Sunday, September 20, 2020

Killing Me Softly

A good friend once talked to me about layers of awareness, and I believe has guided me through those layers. He walked beside me through the desert, as they say. I think we are both surprised how deep they go, because it would be so easy to just see me as a privileged white stoner housewife. And I am that, sure. But it happens to be great for the writer lifestyle, and someone has to be a writer. Might as well be little ‘ol Mercury in Aquarius, as it seems to be my destiny. I know no better way to quiet the chatter in my head.


I am having this tug of war with the Universe about how much I want to share of my past, and what is and what is not significant, and how showing in one’s writing is better than telling, and how I can get more out of my writing by doing it in dissociated states in the third person. Sometimes that feels disingenuous because my stories are not fiction. And probably, none of that matters. I really want to share what I have learned in a way that people can really see this fundamental thing I am trying to express about freedom and conviviality, and I have to go into some dark places to extract these memories, which often stir up a lot of physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I think maybe I wouldn’t need cannabis if it weren’t for the writing, because the writing requires a bravery that is hard to muster. I feel like what I want to share can help unite us in peace, though, and so I go through this process of mining my subconscious for things that may be helpful to the collective consciousness if they were to be brought back to the level of consciousness.


I had the unfortunate experience of having to be a whistleblower in college. I have actually been a whistleblower a lot in my life. I have a low tolerance for bullshit, probably because I wasn’t gifted in this life with a ton of energy, so I have to use it wisely. I had forgotten about this part of myself - the one that is willing to call out injustice, even when it is a big risk to myself. One doesn’t become a whistleblower without having been traumatized, and because of the ways I have been mistreated in my life, I cannot bear to see others unfairly subjected to anything I had to endure. Bear in mind this was after experiencing corporal punishment as a child, significant bullying by my peers and sexual abuse. This writing, I think, is going to fill in a little more of the “how we got to here” for my readers.


In recent years, since my friend discussed layers with me, I have been wondering a lot about motivation. He and I discussed things like ambition and motivation, and what keeps people from their dreams. I insisted that ambition was evil, and he wasn’t so sure. So then I argued that the problem was that people use ambition for the wrong thing, and that we’re here to love each other first and foremost.


So. I have this thing I need to share with the world, because it is something that gets in the way of love. And it is big.


*****


I am a curious person by nature. School was torture for me on a lot of levels, but I was good at playing the game. I didn’t have to study much in high school, and I was very involved in extracurricular activities. My senior year, I actually had few formal classes. I was just around because I needed to take American History to fulfill the requirements the State of Colorado had for graduation at the time. My senior year was a blast. I spent most of my time working on extracurricular activities like drama club, woodwind ensemble, Math Engineering and Science Association (MESA), Model United Nations, Octagon Club, and most importantly Odyssey of the Mind (OM). Oh, and I was a hag and spent a lot of time at church. These experiences helped me become who I am, despite the time I spent in the classroom.


I am going to be very critical of the classroom in my writing. I know a lot of good people who are teachers, and this is not a criticism of them. My writing is to inform about the unknown harm of the paradigm that is used in education. It is much in line with John Taylor Gatto (who I was lucky enough to see speak at the University of Northern Colorado several years ago) and John Holt, but I see the contribution of my field of study, which they were unaware of. I only see it now as an adult, looking through the fisheye lens my life experiences have given me.


It’s strange how everything is connected. That’s another thing my friend said.


I ended up going to Tulane University as an undergraduate for strange reasons. I really thought I wanted to be a doctor, and that was because I had an experience as a 7th grader with this guy who had a prosthetic arm. We both had an assistantship with the attendance clerk, and I had been afraid of him before because he seemed like a bully and was a big guy. We had to spend a lot of time doing tedious things together, and so we talked about ourselves and I got to know him as a person. He showed me how his prosthetic device worked, and I was fascinated. I was also curious about what made people the way they were because they could be so mean. Getting to know him better, I understood why he might have developed a gruff exterior. Because of this, I have always been sensitive to the idea that people who push others away may be doing so to protect themselves.


It’s strange to write about this because maybe my interaction with this male peer was the first time I was compelled to really appreciate someone’s soul and their real wounds. I think it made me seek out people who could be themselves and not self-censor. People who understand that human beings are more than the car they drive. It’s surprisingly rare. People I know are fairly secretive about their struggles, which makes sense because sharing them highlights our weaknesses.


I applied to four universities, and I wouldn’t mention this except it keeps feeling significant which schools I picked, and which ones saw me as desirable, given however I marketed myself to them in my essay, which was probably fairly soul-baring, because I was very spiritual at the time. I had consumed a fair amount of pop psychology/self-help titles for a person my age, and had a significant near death experience. These are regular for me now; I spend a good deal of time in the liminal space. Anyway, my top choice was Johns Hopkins, and they did not accept me. I didn’t really have a second choice. I was pretty broken hearted when I didn’t get in, but having had the experiences I had, I figured maybe the Universe had something else in store for me. I suppose it was between the University of Pennsylvania and Case Western Reserve University for second choice, but I got a small grant from Penn and nothing from Case Western, and my family wasn’t that wealthy. My younger sister would be going to college in just a few years, and so my decision was made for me. Tulane University gave me a full ride scholarship.


I would never have considered applying to Tulane (because it was in the South), except my friend from my sophomore OM team who was at CSU had gone through the college application process the year before and had really wanted to attend because they had good financial aid. It turned out that their biomedical engineering program was #4 in the nation, and so I asked my Dad if I could apply. I think he told me I could only apply to three universities (application fees were still several hundred dollars even back then), and I made a case for Tulane somehow. I think the Universe sent me there to show me something. Nevermind, there were a lot of things I learned there.


Well, okay the first very significant one, which I should just get out of the way, is that I started a consensual sexual relationship and figured out what heaven was with my current husband. We were better people together, and it always felt really good to be together. Being together did not seem to hamper our individual successes. I was around a lot of male energy all the time outside class, and I was really able to accomplish a lot. My now husband and I were having a lot of sex in those days. I didn’t really think it was out of the realm of normal, because it felt so great. But yeah, I’ve done some research, and it was a lot. For a while there, I think 7 times a day was normal for us. We played it pretty safe, generally. It never got in the way of our studies. And I was taking a lot of classes - I graduated in three years, despite changing my major twice. I had semesters with 22, 23 and 24 credit hours. And I did that all while having an experience that required whistleblowing, having to switch dormitories twice during my freshman year, and catching Epstein Barr Virus from my second roommate, which left me bedridden for much of my second semester of Freshman year.


The other day, it dawned on me that my husband and I have unknowingly been practicing black magick for the last 27 years. I would have thought that scary, once upon a time, but it really just amounts to being able to sow seeds of love from learning about injustice in our own lives. At least until the difficulties with his family crept into our lives, we were good at being there for each other during hard times. As our lives became more stressed by materialism, we had less time to enjoy each other. Sometimes in the past, it felt like we had forgotten our connection, but ultimately what I figured out is that on some level that was about the neurotransmitters. And this is an incredibly strange thing to share, but I think this has everything to do with how we both learn, and why others seem to perceive us as “intelligent.”


It’s normal to have out of body experiences when one has an orgasm. It is during these times that I often get great insight into whatever is going on in my life. Sex can work as a way to refine one’s psychic ability, and my husband and I have figured out this process. This is a significant discovery, one that is at the heart of humankind’s search for contentment. It makes sense that we would unravel it, because of my study of behavioral neuroscience, learning, memory and psychopharmacology. It turns out that orgasm releases entheogens, like the active compounds in LSD and mushrooms. We talk a lot about many subjects like science, technology, education, and existential matters, and often get insights into what we have discussed through sex. Much of my husband’s understanding of the tech industry comes from his time in the flow state playing video games, but he often has grand realizations when he wakes at night, or sometimes during sex. I would categorize us both as sapiosexual. But over the years, especially when we had a lot of distractions, it could be more emotional, and thus more about healing than creation. It’s all good, of course, but much more exhilarating when it’s the brainstorming experience.


It turns out what my husband and I connected over, and keep connecting over is a shared love of freedom. A lot of this was because of how we were both forced to please others in childhood. We were both the oldest, so our parents had done all their learning on us. Childrearing is largely set by cultural norms, and for our generation (X marks the spot, folks!), the message was that we were too loud, too slow, and too distracted. When our parents were around, we were never free because they were always worried about doing things to impress other people. And they were worried about being judged for their children being too loud, too slow, and too distracted, or in other words, not productive members of society, so they were constantly barking orders at us. And it seems to me that judgment about productivity is fairly arbitrary, because it is possible to be productive in bad ways, and many people are. Nevertheless, herein lies the territory of the moral authority. Generation X is pretty sick of it, and we are going to employ our slow, loud disorganized brains to change stuff in a style of lazy protest never seen before. Mark my words. We are all going to join together and say NO to the Baby Boomers’ Materialistic Bullshit which has enslaved our minds. I’m doing my best through my writing to try to show exactly what that is.


I ended up choosing my major after failing to feel engaged with the repeated material in the engineering curriculum. Whether that failure to engage was a result of illness or an inability on my part to take another iteration of calculus, physics and chemistry and not lose my mind is up for debate. I spent a few weeks as an architecture major and found out quickly that wasn’t for me, and so sat down with the course catalog (back in those days they were newspaper-printed booklets) and decided to figure out which major had the most interesting classes. It actually took me about a day to figure out that it was psychology, and that I would do the physiological psychology subspecialty. I had always been curious about neuroscience and cognition, and had originally wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but didn’t really understand much about the way the subconscious or the mind works. I figured if I still decided I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, that education would prepare me well enough, but by that point I had already figured out that I didn’t really want to practice medicine, because two of my good friends growing up had doctor fathers and they were very against the idea of doctors being parents from their own experiences. I am glad my friends were so candid with me about their feelings about their doctor fathers. I thought I might someday want to have a family with Erick, rather than become a doctor, and that is a decision I have NEVER regretted.


In Matrix language, what I’m saying is that I didn’t see how, at the time, subconscious forces were at work in my own life, and how in order to know myself better, the Universe brought me a mirror of my subconscious in my husband. What I have been unable to get from my parents comfort-wise, I was able to get from my husband. He figured out a certain need I had for sexual validation (which it turns out may be related to unique things about my physiology, but of course are told in lots of lovely ways in my astrological chart which I so kindly shared with the world). So, anyway, we still share a lovely intimate life, and I see a different destiny for myself through writing and making art, which is more in line with my destiny per The Matrix (my North Node in the 12th house).


Part of my studies at Tulane were about mating behaviors in animals, and I was actually close to researching female orgasm in graduate school, but ended up researching memory instead. It’s interesting going back to my roots as a scientist and as a person. When I was pregnant with my son, I was reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Nature’s Mind, and so the idea of looking back into how much of my mind can be explained by nature versus nurture seems like an important question, the answer to which I keep coming back to as yes and yes, and that they are part of the same thing. There is a strange sort of Matrix which Carl Jung was keen on describing. I did not study clinical psychology as an undergraduate, so my knowledge is formed through study of pop psychology, casual interest in psychological paradigms, and study of archetypes. I read Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents in Philosophy 101, not Psychology. If past me heard what current me would find out on her journey into Jung’s Matrix, she would not believe it.


I got to see amazing things in my Physiological Psychology classes and I became fascinated by psychopharmacology. But I was also a person who only ever used alcohol (and relatively carefully, save a few notable binges), so I didn’t really understand what was potentially being manipulated in the consciousness of people who were taking various substances. I didn’t have a lot of experience with cannabis at the time save for five experiences with friends in high school, but was curious about Timothy Leary’s experiences. I never got to try anything like that as a young person. So my understanding of my own cognition was not very deep. I think some experience of that dream state helps people see their purpose. It’s always hard to know when one is seeing clearly, but there are tricks. I know this is controversial, but I have an entirely different perspective on it after trying things myself, reading, and talking to others.


When Erick and I weren’t fucking around in college and grad school, we were studying hard, and we loved what we were learning. It was a sapiosexual paradise, and we often wonder why we ever left school. As an undergraduate, I had an internship with a distinguised professor who would become a professor emeritus and who was an important influence on me because he found sex differences in the brain. With him I studied the mating behavior of syrian hamsters. He taught me how to put cannulae in rat brains, how to use the microtome to make sections and also confocal microscopy, which was somewhat new at the time. He would be the person who would help me decide where to apply for graduate school, even though he was not my advisor. I had gone to my advisor with my plan to graduate in three years, and he thought I was crazy, so I decided to talk to my favorite professor instead. Now, you’re probably thinking I’m this naive girl getting caught up with this professor who studies sex, and that’s where the whistle blowing is going to happen, but no, that’s not what happened at all! Most male professors I have had over the course of my life interacted with me strictly professionally while I was a student.


I had thoroughly forgotten about this strange incident I had to report until I was looking around in the files on my computer and found the testimonial I had to provide to the psychology department chair the following year about the incident I had with a female member of the faculty. It’s a part of my psychology education that I have such a block around that for years I could say who I took Cognitive Psychology from, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what I learned about Cognitive Psychology. I ended up signing up to do an honors thesis with this other professor, which would give me just enough credits to graduate. But until yesterday I couldn’t even remember what my honors thesis was about. Anyway, the point was that I accused her of manipulating me psychologically. And now that I have gone back and revisited the experience, I see that even if that’s not what she intended to do, that was the basis of her research, and that my instinct to leave and report her behavior was correct, even if I didn’t see the bigger picture of what she was doing at the time.


This professor was obsessed with the work of Ebbinhaus, who was the father of experimental psychology. Specifically, he studied learning and memory, in and out of context, and found that memory formation was better when the things being learned were meaningful. Any unschooler can tell you this, though up until the pandemic, it would have been difficult to find one. Now there are many more. Nonetheless, Ebbinghaus went to great lengths to study the ability of the human mind to memorize nonsense, and how long it could be remembered. He used himself as a guinea pig (much like I have been doing with the alchemical process and my writing). Nobody had been able to replicate his work (until recently), and this professor I had was obsessed with verifying it. She recruited students to do the work as their honors theses after using her Cognitive Psychology class to teach us Linear Algebra.


She had earned both of her graduate degrees at Stanford University during the days of Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, only she was not Zimbardo’s student, she was B. F. Skinner’s student. And, she was a Japanese immigrant. The significance was lost on me until I put together that she was probably used like a gopher, just like she was trying to use me and her other honors student, whose name I cannot remember, but who had expressed to me his own concerns about what she was asking him to do. I do not know if she was aware that she was using operant conditioning on us, or if it just came to her naturally due to her previous life experiences and she was unaware what she was doing. But it was exactly how narcissists manipulate people by inciting trust, making promises, and then failing to deliver on those promises.


For some reason, I didn’t end up helping with the Ebbinghaus project very long, and she wanted me to work on a different project, which was not an experience worth the time she wanted me to give it. It was really stressful for me to report her to the department chair because she had expressed that she was having difficulties being a female professor in a male-dominated department, and that the department chair did not like her. She had told me that in confidence, and it may have been true. What I did not understand at the time was the significance of what she was trying to do, and also why I was doing the right thing by not helping her. I did not understand at the time that all the resistance I was feeling to doing what she wanted me to do was important.


When she moved me off the Ebbinghaus project, the new project she wanted me to do was to make an index card for every abstract for every article ever written on cancer, using a typewriter. This was for a one credit hour class that was supposed to inform my honors thesis. It seemed to me she wanted me to do them all, and there was no way I could have. I tried to explain how much time it would take. I had some idea because I typed journal abstracts into a database for the chair of the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Colorado Health Science Center as an after school job during high school. I explained it would be a wasted effort on index cards, but she insisted the abstracts must go on index cards. To appease her, I went to the effort of printing out three reams of paper worth of the abstracts on the university’s big printers, so they could be cut out and glued onto index cards if she desired. And then I went to the department chair who took pity on me that a professor would try to use me as a free secretary when I was paying for the educational experience.


I never told anyone about this over the years, but I realize now that it impacted me greatly, because whether she knew it or not, she taught me to value my time. Moreover, people can be cruel in what they expect other people to use their attention on for their own aims. I learned that not everyone’s ambition is worth supporting, just because they have status. One of the outcomes of the authoritarian paradigm that runs through education, religion and medicine is blind respect for authority, without concern for what that authority is doing. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Ebbinghaus’ research was critical for the educational system to lay the groundwork for authoritarianism in secular life. Understanding how often a person must be programmed with nonsense in order to believe it is critical for those in positions of power to maintain that power. His “forgetting curves” are now being employed by marketing people in order to monopolize our attention.


That’s what my husband and I prize so highly: our attention. If you want to really understand the evil that behaviorism has enabled through marketing companies and the educational system to use in the war for our attention and control of our minds, watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix.


*****


I have in this little room off my studio with a white board I like to call “Oppenheimer.” It’s called that because I feel like we have written on it the keys to happiness, and they are things I feel would be world-changing, taken together. One night, in response to our question of why we are here, I came up with the following answer:


“We are studying eudaimonia, its neurobiological, psychological, and social implications. How to satisfy this basic human drive while minimizing the impact on those around us, and maybe even helping them. Hopefully. Trying to understand the role of addiction in the process and shame.”


I mean, that’s what we’re all doing, right? It’s just that we all have difficulty seeing how our actions impact other people. I think we all want to have the freedom to be relatively spontaneous in our actions, for example. But doing that doesn’t mean that others should be required to honor our “spontaneity” particularly when it arises from wants rather than actual needs. Classism, unfortunately has blurred these lines a bit, because it has caused people to worry more about their reputations than how they use and manipulate others, and what they use others for.


As I see it, anxiety is the normal state of human being. Sad, but true. I think it has always been this way, and that’s why we have all the institutions we do. People generally don’t know how to soothe themselves in times of distress, because people didn’t have good parents. So, we have lots of institutions to take the place of good parents. While I do say the Baby Boomer stuff is bullshit above, however, it’s less about their failure as parents (because human beings are evolving in this context), and it’s more about classism, xenophobia and authoritarianism than anything else, because these are the primary mechanisms for marginalization and causing distress for others. It is in their generation that these mindsets became so ubiquitous that it would threaten life on earth. And it’s because they felt entitled to material wealth because their parents were cruel to them. There is a part of me that feels entitled to things because of the pain I have endured, and the items I feel I can justify for my family’s well being. But really, I am not entitled to ANYTHING. And so it makes sense for me to be grateful for everything. If the Baby Boomers could learn gratitude and how to make do, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about colonizing Mars.


I feel like anxiety and eudaimonia are opposite ends of a spectrum, and that eudaimonia is actually equivalent with enlightenment. However, the state of enlightenment can often be a dissociative state, and so it is difficult to reconcile one’s relationship with others and reality if too much time is spent in eudaimonic pursuits. I think this gets to the heart of many conflicts. How much do we all need to contribute in effort to society individually, and what really are basic needs?


What I have learned is that we are spirits in the material world. When I die, I only leave the material world behind. I can’t take it with me! It’s true. So I feel there is no shame in appreciating material objects, as long as they are not creating pain for others or the earth. I need to bear in mind that when I go, someone is going to have to clean up my mess, and that things I acquire require curation and attention and can cause anxiety for me. It has taken me a long time to get to this place.


I feel like we need to destigmatize pleasure and demonstrate responsible pursuit of it to counteract the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous generation’s fascist takeover of the world. We need to do it in the context of loving and caring for our youth. X marks the spot.

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