Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To the Guy Who Followed Me Across Campus Tuesday Night

Hi there.  You might remember me.  We spoke on Tuesday night in a poorly lit, somewhat desolate and isolated spot behind the student union as I was walking to my car.  I have to say, I feel somewhat badly about our interaction.  But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.  In case you don't happen to remember me, let me briefly remind you of the situation, my memory of it anyway.

I was just leaving one of the classes I TA for on campus.  It was about 6:30pm, and it was starting to get dark out.  It takes me about 20 minutes to walk to my car from the building I TA in.  I don't recall walking past you at any point in my walk, which suggests that you were either behind me, or you were in a very inconspicuous spot somewhere along the way.  When you first stopped me, you were about 20 yards behind me which also indicates you had followed from some distance.

You shouted "Excuse me," twice.  As I realized more fully I was walking toward an even more desolate and isolated parking ramp, instead of ignoring you completely, I stopped and turned around.  As you approached, I notice four things right away.  You were wearing a hoodie with the hood fully up and tied, both of your hands were in your pockets nowhere to be seen, you weren't wearing a backpack of any kind (a tad unusual for a student), and there was no one else around. I have to admit, these observations led to a very distinct sort of fear.  And this is where I start to feel badly about our interaction in some ways.

I lied to you, a lot.  It was not only disrespectful to you, it was beneath me, and I represented myself and my personal values poorly.  You asked if I was in a specific program and commented that you thought you recognized me.  I did not believe you, but I honestly replied that I was not in that program.  I started to back away from you and head toward a more populated, well lit area.  You followed.  You then asked my name as you came around my front and blocked my way.  Somewhat alarmed, I chose to give you a fake name.  You asked what program I was in.  Perhaps you didn't notice it, but I dropped into a moro-ashi dachi stance, a classic karate fighting stance, and placed my bag behind myself so my arms would be free.  I gave you a fake program.  You twitched and looked around quickly, almost as if you were watching for someone or something.  Then you asked what kind of work I did in my program.  Feeling very uncomfortable, but preferring non-violence or confrontation, I again lied and took a step away from you.  But, hey, there you were again with the small talk!  You turned quickly as two girls walked by at the far end of the square.  You stepped closer and asked what I liked to do for fun.  I pointedly stated I was too busy for fun, and what little time I do have I often spend with my partner (that was genuine truth).  I stepped into the potential view of a group of guys hanging out in a room on the ground floor of the building next to us as you stepped closer and asked my name again.  While glancing at the window into the room of guys hanging out, I gave the fake name again.  When you looked up and noticed the people in the building, you visibly frowned, looked around, and took off.  I waited until you turned the corner, and then I waited a few more minutes.  Finally, I ran to the parking ramp, ran to my car, and drove home.  

I should be up front in noting that I'm really angry that my natural response was fear.  I'm mad that I have to be on guard when walking alone in the evening or at night.  It really sucks that I can't just walk to my car without thinking about my personal safety.  I'm angry that I was put in a position to feel intimidated, scared, and unsafe.  You shouldn't just be able to stop me and ask personal questions!  Or should you?  Actually, that is part of the problem-- maybe you should be able to approach me without my reaction being about fear and safety.  I'm upset that you were automatically a threat in my mind.  After reflecting on this, I realized maybe you would be angry about this too, not only on my behalf but in regard to the fact that you are automatically a threat just because you are a guy.  If you aren't angry, perhaps you will reconsider based on my reflections.  I should be able to walk to my car anytime, anywhere without so much as a second thought about safety.  You, however, should also be able to approach a woman, or any person actually, without being stereotyped as a threat simply because you're male.  My partner, father, brother, nephews, and male friends should be able to move through life without being seen as an inherent threat to female safety as much as I should be able to live without being seen as a pair of breasts and nice smile.  While my reaction is very consistent with my personal experiences and the messages I receive as a woman in US society, I'm guessing some of your behavior was the result of your experience as a man and messages you receive about what that means.  This is hypocritical and a double standard, and I missed an opportunity to share a different message with you.
I realize I did not treat you respectfully.  What I should have done was stated I was feeling uncomfortable and asked you politely to step away from me.  By not doing this, I did not give you the opportunity to correct my assumption that you were a threat.  Instead, by not saying anything, I may have given you the impression that I was interested in speaking with you.  Not only that, but I disempowered myself by not being honest.  Also, if you really thought you knew me, I responded quite rudely.  In addition to this, I suppose it is possible you just wanted to talk to me and were unable to think of a better way to introduce yourself.  Regardless, I made a potentially unfair assumption about you, and I apologize.

I am not sorry, however, for being mindful of my surroundings.  I am not naive, and with the influx of crime alerts coming out on campus not attending to my surrounds would be foolhardy.  If you were an actual threat and demonstrated that, I would have done whatever was necessary to protect myself.  Had you attempted to engage in any sort of physical contact with me, I would likely not be expressing as much concern for the situation.  No, I think my general concern about our interaction is centered on respect as you did not demonstrate you were a threat beyond some agitated, nervous behavior, a very poor location, and a poor opening line.

I appreciate our interaction as I think back on it despite the fact that I was fairly terrified the entire time we were talking.  It has highlighted some of my own thinking and some potential blind spots.  I think the assumption of men as inherent threats is a blind spot for a considerable number of people.  Until society is ready to support interactions that are not based on fear or poor assumptions, however, I might recommend approaching people in well lit areas, hands visible, and with honestly.            

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Random Things That Made Me Smile Today

First, I got an email from Statistician with this link in it today:  I wish I could come up with a witty something or other about Skeletor but I just can't-- my mind is wiped...other than to say, good mental health could lead to an Eternia of happiness for all of the Masters of the Universe, yuk, yuk, yuk.

Second, one of my little sisters has a pretty serious and long standing obsession with penguins.  She actually answers to both, "Penguin Pete" and "Penelope Penguin" in the course of a conversation.  This is what you do with literally 6 feet of snow in my family:

Apparently, his name is "Parry."  Parry happens to be wearing my tie.  I don't know exactly why Parry was chosen as the name, a name fail if there ever was one.  I would have gone with Philbert, Polonious, or Pascal.  Regardless, Parry the Penguin is pretty amazing.

Third, in order to make it through my PhD program without completely decompensating, my use of Star Wars references has spiked, as has my now irrational desire to watch the un-besmirched versions of the Original Trilogy to cope/avoid life (a decades old coping skill for me).  Most of the time, I manage to contain them to my own head; however, sometimes I can't help but share them.  I think this was particularly evident when I had to abbreviate Empire Strikes Back (ESB) in a post, and I ended up with the very acronym of the building my program is located in.  Of course, this was absurdly amusing to me because I can identify a fairly accurate proxy for most of the characters using people in my department.  It was less funny when I had to explain to my cohort-mates why it's so amusing that SharkFox is Jabba the Hut, my primary advisor is C3PO, the Dean is Sarlacc, and the main office is almost as bad as the pit of carkoon.

Smile.  Random things are happening.  



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fred Armisen in a Wig

Have you ever had a Chris Farley freak out?  Like, a real, for the love of God, how could you not have had a Chris Farley freak out, freak out?  I had one recently.  It really highlighted the impact stress can have on a person.  It also illuminated the twisted priorities that develop as a graduate student.  Now, you may not know who Chris Farley is, which is sad, remedy that.  Or you might not understand how a CF freak out would actually look in any place other than the SNL stage.  Let me paint you a picture.  First, a CF freak out has to be totally random and of a subject matter that is utterly ridiculous.  It is also punctuated by seeming extreme emotional investment in something.  And it often results in a rough voice afterward.  If you click the link above, you should have a very good idea.  Now, in some ways, a Chris Farley freak out is kind of like Bill Cosby's description of a conniption (also, Bill Cosby Himself is one of the best comedy albums ever).  Either one is fairly accurate for the situation I'm writing about.

If my freak out were a skit, it would have played out like this (yes, I know I'm blending casts):

Rita [Fred Armisen in a wig] and Top Hat (her partner, played by Rob Schneider in a golf hat) are asleep.  It's about 5am.  Top Hat is totally oblivious to the world; Rita is tossing and turning while mumbling.

Top Hat: (inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale)
Rita: (asleep, tossing, batting at the air) Rrmmg.  Nevada, why are you busing people with severe mental health diagnoses and concerns out of state to leave them on the street?  
Top Hat: (looks angelic and peaceful) Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Rita: (tossing once again) No!  iPhone users, you suck.  How is it ok to exploit homeless people so you can price gouge foreign buyers?!
Top Hat: (dreaming of a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers)
Rita: (sits bolt upright fully awake, smacks Top Hat's arm) We don't have any milk!
(cat sleeping on foot of bed promptly falls off)
Top Hat: Huh?! Wha? What? What?!
Rita:  We don't have any milk; you didn't get any yesterday!
Top Hat: (looking around in circles trying to understand what the issue is and why his arm hurts) Milk?  What?  I'll get some at the store tomorrow.
Rita: (morphs into Chris Farley in a very Hulk-esq manner, grabs Top Hat's shirt at the collar and "explains")
Top Hat: (realizing his bed-mate may have gone slightly off the deep end or possibly be in a dream induced rage, giggles nervously and pats Rita on the head while delicately extricating himself from her grasp) Uh, riiigghht, ok.  I'll get you milk for your coffee (if I can't find anything stronger).  Let's go back to sleep for now.
Rita: Milk! You promise?  I have...milk....coffeeeee.....zzzzzzzzzz

Sometimes, it really is the little things that matter.  Let the girl have some coffee!  I won't even ask to marry your grandmother.    


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Comics, an Affliction and Burning Desire

From time to time I make pathetic little Rita comic strips to amuse myself.  While there are certainly far more entertaining stick figure drawings out there (I'm looking at you xkcd* and Hyperbole and a Half) these are really for my own sanity maintenance.  Not all of them involve statistics, but that is one subject that requires routine maintenance.  *This video of Richard Feynman explaining physics with a chess analogy is amazing.  Also, this one on his conceptualization of science, God, and living is stellar.   

And then there's this:

Bonus points to Snarky Squirrel for suggesting that this comic is really a projective test illustrating my "burning desire to learn advanced statistics."

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The topics of the day: the clitoris and war.  Two things utterly unrelated to one another in reality at the moment, however, my mind sees a connection.  Interestingly enough, it wasn't until later I thought of Lysistrata.

Sophia Wallace is brilliant.  She is also an artist.  A brilliant artist.  Her personal campaign to provide education and conversation about female sexuality and sexual organs, particularly the clitoris, is amazing. I'm quite seriously considering getting Cliteracy vs. Phallusy tattooed somewhere.  The Huffington Post piece linked above is pretty good.  Anyone with a clit, or anyone who has sex with someone who has a clit should take the first step toward cliteracy and check it out.  Whether "it" is the Huff Post piece or a clit I'll leave up to you.     


Somehow, I imagine this to be how the members of the US Legislative branch make decisions about things like war.  The whole four minutes pretty much sums it up.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Off on the Wrong Foot

The transition from August to September is like Rita New Year.  Rita New Year is definitely less exciting than traditional US New Year in the confetti/champagne saturated, ball dropping, Dick Clark bantering sort of way.  Well, I suppose it has some ball dropping in the sense that I do my best to drop everything I can for at least 5 days while I get my hermitage splurge in to tide me over for another 12 months filled with considerable, somewhat unavoidable social contact.  Rita New Year 2013 is actually 7 days long this year on account of I say so.  

I typically have a great sense of urgency regarding taking a break between my summer engagements and reestablishing my academic commitments.  This year is certainly no different.  In fact, I may be more desperate for a break than usual.  Last year was a less than good year for me.  My bent is to be collaborative in many, many ways and it continues to amaze me how isolating academia actually is.  I've been surprised at my reaction to the reality of my current situation; eight years of higher education completed with at least another three to go.  So basically, I'm at that point that most graduate students and established academics reach at sometime in their educational experience.  It's nothing new, and frankly, what a "problem" to have-- the chance to learn, grow, and thrive in a somewhat challenging, stimulating environment full of very cool people.  People who whine about their privilege are nauseating, and to even approach operating under the assumption that having access to and engaging in higher education is anything but a privileged existence is unenlightened and short-sighted.  I think it is possible, however, to be stressed out and enlightened at the same time.  Experience would indicate that it requires a lot more resources and effort for some individuals to maintain their privileged status than others.  The maintenance is what is taxing and isolating.  

So, who's the guy in the photos attached to this post, and what does he have to do with any of the rambling previously rambled above?  He's my dad, and he is the common thread of this post, or at least my impetus to write it.  

The photos.  These three photos capture the essence that is my father as he has been to me for the last eight years, maybe 10 depending on how you are counting.  I would like to point out that the two photos on the left were taken last year, almost to the day.  The photo on the right, however, was taken three years ago, almost to the day.  Upon inspection, these photos will tell you almost everything about my father you would ever need to know.  For example:
  • His upper body is actually just blue plaid flannel that he molts a few times a month.  Seriously, the man loves his blue plaid flannel.  It's like logger camo.  It's serious stuff.  
  • The Husqvarna hat(s) (yes, they are different hats; you can see in the photo on the right that that year's model was on it's last legs) are also a nearly permanent fixture.  Again, if making a comment about logger camo was not enough of a hint that he's a logger, the husky hat should be a big indicator.  
  • Old Golds and Coke-a-Cola.  His lungs no longer require oxygen, which is why he smokes a pack or two a day.  My father's circulatory system actually processes Coke-a-Cola, not blood.  I'm sure it seems like I'm exaggerating, but they only thing he packs in his lunchbox (it's actually a small cooler) is Coke and Old Golds.  Every once in a great while a Honey Bun might get sucked in and trapped in the void.  I'll take a picture when I'm home to prove it to you. 
  • In all of these photos my father is wearing his storytelling face.  It's a great face.  He has great the time when he was 8 years-old and rigged dynamite with electric caps to fish in a lake, or when he was in Alaska mining gold and he and his friends went over a waterfall after taking the wrong fork in the river.
  • He loves nature and the outdoors.  My father essentially lives in a shack in the middle of a national forest.  He and my mother fought very hard to curb highly damaging strip mining operations in the Black Hills and succeeded in having a portion of  the Black Hills designated "Special and Unique" which protects the land from development and mining.  
  • My father is one of the most rugged, tough as nails, people I have met.  He's been working in the woods since he was a young child.  They used skid horses back then, he hitched them and pulled brush, and ran water for my grandfather and his men.  By age 10 my father was operating heavy machinery, and he can do things on a skidder than would put many professional stunt drivers to shame.  It helps that he's an "adrenaline junkie" as he says.  One of his favorite things is to operate a skidder on a grade that requires him to lean nearly parallel with the cab floor to stay in his seat, he doesn't use seatbelts.  My father is an excellent example of how a person with a classified physical disability, he has no right leg and uses a prosthetic one, can continue to be successful despite it.  
    • His current skidder is named Henry.  His last skidder, however, was Curtis a CAT 518.  Curtis actually had a name change, he started out as Curt, which was short for "Curtains" as my father would say because he had no brakes, the roll cage had severe fracturing, and it was an open cab, one mistake and it was "curtains" for my dad (he has a pretty macabre sense of humor).  My father operated Curt for about 5 years before he decided brakes were a luxury he wanted, not needed mind you, but wanted.  Prior to replacing the brakes he stopped by using the skid blade on the front, when he wanted to slow down he would drop it and he could manage his speed by changing how far down the blade went and the pressure it exerted on the ground. 
My father's birthday is in the near future.  It helps me keep thing in perspective regarding my own life when I think about his.  When he was 17 years-old he was helping the US government fight wild-fire in the Yukon by cutting and bucking logs.  When he was in his mid-twenties he lost his leg after a terrible car accident.  The brake pedal in his van ripped right through his leg when he hit a guard rail, then the van burst into flames.  He would have died if a trucker carrying two very large fire extinguishers hadn't stopped and pulled him out.  He used to water-ski on one leg, and one of his favorite party tricks was dropping a big knife into his "foot"** on accident. When he was my age he was in the Yukon in a gold camp accessible only by plane, those are some of his best stories.  He did a lot of self-medicating through alcohol until he quit drinking in 2002.  My father has struggled to manage his mental illness over the years, but that is a separate story.  Basically, this all tells me that I think I can handle the remaining three years of grad school.

So, Rita New Year.  Perspective taking? Check. Ball dropping? Check.  Getting my act together for the next 12 months?  Give me a week.

**One of the funniest things to happen relating to my father's prosthetic foot happened a few years ago.  We were in the Big Horn mountains.  Dad is very hard on his body, his foot literally broke off so he was walking around with a peg leg.  He could sort of get the foot to go back on and stay, mostly this was for other people's comfort.  However, when we got back into town he had to stop and get gas.  Picture this as if you had no idea he had a prosthetic leg, and you were just going about your business.  As he was walking around the back of his truck, his foot fell off and rolled about two feet away.  He picked it up and chucked it into the back of the truck without a second thought.  As you can imagine, this would likely prompt a double-take.  Of course, then the store clerk comes rushing out, absolutely horrified and confused at what she just saw and spends about a minute looking from his leg to the foot in the back of the truck while desperately trying to say something.  Eventually, she managed to ask him if he was alright.  It gives a new meaning to "off on the wrong foot."        

Friday, August 16, 2013

Real Love...

I have no proper citation for this image, I didn't create it.  However, I loudly applaud whomever did created it.  One might even say I neurochemical rush this illustration.  Don't get me wrong, just because love is a result of neurochemicals does not mean it doesn't exist or it isn't real.  It's simply that "love" as denoted by the heart shape is constructed (just like Tina's hair!!).  Some people are better at constructing than others which is why we have date night specials, and wedding planners, and honeymoons, and bridal shows, and Valentine's day, and fairy tales, and divorce lawyers, and almost all popular music since the dawn of time.  It's ok if you don't agree with me, I still have a neurochemical imbalance for you.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Middle-Aged Idiocy

Based on comments made in this opinion piece by Mark Bauerlein, I think I'd be willing to argue that the dumbest generation remains that which is comprised of middle aged men.  Why might that be?  Well, while I would agree that younger generations of people in the US do appear to lack knowledge and skills commensurate with older generations, it never fails to utterly astound me that privileged middle aged men continue to make declarations and bombastic proclamations about society based on highly skewed, incredibly narrow, poorly defined personal opinions despite the fact that they should have ample life experience, and in Mark Bauerlein's case a doctorate, to help them avoid confirming that they are, in fact, just as clueless as 20 somethings.  A perfect example of this would be publicly advocating for age discrimination.

Regarding this piece, there are a few disclaimers.  First, there certainly are professors over the age of 65 who should consider retirement due to age related difficulties.  Second, there are professors under the age of 65 who should consider retirement due to a) being poor educators or b) age related difficulties. Third, there are professors who should never be tenured at any age.  Fourth, I would support the statement that tenure in general has become an encumbrance to higher education. Fifth, I have nothing personal against Mark Bauerlein.  And sixth, I am all for paying non-tenured faculty well, considerably more so than current rates.

Despite my disclaimers, the assumptions highlighted by the article are what trouble me, notably, the assumption that a person is inherently less useful and/or able to perform their job on or after a certain age, particularly in academia.  It is also unclear to me whether the issue according to Bauerlein is old people or tenure or a combination of both.  I'm not convinced the issue is when professors won't retire, but instead when any educator should consider retirement or another career altogether and yet they don't (that's how SharkFoxes are born).  As noted above, there are some startlingly awful tenured professors between the ages of 40 and 65.  As a matter of fact, in my experience, I can think of a number of tenured professors or associate professors around the age of 50-55 who should be removed from their academic posts immediately.  Then again, three of the best educators I've ever worked with are not tenured, and fall between the ages of 35 and 55.

It's one thing if an educator is unable or unwilling to stay current with technology and other advancements in their respective field resulting in a poor learning experience, but I find it hard to believe that hitting a specific age automatically makes a person a poor educator.  There was a professor in my department who was at least 65 when I started my master's program.  He has since retired.  He was a rare individual.  The only thing about Tom that was not on the cutting edge was his fanny pack.  When I knew him, he was flying planes, riding motorcycles, and sailing boats.  He retired to sail more often.  Tom was a Psychologist with a special gift for numbers and statistics, he won an AERA award for research a few years back.  To say the least, Tom was an incredibly productive faculty member despite the horrible burden of his age.

The last issue would be that tenure is in no way about providing access to quality educational experiences and/or educators to college students, it's about research and securing the funding that comes along with it.  Eliminating the supposed academic scourge that is aging professors is unlikely to increase educational quality, the same with tenure.  Instead of potentially ineffectual elderly educators, you end up with younger ineffectual researchers and their advisees who don't give a damn about undergraduate or graduate education.  It's interesting that Bauerlein suggests the use of US News and World Report rankings of faculty over the age of 65 as a solution.  I wonder how his current employer, Emory University, might rank as they've demonstrated they excel at manufacturing whole sets of "creative solutions".  

Perhaps if education was actually the focus of institutes of higher education there would be less financial distress for students and Universities, more "academic innovation" instead of  bureaucratic, political placation, and a little more distribution of that thing called knowledge which everyone under 30 apparently lacks and we are all automatically stripped of as the clock strikes 12am on our 70th birthday.  It's a shame I'll never reach the pinnacle of productivity and usefulness that is being a middle aged man with all of the answers.  I guess I'll just have to keep asking questions.          


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Encyclopedia Areeettaa

Encyclopedia Areeettaa.  Walking, talking, sushi eating personal google.

A Rita facebook vignette:

Alisha > Rita 
Thank goodness for the encyclopedia of Areeettaa. You are like my own personal google that eats sushi with me. Its so fun.
3Like · 
My little sister, so eloquent.
I love when user error leads me to things I've forgotten about.  Well, in this case it was less user error and more a determined, pain in the ass cat walking across the keyboard.  Regardless, a happy accident.

October 2010 was too long ago to recall what my second superpower was being put to use on, most likely providing a definition to something.
The word "plash" comes from the Middle English word "plasch" and can mean "to splash" or it can refer to a pool.  Totally unsuspecting...       

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Just no. No.

You know, there are some things in life I just really struggle with.  For example, if someone tells me they are going to do something, I expect them to follow through.  If they don't follow through, it's a waste of everyone's time.  So naturally, after a few times of poor follow through, I make sure I let those people know I'm not going to engage in wasting time with them.  I'm a fairly patient person, so it takes a while before I get to that point.  While this issue of follow through bothers me immensely, I'm actually more fired up about something else at the moment.  I've been trying to determine how my annoyance with lack of follow through is connected to my current frustration with this piece about bipolar disorder.  I think the rub is a) simple disrespect, b) maybe it is about follow through after all.

In the case of the....ahem...article, I am so angry and annoyed that I'm physically upset.  My chest feels tight, my hands are freezing cold (something that only happens as a result of excitement/anticipation, or considerable anger), and blood is pounding through my veins.  In addition to this, I am almost at a lack of words for how I feel, a rare occurrence indeed.  So why all of this vitriol and emotional taxation?  

I believe it starts with the general tone of the piece; it is sensationalist, disrespectful, and generally negative.  I think I'm also incredibly pissed off that it is clearly an opinion piece masquerading as substantiated fact regarding mental health disorders (that it was originally published in Real Simple is further evidence of this).  I find it unconscionable that it is classified under Health and not opinion, that's low even for CNN.  I will say, I empathize with the author, having grown up in a home with a father who had(has) a diagnosis of Bipolar I, and who has gone off and on medication, as well as in and out of psychiatric institutes.  Also, I support the fact that she was empowered enough to leave the situation which she found threatening, unlike my own mother.  I can appreciate her efforts to find appropriate support and care for her (ex)husband.  However, her careless, dramatized narrative is sickening, and heartbreaking.  I believe the intention of this article was to be about the author's experience, however, it fails to make that point. 

Not only does the author (technically authors) portray individuals with a mental health diagnosis as dangerous, she uses pathologizing language, and quotes others using similar disrespectful language.  For example, her husband's "mind was the problem", because as you know, people with a diagnosis of a mental illness are broken and need to be fixed so they can be, as she put it "normal".  The author makes these comments and uses such language while making paltry attempts to say, "there isn't anything wrong with being mentally ill".  She cites her desire to make her daughter feel more comfortable by expressing, " I never want her to feel mental illness is something that should be hidden" but due to her husband's "erratic behavior", a poor euphemism for mental illness, they only see him once a year, and they "don't keep in touch."  This makes sense, as long as you bring it out once a year and play with it, you aren't hiding anything!  And of course, "there is no known cause, but a family history of the disease makes a person more likely to get it."  Makes a person more likely to "get" it?  I can't even go into the data side of that statement and the genetic heritability of something like Bipolar disorder, let alone stand by the irresponsible, if unintended, presentation of the diagnosis as a contagious disease. 

One of the other large issues I have with this piece is the quotes used by the author from a psychiatrist who heads a mental health center, which is supposed to provide specialized treatment to individuals with a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.  The seeming utter lack of respect for individuals with a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder from this psychiatrist's quotes are appalling.  His use of the phrase "bipolar people" in describing an individual with the diagnosis is obscene.  Given that the entire article is written in such a way that mental illness is classified as solely a medical issue, this type of language becomes even more ridiculous.  For example, when was the last time we spoke of people who are managing a terminal illness such as cancer, "cancer people"?  Or people with broken appendages, "broken people" or "fractured people"?  Perhaps they just all fall under the umbrella of "sick people"?  It seems unlikely that anyone would allow their doctor or medical staff to refer to them by their illness; "As a cancer person, you might experience symptoms of nausea, headache, and death."  Or, "Yeah, the cancer in bed 5 is scheduled for surgery at 9am."  Take it to the logical conclusion.  If you ever have the need to seek mental health services, it is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, appropriate for whomever you may be working with to treat you as though your diagnosis defines you as a person.  You are not "Cancer", you have cancer.  Likewise, you are not "Bipolar", you have a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.  Also, the fact that an "accurate" diagnosis can take between 10-20 years (*Proudfoot et al. (2009)) means it (any kind of diagnosis) should be treated with a special kind of tentativeness.

With all of the talk regarding "mental illness", there is no mention of "mental health".  I firmly believe they are not dichotomous concepts.  Instead of describing what a state of mental health would be for a person experiencing symptoms of Bipolar disorder, only their "bizarre ideas" and "erratic behavior" come up.  There is no compassion in this framework, and there is very little genuine hope highlighted either.  They author's damnation with faint praise for the "treatment" of such mental health concerns is quite apparent.  But, hey, it might allow people to live an almost "normal" life.  If you told the average individual who uses a wheelchair to supplement mobility they could have an almost "normal" life because of the wheelchair, it would be considered horribly offensive.  Why not just address them as gimp, or cripple?     

The last concern to be mentioned is the statement, "If you suspect that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, talk to your primary-care doctor about how to proceed."  Only if there is no other alternative should you consult a primary-care doctor first regarding any kind of mental health concern.  You would not go to the Dentist to get more information about or be treated for the measles.  There are specialties in the field of psychiatry and counseling for a reason.  A primary-care doctor may be able to provide a prescription or a referral, but medications should be monitored by a psychiatrist, and the combination of medication (when needed) and counseling is considered the most effective treatment available for mental health concerns.   

People with a mental health diagnosis, or those who are working to manage a mental illness, are not dying. Therefore, they should not be treated as though they are.  I am aware that the author likely experienced her husband's mental illness as a loss, the title is pretty much a giveaway.  However, we don't need to use the hushed tones and solemn phrasing found in funeral homes.  I would imagine this situation was terrifying for the author, and I certainly can't take issue with her experience.  I personally find it difficult to blame individuals with a mental health diagnosis for their mental health concerns, which I think this article actually does.  That, perhaps, is the most upsetting part for me.  Having paranoid delusions and being placed in and out of mental health facilities is not a life I would like to live.  I find it hard to accept that someone else who does live that way is enjoying it and intentionally engaging in such destructive living.  I would not add to that psychological and emotional pain, as a matter of fact, I've dedicated a large portion of my life to to reducing the pain, or making it bearable.  I would not expect the author to stay in the situation she faced, and it is unfortunate that she felt guilty for leaving her husband as he struggled with his mental health.  That is not my issue.  Aside from what has already been mentioned, my issue is the propagation of negative and harmful stereotypes about individuals with a mental health diagnosis, and the begrudging "hope" presented regarding such individuals "leading relatively normal lives."  I find it troubling that nowhere in the article is there a call to change the system we currently operate in that does not provide adequate care for mental health concerns.  For the sake of her daughter who is worried she might "get it [bipolar disorder] I would hope this author would be a strong advocate against stigma, against the continued discrimination and disrespect of individuals with mental health concerns, and for adequate, supportive care and understanding.  This applies to not only individuals experiencing mental health concerns, but the people in their lives.  Someone living with a person who has a mental health issue could potentially use support and understanding of their own, possibly even counseling.  This narrow, limited view of what "mental illness" is, without so much as a reference to mental health or wellness is problematic.

*Proudfoot, J.,  et al. (2009).  What happens after diagnosis? Understanding the experiences of patients with newly-diagnosed bipolar disorder.  Health Expectations, 12, 120-129.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


 I'm working on writing something that highlights one of my most unusual quirks-- spontaneous and sometimes elaborate stories produced by my imagination regarding events in my daily life.  Serious daydreams.  Most recently it was an urban gladiator style match between two panhandlers standing on opposite sides of an exit ramp.  Who really wants this $20?  More on that later.

This morning, I've been working on data in R.  I've been listening to ABBA as I go along.  There may be some daydreaming as this happens too, often times in the form of me ripping my laptop in half with my bare hands.  Sometimes it's me having a stroke of genius, instead of feeling like I'm just having a stroke.  I think my choice of ABBA is a subconscious way of reminding myself I have options.  During the first year of my doctoral program, a Pink Squirrel Associate and I decided that we could always leave the doc program and start a successful disco group called Ex Post Facto.  It could still happen.  We would team up with other groups like Phi Hat and the Degrees of Freedom.

When it comes to using ABBA as a tool for motivation, I can't decide if watching them supports my drive to complete my program or makes me want to start collecting jumpsuits.  

Oh, R..."I have met my destiny in quite a similar way, the history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.  Watterloo- [R] I was defeated, you won the war.  Waterloo- [R] Promise to love you for ever more.  Waterloo- [R] Couldn't escape if I wanted to.  Waterloo- [R] Knowing my fate is to be with you.  Waterloo- Finally facing my Waterloo"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Only the Good...


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eatapuss Tex: Political Comments

I spent nearly 8 hours yesterday utterly engrossed by the filibuster taking place in the Texas senate, lead by Senator Wendy Davis.  I was impressed on many levels.  I was also thoroughly disgusted at times as well.  If you happen to have 3 hours to spare, I highly recommend watching the last three hours of the special session once it is posted online.  If my experience of watching the Senate was anything like the experience of people who enjoy sports watching a game, I think I get their...intensity.

Any situation that involves moving to ask the previous question on a motion to ask the previous question regarding raising a motion on a motion on an appeal of a ruling on parliamentary procedure is, most simply, insane.  Did you follow all that?  Yeah, it took almost an hour for them to sort it out too.  Bureaucracy at its best.  It would put a Vogon to shame.  The Senate majority decided to change the rules to accommodate themselves in order to put it to rest. They still failed to pass the bill.

In addition to the genuine enjoyment I got from watching the interaction of the Senate members, the comments posted on the live feed were absolutely hilarious at times.  I managed to collect a few of the more entertaining or interesting ones.  I did not change the screen  names, and I should point out it was a continuous feed of comments, updated approximately 75 at a time so there was no way to really follow any one person.

Chuck Bee:
sometimes i wonder what my children will learn about history, and then i remember our books come from texas

  • Everything is bigger in Texas, including the omissions, revisions, and lies.
Tess Devlin: 
I love that everyone who isn't doing something is running around trying to look like they're more important than they probably are.

  • Isn't that the definition of politics?  Not doing anything while trying to look important while not doing anything...?
Jorge Cruz: 
If abortion = killing babies, if I kill a baby can I say i had an abortion?

I like the part of the bible where Jesus forced everyone to bend to his will.

  • Or, like, when "God" commanded that his followers slay all men and then take the women and children and cattle of the dead for their own and wage war against those who sin.  That's real respect for life.  Kill the people you disagree with, and then take all their stuff.  It's not only the American way, it's the Christian way.

If you could actually control your own vagina... YOU WOULDN'T NEED TO MURDER BABIES!!!

    • I feel like this premise deserves air time as a CW show involving a superheroine who fights crime with a...tight*...control of her vagina.  Or maybe a porno (note: don't google 'superhero vagina porno' at work unless you are using someone else's computer).   
    • Totally right!  When men don't control our vaginas and instead women in the US have appropriate levels of control (i.e. rights) over their reproductive organs with stuff like abortion, we aren't "murdering babies" because abortion isn't illegal and it doesn't involve babies at all!  Of course, we could just start having sex with more women instead of men, that would fix the issue too.
    •   * For more mind-blowingly awesome Cheap Trick songs about sex, prostitution, suicide, murder, or drugs please listen to any and all of the four studio albums from 1977-1979.

    David Vargas:
    This reminds me of this Star Trek Manga where they met a Klingon that enjoyed what he called, 'the combat of words'.

    • This one gets a mention simply because anyone who can work Star Trek, Manga, and Klingon into a topic relating to a) women's reproductive rights, and b) politics in general deserves to be recognized.  If he had managed to make reference to the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition (aka, the Conservative's Handbook of Life), I would have made him my subject line.

    Indubitably, however, the BEST two comments were the following:


      • I'm pretty sure Don't Tangle with an Old Knarly Vagina is the 14th chapter of The Art of War.
      Eatapuss Tex:
      Ever wonder in the morning why your toilet bowl's gone dry? Republicans sneak in at night and slurp out all the water.

      • This is hands down the absolute winner of the night.  Not only for the actual comment, but for the screen name (I swear I didn't alter it, and I wish I could claim I thought of it).   

      Sunday, June 23, 2013

      Click, Click...: A Preview

      The cops were milling about the house, most of them doing their best to look useful.  One of them was inspecting the mantel, covered in various bits of kitsch and personal mementos.  The blood spatter on the faces of a small collection of antique alarm clocks was a stark contrast to the smiling faces in photos of family and friends that surrounded them.  The unmoving, dead hands of each clock behind the unnaturally stained glass were an ironic reflection of their owner.  
      There was a faint buzz in the air; the stereo was on, a record endlessly spinning on the platter.  The tonearm was patiently waiting in the last groove, hissing and popping.  A glance at the label would have told me April hadn't lost her sense of humor, side 2 of The Sounds of Silence.  Someone bumped the record player, managing to capture the attention of the whole house.  The needle skipped across the vinyl in a screech.  When it finally landed, Paul Simon lamented, "...s read: 'Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head..."   
      I suppose it was a somewhat common scene for most of them.  A body, a gun, blood pooling as it flowed from what remained of a human head.  They were asking questions.  I wasn't in a place to give them direct answers.  I can't say if I was more shocked by the violent death or the fact that she actually succeeded.  Well, maybe it wasn't that shocking; April often found a way to make things work the way she wanted them to.  Her ingenuity and enterprising nature were two of her more dubious core strengths.  April's recent actions, however, lacked her general tactful, subtlety.  Then again, death may not have been her ultimate goal.  I can only imagine that her intended outcome was something beyond putting a 9mm round through her frontal lobe...     
      I have a folder on my computer labeled "Premise Beach".  I have four stories outlined.  The last one reads:
      Story Premise:
      Grad student in Counseling Psychology fancies herself an actual writer in order to avoid writing her pre-dissertation.
      It's a wacky premise.

      Monday, June 17, 2013

      Counseling: Sunlight on Water

      Myths about what happens in counseling abound, and are sadly inaccurate.  Like many processes, counseling loses its essence when reduced to individual steps in an attempt to convey its mechanics.  I don't read minds, although I am good at asking people in many different ways to read their own.  I don't tell clients what to do.  I don't "fix" people.  I don't give advice.  I don't provide absolution.  I don't give false hope.  I don't analyze people like they are a science project.  I don't play games.  I don't give you a label and send you on your way.  I don't tell clients what they want to hear, and sometimes I tell them things they very much do not want to hear, but I try to do it when they are ready to at least try.  More often and even better, clients end up telling themselves, I just provide the space.

      My professional identity is founded on the notion that I am something akin to a purveyor of opportunity. When clients come for counseling, I see that as an opportunity (and a privilege for all involved). Some people do not have access to the opportunity that therapy provides, for example it is beyond their financial range perhaps or maybe they are simply not interested in it. However, when a person seizes the opportunity, I provide them with more. The client may not know where to go, or rather, they do not believe they know. I do not show him or her the path, I reflect many paths and illuminate different things. I do this by using the information he or she provides and the knowledge we develop together; the client chooses the avenue we explore. I envision therapy as being sunlight on water. Not the sun itself or the water but the interaction of the two. The sunlight warms the water, illuminates it, reflects upon it but remains stable while the water moves and flows. I also believe that therapy is more about growth or promoting growth than anything else. This frame helps respect the process of therapy and the work a client does.

      The second layer of my professional foundation is the concept that therapy is most effective when there is a convergence of person, place, and time. I call this the "Confluence Theory of Counseling". This incorporates a person’s willingness to change, which stage of change he or she may be in, the therapeutic match between client and counselor, and a client’s life events and external factors among other things. I believe that growth can happen when these factors are misaligned but it is most effective when they meet. Given my clinical experience working with involuntary clients, I would say that sometimes the convergence takes place after a therapeutic relationship is established.

      This layer of foundation is also mixed with my belief that everyone can grow. While everyone can grow, not everyone takes/can take advantage of the opportunity to grow. The reason a person might not grow at a certain time is because he or she has not experienced an overlap of factors yet. In addition to the belief that everyone can grow, I firmly believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to work toward mental health and growth. Inviting clients to grow by offering them an opportunity to share in a safe space is my short definition of counseling.  One of the other core beliefs I have regarding counseling is that mental health and mental illness are not dichotomous with each other.  It is entirely possible not to have a diagnosable  "mental illness" and still have poor mental health.  Conversely, it is completely possible to have a diagnosed "mental illness" and have impeccable mental health.  Just as physical health is comprised of a more global, general wellness, so is mental health.  The failure to recognize this distinction is one of the most limiting and harmful misconceptions about counseling and mental health.  

      The two pieces of my foundation were distilled from reflection and experience. It was my work with sex offenders that prompted me to think about the necessity of a convergence of person, place, and time. Some of them take to therapy well, utilize it as much as they can and make an effort to grow. Conversely, some are cognizant of the fact that they need to change their lives and one way of doing that is through treatment but they resist it. It might be that they are in the right place geographically/physically (a treatment facility) and the right time developmentally but there is a personal reason that is keeping them from fully engaging. For individuals still imprisoned, they might be in the right place personally but the space and time are not conducive to growth. There are multiple possible combinations, and I have seen many of them.

      I have found that almost everything that people come to counseling for, and one of the largest controllable factors that stops people from seeking counseling, is fear. Fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of betrayal, fear of relationships, fear of confirmation (aka fear of rejection). The fear of confirmation is a more accurate descriptor of why rejection is painful, I think. When we are rejected, it confirms all of the insecurities and negative perceptions we hold about ourselves. A rejection confirms that we are stupid, unattractive, not good enough, damaged, unequal, inferior, a terrible person...crazy, weak etc.  One of the really nice things about counseling is that a person gets to explore these concepts and decide which ones are actually worth paying attention to.

      It is important to note that while I strongly believe everyone can benefit from counseling, sometimes that benefit comes at an initially painful and challenging price that some people cannot move past.  In short, sometimes people feel worse in counseling before they start to feel better.  As a client typically has full decision making power over continuing in counseling, sometimes they stop before coming to the other side of distress.  We have psychological defenses for reasons.  If they are not examined carefully, with respect to the protection they provide, harm is possible.  To undergird the removal or restructuring of the defenses is an integral part of what a counselor does in session.  These concerns are also a large part of why Counseling Psychology has a code of ethics, and a central ethical duty of Psychologists is gatekeeping.

      It can be intimidating and uncomfortable for many people to recognize the responsibility and power they have over their functioning. Many people fail to make this distinction regarding counseling. Counseling is not for the benefit of the therapist. Sometimes in an effort to "best" the therapist, some people manage to outwit themselves in counseling, not realizing that by being guarded and indirect they are only impeding their own progress. Someone with a cracked tooth would be ill-advised to visit the dentist and provide inaccurate information about their situation. A lack of openness with their dentist would likely result in a lower quality of care, and a lower quality of life as a result. It is no different with counseling. The most effective way of sabotaging the positive effects of counseling is by not engaging openly, or by being a less genuine form of oneself. Therapists don't "fix" people, a) because someone seeking counseling is not "broken", ever, and b) it's the client who makes or breaks the growth process.  Counselors attend to the client's empowerment, and their willingness to make changes.  Ethically, if someone seeks counseling but remains resistant to the process, a frank, and often powerful, discussion about reconsidering counseling at a different time in life should happen.

      One of the most integral realizations from my professional life that has impacted my conceptualization of counseling is what function a therapist serves. Each practitioner has their own style, and theoretical orientation.  However, it has been my experience that people working in mental health are frequently labeled “helping professionals.” This is problematic for me in many ways, although I appreciate that the label is not meant to be, and is instead supposed to be representative of something positive. In my professional perspective, I am not a helper. Helper implies that someone is unable to do something and that he or she must have assistance. It also means that there is something fundamentally wrong that must be rectified; a helper helps the person fix him or herself. I also feel that “helper” debases the therapeutic relationship, i.e. it does not respect the profound nature of people connecting in such a way. For me it is a partnership and there is tremendous work, most of which is done by the client. To say that it is “helping” discounts that perspective. I am also not a guide necessarily, it is not my journey although I am a part of it. How could I guide someone on their path? It is not about me guiding them, it is about opportunity.

      Wednesday, May 29, 2013

      That Time I Lived with Vanilla Ice: A True Story

      All of my posts, including this post, have been grounded in my own life.  The occurrences and events are part of my life history, and they are as accurately told as any one person can be objective in the telling of their own life.  My life has been unusual, certainly not typical, but undoubtedly not wholly unique in its, frankly, fucked up path.  However, today's post highlights one of the weirder experiences.

      When I was 14/15 years old, my parents visited some friends in another part of the state for a week.  I was in charge of taking care of my sisters.  I recall having a very nice time while they were gone, my sisters spent a good portion of the week having sleep-overs with friends etc.  All in all, the week of my parent's absence was uneventful.  Their return, however, was quite another matter.

      My sisters and I were hanging around the house, it was probably late afternoon.  Mom and Dad were supposed to get back sometime that evening. Eventually they arrived, and as they came into the house my father ushered in a young guy, probably in his early-mid 20s.  He was wearing a tattered baseball cap and a severely faded NFL starter jacket, probably from the late 90s.  This guy had a pretty big backpack and his head was shaved, which was especially apparent after he removed his hat.  He wore cheap wraparound sunglasses, and he was eerily quiet and detached.

      I had no idea who this person was, however, sometimes my parents would invite friends to visit and I thought he might be their friend Doug.  We were all standing in the kitchen, and the silence was awkward so I asked, "Who's this?"  With a smile on his face, my dad replied, "We have no idea.  Picked him up just this side of Hayes."  We all laughed a bit, I thought my father was joking.  When he didn't clarify who the creepy guy in our kitchen actually was, I asked my mom in a serious tone, "Really, Mom, who is he?"  My mother gave me a somewhat frantic, helpless, and wide-eyed head shake accompanied by, "I really don't know.  He's a hitchhiker, your dad thought we should pick him up."

      I should note that my father has a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I which he now manages with medication.  As I was growing up, there were numerous instances of both manic episodes and depressive episodes, and my father only self-medicated with alcohol at the time.  Impulsively choosing to pick up a hitchhiker over the protestations and concerns of my mother was a good indication of my father's (poor) functioning at the time mental-health wise.  He later came to realize this.    

      The hitchhiker's name was least at first report, more on that in a bit.  My parents were/are generous people, even though we didn't have much they did what they could for other people.  They offered Dennis our couch, and some money in exchange for helping around our place.  Dennis "wanted to make some money to buy a bus ticket back home."  Ever the cautious-bordering-on-overprotective-and-paranoid person I am, I constantly grilled my parents about Dennis' departure date.  My mother was at the mercy of my father for most of my entire childhood.  She did not have any power, even in this situation.  My father told me he would only be staying at most a week.  Dennis lived with us for at least two months, possibly three.  Time has blurred together for my life from ages 14-16.  My sisters remember similar time frames, however, for this event.

      It was obvious from our initial encounter that Dennis was not necessarily sociable.  He always seemed uncomfortable around people, and he was unbalanced in general.  The more you interacted with him, the more it became clear he was quite mentally ill.  Not all mentally ill people are dangerous, actually very few are.  Despite this, Dennis was discomfiting and all three of us (my sisters and I) plus my mother felt completely unsafe around him.  His gaze felt inappropriate most of the time, he had a very intense presence, he spent considerable time talking to himself/imaginary others, and he routinely carried a large knife with him.  Our house was in a pretty rural area, about 10 miles from town.  Our nearest neighbor at the time was about a mile away.  Last time I checked, those elements when mixed with the presence of a hitchhiker resulted in a Capote-esq tale of death.  I created a safety plan for my sisters, and we did our best to make sure that they weren't left alone with Dennis, although at one point or another we were all in that position.  We never left the house if it would leave Mom alone with him, however.  I started sleeping with a 6 inch fixed blade buck knife under my pillow following the second week of Dennis' stay; it remained there until a solid three weeks after he finally left.  We all functioned on a hypervigilant survival mode setting and rarely let our guards down over those few months.  Living in fear and perpetually feeling unsafe is taxing, even now my sisters and I become activated when the topic of Dennis comes up.

      One of the more amusing/genuinely sad interactions my sisters and I had with Dennis involved music.  We all took piano lessons starting at age 8.  When Dennis showed up, we had each been playing for a few years.  We had to practice regularly etc.  One day after we each took our turn practicing (Dennis was observing), he started asking us questions about music.  He then said, "You know, I could tell you who I really am but you wouldn't believe me."  Knowing it was going to be completely off the wall and untrue but dying to know who he "really" was, we assured him we would believe him and we would keep it a secret.  Dennis took a deep breath, looked down at the table, and said, "I'm Vanilla Ice."  He then demonstrated he was Vanilla Ice by rapping for us, doing the dance from the Ice Ice Baby video, and pulling a Vanilla Ice tape out of his pocket to show us his picture.

      We managed to keep our laughter in check.  After that, though, my little sister called my brother who had just recently graduated from high school and was living in Wyoming.  My brother was...displeased...that my father had brought Dennis to our home.  He drove back home the next day and "explained to" (i.e. had a shouting match with) my father he needed to get Dennis back on the road.  My father did not listen to my brother, but my brother spoke with "us girls" and my mom to make sure we were ok.  He approved my safety plan, and he was actually the one who gave me the buck knife.  My brother also had a "talk" with Dennis about appropriate manners of house guests.  Dennis stayed for some time after the failed intervention, but my brother checked on us somewhat regularly.

      After a while, my father started coming out of his manic state.  The more grounded he became, the more he saw the concerns we had.  He too began to feel uncomfortable with Vanilla Ice.  My parents bought Dennis a bus ticket home.  We drove him to the bus station, about an hour away.  I told my mom we couldn't leave until we saw the bus take off with Dennis on it.  We watched it pull away from the station, and we all smiled.  I called my brother to let him know Dennis was gone, but my sisters were still scared that he might come back.  My brother tried comforting them by explaining that Dennis had only been into town once since coming to the house, and it was unlikely he would remember how to get back after having only been up the road twice, especially because the county didn't use road signs so there wasn't a street name to remember.

      My brother underestimated Dennis.  About a month after watching the bus drive away from the station, we all came home from school one day to find Dennis sitting on our deck.  My sisters and I started freaking out, by the time we made it into the house two of us were crying and one was hyperventilating.  My second youngest sister called my brother immediately, and he drove into the night to get home.  Luckily it was the weekend; I drove my sisters into town to spend the night with friends, and I stayed with my friend Cindy.  Dennis explained to my parents that his belongings and bus transfer were stolen when he was only partway through his journey home.  It had taken a month to hitchhike and find his way back to our place, which was shorter than hitching back to his home in Iowa.  My parents decided the best course of action was to have him leave as soon as possible and offered to buy him another bus ticket.  My brother explained in detail to Dennis that if Dennis returned again he would find himself at the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft, possibly in many pieces.

      While nothing demonstrably traumatic happened while Dennis was staying with us, there was certainly a psychological toll.  I can definitely say thinking you might be brutally murdered in your sleep every night is something to be avoided if at all possible.  I've tried to keep up on where Dennis might be in the world since he left the second time, the advent of the internet has been very helpful.  I learned recently (today!) that he was just sentenced to 30 years in prison for a 2011 sexual assault on an elderly woman in Illinois.  I'm still processing this information and trying to put it in context with my own experience.  Overall, aside from simply being surreal, I think I just feel sad for everyone involved.      

      Yo man, let's get out of here.  Word to your mother...                      


      Thursday, May 23, 2013

      Shooting Stars Frozen in Time: 9 Year-Old Rita

      Imagine a taller than average grubby 9 year-old girl with hazel-green eyes, almost waist length brown hair, and clumsy arms and legs.  That was me: dirty, clumsy, and shy.  It wasn't quite a 1000 yard stare, but I tended to look through things and people.  My main focus was occupied trying to project the images I had created in my mind onto the world.  In addition to my unkempt, gawky, and reserved nature, I possessed an extraordinary imagination.  To help with this, I was rarely ever without a book.  Books, I found, were useful in exercising my imagination and insulating me against the more troubled aspects of my life.

      I learned early as a child that the consequences for damaging or dirtying "good clothes" were severe.  Consequently, I made sure to wear play clothes when I was going outside.  In the summer, this typically meant I was in cutoffs and some sort of t-shirt, a tattered windbreaker, canvas shoes, and occasionally matching socks.  I would generally lose the socks and shoes as fast as I could once I got away from the house.  My hair was always a mess, somewhere between stringy and dirty and knotted and dirty.  There were cuts and bruises all over my legs and arms, usually from playing in the woods.  I was constantly covered in a mixture of dirt, sweat, pitch, and sometimes coal dust depending on my adventures of the day. 
      "Going outside" was the family phrase for leaving the house and roaming the woods.  I made going outside a priority on most days.  On this particular day, I decided I wanted to visit the junk pile on the hill.  Mom had gone to work, and Dad was taking a nap.  My siblings were somewhere doing something.  It was the perfect time to bolt.  I had my literary reprieve selected; a book from the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.  They were a few years below my reading level at the time. Despite that, they were well written and an interesting perspective on Welsh mythology, definitely worth escaping into.  I collected my shoes and jacket, trying desperately to be quiet on my way out.  In the event I woke Dad, it was likely I would be put to work.  This had to be avoided whenever possible.

      Once safely outside, I scrambled up the hill next to the small garage.  There was a field of wild grass I waded through on my way up to the junk pile.  I always took time to run my hands across the blades, swishing them and creating a distinct whooshing sound.  If I did it just right, it sounded like waves rolling into shore.  On most occasions as I  moved through the grass, I imagined I was crossing a small river.  The junk pile was near the top of the hill on the other side of the river.  As I passed through the river, I entered into the pines.  Incredibly dry, old pine needles make a satisfying crunch when stepped on.  I always enjoyed crunching my way to the top of the hill.      
      The junk pile consisted of mostly iron based objects; old engines, tire rims, drag chains, gears, a rusted out 40s era Studebaker with half a hood ornament.  The Studebaker was, in short, awesome for all things imagination related.  The dash nobs were still intact, as was the radio, the shifter, and the gigantic steering wheel.  This particular day, however, the Studebaker was not on the agenda for fun.  I had come across an object in the pile that lent itself to my imagination; a grate from an old gas burning furnace.  The grate was approximately two feet wide and a foot tall.  It was metal with a faux wood grain enamel coating.  I had decided the grate would make the perfect window in my outdoor reading room. 
      Other people might consider it sort of unnecessary to have a "window" in a forest.  There were no walls or ceiling, the floor was the pine needle covered ground, and I could see everything around me as it was.  The point of the outdoor reading room was to have a safe space to read...outside.  For some reason, however, it made sense to me to have a window.  To get the window where I could see through while sitting on the ground, I had to wedge it between two very spindly oak trees.  The oaks were really almost shrubs, probably 8-10 feet high, only about 3 inches in diameter.  They bent and swayed easily, even for a clumsy 9 year-old.  Their branches and leaves provided a nice canopy for my little retreat.   
      Of course, a window really needs a ledge or small shelf beneath it.  To further the decorative vision of my space, I pinned a beautifully weathered board in between the oaks as well.  Naturally, a shelf under a window needs a vase with flowers and a book.  In an effort to complete my vision, I re-purposed a rather large gear with equal amounts of flaking yellow paint and rust to function as a vase.  My vase held wild larkspur, which I was convinced were really tiny (literal) shooting stars in a pretty shade of purple that had been frozen in time.  My book fit very nicely on the shelf beneath the window, and it complemented the vase and shooting stars well.  My reading spot was complete.    
      I read for hours in my space until I heard Mom's car driving up the road.  It would be dinner time soon, and it was a punishable offense to be late to the table.  I put the grate, gear, and board back where I found them.  I couldn't risk leaving my reading place intact.  If I did, chances were my siblings would wreck it to torment me.  I gathered the discarded shooting stars for Mom, I liked to give her pretty things, and I wandered back to the house.  I planned to return later, maybe tomorrow.
      I did return to that place many times, for many years after I created it.  It was one of my favorite hiding spots.  I still love to read outside, although it has been some time since I created a reading place from junk in the middle of a national forest.  Not that it's beyond me, I just don't happen to have a national forest or a junk pile at the moment.  I'm amazed at the typical summer day of 9 year-old Rita compared to my current summer days.  There are shared elements, namely lots of books and reading in isolation away from the overbearing presence of other people.  I like not having to sneak out of the house, however, sometimes it feels like I have to sneak out of work.  I continue to love larkspur, but I haven't seen any since I moved away from the Hills which is quite sad.  I also continue to love the idea that they could be shooting stars frozen in time...