15 June 2011

Radio Silence and Psychological Allergies

Currently dealing with some unbloggable challenges (can't anonymize them sufficiently midstream, unfortunately).

Am hoping to be past the worst of them in another month or so. Had no idea I hadn't posted in so long.

The enforced silence is frustrating, because the things I'm dealing with fall squarely within the context of this blog. I guess I'm getting another lab practical - or, more aptly, going for my black belt.

When it's over and I can post about it, I will. Whatever the outcome.


Meanwhile, a different kind of story about the effect of abuse on groups:

A while back, I realized that all work and no play make Stormchild an extremely dull crone, and I decided that a bit of volunteer work would do very well as "play". Found a nonprofit that could use me at odd times, and they were tickled pink to have me as a resource.

Didn't work as advertised. Found myself being not only challenged, but challenged in very hostile and aggressive ways, whenever I suggested anything whatsoever. This was a fascinatingly uniform response - all levels of the outfit exhibited it. It was also a fascinating double-bind, in that these people would first approach me for suggestions or assistance, which is what they'd brought me in to do... then nitpick and invalidate whatever I said, sometimes not even waiting till I'd finished saying it.

Fortunately I wasn't spending much time at this, but unfortunately that meant it took a few weekends for me to accumulate enough experience to see the pattern. After about twenty hours total, I'd sampled this behavior from most of the staff and was drafting my resignation (wondering idly who would blue-pencil it or suggest an alternate layout) when one of the most senior staff members glided up to my desk and Asked My Advice On Something.

I decided it was time to put my resignation into effect, so I looked him in the eye and said: "I'm sorry, Phil, nothing personal, but it's become obvious to me that there's no advice I can give you - or anyone here - on this or any subject - that is going to be taken at all, let alone taken in the spirit in which it is offered. In the three months I've been coming in, every suggestion I've made has been shot down in flames, without even the pretense of serious consideration. I'm wasting my time and yours - not just you individually, your whole outfit. You need a [my pet interest] advisor whose advice you want to take, and it's high time I let you get back to searching for one. It's been interesting, but I'm not doing you guys any good."

He blinked, stared, and slowly sat down. "Say again?"

I said again, with embellishments.

"We've been doing that to you? Seriously?"

I told him it would be impossible for them to have done it any more seriously, believe me.

Long pause. Looking over my shoulder into the middle distance. Throat clearing.

"Well, I hadn't realized we were coming across like that, but now that you say it, I should have. And I think we should have come clean about this a while ago.

We were desperate for someone who could give us advice on [my pet interest] because none of us has ever done [my pet interest]. Not one of us, ever. It's a huge hole, smack in the middle of our operation. We've realized that without a good understanding of [my pet interest] we're up the creek in some major ways.

Thing is, it's been killing us to admit it, and obviously, we've been taking it out on you."

Yeah, I said, you have, but I certainly wouldn't have guessed that was the cause. And this is when The Lesson arrived. Her name was Sheila, and she had been one of the nonprofit's founders, along with Phil and one other senior staffer.

Sheila, it turned out, didn't know squat about [my pet interest] either - but ah, she thought she did. And she talked about [my pet interest] nonstop... in the halls, in the lunchroom, in the restroom, in her office, in their offices, and probably in her sleep. But based on what was quoted to me, it was all smoke and word salad... and since she never stopped talking, nobody ever had a chance to ask her any questions. And since there was no substance to what she said, nobody learned anything from her, either; how could they?

At least, they didn't learn anything from her about [my pet interest]. But oh my, they learned to hate hearing someone talk about [my pet interest]. They learned to hate it so much that after Sheila finally ran out of smoke and mirrors and decamped, they couldn't unlearn it long enough to actually listen to a different person who did know something. Even though they desperately needed to listen and learn, and I desperately wanted to teach and explain.

That's one I'd never seen before.

And no, I didn't take Phil's word for it. I came back, the next weekend I was scheduled to be there, and I asked Dana, and Sal, and Buddy, and Dwayne. One at a time.

Same story, different epithets.

And a really interesting thing happened. As each one of them - including Phil - told me about Sheila, and her neverending barrage of word salad (my term; their terms were far less family friendly) - I could see them relaxing, and for the first time I realized how tense they had been around me. Almost clenched with tension, and I'd never realized it.

Then it struck me that they had all, almost certainly, been afraid of Sheila, and therefore they'd been afraid of me!

Afraid that, if I did in fact know anything about [my pet interest], I'd be contemptuous of them for not knowing about it; and afraid, at the same time, that I didn't really know anything more than Sheila did;

Because they knew nothing, except that she had known nothing; so how were they to judge if I really knew anything?

If your head is spinning at this point, join the club. I had never realized that abuse could take this form, and have this effect. But Sheila was, in fact, abusive; she monopolized their attention, consumed their time, and gave nothing substantive back. The entire organization had become unable to learn about a topic they desperately needed to understand. It was as though they'd become psychologically allergic to it.

The story has a happy middle. I suggested three things: get a second volunteer advisor in who also knows about [my pet interest], let me assist in picking them, and compare our input. And God be thanked, THIS suggestion, they listened to.

Mike, luckily, has been doing [my pet interest] even longer than I have; even more luckily, he's retired; and that makes him available on weekdays. Best of all, they ask him, then they ask me; or they ask me, then they ask him; and they're getting the same, straightforward answers from both of us, independently.

Which they're now listening to. At this point, the nit-picking and invalidation is gone, and I think Mike's found a second career ;-).

And that's even better. Because glad as I am to have helped with all this, I'll be even more glad to get my weekends back.

01 October 2010

Don't Make Me Come Down There!

I do not like to "throw my weight around".

For one thing, I'm at an age now where my literal weight is a health consideration :-) ; I don't want to have enough to throw around with any significant impact. [So far so good, but it's an uphill battle.]

I don't like throwing it around figuratively either. Recently, I've been doing a lot of this, and repetition has not reduced my distaste for it.

I've found myself "leaning" on people in order to make them do their jobs - in situations where others were at serious risk of harm, because of these persons' inaction and indifference. I had to lean very hard, and it was pretty revolting, because this was a situation in which people could easily have been killed; that was obvious, yet nobody seemed to care. You'd think... but sadly, you'd be wrong. People were injured, several people in fact, and the indifference remained.

It's gone now, and so is the problem. But I feel as though I need a shower on the inside, because of the way I had to behave in order to get the issue taken seriously. Threat-making is not my style, even when the threat is legal, obvious, and entirely justifiable. Ugh. Brrrr....

Meanwhile, the Indifferent Ones are still very much with us.

I've also had to interpose myself between some contractors and a bullying manager. This story continues to unfold; I can't fully "anonymize" it until it's done, but suffice it to say: you haven't seen ugly until you've watched a bully switch sides, turn on one of their henchmen, and try to throw that person under the bus, instantly, to appease you, because they've suddenly realized you have more power than they thought.

I'm not sure what's ugliest about that: the instantaneous, cold-calculating betrayal of "their own", or the belief that I wouldn't see through it. Brrrrr, and ugh.

But this is where the rubber meets the road, in terms of dealing with abuse.

Somewhere back in these last 3 years of musings, I once made the comment that abuse must be constrained. That if unconstrained, it escalates, because abuse is a progressive disease, and to tolerate it is to reward it, as with any other progressive disease.

I was a bit too blithe about that, because I kind of forgot to add: guess who gets to constrain the abusers?

Who else? The people who recognize that abuse is going on. Who else can, or will?

And that means throwing your weight around, because abusers do not respect others' feelings or needs; they do not respect courtesy or civility; they respect power, and power only.

Ugh. Brrr. I need a bath.

To be continued....

18 May 2010

Complexity vs. Complication

This is a concept I've applied for years, occupationally and elsewhere, but I've never really seen it articulated. After explaining it to several junior colleagues and watching their "aha" reactions, I figured it was probably worth posting here.

My colleagues and I are 'problemsolvers'. That's not what we're called, and it's not what our organization thinks we are, but it's the main thing we do. We disentangle little forensic messes, solve small scientific mysteries, and pull people out of metaphorical quicksand; those of us who are good at it can see a mess approaching from a distance of months or years, and those of us who are really good can unravel said mess long before it becomes more than a furrow on anyone else's brow.

When you are a problemsolver by profession, you pretty much HAVE to be a "defensive pessimist". In the midst of corporate happyspeak and the Religion of Positive Thinking, you have to think critically, think independently, and consider What Can Possibly Go Wrong, because most of the time, with the world so real and all, Something Will.

You also have to be sufficiently realistic about human nature to accept that You Will Not Be Thanked For Noticing It, and You Will Rarely Be Acknowledged When Fixing It, but, once the dust settles, They Know What You Did For Them (if they are at all worth doing it for). And that has to be enough. If you're in it for the glory, you need to be elsewhere, because there is none, and never will be; but there can be immense, profound, and lasting satisfaction.

So how does this all relate to the issue of complexity vs. complication?


That's the first test you apply when sizing up a problem, because it's the one characteristic that tells you the most about how solvable said problem is going to be.

If it's complex, there's probably a lot going on, and lots of bits that connect to other bits. Cause and effect stuff, and lots and lots of details, and all the details are going to be relevant.


The details can be sorted out into a sensible conceptual framework. And the cause and effect can be worked out by someone who is good at pattern recognition - intuitive - AND, most importantly, once you "get it", with something complex, it tends to stay "got". And once you've "got" the complexity, the solution to your problem is usually close at hand.


If it's complicated, there's always a lot going on, and lots of bits that might or might not connect to other bits, or seem to connect sometimes but not at other times. There seems to be cause and effect, but it's hard to be sure which is which; and there are certainly lots of details, but they're hard to pin down, and they don't always stay pinned.


nothing stays put. As soon as you think you have the details sorted out, someone challenges the basic assumption on which the whole system rests; or someone else issues a new Standard Operating Procedure that completely contradicts the one that was in effect before.

Complexity, in other words, is a problem of connectivity. System interrelations. Once you figure out what systems are involved, and how they are relating, you've usually got a permanent handle on the problem.

Complication, however, usually arises from the exact opposite. Disconnection. Systems that clash rather than relate. Rogue factors - such as "politics", which is just a polite term for human cussedness: things ranging from self-indulgence and laziness through abuse of power all the way to major dysfunction.

If your problem is complex, odds are you'll be able to solve it, once you've grasped the situation that is giving rise to it.

But if your problem is complicated, odds are you won't ever solve it. It almost inevitably has its source in a person or a group; and there's likely to be little or no real interest in solving whatever underlying problems produce it. The reason this is so can be summed up by Stormchild's Paradox:
Decent people and organizations behave decently; thus, it is rarely if ever necessary to compel them to do so.
In other words, if you have to ask a person or organization to behave decently, you're defeated before you begin.

Learning to distinguish complexity from complication, and developing containment strategies for complication where possible, is the Professional Problemsolver's Holy Grail.

15 February 2010

No No Makitstop Makitstop No No Auugghhh

It's snowing, here in Mid-Atlantic Sprawl.
The drifts from last week's blizzards have the traffic at a crawl.
And then?
Schools close, mass transit folds, but we'll be told to brave the squall.

If this were Buffalo, one would not mind;
For there
Winter, though harsh, is sober, and predictably inclined.
We bear
The "flakes of wrath". If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Yes, Mr. Shelley. Yes it can. Yes.



10 February 2010

Bleak Midwinter and Then Some

"Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long ago."

If I had known what the past ten days would be like, here in the Mid-Atlantic, I would never have posted that hymn...

We have received, where I live, approximately five feet of snow, dropped on us like sandbags, in two storms three days apart. I've lived in New England and Upstate New York, where this is nearly-normal behavior; here in the Mid-Atlantic, this is a 200 year snow. Maybe longer. This is the most snow we've seen since recordkeeping began, in some locales.

Folks around here do not, trust me, deal well with frozen precipitation. Some seem hell-bent on proving that denial kills - they'll go barreling down the slush-covered Interstate at 90 mph, devil take the hindmost. Others hug the shoulder, flashers on, when large, soft flakes are falling at a rate of one every 30 minutes or so. Reality, as the late lamented George Carlin liked to say, is somewhere in between.

But I have to say, I've seen real heroism in the past six days. And although this has to be anonymous, doggone it, I want to say thanks.

Thanks to the brave, inexhaustible souls who plowed... and plowed... and plowed... the parking lot in my apartment complex, Friday into Saturday. And to the even braver souls who were out there in the thick of it, at six a.m. Saturday morning, with snow shovels.

And God bless the crew who were doing the same thing across the street, in the little shopping center whose proximity makes this apartment complex such a terrific place to be. All night Friday I looked out the window and saw truck headlights, plow blades, heard the heavy equipment rumbling and the back-up alarms peeping, as the snow lashed down and sideways.

This is NOT Buffalo, this is just a little shy of Washington, DC. And these guys were going like pros, like they'd done this all their lives.


Because on Saturday afternoon, my elderly neighbor, the one who walks with a cane, discovered that he needed a refill on a prescription that he'd thought was well stocked... and it wasn't one he could afford to skip. So, being the kind who takes care of himself, come what may, off he went to the drugstore across the street.

Which was open.

And he went on foot. [By the time I knew about it, he was already coming back, dern his sneaky hide.]

And he did not as much as slip, because those guys, the ones with the plows, the ones with the shovels, the ones going peep peep rumble rumble all night long, had completely cleared the way.

He strolled along through aisles of snow up to his waist, and didn't as much as get his galoshes wet. It was like the Parting of the Red Sea.


I wish I could put their names on display here. I'd post them in crimson and gold.

30 January 2010


CZBZ has added a link to John McManamy's blog on her blog page, and my first read there stopped me dead in my tracks.

Mr. McManamy is a journalist, and bipolar.

The post linked above includes a description of his experience, as an invited speaker to a grand rounds session of practicing psychiatrists in Princeton, NJ ...

... where he spoke from the authority of his experience, and the experience of his authority - as a journalist, a science writer, and a person with bipolar disorder.

At the end of his talk, there was a mass stampede to the exits. As one, the MDs fled.

Mr. McManamy took the position that this might not have happened if he, the speaker, had an advanced degree. With that membership card, he believes, some minimal courtesy and acknowledgement would have been extended to him.

I am going to respectfully disagree, because I have such a degree; and I worked in a field closely allied with mental health for some 25 years; and I have seen similar stampedes, smaller in scale, on several occasions. Caused a few of them, in fact.

Please read Mr. McManamy's post, then consider the nature of his crime.

What Mr. McManamy actually did, whether he realized it or not at the time, was tell these people to DO THEIR JOB.

To engage with patients. To care; to consider that it is not enough to send someone away with a prescription in their hand.

To act as though people matter, even "damaged" ones, even psychologically or neurobehaviorally "damaged" ones.

To act as though their patients exist and have lives outside the office, outside the treatment facility; and that these lives, and the quality of these lives, are important.

And of course, he compounded this offense a thousandfold by being himself a psychiatric patient. By having the temerity to speak truth to power, from an unassailable position of intelligence, insight and experience.

So his audience did what respected established professionals often do when they are encouraged to behave in a genuinely professional, respectworthy manner: they ran away.

How dare he.

God bless him.

And God help the people being "treated" there.

01 January 2010

In The Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

~~~ Christina Rossetti

26 December 2009

Merry Christmas; Forgive Me for A Bit Of Self-Indulgence!

After recently escaping a near 24/7 life-devouring job (that I was enticed into as a "promotion" - hah), I've been decompressing for a couple of months now; but it looks as though I'm still prone to nitrogen narcosis. Here's the proof.

This is one of the most amusing series of caricatures I have seen in a long time. Not merely for the illustrations - although Honoré Daumier's little sarcastic sculptures will forever hold first place for me in that regard - but for the characterizations, and the subject.

It's a Field Guide to Message Board Trolls and Other Wildlife, by a fellow named Mike Reed, and oh, dear Lord, it's all true. As soon as I figure out which one of these is me, I'm going to add a link to the site in my sidebar. Meanwhile, forgive me for this slightly snarky self-indulgence. God knows, I've earned it.


Edit in: OK, I confess, I was a kind of hybrid between Eagle Scout and Diplomat, myself, back in the day. Female version. Leaning more to Diplomat than Eagle Scout, with predictable results... but when cornered by Howlers or Cyber Sisters, I tended to morph into Archivist.

Thank goodness not all cyberspace denizens are as dysfunctional as Mr. Reed's portrayals. But plenty of them are, and it's extremely useful to have an accurate, comprehensive Field Guide in these casees. So go see his site, go, go. I've added both it and his serious professional site to the sidebar...

...and anyone who enjoyed the Daumier sculptures linked above, please check out Mr. Reed's serious work.

You will NOT be disappointed; I was entranced.

Merry Christmas, yet again.

15 September 2009


I have not been blogging much recently...

because multiple simultaneous good things have been happening to me in 3D,

and I'm surprised [my usual luck is anything but good, and distressingly reliable in that respect],

and, truth to tell, a bit embarrassed [wonderful. The economy is in the toilet, droves of people are suffering, so now... I get a major break. Several major breaks. Oh, lovely].

I've got a bit of sorting out to do. Schedule changes [major]. Lifestyle changes [likewise]. Other stuff [personal].

God willing, I'll be back in a few weeks, maybe sooner.

To be continued...

06 September 2009

Hate is a Drug

I've been watching the recent degeneration of public discourse in the US, for which the healthcare debate is merely a convenient pretext ...

... I've been seeing and hearing more and more intelligent, sensible conservatives baffled, frustrated, increasingly angered by the screaming, the tantrum-throwing, the name-caling, the irrationality that is currently disguised as "conservative" opinion on a number of topics,

leaving them feeling totally excluded from their own ideology [or those who claim to espouse it] and their own preferred political party, on healthcare, national security, the economy, and various other issues ...

... and, since it is very true that the personal is political and the political is personal, I've been strongly, repeatedly reminded of various instances of mob savagery I've seen in cyberspace, in workplaces, in families.

Because mob savagery is what this is, but that isn't all it is.

This is what happens when hatred is deliberately encouraged and inflamed, as a form of cheap relief for feelings of powerlessness, and [not coincidentally], as a diversionary tactic.

Hate is a drug.





It is intoxicating, and addictive, and damaging to its abusers and to everyone with whom they come into contact.

It is utterly deceptive, and it requires increasing degrees of self-deception to maintain the addiction in the face of its effects.

It is ultimately fatal.

Do we, as a society, really wish to be addicted to hatred? Do we really wish to have our society dominated, our national character predominantly influenced, by those who are?

Consider this well:

Hate is the abusers' drug of choice, and it is also the drug that abusers push onto their enablers and sycophants. The crucial qualifying exam for gang membership is, after all, one's willingness to act out the hatred of one's gang bosses, instantly, without question or pause, without thought.

And this is true whether the gang in question is led by a brash teenaged she-brat in middle school [let's ignore Suzy; she's not cute and her mother dresses her funny, let's mock her and pick at her and taunt her until she cries]

or a psychopathic street criminal in baggy pants and tee shirt [let's shoot those ----s, they're on our turf disrespecting our rule]

or a brazen-voiced hatemonger on FM radio [Iet's sabotage anything our President tries to do to improve our current situation; he's Not One Of Us].

Hate is an incredibly blinding, incapacitating emotion. It completely disables critical thought. And detachment. And awareness. It makes us complicit in our own destruction, while we flail madly at smoke and mirrors.

I can't count the number of workplaces I've seen in which upper management deliberately played "the staff" against itself, encouraging rivalry, feeding competitiveness, rewarding petty malice, mocking any collegiality and cooperative spirit. It's no coincidence that in these workplaces salaries were low and morale was lower. Of course they were; as long as the peasants could be kept at one another's throats, they were no threat to their slumlords.

Once more, with feeling:

As long as the peasants can be kept at one another's throats, they are no threat to their slumlords.

Suggested countermeasure:

Just Say No To Thugs.

21 August 2009

Two "L"s are Missing

A few days ago I was riding public transportation and saw a woman, about my age, wearing a very nostalgia-making necklace:

It said


with diamonds on it.

It was a very pretty thing.

I remembered when those necklaces first became popular... and wondered if this woman was wearing a long-prized sentimental treasure, or a recent 'retro' purchase.

Then I remembered how ambivalent my younger self would feel when I saw women wearing this statement - and how puzzled I was by that ambivalence.

What's not to like about living life to the fullest with humor and caring? Why did I have that little 'check' in my response, when enthusiastic agreement would have been the natural reaction?

I never did figure it out, back then, but musing on it all these years later, something occurred to me.

There ought to be a fourth and fifth "L" there.

It ought to say:


... because without those last two, the other three can be dangerously deceptive.


Edit in:

I just realized...

This is the 200th post I've published on Gale Warnings.

Its three-year anniversary was August 2.

SiteMeter tells me that a fair number of folks come here as a result of searches on specific issues, issues that are usually painful to confront and deal with.

SiteMeter also tells me that folks come here from places as far-flung as Finland and the Canary Islands, South Africa and New Zealand, Thailand and Japan; and all over North and South America, from Venezuela to Maine to Washington State to Saskatchewan to Alaska. Some folks stop in once; some 'check in' from time to time; some are 'regulars'.

Welcome, and peace to you, each and every one. I hope that what I share on my journey will give you validation and support in your own.

02 August 2009


Approximately 12 years ago, having recently passed the age of 40, I was thinking about my "life experiences" and about the changes I'd observed in U.S. society since my childhood.

Among the things I'd observed were that:

- it usually requires at least one traffic death to get a new stoplight installed at a dangerous intersection or crossing

- food banks and 'charity clinics' tend to be open, at least in my area, during 'upscale retail' shopping hours only [viz., M - F 10 - 4] while the people who need these places most are generally locked into 7 - 4, 8 - 5, or 9 - 6 subsistence jobs with no paid leave, and lack personal transportation to reach these places quickly even if they were free to make the attempt

- although our society claims to deplore domestic violence, it is virtually impossible for a battered woman to obtain a protection order on any weekend or holiday, because the family court system is closed at those times. However, these are precisely the times when domestic violence is most likely to break out, and women are most likely to be in need of protection orders

- many 'social services' in my area that I had begun to investigate first hand [as someone dealing with multiple simultaneously terminally ill loved ones] operated under 'restrictions' that effectively disqualified me, my loved ones, and others like us, from being able to use them. For instance, hospice, respite, and elder transport care available on a county by county basis only, when my loved ones were dying in one county, and I was living in the next one over.

- while insurance and healthcare costs were skyrocketing, more and more people seemed to be losing coverage for paradoxical reasons - such as actually filing a claim on their policy if, say, a tree fell on their house, or their 11-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia

- and good luck to you if you experience a natural disaster, love your pets, and refuse to abandon them. Years before Hurricane Katrina, a local ice storm knocked out power to the entire two-city metropolitan area in which I live; people metro-wide were risking hypothermia and house fires, because 'official shelters' and 'warming centers' refused to allow them to bring their animals, insisting that they abandon their pets to freeze alone in the dark, if they wanted care for themselves.

Meanwhile, I'd been observing for years that every time a corporation threw employees to the sharks [aka, had layoffs], its stock, obscenely, increased in value [an observation that resulted in my decision not to own stocks in any firm, ever, that did not grant all employees profit-sharing, and did not make layoffs the option of last resort. No, I don't own much stock.]

When I put these things - and more - together, I reached two very harrowing conclusions:

[1] we live in a society that is shockingly abusive and even more shockingly unaware of the fact

[2] and to all appearances, our economy places money and its accumulation so far above basic citizen welfare that it essentially rests on a foundation of human sacrifice.

Lest you think I am being unduly harsh, ask yourself what it takes to get your school district or county to install a traffic light or pedestrian crossing signals. Virtually always, someone must be either killed or injured, right?

And if you were to discover, tomorrow morning, that an identity thief had stolen every penny of your life savings and cleaned out every other account you have on record, then you got pink-slipped in the office five minutes after your doctor told you that it looks like your child has leukemia, who do you think would pay for your mortgage, your health insurance, your child's medical bills? Do you think you'd have a house in three months' time? Would your child survive? Really?

If you're a regular churchgoer, who's the most recent person in your congregation to lose his or her job, and do they still attend? If they do, are they being welcomed and supported, or avoided? Have they been told that they're suffering these things because they're somehow defective - somehow wrong, bad, sinful?

I could not un-see what I was seeing. The evidence was all around me, and it was all-pervasive. I coined the term, "Thanatoeconomics" to describe it.

An economic system that depends on death.

Literally or figuratively.

I will be posting more on this at Potemkin's Office. It's the real purpose for which that blog was originally created.

Meanwhile, for further thoughts on this topic, please see TH in SoC's blog The Well Run Dry in which he discusses issues that relate directly to thanatoeconomics, and I finally get over my reluctance to share my thoughts on this subject, and post a comment in which I use the term. TH has already done a lot of thinking on the topic, and also finds the term "Thanatoeconomics" entirely suited to what he sees. Seeing the term in actual use, clearly respected and taken seriously, brought tears to my eyes.

TH is a brilliant writer, researcher, and expository journalist. And, as an engineer, he has plenty of scientific street cred.

He most definitely does the subject justice --

-- and justice, with mercy, are what we all so desperately, desperately need.

01 August 2009

Goodbye Old Friendship

"Time it was,
And what a time it was...
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph...
Preserve your memories;
They're all that's left you."

[Simon & Garfunkel, "Bookends"]

In the comments to my previous post, I mentioned that I had few clear memories of interacting with Old Buddy From College [OBFC]. It's obvious, I hope, that the meanness he displayed when we met up again after 30 years surprised and disappointed me, especially because we met up again only because he sought me out.

This post will focus on two topics: [1] being sought out merely to be abused, and [2] remembrance.

First, [1]. This sort of thing is shocking and disappointing [a recurring theme] to decent people, because it's not something a decent person does. If one goes to the trouble to locate an old school friend, and takes the time to meet them - - and they are willing to take the time to meet - - then [in a decent culture] one is obligated to behave politely and civilly, even if the outcome of the meeting is disappointing.

In this case, it's hard to make even that excuse for OBFC, since his abusiveness began within minutes of our being seated at the restaurant table. There had barely been a meeting; there was definitely no time for any final outcome, disappointing or otherwise, to be established. [For those who will here insist that he was reacting to my 'older' appearance, I have to say that any surprises on that score should have been positive. We all age. If we're fortunate, we get to age gracefully. He may, however, have been reacting to my bearing and confidence; see below.]

Don't be deceived about this. When someone seeks you out, whether socially or occupationally, shows an avid interest in you, and then immediately begins to behave abusively, you have been targeted by an abuser, and you will be wise to reframe the events in that context.

You weren't approached by an old friend seeking to re-establish contact, or by a colleague on another team looking for a terrific team member. You were approached because a predator was hungry, and possibly desperate [OBFC must have been desperate, given that he reached across 30 years in his search for a target]. You were approached because you have, or had, [or because the predator perceives you as having] Target Features.

Tim Field, Kathy Krajco, and Anna Valerious have all expounded on Target Features [though not under that name]. Social abusers prefer to target those who are competent and kind, responsible; those who have a tendency to put others' welfare first; workplace abusers usually target the brightest, most competent, most creative, most conscientious people within their reach in any workplace.

And it's not at all uncommon for either a social abuser or a workplace abuser to identify a likely Target at a distance, and make overtures to that Target to bring them within striking distance of the abuser. In fact, 'courting' a Target is an extremely effective way of disarming them, so that they aren't likely to be thinking critically when the abuse begins, and thus are less likely to recognize what is going on.

Yes, this seems too bizarre to be real. But it happens. It happens so often in workplaces that in many developed nations, there are now laws on the books to protect people from workplace abuse; and we in the US, as a society, are just beginning to realize how often it happens socially. In addition to the three giants cited above, I strongly recommend reading George Simon, Ph.D. CZBZ [n-continuum.blogspot.com] has a direct link to a site where you can read his blogs.

So that addresses [1] - but let me add the whipped cream: why was this guy so intensely nasty? I suspect, but of course I cannot prove, that he was expecting a very different Stormchild, characterologically, from the grown woman who strolled confidently up to him, shook his hand, told him he looked great and it was good to see him; who shortly thereafter informed him that she'd pay her own way this time, of course, especially since she'd recommended this restaurant and was a regular here; and in answer to his questions, quickly and cheerfully brought him up to date on her international travels, long term employer, and recent promotions.

After that, we opened our menus, and he muttered that priceless line about my 'squint'.

I'm not sure what he was expecting, but it seems obvious to me that whatever it was, I - as I am - wasn't it. And abusers punish those they cannot control... as well as punishing those they can. Don't they? Yes they do. He may have decided that I wasn't going to be much good as a Target, so he'd have to get as many 'licks' in as possible while he had the opportunity [and he wasted no time: see comments to last post for details].

No, it's not nice at all. But neither was his behavior, if you read the post below. And, in the context of frustrated predation, it makes perfect sense.

What about [2]? What happened to that Old Friendship that led to this New Fiasco?

Well, actually, not much. After writing the previous post, this question stuck with me, and I decided to do some personal archaeology. With the assistance of quietude and coffee, I was able to retrieve enough memories to reconstruct the salient features of that friendship.

In all honesty, it wasn't much of one. We probably associated with one another because we were in proximity, being resident students on the same campus; and because we were both studying science while practicing faith. We met in a faith-based setting.

Our social interactions, as I recall them now, were all pretty much alike. He was not mean, not then, not overtly. He was, however, obtuse - in retrospect - and - I'm sorry - I'd think of him as a bore now. I didn't have enough experience then to know what to call it. Basically, he liked to imitate his two favorite comedians - at length - at great length -- at extreme length --- sometimes for geological epochs -. And when this wasn't happening, our conversation consisted either of shop talk about our studies, or of me listening to him telling me how much he missed his old girlfriend from high school, who was a Paragon Beyond Compare In Every Possible Respect. He showed, as best as I can recall [and I have tried to recall anything that would refute this, and failed] no actual interest in Stormchild, as a person, as a human being, ever, at any time; but I was too young then to recognize this.

I should add that the one-on-one social occasions were mercifully infrequent. I saw OBFC weekly in the ecumenical faith setting, which was a group event. I probably had lunch or dinner with him, just the two of us, about once every six weeks, and since I had a lively social and study life at the time, this wasn't a huge drain on my resources.

I should also add that even then, I 'twigged' something. There was something just a little insistent, just a tad aggressive, about the way Old Girlfriend From High School was resurrected and brandished every time OBFC and I had a one-on-one conversation. I wasn't sure, then, whether he was using her as a shield or as a club; but I smelled a game, even then. And I was able to retrieve a few fragments of memory from one college summer, when OBFC and I got together for dinner with his folks [who were perfectly nice people] and he then stopped in for coffee [what else?] and ice cream, with mine, when he brought me home.

My mother was quite taken with him and my father thought he was a nice young man. I was asked, afterwards - without any pressure being brought to bear - why I didn't seem interested in dating him. I don't recall my answer verbatim, of course; but it ran very much along these lines:
"We're different in some ways that are very important to me and aren't likely to change [I would have meant politically and religiously; I was then and am now far more liberal in both of those areas than he was and is]. But even if that wasn't true, he's very hung up on his old girlfriend from high school. I hear about her every time we get together, and it's almost as though he's daring me to try to compete with her.

I can't compete with a perfect ghost that someone has half invented, and I don't want to. I want to date a guy who likes me and is interested in me, not someone who will be constantly comparing me to some fantasy lost love. That isn't a relationship, it's a contest, and it's one I'll never be able to win.

So why would I want to date him?"

It's not really difficult to imagine that this was a game, or a gambit. That I was being dared to enter a contest I would have been doomed to lose from the outset, a rigged game.

And, of course, a young man who would play that kind of game with a young woman - whether in a misguided attempt to make himself seem attractive by appealing to 'competitive instincts', or as a way to keep any female friend or girlfriend in a permanent 'one-down', 'not-as-good-as-my-Ex' position - is a young man well on his way to becoming exactly what OBFC seems to be today:


By the grace of God, I haven't heard from him again.


[Edit in: On proofreading this account, I've been struck by something EXTREMELY significant.

I cannot recall - and again, I've tried - ANY occasion where OBFC discussed his Old High School Girlfriend in a group setting. AT ALL. I have tried to recall whether she was a topic of conversation during my meal with his parents - and that's something I think I would remember, since I can retrieve the fact that we had such a meal. He definitely never mentioned her to mine. And there were occasional 'let's all get a burger' outings where everyone in the faith-based group went out for a bite, and I can't recall her ever being mentioned then.

This definitely makes that aspect of our 'friendship' look even more like a game, and a calculated one at that. I mention it because, if anyone reading this is the same age now that I was then, and looking at a similar situation, it's a huge red flag and should be taken VERY seriously indeed.

On a related note, you may want to read The Last Psychiatrist's blog post about tactics used by the male lead character in "Twilight"... being a male himself, TLP is quite explicit about the gamesmanship. It's useful validation.]

24 July 2009

Goodbye Old Friend

Goodbye old friend
peace be with you
may it follow wherever
you want it to
if it becomes a burden
and you long for sin
rest assured I'll never
turn you in
Goodbye old friend
peace be with you

Goodbye old friend
you're too soon gone
but some roads are simply
too damn long
filled with potholes
and hairpin turns
and a pain that never
ever learns
Goodbye old friend
you're too soon gone
Goodbye old friend
you're too soon gone

if I can't follow
and you can't lead
they can cut you
but you'll never bleed
the pain is lifted
and carried away
where it waits for another
who'll have no say
goodbye old friend
goodbye old friend
goodbye old friend
goodbye old friend

Goodbye old friend
if living's a crime
then you kept the law busy
for a long long time
it's high time both of you
take your rest
if the Lord is out there
then be His guest
Goodbye old friend
this one last time
Goodbye old friend
this one last time

if I can't follow
and you can't lead
they can cut you
but you'll never bleed
the pain is lifted
and carried away
where it waits for another
who'll have no say
goodbye old friend
Goodbye old friend
goodbye old friend
Goodbye old friend

Goodbye old friend
peace be with you
may it follow wherever
you want it to
if it becomes a burden
and you long for sin
rest assured I'll never
turn you in
Goodbye old friend
peace be with you
Goodbye old friend
peace be with you
Goodbye old friend
peace be with you

-- Tom Flannery


An old friend from three decades ago got back got in touch, as they say, a few weeks past.

He wrote to me, courtesy of a professional organization to which we both belong [think American Medical Association, American Society of Chemical Engineers; you get the idea] which kindly forwarded his letter to my current address.

We were such friends, he wrote. It's been so long, he wrote. Last time we talked I was getting married and you were moving overseas... I've been divorced for a few years, recently moved, was unpacking, found your letters from 35 years ago. We had such fun, we enjoyed each other's company, are you back Stateside? Are you well?


After a few days' thought I wrote back, using my P.O. Box address, of course. We live in the same state, the same county even, now. Remarkable, and he thought so too.

Let's get together for coffee, he wrote. Call me here, or here, or here.

So I did, and we did.


We were sitting on the patio, at a restaurant I love that he had never visited before. And he asked me what my favorites were, on the menu. And I smiled and lifted my face to look at the sunset, and then squeezed my eyes tight shut the way I do when I am really, truly happy, and listed them.

And quietly, in an undertone, as I was telling him about the Reuben Sandwiches, I heard him say: "... and I see you still have that squint."

He said it very quietly, and took great care to say it while I was talking. Plausible deniability, is what they call this. Unfortunately for him, I'm a musician and I can hear quite well, even when I'm talking. Trained to it.

So I know what he said, and that's it, verbatim. Uh-huh, yeah, really. Old college chum from 30 years past goes to the trouble to get in touch, takes the time to meet me for dinner, and says THAT within the first 15 minutes.

I'd love to say that I got up, poured our pitcher of ice water over his head, and walked out, but folks, I'd been working overtime and skipped lunch, and I was starving.

So: I ordered, ate, and paid for my own meal [it was delicious, as always], let this charmer dominate the conversation [which instantly became a monologue, but he didn't seem to notice or care], tipped the waitress [jerks are nearly always also stingy], finished my coffee, patted him on the shoulder and went away from there.

Laughing, because I'd remembered this, and decided it was exactly right to print out and send him as a memento of the event.

And yes, it was his wife who filed for their divorce. I kind of figured it had to be, but I asked just to be sure.

Goodbye, old friend.
Goodbye, old friend.

19 July 2009

Berserkerin At Prayer

[A covered wooden deck, deeply shadowed. An ornamental cherry tree screens it from passersby. It's dusk; in and about the tree, and above the grass, fireflies dance. On the deck, the Berserkerin sits in a chaise longue, with the ever-present coffee at her side.]

Berserkerin: ✝In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit... well, I'm back.

YHWH: [listening, attentive silence]

B: And You know why...

YHWH: [listening, attentive silence]

B: Those poor creatures... You know the ones I mean. And You know it's not only the ones I know about in detail. It's all of them. Dying afraid, and in pain, dying to be devoured, dying in the air and in the grass and in the seas and on ice floes and on highways... dying in front of cameras, dear Lord Jesus, with never a hand lifted to help or prevent...! [recalling details silently] You know all about it... I know You know... we've been over this so many times.

YHWH: [listening, sorrowful silence]

B: How can You stand it? How have You been able to tolerate this for geological epochs? I can't bear it for twenty minutes, I run screaming to You and at You, I call You names, I've done that for the past forty years, time and again. How! Can! You! Stand! Seeing! This!

YHWH: [sorrowful] What makes you think We can?

B: Oh please. The fact that it continues? Hello?

YHWH: Child, you are right, it does continue. But it also continues past the part for which you mourn. You know that...

B: Yes, I suppose I do. It's the body that dies. The soul continues, but please. How can a soul endure such things and come to You clean or sane? Whether animal or human? To be subjected to [recalls details]... Lord, I fear for my own soul's sanity, just knowing such things happen. What of the ones to whom it actually, physically happens? Why is it necessary that this should happen at all, and so often to innocents, while the guilty slink or swagger away afterwards, licking their bloody chops?

YHWH: [gently] Now... should We not know precisely how a soul can endure such things? Have We not been part of every death, in dying for all creation? Yes, Child. We did and do and will until the end of Time be part of every dying creature as it dies.

B: [scornful] Easy for You. Look who You are.

YHWH: [chiding] Was it so easy? So easy that We sweated blood, in pure terror, at the thought of it. We knew what lay ahead. We already knew every. Detail. Of every. Death. That We were to be part of....

... Now. Was your birth easy?

B: [slightly taken aback] Probably not; I was premature, and incubated, but of course I don't recall... I can't, I was so new.

YHWH: [carefully, lovingly] There are those who do have birth memories, though they are rarely ever verbalized. It is not an easy process at all, being born. The loss of warmth, the terrible constrictions, the terrifying noises [children in the womb most certainly hear their mother's cries in labor] - the sudden cessation of umbilical life support, the imminence of physical death if breathing does not begin... think, child, about these things. And none of it explained in advance. It cannot be foreseen, it is not taught and understood. It must simply be endured, and gotten through; there is no appeal. Birth is a trauma; you know this; and birth is absolutely necessary, to bring body and soul together into the world of matter. Death, you also know, brings soul out of body and into the world of spirit. It is not Our will that either of these processes should have been as painful, as arduous, as they are. You do know that as well... We know you do.

B: [feeling the touch of a cosmic Hand, stroking her head lovingly] [quietly weeping]. But I cannot love those through whom these things happen. I despise them, and I can't help myself. I can't see what they do as good. Animals hunting animals, I understand, they have no choice. But the humans who do these things... not for sustenance... who through stupidity or indifference or laziness kill Your beasts, or set their own creatures in Death's path... and then run wailing, demanding pity for THEMSELVES.

YHWH: [Hand still on B's head] That, that is something else. Those are your chop-lickers, and that is evil. And We do see it so. But child, you know that this is not your Work. To deal with this is Our Work, and We do not forget, and We do not shirk, and child, We promise you, We are not mocked. Some who have done evil may be salvaged; that is Our Work. Some cannot, and We know you know this; and to deal with that is also Our Work. But you do not know which is which. Although you have done awfully well, understanding where the differences lie.

But remember Niels Bohr, child.

B: [sniffling] Who said to Einstein, "Albert, please stop telling God what to do."

YHWH: [smiles] We couldn't have said it better Ourselves. Now, child. You don't feel dismissed, or brushed aside, or told We Know Better, Hush Your Mouth, do you? Because your tears and caring matter greatly. They are part of the sacrament of mourning, the Rites for the Dead, in this world as it must be.

B: [with acceptance] As long as I can run to You to weep, and scream at You when I can't stand the weeping one moment longer, I suppose I shall weep as long as I must. Forgive me, that I so despise these people. Forgive my impatience with You. You know why I feel these things.

YHWH: Your healing is also Our Work. Can you trust Us to see you through?

B: I can, and I must. I forget every day that because You are Good does not mean that the world is safe. Forgive me for that, and help me in my unbelief?

YHWH: [kisses the top of B's head, and flicks her battleaxe with a tolerant finger] Added a little something to your Ephesians armor, child? Very well, We know why you need it, and We do not despise either it or you for keeping it close. Here is something you need more, just now. Remember this; it is absolutely true.

[B. sees then, in her mind's eye, the Holy Mountain, the Peaceable Kingdom, and Christ Himself holding animals tenderly in His arms, surrounded by others who are stroking them, tending them, loving them. He smiles at her. Beautiful animals lift up their heads and gaze lovingly at her as she weeps both in sorrow at their passing and in joy that they shall not be lost. And those tending them look up at her and smile. She will, one day, be among them. And not a few of them have battleaxes of their own, disused now, golden and bejeweled, hanging in places of honor at their sides.]

B: [in tears, whispering] Thank You.

YHWH: [gently mussing her hair] Your coffee is getting cold, child. We love you, and We're here. We will always be here when you call.

[A firefly lands in her upraised palm, lights up, and takes off again.]


18 July 2009

Return of the Berserkerin

Not so very long ago, I wrote a series of posts in realtime, as I did some serious work with anger.

Lately you may have noticed a prolonged silence.

I've been trying to keep the lid on a volcano. The Berserkerin is roaring and whirling her battleaxe so swiftly that it looks like a rotary saw blade. She's been at it for more than a week, and I don't want her to get out... not where she wants to go, anyway.

What she wants to do is time travel, and reduce to quivering slivers several different people, each of whom is responsible for the death of a pet through being, themselves, too stupid to live...

And all of whom have written about it.

They have described their animals' deaths in lavish, sensationalistic detail, and clearly - oh, very clearly indeed - feel much, much sorrier for themselves than for the poor animals.

I haven't been looking for this stuff. It's shown up in my daily newspapers [I read several], or been in items I read online...

What's more, I read some of these accounts years ago. One consequence of surviving abuse, learning to recognize it, and having an excellent memory is that these things tend to cumulate. And with each successive pointless-avoidable-painful-horrific-death-of-an-innocent-from-its-owner's-stupidity, Berserkerin has become angrier - and harder to suppress.

I am deliberately being obscure. If I provided sufficient detail here, then people could run searches and find the articles of which I speak; and then I'd be aiming readers of this blog at the authors, and that's a game I'm not going to play.

But dear God, I want to climb down every one of these idiots' throats wearing steel spiked shoes and using a flamethrower.

And it won't do any good.

There is nothing I could say to even one of them that would have any effect whatsoever.

Nothing I can say will change the fact that innocent beasts died horrible, protracted, painful deaths because they happened to belong to people I regard as negligent morons, and nothing I can say is going to make those purported negligent morons either more intelligent or less negligent. Nothing I can do is going to prohibit any of them from ever owning another animal, either. Nothing I can do will make any of them into responsible, caring, adult human beings.

I didn't cause it, I cannot control it, and I cannot cure it. I own none of these things. They are not mine to own.

Sadly, all I can own are my responses. Which are: to mourn, to rage, and to care, impotently, for the innocent dead.

And eventually to pray, but Berserkerin will be praying first. She tends to pray "with her eyes on fire"... and definitely prefers the imprecatory Psalms.

I won't pretend these deaths don't matter. Once you start doing that, the b@$+@rd$ have won.

And oh, dear God, if you think this is bad... you should see what Berserkerin is like when I read or hear a news account of some fool baking their child to death in the family car.

06 July 2009

What I Got To Sing on the Fourth of July

along with America the Beautiful, of course...

"This is My Song"

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong;
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is set to the tune of Sibelius' Finlandia Hymn, which will move you to tears with no words required.

These lyrics were written by two Americans [!] -- Lloyd Stone in 1934 [verses 1 and 2] and Georgia Harkness in 1939 [verse 3]. I was privileged to sing them, along with about 100 other people, as part of a jubilee celebration for two wonderful women of faith, two kind and loving nuns each celebrating her fiftieth anniversary of 'taking the veil' - on the 4th of July, 1959.

Fifty years lived in the daily practice of the presence of God, lived in the daily work of love, of community, of faith; of teaching and learning, of seeking to be, bring, and live peace.

As if that wasn't more than enough to fill a day with joy - a few hours later, there were fireworks!

01 July 2009

Another Road Trip

I'm going to be away again for a bit; while I'm gone, I'd like to share something I wrote on one of my other blogs, Strange Mercy.

The subject is theodicy, the theology of suffering; which makes it relevant here.

I am a Christian, and that underlies the value system from which I speak here. But I prefer to write in another venue about matters of faith, so that people reading here are not discomfited if they do not share my personal beliefs.

I hope that there is worth, in this particular post, for Christian and non-Christian alike.

War Zone

23 June 2009

Low Tech

This is a very, very low tech blog.

There is a very, very good reason for that.

No, it's not laziness - at least, not primarily. It's also not Fuddy-Duddy Disease, although I will admit it's long past time for me to update my browser and operating system.

And it's not Militant Simplicity. A beautifully laid-out site, with well chosen graphics and a warm color scheme, is something I enjoy tremendously.

[Insert shameless promotion here for CZBZ's blog The Narcissistic Continuum, which is not only incredibly well written, but can be enjoyed purely as an art gallery, when one is weary of the struggle and needs refreshment for the soul. (CZ? The Waterhouse is great, but so is the Chagall - if you linked to more of his stuff in future posts, I sure wouldn't mind :-) )].

Nope. The reason is more fundamental, and it's personal only in the way that any informed choice is personal.

Abuse survivors come from all walks of life; all socioeconomic levels; we come from all nations and races and languages and faiths. And in cyberspace, we can come from anywhere in the world; in http://www., the www. stands for World Wide Web.

World wide Web.

World wide Web.

How cool is that?

Very cool. But also, extremely variable in terms of technology.

A lot of us are on dial-up. Some of us can't afford DSL or cable, or don't have that service in the areas where we live.

Some of us find dial-up to be a cheap and convenient 'extra firewall'.

And some of us live in parts of the world where people buy pedal-powered computers, and our phone service, while adequate, won't load elaborate Web pages rapidly if at all.

Many of us have limited time for the Web. And it can take long enough to get a connection - after that, having to wait and wait for a search result to download can mean that we never get to see that particular result. We can't afford to wait that long; so we move on to the next hit, and hope that one loads fast enough that we'll have time to read it.

I can't do much about the language barrier, i.e., this blog being in English only. But I can do something about the technology barrier. I can keep this blog as simple as possible, so that anyone, anywhere in the world, with enough Net access to find it, can load it and read it and, hopefully, find something helpful here.

And that's why this blog has stayed so basic, un-glam and low-tech. No criticism of any other site is intended. There are amazing, incredible sites and blogs and Web pages in cyberspace, a treat for the eyes and ears. But I want this site to be accessible to anyone, anywhere, who can get online and run a search and find it.

In sisterhood [and brotherhood] and peace,


15 June 2009

Neoteny Again: A Little Math, or The Cat's In The Cradle...

In my previous post I discussed the fact that we are neotenous, both physically and psychologically - that we have a long, long childhood, compared to most other critters on the planet. I stated that this neoteny gives us more time to learn and grow, but also makes us more vulnerable to psychosocial damage, and keeps us vulnerable much longer, than many of our animal companions.

What I need to do now is show you a little math, so you can see what neoteny 'means'.

Let's go back to cats as a model, since dogs' lifespans vary so much depending on breed size. The average well-cared-for indoor cat typically is a kitten or juvenile for about, say, 18 months. [Yes, breeding becomes possible earlier than this, but that is also true of us, and our culture no longer considers 13-year-olds to be adults - not really.] With luck and care, you can have your feline friend beside you for a long time after that. I've known a few 22 year olds, but the average indoor cat, in my experience, typically reaches 16 - 18.

To make things simple, let's take 18 years as our working figure. So kitty is a child for 18 months, and lives for a total of 18 years. [I'm not going to get into how long a kitty is young, prime, middle-aged, etc.; these periods don't match our aging process either. We'll keep it simple, and look only at the total lifespan.]

What if our biological time were similarly allocated between juvenile and adult lifespans?

Let's try this from both angles.

First, let's give ourselves the full lifespan of a cat, without reducing our kittenhood. Neurodevelopmental scientists now tend to think that the human brain isn't really 'adult' until around the age of 20... so, if we were kittens until 20, how long would we last as cats?

Eleven times longer. 18 years is 12 times 18 months; if we lived in the same biological timeframe as our cats, we would live 12 x 20 years. Not quite Methuselah, but we'd be checking out at the very respectable age of 240 - as compared to our usual 70 - 80.

And those among us who reached an age equivalent to those 22 year old kitties? We would live 14.7 times the length of our childhoods: to 294.

In other words, we'd be around from 3 to 3.7 times longer than we are now, if our adult lifespan, relative to our juvenile lifespan, matched our l'il fuzzballs'.

Now let's look at the other angle. Retaining our 80 year lifespan, but reducing our childhood so that it matches the relative duration of kittenhood in a cat's lifespan: how long would we spend as children/adolescents?

Ready? Take a deep breath...

6.7 years.

That's right. Do the math. One twelfth of 80 years... on my little iMac calculator program, it's showing as 6.666666666667.

We'd be full-grown, able to move away from home and live entirely on our own, at about the age that we now begin first grade.

Shocking, isn't it?

That's neoteny. We'd either live three times longer, or we'd reach biological and neurodevelopmental adulthood in one third the time that we do now, if our developmental timelines matched those of our kittycats.

When you realize this, you realize just how much more vulnerable we really are, because of this developmental delay.

It really does explain a lot.

Cat's in the Cradle
by Sandy & Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

13 June 2009

The Curse and Blessing of Neoteny

Earlier this year, Cinder Ella posted about having been raised by cats. It's an experience I share with her; for all intents and purposes, my real mother was a brown Abyssinian, and I was lucky to have her.

I've paid that blessing forward all my adult life, taking in kitties or otherwise helping them whenever possible. And I've noticed, as many others have noticed, a rather interesting thing: the number of mean, bullying, seriously screwed up toxic cats is rather small. Much, much smaller than the relative number of mean, bullying, seriously screwed up toxic hominids in any sample I've ever observed.

Dogs, poor loves, have the deck stacked against them far more often, since many [not most, but many] dog owners buy specific breeds that are bred to be aggressive, then actively work to make the dogs vicious. This is rarely ever true of cat owners - I can't think of a single instance in over 50 years of conscious observation. And, by the way, I love Pits and Rottweilers and Pinschers. Lovingly raised, they are wonderful.

It occurred to me - over coffee, as usual - that the induction of meanness in dogs, which is so often deliberately human-induced, is largely possible because dogs are pack animals; they have an inborn socialization to 'look up to' their Pack Leader, and dogs living with people generally adopt the dominant human as their Alpha. Dogs are quite dependent on their Pack, and exert real effort to conform to the expectations of the Alpha. [Yes, I believe animals think. Correction: I know they do. When your mother is a ten pound furball who loves you dearly, walks you to the school bus, meets you at the bus stop, and yells at you if you aren't in bed on time, you get a good education in ethology and interspecies communication, very young.]

Cats, on the other hand, are pride animals; they affiliate, and there are alphas in prides, but the affiliation tends to be looser, and the dependence on alphas less strong overall. But very, very strong bonds of affection are possible within both pack and pride, and, thank God, those bonds aren't species-specific.

I'm going to annoy ethologists and anthropologists now by appropriating a term from developmental biology and psychology: neoteny. It means: the adult form of a species [or strain] retains traits that are normally seen only in immature animals; or, the process of development and maturation is extremely prolonged in a particular species or strain, so that the individual remains 'plastic', developmentally, much longer than would normally be seen in closely related animals. Compared to mountain gorillas, for example, humans are extremely neotenous; chimpanzees are also neotenous compared to gorillas, but far less so than humans. And compared to cats, we are out of the ballpark.

The Wikipedia article I've linked to has a nifty phrase for exactly what I'm trying to address: "a dilation of biological time". And neoteny is, when it serves its normal purpose, a very nifty thing. By keeping us 'immature' for twenty years or more [there are strong arguments that human brain development is not complete until the early twenties] neoteny allows us much more time to learn - but there is a price to pay: our prolonged childhood keeps us dependent on our parents - or their equivalents - far, far longer than most other species.

Now let's jump back to Fido. The 'pack mentality' that allows human beasts to corrupt their dogs into vicious fighters and killers can be seen as a form of psychological neoteny. Cats' 'pride mentality' [pun not intended, but I'll take it] involves less dependence and is thus less neotenous in this sense. Humans, though -

- we remain neotenous all our lives. Not merely physically [although we never grow our full coat of fur]. Far more important, we remain neotenous emotionally and psychologically. And this neoteny can be deliberately prolonged and intensified.

You probably see where I'm heading now. Circumstances that promote or intensify dependence, in child or adult, are circumstances that prolong neoteny, at least psychosocially. And such circumstances are common in highly controlling environments - cults, extremely conformist cultures and workplaces, and families headed by alcoholic, drug-addicted, or otherwise abusive parents [and their enablers].

Moving along this thought line, we'd expect that the extended psychological plasticity ['formability' or 'impressionability', if you prefer] that accompanies neoteny would also be intensified in this type of dependence-fostering, controlling environment.

And there you are. Want to know why there are so many jerky humans on the planet, compared to jerky dogs and cats? Because our species remains 'plastic', developmentally vulnerable, dependent on others for our nurture and training, and thus susceptible to profound emotional and psychological damage from those others, far longer than any other animal with whom we share our world.

And, God help us, we have a long, neotenous lifespan. So once we're badly damaged, we have much more time in which to damage other vulnerable members of our own species. Not to mention the poor pit bulls.

A rather cheerless thought for a Saturday afternoon... but let's complete it, now. Because there is a blessing to accompany the curse. The problem of neoteny contains its own solution. For which, again, thank God.

Because that psychosocial plasticity can be used to heal. The same pliability that makes us so damageable can, in the right circumstances, allow us to learn, allow us to see the damage and its source, allow us to find our footing in safer places, with safer people. This is what makes 'deprogramming' possible.

It may be true that 'you can't go home again'; but fortunately, in many cases, we can, because of our neoteny, go back to school.

06 June 2009

Conflict Resolution? or Abuse Resolution?

In a much earlier post on this blog, I examined the "Non-Abusive Presupposition", which is the premise that
people on both sides of a frustrating, or sidetracked, or repeatedly conflicted interaction are non-abusive in the emotional sense; i.e., neither person is a bully or has a cluster B personality disorder [sociopathy, borderline, etc.]
This is a perfectly reasonable premise, but you have to remember it is the premise on which a specific approach to conflict resolution is based. In fact, it is the approach on which all 'conflict' resolution must be based.

Sadly, it is not universally true.

An approach based in the presupposition that both parties to a conflict are fundamentally decent works in that situation - and only in that situation. Where one party is not fundamentally decent, but rather is abusive, the situation is not a conflict. It is abuse, instead of conflict; they are very different things. Another approach is needed.

This approach would generally take the form of

- constraint [as in stopping a meeting when a manager deliberately antagonizes the creative programmer, or ending a phone call when your relative starts in on X],
or, when that is not possible,
- avoidance [ask for a call in number and teleconference to meetings dominated by abusers / 'phony gurus'; always be 'busy' when the bully in your book group wants to do coffee];
when that's also not possible [i.e. your boss screams and throws things, at you, daily, and they're leaving gashes that require stitches, either in your body or your soul] it may well be time for
- the nuclear option: this could involve 'going no contact', setting up an intervention, quitting, or calling 911 or your company's security guards; getting a good employment lawyer, or divorce lawyer; serving the object-hurling boss [or spouse] with a protection order; and [for the boss] filing a lawsuit against the employer who permits and enables abusive managers to throw things at their staff.

This last option is also the last resort, but in real life people often end up here. And in the early stages of a relationship, if you can leave with minimal mess, 'no contact' at the first sign of abuse is the best FIRST resort.

These are hugely different strategies from normal 'conflict resolution' skills, because they have to be.

Personality disordered, abusive individuals neither learn nor change on their own; they're fundamentally averse to taking responsibility for the consequences of their own behavior. They also do not regard you as an equal, ever; that means you will not be able to make yourself heard non-defensively. It's just not possible in that situation. Therefore, it is impossible for conflicts with such individuals to ever, really, be resolved.

The strategy for 'conflict resolution' with abusers must presuppose that they abuse with intent, to gain a reward; you are not in relationship with them; they are predators. To modify the behavior of a predator, you must either remove the reward they expect to obtain from certain behaviors, or you make the behavior so costly to indulge that it's not worth the payoff.

Detachment is as important in 'abuse resolution' as it is in genuine 'conflict resolution' involving two decent, emotionally healthy parties. You need to see clearly in order to discern which situation you're in, figure out what the payoff is for the person misbehaving, and find the best point to disrupt the pattern.

You also have to honestly reckon the cost to yourself, and have a strategy in place for self protection, if you determine that your 'conflict' is actually abuse. People - and groups - and systems - and organizations - who are abusive are invariably vindictive. It's an inherent property of abusiveness, on any scale.

24 May 2009

The Telephone is Screaming, but I am Not... and You Don't Have to Either...

Mother -- The Police

Well, the telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
Telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
The telephone is screaming
Won't she leave me alone
The telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?

Well every girl that I go out with
Becomes my mother in the end
Every girl I go out with
Becomes my mother in the end
Well, I hear my mother calling
But I don't need her as a friend
When every girl that I go out with
Becomes my mother in the end

Oh mother dear please listen
And don't devour me
Oh mother dear please listen
Don't devour me
Oh woman please have mercy
Let this poor boy be
Oh mother dear please listen
And don't devour me

Well, the telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
Telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
The telephone is screaming
Won't she leave me alone
The telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?


It's been a quiet, busy couple of weeks. Lots of things going on, but pretty much all external; meanwhile, Inner World has been "... full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

Only in the last few days have I realized just how deeply I've managed to separate chaos without from peace within. Strangely, it's felt as though it was happening all on its own, without the least bit of effort on my part; but when I actually pay attention, I realize that I've been profoundly involved the entire time.

Just not on a fully engaged and conscious level, most of the time. It's been like keeping my balance on the deck of a sailboat; an automatic, instinctive shifting and balancing. A subconscious awareness of weather and light... while my conscious mind handles other things.

The lyrics quoted above capture many aspects of abuse - its relentlessness, its insatiability, its savage greed. Daily life in an abusive environment can feel like Death By Pestering or worse, depending on how many abusers are in your daily round, how abusive they are [at home, at work, at church, at school], how insistent they are, and how much latitude you have to constrain or ignore them.

That's the secret. To constrain or ignore abusers - and recognize that you have an absolute right to do so.

Many of us who blog or have blogged about abuse [see "Narcissists Suck", "What Makes Narcissists Tick" and "Getting Past Your Past" as examples] are strong advocates of "No Contact" with those we've identified as committed, intentional abusers in our lives. At first glance, it seems like a harsh doctrine, but consider the alternative - really consider it:
-a life spent being sandblasted raw by constant, unremitting abuse;
-being expected to carry the world on your back with no slightest acknowledgement, rest, or recompense;
-and being reviled, punished, or abandoned the instant you fail to produce as per someone else's unilateral specification.
Really, all that No Contact does is reverse the polarity of an already existing harshness that you neither created nor desired. It allows the abusers to own the consequences of their abuse. Which is only fitting, since the abuse originated with them in the first place.

When we won't engage, don't feed the drama, and continue to avoid engaging despite changeback reactions, pressure, and escalation, a surprising thing often happens: the abuser loses his or her hostages, and their power over us is broken. This is often because the biggest hostages they hold are the ones we give them:
our own need to look good to ourselves,
or to have or do whatever we have learned to equate with success.
Once we redefine 'looking good to ourselves' and 'succeeding' as 'being free of abuse', that game is over forever.

And then, even if the abuser keeps on trying to abuse us, it just stops working.


The telephone is ringing;
There's an abuser on the phone.
The telephone is ringing;
There's an abuser on the phone..
The telephone is screaming...
Won't they leave me alone?

Um; no. They won't.
They're abusers, and this is what they do.
So, OK. Enough already,
Just turn the d--n thing off for now.
Tomorrow, change your number.

07 May 2009

A Male Borderline

The Washington Post's advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, runs a weekly chat. This week's took place today, and I discovered its transcript while reading the paper online this evening.

The Post, quite reasonably, prefers to be linked rather than quoted. Although many of its articles are behind a "registration wall", online chats are accessible, as are links within those chats.

So: here is a link to the chat that ran today.

First, Truth In Labeling. There was no discussion of Borderline PD in the chat. Rather, there was a discussion of suicide - and, I hope, there was a successful intervention as well.

A poster commented that he didn't think his family would miss him if he... wasn't there anymore, or anywhere else, permanently... because he had become emotionally estranged from them. He did not state outright that he was considering suicide, but the implication was clear, as was his depressed state.

Ms Hax, bless her, did her best to direct him to immediate help.

Shortly thereafter, another poster recommended a 1996 Post article written by a woman who lost her father to suicide some 20 years previously.

The brief discussion within the chat centered on suicide and its impact on those left behind, and on concern for the man who posted today. But when I read the linked 1996 article, what jumped out of virtually every paragraph was not the anticipated tragic portrait of a self-doomed father who suffered from depression. What I found, instead, was a detailed description of a man who almost certainly suffered from Borderline PD, and abused his entire family for years before his death.

The article is graphic, starkly honest, and very chilling. Approach it with caution.

This link may give you direct access. If not, and you hit the registration wall, you can access the article by opening the chat, scrolling down to the comment from "Chantilly, VA", and clicking on "The Legacy".

Again, respecting the Post's preferences, I won't quote the article. But I will explain why this man struck me as suffering from BPD.

First, there was the issue of impulse control. As you will see if you read the article, he acted out violently on more than one occasion, deliberately hurting a family pet [it survived], threatening to kill himself and others repeatedly, holding his wife hostage at gunpoint...

Add hostility. Which is obvious above, but comes through in icy clarity, layer upon layer, in the circumstances of his suicide.

The night he killed himself, he again held his wife hostage at gunpoint... for hours. Then had her call his daughter at work, and pull her off the job - as he had done, apparently, many times before.

Daughter came home, could not convince father to give up firearm, did manage to take mother away for an interval. While they were away, having coffee, trying to figure out what on earth to do, but too dazed to come up with any real options - or even to understand how endangered they were,

he killed himself.

And he did all this...

on his son's Prom Night.

Leaving behind not one, but three suicide notes - which, from their contents, seemed intended to "split" the family forever.

Unable to kill them, did he try to kill their relationship?

This was not depression. This was borderline rage.

This was punishment of his son
for beginning to have a life of his own;
of his daughter
for doing the same;
of his wife -
for escaping, even temporarily?

Because, God help her, she went back.

And her daughter went back with her.

And I am certain - absolutely certain - that if he had not committed suicide while they were away, neither mother nor daughter would have survived that night,

and son would have come home to discover them all.

A Prom Memory to last a lifetime.

That is the greatest tragedy of Borderline PD.

It is not merely self-destructive; it wants to take everyone and everything within its reach down with it, when it goes.

02 May 2009

Well Worth Reading

It's always good to discover new and informative sites.

Most recent recommended: the blogs at counsellingresource.com. This link takes you directly to the blogs; the whole site [click on 'Home' to get there] is well worth exploring.

Alas, the contributing authors haven't discussed anniversary reactions yet; but you can't have everything. They really 'get it' about abuse dynamics, and are willing to admit that there are practicing professionals - in their own profession, no less - who really don't.

One doesn't always see this kind of moral courage. The site is worth a visit for that reason alone.

01 May 2009

Anniversary Reactions: Caution. This Post Is Not For The Squeamish

In my previous post, I mentioned "anniversary reactions". I'd like to talk a bit more about this phenomenon, because I think it is fairly common and not widely recognized.

The American Psychological Association has a good short description of anniversary reactions tucked away here. Scroll down to the subhead, "The Anniversary Effect" to read their description...

... and here is mine.

But first, a serious disclaimer. Please do not read this post if you, yourself, have recently been through any type of harrowing experience. In order to explain how I developed this reaction, I have to recount a traumatic experience which literally almost killed me. There's no way I can soften the impact, even if some of the details could be changed. Be kind to yourself, and wait for the next post, if you've been too close to such horrors recently yourself.

In the fourth decade of my life, after years of dealing with chronic abuse, overt and covert, in both family and occupational settings, I went through a traumatic experience which had all the features necessary for producing PTSD. Following a surgical procedure that was absolutely necessary to save my life, I developed post-operative internal hemorrhaging, which was ignored, disputed, and denied by the nursing staff for a period of eleven straight hours. I was essentially left to bleed to death, internally, overnight, in order to punish me for having the nerve to be both attentive and knowledgeable about what was happening to me [and for committing the additional offense of expecting the staff to listen to me and do something about it].

I refused to play, but even so, they almost won.

I spent the entire night sitting up in the tightest 'tuck' I could accomplish, in order to minimize my internal volume, hoping that would bring the bleeding to an end, and demanding fresh i.v. fluids again and again throughout the night.

Fortunately, I got them, and obviously, I survived - but it was a very close call.

I was lucky enough to have two surgeons, one of whom was a true physician. He saw to it that those responsible for neglecting me [viciously - did I mention the namecalling? Yes, they taunted a woman who was helpless and at risk of bleeding to death, mocked her concern and called her names] were fired on the spot. I received a transfusion of my own blood [banked in advance despite my being advised that I would, of course, not need it] and ultimately escaped from that place ...

The hospital went bankrupt almost immediately after this ordeal.

I was already an excellent candidate for PTSD, having been, as I mentioned, in various abusive settings for various lengths of time. My stress reactions had been 'primed', and this experience completed the recipe. I was:
-in very real danger of dying
-sleep-deprived [if I fell asleep before I could get help, I knew I would probably never awaken]
-for hours, without any possible escape,
-and taunted by so-called 'professionals' who were supposed to be helping me.
Fortunately again, I wasn't entirely helpless or defenseless. I had my education, my intelligence, and a damn good pair of lungs, and I stayed in that tuck for the entire night, screaming for i.v. fluids every time the bag emptied. They didn't dare sedate me; I suppose it would have spoiled the fun [not to mention being detectable on autopsy]. So I kept vigil over myself, and demanded and received enough to keep me alive.

Because I knew that I had managed to survive by using my wits and guts [and being stubborn as hell], I expected to put the experience behind me - I had triumphed against truly horrifying odds, after all, and received some 'rough justice' when the people who neglected me were fired. I'm not a litigious type, and the bankruptcy seemed less like an impediment to a lawsuit, and more like karma, once I was on my feet again. And by the time I had healed physically, it seemed to me that I had also healed emotionally.

I had no nightmares. I did have considerable residual anger, but it was articulate, specific to the situation, focused where it belonged, and to my mind entirely justified.

Imagine my surprise, the following autumn, when I was suddenly and absolutely unable to lie down to sleep.

No matter how tired I was. No matter how relaxed I was. No matter how badly I needed the rest. The minute I lay flat, whether prone, supine, or on either side, I entered a state of instant, primitive, panic terror. For more than a week, I could only sleep with my upper body propped up by a mound of pillows, and I woke in terror repeatedly through the nights.

And then I thought to look at the calendar.

My night horrors had started the very week of my surgery, one year later.

I had not even thought about the surgery, but my body had remembered. My subconscious had remembered. There was an 'alarm clock' - literally - tucked away somewhere deep in my emotional wiring. The trauma of hemorrhage and near death had left something eerily like a post-hypnotic suggestion, with a one-year timer running.

"Do not lie down to sleep now. If you do, you will die."

This is an anniversary reaction. And I am one of the lucky ones. Mine was of relatively short duration, and occurred only on the first anniversary of the event, never again thereafter. And it was purely an emotional response. A massive, almost disabling emotional response, to be sure; but limited to the inside of my own head.

There are reports, going back all the way to Freud, of similar reactions that recur for years. Manifested as accident-proneness [a child loses a parent, and every year near the anniversary of the bereavement, they have an accident of some kind]; or as acting out [people quit jobs, move away, even end marriages on or near the anniversary of devastating losses].

Frustratingly, this area does not seem to have been very deeply explored. Most resources I have found don't provide much more than an assurance that anniversary reactions eventually end - and of course, the standard advice to see a professional if the reaction is particularly troubling or disruptive.

I have experienced yet another anniversary reaction this year, arising from a 'fresh' event that took place last spring. This time, I knew it might happen, and I was reasonably prepared for it, in terms of knowing what to watch for. All the same, it devastated me.

This is not garden variety anxiety, or even garden variety panic. This is something primeval - and I am very glad to be rid of it, again.

But I can't help wondering: how many others suffer this? I think of the 9/11 familes, the survivors of the Christmas Tsunami, of earthquakes, of Columbine... and of every other person who has held on for dear life, post-operatively, and lived to tell the tale.

Surely something more, something better, can be done than simply telling all of us to hold on tight and ride it out. If this response is indeed "PTSD on a timer", perhaps it can be prevented or at least diminished, by early intervention. Our culture, as a rule, doesn't seem to be much invested in prevention; but I can promise you, after two rounds of this, I certainly am.

I'll let you know what I discover.

21 April 2009

So Much for Respite...

Last April 15, just over a year ago, Kathy Krajco published her final blog post - not knowing it would be her last. But by early May, to the shock and sorrow of people throughout the blogosphere, she was gone.

Late last March, I was enduring a prolonged, incredibly stressful, hugely painful ordeal. Just as I was beginning to recover from it, beginning to remember that I was a human being, not merely a robot that worked and suffered and suffered and worked,

Kathy died.

Her death, of course, was not 'about me'; but her writing, and her wisdom, and her graciousness as a fellow blogger helped, encouraged, and touched me deeply. Her death was a loss to many, myself among them. I am not ashamed to grieve for her.

So one year later, I find myself experiencing an 'anniversary reaction' - to the combined pain of her death and my own past ordeal.

This has only been augmented by a newer loss: Anna Valerious, author of "Narcissists Suck" has decided, almost exactly a year after Kathy's passing, to cease posting to her blog as well.

Two bereavements in two years. Two brave voices falling silent. One on the anniversary of the other.

Pain. Loss.

So I sought respite.


Who first coined the term 'escapist literature'? I'm here to say there is no such thing. I simply could not face the anniversary. Could not think about Kathy, or Anna's well earned and richly deserved retirement, or my own year-old harrowing. Decided to lose myself for awhile in the jewelled, rarefied world of fiction, far removed from issues of abuse and human cares.

For this respite I selected two brilliant novelists, Kazuo Ishiguro and Arundhati Roy.

Those of you who actually read things like The New York Times Review of Books may begin giggling now, because you can see the punchline coming, can't you? It's OK if you guffaw, even. I had it coming. Stormchild the Genius decides to get away from memories of abuse and dysfunction, of loss, of pain, by reading

"The God of Small Things".

And "Never Let Me Go".

Serves me right. I owed my ghosts more courage.

These books are incredible, truly awe-inspiring works of art. But they are no literary respite from the hard realities of abuse in human lives. In fact, I was amazed, while reading them, at how profoundly these two writers understand the problems of abuse. It's an understanding so deep that it precedes words. These books are like sculptures, the authors' understanding is the raw marble from which the sculptures emerge - not chiseled out, but stroked free.

I don't quite have my courage assembled yet; the very thought of trying to explain anniversary reactions makes me feel as though I weigh a good half ton. I will have to return to these ideas later: to an explanation of anniversary reactions, and an appropriate homage to both of these powerful books.

Respite. Hah.

Savor life, Anna. May it be good to you; you richly deserve goodness. Feel the wind in your hair and the rain on your face and let it be rain, and not tears. Laugh and love and go with God.

Rest in peace, Kathy. You loved and served more wisely and more widely than you knew. May you be loosed and blessed. Rest in peace.