Tag: Writing

A Mind That Divides: A Small Lesson in Brain Function, Politics, and Bias

The human brain, despite appearances in every day human behavior, is an incredible organ. It does a lot to make normal information processing a lot easier.

Just for fun, I’ll walk you though a theory of how the brain sorts and uses information when it’s needed. One of these theories, conflated some with other theories that I think are likely, involves this great neural network where “like” neurons are grouped together so they can be easily accessible should you need a word that starts with “sp.” This grouping can also be done by smell or other associations. So, for example, when I walk outside on a clear summer afternoon and the sprinkler is going, my brain reaches to that location where I’ve smelled that smell before, and immediately I am back in my toddler’s pink polka-dot bathing suit running at a forty-five degree angle down a hill as water clings to my eyelashes.

These neurons, or these little receptors that are named and associated are “primed” based on how much they are needed. So, for example, the neuron named “Parker” is always mostly primed. What this means is any time I want to be able to reach the word “Parker,” it doesn’t take my brain long at all to reach it and pull it into action because it’s primed. It’s something I use a lot.

The brain is incredible! One of the reasons it does this is for efficiency’s sake, but, as I’m sure you can imagine, another reason it might do this is for survival.

If you have had a near-death experience with carbon monoxide, the part of your brain that collects memories about that will be ready at all times, it will always draw that feeling of dread because your brain doesn’t want you to wander into a trap. It wants you to know for the next time that carbon monoxide smells a certain way, makes you feel a certain way, may be dangerous when this certain thing that happened the last time is happening again.

Why am I telling you this? Mostly for fun, but also to say that you brain is not always as 21st century as we’d like it to be. Yes, it’s efficient, and much of what your brain tells you to think and believe is for your survival, but it doesn’t always make sense.

Theories like the above indicate many things, and one of them is that you cannot help but be biased on an instinctual level. It’s not the fact that human beings have bias that’s inherently bad, it is when we don’t recognize it and try to battle it that’s bad. For example, since 2001 when media coverage began to paint people of Muslim faith as dangerous, it’s been an uphill battle in many American’s brains to dislodge the threat that their brains filed under “pay attention, lest you die.”

Sometimes bias is helpful. We are all, for the most part, wary of certain neighborhoods. It is GOOD to be wary, but it is not good to assume that all who live in dangerous parts of town are dangerous people. Were it not for this little alarm signal in our brains, we might waltz into potentially deadly situations without heeding the possible threats.

Another thing that your brain does is file information in a way that aligns you with and against other people, it groups you with like-minded people, and sets you against people that don’t believe the same. This is a social psychology principle, and while somewhat confirmed through testing, is often more contested than the above theories. What this means is if you believe that President Trump is the next incarnation of Jesus Christ, you will likely create a “tribe” of people that believe the same. You will love these people because they are like you, and you will believe that those who do not believe as you do are a threat to you and your tribe. They are stupid, evil, and are out to ruin everything you hold dear.

Is this somewhat natural? Yes. Is it okay? Absolutely not. Because humans can’t be defined by political affiliation, skin tone, or gender. They are so much more and their beliefs are not as linear as your own or mine or anyone’s.

I remember when I first found out about the spotlight affect (the belief that people are watching and judging you), it really hit me that no one is actually paying attention to me. I went through a thought process of, “Do I judge people?” Answer: “No, of course not! I don’t even notice who is wearing leggings in public.” So, consequently, I can somewhat safely assume that no one gives a care if my hair is less curly on the right side than the left. (That is not always true because some people are jerks, but for the most part, people are. not. looking. at. you.)

Understanding that you are more like other people than different from them can help you to accept and love people more. I know that I don’t care what people wear or what they look like, so I can stop worrying about what my hair looks like when I’m in line to buy toilet paper. No one cares!

In the same line of thought, I can assume that since my beliefs are flexible, I believe they are rooted in love and acceptance, and I want for ideologies like mine to take precedent because I think they are good for the world, then others have the same kinds of beliefs.

If you are a cynic and can’t imagine that most people are inherently good, then this argument is null. You will not believe anything I say, but, if you want to keep from going crazy and believe that people care about their friends and family just like you do, then you may stop aligning yourself against them as if they are the antichrist.

Those who believe differently from you are not evil, no matter what your brain tells you to keep you safe. Tell your brain that you appreciate everything it does for you, but it can take a nice rest when having the next political conversation, because in all likelihood, you are perfectly safe and can behave as a reasonable human being.

Peace friends. Go tame your brains.

 

 

P.S. I did graduate with a degree in Psychology, but that doesn’t mean that I am by any means an expert. If you’d like, go ahead and delve into research about how the brain protects you and organizes information to confirm what I speak of or create your own, science-founded beliefs. Do not take anything I’ve said as incontrovertible fact.


Aokigahara (Suicide Forest), the Tumor of a Cancer-Stricken World

Header image from: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html


***WARNING*** THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS CONTENT RELATING TO DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE.


The forest called Aokigahara feels almost too dark to be real, like a suspended bubble of fiction that our brains try to refuse a place with truth and light.

Just like any other forest, Aokigahara feels the breeze rustle through its leaves, and it whispers to the passersby. The shadows that loom over the earth are cold and protected, and the earth is moist, the soil alive and thriving with decay and rebirth. The forest is not a made up nightmare, suicide forest is as real as any other forest on Earth, but it is tainted with the stain of death and horror.

The forest lays at the feet of the wondrous Mt. Fuji, one of the most beautiful and iconic mountains in the world. This mountain is like the flag on the Earth’s surface that declares its ownership, its stewardship of the land. Aokigahara is, indisputably a distillation of beauty so intense that one’s mind boggles at the hint of despair that is now running as deep as the forest roots through the land.

Masahiko Kitahara and Maki Watanabe studied the forest and surrounding lands, putting a lens to the life that thrives in the area. In their study, they were able to identify the edge of Aokigahara as an ecological “hotspot” for butterfly diversity. The surrounding edge of the forest thrived with rare and threatened species, likely because they were searching for a spot to avoid dangerous environmental change (Diversity and rarity hotspots and conservation of butterfly communities in and around the Aokigahara woodland of Mount Fuji, central Japan).

I know the writers of the study would be horrified at my conclusions of this study, but I do find poignant poetic indications about the endangered butterflies thriving at the edge of this place, a beautiful herald surrounding the locus of death, a place they dare not enter.

Imagine the man who sets out for the forest, determined to end his life. He has lost his job, his honor, and his family, and he finds that the world doesn’t need him, just another blight of disease on the Earth. So, he begins his journey into the heart of the forest. The forests edge is decorated with signs from the police:

Meditate on your parents, siblings, and children once more. Do not be troubled alone.

Another reads

Your life is something precious that was given to you by your parents.

If the walker ignores these pleas that he reconsider, he will find several more opportunities inside the forest to change his mind. The paths are decorated with ribbons that show the way out.

Unfortunately, many who enter the forest never make it out again.

How is it that such a majestic part of the world came to be so haunted and heavy with desperation?

Much of the history of the forest is drenched with speculation and legend, but the speculation still paints the appropriate picture. It is said that ancient Japanese families used to take unwanted family members to the forest in times of famine, freeing up remaining resources for the other members of the family. Such a depressing history of murder, loneliness, and death is rumored to linger in the soil of the forest, paranormal activity being a common occurrence between the moss-laden trees and jutting trunks.

The forest has been a lost-and-found for poor souls for hundreds of years, but the publication of a 1960s novel that ends in the co-suicide of two lovers in the forest has become the named reason for the soar in suicides in the forest, numbers reported in the hundreds of dead.

The topography, beauty, and supposed supernatural phenomenon create a new face for an otherwise peaceful area of the world, and one can’t help but wonder why so many turn to such a sad, otherworldly place for their final moments, alone, sometimes accompanied by a suicide manual published by Wataru Tsurumui. They leave behind wallets, packages of food, egg-carton bedding, or nothing but the noose.

Aokigahara is mysterious and beautiful, despite its morbid associations, and one can’t help but extrapolate to the world as a whole when contemplating the disease of Depression that has seeped into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of human existence. The suicide forest is like the tumor that the world begins to notice, gets checked out by a doctor, and gets the prognosis of a cancer that pervades the entire body.

Before recent media attention put the limelight on Aokigahara, I was unaware that such a place existed, not that suicide was remotely new to me, or to anyone else in this world for that matter. Suicide and Depression have become something that everyone has experienced in themselves or in those they love. Suicide takes pure hearts from the world with the help of these menacing whispers from Depression, the pressure of performing as a perfect, successful, or likable human being too much for any normal person to bear.

The forest is but a symptom. It is not actually a localized disease that has seeped into the soil of a beautiful world, it has spread to every horizon and darkened brilliant minds to the butterflies at the forest’s edge, the rarity that lies in wait for them if they follow the ribbons out.

Of all people, I’m aware that Depression isn’t a choice. It’s not something you can conquer by will of the mind alone. It requires support, sometimes medication, and it requires a heart that is willing to follow the ribbons.

This article is but one of a million like it that pretends to understand what this world experiences that lead them to the forest, but the message is the same, and it’s one that can’t be understated.

Your life is a gift, a miracle by all definitions of science and spiritualism. Your presence is important to the functioning of this broken society, and it can make a difference. It’s never too late for you, and nothing you’ve done has ever brought you past the point of love and redemption.

Remember the butterflies. You may have to gets scrapes and bruises on your way past the trees, and you may have a mountain to climb once you’re in the clear, but you are in a beautiful place. This world is pure, and you are a part of it.

Remember the butterflies.


Painting, Like Most Things, Is Great For Second Chances

I’m a writer, mostly. But, I grew up with a pen in my hand, crayons in my mouth, markers holding up my pony tail. I grew up, curious, touching cheap canvas, smelling paints as my dad set out his oils, desperately trying to get pictures from my brain into reality. I draw, I paint, and I love to leave the mark of my mind on things that will outlast it.

I was painting yesterday, and this wonderful thing happened where, in the silent of the house, fingers gripped to brush, swirling colors together like an art-alchemist, my mind hit the smooth pavement of its thoughts and cruised. It felt dangerously free. It felt inclined to remind me of everything I wasn’t really wanting to think on at the moment. But, at times, it simply was. I simply was, and my fingers did the talking.

It’s great to paint with cheap acrylics because there’s almost no such thing as a permanent mistake. I drew a quick sketch with an art pen, mixed my colors and slathered on the first layer. The freedom that comes with that sloppy strokes, covering ground recklessly, is knowing that the first stroke is nothing but foundation, nothing but a primer to cling to the better stuff to come.

As I progressed, I adjusted. I saw that things weren’t quite right, and I went darker, deeper, thinner, fatter, clearer, more detailed. Sometimes my shaking fingers didn’t quite get the curve right, didn’t quite capture the precision I was going for, so I let it dry and tried again.

With painting, there’s no pressure. You experiment until it feels right. I wonder why it’s so much harder to accept this in other disciplines and in life in general. With writing, we think it must be perfect on the first draft. I’m a bad writer if I make that mistake, if I can’t quite portray what I mean to.

But writing, like painting, is made for second chances, second drafts, and second opinions. It’s made for fresh eyes and readjusting.

Don’t let the mistakes get the best of you. Just adjust and try again.


America, We’ve Got a Problem

I know things are sensitive. People are sensitive. I know that lines, that boundaries, that territorial disputes in the political realm are sensitive. But, I’d say what’s even more sensitive is premature and violent death of family and friends.

I know that it’s good to be proud of your nation, to sing your anthem and think upon the centuries through which great heroes and common ideals have brought it into the new age. But, now is not a time to be proud. Now is not a time to fake patriotism. Our system is broken, and that does not make me proud. It makes me angry. I feel the injustice, greed, and power-hungry lies and placating, brown-nosing and cowardice like a slow, drowning anger.

I don’t hate America while having some beef with it. I’m not Anti-American for saying that there are some problems that need to be addressed that many are refusing to address. Let me tell you one thing, if I hear one more person say, “the left” or “the right” I will light all my clothes on fire and streak naked through the streets until I rot in jail. This isn’t a political issue. This is a human issue and people are playing party lines for tweet likes and continued power. That’s evil. That is evil.

Let me just walk you all through a scenario. Imagine that Jimmy has forty two life-sized teddy bears with mechanical arms, he only ever uses his teddy bears for hugs and for holding things. But, Jimmy’s next door neighbor uses his teddy bear to get food, and that’s okay, too. The strong arms of the teddy bear are great for picking cans up off of shelves. What really blows Jimmy’s mind is that someone would use something as strong and dangerous as a teddy bear to hurt people. Jimmy’s never hurt anyone with the teddy bear, so what would compel someone to hurt other people with the teddy bear?

Just think about this. I heard the argument that no one ever makes restrictions on fertilizers when bombs start going off (that’s not true), but even still, that’s not the best analogy. Fertilizer has a non-lethal purpose. Fertilizer is meant for the earth. Teddy bears are built for hugs and holding things. If someone went into a supermarket and beat someone to death with a hammer, you wouldn’t see outrage about the accessibility of hammers because hammers have a non-lethal purpose.

Tell me, what is the inherent purpose of a gun? It’s not to hug it. I will let you know right now that I won’t support guns being taken away from people. Guns are for hunting and recreation, but their core purpose, the reason they were made was to hurt and kill. Aristotle had this way of thinking about things where he would refer to a thing’s virtue, it’s telos. Telos refers to what something’s ultimate goal or purpose is. Aristotle questioned this because he wondered what the telos was for human beings, but in demonstrating this he would use objects and say things like, “What is the telos of a knife?” Well, what do you do with knives? You cut with them, so what is it’s purpose? What should it be? Sharp. The knife, should be sharp. What is the telos of a gun?

I don’t want to take anyone’s legally-obtained guns away. If anyone hears that as an item on the agenda from the news, then the anchors and writers are playing into the problem and they deserve to be fired.

You know what else? I understand that making things illegal would only mean that people would get more from Mexico and the wrong people would find ways to get guns illegally. The point is not to make guns illegal. The point is to make them very hard to get for psychos. If you’re a normal person who doesn’t have murderous tendencies, that shouldn’t be a problem, now should it? Already have fifteen guns in the gun closet? That’s great. Keep a close eye on those suckers. Your life won’t change except for that it should be so illegal for you to sell your guns in a back parking lot to some nobody that the penalties aren’t worth the risk. That doesn’t sound like too much of a request, now does it?

We want the good guys to have guns to defend their families. As much as I personally hate guns, I understand the need some people feel to have that safety blanket. Regardless of statistics that more people die in homes with guns, regardless of the studies that show aggression increases with the mere sight and presence of a gun. Guns are aggressive, violent creations no matter what anyone says about it. But still, I don’t want to take those away. Stop making this a party issue, world. It’s not. This is an American issue because hundreds, no…THOUSANDS of people are dying.

Like during any epidemic, the leadership must figure out a way to nip it in the bud. And we must be there to think about it reasonably, to discuss it without regard to party lines, to find a solution to the problem alongside the people who run our government.

 

 


Teaching Myself Joy

Poetry is purposeful. It’s like a very long breath after having been underwater. One doesn’t write poetry like prose is written, or at least, if they do, they’ve ascended to a level of existence that I won’t understand.

Poetry is not the quick-fingered composition of a novel or a blog post at the keyboard. Sometimes, it is a pen-in-hand, blank-stared emptiness that is only broken by the first stroke of ink on the secure page of a journal. One must slow down to a quarter the speed of life to process what needs written, to place words precisely at the end and the beginning of each line like the zig-zag thread of a repairing stitch on the heart. One must write to the rhythm in their heads, lest it get over-excited and run off the page and into their life.

I find that when I’m not writing poetry, I’m not slowing down. I’m not processing, not enjoying, not being grateful for the minutia of a life as blessed as mine. I once wrote an entire poem about Parker’s freckles, another about the fans of wrinkles beside his eyes when he laughs. I’ve written pour-me-out poems that delve deeper than I wanted to be dug into, that extricated the tumorous glob of untapped bitterness that turned into some of the greatest works I’ve ever made. But, to find that tumorous glob is pain.

I feel that every writer, once something good is written, fears that they will never again write its equal. They’ve finally hit the bottom of the well, and no more magic waters will fill it. There is nothing left to draw on. Of course, sometimes, when the poet feels as if the well is empty, they stand on the porch in the west Texas summer, they see a bird that dips, hovers, and spins, its fan-shaped tail like the oar of a boat, and the sky is its ocean. A poet looks at a bird, painting the sky with movement and the delight of freedom and finds that nothing within herself matters more than the flight of a bird in summer time. Not in that moment.

I think the key to being joyful is pausing. Slowing down. I may not even realize that Parker has freckles on his cheeks until I stop and trip, mentally, on his bodacious eyelashes. Then, a whole epic could be written about the construction of those freckles into constellations, map-markers of adventures in the sunshine.

Of course, sometimes poetry is like drawing blood. The blood that’s tainted that keeps pumping back through the poet’s heart cannot continue to live in the bloodstream. It must be drawn out and given its place on the page. Once the cancerous blood is allowed its seat of honor on its own page in the journal, the joy returns then, too. I paused and respected the wish of the pain to be let loose, and it respected me in return.

I, the poet, and many other pausers and writers do not often give enough effort in our emotional extrications. We may glimpse the cancerous tumor and allow it to continue blowing itself up like an alcohol-imbibed liver because it will not be fun to really give it the attention it asks for. We also do not want to be joyful in our writing because it would require that slowed down time. It would require the effort of scavenging for the satisfactions that lay like perfect autumn leaves on a bed of lesser ones.

I wish to pinch the red maple leaf with its fine points and webbed veins in between the pages and preserve it for another lifetime. It is beautiful, after all.


“Uploaded” Part 1

Picture by Larisa Koshkina

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=25350&picture=maple-leaf


 

UPLOADED PT. 1

I leave the house as I always do, eyes skirting the floor, headphones plugged deep into both ears, a faint nod to my mother on the way out.

My neighbors think me a bit odd for not taking the tram to school, but it’s such a short walk, and the weather is so temperate. I walk in with a light, humid sweat on my face and several of the more traditional-minded students whisper about me to their friends.

My friends are at the lunch table in the far right corner, as they are every afternoon. It seems we’re eating vitamin preserves for the fourth day in a row.

“Ugh,” I say as I join them. “At least tell me they’re not raspberry flavored again.”

Harv slaps his spoon onto the gelatinous substance and we both watch it jiggle. “Nope, I think it’s raspberry. But, my mom’s making hamburgers tonight, so I can swing this.”

“Lucky,” I say, eyeing everyone else’s portions bitterly. “I think I’ll just skip it today.”

“Careful,” he says, barely slipping a bite in between his teeth. “You only get two skips a month, and you’ve already used one, remember?”

I snap my plastic spoon and hang my head, “Now I do.”

“Just muscle through, Loren. It wouldn’t be worth a detention.”

I do as he suggests and begin to spill the vitamin supplements into my mouth in an attempt not to taste it or dwell on the texture. I look down the table and notice that Paul’s seat is empty. It’s extremely rare for students to miss school, so I feel a tickle of worry crawl up my spine.

“Have you heard from Paul, Harv?”

“No, I haven’t. Actually, come to think of it, I messaged him this weekend about seeing a movie and never heard back.”

“Huh…” I dump my lunch container in the trash incinerator and stew in my thoughts for the rest of the lunch hour.

As the bell rings, we make our way to the classrooms. I split ways with Harvey and arrive in room B107, the Biography room. I sit, along with twelve other students, in an arm chair which cradles my back, and feel the upload helmet slip over my head and morph to my face.

I hate the smell of the upload helmet, but if the lesson is interesting enough, I usually forget about it.

Today I only get to choose between early 20th century war heroes and Renaissance painters of the 14th century. I weigh my options carefully before selecting the painters lesson and let it stream into my brain. Though uploads only take a few minutes, it feels like hours as your brain slows down to process all the information. I would drift off, but the system automatically caffeinates you every time you feel the urge to yawn, so I’m wired and jittery by the time the lesson is over.

I switch rooms three times and churn through whatever uninteresting material they have to sponge into us before they let us out for the day. As with most days, I avoid going home until my mother absolutely expects me back.

It’s 5:59 as I finally broach the porch to my house, and I can smell dinner filtering out through an open window. It smells smokey and burned. I take a resigned step indoors and flick my earbuds out of my ears to say hello to my mother. I am faintly exhausted after three upload lessons and several hours at the arcade in VR.

“Hey, mom.” I swing my backpack off and avoid looking at her. I can sense without looking in her direction that she’s already a mess for tonight.

“Hey, honey!” she calls from the kitchen, suddenly making a lot of noise with pans. “I tried to make spaghetti for dinner, but I lost track of time and burned it up pretty good.” She rounded the corner from the kitchen and looked at me guiltily. “Do you hate me?”

I roll my eyes. “Why would I hate you, mom? Let’s just order some Chinese.”

“I’ve got them on speed-dial one if you want to use my phone.”

I do as she says and order our usual. Even with the general chaos of clanging pans and smoke alarms blaring every few minutes, I can sense that something else is wrong with her. She’s hiding some kind of stress.

“What’s up, mom?” I ask from near the open window, so I can breath properly.

“Well, honey. I’ve got some bad news for you.” She abandons her mountain of charred pots in the sink and turns to me. “Come and sit with me on the couch a moment.”

I refrain from rolling my eyes again. She’s done this bit more than once, and it doesn’t ever get easier to sit through. She sits next to me on the sofa and reaches for my hand. “Honey,” she says, and I lose track of time staring at the bags under her eyes.

I think, “Man, has she always looked this old? Is it because of the Divorce? I wonder if the Chinese place has any job openings…only two manned positions per restaurant after the AI Inclusion Ordinance. It’d be nice to waste some time in the evenings being productive…and I’d probably get free food…”

“…are you going to be okay?” she asks after a while.

“Hmm?” I rip my stare away from her wrinkled eyelids.

“Are you going to be okay? I mean…nothing like this has ever happened to you before.”

I start a tumultuous war in my head trying to decide if I should ask her to repeat what she said or just pass it off.

“Did you hear what I said? Paul…Paul is dead.”

This time, I’m alert. I look at her, but don’t see her. I feel my tongue tracking dryly across the roof of my mouth, and I try to swallow. “W-What? Paul died?”

“Yes, dear.” And then she does something uncommonly motherly by stroking my hair. “He got hit by a tram last Friday. His family has been keeping it quiet.”

“But—But I saw him Friday afternoon at school!” My mother looks at me with pity, and I suddenly feel so much anger at her that I want to hit her. She senses my frustration, it seems, because she leaps off the couch and puts some distance between us.

“Honey…that’s not all.”

“No, I think I’m done with this conversation.” I close my eyes and rub my temples, trying to maintain control. “When the delivery guy gets here, don’t forget to tip. I’ll be out in a few hours.”

“But—dear, you should know—“

“Shut. Up. Shut up.” I see her wrinkled eye bags quiver as a fat tear begins to form in the corners of her eyes.

I leave her like this, refusing to feel guilty. If she’s correct and Paul really is dead, then there’s any easy solution to this.

I slip into my room and strip my clothes, attaching cables to my temples, heart, fingers, knees, and feet. I then sit carefully back in my chair and call out, “Initiate transfer.”

When I open my eyes again, I’m on my bed in my room and Bacon is there. He jumps on my bed, purring loudly and rubbing his fluffy tail against my face.

“Hey buddy,” I pick him up and scratch his ears and chin and plant kisses all over his fuzzy whisker face. “Got some errands to take care of. You’re welcome to come with me.”

I leave my room, then, with Bacon at my heels and cross to the room to the right of mine. I do not knock before entering. The fire is going and grandma’s rocking chair is tilting rhythmically as she reads. When she hears me come in, she shoves her book underneath the afghan on her lap.

“Hey, Gramma. How’s your day?” I crouch next to her chair and grab her proffered hand.

“Oh, just about like any other day,” she smiles and chuckles.

“Reading Dean Koontz again, are we?”

Gramma blushes and hangs her head. “Now, don’t give me any grief about it, Loren. This one’s juicy, but your mom already blacked out all the good stuff.”

I smile at her and kiss her cheek. “Remind me to get you a copy you can hide from mom.”

She looks at me with a glint of hope and treason in her eyes, “You would do that for me?”

“Come on, Gramma, you’ve got to have something to look forward to for the rest of eternity!”

“Damn straight!” Gramma says and winks at me.

“I’m going to go check on some others, okay. I’ll be back tonight after dinner.”

“Chinese food again?”

“How’d you know?”

There were several other rooms in the quadrant with inhabitants that needed visiting. When I had made my rounds, Bacon stealing pats and tickles from every room, I shiver and brace up to what I’m about to have to do. It’s never fun the first time.

I approach the download screen and search “Paul Brennan” on the monitor. The search is slow as several other faces with the name “Paul” assigned filter through and disappear. When his profile comes up, I scroll to the bottom for the download link.

Paul Brennan, born 27 January, 2290. DOD 10 April, 2309.

I feel a heavy sigh escape me. I scroll further. The last thing written at the bottom of his profile strikes me cold and hollow.

No Downloads Available.

“That can’t be right.”

I erase the search history and type in “Paul Brennan download link.”

To which, the monitor replies: No Results Found.

“No. That…That can’t be right. He wouldn’t do this. Who would do this?”

I feel Bacon rub his sides against my ankles. He always had a sense of when I was upset. I pick him up and cuddle him to my face.

“I won’t panic, yet. This isn’t absolute.” I leave the visitation room with the resolve to visit Paul’s parents tomorrow.


Gunmen and Reality More Cruel than Fiction

The tossing hum of the laundromat and its faint, mechanic heat lulled me as I waited for my clothes to wash. In and out, people carried their tubs of clothes, their tired faces and the mid-afternoon breeze pulling through the open door made me feel like a contented spot on the floor. An unnoticed piece observing the greater workings of human life.

I like to sit on the outside and observe. I like to empty my brain and feel like a spot on the tile, an ornament. But, as I enjoyed my anonymity, my recession into my thoughts, the droning of the television caught my attention. Headlines of massacre pulled me up and sat me firmly on my feet. “Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History,” the television read.

A man, peeking through a hotel window with a heavily powered gun watched concert goers through his scope and waited until the time was ripe.

I am breathless as I stand, several others near me as riveted to the screen as I. I wonder, I stumble, I wheeze in consternation. Only moments before, I was anonymous, but as I singled my vision on the number of dead, all of the sudden, I felt like I was standing on the edge of the world, watching as the people next to me, one who was holding my hand, another who I had shared coffee with were leaping off into the chasm.

Some like to think that the world is a more dangerous place now than it has ever been. I’m not an expert, but of course, I don’t think that’s true. Humans have been annihilating each other since they could find sharp enough sticks or rocks to accomplish the task. Ambition, greed, jealousy, power…instinct? These deep seated, easily overlooked pieces of the character of mankind rear their ugly heads and take down the innocent in droves.

When I first started studying Psychology, I was introduce to something called The Stanford Prison Experiment. I won’t attempt to go into it here, if my reader is unfamiliar, but I will say that it sent me into such a disgusted depression, that I accomplished nothing but writing an angst-filled song at the end of the night. Are we animals? Are human beings incapable of controlling their violent temperaments? Are we going to keep murdering each other senselessly for the rest of time?

Am I going to have to cling so tightly to my loved ones that they can’t attend concerts, can’t board planes, can’t take the trains, can’t leave the gosh darned living room? For Pete’s sake, will I have to wear a bullet proof vest to leave the house?

Of course, the idealist in me screams at the injustice. We all wonder why in times like these. We wonder why the man shot all those people, and newscasters were ignorant as to his motive at the time of the broadcast. They saw no motive, no connection, nothing but the unstable mind of the murderer, son of a man on the most wanted list. Well, I thought about it. I puzzled and puzzled, as I often do when things go horribly wrong in the harmony of life, and I began to think that I had some semblance of an answer. It’s an answer I’ve had for many things in the past years, but I will nonetheless apply it here, too.

Why do people kill? How can someone turn a gun at a crowd of innocent people, none of which he has ever met before?

The answer? Humans have trouble seeing other people as human, too. I mean, really human, not by definition, not by association, not by comparison. Really, really human. They have trouble looking past a face that looks like their own, a title, a name that they go by, a package carrying a personality with its own perceptions and desires.

We label, we categorize, we disassociate. We lump.

Personally, I have a difficult time leaping out of my own head and seeing people. My husband is probably the first person that I truly saw. And by golly, I sure loved what I saw.

I don’t have a solution to accompany this answer, necessarily. I’m no less troubled, no less heartbroken at the existence of evil, murder, self-consumption. However, I can hope upon hope that humanity will one day learn to stop lumping and start talking, reading, and seeing.


We’ve All Got to Anchor Somewhere

Sometimes, I feel like a bobbing buoy, detached from its lifeline, flailing about in the waves of a grumpy storm. I’m not drowning, but I’m definitely unhappy out here.

A buoy belongs on its tether, and sometimes it should be allowed to sway here and sway there, piddle along with one ripple or another, hop free of the water for a brief moment, taken with the momentum, but it must always return to its tethered center. It must be centered, or it is lost.

—-0—–0—–0—–0—-0—–0—-0—-\(. _ .)/—-0—-0—-0—-0—-0—-0—-0—-0——-

It’s taken me a while to know myself, and in a way, it’s beautiful that I’m still figuring out my own brain, but it’s also disorienting, sometimes painful. It was only in the last year or two that I figured out that other introverts, like me, have to have a “base.” This might be common to all people, but particularly for introverts, this base is a place that they have as their own. It is their place to defrag and sort out the mess of their consciousness.

For me, while I was in college, this place was a coffee shop near campus. I liked it best when there were a few other people there, chatting quietly to cut the quiet, no music, just car noise from the window, a slight breeze giving it a good shake. I like to find my corner, put pen to paper, and let latte lips and fingertips drive me back to sanity. I know, that probably sounds so “hipster.” But it was my place, my anchor. I became so dependent on this routine that every time I went to the coffee shop, I knew I’d be able to come back to my dorm with a poem. I knew that I’d leave with something I’d created.

I cried many times in my corner of the coffee shop, disregarding the throngs of people, in-and-out, laughing maniacally, sometimes singing and asking for a highlighter to be thrown at their face. I would go when my frazzled brain tips were wigging out inside my brain, flinging themselves like tantruming toddlers all over my thoughts. I would be on the verge of a breakdown, tears brimming, heart empty, and more than once, the barista behind the counter would fake ring-up a coffee. Their kindness and the relief of being in that place would center me, would push me over the edge so I could get that cry out and put myself back on track. I used to eat stress three meals a day, but at least I always had that.

Right now, I’m adrift. I try to always find my center, my anchoring place, though I haven’t had a true “home” since before I graduated high school. At my in-law’s house, I found a home at my father in-law’s hand-made table at the far end, surrounded by windows, my back supported by a soft cushion. I’d cross my legs and thousands of words would fly out me to find their home in my fiction. It wasn’t ideal, maybe, but it was my center. Their home wasn’t my home, but it was a good enough stand-in, a beautiful stand-in.

Here, we make our stand-in home at a hotel. There’s nowhere to sit, and sometimes I don’t see another human face for eleven hours. I find myself bereft of inspiration, energy, or determination. I feel emptied without having gone through the effort of emptying myself. I feel drained, as a matter of fact, and often, I blame the fact that I don’t have a tether. There is no place to which I can relocate to physically and mentally distance myself from whatever issues are associated with the space I live in. There is no place I can go to where people in a similar state of mind gather to work out their tangled inner coils.

I feel like I’m a flailing buoy, head upside down in the ocean, legs kicking skyward like mad.

Don’t get me wrong, there are joys here. I have three constant blessings, all of them living things that renew my spirit and hopes. But, renewing emotional strength isn’t just a matter of my loved ones being near, it is about an enriching environment, a welcoming space where welcoming minds make tremors in the world, silently, on paper, in their thoughts, in whispers by the window.

Introverts, find your centers. Humans, get your tethers together. Everyone needs a room of one’s own. We all need our anchors. Heaven help the flailing buoys.


An Update and Life Confusion

Since my last update, I’ve traveled about 1300 miles with one car, two rabbits, and my husband to Albany, New York.

Albany is gorgeous, though Google Maps seems to be confused about whether we actually live in Buffalo or Albany. The rural areas around us are far different from what I’m used to.

Where I grew up in Texas, the skies are so large, it almost detracts from the long, flat plains of yellow grasses and shrubs so sharp and dry they could probably tear your skin off with the encouragement of a slight breeze. In Arkansas, you can hardly see the sky due to the hills and the trees. Rural New York is a beautiful amalgamation of long, open spaces, hills, trees, farmlands, and clean air. I can’t tell you how many gorgeous cornfields I’ve seen like a half-rippled quilted blanket, squares of the greenest grass on either side paired with the towering stalks of corn, feathered golden head wobbling on top.

Though I’m happy to be here, grateful to my husband for working hard here, it’s not exactly ideal for my creative mind, and it is for this reason that I’m writing this post.

The hotel we are staying at is, I’m fairly sure, the only one within 40-60 miles of Parker’s work that is both affordable and allows pets. Unfortunately, we have to pay for internet nightly if we wish to utilize it. This does not bode well for posting updates on the website, uploading podcasts or any of that. Not to mention, we had no room in the car for my recording equipment or any books.

I have very little to accomplish most days, petting rabbits and writing when I feel capable being the two foremost activities, but it’s been a surprisingly difficult transition to be alone all day and attempt to find motivation to create. I’m a very introverted person, truly. I cherish alone time, but too much alone time does tend to muffle up your creative juices.

Anyway, we are about 30 minutes to an hour away from Niagara Falls, and we’ve had the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life since we’ve been here, and I have so very much to be thankful for and inspired by. With all that said, I’d like to promise that I’ll post updates when I can, putting off regular podcast updates for the moment, and continuing to work on the second draft of my novel. I will make good use of my time, and hopefully we can work something out with the internet. When I don’t absolutely need it, it is hard to justify the payment.

Thanks for your continuing support. Much love.


How do I know I’ve chosen the Right Career? E5

In this episode, I briefly discuss a quote that I found relevant to the field. Here is the link: https://authorreneemiller.com/2017/03/13/how-to-be-a-writer-not-a-tool/

I also do not have a book review for this episode because I SUCK. But, I’m working on reading through a book for next week’s episode, and I’ve gotten more writing done in the last couple weeks than probably in the last year combined. So, I slacked on the READING part of Read to Write and excelled at the Writing part. You win some, you lose some 🙂

Lastly, I discuss how I came to the conclusion that I made the right choice of being a writer, some insights on how to know whether you are cut out for writing professionally, and how to know when a work is publishable (which isn’t really advice, but pointing you all to a direction where you can find assistance.)

Thank you!