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Archive for November, 2011

Note: One of the best explanations of the OCCUPY movement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRtc-k6dhgs&feature=youtu.be

At the same time university students in California were getting pepper-sprayed for sitting in an inconvenient place, the students whose papers I’m grading as part of my job were arguing, sometimes in all-caps and with triple exclamation points (the equivalent of applying a fine layer of pepper-spray to my feelers?), that if one doesn’t like America, one should pack up his or her communist propaganda and GET OUT.

The instructor had asked students to describe how their cultures inform their perspectives. Most of them identified as American, and quite a few wrote as though being an American meant one thing only – the type of thing outlined in the above paragraph.

Few of the essays were so aggressive.

Perhaps most distressing to me is that fact that I haven’t written fiction in days.

My brain is occupied.

I find various events around the world upsetting on a regular basis, but since I’ve been in a Creative Writing MFA program, I’ve made an effort to stay away from the news because I find it troubling to the point that it rules my thoughts and makes me feel helpless and angry – point being, I can’t work. Like now. I have yet to discover how to compartmentalize these feelings, and so I avoid them as much as I can. It’s cowardly, and it’s absolutely key to my productivity. I think everybody has to do this to some extent. Except maybe sociopaths, who revel in violence and tragedy on a grand scale. Probably even sociopaths have to watch war footage in moderation so they don’t start feeling insecure about their relatively low-impact killing sprees.

Speaking of war, many people have pointed out that a dozen or so innocent students getting pepper-sprayed (no matter how outrageous and unwarranted it was) comes nowhere close to the magnitude of tragedy in Iraq. That’s true. You could relate it to a million, arguably more devastating and atrocious things—the heroin epidemic on the east coast, or, Jesus, HIV rates in Uganda. But the footage from the UC Davis incident struck a chord for a number of reasons. That ten seconds or so—from the moment the officer holds that can aloft to the moment he finishes applying a second coat of mace to the seated protester’s faces from a range of a few inches—provides a powerful snapshot of a single incident (among many in the ongoing OCCUPY vs. Trusted People in Authority conflicts) that captures the general brutality of the police responses to the OCCUPY protests, and points to a larger problem—for this to happen, some of us haven’t been doing our jobs. Most of us haven’t been paying attention. And (echoing, on a smaller scale, the outcomes of certain Vietnam protests we perhaps thought were ancient history) it happened at an American university – a place that’s supposed to promote free thought and free speech and ideals and even civil disobedience.

I know what to expect when I see Iraq on the news. There are people with guns. There are other people with different guns. I understand the plot—not because it makes sense, but because I’ve seen it so often. And it does affect me. But not in a different way.

When it comes to UC Davis, I can’t process the image of some kids SITTING there and getting attacked by someone who should be protecting them. It’s like a nightmare. It doesn’t fit. But once my brain stops melting, I have to deal with what it is I’m seeing — what it means, what it says about my country. How things got to this point. Whether we’ll keep following a trajectory that frankly scares the shit out of me.

And then I have to grade some essays.

ANECDOTE:

A census worker called me weeks ago. “Do you know your neighbors?”

My neighbors and I wave at one another sometimes. Not always. I said, “No.”

“Do you trust them?”

“Yes.”

I did.

I do.

Even though I prefer not being on a small-talk basis with my neighbors, I trust them. If that ever changes, I’ll go — gladly. But it would take a massive cosmic shift (or them training their dogs to attack a doll with a photograph of my face glued to its head). It’s my hope that the shift our country’s experiencing will move us toward something that affirms my faith in all the people I don’t know — my fellow Americans.

A month ago, I found a little comfort in an “OCCUPY Laramie” hand-out on campus, though it’s language was questionable (something about “the cries of indigenous peoples going unheard and unanswered”) – it was a step in the right direction, a sign that students here (probably, hopefully, most of them) felt a deeper resonance with the OCCUPY message than the philosophy that working 60 hours a week at a shitty, shitty job with no health insurance is a noble route; why help anyone who can’t help himself; the best people win and the losers rightfully die; a country that encapsulates these ideas represents the highest quality of life one could possibly ever want; and that, if you don’t like it, you should shut up or leave.

Luckily, these are not our only options, despite the heavily exclamation-pointed papers expressing the contrary, which are sitting right next to me as I write this. And which I will, eventually, have to grade. And which, I should say, I’ll grade for things like grammar and clarity only, since it’s not my job to judge these students. It’s not my right either. Who the hell am I? And, again, I don’t know anything about them.

Strangers, strangers, everywhere.

I habitually leave my stuff unattended in public places. Someday, someone might actually steal my cell phone (or break into my house and explode my ferrets!). But I’ll live with the odds that probably, they won’t. Or maybe one or two people might take secretive photos of my face that they glue onto dolls that they then make out with, but whatever. I don’t want to spend my life worrying about the various ways strangers might try to take from me or hurt me or abuse photos of my face. That’s my right. I don’t want to live afraid of strangers, or my own neighbors, or my own stranger-neighbors. That would mean I could never be vulnerable, never stop worrying who might be watching and what they might do, and I probably couldn’t write. Also, most of the people around me deserve to be trusted. I don’t know that for a fact. It’s something I take for granted … you know … like the right to protest peacefully … And stuff.

The fact is, right now, participants in the OCCUPY movement see their home – America, Wyoming, their university, wherever – as a place worth occupying. They’re setting up tents. They’re standing up for one another. It’s not perfect. A girl named Ashlie ODed in her tent alone during the Vancouver protest. Police continue to handle the OCCUPY presence in the worst possible ways. But people — strangers – are coming together and trying to change something. They’re writing different kinds of papers. Goddamn. It makes me truly proud to be here for the first time in a long time.

I don’t have to know someone to like her.

I don’t have to like a lot about my country right now to stay here.

For now, I’m staying.

I hope there’s a way we can all somehow stay here together. I think it’s worth it. We’ll find out. But I really think so.

For now —

Onward, muskrats, Americans, cowboys, cowards, whatever you are, culturally or otherwise.

You’re the best people I’ve possibly never met.

Now.

Something inspiring.

THIS:

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Fairy tales are great ways to unite various pieces of mental debris — such as Fundamentalist Mormons, muskrats, and (as it turns out) incorrect diagnoses of potentially debilitating diseases — without over-thinking anything. The following is intended for a collection of fairy tales about my time in Laramie.

the journey to health and wellbeing ... my story

 

Beaver and Muskrat Prepare for Winter

“The pituitary gland is located deep inside the brain,” explains Beaver.

“It’s true,” says Muskrat. “He’s a doctor.”

I’d like to say I sought out Beaver and Muskrat for advice, but I found them swimming together in a beam of light on the water and when they got to the shore they just started giving advice about my recent doctor’s visit. I was busy thinking about my kidneys taking a grand vacation. They lean against each other before the Great Pyramids. Right now, they could be sending golden eagles after wolves in Mongolia, or snuggled up in Germany, sipping mugs of warm beer.

“Does anyone in your family have diabetes?” asked the doctor — the real one, not the beaver.

“My great-grandma did. And my great-grandpa.”

“Anyone else?”

I thought and thought, because I sensed it was pretty important.

Afterward, I was walking along the Green Belt, by the canal, when I noticed the beam of light on the water — the stripe of light from the sun, and wondered if it could be a symptom of my rare and inoperable brain tumor, and not actually the sun, which I had taken for granted as the source of other brilliant flashes of light on water. I actually didn’t know it — the tumor — was inoperable. I only got so far in my Googling, which the doctor told me not to do. “I’m going to,” I had told her. So she told me what sites to go to. “I would stay off the computer, though,” she said. “It’s going to scare the shit out of you.” Or, “It’s going to scare you.” But it scared me more than that.

So, I was happy to see two small mammals swimming along in a stripe of light as if they were friends — particularly that one mammal was much smaller than the other. And at first, I was happy when Beaver and Muskrat waddled and scurried, respectively, up the bank and introduced themselves. Talking animals! What luck! Of course, in the back of my mind, I thought this of all things screamed “tumor,” but why spoil it for myself. But all they wanted to talk about was my mysterious illness.

I tried to get Beaver to stop talking about my pituitary gland. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for winter?”

But Beaver moved on to the subject of my kidneys and their impending failure. Or maybe that was Muskrat’s area. And then it was on to the tumor talk. I don’t know—semi-aquatic mammals bore me just now. Maybe I’ll get back to them later.

I was told I quite possibly have this thing, this thing I shouldn’t look up, Monday afternoon. That night I looked it up.

Tuesday was busy. It was a blur. But no crying. I did tell my friend in a weird way that my kidneys weren’t working right (I didn’t mention possible causes, such as anything about a brain tumor; in truth, I find it difficult to believe in things like brain tumors), and asked if he could take me to the hospital if I called him out of the blue. He said he would. And then I said it really wasn’t that serious, and not to worry. The kidneys just weren’t filtering things right. That was all. But of course that could be very, very serious.

Wednesday it took a long time to get moving. I started watching a show about polygamist families. One family lived in a big triplex built by a Fundamentalist Mormon architect, each wife with her own section, and the husband would come home from work and move through each part of the house and kiss each wife and say hi to each group of kids and help with the dishes or talk with a daughter about her plans to join the naval academy. One wife said something like, “We’re separate but work as a unit.” If only my organs were like the wives. But who would the husband be — the thing that unites them all, assuming he is that thing? My brain. But that doesn’t seem right. What if the wives just don’t want to live together anymore?

Finally, I had to stop watching TV. I did work for several hours at a coffee shop, although on many occasions I had to stop thinking about my kidneys and if one if them maybe hurt, and if I was going to die only a month before I was supposed to move back in with my boyfriend in Montana. But then I’d move my eyes over a line of words enough times to focus again and I’d work for awhile.

Wednesday night, I said, fuck it. I drank a beer, just the one, and watched the polygamist show. It was a whole series. On the phone, my boyfriend was worried. So I made jokes about calling my kidneys my kitties. “I’ll go to the doctor and say, ‘My kitties ain’t purring like they should.’”

I think about parties I can throw for my kidneys to boost morale. Kidney beans set out in bright glass bowls. That’s all I can think of. No kidney piñatas. Maybe for strength I’ll eat the kidney of some animal, if that’s possible, if kidneys can be prepared for human consumption, if all the protein won’t damage my own kidneys.

It’s still Wednesday night now. I just have to sit here and ignore my kidneys. It snowed last night, and I’m grateful all the dead grass and leafless trees are hidden. When I’m scared, I think, at least one person in town knows about my kidneys, and will take me to the hospital if I need him to. I wish I could tell him how much it helps to know he’s right across the bridge from me. But what if all this is nothing.

***

Tonight, my kidneys will leave my body. They will go on journeys of their own. Here’s how it happens. They wobble through the snow, leaving depressions that fill with the blood running off of them. They are going away for the winter. They are going to live with Beaver and Muskrat. Don’t they know I can’t live without them? But it’s their 27th year anniversary in February. And they no longer need that body with its toxins leaking out over the bed, its plans for bowls of beans.

***

“Let me tell you about specific gravity in urine,” the doctor had said, and I wanted to laugh at the outer-space-sounding term applied to the quarter-cup of pee I produced. “Kidneys can concentrate urine to 1.030. Okay?” She waited while I wrote it down in my notepad under the heading, “Specific Gravity.” “And they can dilute it to 1.005. Okay? Your urine is diluted below that. It’s less than 1.005.”

Did I even have human kidneys? Was she saying my kidneys were super-kidneys? How can something be doing something outside the realm of what it could actually ever possibly do?

“So is this hurting my kidneys? Are my kidneys damaged?”

I remember her face. I remember the book she got out — “they just make the letters so darn big, don’t they?” I remember her smile. There will be testing. Before the testing, just do what you normally do. Did she mean I could drink coffee and beer and eat meat? I didn’t ask. These things didn’t occur to me at the time. But what did she say about the kidneys? All there is in my notebook are specific gravity numbers, diabetes insipidus, and the name of the one website she said I could go to because all the others would scare the shit out of me.

Well, if they, my own two kidneys, which I have loved and protected all this time, as best I could, decide to take off through the snow tonight, there’s nothing I can do to stop them.

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