plan that centers around myself. Perhaps there is something at work in my subconscious, working out my opinions on things without the help of logical thought.

If that is the case today, my subconscious isn't finished, as I have no coherent opinion. I read this post today, though, and thought about prayer and the nature of God, and remembered all the things that have pointed me at this thought, and so I am writing this.

I have been realizing lately that I don't remember a great deal about my life. Perhaps this is natural, although it seems 22 may be a little young to be realizing that I'm losing huge gaps of memory; perhaps I'm just tired. Either way, it upsets me when I search for a memory and it isn't there. Yesterday (or the day before, or earlier- it all blurs together) I searched for a memory of my faith at the moment I lost hold of it, and the memory wasn't there. It makes me wonder: was it ever there? Was there ever a moment when I knew, when I stood up and declared my unbelief, when I took my fear in both hands and held on? Maybe there wasn't. I don't know.

I do remember some things, though.

I remember Josh and his black hair and ugly smile, and I remember learning that God's presence among his people doesn't affect the quality of character. I remember learning that either God isn't present or God isn't good and there is no other choice.

I remember hearing the silly excuse for faith that goes: either Jesus was a madman or he was the Son of God, and since he was obviously wise and good he must have been the Son of God. And I thought, well, what if he was instead some wise and good man manipulated into death by a God who desired to start a force of history that would get millions and millions of people killed? Maybe God thinks religious conflict is amusing. It fits the facts of history better, though it's a little melodramatic.

I remember being all fired up with missionary fervor until I realized that the Good News meant one of two things: either God condemned to death people who had never heard a damn thing about him, or it would be better for missionaries to be silent so as not to condemn those who heard and didn't believe.

I remember believing that God would help me when I needed him, all the way up to the point where I needed him, and then it was like the air was empty.

I remember knowing that God always answers prayers, with the often unspoken assumption that if all you heard was silence it just meant he was denying selfishness or foolishness. If you hear nothing, it just means he said 'no.' So I cried out to him to know if he loved me, and there was nothing. He didn't speak.

I remember being taught that perfection in Christ means the erasure of the self, and realizing that this is nothing more or less than death without eternal life.

But none of this was the tipping point. I don't know what the end of it was. Maybe I'm searching for the wrong thing, maybe I'm expecting a tense and emotional, gripping moment when really it was more of a drift, a gentle letting-go. It seems like I ought to remember, though.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I'm a digger of holes in the land

From The Bridge of San Luis Rey:

p. 6: [After witnessing the collapse of the Bridge] Anyone else would have said to himself with secret joy: “Within ten minutes myself…!” But it was another thought that visited Brother Juniper: “Why did this happen to those five?” If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surprise the reason of their taking off.

p. 134 on: Brother Juniper became convinced that the world’s time had come for proof, tabulated proof, of the conviction that was so bright and exciting within him. When the pestilence visited his dear village of Puerto and carried off a large number of peasants, he secretly drew up a diagram of the characteristics of fifteen victims and fifteen survivors, the statistics of their value sub specie aeternitatis. Each soul was rated upon a basis of ten as regards to its goodness, its diligence on religious observation, and its importance to its family group. Here is a fragment of this ambitious chart:

------------Goodness ----Piety----Usefulness
Alfonso G. ------4 ---------4 --------10
Nina ------------2 ---------5--------10
Manuel B.------10---------10--------0
Alfonso V. ----(-8)-------(-10)-------10
Vera N. --------0 ---------10--------10

The thing was more difficult than he had foreseen. Almost every soul in a difficult frontier community turned out to be indispensable economically, and the third column was all but useless. The examiner was driven to the use of minus terms when he confronted the personal character of Alfonso V., who was not, like Vera N., merely bad: he was a propagandist for badness and not merely avoided church but led others to avoid it. Vera N. was indeed bad, but she was a model worshipper and the mainstay of a full hut. From all this saddening data Brother Juniper contrived an index for each peasant. He added up the total for victims and compared it with the total for survivors, to discover that the dead were five times more worth saving. It almost looked as though the pestilence had been directed against the really valuable people in the village of Puerto. And on that afternoon Brother Juniper took a walk along the edge of the Pacific. He tore up his findings and cast them into the waves; he gazed for an hour upon the horizon of that sea, and extracted from their beauty a resignation that he did not permit his reason to examine. The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed.

p. 139: I shall spare you Brother Juniper’s generalizations. They are always with us. He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city.

The main theme of The Bridge of San Luis Rey is pretty evident from these quotes. Its not a new concept, looking for the hand of God in disaster. In fact, the idea is so universal, I’m tempted to say there’s something about it hardwired into the human brain: the search for meaning, the desire to understand and to control the world around us, assigning cause and effect to those events that seem emotionally significant to us.

I’ve been reading The Slacktivist lately, and Fred’s essays on American evangelicals seem relevant here. Whenever religion doesn’t sufficiently guard against it, and maybe even when a guard is kept as well as it can be, religious rituals become a form of magic, an invocation of a higher power for our own purposes rather than working toward the supposed purposes of the higher power itself. The human desire to control all of life and death manifests everywhere we let it.

I believe this is the same impetus that leads medical professionals and laypeople everywhere to believe that the sick are able to choose health, whether by prayer and piety or by practicing cheerfulness as described by Sontag. In this case, religion and psychology are two sides of the same coin, used to quell the fear that the universe is indifferent to our pain. Humans have trouble internalizing the idea that the world is large and cold and bad things happen because of causes outside our control and comprehension. Natural disasters don’t pick their victims based on piety, and illness doesn’t strike those who are more melancholy than they ought to be. People die, good and evil, wise and foolish alike, and no choice that we can make will change even a second of our misfortune.

Each of us is a speck of sand thrown about in a storm, and it doesn’t matter at all- not to the storm, not to our chances of survival- how we feel about the ride or how fervently we pray and wave our arms in religious fervor so that God will save us.

But this truth is antithetical to the form of the human mind, and so every time an illness strikes and doctors don’t know why the cause is psychological, and every time a flood sweeps away whole towns of people the wicked are being punished for their sins. This mindset blames the victims of misfortune for not ordering their minds or souls so as to avoid disaster; it's not fair to the victims to add blame on top of misfortune, but we do it. It comforts the safe to think that lives that are happy and easy and free will remain so because they are better than the ill and the ruined, so I don't suppose this mindset will go away any time soon.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


There are a lot of things going on in the political scene in the United States that I find pretty abhorent and disgusting; I've written about some of them here but some of them have just passed by, because my energy for outrage is no higher than my energy for anything else. I suffer from outrage fatigue as well as every other kind of fatigue I can think of (emotional, physical, mental... is there any other kind? I'm sure there is. Anyway.) It's gotten to the point where I seriously look at all the political maneuvering and campaigning and the money and the flashy ads and think to myself, I could be happy with this if only I thought that we, as a country, were trying, even a little bit, to do the right thing.

This is more or less how I've become a single issue voter. Don't get me wrong- there are a lot of things I care about. I care about the economy, about the war in Iraq, about the Gag Rule for international reproductive health aid, about habeus corpus, ENDA, and the things I hear about how the very richest Americans are paying a lower percentage of taxes than the middle class (18% v. 30%, according to... the comments sections on blogs that I've read on the past couple days but can no longer remember. Balloon Juice, possibly.). But, to get my vote, all you have to do is proclaim loudly and believably that you strongly oppose the United States torturing confessions out of captives who have been convicted of no crime.

I really wish that I was joking, but I'm not.

You would think the country masquerading as the Good Guys in a Cosmic Battle Against Evil could be persuaded that torture was, you know, wrong. Particularly since it doesn't even work. (see A Question of Torture by Alfred McCoy for a good review of the evidence, or this article for a brief overview.) This whole absurd drama drives me beyond words; I can't even describe how frustrating I find it.

Which is why today, for the very first time since we moved to Missouri, I wrote my Senators to tell them my opinion. Michael Mukasey has passed the Judiciary Committee and his appointment as Attorney General will soon be voted on and, according to the New York Times, he will probably be confirmed. Even though everyone who cares, including most of the Senate I have to assume, has read his written testimony weaseling out of defining waterboarding as torture, weaseling out of condemning the practice, weaseling out of being a decent human being, still he is seen as fit to command the highest law enforcement post in the nation.

It makes me sick, all the more so because I know that writing my Senators will change absolutely nothing.

I'm not answering the phone- let it ring

At least the sun is shining, right? and despite the cold and the monotony and this very intense feeling I have of being lost in my head, adrift on a sea of fragmented, fuzzy memories, there is beauty in the world.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'll see you on the other side

I have just finished watching every single Jericho video available on, something like 20ish episodes. Its a decent show, although watching it makes me wonder why shows like this- the 'group of ordinary people in dire circumstances' genre- always reinforce gender stereotypes so forcefully. I mean really, would it be too much to have just one woman in the town who can shoot a rifle? Shooting a rifle is well within the physical limitations of a woman. Or is the black FBI agent exactly the right amount of multiculturalism? I guess maybe I should be glad that the women were allowed to be 'strong women' as long as they stayed in their Biblically Defined Roles of nurse and schoolteacher and waiter-at-home-while-the-dashing-men-go-out-to-save-the-day.

Not that I'm objecting to dashing men, not really. And the FBI agent has the most deliciously rich voice I've heard on television in a long while; the best male voice anyway, the woman who plays Beth Turner in Moonlight has a wonderful voice also, although she over-plays hers. I think his voice is the only Southern accent that I've ever really liked, instead of just tolerated.

As a direct result of watching way too much television lately, I've got an Aquabats song stuck in my head. "Chemical Bomb" is a song that I haven't heard at all recently, despite my 20 minute search for the CD this evening. Since I couldn't find it, I'm stuck with "We Will Become Silhouettes" by The Postal Service, another soft and sweet song about war with WMDs. I remember reading stories written in the 70s that were full of abject terror about nuclear war, they were dark and difficult to read. I don't know by what mechanism this terror has changed, but it has, to the point where the most poignant art about these fears is light and resigned and listening to it, you almost get the feeling that the bright light of the explosion might be beautiful.

Not an original thought in my head

From Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, by Robert Draper (though the clumsy use of elipses is all me):

Early on the afternoon of February 18, 1998, Bush [who was running for reelection as governor of Texas] and Karen Hughes arrived at a juvenile prison in Marlin, Texas...While the TV cameras rolled, one boy after the next recited his litany of criminality- I'm Jimmy, I'm from Mineral Springs, at the age of thirteen I did steal the next door neighbor's car and I did run over my grandma with it, which did cripple her permanently- followed by his acknowledgment that he, rather than society, was to blame and his pledge to do better.

This was the Responsibility Era personified, as Bush well knew. It was also exploitative, and he knew that as well. This prefab moment was about winning votes... when the last preselected urchin had concluded his recitation, Bush and everyone else sat there for an uncomfortable moment as if at the end of a bad blind date, searching for something nice to say about a thoroughly meaningless encounter.

A scrawny fifteen-year-old black kid raised his hand.

"Can I ask the governor a question?" said the boy, a petty thief from Tyler named Johnny Demon Baulkmon.... "What do you think about us now?"

...[Bush's] words, when he found them, sounded almost confessional: "You look like kids I see every day. And I'm impressed by the way you're handling yourselves here. I think you can succeed. The state of Texas still loves you all. We haven't given up on you. But we love you enough to punish you when you break the law."

That was the answer to the question.

A strange euphoria overtook Bush and the other adults in the dormitory. Something had just taken place here that did not ordinarily occur, either in youth prisons or on the campaign trail. A sense of institutions humanized, of possibility....

[Karen Hughes] began to work the Marlin tableau into his speeches, in language that one seldom heard from the lips of any politician, much less a conservative: "Each of us holds a piece of the promise of America. That young man at the jail in Marlin wasn't sure. He wasn't sure the promise was meant for him. He didn't know whether he still had a shot. Yet some spark was alive. He was willing to risk asking the governor, What do you think of me? He meant, Is there hope for me? Do I have potential? Can I make it? Do I own a piece of the promise of America? In the mightiest and wealthiest and free-est nation in the world, he still wasn't sure. And that's a tragedy."

(Johnny Baulkmon "still wasn't sure" for a reason, as it turned out. Some time after his chance encounter with George W. Bush, the boy was raped by another juvenile offender. Though the meeting in Marlin would become a centerpiece of Bush's nomination-acceptance speech in 2000, Baulkmon did not learn of his fleeting fame until years later. Apparently unconvinced by "the promise of America," he would become an adult petty criminal. In 2006, from a Beaumont prison visitation room Johnny Baulkmon would appraise Bush thus: "He doesn't care about anything but himself. He's complete trash, a horrible evil person.")

The Farther Shore

I recently finished reading The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck, and I found myself wishing that I had read this book when I was younger and reading books like Ender's Game; never mind that The Farther Shore wasn't published until earlier this year.

It amazed me how this book so perfectly reproduced the way I experienced my military service. Not that I ever got stranded in a city in Africa or accidentally killed kids or even fired my weapon in fear. None of the details are the same, but the essence of it is identical. The feeling of being just yourself, not a soldier, feeling like you don't know what you're doing or what you ought to do. Feeling like the soldier on either side of you is a stranger who might not even be a person the way you are a person, who might even be a monster, mad and untrustworthy. The absence of comraderie, the absence of purpose or conviction or confidence of any kind, whether in the rightness of your mission or in your own ability to keep yourself alive.

Military fiction is often written by people who have never been to war. This book makes me wonder if maybe the world wouldn't be a better place if more soldiers spoke up about what being a soldier is really like. I don't know if it would have kept me from enlisting; maybe my own wish to be a hero would still have overridden my better judgment. I should have known from the information I had at the time that joining the Army wasn't the way to make myself into the person I wanted to be. I can't help but think, though, that the current fashionable thirst for war would be not quite so fashionable if a higher percentage of the population knew what they were asking for.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Liberty or Death

Via Balloon Juice, I saw this article about Robin Prosser, an activist for medical marijuana legalization in Montana. The article has all the details, but the short version is, Prosser had an 'immunosupressive' disorder that sounds to me like CFS with MCS. She was unable to use traditional pain medication because she was allergic, and the medications made her very ill (or, like my doctors say about me, "she was unable to tolerate the side effects"); marijuana was the only substance that improved her condition, so she used it. Since she was an activist, she was on the Feds' radar, and they caught her with half an ounce. The article doesn't say whether or not they were prosecuting, but they really didn't need to. When they took away her pain relief, Prosser killed herself.

I was hesitant to write about this, because obviously it's very upsetting. I look at this situation and it brings up a whole slew of issues that I struggle with. Chronic pain is absolutely devastating in so many ways, and it's compounded when the solutions that are supposed to make you better only make you worse. That situation would be bad enough, but then once you find something that gives you some relief, authority jumps in and crushes you again. I've read a few blog posts here and there, and the occasional commenter who laments giving up hope in the face of all the wonders of modern medicine makes me so angry and sorrowful I want to puke. It's hard to understand, if you're basically healthy, what it's like to live with a body that tortures you every second of every day, and to be unable to stop the pain.

Most people are able to live imagining that if they were ever a prisoner under torture, they would be able to hold up their head and say, "Do your worst, I defy you." I used to hold that illusion. I don't anymore; I know the truth, like Prosser knew it: there are things worse than death.

I'm reading Dead Certain, the biography of President Bush that came out a few months ago. I had forgotten that W. ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism;" I think he may have forgotten it also, this many years later. As impossible and hopeless as it might be, compassionate government in any form, conservative or liberal, seems like a grand idea to me. Because the way the system is run these days, people in need get the message that it would be better for everyone if they were to go off and freeze to death under a bridge than to expect a helping hand from anyone. Politicians would rather appear to be protecting kids from drugs than allow someone living in hell on earth a minute of relief. Like Sullivan said, the government has come down to "protecting people from the alleviation of their own pain."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

If only I could program

Someone needs to put up an online recipe database you can search based on the ingredients in the recipes. Every recipe database I've seen is just your basic search tool where you type in a word or phrase and get every result with that word or phrase in it. What would be 100 times better would be a search system like Wowhead, where you can set up a filter based on characteristics of the item, only this would be just a basic search page with with several inputs, and instead of searching for, say, "Chicken Parmesan" you would search for "chicken breast" "onion" "apple" "garlic" and "green pepper." And instead of getting every recipe with "Chicken Parmesan" in the title, you would get recipes with your ingredients in them.

I know I can't be the only one who looks at the items in my refrigerator and just can't think what to make with them. This website would make millions.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Illness as Metaphor

I read Illness as Metaphor yesterday and today, and I would like to write about it. The most appropriate way of writing what I'm thinking may be a contrast study with The Bridge of San Luis Rey, but I don't know if I'll have the mental energy to do that. I have other things I need to write in the next week or so. However, for a start, here are some quotes from the book that I thought to be rather edifying.

"According to the mythology of cancer, it is generally a steady repression of feeling that causes the disease... the passion that people think will give them cancer if they don't discharge it is rage. There are... cancerphobes like Norman Mailer, who recently explained that had he not stabbed his wife (and acted out "a murderous nest of feeling") he would have gotten cancer and "been dead in a few years himself.""

"So well established was the cliche which connected TB and creativity that at the end of the century one critic suggested that it was the progressive disappearance of TB which accounted for the current decline of literature and the arts."

"Doctors and laity believed in a TB character type- as now the belief in a cancer-prone character type, far from being confined to the back yard of folk superstition, passes for the most advanced medical thinking."

She quotes Katherine Mansfield, who died of tuberculosis: "A bad day... horrible pains and so on, and weakness. I could do nothing. The weakness was not only physical. I must heal my Self before I will be well... This must be done alone and at once. It is at the root of my not getting better. My mind is not controlled."

"In his Morbidus Anglicus (1672), Gideon Harvey declared "melancholy" and "choler" to be "the sole cause" of TB... In 1881, a year before Robert Koch published his paper announcing the discovery of the tubercle bacillus and demonstrating that it was the primary cause of the disease, a standard medical textbook gave as the causes of tuberculosis: hereditary disposition, unfavorable climate, sedentary indoor life, defective ventilation, deficiency of light, and "depressing emotions.""

"The second [hypothesis] is that every illness can be considered psychologically. Illness is interpreted as, basically, a psychological event, and people are encouraged to believe that they get sick because they (unconsciously) want to, and that they can cure themselves by the mobilization of will; that they can choose not to die of the disease. ... Psychological theories of illness are a powerful means of placing the blame on the ill. Patients who are instructed that they have, unwittingly, caused their disease are also being made to feel that they have deserved it."

"The notion that a disease can be explained only by a variety of causes is precisely characteristic of thinking about diseases whose causation is not understood. And it is diseases thought to be multi-determined (that is, mysterious) that have the widest possibilities as metaphors for what is felt to be socially or morally wrong."

For all that Sontag's writing style is atrocious- she makes me want to tie her to a desk and force her to write outlines until she can complete an argument in a linear fashion- she does have some things to say in this piece that are very apt. I am tempted to write up a little bit about the psychological model of illness to take with me to my next appointment with the Psychologist From Hell.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am the prayers of the naive

I met a psychologist at the VA women's clinic today. I made the appointment to get evaluated for the memory and comprehension/concentration problems that I've been having, but somehow it turned into this woman being really concerned about my attitude about my illness. She told me two things that really stuck out:

"The difference between acute pain and chronic pain is that with acute pain you can expect to get treatment and then not feel pain anymore, but with chronic pain it's just unrealistic for you to expect that your life is going to be perfect and you'll be pain free all the time."


"I work here in the primary care clinic because we've come to recognize that there is no separation between the mind and body. Your mind can really affect the pain your body feels, so I think that if we work together on your expectations for your life and your health that would be really helpful. Positive thinking can be really healing."

I've heard subtler religion pushes from Mormon missionaries on the doorstep. I seriously wish all these crackpots with medical degrees who are convinced that what I really need to improve my life is a massive dose of wishful thinking would all go jump off a cliff. Magical thinking is an incredibly seductive way of approaching life; everyone wants to believe that they're in charge of their own body and wellbeing and safety and popularity and lifespan etc. But just because you want to believe it, doesn't mean it's true. It amazes me how people who can agree with that statement in a religious context continue to believe it in a scientific and medical context.

It's enough to make me agree with the crackpot fundies who regularly freak out about New Age and relativist influence in public schools.
What is one man's and one woman's love and desire, against the history of two worlds, the great revolutions of our lifetimes, the hope, the unending cruelty of our species? A little thing. But a key is a little thing, next to the door it opens. If you lose the key, the door may never be unlocked. It is in our bodies that we lose or begin our freedom, in our bodies that we accept or end our slavery.

-from Four Ways to Forgiveness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

a bone thrown from the void

There's an interesting article in Slate today about the placebo effect. Apparently some studies done recently, or rather an analysis of studies done recently and perhaps not so recently, suggests that the placebo effect may be much less effective than most people think. It would be neat to see what would happen to some of the thinking surrounding illness if it was proved that believing you're being treated is not at all useful to your health.

Also on the topic of health, there's been an interesting discussion over at Echidne of the Snakes regarding the demonization of obesity as a health problem that can be blamed on the victim with some degree of social acceptability. Demonizing the ill as a method of causing ourselves to feel secure in our safety from illness is something that I've been thinking about; I've ordered that book by Susan Sontag from the library, even, in spite of my hideous experience with Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others in that writing class a year ago.

I just described both of these articles as interesting, so I will call this one something else. Frightening, perhaps. Horrifying, or heart-breaking, or something else equally melodramatic. It reminds me of that clip of a Republican debate where Ron Paul is arguing with one of the crazy fundies, Brownback or Tancredo or whoever, and the guy says that we must continue as we have been going on in the War on Terror for the sake of our soldiers' honor. I wish someone would explain to the politicians that if a soldier's honor requires not doing A (say, torturing helpless prisoners) AND also doing B (say, keeping your oath to obey the orders of the officers above you), requiring a person to choose between doing A or not doing B is not in any way imaginable a good way to uphold that person's honor.

I found this video of a song by Sigur Ros quite by accident. It is the most joyful thing I've seen all day. There's something in it... a sense of being yourself in the world, connected to the air around you and the dirt under your feet. I would like to live like this.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Colbert 2008

A couple nights ago, Stephen Colbert announced on the Colbert Report that he's running for President, as both a Democrat and a Republican, only in South Carolina. I know it's a joke, a gimmick, something they dreamed up on the show to more effectively mock the candidates and the process of campaigning. This knowledge makes me a bit sad. I would like to live in a world where Stephen Colbert could run for President of the United States and have a serious chance of winning. I would vote for him.

The news is all over the predictable places, basically anywhere on the Internet trafficked by young, disaffected Americans. I went and joined a Facebook group, to see if people were taking it seriously. A lot of the comments I've seen are along similar lines: sure, it's a joke, but we'll write him in on our ballets just because everyone else who's running is so awful. Or as one guy said, "He's the only candidate I even like. All the other candidates are boring or clinically insane, or patently evil."

I have to say, I kind of agree. Politics is so congested right now that even people who have worked on Capitol Hill their entire lives are trying to run as 'outsiders', like Fred Thompson, or, like Barack Obama, are discovering that it's impossible to run a campaign without sucking up to interest groups and sliming your opponents. The appeal Colbert has is the same kind of appeal that Ron Paul has: you get the feeling that he really hates the entire system, and would do his best to change as much as possible. Colbert has a major edge over Ron Paul, though, because while he is a comedian he's not a gold standard/9-11 truther/isolationist nutter. Plus, when you watch his show every night you get to feeling like you have an idea who he is, as a person, and you start to think like maybe even if you didn't agree with him on everything, you could trust him to make important decisions.

I'm not ready to commit to actually voting for him in the general elections, because since I live in a red state now my vote might actually be useful, but the idea is very appealing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Heat the pins and stab them in

One of the better things about having a memory worse than most retirees is my ability to take up hours and hours and hours watching only the television I like. I hop online and dial up my favorite show, and watch the episodes over and over, never remembering the details or the dialogue, able to watch the same 45 minutes of programming for 3 hours and still laugh at all the jokes and cry at all the tragedies. It really is great, to be able to experience things as though they were new.

Today, I watched Moonlight, a show that just came out this fall. I'm tempted to say that vampire murder thrillers are not usually my cup of tea; that's not really true though. In fact, I'm as big a sucker for melodrama as the next person, and I'm a much bigger sucker for dark and brooding heroes than most modern women. Alex O'Loughlin does a dreadfully handsome tormented hero type.

Even though I can no longer remember the details of the stories I watched, I do retain a sense of what mattered to me in what I saw. And so now I'm contemplating the nature of strength. Not physical strength, necessarily, although that has it's own place and time and is also something I crave, but rather strength of self. That which sustains endurance through the darkest times. That which keeps one moving forward when everything is lost, even when everything stays lost and there is no chance of getting it back. That which shelters and protects little seedlings of hope, when there is no hope. Strength.

I used to think I was strong. Maybe I was strong, once upon a time. And maybe, in spite of everything, I still am.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

See my shadow changing

The weather is finally turning colder and more autumnish, although cold is relative and I think some of it is just that it's not as humid, and it's breezy today. But nights are definitely getting colder, and I broke out the giant hoody sweatshirt yesterday evening. The temperature inside is only about 75 degrees, and I'm cold. I miss the days when I would keep my windows open in winter so that my room was much colder than the rest of the house, because the cold made me think easier.

The plants in my poor abused garden are doing just fine, though. They went through some kind of growth spurt, and I think one of them is planning on being a tree. In addition to the bushy types that were there originally, there's more than a few weeds, which are even more interesting. It amazes me how resilient life is, how it creeps in and sets down roots where it's not supposed to be. Raze it to the ground and bury it in the dark and still it reaches for the sun. I wish I had that kind of courage.

One of the weeds appears to be chives. It doesn't photograph well, being mostly a skinny green line, so there is no picture. But, it tastes like chives. Makes me want to grow a kitchen herb garden or something, that could be done in pots. I would bet that seeds or seedlings for herbs are even more expensive than for common flowers, though. Maybe someday.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Treat me like the leaves

I've taken up the bad habit of using song lyrics as post titles. I used to do this on my old journal, sometimes I even made posts of nothing but lyrics to songs I was listening to. I go to write, and then I hear the words to the music in the background and all of a sudden I can't think of anything different than what I'm hearing. Music has always been about words for me anyway. I'm very strange like that.

Realized earlier today that when searching for pictures of crows on which to base my tattoo design, I had never searched for pictures of ravens. The two look rather alike, you would think that there would be a fair number of appropriate pictures. However, I found nothing new in the way of birds. I did find this picture, though, which I quite liked.

I'm not interested in a full shoulder tattoo, especially not one that goes up the neck and would be half hidden, half revealed with every single shirt I have. The tentative plan at this point is for the crow to go on my right shoulder. But I don't know. I probably won't even get it for quite a long time, both for monetary reasons and because tattoos should be thought about, anticipated before you actually get them. You should have an engagement period, so to speak.

So I don't want to get a tattoo like this one here. It's terribly pretty, though. I think the delicateness of the lines mean that it will hold up over time better than big blocky pictures do. There's less to smear, and even if it does get a bit less distinct it will still be wonderful art. It seems to suggest that I could consider something more elaborate than a freestanding bird in flight, something more detailed and nuanced than a black cutout figure. I don't know if elaborate is my style... but it's pretty.

In the course of browsing through disability themed blogs, and other blogs that are just written by people with disabilities, I've come across the term disablism (or ableism) quite frequently. The best explanation of the movement I have is this essay by a former "Jerry's Kid" poster child; the idea is that seeing people with disabilities as inherently unable to do things is foolish because if society approached the problem differently, for example spending money on accomodations instead of pure medical research, the lives of people with disabilities would be much better in the present, instead of in some possible future. Also part of this movement is the idea that many of the modern treatments of disability are marginalizing of persons with disabilities in a way akin to racism.

I've found myself having mixed reactions to this paradigm. On the one hand, I can see how it would be really important for someone who is essentially able to do many things with a little bit of help, but who is prevented because of an outward appearance of disability. If you could go to the theater and have a great time if only they would put in a lift to get you to the second floor, it must be maddeningly frustrating to have simple mechanical things thwart your plans. On the other hand, it scares me that someday there might be an atmosphere that expects everyone to be able to do everything in a 'disability friendly' building. I don't use a wheelchair, there would be no benefit from it, but that doesn't mean that I'm able to get around freely. My problems stem from pain and fatigue that are almost totally unpreventable. I can't imagine accomodations that could be put in place anywhere I'm interested in going that would make any difference at all.

So maybe this is selfish- certainly this is selfish- but I kind of think that a focus on mainstreaming disability would be harmful for me personally. If there is the expectation that disabled people can work if you just redesign the workplace, it would be even harder to explain that there are many days it takes me an hour to get out of bed, that doing anything at all on a consistent basis is liable to cause pain because it's the fact of repetition that gets me, that I function on the level of a dyslexic with ADD, insomnia, depression and narcolepsy most of the time, that there are all these things that can't be designed around that prevent me from working. I already have a hard time convincing people that I'm in physical distress; I don't look it; the expectation that I should be able to do 'mainstream' things no matter what disability I have would make my life infinitely harder.

It would be nice, though, if there wasn't a social stigma associated with being unable to work, or go out shopping or partying, or even being unable to keep one's house properly. If I can't convince myself that being unable to do these things isn't a moral failure, though, I don't see how there's any hope of convincing people who don't have to deal with this on a regular basis. Maybe if our society was completely changed, so that there was less importance placed on work and money as the measure of a person's value, so that individualism was less important and community was more important, so that there was an expectation that everyone at some point would need the help of the people around them so help should be freely asked for and freely given. Some of this reminds me of Echidne of the Snakes' posts on how modern feminism requires the involvement of men in the domestic realm, in that if this has any chance of working out, it requires that the current culture be torn down and started again from the beginning.

I'm realizing that most of my prescriptions for the problems I write about boil down to the same thing: burn it all down and start over.

I suspect that this may say something about me that isn't all that flattering.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Now we'll say it's in God's hands

I guess it's old news by now that President Bush vetoed the bill that would expand SCHIP to cover more children who currently don't have health insurance. I think almost every blog I regularly read mentioned it at least in passing; there's even a post on the ProHealth Fibromyalgia/CFS forum about it (registration required). I don't think anyone in the US would be willing to make the claim that our health care system is functional, and I wouldn't be surprised if health care was a major issue in the next election, maybe even as important as the War.

I have a hard time following the various proposals for change that have been put forward. I would like to be able to analyze the merits of Clinton's plan v. Edward's plan v. the Republican plan (do they even have one?), but every time I try to wade into the technicalities, I fall asleep after about the first paragraph. Technicalities are no longer my strong point.

However, there are a few basic ideas that I think I have a handle on. As far as theories about the appropriate government role in health care, I believe it comes down to the government either managing regulation of the industry to keep costs low or pouring money in to pay the industry for the care of poor people or some combination of the two. There are a lot of side issues, like research and development and the control of medication due to the War on Drugs, but the main issue is what government should do to make the system work.

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I guess a lot of people wish they knew the answer, because obviously no one does, or the ill would not be automatically destitute while insurance bureaucrats gorge on the last penny of the elderly and dying. I don't trust the government- I regard it with a visceral suspicion. Even if I thought it were possible for a government agency to run a really efficient and friendly and effective health care program, I wouldn't believe that's what would actually happen if the government took over the industry. But as someone who never expected to be disabled but who is almost entirely helpless now, I am even less eager to throw myself on the mercies of the market.

I can't see my way to unequivocally supporting SCHIP funding for families that make $60-80k a year. That kind of income seems like riches from where I'm sitting. I don't see how you could be poor, making that much money. And raising taxes on cigarettes seems like an especially cruel way to pay for it. If you're going to tax something that's socially unacceptable in order to make ends meet, at least be gracious enough not to tax something that's horribly addicting. Tax sugar, tax sitcoms, tax rich people's children, tax blond hair dye, whatever, don't tax something that people can't give up without medical intervention.

On the other hand, serious illness is catastrophically expensive, and all too often the expense hits right when you lose your job because you're too ill to work. Having insurance doesn't mean you're safe, and neither does Social Security. Serious illness is devastating all by itself, even without financial ruin, and it's not like the safety nets we currently have make your life easy. I regularly lurk on the ProHealth board, reading the stories of people who have fibromyalgia and aren't lucky enough to be veterans. The luckiest of people have spouses who can support them and houses to sell to pay their medical debts; the unlucky are young and alone, living in abject poverty for years in order to qualify for a measly couple of hundred dollars a month of welfare and a Medicare system that will deny them coverage for the treatments that help the most. It's heartbreaking. For all my libertarian tendencies, I believe that there should be a better system for these people. If society means anything, I think it must mean taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves.

I guess my real opinion on the matter is that the whole system is broken, not just how we pay for medicine but how we do medicine. I would like to see a complete, from the ground up re-do of American medicine, that changes things from how strictly we control medicine to the whole concept of hospitals to how doctors are educated. In some ways, American medicine is great. Cancer treatment, for example, is one of the things that we usually do right. But so many things are wrong with it, and I don't have any expectation that changing payers will cure the deep structural problems.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

It's been unseasonably warm here lately; we don't have a temperature gauge outside, but inside today the thermostat said it was 83 so it must have been 90 or so in the sun. I love the heat, since it softens some of the muscle cramps I get, but this long summer may not be a good thing. The trees are dropping leaves without turning color, which may be usual here, I guess, though I don't really think so. What isn't usual is the green sprouting plants coming up in the garden that got mulched for winter.

It's a bit hard to see, but in the below picture, the leaves with multiple lobes are sprouting off the base of a plant that got cut off to the roots, as though it's spring and time for new growth. I suppose this won't really hurt anything as far as the plant's ability to grow back again next spring- which is silly to worry about if I'm just going to turn it into a vegetable patch anyway- but it all seems very odd and out of sync. I hope this crazy summer doesn't turn into a ridiculously long and cold winter.

It's my understanding that global warming is expected to lead not to slightly warmer temperatures year round and nothing else, but rather to greater fluctuations in weather, which would include hotter summers and colder winters and more storms. I don't know how I'm going to deal with colder winters, but I think it would be great if warmer weather combined with rising heating and cooling costs lead to great swathes of people adopting the midday siesta as a way of life. Temperature efficient architecture and sleeping during the day sound like improvements to me.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Warrior Spirit

There's lately been a lot of talk in the blogs I read about Rush Limbaugh's comments about soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq. Media Matters has a transcript of the radio show in question, and it's clear that Mr. Limbaugh and his (second) caller really honestly believe that there is an essence of soldiery that causes a soldier to wish to kill and die- because that is what it is to fight- and also, I think, to wish to obey orders without question. This attitude is not so uncommon among other published opinions that I've read, particularly the opinions of those who support the war, but not only them.

I've encountered this idea before, but never been able to put it into words quite the way I'm thinking of it now.

I finished reading, just this morning, Wolfskin, by Juliet Marillier. One of the main characters is a Viking warrior, a devotee of Thor who lives to kill. Marillier writes of the red battle haze that takes over a berserker in the heat of combat, the insanity of blood hunger that causes men to kill without mercy, without thought for their own safety or even knowledge of what they do. These warriors were formidable in battle but nevertheless didn't live long; four or five years of service was about what they could hope for before being taken to Valhalla by Valkyries to sit at the hand of God.

This image of the Warrior is not at all like what I knew of soldiers while I was in the Army. The best of them, the ones who had seen combat, lost friends and killed, were quiet men. The sergeant who was head NCO of the ROTC program at UW who was a part of the unit that lost men at Mogadishu, the drill sergeant at Fort Jackson who was a Marine sniper, before, the Army Ranger officer in my Korean class who dropped out to deploy to Afghanistan, were all men I respected. They were dangerous and hard, and not very happy, but above all they were professional. They didn't lust for battle. They knew better; all their efforts were devoted to training, preparing, not because they loved death but because they hated it. They knew that if such a thing must be done, it should be done with skill, to keep their comrades alive and to settle the conflict as quickly and decisively as possible, for everyone's sake.

These men have more in common with my father, who is a good man and takes joy in his work, than with a Viking berserker, but I think that many people in America do not know this about soldiers. Maybe this is because of the much lamented disconnect between the military and the rest of society due to the volunteer nature of our military; perhaps its just part of human nature to be eager to see other people as alien and unlike oneself. For whatever reason, it seems to me that people who argue that withdrawing from Iraq would be an insult to the honor of our soldiers do not know what a soldier is.

I think that if everyone knew that soldiers are not death-demons by nature, the argument over withdrawal from Iraq would be very different. If a soldier is a hunger to fight for honor or vengeance, then perhaps it is right to keep soldiers in the middle of a battle that can't be won. But if a soldier is only a man with complex motivations, who is willing to fight if it is necessary but who hates to kill for no reason, then we- the people of America who nominally run this place- have betrayed them horribly.

Friday, September 28, 2007

There is nothing as lucky

Horrible headaches. It's funny how pain in the head feels so much more a part of me than, say, pain in my foot. They often hurt about the same. Well, not feet so much as hands and shoulders and the muscles all up my back, hurt as much as a headache often does, or sometimes more. And yet, somehow, there is always the impulse to get away from body pain that isn't there with headaches. Like a headache is the only pain that my subconscious isn't convinced I could jettison, if the pain was so bad that I had to, you know, amputate.

Not that I could amputate my back with any success. It doesn't make sense. But I don't know how else to describe this feeling.

If I could write poetry again, I would write about being trapped when you need to fly away, about being trapped by no one but your own self.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

an after dinner sleep

I've been reading a lot lately, because I'm beginning to believe that if there is any hope that I will ever be more than an invalid it lies in writing. I used to be a good writer, I wrote poetry and stories that I could imagine other people enjoying if I ever let them read them. All that is gone now, I feel like I've had a lobotomy; I am empty of whatever spark I used to have.

But if it's possible to train to be a good writer, when you don't have a natural skill for it, then I think that the only way to do it is by reading the work of great writers. So, I read. It doesn't seem to be doing any good. If anything, it seems to be swamping my own words with those of others... but since my own words aren't anything much, well.

When I used to write poetry, I worshiped T.S. Eliot; still do, although I have not read much of his work lately. Eliot and Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath have been my favorite poets for a long time. For every point in my life there has been a bit of poetry from one of them that has expressed my thoughts better than my thoughts express themselves. For now, that poem is "Gerontion" by Eliot. I'll put a few lines of it here, in honor of T. S. Eliot's birthday- which is today.

HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign!”
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fräulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hairy Legs

I've been wiped out and incoherent the last couple of days, feeling like I got run over by a bus. I haven't even managed to read the political blogs like I usually do; I hate this feeling like I'm so dissociated from the world, wrapped in clouds and unable to connect with words on a meaningful level.

One thing that has crossed my mind and stuck long enough for me to grab hold and examine it, though, is the American insistence that women shave their legs.

For some reason- I really have no idea why- the skin on my legs has suddenly become quite sensitive, and whenever I shave I get razor rash, which then gets infected in places and gets all nasty and red, like so:

This is quite annoying, because although it doesn't really hurt that much in the grand scheme of things, every time I shave it happens, and it doesn't heal up between shaves, so it kept getting worse. The obvious solution was to not shave my legs until they get better, so I decided not to. This was about two weeks ago. As the picture above illustrates, they got quite hairy for a while, until my husband expressed his intense discomfort. My hairy legs, he said, were unnatural.

This response is about what I expected, although I did hope that he would relent once I explained that I was just doing it so the oozing sores on my legs would heal up. No such luck. He's a good guy, mostly, but not a liberal hippie the way I am. Questioning everything about the status quo doesn't come naturally to him, and I guess women with hairy legs are so out of the ordinary these days that the average man sees it as unnatural. So I shaved my legs again, so as not to cause a huge fuss.

It puzzles me that a society can get to this point, where the way things would be without outside influence is strange and offensive. People grow hair, it's in our genes; both women and men both, once they go through puberty, are naturally hairy. But if I grow out my leg hair, I'm not a normal American woman, I'm a freak, a butch dyke. When I complain about this in the hearing of my husband or other friends of mine who are male, they always come up with some variant of, well men who don't shave their faces are scary mountain men, so stop thinking you're especially persecuted. However, plenty of men grow out a beard at some point in their lives, just to see what it looks like. Growing a long flowing beard might make people look at you oddly, but men who do this are still men. They're not freaks, their sexuality isn't questioned.

I don't know of a single woman who has ever grown out her leg hair, just to see what it looks like. Even when I was in Africa with TMI, no one's leg hair grew out to it's full length; at one point a group of us girls grew our hair out long enough to wax it off, but mostly we all shaved at least a couple times a week. Even in Africa, we couldn't escape the cultural conditioning that says: body hair on women is disgusting. Its a curious disconnect from the way the world really is, and it puzzles me that more people don't sit back and ask why we do these things. Who decided that female body hair is so awful? Why do we all just sit back and agree to spend so much time and money shaving our skin so we look like infants?

It makes me wonder what other strange ideas might be hidden in my culture, what absurd assumptions lurk just beyond my detection.