Sunday, August 30, 2020

Bridge Over Troubled Water



A lot of our understanding of human behavior came from experiments where people or animals were studied, against their will, specifically to cause fear in them or see how they would behave when under stress. All the things we have come to learn about the human psyche come with the dark shadow of the psychology field, something I got to witness from the inside. I worked in a field where picking people apart was the goal; I learned so many ways to identify what is wrong with people, and never to see what is right. Luckily, that is a skill most of us are born with, and I haven't lost it. That will be the day when I die!


Why did the American Psychological Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual) arise? Was it in response to a need to characterize ways in which people fell outside of some perceived psychological norm in order to medicate them into docility? Because of my own struggle, these are things I often wonder. I have written before about how I struggle with "mental illness." But anyone who actually knows me will tell you that my reactions are normal reactions to often unfair circumstances. Sometimes I wonder if I am not the reincarnation of Betty Friedan (whose birthday is within a few days of mine), here to remind everyone that psychological ableism is a real poison on society, particularly women and children. Most people do it, because it has been normalized through the pace of our daily lives, which has been enabled by governmental, corporate, educational, religious and medical systems placing value on productivity over being and money over empathy. Consequently, there is simply no time for patience in the minds of most Americans. Psychological research has been an important tool of the wealthy to control the "less intelligent," and much of it highlights how permeable the mind is to fear-based control mechanisms which induce states of perceived immediate needs.


Those of us who are "less intelligent" are those who were from stock less able to aggregate resources in earlier history, which means we are seen as "takers" or weaker, and this is exactly what the wealthy desire to exploit in us. Dynasties of resource hoarders have been camped out controlling this reality and our perception of it since sometime after the dawn of agriculture. In modern times, since we all became more intelligent and resourceful, in order to continue to do that, they needed to understand us really well, and luckily for them, along came the field of psychology. Originally, the field of psychology was born out of Freud's interest in his own neuroses, but the information he gathered from exploring his own depths inspired study of human motivation and consciousness in a way that could be harnessed by power structures.


This of course was necessary for the dynasties to continue because we bred like rabbits and spread disease to which they are also vulnerable, having not developed the capacity to help ourselves. Setting up a system to handle us and domesticate us made it into a situation that worked better for them. This was a way they could keep wars off their doorstep, too, because they were and still are surrounded by a moat of minions.


There has never been a greater threat to their power than now, because once enough of us realize we don't need them, and become more conscious of how we spend our money, their stranglehold on our daily attention will diminish, if not cease. We can simply opt to become extremely discerning with how we spend our money, so the companies that are wasting Earth's resources purely for profit just starve.


Before this global crisis, it was easy for most people to use busyness as an excuse for not making more mindful choices, and now that we are all having to operate more independently, we are collectively realizing how the game was rigged.


In the 1970s, Calhoun devised an experiment to create utopia with rats. The rats ended up self-segregating after the population reached a certain size, with the more intelligent choosing seclusion over socialization. The rest of the animals ended up suffering from lack of food. It was a crucial study demonstrating how reproduction without consideration for the long-term commitment it entails is at the heart of human suffering, and it is one that conservatives don't understand. I don't remember learning about it when I took Social Psychology. I do, however, remember the study of the murder of Kitty Genovese which led to the idea of the bystander effect, where people are supposedly reluctant to report dangerous situations, but that has since been disproven, and perhaps it is moot since we live in a police state.


Much of Betty Friedan's writing is concerned with what it is like to go crazy as an educated housewife. I have known a lot of mothers over the years, and working or not, we tend to "go crazy" in the same ways as our lives are engulfed in the minutiae of the modern world, much of it fallout from the way the corporate, educational, religious and medical systems govern our time through bureaucracy.


Don't get me wrong; I am thankful for these systems. But if I were to write a user review for my experiences in these systems, it would elucidate why I worked so hard to find answers elsewhere, because those systems were not designed for people like me. They are not designed for most people; not the people who work within them, not the people who invented them, and not for the people they supposedly serve. They have evolved into corporately-controlled entities that transformed our human services into profit centers, and unfortunately, that is the bottom line.


And that's where we keep going wrong.


I saw an argument that responsible capitalism is empathic capitalism. That struck a chord with me because I have noticed that the corporate notion of planned obsolescence is one of the major evils that consumes my time as a citizen, and I think if corporations were held responsible for wasting time and resources, all of our lives would be much easier. One of our college buddies got a big bonus for designing a part for a consumer product that would fail after a specific period of use. The fact that this particular product is an important tool for dissemination of information and self-expression is not lost on me. Anything they can do to make our lives harder makes theirs easier, and now our technocrat "savior" Musk wants to enable them to control us directly.


My kids were re-enrolling in the online classes provided by their colleges this fall (spoiler: one decided it wasn’t worth it, and the other decided just to take one math class), and they both had to spend unnecessary amounts of time filling out forms that should be on file from last year. What a waste of their time! But it is not an option to skip because there are jobs that depend on that paperwork, and overhead for each one of those jobs, creating massive need for personal privacy and attention intrusion by government entities. If they can't know what we are doing at all times through surveillance, they will know through invisible control mechanisms, like Musk is developing. It is pretty easy to tell how a population spends its time now. Why would we need any more surveillance or control? I got to implant things into brains, too; it’s cruel with or without the surveillance and control.


One of the important ways to control a populace is to make them fear self-expression, and that is quite easy to do when one's meal ticket is dependent on those in control, and one feels like one is always being watched. Anyone who has been a parent or a child knows this. There is so much that can be done with mind control, just by controlling access to food. Many social neuroses have been birthed by well-intentioned but controlling mothers with respect to food.


I am reminded of my mother's insistence that I eat a banana lest she lodge it in my nasal cavity when I was in elementary school. I never really cared for them; if they weren't ripe enough, they made my stomach upset (of course!), and the time they are "just right" is such a small window. I like something more reliable like a carrot. This was a standoff that lasted for hours, her will against mine. She actually let me win in the end, but I still don't like bananas.


I often think about how attachment wounds revolve around the inability to find a secure point when we are emotionally dysregulated because of not having had a 100% reliable nurturing presence in our childhood. In a society where it is a struggle to feed oneself, it can be difficult to be that emotional stable point for the next generation. And thus, ashes to ashes, we all fall down.


Much of what is wrong is this false belief that we should "Suck it up, Buttercup" and that we are "too sensitive" because we cannot exist on a corporate timeline, and this pressure on our parents dribbles down to us as children in the form of needing us to be seen and not heard.


Religion is unfortunately complicit, propagating the idea that blind martyrdom is the path to heaven. Focus on mindless and parroted "morality" which says to love one’s neighbor as oneself, but never shows a savior who struggled with self-care is a destructive lie. Yes, there is a magical force that can save us, but the big lie is that someone else can find it for us.


I figured out how to find it, and I did it in a really unconventional way, because I was at a low point with my health and felt like I didn't have anything to lose. The Tarot helped me find this magic. I have written about my religious beliefs before. I was a believer as a child because of being taught in church and a near death experience I had when I was 14. But then as I got older and had negative experiences with Christian family members, I became agnostic. I was agnostic when I began using the Tarot. My beliefs have changed a lot because of what I saw with my scientist's eye while using the Tarot. I have been unsure of how to share this, because I am surrounded by skeptics, but I also have met a lot of people with science backgrounds who are energy medicine practitioners, and have experienced my own such miracles of healing.


Assuming the Tarot was just like flipping a coin, governed by the rules of probability, I figured a "safe" way to try it out would be to read chakras with it, if one is familiar with that energy. I have an app I use which happens to have a 7-chakra spread, but just concentrating on each chakra and pulling a card should work, I figured, and it did for me. A simple body awareness meditation practice helped me become aware of these energy centers in my body.


Then, I progressed to simple decision-making which is a low risk activity to build confidence in one’s readings. For instance, when I have been bored, I have used it to help me decide what to wear. A past-present-future spread was useful to me, because it helped anchor my awareness of my feelings in time to the cards, but one could certainly invent their own spreads to become fluent. I simply asked what the outcome would be of wearing a certain garment. The outcome is an energy that I end up feeling or manifesting. Apps have the spreads already built in with various meanings, but any meaning can be attributed to any card in any position by the querent. For instance, besides looking at time variables, one can look at conscious and subconscious motivations. What I wanted to know of course, early in my exploration, was the outcome to a particular action, but I had more faith in what it said if I felt the past and present cards were accurate (hint: they always were or I wouldn't be sharing this).


As tempting as it is to have someone else read for me, I like to do my own readings now, and I do them a lot. It would freak most people out. No, I haven’t seen the last season of Westworld, and I am aware of the similarity. When I first started learning, I had two professional readings from different readers, and they were highly accurate. The first time, I went because my sister-in-law wanted to see a psychic, and asked me if I knew of any. What’s especially funny about this is I discovered that I knew two professional psychics from support groups I was in for art and homeschooling, and one of them I had even connected with over homeschooling in the past. We decided to go to the one I knew better because I thought it would be fun to see what she does for a living. It was trippy. I have been able to channel for some time, now, so the novelty has worn off a bit, but the first time I saw my friend channel my dead grandmother was pretty weird. She got her accent and everything, and even predicted details about my unknown grandfather that I was hung up on in my genealogical research.


The second reading I felt compelled to do while visiting a friend who studied the occult in her teens (as so many people did). There was an eclipse that day, and I had discovered through my cursory look into astrology that I have had several very important life events happen during eclipses. I saw a random psychic at the metaphysical supply store in the city where she lives, just before the store closed, as a walk-in. In hindsight, I think I may have been subconsciously motivated to see someone who had no time to check up on my past and who didn’t know me, to see if I could experience what I had in the other reading, sort of as a control. The reading was of a different nature. I got called in right away and was asked to shuffle the cards myself. The reader had been working for 30 years as a psychic. She picked up on odd details about my family, including my children’s giftedness and my artistic background, but did not channel or make any predictions beyond saying that I could use my art in my healing or to make a living (which made me feel dubious). At that point, I was still early in my learning of the Tarot and had not channeled, nor discovered my clairaudience (getting “messages” through one’s ‘inner ear’ often confused with auditory hallucinations and pathologized as schizophrenia), clairsentience (feeling of energy, pathologized as being “too sensitive”), or clairvoyance (inner sight or third eye, the only one considered acceptable in western civilization).


I went into the whole thing as a neurotic skeptic, originally intending to document it, but then decided it wasn’t necessary because it was clearly working.


My theory is that it works because the number of card combinations is close enough to be pseudorandom, and that the “intelligence” of the universe really is a chaotic mathematical process, which is reflected in the cards. I think this is related to electromagnetism and metabolism, because card readings are reflective of my own metabolic state, as I learned through doing the chakra readings and paying attention to my health. I have been told that I have a crazy level of body awareness, but it does fluctuate over the course of my menstrual cycle. I absolutely see how the Tarot has been an important occult healing modality. Some people talk about “the 4D” and “lower energies and spirits” but I believe this is simply a reflection of one’s own ailing energy which greatly affects perspective, as I have discovered through hacking my metabolism. Certainly a lot of fear has been generated over it by religious authorities because our understanding has been so poor. The elevated consciousness is like a Christ Consciousness, and can be found within oneself through use of the Tarot. No theological seminary is necessary, nor are any residencies in psych wards.


It is a powerful tool for self-analysis and growth in consciousness and intuition. I think it can be misused and it has been. I think, however, it has largely been out of the hands of the bourgeoisie, and that good-hearted people of this class can use it to leverage community connections to bring fast change so we are no longer hungry as a society.


I say this because I need to say it; we are on the brink of something either incredibly awful or incredibly beautiful, and as long as the wealthy are using it to concentrate wealth, we’re going to be headed further down the path of world destruction. Harvard is now offering classes in prediction on EdX. Everyone can now learn Tarot and astrology free online and become an oracle. Do we want only the really rich and the really poor going to Hogwarts when we have a golden ticket, too? We need more members of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw just about now.


After using the Tarot and paying attention to my own energy for a while, I started to awaken more to my dreams and my own stream of consciousness, which is how I discovered my clairsentience, clairaudience and clairvoyance. I had been noticing synchronicities before that, but then started learning what they mean, and that also helped give me direction, because I knew I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t know how else to say it except that it feels magical. I have heard people talking about being able to generate synchronicities, but that has never been a concern for me; mostly it would be nice if they slowed down a bit, because it’s a bit like the owls coming into the Dursley’s house over here.


This process can be used to heal oneself and thus reduce one's reliance on others. That is what I have used it for. I also use it to help me edit writing and consider creative ideas. I am cautious about using it for parenting stuff, because I want my kids to make their own decisions. Plus, it just doesn’t seem to work as well when I use it that way. A good way to understand the potential pitfalls of its use is to watch the show Locke & Key on Netflix. Always remember you have free will. I always choose the path of love.


I feel like the Baby Boomer generation didn't really liberate me from my gender role in society, but some of that was on me for misusing my energy and having confused values with respect to materialism, which the Tarot has helped me reconcile. Beyond that, though, I found liberation from my gender role to require a lot more community interdependence than currently exists.


Unfortunately, because most people don’t understand how to not control others and just let them be, interdependence can feel elusive. I personally don’t like feeling like I have to defend a way of life that I feel is more conscious because it is an attempt to fight oppression. And all the dogma out there which persists in peoples’ subconscious minds through indiscriminate use of social media and failure to acknowledge the power of controlling one’s own attention keeps it from happening.


Here's a great example from kindergarten. One of my very first friends was another girl from my kindergarten class who also liked to eat the Play-Doh. One of the only times I got in trouble in class was eating Play-Doh with her. She couldn't keep quiet and often got in trouble for talking in class, and I had wanted my teacher's respect, but I also wanted to eat the Play-Doh, and it wasn’t hurting anyone. It was that salty homemade kind, so it didn’t make sense for anyone to get into trouble over it. Somehow, I have found that keeping my head down and finding small ways to have enjoyment kept me out of most trouble with authority.


Over the years, though, I suppose I got a little feisty from having to deal with arbitrary rules. I could recognize them easily because I had an experience where my sister wanted to learn how to use the swing in the backyard, and asked me to teach her. My younger sister could sometimes feel like a bit of a pest to me (as younger siblings can), and because she tried so hard to dominate my time and attention, I decided to give her some random bizarro rules for swinging which involved different arm and leg movements that wouldn’t really help her, and watch her struggle as a sort of revenge! As soon as I saw her try to implement my directions, I felt terrible watching her flail. It felt icky to boss her around for my own entertainment, and I try to avoid situations which produce guilt. Sometimes I wonder about the things that authorities recommend and require, because so often the motivation is not pure and meant purely as control.


My first major retaliation against authority because of this reasoning was in 7th grade science. Maybe I got put in a mainstream science class, but it was so remedial that I was conscious of the waste of my cognition that being in the class was. I don't know what the other students were thinking, but I was being asked to do coloring packets to learn about amphibians while being asked to read Alexander Dumas in my English class! It was like my parents had sacrificed me to this system to turn me into some sort of employable widget, but the system didn't actually know how to do that, either, because it didn't care how to help me reach my full potential. It only cared about me or my teachers inasmuch as we were there to justify its existence. So, I didn’t do the stupid coloring packet, and got my first D. But later I redeemed myself by going over the top on a report about gems:











My teacher graciously responded, and this rebel was born.









And that is the piece people really don't get. It is the rare system leader who is capable of putting the needs of the user over the needs of the system, especially if that leader benefits from the system disproportionately. That's because they know the secret that they have to take care of themselves first and foremost. They stay ahead by keeping us too busy to care for ourselves.


The most revolutionary act a person can do in this lifetime is take care of oneself. We need to be honest about how much we can handle. Frankly, after everything I have been through, about all I want to do is chill.


I have sort of a tortured relationship with moral authoritarianism. Our family had a lot of doctor and psychologist friends around when I was growing up, and so some of my trauma is related to this in the context of a religious background. It almost seemed like there was a contest to see who could be most right about how to be, because everyone considered themselves moral experts from their advanced education. We also knew a few social and environmental justice attorneys and politicians and my parents were Republican. Don't worry, I am not concerned with impressing anyone, only trying to present the truth as I see it, or as it is being shown to me, I should say. And I am registered Independent, but have been registered Republican and Democrat. There is a fair amount of moral authoritarianism in the community I live in, too, probably because it is one of the most highly educated areas in the United States. What that means is that many people around here probably feel pretty confident they know right from wrong. But what if our whole concept of morality has been polluted by greed at such an insidious level that it is invisible to most people?


What if we had a way to see the outcome of our actions and make our lives simpler? The Tarot is a way to see this and steer our relationships toward more loving in life by illuminating potential energy losses. Yes, it can be used to find sexual relationships, but it can also just be used to cultivate peace. Everyone I know is really conscientious and so it is tempting to want to compare oneself. A lot of us were held to unrealistic standards of behavior for children because the system just doesn't know how to deal with that kind of chaos (magic). Tarot can help with finding self forgiveness and navigating chaos. It makes it so one sees oneself much more like a player in a game, rather than a victim of circumstance.


One of my favorite uses for the Tarot is time travel. Going backwards can be just as useful as going forward, as it can be a memory aid. It is possible to “see” what is in the future, which is what is so freaking weird about it! That is the most dangerous part of it, because the details and time elements can be way off if one isn’t careful. For instance, I had very clear visions of having a car crash. I knew it was probably going to happen on a Tuesday and so I forbade my husband for a while from driving on Tuesdays because I was so sure. So eventually I forgot my rule and decided we absolutely had to head out to get pumpkins during a snowstorm for Halloween (not my typical modus operandi - I generally don’t care for rituals), and low and behold, we had a tiny accident leaving our neighborhood on a Tuesday. We weren’t hurt except minor head injuries for my daughter and I who were sitting on the side of the car that hit the curb. We were able to get our car home so it could be towed, but the front and rear right wheels were thoroughly out of alignment. For this reason, I don't do a lot of prognostication because it feels like Oppenheimer to me, especially with my particular knowledge.


I have been really worried about sharing this information, but the Tarot is telling me it is time.


I may be a witch, but I try to be the good kind. More intimate details of how this works for me are shared in my fiction writing, the ongoing novels The Divination Project and A Life of Illusion, which will be published on this blog in the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 3: The House of the Rising Sun

Pre-pandemic, on a typical morning, Dot would awaken and head straight downstairs to break her fast as soon as possible. At that point in the day, cortisol is the highest, and cortisol happens to be the root cause of most illness. In fact, Dot owns several books about how cardiovascular disease is not related to cholesterol in the way the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe, but rather is predictable by stress hormone levels.


Dot found this out the hard way when she was in the midst of one of her biggest battles with Zuul. She and Bert had just moved from their new house in a small town in Southern Colorado to a small apartment in a larger town in Northern Colorado. The apartment had a fresh coat of paint and new carpet, and was about 700 square feet in size, about the same size as Dot’s childhood home until her parents put on an addition. There were two bedrooms - one which simply contained a king-sized mattress on a box spring, and a small dresser. There was about one foot of walking space on the right side of the bed, and three at the foot by the door. They all slept together in the bed, Bert, Dot, Lily, who was two at the time and still nursing, and her brother Henry, who was just five. Henry got the nickname “H-Man” because he had the special ability to attack the kidneys of two adult human beings simultaneously in his sleep. Lily had the super special ability to detect, in her sleep, the disappearance of Dot’s nipple, which means that Dot had to get comfortable sleeping with a nipple out at all times, just so everyone could sleep.


The second bedroom was used for storage of the boxes containing most of their household belongings for when they finally found a new home.


The small bathroom was carpeted, as was the small galley kitchen. The kitchen is where Dot spent most of her time, cooking, shopping for houses and learning about nutrition on the internet. The kitchen looked into the tiny living area, where they had a card table for dining, two adult-sized recliners, two child-sized chairs, and their large entertainment unit with a 28” cathode ray tube television on which the children watched hours and hours of PBS while Dot stood in the kitchen. Just off the kitchen was the utility and laundry room, with a stacked washer and dryer unit. When they weren't hanging out in the living area in the small apartment, they were making trips to the park, grocery shopping, and house hunting. It was a pretty simple existence.


During this time, the kids left a lot of food on their plates. Dot actively avoided shaming them for not eating, because she learned that was predictive of children developing eating disorders and Dot sometimes wondered if her reading was disordered from her mother ranting about how she needed to clean her plate because of the "starving kids in China." Her mother had grown up poor and so waste was a big concern. They were already on such a limited diet because of the food intolerances. Both the kids had reflux as babies, but it wasn’t until Lily came along and nursed that the need to restrict Dot’s diet became apparent. Dot had read quite a bit about the factors that underlie eating disorders, and was cautious to not call foods “healthy” or “unhealthy” at that time, or tell the kids to finish their food and interrupt their connections to their own satiety mechanisms. What this meant is that because they left so much food behind, Dot stopped making herself plates of food and just ate whatever the kids hadn’t. While doing this, and nursing 2 year old Lily, she lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time.


What also happened is that Dot started having deep depression and memory lapses. She found a new holistic M.D. to see, who suggested that she see a shaman. She was curious to see the shaman, but it was a 45-minute drive (one way) and she had to find someone to watch her kids in a new town. So, the therapist had actually been Dot’s compromise. She found someone with a Ph.D. because she wanted to have a therapist who would understand her need to research things. Plus, the therapist she found was only 10 minutes away from their apartment, and so Bert could come home and watch the kids on his lunch break.


The therapist practiced Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. It was the first time Dot had seen a therapist since she was a teenager, and even though she was a psychology major, she didn’t understand that therapists are all different, or that there are different styles of therapy. She just wasn’t that kind of psychology major. Her studies had been on physiological and sociological psychology, not clinical psychology. So, it happened that the therapist would explain that EMDR involved making a list of one’s past traumatic experiences, and then she would help Dot go through an eye movement exercise which would desensitize her to the traumas, one at a time. But when Dot started making her list of past traumas, she realized there were a lot! And two of them were near death experiences from brain trauma.


Apparently it is common for people with mirror touch synesthesia to have had near death experiences. Mirror touch synesthesia is a state of increased empathy, causing the person with the mirror touch to “feel” what another person is “feeling.” It can be extremely overwhelming. Dot knows now this is a facet of her clairsentience. There is hyperconnectivity in the white matter of the cortex, meaning it can be really difficult to get one’s brain to turn off. It means it’s always wanting to work on something - to chew on some sort of problem. So, mirror touch synesthetes worry about and notice anything and everything, and in that way, they become expert fortune-tellers, because they can easily see others’ patterns that others can’t see themselves. It’s a blessing and a curse, but mostly a curse!


Dot understands all this now, as a mirror touch synesthete, but the reason Dot was open to seeing a shaman is because she is and always has been highly spiritual because of her near death experiences. They opened her to her clairvoyance. It means she has a different view of death; to her it looks like a comfort. Because she has been so close to death, she is less concerned with personal achievement. When she does things for herself, she does them so she can be a better person, so she can be a help to others. She understands that it’s not how much money you have, but who you are to others that matters. She thinks love has the power to heal, too. But it’s exceptionally rare. It’s rare because it has to be unconditional. Most people don’t know how to communicate unconditional love.


*****


The holistic M.D. ran some tests, including a CT scan of her head and found her progesterone to be low, but also her cholesterol was only around 160 mg/dl. What she learned from the research she did at that time is that low cholesterol (under 170 mg/dl) increases death from all causes significantly more than what is considered “elevated cholesterol.” She also learned that what is often considered elevated (say between 200 - 275 mg/dl) are actually the levels associated with the greatest longevity, especially in women. Cholesterol is an important component of brain tissue, and it turns out that risk of death by suicide and accident is highest at levels under 170 mg/dl.


Every day, Dot was learning more about nutrition on the internet. She learned about the importance of the different vitamins, especially for neurological health. She referred to the Linus Pauling Institute’s website a lot, and she sees that they have been updating their information in the years since. So Dot started taking a coenzymated B-vitamin complex, niacinamide, methylcobalamin, magnesium, zinc and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2, and she started feeling better.


Consequently, the EMDR kind of went on the shelf.


Plus, their old house sold, so they ended up being able to move into a “new to them” house. She looked at a lot of houses during the process, and it was a buyer’s market at the time, so there were a lot to look at. They ended up choosing a neighborhood which rarely had houses come up on the market. The house payment was a smidge more than they wanted to pay, but well within their budget. They had managed to keep their mortgage payment about the same since they purchased their first house in California, and it would be a little more. When they first got married, Dot’s father had counseled her not to spend more than 30% of her monthly income on a house payment. They had kept to this rule with their first house and calculated the 30% based on Bert’s salary alone. Bert got a raise when they moved to Colorado, but they made sure to keep their house payment the same until this house. But this new house has plenty of room for each of them to have privacy as the kids got bigger, and a yard that affords them just enough privacy from their neighbors, with well established trees. They have beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, and there is no HOA, but everyone still takes care of their property.


Bert and Dot did have a problem with weeds in their driveway. Dot is on the Pesticide Sensitive Registry for the State, and gets calls when her neighbors are having their properties sprayed. Over the years she ttried cooking vinegar and salt to get rid of them, and just pulling them, but the truth is she just hated having to think about it. They tend to be at their wildest when her health is at its worst in August. Much of what grows is purslane, which is edible, but not considered pretty by most gardening types. She had heard that concentrated vinegar would work and looked one summer to find it locally to no avail. But because of the pandemic she ended up finding it online, and it solved a long battle! She still doesn't think that stuff is important, and is a pretty big waste of time to people who do not find joy in it. Battles with nature are usually of the losing variety.


After a little while in the new house, Dot began having episodes every time she did the laundry or ran the dishwasher. It took a while to see the pattern, but then she realized that when they moved out of the newly-painted and carpeted apartment, they discovered that the dryer had been venting right into the utility room and kitchen, and not the outside of the apartment.


A switch of dish and laundry detergent to something more natural, plus supplementation with progesterone eliminated her episodes rather rapidly. There were a few times that they got hand me downs from a friend that she would feel the strange migraine come on, and the mood drop. Dot discovered that it took ten washings in various combinations of borax, baking soda, and vinegar to get the feeling to go away when she smelled those hand me downs. She could also get the feeling walking through the neighborhood on a laundry day or walking through the detergent aisle at the store.


She began to make her own all-purpose spray and glass cleaner. She had never used air fresheners, because she had never been able to tolerate places in the mall that sold smelly things like bubble bath and candles. For years she avoided even essential oils as research had shown they could cause feminizing effects in males. Plus there was the whole misogyny of how multi-level marketing companies (including essential oil manufacturers) preyed on housewives. She is not sure if she needs to be worried about essential oils now, and she uses them sometimes.


She saw alternative health practitioners and discovered many non-western treatments that were effective for her symptoms. And when she says that, she means she saw energy healers. The difference between eastern and western medicine, at the root, is seeing things from an energy standpoint, vs. seeing things from a pathology standpoint. They have different answers regarding what can be changed and what must be accepted. Eastern medicine is more focused on prevention, targeting disturbances in energy before they manifest as pathologies, ideally. There is a lot of power in complementary medicine which combines the two, and is where Dot sees the future of medicine. Effective healers know that there is not one right answer for all people. A person is a unique product of many environmental factors. It is going to take any healer a long time to see the whole picture. This is why we must learn to heal ourselves, and we must do it by really knowing ourselves.


It’s not an easy task!


*****


Things went on like this for a while, with Dot visiting alternative healthcare practitioners. She had a chiropractor who also did acupuncture. She also tried a type of energy medicine, coupled with digestive enzymes, to relieve food intolerance, and she also tried classical homeopathy. Everything she tried helped on some level. Those, coupled with the nutritional strategies she was trying increased her energy a lot! Around the time of ovulation, she became a lot more interested in sex than usual, and so she became nervous that she might get pregnant.


So, she decided to get a copper intrauterine device (IUD). It seemed like the safest thing, because she had experienced a lot of health problems after taking various incarnations of the pill. Plus, she even knew a woman who had a stroke in her 30’s from taking it. Later on she would read about the history of the pill and its earlier versions’ direct associations with uterine and ovarian cancer, and later versions’ associations with stroke, and decide that it was the biggest lie that had been sold to women. In fact, there is a book about it entitled The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, by Barbara Seaman. Women essentially end up trading their health for their freedom! But little did Dot know that the copper IUD worked in the same way - it just caused endogenous estrogen release by generating abrasion on the uterine tissue, rather than releasing exogenous estrogen. Furthermore, it was not a good solution for uterus-owning people with nickel allergies, which Dot is, because the device is made of copper-coated nickel. And within a year of having it put in place, she was realizing it was time to take it out. Besides a lot of her symptoms coming back, she lost her libido, anyway. Being bloated, achy and grouchy will do that to a person.


Consequently, she had the device removed, and over some time she began to feel better again without changing much else.


But then she got greedy. She felt like a million bucks, and she wanted to look like what she thought a million bucks looked like, too. So, she threw caution to the wind and went on a very restrictive diet.


*****


It seems appropriate now, since Dot has just returned from upstairs where she whipped up a bowl of mashed potatoes quickly for a “linner” or “lupper” or whatever you want to call it - “foursies?” - to talk about the wrongly maligned potato. Eaten for centuries by the Irish, and such a staple of their diet that a blight on the crop caused famine, the potato contains 7.5 g protein per serving - a sixth of the daily allowance. Moreover, it contains about half the recommended value of vitamins C and B6, as well as potassium. It contains a fifth of the daily allotment of niacin, folate, magnesium and phosphorus. The people of Scotland and Ireland lived almost exclusively on potatoes, oats, and seafood for centuries.


Because she was finally feeling well a while after having her IUD removed, Dot decided to go on a very low carb diet and live without potatoes for a year. Yes, one could probably argue that the other carbohydrates she gave up were not as good for her. But that was before she understood the importance of carbohydrates in metabolism.


Dot should have known this. She should not have gotten swept up in the rantings of New York Times-published writers who fancied themselves authorities on metabolism, but she did. So she went balls to the wall, because she can be kind of like that. A little more than a year went by, avoiding even fruit, and her hair was falling out and she became depressed again. Her doctor was at a loss, because she appeared to be physically fit and her laboratory results did not indicate that anything particularly concerning was going on. But when the nurse drew her labs, her blood was thick and brown, which was something she read could happen with high estrogen. She also found some information online that said a low carb diet could slow down metabolism. Sure enough, when she went back through basic metabolism - specifically, the mitochondrial processes involved in energy production - what she had studied in graduate school - it all added up. A low carb diet was bad for metabolism. Specifically, it triggers the type of metabolism - oxidation of fats, rather than carbohydrates - that is the root of both diabetes and cancer. Well, actually, in cancer, cells will use whatever is available for fuel. Fat does just not burn as cleanly as carbohydrate, and creates toxic metabolic byproducts like aldehydes, alkanes, ketones, formaldehyde, and oxalates which further slow mitochondrial activity. So one will have to eat more with a high carbohydrate diet as mitochondrial function improves.


Type of fat also has great influence on metabolism. Tropical oils, which are low in volatile polyunsaturated fatty acids and higher Vin saturated fat were initially used in the US with the intention of fattening cattle to marble the meat, but were found to do exactly the opposite. Vegetable oils were found to be more effective, and are high in polyunsaturated fats, which because of their proneness to oxidation can interfere with election transport in mitochondria. This is also true of the much praised omega-3 fatty acids. Population studies of the Inuit who consume large amounts of "brain-healthy" salmon show they have one of the lowest life expectancies on Earth. The deposits left in the brains of dementia patients are largely composed of "age pigments" like lipofuscin which are complexes of oxidized polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol and minerals, much like those found in atherosclerotic heart lesions. Research has shown that omega-3's like those found in fish oil promote growth of individual adipose cells, and omega-6's in vegetable oil cause increased adipose cell population growth. It is thought that our adipose cell number is largely set, so this may be the primary reason for America's obesity epidemic. It turns out it was the kranch all along!


Fortunately for Dot, Bert, Henry and Lily, when Dot’s online warehouse order was being filled for their self-imposed quarantine, her orders for the processed carbohydrates they had become dependent on when they were busy couldn’t be filled because the store was all sold out. Dot had communicated to the person doing her shopping that she and her family had a medical condition that required more carbohydrates, and the wonderful person who had a significant physical limitation of her own suggested two bags of potatoes as a replacement. She and Bert both independently thought to plant them, but haven't gotten to it yet. Dot had done this once before as an experiment with some health food store purple potatoes, and they had lovely crops of purple potatoes for a few years after.


Luckily, they also purchased 25 pounds of rice fairly recently. Lots of people around the world have to live on rice every day, without much else. Making up caloric needs with rice helps the other food go further. Dried or canned fruit and tomatoes are good sources of vitamin C. Dried mushrooms are a good source of ergocalciferol, the plant version of Vitamin D, and are antiestrogenic. Not everyone can convert this form of Vitamin D efficiently, though. Canned tuna is a good source of protein, and oysters are the best source of zinc, which is an important cofactor for many processes in the nervous system. Liver and egg yolks are important sources of B vitamins, but one could get some B vitamins from yeast and yeast extract. Yeasted breads and beer would count for this, too, but might not work for everyone. Gelatin is a good source of anti-inflammatory protein, low in the anti-thyroid sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine which are high in muscle meats. These amino acids interfere with the conversion of the inactive T4 version of thyroid hormone into T3, or tri-iodothyronine. Longevity studies in mice continually point to stress, malnutrition, and dietary methionine as factors which significantly decrease lifespan.


Dot has a theory that a certain ubiquitous herbicide that is basically an augmented glycine molecule may interrupt glycine metabolism and cause a lot of the eosinophilic disorders that seem to be so common now. There has been at least one study to that effect. Dot is mentioning this now because some people find themselves sensitive to gelatin and collagen, and glycine is the major amino acid component in gelatin, and it is also the parent molecule for heme. It is important in single carbon metabolism, meaning folate metabolism. This may be an important part of some folks', excuse Dot, MTHFR-ing problems (snort!), which may be at least in part worsened by the ubiquitous use of this particular herbicide. And people don’t really talk about drift, but it’s a thing.


From her educated standpoint, organic is best, if one doesn’t have a source that is close to organic. And mulching that garden with grass that has been treated with weed-and-feed doesn’t count as organic.


*****


Dot made the difficult decision to get some plants from a friend for her indoor garden just before the quarantine. She was really nervous about this because previous experiences with many people over the years, especially during the holidays when people were tired and starving for connection, taught her that she couldn’t always trust people to be honest about how they were feeling. Maybe they just didn’t know. But she and her friend arranged a front porch trade, and this friend had showed equal concern, so Dot was able to drop off a bottle of wine for her friend and pick up the plants without coming into contact with her friend. Dot sprayed the plastic cups the seedlings were in with alcohol in the garage when she got home, and waited for a minute before wiping them. She made sure not to touch her face, and she carefully washed her hands when she returned home. This was the process she was using at that time. Now she wipes items down with soapy water or leaves them in the sun. So that leaves just the problem of having to disinfect non-porous items in the winter on cloudy days. Smaller items, depending on material, could be done in an electric pressure cooker.


Dot had started wearing masks in public in mid-February. As a biologist, she watched what happened in China and knew there was no way that testing was going to be able to keep up. She knew that a single positive test result actually represented dozens or even hundreds of actual cases. She knew that supplies for testing were probably in very high demand, too. She was having tremendous difficulty communicating this to Lily, who was rightfully feeling robbed of her independence. They now at least understand each other's perspectives, but that had been a bumpy road. The virus had really highlighted a lot of ageist tendencies in their family, but they were actively trying to identify and work through them.


She was on occasion going around and disinfecting the light switches and doorknobs in their home with soapy water. They had only been quarantined, technically, since March 20th, because that was when Dot and Henry had to go back to the University to empty his dorm room. How strange to be a college student right now. There were strict procedures in place for getting moved out. No more than 49 people could be in a building at a given time, and each student could only bring one helper. The whole place was like a ghost town, save the few cars parked on the road with their lights flashing, and a few maintenance workers, and a graduate student from Asia. She wondered if the grad student had been persecuted. She wondered if he was separated from loved ones suffering from the virus.


When Dot and Henry went back to the University to get the rest of Henry's belongings, they wore gloves and masks. Henry’s roommate lived up in the mountain resort where the virus was most rampant, and was planning to come empty his part of the room in two days so they wanted to v be sure they got into the room first since they had no known exposure. They brought a dolly and got it all in two trips. They left most of it in the car for a few days in case of contamination, but disinfected the items that needed to be brought in right away.


Being ill in the time before the pandemic actually prepared Dot quite well. She had already had to order groceries online, for one thing. And, she had been forced to slow way down, so their consumption had, too.


The monster she really had to tame was her constant need to do things.


For this, she needed the Tarot, meditation, and lots of cannabis.


She still needed those things.


*****


At precisely 7:00 am, a week after Henry had moved home, Dot’s phone blared a reminder that there was a “stay at home” order.


There had been notifications over the last day; the first one had come just as she pulled into the driveway from picking up plants and seeds from her friend via the “milk box swap.” It was the first time she had left the house since helping Henry retrieve all of his belongings from the University six days earlier.


She had tried earlier in the day to get Bert interested in sex. She knew the dopamine and oxytocin would lift their spirits. Normally, he doesn’t have any problems, which she understands is rare for a man in his 40’s. Under the circumstances, it was understandable. She was an expert for herself, however, on how to get in the mood, because as a woman in this world, you either figure this out, or you don’t. Not figuring it out has some of the more saddening sequelae of life. The top reasons people get divorced are problems with sex and money, so Dot was really mindful of those things.


There had been some challenges in those departments over the years like most people have, all on her end, not his, but they were able to navigate them creatively, and with a little patience. When the kids were small and shared a bed with them, they actually stayed in bed once they settled down for the evening, rather than crying or having trouble staying down. The whole family would lay down together in the big bed in their pajamas and either Bert or Dot would read a story. Then they would turn out the light and fall asleep together. It was very much a ritual of love, helping the kids to fall asleep safe and sound all together. After some time, when the kids were in a deep sleep, Dot or Bert or both could slip out of bed and go to another part of the house, and the kids very rarely noticed.


They used this time for all sorts of things. Bert would play online games with his family and friends. Dot would do things like quilt, read books, or binge-watch TV shows. And of course, occasionally they had made love. Over the years, through chatting with her other mom friends, Dot figured out that she and Bert had a more active sex life than most people.


Their lives continued like this until Bert’s family moved back from Colorado. Initially the interruption started with phone calls before 9 am on Saturdays. This is when Dot and Bert would have otherwise woken up slowly and had a morning conjugal visit. Over time, they stopped connecting in this way except once in a blue moon.


Gradually, many of their weekends became dedicated to spending time with extended family. The extended family liked to spend their time trying different wines. Initially, Dot began to find that after visits to her inlaws’ home, she would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. Otherwise, Dot was a great sleeper. She found that this greatly impacted her energy levels.


Dot may have developed a subconscious block around scheduling anything with friends or community on the weekends, because she never knew when they were going to get that 8 am Saturday morning call. This had the effect of eroding her connection with her community. Because her in-laws didn’t have a connection with the community, either, the pressure became greater and greater to spend time with them. This had a terrible effect on Dot and Bert’s sex life, and their trust of each other.


Bert worried about his mother a lot because she was so solitary. They didn’t know why she was so afraid to go out and make friends.


When Bert’s parents would leave town, Dot and Bert’s relationship was great. They started feeling more rested without the early morning phone calls and pressure to visit. The whole family got along better. Bert’s parents left town a lot, so it was easy to see the pattern. Bert’s parents liked to think of themselves as footloose and fancy free, but they still came back for holidays and birthdays. It seemed sometimes like they were only around for the good times, and that when Bert and Dot had struggles, they were nowhere to be found.


None of his family members ever asked her what was going on in her life.


Moreover, her sister-in-law said things over the years that made her feel she was resented. Any effort on Dot’s part to protect her own energy or health was seen as malicious. She didn’t know if she didn’t matter in Bert’s mother’s or sister’s eyes because she didn’t bring in a paycheck, or because she wasn’t related by blood. It felt a little bit like Game of Thrones. Dot feels guilt for having purchased a larger home and contributing to the confusing values.


Bert himself had given up on religion, and all faith. Dot never gave up on faith, but stopped praying.


Every Christmas became increasingly more stressful. Dot just couldn’t seem to catch a break. It didn’t matter that they were non-believers. The family was still expected to take part in the holidays, and their scheduling preferences were not considered. Dot remembers one Christmas when she was in the shower around 12:30 pm thinking she had a few hours to get ready for dinner, when Bert knocked on the door and told her his parents were expecting them at 1 pm. Seriously, this was how the holidays went. Most events were planned by Bert’s mother and sister, and seemed relatively inflexible, even though they said they were flexible. It was probably just a matter of the two of them being so close that nobody else could really be included in their relationship. Sometimes they talked in disappointing ways about other family members who struggle with substance abuse, but never recognized the part that family and conditional love play in the addiction cycle.



It was a real energy and libido killer.


*****


So, Dot and Bert have a chance to get their family back on track. They have a chance to find themselves and figure out what they want to do with their lives. Balancing college and family life had been really challenging for Henry. Neither of Bert’s parents had gone to college, so they did not understand how much time and energy studying took.


Bert never could have taken the path Henry did, because his parents always had an agenda for him regarding their remodeling projects, and those things took precedence over his studying. It was the American Way, or so they thought.


Bert’s parents used to love watching The Apprentice, and they loved spending time with Bert’s conservative aunt and uncle. Dot, Bert and Bert’s liberal siblings were all confused about why Bert’s now supposedly liberal mother would work so hard to maintain the relationship with her conservative brother, and she had explained that it was because he had brought her groceries during her divorce. Bert’s parents’ friends over the years had all been conservative, owing to his parents’ connections in the real estate business and old churches they attended. But they had moved around a lot, and changed a lot in all those years. They had even expressed that there was less and less they could talk about with their conservative family and friends since both of Bert’s siblings were married to immigrants, and one sibling was even gay.


This dynamic made Dot question everything about family structure and hierarchies. It helped her to see that worship of matriarchs and patriarchs keeps people locked into old value systems concentrated on intolerance, wealth, pride, and power.


It certainly made her wary of her kids feeling like they owed her anything in her old age. She didn’t want them to feel kept like Bert and Dot did.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 1: An American Tune

Dorothy’s Journal, Earth Date 2020.03.23:


I have a chronic illness which affects my everyday life, and a great deal of knowledge about it because of some pretty harrowing experiences. So, I know how to keep it under control, for the most part. Life is complicated, though, and it’s impossible to control my exposure to the things that hurt my health 100% of the time.


While I try not to let my disease control me, sometimes it does. For years I have suffered from depression and anxiety, and in the past two years I started having a lot of panic attacks. Panic attacks suck. I think I may have a Panic Disorder. It is extremely easy for me to have a panic attack under certain circumstances.


They say people who go into psychology do so because there is something wrong with them, and well, the semester I took Abnormal Behavior, I became afraid of developing Borderline Personality Disorder. Maybe that fear is part of my Panic Disorder, even though I have been assured by multiple professionals that I do not have BPD. I worry that my PTSD will mutate into BPD, because that can sometimes happen. I educated myself to understand these things, and so I work extremely hard to be aware of my state of consciousness.


It’s just a lot easier to be alone, because sometimes consciousness can be elusive. It’s so easy for me to fall into that default programming of people-pleasing. It’s so easy to become disconnected from myself, especially in certain company. I will not eat when I need to eat, in order to not be an inconvenience. Not eating can be bad. I think a lot of people with this disease get hanger, but I get hanxious. When I am with other people, I can have a panic attack before I become aware I am hungry. And then the panic attack leads to a depression.


So, for the last year, I have isolated myself a bit out of necessity. I needed to get back in touch with myself. I needed to remember how to feel again. I think because I struggled for so many years with PTSD and major depressive disorder, the social butterflies around me wanted me to be happy all the time. That feels like a lot of pressure, and just not reasonable in a world like this.


There is a lot we can do with cognitive behavioral therapy. There are even apps like Woebot to help people identify cognitive distortions. I know all the tips and tricks. But some stuff is organic in nature. When I am in a panic attack, or post-panic attack, I can’t always think straight. I enter a survival mode, because my body is convinced that death is imminent. This is the stuff psychologists can’t help in just a few sessions. This stuff takes years to untangle, by learning about various states of consciousness.


When I am having a panic attack, I am not myself. There is no Dorothy, there is only Zuul. What I need at that moment is just a hug. I’m feeling overwhelmed by emotions. If I am convinced my emotions might be interpreted as threatening by the other person, then I need to be alone. I can overreact to little things when I am in this mode.


Actually, it’s less like Zuul, and more like Vincent. Van Gogh, that is. My thoughts become destructive toward myself more than they do other people. I have the other creative parts of Vincent, too, thank goodness.


Luckily, over the last year, I learned that I enjoy being alone. I feel fortunate about that, now!


I have more things that I want to do than I have time to be alone. It can be a little Short Attention Span Theater here as I flit from one thing to the next. Somehow, it all gets done, when it’s not the holidays.


And it’s okay, because it turns out there’s some magic in this ADHD approach. Quite a bit, for sure. I see connections between the least likely things! And that can lead to research projects that last for days, or years. It has connected me with people from all over the world. It has helped me build a library that could keep me entertained for years, and helped me get back into art and music. These are all the things that most effectively help me battle anxiety and depression.


When Zuul comes around, it’s hard to motivate myself to research, connect, read, or make art or music. I can’t force it. The best things are rest, and definitely meditation. I can see that now we are going to have to stretch our food supplies for longer, that I may need to meditate more. This helps me stay calm.


Am I forgetting anything?


Oh yeah, what am I doing to support my respiratory health? Sometimes I get panic attacks when I have respiratory infections, so I try to avoid illness. Now here’s a rabbit hole. For a long time I just called myself chemically-sensitive. Zuul came out a couple times in my life after some significant chemical exposures (and sometimes when I have been sick). Because I was so unwell for the last year or more, and it seemed to be much worse after being in newly remodeled spaces, I decided to investigate the role of VOCs and formaldehyde in my health. VOCs and formaldehyde are the biggest exposure risks from construction, because they are components of latex paints and construction adhesives. They are linked to serious health problems like respiratory difficulties, ADHD, anxiety, dementia and cancer. Large exposures to VOCs and formaldehyde can cause seizures or death. I have been identifying sources of VOCs in my daily life and removing them, and it has been helping me feel a lot better. It is surprising some of the places I found them, and in what quantity.


For example, I had acrylic paint in my studio, but had not used it, because I bought it for the kids. I also had purchased a huge canvas on sale - 4’ x 5’ - because I had always wanted to paint a big painting. A family member kept suggesting that I should paint larger, and I had resisted because of the cost of materials and then if the work didn’t sell, I would have to find a place to store it. But so it happened that I had this canvas and a lot of acrylic paint, and that was the start of a torrid love affair. And a LOT of time with Vincent.


I’ve always been of the philosophy that “there are no mistakes, only lessons.” I do not regret my affair with acrylic paint. In fact, I will continue to work with acrylic paint under the right conditions which means ensuring adequate ventilation and using a respirator. Anything I make with it will be left out in the sun long enough to properly offgas. It turns out that acrylic paint is very high in VOCs and formaldehyde.


This is so surprising to me because I know acrylic painters who paint indoors with no protection.


What I experienced is probably not unlike the psychological torture suffered by Van Gogh. He had, however, been an oil painter. I had a period of illness before when I was painting indoors with other oil painters. Most people I knew at that time used odorless mineral spirits, thinking they were safe. Just because something is odorless doesn’t make it safe. Odorless mineral spirits are made of napthalene, different from the naturally-derived turpentine Van Gogh would have used in his time. Napthalene is a neurotoxicant, and the MSDS sheet for odorless mineral spirits reveals both the content, and the health effects. Turpentine contains VOCs, but not neurotoxicants. Van Gogh had exposure to other toxins which have nervous system effects - specifically, like many oil painters of the time, he was not aware of the toxicity of the lead white or cadmium red and yellow he was using, and was rumored to have actually eaten them. He suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, and it has been postulated that he suffered from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, Meniere’s disease, anxiety disorder, non-suicidal self-injury disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Poor guy! He gets all the attention, but his “buddy” Gaugin was probably nuts, too, and the combination was both magical and tragic, with all the blame falling on the lesser narcissist of the duo. After Vincent’s death, Gaugin skipped town to Tahiti, where he preyed on teenage girls for the rest of his life. He just turned his psychosis on others, rather than himself.


Another source I found was fairly elusive. It turns out that VOCs travel on dust particles. That blew my mind. Just having our furnace and ducts cleaned reduced the levels of both significantly. This is particularly frustrating because it takes a lot of time and energy to vacuum the whole house, and it hasn’t been a priority for me because it cuts into my time and energy for creating things significantly. The dogs have long hair, which doesn’t help, and it is really dusty here in Colorado. So what am I supposed to do? Spend three days out of every month vacuuming? That is one tenth of my life! There are a lot of other things that I have to do regularly that take that much time, too.


Maybe the dust wasn’t as big of a contributor as I thought. I learned a lot about other ways that forced air furnaces can contribute to elevated VOC levels in the home in the process, and some blind spots in the regulation of residential HVAC systems that may leave many homes with unsafe levels of VOCs. In commercial spaces, adequate fresh air is calculated carefully, taking into account even the number of human bodies in the space. Humans expire CO2 and VOCs, which also happen to be the end products of the metabolism of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Human beings increase the need for fresh oxygen in a space. So do other flame sources. So do fans that remove air from a building (like bathroom fans, window fans, and whole house fans). In the event there is not enough fresh oxygen coming into the house, a vacuum can form, causing the dangerous flue gasses to be sucked back into the home. This phenomenon is called house depressurization and flue gas backdrafting, and water heaters can contribute significantly. There is a lot of information on the internet about it. Whoa, Nellie! Doesn’t this seem like stuff that people should know?


The final strange sources that I found were a surprise to me. But now in retrospect, the first time I sort of figured this out, I was also having a battle with Zuul. I thought it was just fragrance, though, which can contain some VOCs. This was a real mind-bender. My dish soap, dish detergent, and laundry detergent, which were all unscented, were all extremely high in VOCs AND FORMALDEHYDE. Formaldehyde! This is what we use to wash the things that go in our mouths and on our skin! OMG, does this mean we are all doughnuts fried in VOCs and formaldehyde? Furthermore, the vapors from the detergents enter our homes when they encounter hot water or air.


These chemicals have neuropsychological effects. What is also scary at the current time is the effect they have on respiratory function. Doesn’t it seem important to clear the air now?


The effects I experience during an exposure are agitation, shortness of breath and forgetfulness. My thoughts become muddled. I get vertigo. This can become a panic attack. Later I may or may not have a headache, but invariably have difficulty sleeping. Sometimes I will get a terrible feeling of pins and needles in my legs. I get joint pain, awful lower back pain and migraine, which can go on for a couple of days. After about two days, depression sets in. I have had enough experience with it to figure out that the pain and depression arise from the same thing and not from each other. I can have pain without depression, and depression without pain during an episode.


Fortunately, I’ve only seen Zuul or Vincent when I’m not watching my chemical exposure. Stress, lack of sleep, and certain dietary factors can make me feel tired and achy, but not like how I get with chemicals. Luckily I know that the person I become is not me. Knowing this has helped me to be a lot more patient with myself and others, since I know everyone has exposures that they don’t know about. This took a long time to figure out.


*****


Dorothy (who prefers to go by “Dot”) sits at her desk, staring at her computer screen, in her studio which she calls “The Yellow Submarine.” That moniker came out of her time with Vincent and the acrylic paint. The adjacent rec room is now deemed “Area 51” as it is where Dot likes to practice astral projection. It is where she went to learn about solitude for nine-ish months.


What exactly was she doing all that time? Wouldn’t being mostly alone for all that time cause a person to go crazy? She was healing. Her soul had been battered.


It’s hard to learn that you’re a canary in a coal mine. You deal with a lot of disbelief. The suicide rate is very high for people with chemical sensitivity because of this. Dot believes now that we’re actually all a little mad here, it’s just that there are a lot of people who are too proud to admit it.


Much of this is because of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. We are all susceptible to this, even Dot. It’s difficult to objectively analyze oneself. Many people learn about themselves through interacting with other people. When doing this, it is important to get enough time to oneself to be able to separate one’s own identity from that of others. This takes a lot of practice, and is easier the more comfortable one becomes spending time alone. When we’re alone, it’s easier to discern what feels good and bad. When we are with others, sensory overwhelm and desire for acceptance can create confusion.


Because there is a societal stigma around isolation, what this means is that we have created a population of people who are totally out of touch with themselves, their health, and their level of consciousness. It’s precisely the kind of culture that creates shame around susceptibility to illness, and ignorance around one’s own vulnerability. It creates risky behaviors in the name of social acceptance.


And, it causes pandemics.


*****


Dot has just had the rest of the small bowl of cannabis she started up last night, which was a little Alien Dawg and Brain OG. She feels guilty for smoking it - for one thing, because of the deadly respiratory disease going around, and of course because smoking is not good for lungs. But cannabis is the best thing for the symptoms she gets. She is vaping the herb for the most part, but that still carries risks.


Her thinking is a little bit muddled without cannabis, and even more muddled with it. She figured out that it had augmented her satiety mechanism, such that she never really knew if she was hungry or not. And this meant that she could skip meals while high, and end up in a state of panic once the high wore off. Or, in classical stoner style, have a gluttonous case of the munchies, and overtax her digestive enzymes. The tradeoff wasn’t always worth it, especially if there was a mania triggered, which sometimes happened with sativas. While a lot of really brilliant stuff can come out of Dot’s mania, she can really pay for it later.


So, nine months in the desert was on order for Dot. She was actually unwell enough that she was having difficulty with verbal communication. She would have trouble remembering simple words. She tried to communicate this to her immediate family, and the significance seemed to be lost on them, which made her really worry about them! She was actually having stroke symptoms. She was having intermittent problems with her hearing, too, which may be connected, but canceled her hearing test due to concerns about coronavirus.


In looking back at her old journals, she sees the difficulty with staying on topic and word choice more clearly. There was some shame around that - in the early months of her isolation, she had numerous attempts at writing that ended in frustration. There was a lot of guilt for not being able to write, because she felt like she should be doing something.


Luckily, what the Universe pointed out to her is that she needed to take care of herself. And it turns out that she didn’t really know how to do that. Her existence had been interrupt-driven for a long time. She had to learn how to take advantage of that, which took some time. So, that’s part of what she learned in her nine months in the desert.


The more time she spent alone, the more chaotic she realized the world was, and the more she realized that we choose our own hell. We choose it through ignorance, actually. We choose it by being creatures of habit. Sometimes it’s really little things! And not what one would expect. For instance, Dot had a habit of not resting enough.


And that is something that is difficult to do around other people.


Her time away from other people helped her see how much chaos other people choose for themselves, and how much effort it takes for those people to maintain their chaos. Sometimes the chaos people choose is associations with others. Sometimes it is gluttony. Sometimes it is mindlessness.


And unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t have the choice to opt out of chaos.


For people like Dot who can opt out of the chaos, it is increasingly important.


And, it’s possible to learn what chaos we have chosen very easily. It just takes some time alone. If one is in a group, one can just dis-associate from the group for a while, and note how that affects well-being. Right now, most of us are stuck at home, so we can pay attention to how we feel now that the chaos outside our homes is not part of our everyday lives. If we were part of particularly chaotic groups, we might find that separation increases a sense of calm, and decreases stress. Different people see different things as chaos, but for Dot it always comes down to spending too much and lack of concern for how our choices affect others and the environment.


She’s been working on those things in herself, and she wants to let you know that it’s not easy. These are things that are encouraged in American society.


It’s just counter-productive use of our lives and resources.


At some point, the time for talk has passed. This is the time, people. It’s the time to slow down and consider what we can do at the individual level to make things better. We really do change the world by changing ourselves.


Otherwise we are just contributing to the chaos!


*****


How much toilet paper do we really need? How much food do we really need? How are we going to entertain ourselves? It is not someone else’s duty to entertain us. Nobody even has to listen to us. This is the time to grapple with our personal entitlement.


Every single thing we get is from the effort of some other person. And those people probably are not living nearly as comfortably as we are. A palette of toilet paper is a ridiculous idea to a lot of the world. It was ridiculous to Dot, too, even though she is highly dependent on it. On her trip to southeast Asia, she learned that there is a whole part of the world that doesn’t even use toilet paper! She is trying to ration her use, realizing that a lot of body parts have been liberated from societal institutions and now need residential wiping at unprecedented levels. Who knew that toilet paper was a work benefit?


Let’s do some toilet paper math:


In a large pack of toilet paper from a certain warehouse store, there are 275 sheets per roll, 45 rolls per package. That is 12,375 sheets per package. If Dot uses the restroom 5 times per day, and on average uses 8 squares of toilet paper per restroom visit, that is 40 squares per day. So on her own, Dot would use the pack of toilet paper in approximately 309 days. Maybe Dot can use a little bit more toilet paper.


A lot of her own toilet paper use was due to menstruation, but she is trying some other products she learned about from a sex educator on YouTube. She invested in some period panties, and those have been helpful. Dave Chappelle was right; vaginas can be a bit of a hassle.


Say Dot was able to get some toilet paper so that she didn’t have to touch or think about her own poop. Maybe she designed a robot to do her shopping for her, which carefully brought her golden TP home to use with her Golden American Toilet. She could then sell that robot to grocery stores to do shopping, and prevent the spread of a lot of coronavirus.


This allows her more time to think of a new invention, and actually make something useful to the world instead of just spreading worry. This is the kind of stuff we can use boredom for, too.


What if we are quarantined and still think we’re too busy? We can stop answering non-essential texts, emails and phone calls right away. The people who respect our time won’t mind. The people who aren’t just looking to share their anxiety with someone won’t mind. We can get back to the messages two days later, with calmer, more thoughtful responses, too!


By identifying the sources of our own anxiety, we can help not feed the chaos. Imagine how different the world could be!


Let’s all hope!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Divination Project: Afterword: From the Rabbit Hole

It’s July 5th and Alice has awakened with new motivation. Share your story, she keeps hearing, It will help people. She remembers a time when she wanted to be heard, but now she just wants to rest. Venturing into the dark corners is painful in itself, let alone sharing it with others who sometimes choose to use the information against the sharer. Sometimes they do this consciously, sometimes unconsciously, but the effect to the vulnerable is the same - less desire to share, less desire to connect, and less desire to trust, and that is a place where Alice has been stuck for some time now.


The “muchness” she found was lost. The story of how it got lost is both mundane and unbelievable, a story in its own, a story that forced her to reconcile with her vulnerability in a frank way. But that’s not this story. Probably not. If she can avoid it, this will not be a story that writes her, anymore. Not anymore, anyway. Thank you, everyone who happily played along.


***


Oh come on, now. That is not me being the Red Queen. And yes, I have thought long and hard on the game of hearts and how it figured so prominently into my teen years, and how I waffle back and forth between the Queen of Hearts (Cups) and the Queen of Spades (Swords) energy. Yes, I went all Queen of Swords on a lot of folks’ asses. I transmuted the energy the best I could. I just didn’t know how to condense it into just art. You and I have talked extensively about how there is a crisis of consciousness, and while the writing is both a struggle for me, and intensely bad for my health the way it comes out the best, I wonder if the message gets through, for all my effort.


Phew, it’s nice to zoom out a little bit. Maybe in a fourth book we could call the Womb Room Malta or something? Can I tell them the White Rabbit took the Red Pill? Yes, we will explain how Grimm said you have to go through the bottom of the deck to get to the top. And then we learned that the enemy was us, and our response to generational trauma. And we figured out that everyone has a little Queen of Swords energy from time to time, which may crop up when we feel depleted, and many people are depleted all the time, because we want so much. And yes, taking the time to write all this down, thinking I have anything useful to share with anyone else before I die, that contributes to my feeling of depletion, and my tendency to go all Queen of Swords.


I cannot get over the karmic weight of words, especially at this time. I am reminded of when a thought popped into my head that I might mention the increase in the volume of Carl’s emissions after eating so much polyunsaturated fat in Asia to Charlotte and how that altered history in a way that will never be undone, in both good and bad ways. We now know that being emotionally close with other people outside one’s marriage is so stigmatized by tradition and so fucking isolating that we had to come up with a special name for it to make it okay: emotional polyamory. How about let’s just call that “being a good friend.” FFS. I had no idea the level of paranoia the average human being lives with.


But I suppose even I have been wary of inviting people into my home for fear of judgment about it not looking like Real Simple magazine. I would not have thought to feel that way, except for watching a nationally-broadcast news program when I was a young mother and seeing how a neighborhood feud escalated into a woman having CPS called on her for having crumbs on her counter . My counter looks abysmal much of the time, because my daughter and I are the only ones who voluntarily clean it somewhat regularly. Carl has extreme trauma around house cleaning and housework in general because his parents were militant about it, and his brain just doesn’t work like that. It’s easy to trigger him when talking about home maintenance stuff. I think he’s just not a real estate mogul at heart; he’s more of a philosopher. We’re both making peace with dividing the tasks neither of us really want to do and not being particular about how they are done. That is what I imagined our partnership would have been like, were it not for the tension created by the constant shaming from his parents, who can’t help it because they are just parroting everything they learned working for the narcissists in big business.



Early on the White Rabbit had sent me the song If You Were Here by The Thompson Twins which is a really lovely encapsulation of the way the material world pulls our attention away from each other. There’s no way he could have known that I have different standards than other women, especially since when I left his class Carl and I bought a fancy car because our newest car was over a decade old, and didn’t have the safety features we needed for the driving conditions we find ourselves in. Things at my home, which he never saw, are in various states of disrepair and I am fine with that. It is how I grew up, maybe with my mom complaining a little bit about cracks in the ceiling (which were never a structural concern), but they never complain when they come to our house, and they are caught up on all of Alice and Carl’s strange adventures. Carl’s relationship with his family was really different because they have entirely different values than we do, and so we learned that we have to keep significant distance from them. They absolutely did criticize us, and it was done in this icky psychologically manipulative way that is common in popular girl culture, through things like backhanded compliments, self-criticism or product recommendations. Their behavior was pretty well characterized in a book I read years ago called Codependent No More by Melody Beattie which talks about the fundamental problem between abusers and the abused being that abusers live in a world where materialism trumps love. They are always competing with each other to see who has the best stuff. They don’t even know another way to be, because it has been so long since they actually played with anyone outside their family. It’s a big reason I don’t like to write about product recommendations because I feel like it engenders jealousy. It’s like when I’m around these people I get the sense that they are imagining a fly in the vaseline, and it’s impossible to just breathe. Someone or something always needs attention or fixing. It’s exhausting channeling so much energy just into maintaining a status quo. And then their kids are pretty high anxiety because they are never allowed to become accustomed to the idea of calm.


Over the years I got better at just letting things be, but matters could get out of control when I looked away for even just a bit. I have a lot of bitterness toward Carl’s parents for their classism. I know other mothers can end up destroying their relationships by not knowing how to encourage help around the house in a compassionate and emotionally intelligent way, but Carl’s parents somehow figured out how to keep the family coming back for criticism. And the reminders of that status anxiety that we are somehow just going to slip right off the ladder if we show our true colors are everywhere in our neighborhood and in other middle class white suburban households. That is absolutely not the relationship I want to have with my children. I do not want them to feel obligated to spend time with me, or live their lives in a way that I approve. I don’t want them to feel like a fifth wheel in my life, either. I want them to know that I love them no matter what. I have particular challenges around this when I am dealing with hormone issues, and those are definitely worse now that I am older and the environment is so much more polluted. And we discovered that the chemicals affect the whole family, not just me. Yes, plus the disturbing thing we found about the furnace. And acrylic and water-based paints. And detergents.


The effect of the hormones and chemicals are that they contribute to an amnesia about who can be trusted and a building xenophobia with age, as one’s health declines and one is more vulnerable to psychological manipulation. So ultimately, what we’re running away from when we run away from others is that Red Queen energy of unnecessary criticism, or even punishment. When it comes right down to it, the original punishment was advertising love, when there was only rose painting.


Thank you, White Rabbit, for bringing me witchcraft. You have been a phantasmagorically excellent familiar. You gave me hope when I thought there wasn’t any. You helped bring back my voice. Thank you.


*****


The first "attack" Alice had was the day after she first went plein-air painting. She was eight or nine years old, and the private art class she attended every Friday for most of her childhood had visited a private garden. Alice was not particularly excited about the situation - it was summer and she was sitting in full direct sun on her brand new folding Coleman camp stool, looking at irises? Maybe it was irises. She can't really remember. She does remember feeling like having a table might have been nice because she had to balance her sketch pad on her lap and it was awkward. Her feet barely touched the ground, so the sketchbook wanted to slide off her lap to the ground (which it did a few times) unless she held it with one hand. When she switched between drawing media, she had to stand up carefully as to not collapse the stool because she couldn’t reach inside her tackle box with her short arms without the stool collapsing or falling over. She had a visor made of transparent red plastic with white paw “prints” to shade her eyes a little, in the uncomfortable heat. Her mother remembers that the garden had just been sprayed with pesticide.


The next day she had a few friends over from the neighborhood. In the dining room of the little brick bungalow that was her childhood home, she showed them her new Fisher Price weaving loom, and they ate some strawberries. Sometime after that, she got hives all over her neck and upper chest and her throat started closing up. Her parents, of course, rushed her to the emergency room. She remembers being in triage, and then being rushed to a gurney in a curtained area, where she was given an IV of something. First, the medical team learned that diphenhydramine (Benadryl) just made the situation worse, so then they gave her a sulfonamide antibiotic thinking it was an infection, which also made it worse. Finally, they administered hydroxyzine hydrochloride (Atarax). The hives dissipated, her airway opened. She was discharged with a prescription of Atarax, which she carried with her everywhere for years afterward.


Growing up and into adulthood, she got hives laying in grass, and she got hives at what seemed random times, despite avoiding strawberries for years, worried that even a bite of the delicious fruit would kill her.


She was a creature of eating habit - a picky eater not open to trying new foods, in general, until some of her mother’s friends who grew up in India took it upon themselves to broaden her palate. Alice remembers being at one of their houses as a child, being criticized for not trying some cantaloupe.


"At this house, we have a rule that you have to try at least one bite," the woman said. Alice found out that she liked cantaloupe that day. But at home they rotated through the same selections when they ate - tuna fish sandwiches, tuna fish tacos, fettuccine alfredo from a bag with canned shrimp, burgers, bratwurst, spaghetti with meat sauce (which happened so often that she hated it), chili with corn chips, lasagna. She is probably remembering it all wrong. Seems like she can't remember anything right. At restaurants she always ordered the same thing. Wide spaghetti and meatballs at Paisan's in Aurora. Sometimes if she was really hungry, she would order mozzarella sticks and cheesecake, too. At La Bola, she got a chicken chimichanga and fried ice cream. At Village Inn, she either ordered a burger or a barbecue, bacon and cheese chicken sandwich with fries. They ordered pizza regularly like most American households, and enjoyed the occasional drive-thru burger. Breakfast was often cereal - not the sugary kind - so she added a spoonful of sugar on top. Sometimes they made french toast, her paternal grandmother’s specialty. They used margarine, presumably because it was supposed to be more healthy at the time, and rarely salted their food because of her father’s hypertension. These are the foods that made Alice.


***


In high school, she regularly skipped meals to save money to purchase music and also materials for her Odyssey of the Mind team's projects. Those weren’t the only reasons she skipped meals. Much of it was due to not being a morning person and thus not being a person who packed lunches. Some of it was not wanting to take the time to eat, because she could be working on her Odyssey of the Mind projects instead. In high school, she was a "good student" but not for the effort - because it was easy for her. She put most of her effort into extracurricular activities, and to be honest, that's all she really cared about. That was all that gave her joy in school. Creating things, playing and community. That's still what is important to her, and the rest of it - what she spent ninety-nine percent of her time trying to memorize, sitting in class, is available on a little computer she carries in her pocket every day. It's available on a little computer that most people (over the age of 10) carry in their pockets every day.


She would get home after school in a terrible mood. Alice and her mother would get in a tangle pretty regularly if her mother was home when she arrived. Alice remembers standing in the kitchen entry by the toaster, breadboard and trashcan while her mother asked her if she had eaten at all. When Alice would confess that no she hadn't, her mother would pop two slices of bread in the toaster and make some cinnamon toast to get Alice’s blood sugar back up. Alice remembers how quickly her mood would change. So she made it a habit to come home and make some cinnamon toast to bring her out of her post-school funk. She drank a lot of milk, too. She remembers her parents commenting when she went off to college, the milk regularly went bad, and that had never happened before.


She doesn't remember being one who scrounged in the fridge for food. They didn't buy a lot of produce because her mom worked and was often tired when she would get home from work, so they ate out and produce went bad. If she was hungrier than cinnamon toast and milk, she would bake a pan of brownies, which went nicely with milk.


***


College was a different experience. For one thing, Alice’s milk drinking at breakfast was curtailed by the random punishment of sour milk in the cafeteria milk dispenser. It happened often enough that she gave up her morning cereal and switched to eggs with tabasco and maple syrup. At this point, Alice is not sure if they were actual eggs, or if they were reconstituted egg product, because they were always scrambled. It’s so hard to know in a cafeteria or a restaurant what one is actually eating.


The Meal Plan was expensive, or at least it seemed that way, given what they could buy at the grocery store in order to have choice in what they ate with the same money. The cafeteria, for lunch and dinner, had three meals she looked forward to - red beans and rice on Mondays (wash day), jambalaya, and gumbo. Otherwise, it was various incarnations of bad American food - hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken-fried steak. She doesn't know if this is what really happened, but she had hypothesized that there were two "cycles" of cooking that were repeated over and over. One, Alice called "The Meat Cycle," and the other was the "Pasta Cycle." At the beginning of the week the choices were burgers, hot dogs, and spaghetti with red sauce. Toward the middle of the week, the burgers disappeared and there was spaghetti or fusilli with meat sauce. Then at the end of the week, there were chili and chili dogs. She imagined how the bland tasting food was recombined and remixed with chili powder to become chili on the weekend, knowing there were other food choices to be had outside the long line at the cafeteria. Some people skipped the line and had a salad if they didn't have time, but she had seen multiple cockroaches in the salad bar, and, well, she’s described her relationship with salad at that point, already.


***


When she first became sexually active in her freshman year, Alice’s period was late by two weeks. It was around the end of her first semester and her boyfriend Carl’s third, a stressful time. Alice had lost interest in her classes about halfway through the semester, much of them being repeats of what she had already taken in high school. The worst situation was Consolidated Calculus. She had already taken the entire calculus sequence in high school, but only got a 3 on the AP exam (the equivalent of a C - most colleges now requiring a 5 for full credit), so she needed to take a special consolidated class which was a review of Calculus 1 and 2 so that she could take Calculus 3 again. The class was at 8 in the morning, and she did not have another class until noon. She had aced the first exam, despite difficulty staying awake, so after that, she had difficulty getting herself out of bed for a class she thought she already knew. Well, surprise, she failed the midterm exam. Alice had never failed anything in her life up to that point. The situation in Physics was similar - although she had not missed any class, she had difficulty paying attention. She had taken AP Physics 1 in high school already, so daydreaming was quite easy. By the end of the semester, she had a C in the class. In high school, except for history class, her grades were good without much effort, so college was a rude awakening.


Carl was worried and said that if she needed to have an abortion, he would pay for it. Having been concerned about pregnancy once before, after her rape, she thought this was an honorable gesture. After she got her period, he apologized for assuming that’s what she would have wanted to do, but it is what she would have done. Alice had wanted to be a neurosurgeon when she grew up, and had entered the biomedical engineering program because she determined it was the best way to ensure entry into the competitive medical school marketplace. A baby would have derailed so many of her options. But alas, the scary part was over, and now Alice could think in a more prophylactic fashion. She was sure she didn’t want to continue in the biomedical engineering program, and was pretty sure she didn’t want to be a doctor, but also sure she didn’t want to become a mother at that time, so she went to the campus clinic and got put on the birth control pill.


Carl was very concerned that Alice would give up on school entirely, and so he told her that she had to study. He locked her in his dorm room. Well, not really, but he vacated it so it was empty and she had a quiet place to study. During Thanksgiving Carl’s strange roommate who carried a pocket notebook every day in order to take notes about people he met had left. The young man from East Texas had coincidentally met Alice’s first roommate who was an Architecture major from Wisconsin and walked with her to class everyday. Alice had forgotten about this until one day she picked up the notebook and thumbed through it, finding her roommate listed amongst other names. She recalled her old roommate returning flustered from English class, recounting an upsetting story about the guy she had walked to class with daily asking her where she was from. When she had said, “Wisconsin…” in her thick Wisconsinite accent, he had quickly replied, “OH. YOU’RE A YANKEE.”


After that, through college Alice and Carl lived together clandestinely. On one of their first dates, Carl had been bragging about his punk ass behavior toward his roommate, and wanted her to come see the evidence in his room. He seemed trustworthy, so she went up to the room with him. The floor on his side was covered entirely by his scattered belongings. To this day, she remembers that he portrayed himself as being this way specifically to irritate his odd roommate, but he claims otherwise. In any case, it wasn’t long before she figured out that his brain just doesn’t work in an orderly fashion. It turns out he has A Beautiful Mind, and Alice may, too. His entire family was familiar with his ability to have his keys “stolen.” Also, while she could sometimes be the Queen of Swords (Wilma), he could be Fred (Flintstone). So they had worked out ways to try to avoid triggering these behaviors in each other. And much of that was just in learning to let each other be.


Alice’s mother and father had been good examples of allowing each other to be quirky as they got older. Her mother used to say things like, “If your father ever mows the yard again…” but then they hired a neighborhood kid to mow the lawn, and the problem was gone. Nolan had been excited to learn to mow, but had a terrible allergic reaction after the first two times, so they never put pressure on him to do it again. They asked Sally if she would like to do it a few years ago, but she was not interested. Carl has a lot of anger about how much of his life has gone toward maintaining lawn, but seems to go around in logic loops regarding whether all lawn with no ornamentation, or weeding a xeriscape garden is easier, ultimately just continuing to do the same. Alice has stated that she just needs some areas to garden, and not because she enjoys it, but because of potential supply chain issues.


They have some disagreements about the chipped rock she put around the raised beds they had to install hastily when he was laid off and they had to drop their CSA share due to the cost , and also what to do about the weeds in the driveway. She finally found some highly concentrated vinegar to try. She didn’t mind things being a bit overgrown; it felt more natural, which to her meant more actual relaxing and less like she was trying to relax around a large dick up her ass. And it’s true that in that yard all those years ago when Alice had her first attack, the one which had just been sprayed, she had not been there of her own volition, was not comfortable, and was forced to be in a space that was not healthy for her, and made less healthy with the ambitious use of chemicals. Kind of like the world we live in.


*****


During finals of her freshman year, when Carl had left her in his room all day and stayed next door with their friend Bill, she studied for her exams diligently. She had not stayed in her own dorm room for quite a while. She had requested a change of rooms along with another female student on the engineering floor who wasn’t getting along with her own roommate, so they had been placed together in another dormitory on the other side of the main street that ran through campus. Twenty-six years later, she cannot recall the precise reason she was able to get the Resident Housing Authority to grant her request, but she does remember her roommate complaining a lot about homework and spending long periods of time on the phone with her boyfriend back in Wisconsin. The new roommate was from New Jersey and had transferred out of the engineering program right away, so she didn’t have the large amounts of homework Alice had.


Nonetheless, both of them spent inordinate amounts of time on the fledgling internet, chatting with boys in chat rooms.


If she’s remembering correctly, her father drove down to New Orleans to get her for Christmas Break, and by the time he arrived, Alice had a gnarly case of the flu. It was bad enough the clinic had given her a prescription for co-Tylenol, and she had a bottle of syrup she used all the way back from Louisiana to Colorado.


It was the first semester of her final year at college (her junior/senior year, as she took 24 and 27 credit hours to get out early) when they decided not to use the cafeteria anymore. It was her half-baked idea, she’s sure. By then she was engaged to her now husband, Carl, and they were living together in sin in the dormitories at school, as they had been for the three preceding semesters. They cooked amazing meals for themselves using one of the few ovens on campus during vacations, and decided they could eat much better daily if they just took charge of it themselves. Plus, they had an evening class on the other side of campus and because the cafeteria opened at 5PM and people started lining up at 4:30, it took too long to get food and make it to the other side of campus for their evening class.


To feed themselves, they would order po-boys from a local restaurant, and regularly cooked a big pan of lasagna that they would work through over the course of the week. They used a lot of packaged “just add water” meal kits because they were both time- and money-poor. They had a friend who lived on ramen noodles alone, and they were pretty sure he had scurvy or something, so they avoided ramen at all costs. Alice still baked brownies, and the occasional chocolate cake.


Probably needless to say, but feeding herself with that course load the final year wasn't easy. She is sure she skipped meals. She remembers their friends complaining that they very rarely saw her because she was always doing homework or in class. She gained a size or two and was extremely depressed.


On top of that, she was very close to not graduating because of a 1-credit hour internship with a now deceased professor of cognitive psychology's unethical behavior which she had to report to the department chair. The department chair gave her a project to take over, coding a developmental psychology study, so that Alice was able to graduate.


She had recurring dreams for many years that she didn't finish her time in college, and that she had to go back.


In looking at their relationship back then, before they had property or children, their arguments probably centered mostly around Alice wanting more connection with Carl. There were several times she threatened to leave him after they were engaged because she just wanted a little bit of attention in the form of true intimacy. Knowing what she knows now, hindsight is of course 20/20 and she got plenty of intimacy from him, it’s just that their needs didn’t always line up in space time. It took her a long time, but she finally figured out how to get around a need for intimacy when Carl was not available, rather than jumping to the conclusion that it all needed to be over.


The fallout from this struggle was probably Alice struggling with a “wandering eye.” In college they hung out with Carl’s engineer friends who were all in the Navy ROTC. Alice was “one of the guys” or at least that’s the way she kind of saw herself. Nonetheless, there were two friends she was drawn to, and she had the sense that maybe there was some sort of “more than friends” energy between them. She only mentioned it to one of them, because the opportunity presented itself in a way where neither of them would feel pressure. It was kind of a “Hey, yeah, I was attracted to you, but I was already with Carl and I dig him,” kind of situation.


***


Their careers often caused them to be out of sync. This started right away in graduate school in the late 90’s, before they owned cell phones. They often had difficulty coordinating for dinner due to him getting lost in a bunch of spaghetti code or her having experiments run overtime.


When Carl finished his master’s degree, the government project he was on didn’t want to pick him up on a regular salary since they had been able to use his work paying him as a graduate student before. As far as he and Alice know, his code is still being used in 3D body scanners. So, he decided he wanted to go to work for someone who would pay him well, and that’s when Alice and Carl would learn just how dry the job economy was for new graduates was in the US. She ended up leaving graduate school early because they needed a second salary (she was only making $14,000/year with her teaching stipend), her research project didn’t get funded, and Carl would have to enroll in the PhD program to continue getting his stipend. This was clearly an ageist move by the person controlling that government contract at the time.


So, they dreamed of Californication.


Carl got a job in electrical engineering design for a company that made mammography units. They lived in an apartment at the edge of a golf course just a few miles from a university. Alice spent the first months finishing her master’s thesis, which was basically a shortened version of her doctoral thesis on the effect of estrogen on memory in ovariectomized mice. During that time, she made a friend in a nearby apartment, who would walk with her twice a week, and helped her to lose the 60 pounds she had gained in graduate school. Alice had taken to baking regularly because the sugary treats seemed to help her be able to process all the information that was being thrown at her in the graduate setting. She needed to have things on hand because she could have tremendous difficulty focusing while reading journal articles or grading homework if she got hungry. But she was consuming so much that she ended up gaining 60 pounds. She had been on the birth control pill during that time, even though Carl had expressed concern about the extra hormones causing health problems. Her periods were only coming once every three months after she stopped taking The Pill, and so she had gone to the doctor who recommended a strict diet and walking regimen. The diet was about 60 percent carbohydrate, and worked quite well for her in combination with walking with her friend.


So then Alice got a job engineering retroviruses for use in gene therapy. She worked in a little lab for the government, and she was trained to work on biosafety level 4 viruses, like coronavirus. Because of this, the pandemic has been extremely traumatizing for her. It’s made her have to battle her inner Karen every single day, because she is trying to keep her family and herself safe, and she knows more than most people about these things. It took Sally a while to get this, which was stressful for Alice. Sally likes to have her spaces neat, too, and her standards are a lot more strict than everyone else’s. They are all trying to pitch in more.


Cannabis has been extremely helpful for helping Alice CTFO. Alice can notice her body’s reactions to the things other people say and do and simply relax. It activates a sort of observer state in the mind so she can be more mindful. But it’s tricky trying to maintain that state of consciousness reliably, because it is hard to recognize. It’s possible to get familiar with it in many different ways, including meditation, or spending time in nature, or smelling something delightful; it comes through becoming present in one’s body and getting out of one’s mind. It is the state of ego death.


Struggles in Alice’s house around her cannabis use include the HVAC system and having to be a parent 24/7, and not being able to predict reliably when shits and fans collide. But it seems to be a pretty regular thing, regardless of her cannabis use, Alice figures. It seems to depend on the number of mechanized things they have to rely on (which have a tendency to break because they were designed to do so), and also how involved they are with the school system and other “support structures” how many things go “wrong” around the house, because these systems have plenty of tasks for people to do, but don’t consider the time and energy they take from the rest of life. So the simpler their connections to the outside world, the easier Alice’s life is. But it does sometimes feel like she was constantly having to mind the kitchen to keep everyone else out of the doldrums (especially if they have been particularly social), and she is feeling like everyone is a little old for that responsibility to be falling just to her, so she is trying to let them fail a little bit, but has been keeping supplies more than adequately stocked.


*****


When Alice worked, she developed a crush on a coworker. He bore a certain resemblance to her and she saw him regularly. They didn’t have much in common besides working in the lab together. They chatted a lot. Eventually Alice ended up switching jobs because it was not a good match for her. When she left, during her exit interview, she reported her coworker for making inappropriate comments to another female colleague. She did this without consulting either of them. She thought about it for quite some time before doing it. Later she would find out from another coworker that the male coworker had been put on probation and that her female coworker was totally distraught. She didn’t want that for either of them. Was she a narc?


Was there some secret language she didn’t know? Did she split up a steamy office romance?


Who’s what and what’s who?!?


I suppose Alice will be receiving some more owls on that front, huh? Since you wanted to say that flirting should be okay? Yes, Alice has a ridiculous amount of fear around relationships with men, and yes Carl did say that she acted Mike Pence-level ridiculous about interacting with men.


So, yes, that’s what was up with Alice and other men. She was not a slut. Not that slut is a fair categorization of anyone. But she did have a wandering eye and was also frightened, and she hasn’t been sure why, before doing all this writing, but it was multifactorial. She was looking for someone who really understood her, and didn’t make her feel like she had to defend herself or do anything other than just be herself. Since the White Rabbit helped her and Carl both see that what they really wanted in each other was the parent they didn’t have when they were 6-8 years old, it was easier for them to relax around each other again after all the arguing that came out of the stress with Carl’s family. They both have Saturn in Cancer, so what they both needed was a loving father. They learned that they could provide this energy for themselves, but also that in doing that, they were able to do it for others and they were getting along much better.


***


When Alice was pregnant with her son Nolan, she was only 14 weeks along when she developed crippling sciatica. She was still working as a laboratory assistant at the time, in Loma Linda, California, which was a vegetarian town. Her commute to work was 45 minutes, and with the morning nausea, it was sometimes all she could do to get dressed and eat before heading to work - never mind packing a lunch. The sciatica was so bad she had to hold the wall the whole length of the hallway to get from her office to the restroom, several times a day. She had to start wearing an elastic abdominal support to alleviate the pain in the first trimester. Thirty weeks into Alice’s pregnancy, she had a dream that her last day of work would be February 15th, and on that day, she had a hypertensive crisis.


She didn't know it was a hypertensive crisis at the time. Alice was at work and couldn't stay awake. In the weeks leading up to this day, she was increasingly tired at work. Everything felt difficult. The stress at work was incredible; they were a little start up pharmaceutical company, paid biweekly. They were never sure if they were going to get paid or not. She was doing the same assay over and over again for months, as directed by her boss, hoping for different results, knowing intuitively that what he was asking for was impossible - trying to detect amounts of a compound in human plasma that were often below the detection limits of the very expensive and old equipment they had at their disposal. She had to use chemicals that were listed as teratogenic (causing birth defects), and so she requested a respirator to use after calling the California Teratogen Registry and requesting information. The person on the phone said, “Well, it’s going to affect the mother before it affects the baby.” Alice did feel woozy during and after working with the chemicals, even though they were very small quantities (generally less than 5ml), so she requested a respirator. That meant she had to go long periods of time (good portions of working days), pregnant, wearing a respirator (not just a mask, unlike the people complaining now) and not getting fresh air. The situation was compounded by her coworker also having gotten pregnant just a month before, and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a potentially deadly situation for both mother and baby because the mother suffers from such terrible nausea she cannot keep food down. Alice’s coworker often didn't show up at work because she was home vomiting, and so one of their male coworkers would have to fill in for her. As Alice writes this, she remembers that her co worker's child had a lot of the same digestive and sleep issues in infancy that Nolan did, and she wonders if it has anything to do with the chemicals.


There were four lab assistants in total, two men and two women, all in their mid 20's. Eventually the small company hired another female lab assistant. A young male oncologist ran clinical trials and two managers (one, male, the "boss" mentioned earlier, and another, female, who worked part time) governed the goings on in the lab. There was also an older male chemist from Russia, and the male professor who was the CEO of the company and the vice president who was female. The rest of the company didn't see them except during company meetings. There was an accountant and a secretary, too, both women. The Family Medical Leave Act, which was applicable only to companies with over 50 employees was not a benefit to any of them. However, they were in California, so on the day, February 15th, when Alice’s doctor informed her that she would have to go on strict bedrest for the rest of her pregnancy, she was able to take disability.


She spent those ten weeks mostly alone, laying on her left side on the off-white mushy sectional she and Carl had purchased from her coworker after Alice and Carl’s English Bulldog ate the sofa she bought in grad school at Odd Lots. She spent days and days watching reruns of "A Baby Story." She was allowed to get up only to get food, shower, use the restroom, or visit the doctor, and had to take her blood pressure often. Switching to her right side elevated her blood pressure. Going to the bathroom elevated her blood pressure. Everything seemed to elevate her blood pressure. It started feeling like a head game.


Alice’s pregnancy was classified as high risk, but there was never elevated protein in her urine, which would have been an indicator of pre-eclampsia. Her blood sugar was always found to be normal, too. The only solace she had was in knowing that someday her baby would be born, and her blood pressure would most likely become normal at that time.


On weekends and evenings, she and Carl would watch television together or she would listen to him play Gran Turismo 2 while awkwardly trying to crochet a little hat and one bootie for one unborn son (she never got that second bootie finished). She got so tired of the music as the same songs circled around and around and around in her mind. It was so hard to imagine life would ever be different, especially as sleep became difficult in the last six weeks from the pressure on her pelvic bone, the deep aching nightly as Alice tried to give the left side a break for minutes at a time, risking driving up her blood pressure and putting the baby into distress.


Alice had been reading all about natural childbirth, but stopped when she figured out that she would have to go through labor on her left side, eliminating a lot of the physical accommodations that would help her avoid pain medication and other interventions. Sure enough, at 39 weeks, her obstetrician informed her that she would be coming back to the hospital in a few days to have labor induced with pitocin.


Alice has been in labor four times, despite only being pregnant twice, and has two children to show for it. Most of the time was unmedicated, because as it turns out, epidurals can stall labor if given too early, and she has an iron cervix. Fun fact: if one doesn't know what labor is going to be like, ask one’s mother. Alice’s mother was in labor with her for four days. It's what's called prodromal labor. Hospitals nowadays would never let a mother be in labor for four days, mostly because it's too much stress on the mother and baby, and the risk of death increases significantly. So after being on pitocin during her labor with Nolan for she doesn't remember how long, and her cervix not having dilated to even 1 of the needed 3 centimeters, the medical staff decided to let her rest. Their intervention had done nothing except interrupt her sleep (sleeping through contractions is extremely difficult). Sally had been in too much distress during Alice’s labor, so after the two day of unprogressed labor, she was allowed to take a little nap before starting again.


For the last week of her pregnancy with Nolan, Alice went back to her left-side-lying Learning-Channel-watching hell.


*****


It is July 7, 2020. Or 7/7/2020. An auspicious day. Two days ago, I found a pink sticker with “777” on the back of a rock painted with the word “chi” in The Womb Room, and I thought some occultists may have snuck in and put it on the rock. When I was going through the house last summer, I found several things for which the origin I did not know. But then I had the brilliant idea of asking Charlotte if she knew anything about it, since she had given me the rock, and she said that yes, she had put the sticker on the rock, and that it was her table number each day at a conference, and that perhaps she had subconsciously felt it would be important to me somehow.


As the days have progressed, the White Rabbit has been so kind to show us exactly what we need to know, just in time. I don’t know what to say. I think I had a seizure this afternoon, so my faculties are a little dull. It’s been a while since I have had one, hasn’t it? Carl noticed that his friends were feeling pretty low, and we were having difficulty feeling motivated to cook or eat much. Do you think it is because of all the illegal fireworks? I am wondering if other people are struggling with lower states of consciousness because of them. I got a headache when we were outside on the 4th, and then I got another today when a strange plume came through our home when the upstairs windows were closed. I mean, doesn’t it seem important to write about strange plumes containing VOCs and formaldehyde coming through one’s home and then later possibly having a seizure?


How do I talk to my doctor about this? I think I might actually have a long history of seizures, but I had no idea what was happening. It’s so weird because I got all sorts of “messages” in the past few days about this guy in my high school class who died of an aneurysm a few weeks before our graduation. I found out about it on the same day I found out about my cousin dying in an automobile accident. My other cousin’s older brother died several years later also in an auto accident, but on the 4th of July. I am not having language problems this time, thank goodness. This makes four of six of Carl’s family here in Northern Colorado who have had seizures. Something is wrong, FFS! What are we going to do?


My cannabis tolerance is pretty high right now because it takes so much to relax because of the chronic pain from all the chemical exposure. On July 3, 2020, our neighborhood was sprayed for pesticides, and there was also some sort of plume in the water. In the meantime, I have had a lot of sun exposure, and also earlier that week I had taken a bunch of chemicals to the hazardous materials because of a plume that was coming from the stored paint, etc. in the garage. So, I am kind of trying to do what I need to do to recover from that exposure while also getting ready to have the A/C serviced (tidying, weeding), but I guess I still did too much. The communications with people to try to solve our strange phone conundrum take a lot of time.


I still have that headache. Do you think I still need more sugar?


*****


So Alice had to disappear down a few rabbit holes. She distanced herself from everyone including Charlotte for a time, and tried to figure out what it was that she needed and wanted. While certain accidental slips of the tongue may have, in Alice’s mind, been the reason for the developments between Carl and Charlotte, Charlotte, in the editing of this writing, remembered it differently. Through close friendship and a shared writing endeavor, Charlotte had developed feelings for Alice, and had told her about them one day on a walk. But Alice wasn’t attracted to Charlotte in that way, she didn’t think. She thought she was attracted to someone else at the time. The truth was probably closer to Alice not wanting to shit where she sleeps. Charlotte doesn’t always get the colloquialisms that Alice uses, but it was about not wanting to risk their long friendship and other connections, and also because Alice knew that both the women were overextended. While Alice could sometimes feel some sexual attraction toward women, it wasn’t something she had felt for Charlotte at that time, and it wasn’t something she really understood. More recently, she has made the realization that the majority of her sexually intrusive thoughts are when talking to men, and only sometimes when talking to women, and fantasies always involve a man, but almost never another woman. So, Alice was queer, and Charlotte probably was, too. But because a lot of their friendship was built on processing shared trauma, Alice often needed to rest after seeing Charlotte, so an attraction hadn’t developed in that way.


Eventually this became true of everyone for Alice, and she wasn’t really attracted to anyone except Carl and the White Rabbit. Carl and Charlotte also slowed things down, and they all consider themselves friends, even better than before. In the time alone, Alice learned that sometimes she was attracted to people who didn’t treat her well or who were in need because being needed helped her feel less invisible, but now she recognizes that for the sticky wicket it is, and how the need to be needed makes it difficult to have one’s own life.


What was it about the White Rabbit? What was it about Carl? Was it the same thing that Alice found in her discussions with many men? She loved talking with men and wanted desperately to understand their viewpoints. Gender in the world she grew up in was such a defining trait, and she was in a woman-dominated household. She wanted to know what “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” meant, and where that came from. She loved hearing men talk about parts of their childhood they enjoyed. She loves hearing them talk about people who made a difference in their lives, and she just loves to sit in silence, which was possible in a chat, but not always in real life.


But with both Carl and the White Rabbit, it wasn’t like it was with any other men. The experiences Alice had with both of them were powerful and synchronicity-laden. It really was like something happened and she was head over heels with both of them. There was a huge sense of connection, belonging, and physical attraction, even though her relationships with them were like apples and oranges. They were like the Ineffible Husbands. And as their love grew deeper, they perturbed each other more, and their capacity for forgiveness became greater.


The White Rabbit alerted Alice to the fact she could be sort of a mermaid, and she feels badly for that. She had no idea the damage she could do going through the world with an open mind and heart, not thinking that some people might want to go a lot further than she imagined and be willing to put what she assumes was quite a bit of skin in the game. It was kind of a scary thing to find out, especially considering the pandemic.


It was like that Robert Palmer song, I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On with most people. Except she *did* want to turn the White Rabbit on. That absolutely was a conscious decision, and she has no guilt about it. When Alice met the White Rabbit, it was like having her head jammed in a tesseract, and she’ll never be the same again. Trust me.


She tried and tried to tell him she loved him. She told him in emails, and she told him in this book. But that Rabbit, man, he had some other plans. He had told her everything was connected, which she knew already. But she didn’t *know.* Also, he wanted her to know about the different types of love, and that he was looking for agape love. She thought she knew what that was until he started to show her, like Fred Astaire to her Ginger Rogers.


It’s going to be interesting to see how this book ends.