Friday, December 06, 2013

F**k This

Here’s how it is. Today I stood up and looked out the window and my heart sank. I can’t think of a better way to say it. The doors closed and the lights went out.  I look at the weekend and it seems like an infinite series of steps that I just can’t walk. So I’ll have to push myself and fuck I don’t want to.

I wonder if recovered drug addicts, the ones who shoot up, have a hypersensitive awareness along their old injection sites. My left arm remembers being cut. Whenever I sink to a certain depth, I become oh so aware of that inner forearm, and I feel the pull of pure craving. I wouldn’t, I don’t, never gain, but the temptation is always there. Because, damnit, it was cathartic, both punishment and release. And surprisingly little pain. The pain came after and I deserved it and treasured it. Sure I had to hide the evidence with long sleeves, but I’m used to hiding. When have I ever not hidden? When do I not self-censor, pretend, retreat?

So this is me not self-censoring this small section of my life. If I were ever into S&M, it would involve knives and razors and blood. And all the self-loathing and tumult and unbearable tangle of god knows what would be excised, at least for a while.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

True Grit

I recently ran across a book that mentioned something called the Grit Test ( . I decided to take it, although I was pretty sure I knew the outcome. As I suspected, I have no grit, at least not the kind the test measures. I mean, I’ve made it through illnesses, job losses and a suddenly deaf husband, but I think that falls under perseverance during adversity. The sort of grit the test measures is the ability to persevere in the pursuit of long-term goals. I have no long-term goals and can barely meet the short-term ones, so, no grit.

I’ve always known this about myself, and periodically I find it discouraging. I experience my lack of ambition as something fundamental that probably shouldn’t be that way. Some people get physical birth defects, but I got this instead, along with the wacked brain chemistry, or maybe because of the wacked brain chemistry.

I cannot imagine a long-term goal that would hold any interest for me. I can’t imagine one that would hold my interest even theoretically. Goal oriented thinking is as foreign to me as differential calculus, and while I might be able to memorize some formulas to solve equations (my to-do lists and schedules at work, for instance), I don’t think I would ever get beyond mechanics. Of course, without goals you don’t really accomplish anything. But then we’re back to what I might want to accomplish, and I got nuthin’.  The biggest goal I recently undertook was in January of last year, when I created an elaborate Harry Potter birthday party for DramaQueen. Preparations started in December, and that, my dears, is where a bipolar upswing really comes in handy. Some of the decorations stayed up through the Summer. Because once I was done, I was DONE.

This is the way my life goes - obsessions and enthusiasms embraced and abandoned over and over. It is not the lack of completion that is so bothersome, but the way all the life can suddenly be sucked out of something that once enchanted me, and I’m left looking at the corpse of a once-beloved project. And then I’m bored, and my brain feels like it’s in prison.

Not everyone who has this illness is so unproductive - there are many wildly creative artists and writers. I once knew someone with severe bipolar illness who said the manic episodes were the only thing that made the depression bearable. I’m not that far along the spectrum and I’m well-medicated. When I’m up I probably just look like a normally productive person, perhaps unusually and relentlessly talkative about topics that interest only me, and a bit rude because I tend to interrupt. But my brain is working, and the world is in technicolor, and it’s lovely. And when I’m depressed - that would be  now - I still look pretty normal, just quieter, lethargic, messier, dull, closed up.  And the world looks like a newspaper left out in the rain.

This all sounds very glum, but I guarantee, in a few weeks or a few months, everything will shift and, oh, just wait.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Fifth Estate: No One Is Going to Tell You the Truth

“That's where real power lies. Your willingness to look past this story, any story. As long as you keep searching you are dangerous to them. That's what they are afraid of. You. It is all about you.

I finally saw The Fifth Estate. They weren’t kidding about the abysmal attendance rate - I was in a completely empty theater. I found that a little odd, considering how timely the film is - the media spent all summer covering the Manning trial. Oh well. I don’t know if I would have gone if Benedict Cumberbatch had not played the lead. It was his performance I went to see, and he did an excellent job. Still, I was rather hoping the film would dig deeper than it did.

Julian Assange did not want this film made, thinking that it was prejudiced against him and WikiLeaks. Given the lackluster response, he needn’t have worried. I found the film to be fairly superficial in its examination of both Julian and WikiLeaks. It seemed to lose track of what it was doing. Is it a biopic? No, there's not enough background information on the characters. Is it a critique of WikiLeaks? Well, it criticizes one aspect of WikiLeaks, and it doesn't present a compelling case there.

Which brings me to the personalities involved, because the center of the film is not WikiLeaks so much as the friendship, if you can call it that, between Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Julian. This was a relationship with a messy breakup. But it's difficult to feel much affection for the friendship and hence to feel any sadness at its loss. We aren't talking about Thomas Becket and Henry II  or Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, although we are meant to think of Daniel as the noble man of conscience taking a stand against power gone mad.

Julian is compelling because of his passion, but he's also kind of a jerk. You can tell that there is so much more to his story than the film reveals, much of it intensely sad. Part of his childhood was spent  in a cult, one that abused the children and gave them doses of hallucinogenic drugs, and, oddly, required them to dye their hair white. I don’t recall exactly how he became involved in hacking, but he was very good at it, and eventually he and some friends were arrested. One of them betrayed Julian by turning state’s evidence. Betrayal is a theme in the movie, although not one that is explored very deeply. I’ve since looked around a bit on the Internet, and I suspect Julian’s childhood was rather worse than even what we learn in the film. Definitely one of the more fucked up childhoods I’ve ever heard of.

Daniel falls in Julian’s path first as an admirer during the early days (Julian speaking in front of maybe a dozen people) and then becomes engrossed in the mission to the point that it takes over his life. It’s intoxicating to be part of a group that brings down corruption, to feel like you can really make a difference. People can argue that Julian is dangerous, but he has a very clear ethical code of holding the corrupt accountable, and he is persistent in pursuing this cause. I find it difficult not to admire him. He’s also single-minded, charismatic, seductive and manipulative. At one point Julian shows up during a passionate interlude between Daniel and his girlfriend and simply sets up shop, either unaware or unconcerned about the tension he’s created. Or perhaps well aware and pleased to find that he has the power to take over someone’s life so completely.

At no time does Julian act much like an actual friend. He’s all mission. At one point, in a half-assed apology, Julian alludes to being autistic, which is either true or a way of gaining sympathy, I’m not sure. In any case, Daniel becomes someone Julian trusts as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks - and we are shown how wary he is about accepting others into the fold. He also expects complete loyalty in return, so you can see how this is eventually going to crash and burn. When Daniel objects to publishing war logs without redacting names, Julian goes apeshit crazy, accusing Daniel and his girlfriend of being part of the CIA and basically throwing an enormous online temper tantrum.

Haven’t we all had friends like that? They love us as long as we don’t criticize, as long as we are always accessible, and they’re charming enough that at first you don’t notice the dangerous edge to their personality, always one step away from a meltdown, until one day you say the wrong thing and BAM, you are on the receiving end of a shitstorm the likes of which you never expected. It’s obvious that Julian has some serious emotional baggage. Daniel, on the other hand, comes from a stable, middle-class background and is ill-prepared to deal with someone who seems to look at "friends" as tools to further a cause.

(I’m going to take a moment to mention the implication that the mental instability of the principle players taints WikiLeaks. Julian is portrayed as someone damaged by his past, and they just had to mention Manning’s history of mental illness, oh, and say something about how you can’t protect people from themselves. That was referring to Manning but it was aimed at Julian as well. This is a subtle way of undermining any enterprise, because the stigma of mental illness is so persistent. Of course WikiLeaks is dangerous - the man who created it is mentally unstable! It wasn’t conscience that motivated Manning - she was clearly nuts! Why, no one in their right mind would have anything to do with this! This doesn’t even have to be a deliberate, thought-out choice on the part of the writers, because we are so used to accusations of mental illness being used to undermine dissent.)

Faced with the question of the morality of not redacting names, Julian simply replies that WikiLeaks doesn’t edit. And then he pretends to go along with redacting, until Daniel finds out that there is, in fact, no way to wipe out all the names on this enormous datapile. Redacting names seems perfectly reasonable, a way to protect innocent people. So why won’t he? Because it was too difficult? That seems to be the answer, and yeah, that seems like a pretty shit thing to do, and it’s the final straw for Daniel.

But what is the fallout from not redacting? Given the news reporter voice overs about Julian having “blood on his hands,” I expected some stories about the ugly consequences of his refusal. I was unable to dredge up any sympathy for the US government official we follow who’s worried about her favorite operative. If she represents the government’s perspective, it’s pretty wishy-washy. If you are going to argue that someone’s anarchist vision makes him a danger to others, you need to back it up with something besides an onscreen story of an informant SAFELY LEAVING THE COUNTRY. Is there seriously no legitimate evidence that people were targeted as a result? That’s something I would expect Amnesty International to be tabulating if it were so.

Reviewers mentioned the difficulties of creating a film in which the primary action is people tapping keyboards. I didn’t find that particularly problematic while I was watching the film, but then I was interested in the subject. To the average viewer people dramatically whipping out their laptops for some serious anarchist coding probably looks a bit ridiculous. The decision to create an imaginary office space to represent WikiLeaks, which is really just a few people on laptops,  struck me as odd until the end of the movie, when it became clear that the artificial office was set up  as a way to illustrate Daniel’s final betrayal, when he takes down WikiLeaks. Bringing down a virtual office is visually uninspiring. Tipping over desks and setting fire to it all - well I see what they were going for but it looks a bit silly. In any case, that destruction was hardly final, so what the hell? From what I understand, The Guardian had all the logs anyway, so bringing down the site did nothing. Eventually they were all published exactly the way Julian wanted. And last time I checked, WikiLeaks is still in business.

I liked the final scenes, which were filmed as if they were an interview with Julian. He mentions that not a single shred of evidence ever surfaced that publishing the complete logs resulted in anyone’s death. I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not sure I would trust the government if they told me they had evidence. In a bit of meta fun, he talks about the “WikiLeaks movie,” saying that if you really want to know the truth, you’re going to have to find it out yourself. Good luck with that.

The movie didn't change my opinion of WikiLeaks. I admire its mission of transparency and protection for whistleblowers. That governments, which happily send soldiers into useless wars, wars where civilian casualties are massive, should accuse WikiLeaks of making the world less safe, just leaves me flabbergasted at the hypocrisy of that claim. Snowden and Manning had the guts to show us what we truly are as a country, our willingness to murder and torture while trying to cover our tracks, the systematic stripping away of privacy so that we the citizens can have our every move traced while the government hides behind the curtain of national security.

Julian Assange, whatever his personal failings. has one hell of a vision, and he (and Manning and Snowden) is certainly paying the price for it. I really hope it’s worth it.

“You want to know the truth? No one is going to tell you the whole truth. They’ll only tell you their version. You want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself.”

B for effort, C for execution and A’s for the cast. Oddly enough, I would watch it again.

Oh, and Dan Stevens with dark hair? Yes, please.

UPDATE: Here's what I should have included in the first place, a link to WikiLeak's response to the movie:

 According to this, the stuff about Julian being in a cult or dying is hair is fabrication. But you can read for yourself.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's sleepy and it's hollow

What do you get if you combine Once Upon a Time, Grimm and the Secret Circle? Tedium. The writers of Sleepy Hollow took a great idea - moving the Headless Horseman legend into a modern day Sleepy Hollow - and made it...bloodless. Even last year’s failed American Horror wannabe Park Avenue 666 had more style and a better script. That said, there are a bunch of positive reviews on IMDB that made me wonder if I had seen the same show as everyone else. Or maybe the network paid a bunch of people to write positive reviews. Or it was just silly fun all around and I’m being too earnest. Except I was bored. DO NOT bore me.

We open on a Revolutionary battlefield, where an Ominous Soldier on Horseback appears in the melee. Ichabod Crane engages and discovers that, live the Weebles of old, the horseman wobbles but he won’t fall down. So Crane lops off his head, but not before receiving some sort of injury. Fade to mist. Now we’re in a cave with jars of murky liquid sitting around who knows why but they look creepy and make a fine scene when they shatter. And they shatter because Crane is punching his way through the soil, emerging crusted with dirt and some sort of weird white stuff - was he preserved in salt? Off he lopes through the woods and onto a road, in time to be nearly plowed down by a car. Crane looks vaguely puzzled. You’d think he might go Holy Shit what was that? given that his last mode of transport was a horse.

Meanwhile an older cop and his younger partner run into trouble investigating a potential crime at a creepy old stables with an Ominously Frightened Horse. You’d think the horse would be bucking at his stable door since there’s a Headless Horseman hunkered down in there. If I were a horse I would do more than whicker. So the older cop gets his head cut off, which is a real bummer for his partner, who calls for backup.

Cue for Ichabod Crane to appear out of nowhere for no clear reason and run into the street right in front of a cop car. I guess if you are dirty and scruffy and run into the middle of the street the legitimate police response is to hold you at gunpoint and arrest you. That’s a pretty stiff penalty for jaywalking, don’t you think? But of course maybe he just cut off someone’s head, right? What, he’s not covered in blood and he has no weapon? No problem.

You would think that waking up 250 years in the future would put more of a kink in his brain, but Ichabod Crane is remarkably unflustered by the COMPLETE TRANSFORMATION of the town he lived in, by the changes in noise levels and fashion, by electric lights, skyscrapers, concrete, and motor vehicles. He does ask about the TV screens in the police station (but not the big machines moving by magic along the road or the torchless illumination), the end of slavery and Starbucks (part of a really, really stupid and obvious joke), and he asks when women started wearing trousers, which would have probably been scandalous 250 years ago, but hey, he’s an easy going guy I guess. He doesn’t even flinch getting into a car for the first time or comment on the remarkable lack of horse-drawn carts and manure in the streets. Somehow he has survived all this time in some sort of coma in a cave, and yet all his clothes are intact. It would have been much more interesting if they’d fallen off.

Others have pointed out that most cops don’t let suspects, or people being transported to a mental health facility for pete’s sake, sit in the front seat of a police car. But if he wasn’t in the front seat he wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car at a crucial point to wander around a cemetery, where the plucky female cop decided to check out a new crime scene. Get that - she’s going to a crime scene with a potential, possibly dangerous, mental patient in her care, which, even if she thinks he’s okay because she saw the Horseman, probably won’t go over well with her superior (played by Orlando Jones, like THAT makes any sense).

There is no chemistry between the leads. Nada. Zip. I think he is supposed to help her accept her own psychic/witchy abilities so that they can partner up to fight Evil. She comes to terms with this pretty quickly, like Hey, I was gonna go join the elite at QUANTICO but instead I’m going to say fuck my career because this guy who crawled out of a hole tells me I’m going to have to fight a headless adversary. ‘sall cool.  I don’t expect romance - at least they haven’t written the female as a love interest  - but where’s the snappy repartee? Where is the initial distrust that must be overcome? Where are the humorous misunderstandings. Anything? Nope, the relationship is completely flaccid.

The headless horseman himself is a disappointment. If you met someone headless in real life it would be terrifying or at least icky, but on screen a head really adds a special something that axes and guns fail to deliver. (The guns, by the way, seem to shoot fireworks - pretty!) The writers should take note of the show’s theme song, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Mindless, mechanical evil is boooooring. There has to be a villain with personality, a Loki or a Moriarty or a Crowley, to earn your guilty admiration.  We don’t even have a whole person. When we are finally introduced to the horseman’s skull, it has all the menace of something from a display at your local Halloween store. Actually, strike that because I’m sometimes scared of the displays at the local Halloween store. We also glimpse a demon that looks strangely like a tall, skinny Dobby. I’m not exactly quaking.

It’s a shame this is so very lame, because Tom Mison who plays Ichabod Crane has a British accent (always, always a good thing) and is very pleasant to look at, or he would be if someone gave him access to a shower, a barber and some clean clothes. If I do watch another episode it will be to see if they have the wisdom to dress him in tight jeans. Because I could be persuaded to suspend disbelief. 

As for the plot, they are setting up a good coven/bad coven narrative - yawn. Who in the town can you trust, blah blah blah. Something about Revelation (of COURSE) and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Well, I can tell you right now that the Winchester brothers already shut that down, and they did it with flair and sass. Much as I thought the last couple of seasons uneven, I am now really looking forward to the return of Supernatural. I need some proper scaring.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why can't I be you?

Envy is thin because it bites but never eats.   - Spanish Proverb

My husband puts up with a lot. Chaos usually follows in my wake, because I tend to make and ignore messes, distracted endlessly by the many shiny things in the world. I am disorganized and frivolous while he keeps the bills paid and the accounts balanced. He sees work to be done and I see books to be read. I hope I’m amusing enough to make up for what I lack. I try his patience in many ways, but right now I think Benedict Cumberbatch may top the list. 

I am obsessed with BC. If his name appears in the credits, I’m there. Now whenever I mention a movie I want to see, Dear Husband responds with wary suspicion. My Pinterest account has been overtaken by photos and videos of Benedict. I await the return of Sherlock with an intense anticipation that most people probably reserve for the birth of their children. I’m nowhere near the worst or wackiest out there. Thanks to fans far more obsessed than I, there is an ecstatic proliferation of Tumblr accounts offering an endless supply of photos and gifs capturing every performance, public appearance, change of hair color, and shift of expression. This is the standard by which I measure my sanity - at least I have not opened a Tumblr account and started creating my own screen caps. I have, however, considered creating a Sherlock themed Christmas tree.

Dear Husband  probably thinks this is my ultimate fantasy: 

Yeah, well, someone who went on and on and on and on and ON about Amanda Tapping really shouldn’t be so judgey.

I think celebrity obsessions originate in a part of the building you don’t usually visit, but if you give any thought to the matter you’ll probably discover something unexpected and possibly unwelcome about yourself, and it often has less to do with sex than with other desires.

So yeah, he definitely has 1000 watt sex appeal - beautiful eyes, tousleable auburn/blond/black curls, swoony voice -  but there is another side to this.


And if it wasn’t a teensy bit of a downer, would I even bother telling you?

So here goes, I have a silly fantasy of a long, meandering conversation in which I ask him endless questions about acting and writing, and what’s his take on the NSA/GCHQ business, and who are his favorite poets and how the hell does anyone get into character anyway (something I’ve never understood, as I can barely get into my own character). Just me and my imaginary friend chatting about creativity and art and, I suppose, the meaning of it all, over tea at a nice little bohemian cafe on some London side street. I wouldn’t even care if he smoked, but he wouldn’t, because that’s the sort of gentleman he is.

He’s so very clever. I like clever people. Clever people make me happy. I get high on clever. In interviews Benedict comes across as intelligent and eloquent. He navigates his ocean of crazed admirers with grace, poise and humor. He does charity work (check out this blog by a young girl with Cystic Fibrosis and tell me he isn’t a sweetie). He did a series of videos with the pianist James Rhodes and what’s that - he can play piano, too? He survived a car jacking in South Africa. He taught English in a Tibetan Monastery. He can go from elegant to charming, to dorky in seconds without any apparent embarrassment. He’s adventurous. He’s athletic. He’s humble. He’s exotic.

And his acting - I think he may be channeling the gods. He delivers, as one writer put it “ a level of acting almost messianic in its quality.” Oh yes. He so completely embodies Sherlock that I’m convinced the character now exists as a real person in an alternate reality. Imagine the level of talent and dedication it would take to get to that point, so it seems to flow from you as naturally as sunshine falling over water.  

And then when I thought he couldn’t get any more amazing, he does this: Benedict Cumberbatch Sends A Message To The Government Through The Paparazzi

And this.

And then he gives an interview like this, and I think I may cry from the sheer joy of witnessing someone talk using polysyllabic words.

I’m in awe, with a side of hero worship.

And I’m so very jealous.

I wish I could go back to my 15 year old self and say - this, this is the person you should take as your role model. Keep to this and you might get somewhere and be somebody. You might be something more than the chaotic, chronically distracted person who has never created anything admirable, or noble, or beautiful, who instead stumbles from day to day in a state of existential confusion with the vague sense of having missed the point.

So, at the end of that long conversation in the fictional cafe, I imagine him saying: “So what have you done with your life lately? Hmm. I’m just going to take this BAFTA now and go help some disadvantaged youth. Laters." ‘Course he would never say that. He’s too much of a gentleman.

It's better when it's just about sex.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

To Bedlam

“Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind”
― Anne Sexton, To Bedlam and Part Way Back

My mom was crazy. Literally.

It’s a word meant to insult, discount. My mom hated it, but she would have taken exception to any word that called her mental stability into question. Really, the acceptable term “mental illness” doesn’t sound much better.

Both my parents are dead now, and they left behind a lot of stuff. Recently I was going through some of their papers and found letters that my mom had saved for years, including a packet of letters that my dad wrote to her while she was at Milledgeville State Hospital in the late 50s, one of the largest mental hospitals in the country  at the time. I was born in 1966, so her stay happened a number of years before my birth, and I knew nothing about it for a long time.

Mom with three of my brothers
Growing up I knew that my mom was unusual, but I had no idea that she had a mental illness. It wasn’t until I was 22 that one of my brothers mentioned it in passing, and suddenly chaos settled into pattern and meaning. Her official diagnosis was schizophrenia. I’m not sure that diagnosis was completely accurate - in many ways she was more like someone with bipolar disorder - but she heard voices and at times had paranoid delusions. Despite this, she was, to the best of my knowledge, unmedicated and untreated while I was growing up.

As you have probably guessed, no one talked about this. So, when my mom told me about conversations with doctors that I knew did not exist, or mentioned being part of a mind control experiment conducted by the Soviets, or became convinced that the neighbors were spying on us, when she began huge projects with a massive burst of energy only to drop them completely and take to bed, when she went on angry paranoid rampages spewing the most bizarre stories, I - well, I don’t know what I did. In between these strange phases my mom was like any other mom, affectionate and protective, if a little shy and socially awkward. She was smart and curious. No matter what state she was in, she made sure we had three meals a day and clean clothes. She made doctor appointments for me, sewed clothes for me, and read to me (although sometimes not the best choices - most moms would not read Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” to a six-year-old). I was never neglected. So it was very disorienting to switch from that to the the freaky mom who thought she might be the victim of demonic possession.

I lived in a strange world, pretending that everything was normal, or approaching normal, when it was anything but. My father acted as if her behavior was a deliberate ploy to destroy his life, and he spent a lot of time away from the house. My much older brothers had long before moved out and if at any time during their visits my mother acted strangely, they simply ignored it. In all the time I was growing up, my mother never saw a psychiatrist, a therapist or even a social worker. I never saw my dad seek any assistance either, although he now and then he threatened to have her “locked up,” which did indeed have a squelching effect on my mom.

That makes my dad sound awful, and for a long time I was angry with him for the way he treated my mom, but I have to remember that he had to make this journey practically by himself. I don’t know what triggered my mom being committed, but my dad must have been out of his depth, and he may have been afraid for my brothers. My dad’s letters reveal his struggles trying to keep the family going alone - juggling work with 4 school age boys. He rarely had any help, and the boys were left to their own devices most of the time. He expressed more resentment as time went by (she seems to have been there for at least a year), and he often asked why she couldn’t come home. There were also letters from my brothers, which are sad to read, tidbits about school and home life and appeals to her to come home written in awkward childish handwriting. Saddest of all are a few lines from my dad, a response it seems to a question from my mom, that he had no idea why her parents did not write or visit.

What’s missing are my mother’s letters to him. Maybe my dad didn’t bother to keep them - he liked to forget unpleasant things. What she experienced there remains a mystery. Even as an adult I was extremely reluctant to broach the subject with her. I don’t mean that she never mentioned it, but I really had to read between the lines, and I was so used to ignoring the absurd that sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was hearing.

So much secrecy. Those were the days when you still didn’t admit to or talk about mental illness, when it tainted your reputation and the reputation of your entire family. Even though attitudes had loosened by the time I was born, it was deeply entrenched in the family dynamics, so much so that I was trained early, without any sort of explicit instruction, to ignore blatantly odd behavior, to keep it quiet. And I didn’t want anything to be wrong - the very idea of anything being wrong was so terrifying that I lived this odd life of pretending that I didn’t know what I knew.

I’ve concluded that the invisible doctors were probably actual psychiatrists who treated her. I had thought the voices schizophrenics hear would say horrible things, but her voices always seemed to give her encouragement and advice. She insisted they understood her completely. When I was much older, she alluded to electro-shock treatment in such a way that it was clear that she had terrible memories of it. She also once mentioned medicine that made her too drowsy, and so she never took it again. I think she wanted to talk about it, but none of us wanted to listen, not in the way she needed us to listen. Instead we were eager to refute or, god help us, try to reason it away, or ignore it as if it were bad behavior that shouldn’t be encouraged.

With this history, you might think that I would be afraid of inheriting schizophrenia. It helped that I didn’t know the true nature of her illness until I was an adult. By then I was pretty confident that I never had and never would have hallucinations or paranoid fantasies. The problems I did have - well, it would be hard to emerge from that household unscathed. We were all dinged in some way.

I recently ran across a study that has found a common genetic source for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression and ADHD. Here’s a quote from the article: “But what surprised them was that while one person with the aberration might get one disorder, a relative with the same mutation got a different one.”

This has made me rethink my mother’s legacy, which I thought I had nimbly evaded. I think every one of my siblings and I have something on that list, whether or not we admit it, whether or not we have ever been diagnosed. These days it’s so much easier to talk about mental illness, and I’ve made sure that I don’t hide that part of the family history - or my own history - from the girls. I hope for the best, that whatever genetic mishap, if there is one, that bled into our lives, ends with me.

I wish I had my mother’s files from that time, that I had a little more insight into that part of her life. Some people might think that talking about my mom’s illness is somehow invading her privacy or revealing too much. But I think the one thing my mom wanted but only found in the hospital, was someone to talk to who would not judge her, someone to acknowledge that her invisible doctors and strange thoughts did not make her a bad person, or less of a person, or someone whose opinions should be discounted because she was “crazy”. That it was really okay.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

King of the Lemonade Stand

Dear Husband is deaf. He went deaf suddenly in the summer of 2012 as the result of a severe infection that put him in the hospital for 10 days while doctors ran test after test and scratched their heads. Since then he has struggled with hearing aids and assistive devices, and we’ve taken ASL classes and visited lots of specialists, some of whom I would like to kick in the shins.

What amazes me is how, after such a devastating loss, he embraced his situation. He did research, found Facebook groups, started blogging about hearing loss, and took to ASL with amazing ease. I am very proud of how he has taken charge of his situation.

His hearing has dropped further, from severe/profound to profound, and it looks as if he will soon be getting a cochlear implant. Of course, he has done extensive research on these as well! I think if he could he would stay awake during the operation to direct the surgeon.

Today is our 14th wedding anniversary. I think I am very lucky to be married to such a man. Despite these quite serious health preoccupations, he is always on top of things, always thinking about us. Recently he was laid off, and he set up a plan to finish the last of his education courses and take the teacher certification exam. He has a schedule for himself that makes me feel like a slacker. Once again he sees a setback as an opportunity.

That’s why I titled this King of the Lemonade Stand - he’s one of those people who makes lemonade. 

Happy anniversary, sweetheart! You're the best.

Jeff, and a giraffe.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Spy

When I was in college I worked one summer for SANE/FREEZE, an international organization that lobbied for a nuclear arms race freeze as well as an end to US support of the Contras. I joined after having a horrific dream about a nuclear attack. I quickly discovered that I am no good as a door-to-door canvaser, but after that summer I continued to be involved in organizations like Amnesty International as well as a group specific to my college called Waging Peace. I even went to DC once as part of a lobbying group (something I am also not good at).

Some very odd people would show up to work for SANE. Turnover was relatively high, since it was hardly a well-paying job and you were likely to meet quite a bit of resistance. One day a new person joined the team, a very unpleasant, abrasive person in, I kid you not, a dark suit and sunglasses. We joked that he was a CIA or FBI plant. Why anyone in charge would have hired someone so antithetical to the cause was a mystery. He didn’t stay of course. Maybe he reported back to some top-secret agency about our motley crew of highly inefficient idealists. Maybe it was some sort of COINTELPRO style ploy to disrupt and degrade.

I knew when I joined SANE/FREEZE that such groups were under scrutiny.

The government spies on its citizens. I took it as a given. Someone was monitoring - not necessarily me - but the higher ups, and the organization as a whole. But, oh, the innocent days before email and the Internet. You worried about signing a particular petition, or subscribing to a particular publication.

I often ignore politics. The abundance of information that pours out everyday is overwhelming. I can’t keep up. I can’t figure out what is legitimate and what is trash. it’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing.  I’m pretty sure that both sides and the middle are busy spewing endless amounts of verbiage for the sole purpose of keeping us confused. No wonder we post lots of photos of cats.

What’s on my mind late? Bradley Manning. Edward Snowden. The NSA. The mess in the UK that involves the NSA. The NSA’s push to collect any and everything. XKeyscore. PRSM. All the arguments about how much they can actually look at and how much they are bound by law is not reassuring. We seem to be willing to sacrifice a lot in the name of a spurious safety. Do you feel safer?

Some people dismiss all concerns: Oh no one cares about your emails, just don’t be a terrorist and you’ll be okay, they still need warrants, it’s just metadata. Supposedly we have safeguards in place because of a long history of abusing surveillance of private citizens. It’s always okay until you find out what’s really going on.

We have legitimized torture and indefinite detainment - is anything really out of bounds? We have prosecuted whistleblowers or forced them into exile. A president who used to praise such acts has seemingly changed his mind and is now perfectly happy to expand the NSA’s reach. People call Manning and Snowden traitors, and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to trust the government enough to believe that. But we aren’t supposed to trust the government, or the military, or the organizations we’ve created to collect secret intelligence. We’re supposed to hold them accountable. We’re supposed to be able to access the information that would allow us to hold them accountable. 

A good overview of this mess can be found at The NSA Files on the Guardian website.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Art of Swearing

When I was little my dad was very careful to substitute tame words for expletives. His favorite expression was “shoot fire,” which made me giggle. My mother never cursed that I remember. Or maybe the occasional dammit surfaced under duress. I was never quite so disciplined, so between me and TV I’m sure the girls have a working familiarity with colorful language.

I have nothing against swearing. I’ve always felt that people squeamish about it were just too prissy for words. Sorry if that’s you. I spend most days biting my tongue to spare your sensibilities, so be sure to applaud me for my incredible restraint. I know a reliance on profanity can reveal a poverty of language and an inability to properly express oneself. Profanity can also be very aggressive, integral to bullying or verbal abuse. But in general I think life can be difficult enough to warrant a few expletives. God won’t spank you for it.

When the BBC announced that the 12th Doctor (and yes I was ferociously interested in this) would be Peter Capaldi, I decided I would have to investigate the series he’s best known for - The Thick of It. If you don’t know the series, it’s a satire about the British government, in particular the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Peter Capaldi plays Malcolm Tucker, the party's spin doctor. His character, and the show in general, is known for its liberal use of profane language. In fact, I think its MA rating is based purely on language, as I haven’t yet seen any sex or nudity.

I’ve never heard anything quite like The Thick of It. This isn't just letting fly a few curse words. This is extravagance. This is a luxurious jungle of swearing rooted in rich loamy earth. I’m not sure there is a single character who doesn’t participate, but the king is Malcolm Tucker, who uses it like a crowbar to prise open every opportunity that comes his way,  a whip to punish his coworkers, and a bludgeon to beat down objections. And he does it in a Scottish accent. It’s downright mellifluous. I gather that they actually have someone who acts as a "swearing consultant" on the scripts. Imagine that job.

In any case, the show is bitingly funny in a particularly British way. I suppose you could think of Fawlty Towers wed to The Office. Mishaps, misunderstandings, and misdirection accumulate while everyone teeters on the edge of disaster and chaos. If they didn’t swear constantly they would probably leave a trail of blood and bodies behind them.

Everyone wonders what Capaldi will bring to Doctor Who. All the doctors have a catch phrase: Fantastic! (9th), Allons-y! (10th), Geronimo! (11th). Makes you wonder what the 12th will say.

You can actually get this on a T-shirt. There's also an "unbleeped" version, if you're brave.