Thursday, February 26, 2009

Metaphor: The Mundane Made Beautiful And the Foundation of Language Itself

We won't talk about my naughtiness here. This was due for my writing about literature class at nine tonight. I wrote a paper for the assignment earlier, but hated it - I'm not sure this one, which I started around one this afternoon was much better.

And if you actually read this, yes, I absolutely love Adrienne Rich, while John Keats is still my hero - and I don't care if his words don't bring a tear to your eye, they certainly do mine.

“Here I am, naked on the stage, my sweat is my blood shed to entertain.”

Metaphor is nothing less than the very essence of transcendent lyrical expression – primitive, pure – fundamentally human. At its base, metaphor is simply “a figure of speech based on an unspoken or implied comparison” (Brereton 2064). But metaphor is so very much more than this, it is the core of expression that is intended to evoke an emotional reaction. It is far more effective than simile, because rather than making a simple comparison, it takes ownership of the imagery in conjunction with what is being described by the metaphor. Metaphor immerses the reader into the core experience of the writer, avoiding altogether the hard reality that the imagery is meant to describe.

But metaphor is also so very much more than that. Metaphor is also the core embodiment of cognition and the creation of language itself. It is fundamental to how we think and how we view the world around us. In “The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor” Professor Lakoff takes metaphor far beyond the context of literature and even basic language:
Moreover, these general principles which take the form of conceptual mappings, apply not just to novel poetic expressions, but to much of ordinary everyday language. In short, the locus of metaphor is not in language at all, but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another. The general theory of metaphor is given by characterizing such crossdomain mappings. And in the process, everyday abstract concepts like time, states, change, causation, and purpose also turn out to be metaphorical. The result is that metaphor (that is, cross-domain mapping) is absolutely central to ordinary natural language semantics, and that the study of literary metaphor is an extension of the study of everyday metaphor (Lakoff).

The implication then, is that metaphor is fundamental to the thinking that governs our use of language. “Hurry! We're running out of time.” This is a very basic example of metaphor that quite often shapes our thoughts even if it's not actually verbalized in a given situation. Or when one has a head cold, “I'm dying,” is what many people are thinking, even if there is no one around to express that to and even though most people know full well that within a matter of days they will feel just fine and very much alive. We are thinking metaphorically, without even considering that that is what we're doing. Indeed if you were to ask people, most would probably question the idea that they think metaphorically at all.

Lakoff is far from finished though. “ The metaphor is not just a matter of language, but of thought and reason. The language is secondary. The mapping is primary...” (Lakoff). People create imagery based connections – imaginary connections, if you will, before they ever describe what they've seen. This is quite probably why, when witnesses to a crime are questioned, many of them will claim to have seen something different. It's not just a matter of perspective, it's a matter of metaphorical mapping. Different people create different images to help them remember, help them describe things. Is it all that remarkable to think that this may skew their memory?

This is why metaphorical poetry is the purest, most primitive form of human expression. It is the condensing of pre-reasoning and the virtually raw subconscious brought to the glorious light of day. By primitive, I do not mean mean to say simple – in many ways the most primitive workings of the human mind are among the most complex. It is the foundation for who and what we are, what makes us us, what makes us human. It is like the difference between raw garlic and garlic that has been processed into an odorless tablet. The complexity of the raw garlic is in the power of its flavor and odor. The complexity of the odorless tablet is in the refinement, the process that takes it from this overwhelmingly flavorful, strong smelling clove, into something that's barely noticable. In it's finished form, the tablet is really rather simple – it's the process that's complex.

Take the line; “Here I am, naked on the stage, my sweat is my blood, shed to entertain.” The first time those words escaped my lips, was during a improvisational poetry slam in South City St. Louis at the Way Out Club. I was in fact, fully clothed and my sweat was just that, sweat, yet that line was an absolute and fundamental truth. Just hours before I took the stage that night, I was interviewed on one of the St. Louis public radio stations. The interviewer had asked a great many, increasingly deeply personal questions, all of which I responded to with great candor. Too, my lyrics and poetry were heavily focused on exposing my experience of the human condition. At that point in my life, I was both the singer/lyricist for a band and also an actor in a small professional company and in a amateur company. At that point in time, I gave every bit of my life to the art that I was involved in.

I wanted to provide that example, because I could provide a literal meaning to the metaphorical imagery I used. But part of the wonder of metaphorical poetry, is that the reader is given the opportunity to take ownership of the literal truth of the imagery. So lets look at examples of metaphor from other writers.

What immortalized John Keats, was his ability to draw the reader full into his own experience of the world around him. Not just into what he observed, but into what he was feeling. Through his poetry, it isn't hard to imagine just what it was, his experience of the human condition. His adept use of symbolism and simile paint a vivid background, but it's his use of metaphor that exposes us to what his experience of that background was to him. In “Ode to a Nightingale” Keats paints a luscious, vibrant backdrop, the beauty of which manages to strike through the obvious suffering the poet (Brereton 1039). But the following metaphoric imagery betrays the paradoxical joy in Keats' experience of natural beauty, that countered his pain and fear of dying:
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain -
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Having read a great deal about Keats life, I know the why of his depression, but one need only read this single poem to know he was a deeply disturbed young man. The first two lines provide a clear insight into the poet's frame of mind:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

This is despair to bring tear to the eye of the most cynical stoic. Yet in the depths of this despair, Keats manages to express the ecstasy of his agony:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

And again, the expression of the beauty of his world, spikes through in metaphor, from the most primitive, hidden recesses of his mind. He knows the beauty is all around him, he knows he's surrounded by awe inspiring wonders. But he is unable to force direct expression of that beauty, symbols, simile and direct descriptives fail him. In metaphor however, he able to carry us into the beauty that is this bird, this song and ultimately, his joy of it.

Then there is the writing of Adrienne Rich, who more than anything, seems to wonder what it is to be something, someone else. In “Diving Into the Wreck” she is an underwater fairypeople, she's an explorer and she's the wreck she's diving into (Brereton 738). But of course, she must first remind herself what she is about:
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.

For Adrienne its not the sum of the words, but words themselves that are the meaning. Her poetry is filled with “word” and “words” as metaphors. But back to the Wreck:
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun

In the second and third lines, she is wanting to experience the thing, the wreck – not someone else's experience of it, the story of it. But in the forth and fifth lines, she gives us her first experience of it, or what we can believe is her first impression. Though it could just as well be her pre-impression of this thing, this wreck. Then she fully envelops herself, immerses herself into the experience:
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
She swirls through this metaphor where she is a underwater fey then two, then she is the wreck itself – blending her merman personas into one into the wreck itself. And the ending is simply masterful:
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

This flowing back, easing us out of this metaphor is truly wordsmithing at it's very finest. Rich has eased us into her world of words and beauty, taken us about this wreck, become this wreck and then eases us back out and into reality again. No abrupt transition, no blunt imagery, like that we see from Keats, her words begin in our world, the recognizable, mundane world. It's slowly that her words flow, water and we flow with them, into her head. Once we've spent a short time in her mind, we ease back out and finish with the unidentified myth from which this adventure began.

The power of words, the power of language is in metaphor. It allows us to be something else, someone else, somewhere else – to journey is someone else's mind. But more importantly, it takes us to the roots of our language, our history, our pre-history and into a time and place before we were really quite humans yet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Addiction: A New Paradigm

This is my first addiction paper. Unfortunately I got too distracted in the middle of writing it and had a rather awkward change of focus. While it will work for the assignment, I am less than pleased with the results. I will try to amend it when time and opportunity allow. Here is a link to the annotated bibliography.

I should mention that any comments and criticisms are quite welcome, especially those that are constructive in nature. I know that some of the folks who come by are quite well versed in psychology and addiction. Please don't hesitate to point out errors, either factual or implied. And of course I welcome criticism of the writing itself.

Substance abuse and addictions cost American taxpayers more than $500 billion a year (NIDA). And more than sixty-five percent of Americans are affected by substance abuse issues, either directly as an addict, or because they are close to someone with substance abuse issues (Riskind). Yet twelve step programs, the dominant method for treating addictions in the U.S. has proven itself woefully inadequate at reducing the harms associated with addictions. Only a very small percentage of addicts and substance abusers who utilize twelve step therapies manage to get control over their addictions, and the percentages associated with cognitive-behavioral approaches are equally dismal. Society is in desperate need for a new addiction paradigm, a paradigm that addresses not only treatment, but our very perception of addiction and successful addiction management.

According to the American Psychology Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), addiction is defined as "impaired control over drug use” (APA). The NIH's MedlinePlus medical dictionary defines addiction as "...compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance..."(Merriam-Webster), while the MedlinePlus encyclopedia claims that "A physical dependence on a substance (needing the drug to function) is not always part of the definition of addiction”(NIH & USNLM) Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines addiction thus; "Habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one's voluntary control”(Houghton Mifflin).

While the aforementioned definitions may seem to be quite similar, there are important differences. The distinction between overt chemical dependence and the underlying psychological dependence is particularly critical. It's also a major point of contention for those involved in addiction science. Another critical point of contention is whether or not non-substance addictions are addictions at all. Language largely defines reality and in regards to addiction it fails us in the most fundamental context: addiction science. It's no wonder that many of the people who work with addicts and substance abusers tend to eschew the word “addiction.” Lacking a coherent, cohesive clinical definition, addiction has become a very loaded term, even in the realm of hard science.

In Over the Influence Dr. Denning et al. express concern that “addiction” is often used too loosely “and does not speak to the user's relationship with a drug” (Denning 141). Instead the authors prefer to restrict “addiction” to the very top of a definitive spectrum that describes specific characteristics of the different relationships that people have with drugs. Moreover, the authors prefer to use the word “chaos” to define that point on the spectrum (Denning 28-30). While their desire to eschew the using the word addiction and it's related connotations is understandable, doing so ignores the broader social perception of what “addiction” means. And there is nothing to prevent describing the important distinctions between the different sorts of relationships people have with drugs, within a broader contextual framework of “addiction.”

The generalized social perception of what “addiction” means is in parts more simplistic and more complex than the confusion surrounding it in the clinically-oriented definitions presented above. Outside the hard science and clinical frameworks, context becomes even more important when discussing “addiction.” From the myriad pop songs that describe a romantic relationship as “addiction” to describing a homeless drunk who exists in a perpetual stupor, the connotations of “addiction” range from something warm and loving to something very dark and ugly. While on it's face it might appear that the use of “addiction” in the context of a romantic relationship or other ambivalent/benevolent contexts is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, it cannot be ignored. Again, language largely defines reality. More clearly our use of language largely defines reality. So like it or not, in the broader social context, ambivalent/benevolent behaviors are an important aspect of the discussion of “addiction.”

When Denning et al. shy away from the negative implications of “addiction,” they are also shying away from the positive connotations. While those connotations aren't part of any clinical framework of “addiction,” they are an important part of the broader social connotations. There is no reason not to take advantage of these implications in a clinical setting and many ways it could be used to effectively help people who are significantly hampered by substance abuse or other negative “addictive” behaviors. Words, with their implications, hidden meanings and quiet connotations are incredibly powerful tools. We should never be afraid to explore the possibilities that these tools have to offer. Especially when we are working with the intricacies of the human mind. There is no reason, when discussing addictions in a clinical setting, to ignore the less negative connotations of addiction. When someone comes forward with concerns about their substance use issues or other negative addictive behaviors, “addiction” is in the room, whether the therapist wants it to be or not. Instead of trying to change their language, it would be much easier to work on the association they have with the language they're thinking in.

In The Heart of Addiction, Lance Dodes, MD doesn't shy away from it. He takes a very broad approach that strikes to the core:

Addictions have been segregated as though they are different from other human problems, as though they required a unique approach (as in Alcoholics Anonymous), and as though they could not be understood as emotional issues by either the people treating them or the people suffering with them. But if addictions and compulsions are basically the same, psychologically, there can be no reason to think of or treat them differently. Like compulsions, addictions the mainstream of the human condition (Dodes 185).

And this is why it is so very important to embrace the use of the term “addiction.” Not so addicts can cower in fear, in the hopelessness of their ability to ever manage their addictions, as the dominant approach to addiction treatment would have them do. Nor so they can exist apart from society, as some are wont to do. We should embrace the term “addiction” because we are human and addictions are very much a part of the human condition. Not just the negatives either, by embracing the language of “addiction” we are embracing it in all of it's glory, the good, the bad and everything in between. By embracing the language of “addiction” we are embracing the humanity of the addict and facing head on the problems of the addict's addictions. By embracing the language of addiction, addiction becomes less scary – less insurmountable, because we come to understand that addictions, like every other aspect of the human condition, aren't inherently good or bad, it's the expression that defines its positives/negatives.

Unfortunately, many of the expressions of addiction are quite negative and destructive. Substance abuse alone really is a mainstream human condition, all in itself. As NIDA tells us, it costs more than five-hundred billion dollars a year (NIDA). And as the survey posted by Faces and Voices for Recovery points out, addictions affect more than sixty-three percent of Americans (Riskind). Addressing the definitions of addiction only gets us so far, while definition is important, we also need to address the approaches of addiction treatment. There are three basic approaches to addiction treatment, which I will discuss in the order of their prevalence in practice. But it is important to understand that when dealing with addictions, there is no “one size fits all” approach. While I am going to be rather critical of the most prevalent, twelve step programs, it's important to keep in mind that for some addicts, the twelve steps not only work, but are critical – in many cases a lifesaving approach. The problem is not with the twelve step programs, it's with the broad assumptions that go with them.

The twelve steps to recovery are based on the disease model of addiction. The disease model of addiction is rather controversial, with notables in the field, such as Dr. Stanton Peele and the authors of Over the Influence, Denning et al., disputing its validity altogether. But a lot of research suggests a fairly definite link between alcoholism and genetics and there is a growing body if evidence to suggest a link between dopamine deficits and substance abuse. At the same time it's pretty clear that not all addictions are founded in that disease model and even those that are, don't necessarily fit into a single treatment approach. The Narcotics Anonymous: Basic Text typifies the basic assumptions that dominate the social and political addiction paradigm.

We realize that we are never cured, and that we carry the disease within us for the rest of our lives. We have a disease, but we do recover. Each day we are given another chance. We are convinced that there is only one way for us to live, and that is the NA way.(NA International 8)

Over time some addicts lost contact with other recovering addicts and eventually returned to active addiction. They forgot that it is really the first drug that starts the deadly cycle all over again. They tried to control it, to use in moderation, or to use just certain drugs. None of these

control methods work for addicts. (NA Inernational 78)

The problem with this, is that it presupposes that any addict who doesn't follow the NA or some other twelve step program, is doomed to a life of addictions. It also presupposes that it doesn't matter if someone alters their drug use to be less harmful. Any use is considered failure and any other method of treatment for addictions cannot possibly succeed. This is patently false and the repercussions of this position resonate throughout our society to the detriment of the vast majority of addicts.

This position has a huge influence on public policy in the U.S., including the sentencing guidelines for a variety of civil and criminal offenses. From drunk driving, to simple possession of an illicit drug, hundreds of people are sentenced to twelve step drug treatment programs every day in the U.S. Many of these people aren't addicts at all. Others are simply not going to successfully respond to twelve step treatment plans. In spite of several studies, including studies in which AA and NA were involved with (AA 12), showing that coercion into twelve step programs is ineffective and possibly counterintuitive, the principle that only the twelve steps can successfully treat addictions provides the momentum to keep such policies alive.

This position also has a detrimental effect on the perception of society as a whole. First off, it provides many addicts with an excuse not to try anything. They believe that because the twelve steps failed them, they should just give up – or that because they know they can't quit everything they won't bother trying to quit using the substances that are causing them the most harm. Second, it creates a perception in our society, that more people have addiction problems than really do. It convinces parents and friends, that because an individual has had substance abuse issues in the past, that any use on their part is a “relapse,” which can lead to alienation. And finally, this view segregates addicts from the rest of society. It says that addicts are somehow different from everyone else, that we're somehow damaged, weak or otherwise unfit.

With those criticisms in mind, it is also important to remember that AA, NA and other twelve step programs do seem to work for some people. Just because they don't work for everyone, there is no reason to assume they don't work at all. There are a great many people alive today, who attribute their survival to the twelve step approach to addiction recovery. And for some addicts total abstinence from all psychoactive substances is an absolute necessity. While the assumption made by many proponents of the twelve step philosophy, that the only treatment for addictions are the twelve steps is absolutely wrong, it is equally erroneous to assume that this makes the twelve steps a categorical failure. Indeed, quite often the twelve step approach is combined with the second most prevalent approach to addiction treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The most common cognitive-behavioral (C-B) approach is really quite simple. The premise is to change the way that an addict thinks of their addictions. The goal is to empower the addict, help them think in terms of strength and success. To move them away from hopeless, defeatist thought processes (Kadden et al). It is rarely, if ever a stand-alone therapy. It is a part of almost all in-patient addiction treatment programs. Indeed, it is rarely engaged outside the context of in-patient or aggressive out-patient treatment programs. While engaged in C-B therapy, the addict will usually meet with their therapist several times a week, sometimes daily for the initial few weeks of treatment. As treatment progresses, the patient will meet with the therapist less often. Usually they will be down to one session a week with their therapist after ten to fifteen weeks. Sometimes they will stop meeting with their therapist altogether at this point (Barry ch4).

A less common form of C-B is meeting with a therapist in a more traditional psychotherapy setting. Dr. Dodes. author of The Heart of Addiction, engages is therapy in a similar manner. The idea is to redirect the thinking and actions of the addict (Dodes). Really, this form of therapy has existed for as long as we've had psychotherapy, though the individual tactics have changed considerably over the years. One of the advantages to this method is that therapy is tailored to the addict and the addict has the advantage of a trained therapist who can help him or her make decisions about treatment beyond the C-B therapy sessions. Quite often, this form of therapy forms the core of harm reduction approaches to treating addictions.

The harm reduction approach to addiction treatment is firmly entrenched in the idea that there is no and never will be a “one size fits all” approach. As Patt Denning, Phd puts it in Over the Influence, “The harm reduction way of understanding drug use and abuse takes into account the complexity of each person's relationship with drugs” (Denning 8). That's right, everyone who uses drugs has a “relationship” with the drug or drugs they use. Moreover, people who engage in any addictive behavior have a specific relationship with that behavior that is central to their addiction. This recognition that there is a relationship involved and that said relationship is unique to the person experiencing it, is the key advantage that harm reduction therapy has over other, singular methods of addiction treatment.

By understanding that everyone has their own relationship with drugs, harm reduction can help addicts find approaches that will work for them. The harm reduction approach recognizes that not everyone will be abstinent from all psychoactive substances or even the substance that is the object of their addiction. Harm reduction doesn't gauge success by arbitrary standards. Success is gaged by reducing the harm of the addictive behaviors. The harm reduction approach recognizes that success may be an ongoing process of gradual reduction of harm. But most importantly, the harm reduction approach recognizes that success is entirely relative to the addicts relationship to their drugs or other addictive behavior.

Another powerful advantage to recognizing that people have relationships with drugs and their addictive behaviors, is possibly the most powerful. “Relationships change” (Denning 28). Our relationships are always changing, always evolving – no matter the relationship being discussed. As they grow and change, my relationship with my children changes. I'm confident that it will continue to do so well into their adulthood, because my relationship with my own parents has been ever changing. Change is very much the nature of relationships.

But while the harm reduction approach sounds and ultimately is pretty remarkable, many practitioners of the harm reduction approach have a very singular view just the same. As was shown in our exploration of the definitions of addiction, many harm reduction practitioners are uncomfortable using the word addiction. In part, because they are uncomfortable with the disease model of addictions as a whole. And this is ultimately to the detriment of the addicts who come along, who would be best served by a twelve step program. Just like the dominating twelve step approach that claims that nothing else can work, many harm reduction practitioners would exclude ideas outside their purview. And even Dr. Dodes, who seems very open to many different approaches isn't immune to the language of exclusion. While he really does have a rather revolutionary approach to viewing addiction and avoids couching his terms in outright absolutes, it's clear that he has a very strong preference for his analytical approach.

It is time for us to chart a new course for dealing with addictions in our society and at the very top of the list is a driving need to get over our petty turf wars. You saw the figures in the introduction to this paper. We aren't running out of addicts any time soon, there are more than enough to go around. Unfortunately all too few of them are getting any help at all. While this is largely due to the exclusivity of the dominant paradigm, it is also due to the claims by various elements that they have the method to help the addict with their addictions. What the message to addicts should be, is that one way or another, there is a way to help them reduce the harm caused by and ultimately overcome their addiction. That if one approach doesn't work, there are other options available.

Beyond that, we need to fundamentally change our perception of addictions. Addiction is a mainstream, even a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Humans are creatures of habits and compulsions. When taken out of the context of negative, harmful behaviors, “addiction” takes on a great many connotations that range from benign to outright positive. While searching for a coherent clinical definition for addiction, it was hard not to notice that there are probably hundreds of pop songs with addiction in the title or as the title. People talk about their addictions to books, walks in the park, hiking, spending time with their kids, community service – the list is endless. And there isn't a single thing in that list that couldn't be taken to a unhealthy, negative extreme. There are few, if any humans who can truly claim to have never manifested some sort of addictive behavior that was taken to an unhealthy extreme.

Yet as a society, we feel justified in segregating the “addicts” into a special group. And “addicts” are just as guilty of anyone else in perpetuating this tendency. Because people want to believe that there are addicts and there are “addicts.” It's easier that way. Segregative labeling is also, quite unfortunately in the mainstream of the human condition.

There are a great many things that would make a major difference in helping people reduce the harm of their addictions. Policy changes, such as legalizing, regulating and taxing currently illicit drugs, for example, would make it much easier for people with serious addictions to get help, while removing a lot of people who don't have addiction issues with those drugs out of the treatment system. Making sure that people who commit crimes such as driving under the influence of intoxicating substances both pay for their crime and get treatment that will help them get control of their addictions, instead of just pawning them off on AA or NA. Providing kids with a realistic view of drugs and drug use, that doesn't make claims they're going to know are false but ensures that they understand the very real dangers involved with drug use and other risky behaviors.

But most important, is fundamentally altering our view of addictions as a society. Language largely defines reality. Before humans developed language, we were little different than any other omnivore out there. It could be and in fact has been argued that language is what makes humans human. We need to be using our language to move us forward with regards to addictions. Because right now we are failing and failing badly. Considerably more than half of the people in our society are dealing with the effects of harmful substance addictions. We are spending more than $500 billion every year in the U.S. alone, just dealing with substance addictions. And according to the median of several statistics I saw, from sources at the NA website, to the harm reduction sites and substance abuse help clearinghouse sites, we are failing more than seventy percent of the people who actually go looking for help. No way of knowing what percentage of actual addicts we fail, because most of them never look for help.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Be back to blogging tomorrow or Tuesday....

I've been in Tennessee since Friday, heading home tomorrow. I will try to get to Kerlikowske asap, but I have quite a bit of work to do for school. Spring break is coming up after this week, at which point I should definitely have time. Suffice to say for the moment, that my excitement is becoming less and less tentative.

I will be posting about addiction again and plan on getting some gender discussions up, as hte focus of the next paper is gender, sex and gender roles.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

All right, I can breath for a few minutes...

I finished the rough draft of my first addiction paper. So now I just need to get the books for my next paper, which will be on gender. Mainly because I've really been enjoying the discussion at Pieces of Me and it got me thinking in that direction. I will also hopefully be writing some posts about gender coming up here.

But I also need to get the final draft of this paper finished and slam out a couple more addiction posts I've got rumbling around in me. And I will probably get the paper itself posted late next week, though I am considering actually fleshing it out a bit more. Twelve pages just aren't enough - especially double spaced. I mean come on, you should definitely get more pages if they're double spaced!!!!

Fuck You California Bigots!!!

Sorry to those who don't care for the language, but I'm angry and I just don't feel like hiding it. The fucking monsters who want to pretend to be all about family, are anything but, when in the name of family, they want some families to be less than "real" families. Fucking look these people in the eyes. These are families that are just as important as any other family. Fuck You, all of you, who claim to be protecting families.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ok, so that was a bad way to try and get what I wanted.

But it's ok, because I have a plan. A few of them actually.

The first is to make a few sets to be defined. One of them being: "substance abuse," "addiction," "compulsion," "rage," "depression." The next being: "love," "addiction," "affection," "passion," "lust." The final being: "duty," "being," "doing," "wanting," "addiction." So a computer savvy friend is hopefully going to help me get these into a couple of those "make your own survey" sites, in a way that they will be fairly equally distributed when people click to do the survey, which will ask for a quick definition of each word. In theory it should be possible to get it up there and just get me the responses to the word addiction, while letting me know which list the definition came from.

Wish me luck, I haven't actually gotten a commitment, just a "kind of, sort of, I can probably do that." I'd like it to happen, because it will probably give me the most valuable responses.

The second is to start random conversations with random strangers at the coffee shops and bring up addiction in various contexts. Occasionally while wearing a skirt, because I've noticed that wearing one makes people want to talk to me. I'm kind of introverted, so it will be a boon.

The last is tallying the discussion that got going at my brother's blog. Which I really recommend checking out and participating in. It did not work out as I hoped it would, but I really like the results anyways.

Defining Addiction

I am no longer keeping this post up top, but feel free to post your definitions.

I am keeping this post on top for the time being. Look for new posts under this one... But please, seriously, feel totally free to give me definitions for addiction. Don't think about it, just bust out with the first thought that comes into your head when you read the word "Addiction."

If you had only one, maybe two sentences, how would you define addiction?

Language largely defines our reality. Unfortunately, I am finding that a cohesive, consistent clinical definition for addiction is awfully hard to come by. It is becoming easy to understand why addiction is such a pervasive and destructive force in our society. We can't even come to a consensus about what the actual problem is.

So please, let me know what you think. Leave it in comments or email me. I want to know what you think. It is mostly for my paper, but it will also become the subject of a blogpost.

Also, considering carefully a variety of contexts, is your reaction to the word "addiction" uniformly negative?

I should also mention that you'll get my undying gratitude if you decide to post the question at your own blog, assuming you have one. If you want to post it for me, let me know by email. I have a standardized post for the blogs of others and will list your blog in this post. The more responses I get the better.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blog as Safety Valve: Yup, more about addiction

Writing a research paper is really restrictive. Who'd have thought that twelve damned pages would be a painful restriction? Who'd have thought that I'm actually nuts enough to wish for twice the space?

I did most of the basic research before I started writing and had a very solid direction for this paper. But as I got into the process of writing, I realized that it's not the direction I want to go at all. It has also sent me into a very different direction of interest in general, that may well have ramifications on the direction of my education. Though honestly, not much of a difference, as I intended on seeking a secondary degree in English and/or communications anyways. The direction I am seeing right now would just mean taking that secondary degree beyond a bachelors.

Anyways, I really don't want to say much more than that, because I don't want to influence the responses I am hoping to get from my request for definitions of addiction.

What I will do, is recommend one of my primary sources for the paper I'm writing, The Heart of Addiction, by Lance Dodes, M.D. His discussion of addiction is really, really exciting for me, because it largely reflects where I have been going. Except instead of being a high-school dropout turned non-traditonal student, he's been in practice nearly as long as I've been alive....

Now I head for bed, as I have school tomorrow. Though I need to wind down with some more brain candy. I actually worked up a sweat writing today, not a little one either - more of a defeating the industrial strength antiperspirant, need another shower sort of sweat. But then, I wrote a hella lot today.

And just in case you didn't catch it before, I love Pandora.

Dammit - I have three more pages to get through today, and yet.....

I don't actually have three more pages to get through. I busted quite a bit out while I was writing this. And what I busted out on my addiction paper was pretty awesome.

The last few days have been kind of stressful. The issue of great importance, which I occasionally allude to but of which I cannot speak is kicking my ass right now. I've pretty much been thinking about addiction, my pain and little else. When I wrote that post a couple days ago, I really hadn't intended it to go the direction it did. I think it was the result of having a great therapist and being in the midst of a situation that hurts so very much that I simply can't ignore it. That and all the comments admiring my openness.

I realized that I haven't really been nearly as open as people would think. And as I thought about it, I realized that my pain has been a sort of special, secret place that was all my own - so secret I had trouble realizing it exists at all. Yet thinking about it, it's been my retreat for so many years. My pain and the shame I hardly knew existed. And my fear.

I couldn't very well expose any of these. I was almost convinced I didn't have them. But here I am and here they are. My ugliest addictions. The first step to recovering is admitting you have a problem.

My name is DuWayne and I am ugly inside. I'm not ugly because of what I've done or who I've been. I'm ugly inside, because inside is where I've hidden away my shame, my fear - and my pain. I'm ugly inside because I am addicted to my shame, my fear and my pain, holding it tightly, my brutal comfort - my bed of ice and nails, my blanket of broken glass.

But it's ok. I'm not afraid of my addictions. Addiction is an integral part of the human condition. I've gotten a handle on my addictions before - I can get a handle on this. Changing the ugly I can and accepting the ugly left behind - for now.

Really, it's ok. Because no matter how ugly I am inside, I am also beautiful inside. I love so much it hurts sometimes - a lot of the time. I love my neighbor. I love asshole who cut me off on my way to coffee. I love the little boy, who'll never be a little boy, because he's a boy soldier in Congo. And I love you. Yes you, not someone else you think this was meant for - I Love You.

And this is why I embrace the language of addiction. Because it is embracing humanity, mainstream humanity. Because like every other aspect of the human condition, addiction isn't inherently good, bad or indifferent. It's its expression that places it on the spectrum. And more intense than any other addiction of mine, I am addicted to loving. And loving until it hurts and beyond is pain that is greater than any other pleasure possible.

It's easy now, to understand why I'm addicted to my pain.

Taking A Break......

This is your brain. This is your brain on research paper. (found the second image at a really spiffy science blog I love how google makes that sort of thing happen)

I am tentatively excited about Obama's pick for drug czar, but won't have time to write a substantive post for a week or so. In the meantime, DrugMonkey has a post about him. I will try to throw up more links about Kerlikowske, as I notice them - which won't be often for the next few days.

I also wanted to mention Pandora. A friend showed it to me quite a while ago and I promptly forgot all about it, until yesterday, when my dad was asking me about listening to streaming music online and working on the computer at the same time (he's seventy-three, give him a break). I did a google search and Pandora came up, which jogged my memory. It's pretty much been on since. If you register, let me know - I'd love to find out about your musical tastes and would be happy to share my own. My bookmarked artists are either artists that are new to me, or ones I've heard but didn't know.

And if anyone knows how the hell to pin a post to the top in blogger, please let me know. I hate having to screw around with time-stamps to keep the addiction question on top.

Did I mention I love Pandora? Because I do.

And I also love this blog I just discovered while procrastinating with JLK's blogroll. You all say I'm open. At least Crystal is open about her pain. I think I can learn a thing or two....

And I really, really love that Natalie Merchant's "My Skin" is playing right now. On Pandora, which if I forgot to mention, I love.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why I am pursuing a education for a career dealing with addiction

I am now busy as all hell. I have a lot of writing to do in the next week and posting may get sparse, though I may throw some more up as I get into the nuts and bolts of my paper. For now, I just wanted to mention the abysmally poor record of the dominant substance abuse paradigm.

There is very little information available about recidivism, but what there is is chilling. I suspect that the figures we have, strongly contribute to why we don't have more. This is a link to Comments On AA's Triennial Survey, from 1989. This is analysis of survey compilations performed by AA. Of particular interest, is the graph on page twelve, showing that of those who start attending AA, only five percent are there after a year. Other studies (scroll up a couple pages) have shown a slightly better picture, but there is little question that twelve step programs are not for everyone.

Meanwhile, American taxpayers are pumping out two hundred billion a year for substance abuse issues. Add to that the loss of production and other factors, substance abuse costs us more than five hundred billion every damned year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wide Open: Why I Expose Myself

This is who and what I am, naked on the stage
Doing the best I can, to grow a little
Thrust out in the world, driven by my rage
Every time I turn, I see and feel others pain

I Am, DuWayne Brayton & Alec Steele 1993

The very first secular song I ever wrote, set the stage for who I shaped out to be. Over the years, the notion of exposure, standing naked has woven itself throughout my music, poetry and prose. As have the concepts of anger and pain, almost exclusively the pain of others. Which really gives lie to my openness, because from early on my path has been largely defined, guided by my pain.

I suspect that this focus on the pain of others, was a coping mechanism that allowed me to ignore my own, even convince myself that it didn't exist. Too, I suspect that it was founded in the idea that focusing on my own pain is selfish, contrary to my internalized interpretation of the biblical principal of selflessness. I have always had a pathological concern for others, often to my detriment. But it has also fueled my openness about who I am - good and bad.

Because, as I mentioned, I am angry - quite often really fucking pissed. And ultimately, the target of my rage isn't small minded bigotry. It isn't assholes who think that for whatever reason, they're more important than everyone else and therefor above petty notions such as courtesy. It's not even psychotic fucknuts who get off on damaging their fellow humans. Honestly, I feel sad for people like that, though not a little angry at particular instances in which they express their pathos.

I rage at the inhumanity of human nature. I rage at it more, because being human, I fall prey to it myself at times. I am open, because I want to be accountable for who and what I am.

I am also open because one of the most profoundly formative experiences, was being cast out of what was supposed to be a safe, loving family. For years after, I lived on the outside, the fringes - the very periphery of society. And I never got back - may never really have been there. It's ok though, because I love the company. I adore my fellow outcasts and even better, they have loved me and accepted me for who and what I am - no strings attached, no expectations or molds to conform to. Queers and trannies, addicts and others who are broken wide open, just like me. We prop each other up and hold each other together.

The vulnerable.

I'm open, because I am and always have been, sick and fucking tired of the weakminded, weakspirited, who feel the need to prop themselves up by preying on the vulnerable. Even as I hurt for them, and hurt for them I do, as I hurt for anyone weaker than myself - I also feel the need to fight them. Because while I am vulnerable, there's vulnerable and there's vulnerable. I open myself up and make myself more vulnerable - I do it every day in a variety of contexts. And I goddamn well fucking dare weakspirited, pathetic fucking fools to prey on me. Because while I am vulnerable, I am anything but weak. Prey on me and I will break you, teach you what it is to be vulnerable and to make it infinitely worse, I will love you.

I'm open, because I love more than any others, the lost, broken vulnerable. Don't get me wrong, I'm alone. No matter how open I am, no one really knows me - least of all me (and there are those who know me better than me). But I am loved. I am accepted. I have family everyfuckingwhere I go. And I want others to know that no matter how alone they are, no matter how broken, no matter how vulnerable - they are not alone and that there is a great deal of strength in being broken and vulnerable.

I'm open because I'm a narcissistic exhibitionist. I'm a little boy seeking the approval of the adults around me, sadly discovering that most adults are just pretending.

But mostly I am open, because in my openness I discover who and what I am. And I am open because it helps me hide from the pain that largely defines me.

So here I am and here I will be, naked before you...

No, I'm really not dropping hints.....

I put up a Amazon wish list, because I find it interesting to see what others are reading, or want to read. Although, if anyone actually does buy me a book I won't complain. Mostly it's just there to show the world what a dork I truly am.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I have a very good reason for putting all the histories on the list. The Cambridge Illustrated is just something I have desperately wanted for years. But I am planning on retiring someday, to write a history of Imperialism, from the Greeks, through the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Can't say for sure that I'll ever get around to writing it, but I sure would like to do something with all the reading I've done and will continue to do.

And while I hope that it will have drawn itself back quite a bit and become something much greater than it is now, I sincerely hope that the empire in which I live won't have reached it's own demise by then. Though given the examples that history has to offer, simple inertia should keep us gliding along for some time to come.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Damn, I wish I had time for a band

I am just a little boy, crying in the dark
I am just a child whose lost his mom
I am just a man, who thinks he understands
I am just alone, wondering what went wrong

It's so easy to say, just give it all away
The foolishness, hypocrisy and vice
Why can't you understand, this is everything I am
Everything I ever wanted to be - crumbles into dust

I'm wandering the corridors, searching for a truth
Spun from the end of a life of absolutes
I knew it all before, now it's shattered on the floor
Alone, with my universe of pain

It's so easy to say, just give it all away
The foolishness, hypocrisy and vice
Why can't you understand, this is everything I am
Everything I ever wanted to be - has crumbled into dust

I've been walking along, the journeys been so long
I am so weary of the fight
Desperate to hold on, how could I be so wrong
even now, I'd love to find a sign
In the end this is all I am, I am just a man
At the end it's the beginning of my life
Trying to comprehend, the whole universe ahead
Condemning everything I've done and said

It's so easy to say, just give it all away
The foolishness, hypocrisy and vice
Why can't you understand, this is everything I am
Everything I ever wanted to be
Here I am at the end, my life has just began
Knowing what I am is what I am
The sacred's all around, in every sight and smell and sound
Knowledge here, and knowledge yet to come

That will never, crumble into dust

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Taking the rest of the evening off....

I am wiped out. I did more physical work today, than I have in a long while. The posting lately (here and at Pieces of Me) has been pretty intense and emotionally draining. These are issues that I have thoroughly invested myself in over the years. And I have some personal issues that I really wish I could discuss but can't - suffice to say that I am pretty depressed at the moment.

So I am going to take a xanax and enjoy some brain candy and kickass sugar cookies. I may throw some verse at a page too, depending how I'm feeling. Probably won't post any of the though - but who knows, maybe I will.

Male Gender: Ripping People Out of Their Comfort Zones

Addendum; Focusing on the memories of this experience was a rather intense experience and things became rather convoluted at the end. Writing at two in the morning probably contributed. So I have cleaned up the end of the post.

Ok. I just couldn't really fit this into a comment. JLK has been writing a series on gender, that will encompass several parts. She's on men, chapter three now and my response to this in particular, is a very good introduction to how DuWayne became interested in gender issues. The whole sub-series on men (part one) has been fantastic and fostered some really interesting discussions. I feel kind of bad dragging my butt back here, but I realized that one, I had more than can reasonably be shoved into a comment on someone else's blog and two, it really does describe my first awareness of gender, outside the context of physiology.

Be forewarned, this post is a very frank discussion of sexuality and contains rather graphic descriptives.

But manhood is not something that, once reached, is permanent. It can be taken away at any point - through the loss of a job or income, lack of a significant other (or one who leaves), loss of hair, sexual impotence or infertility, expressing emotion in public. and myriad other things. A "real man" is always in control of himself, his family, and his emotions. A "real man" doesn't have those problems.
More...The first time I wore a skirt, I was bumming about, having just come back into town after a year on the road. I was hanging out with a bi-women, who was definitely inclined towards the "prefers girls" end of the spectrum. Having since met the other three men she had ever been with at that point since, I was struck by the fact that we were all rather pretty boys. So I'm hanging out with this women, Kaylee (she was "less than" thirty, I was nineteen) about thirty hours after I wandered into town and she was washing all my clothes (I had been in the woods for a week or so before I took four days to hitch home - basically on a whim). We were hanging out in her living room naked, after she had spent a good forty minutes scrubbing off the road grime in the shower. She lived very close to the coffee shop and we were both really in the mood for a coffee, but of course my clothes were all in the laundry. She got this almost menacing grin on her face and said she could probably find something for me to put on (keeping in mind I was a sight bigger than she). She ran upstairs for a few minutes and came back down with clothes on, carrying a fucking hippie shirt and a bright yellow, long and light hippie skirt - also wearing a massive, shit-eating grin.

I shrugged, put it on and was forever hooked. It was the most comfortable thing I had ever worn. And when we strutted into the coffee shop, there wasn't a single person in the place that failed to look. At least half the people there knew me and many of them weren't even subtle about their disbelief (more than the skirt, most of them hadn't seen me in over a year). To make matters more shocking, one of my closest friends ran up and gave me a hug, lifting me off the ground in the process. Then, a spur of the moment thing, he kissed me full on the lips - even slipped some tongue. We all sat down, Kaylee sitting close and doing naughty things under the table, when she whispered in my ear that I was causing her to get a lot of dirty looks from some of the women around us. Long story short, when we headed back to her place, a couple of girls went with us, along with my rather voraciously welcoming friend Chris. Fun was had by all.

Now seeing a guy in a skirt walk into a coffee shop with a hot woman and get kissed by a guy friend, was fairly shocking in Kalamazoo, MI, midwest U.S. in 1995 - don't get me wrong. But to explain the extreme of that shock to many who witnessed it, I have to backtrack by several years.

I was such a boy growing up.

I loved playing with toy guns, watching westerns, reading adventure novels - I was bent on the idea of becoming a bounty hunter/private detective until I was eight. With severe ADHD, I had the impulse control of shark in bloody water. I was a boys boy. Because of the attention of a couple of awesome men in my life, I learned to become intimate with nature. I learned about the plants and bugs that would keep me alive if necessary. I also learned to read tracks. I managed my first kill at eleven, taking a 'coon out of a tree with my fucking BB gun, dogs finishing it for me. I carried a buck knife with me everywhere, when I wasn't in school (sometimes when I was). And as most of my friends were the "losers," because they made the most loyal friends, I was extremely introverted and utterly clueless to the notion I was pretty hot - I had to kick some ass on occasion. I did not like people picking on my friends.

I bought my first shotgun when I was twelve, after making top score in marksmanship and weapon safety in the hunter's safety course. I bagged my first buck that winter. After tracking it for an hour and slitting it's throat with my knife - tears in my eyes, I decided to never concern myself with the fucking trophy head again. I never had to track a deer I shot again - if I couldn't get a clean kill, I didn't shoot.

And then there was sex. After I became dejected by the intense hypocrisy of my church, other concerns really got me.

Thinking there was something wrong with me, when all the guys were bragging about sexing their gals, I started sexing some of their gals - though mostly girls I met at the college library, researching for debate (that was my "sport," along with solo and ensemble). I developed a reputation as the goto guy for first timers. (girls who really didn't like me, would recommend me to their virgin friends - like me or not, I was rather fond of them:) I was decidedly not into relationships (probably why some of the girls really didn't like me), preferring to stay open and free to play with a variety of girls. And while I was generally pretty low key about my adventures, the girls weren't always - excepting the ones who had BF's.

So now you have some grasp of why DuWayne walking into the coffee shop wearing a skirt and being kissed by a boy was extra-especially shocking. I didn't exactly have a reputation for being effeminate. Rather the opposite, according to some old school friend/acquaintances, for some I was one of the measures they used for their own masculinity - an ideal as it were. And most of my friends knew that I had been gone for over a year, hitchhiking around the U.S.

What the Fuck!?!

About a month to six weeks after the infamous yellow skirt, kissing boy incident (I have friends who still bring it up) I was on a whole lot of acid, having a more sensual, than sexual encounter with a few friends, when it suddenly clicked. I was a fucking outlaw. I had broken sacred, fundamental rules of masculinity and worse, social labeling.

I won't lie and say that I didn't derive a great deal of pleasure from the shock value. I most certainly did. I was (and in some ways am) a radical. But for the most part I liked wearing these skirts because they were really comfortable. Also, I had discovered that if the person you're with is also wearing a skirt and no unders, you can easily get away with public sex, as long as no one gets too loud. I hadn't begun to consider the social implications of a man's man like myself breaking the conventions I was breaking. Mostly I just figured it kind of fucked with the older folks (most anyone over thirty) and close minded neanderthals.

Suddenly, as I was laying there, my head against the breasts of one friend, my fingers tracing the contours of another friend's torso, it blasted me like trainwreck (this was not an uncommon occurrence when I was on lots of LSD). I am a man. Yet I was doing things that men just don't do. And I wasn't being sneaky about it, hiding in my bedroom (not that I had a bedroom, or a home per say). I wasn't ashamed and really and truly didn't give a fuck what anyone else thought about it. My masculinity wasn't defined by the clothes I wore, my compassion and empathy or my exceedingly rare, but cold rage and even more rarely expressed ability for righteous, unflinching violence. My sexuality wasn't defined by the pleasure I took from the bodies of many girls and a few women, nor was it defined by my complete comfort with the notion of sucking the cock of another boy who might be a part of a particular sexual encounter.

My manhood was not defined by my cock and lack of uterus, nor by any social conditioning.

My manhood is simply - me. My sexuality is mine and mine alone.

This experience set the foundation for the first interaction I had with a male born women. While it was certainly a new concept for me, it was easy to extrapolate my own experience with gender identity onto that of someone else.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Writing Assignment.....

I have several other posts to try to get up, but this one takes a little precedence at the moment. I have to come up with a really good excuse for turning in a paper late. In the meantime, I would love to have you check out the great discussions over at Pieces of Me. In one, JLK talks about WTF she does, sparking a really interesting discussion in comments. In the other, she gives us part one of a series on gender, which if you read the comments from the first, you will discover is an issue that I am very enthusiastic about. I am ignoring part one, chapter 2 until I get this damned excuse written.

I will be writing the third part of my harm reduction series next, because I really
really, need to stay focused on my research paper. But then I am going to write about gender (a hint, having a penis doesn't inherently make one's gender male and having a vagina, doesn't inherently make one's gender female). And if I have time, I am going to respond to someone who had the temerity to disagree with my views on pornography. Damn her, damn her to teh seven hells!!! (not really, dissent is not only welcome, but encouraged - I am just as fond of having my mind changed by compelling arguments and evidence, as I am of changing the minds of others)

But for now, please do me a favor. I want you to pretend you're a professor who has very strict rules about getting papers in on time (for some of you, pretending won't be necessary, I'm sure). Pretend also that I am your student and am committing the cardinal sin, normally deserving of a good flogging and public humiliation in the stocks - of trying to turn my paper in late. Would you accept this excuse?

Please be warned, naughty words in this post and hiding them has failed for the moment


DuWayne comes wandering into Dr. Whatzitz office, three days after the final paper was due. He is looking very shellshocked, recoiling in fear at every sudden, unexpected noise - no matter how mundane. His terror is palpable, almost contagious - Dr. Whatzitz finds herself glancing behind her, though she has no idea why.

Dr. Whatzitz: (too garbled to understand)

DuWayne: I'm s-s-sorry, b-b-but m-my ears are--I m-mean I c-c-can't hear so well....

Dr. Whatzitz: I said, what the hell are you doing here!?! Your paper is late and I don't accept late papers or lame damned excuses!!!

DuWayne (weeping): B-b-but.....

Dr. Whatzitz: But nothing dammit! I'm sure you think you have a perfectly reasonable excuse. But I've heard every damned one of them. Unless the bloody damned world was coming to an end, and only your pathetic, sniveling little ass could save it - shut the hell up and....

DuWayne (getting hysterical): AAARRRGGGHHH!!! (smashing his fists down on her desk and jumping up and down in primal rage/terror - smacks his head on her desk a couple times for good measure)

Dr. Whatzitz (backing up slowly, wishing to the god she wished existed at that particular moment, that she had a fucking panic button, like people who work in banks get - she puts her hands up in a gesture of surrender): Erg. Uh. But - I - think I could hear you out......

DuWayne (looking slightly dazed, a trickle of blood running down his face, from where his head smashed into a sharp bit of random floatsam on the desk - that had just been waiting for the moment someone had a nasty accident while smashing their head into the desk):Wheooh. (suddenly clarity falls across his face) Right. Sorry about that. It's just that I recently lost half my mind.

Dr. Whatzitz: You what!

DuWayne: Lost half my mind...Look, if you'll just let me explain...

Dr. Whatzitz (starting to look rather shellshocked herself):Ermm, go on...

DuWayne: Well apparently my gran was actually a prostitute once upon a time and..

Dr. Whatzitz: The hell?!?

DuWayne: Just let me explain dammit.

Dr. Whatzitz: Erg...

DuWayne: So as I was saying - gran used to be a prostitute and it turns out that gramps, well, gramps wasn't actually my grandad. Apparently, Winston Churchill was my biological grandfather. Amazing really, the things you discover when you're kidnapped by space Nazis.

Dr. Whatzitz: Space Nazis!!!

DuWayne (frantically looking around, whimpering and shaking - stops, shakes his head - smacks his head against a bookshelf a few times - couple of deep breaths): Yes, space Nazis. You see, when defeat was inevitable, a cohort of the third Reich implemented the super, extra-especially secret plan. They prepared the ships for departure, while a ninja SS officer made a daring run into The bunker and scraped up some cells from Hitler's remains. He barely made it in time. With Germany's surrender, the Allies were closing in rather quickly. But make it he did and the rockets blasted them off and up to their secret base on the dark side of the moon.

Once there, they got to work rebuilding the Reich [insert inappropriate representation of producing a new generation of Nazis] and creating a clone of das Fuhrer. Their first attempt at cloning apparently was a failure, as was their second - but finally, they made it work.

Dr. Wahtzitz: This is all very interesting, but I fail to see what the hell it has to do with your paper being late.

DuWayne: (getting agitated, picks up a red paperweight and smashes it on the floor) Dammit Dr. I'm Fuckingwell getting there. (Dr. Whatzitz really wishing for that damned panic button again)

Sorry. (calming down) I - just....I'm sorry.

Like I said, gran was a whore - I mean - shit. Winston Churchill was my biological grandfather. That means that I carry his DNA. And those damned space Nazis believe some prophecy that seems to say that either I'll thwart their plans or become the greatest flamenco dancer who ever lived - apparently the details of the prophecy are a little vague. But when they learned that I can't dance, they knew they had to stop me. Also according to their prophecy, if they kill me they're doomed.

So last week they kidnapped me, took me to their base in the moon and began sucking my mind out with this weird machine. But in the middle, the process was interrupted when I was rescued. I got some help getting some of my mind back, but the machine was damaged during the rescue and counterattack.

Dr. Whatzitz: Counterattack?!?

DuWayne: Yeah. Funny thing that. Apparently when the Nazis started sucking my mind out, something clicked in my head and the Rabbis knew it was time to attack, that victory was at hand.

Dr. Whatzitz: Rabbis?!?

DuWayne: Oh shit. Yeah. The guys that rescued me? They were the most remarkably technologically advanced Jewish sect. They claim they saw the writing on the wall way back, more than two thousand years ago. They claim that when Moses brought down the ten commandments, he brought with him the plans for the most remarkable fucking space crafts. Then just a few years before that Jesus character was born, their god told them to build according to those plans. They've been living on a moon of Jupiter ever since - just waiting for me to come along and get kidnapped by the fucking space Nazis.

Then they saved me and whatever was locked in my Winston Churchill DNA made this special weapon they had actually turn on. It was kind of like... Look, have you ever seen Stargate Alantis?

Dr. Whatzitz (looking rather uncomfortable): Umm. No, of course not. I don't watch silly sciencefiction about other galaxies and, umm. No, nope, never seen it.

DuWayne: Ok, well basically, when I walked up to this machine, it just turned on. The Rabbis think that maybe Winston Churchill's anscestors, and mine, were actually aliens. They figure these aliens could see the future - or maybe they just assumed that somewhere along the line it would be necessary. So they decided to use the Jews, because they figured the Jews were pretty hardcore - determined. That they would be the perfect folks to put in charge of this weapon.

So, umm, anywho.... I finally managed to finish the paper. It was really tough, what with the problems with my mind and all. But dammit. I mean come on, it turns out that I really was out there saving the world and all that shit. Can I please, possibly turn it in a little late. I mean I really had no control over it. It's not my fault that gran was a.... I mean Winston Churchill was my biological grandad.

Dr. Whatzitz:.....

What say you? Leave a comment, letting me know if my excuse would sway even your hardened heart.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wherein DuWayne Talks About Something He Firmly Believed But Came to Doubt

And here is my introductory essay..Uncorrected from it's return by the venerable research/writing instructor. Tragically, I managed to lose the long version written before I realized that google docs doesn't format page sizes like normal word processors. Originally, I just thought that my three pages has been magically imbued with the ability to say everything I was trying to get across.

I was raised as an evangelical Christian. At first, my mother took my brothers and I to a rather moderate, United Methodist church. When I was seven we made the shift to a pentecostal church and I began my journey to becoming a fundamentalist golden child. I went to a parochial school and was part of a scout group through the church, called the Royal Rangers. During the school year I was in church every week day, every Sunday and often times on Saturdays for special events. I became very solid in my faith, I was an absolute Believer. We eventually left that church and I went back to the public schools, for a while we returned to the Methodist church. I didn't know it at the time, but it was because of some horrifying acts of hypocrisy that my mom was rather keen on hiding from me. It was at this point that I began to get serious about studying theology - I was eleven years old. It was also at this point that I began writing music, with a deep seated desire to bring glory to my god and help others worship him.

During the year we spent at the Methodist church I worked my way through most of the works of John Wesley, the pentecostal founder of the Methodist church. I realized that the Methodist church had gone far afield from the teachings of it's founder and began to really push to find us a church that fit our beliefs. I also began to study other theologians, both old and modern. I read Martin Luther, Aquinas and Augustine. I read C.S. Lewis, Frederick Beuchner and Francis Schaeffer. I read the works of theologians who supported my beliefs and the works of theologians who's reasoning I believed to be flawed. I wanted to understand the thinking of men who read and understood the Christian Bible and of men who had misinterpreted it. Throughout all of this, I read through multiple translations of the bible, because most of all, I wanted to understand it all for myself.

A couple of years before we moved to Agape, my dad (an atheist) took me to see Carl Sagan. I was very excited about going to see him, because my family had watched Cosmos a couple of times and I found astronomy quite fascinating. I was even more excited when after I asked a couple of good questions during the Q&A, someone from UoM came up and said that Prof. Sagan would like to meet me. I then took the opportunity to ask him if he believed we might someday discover god in the cosmos. He very graciously replied that he sincerely doubted that there is a god to discover, but that I should not take his word for it - that it was important that I learn as much as I can about the world and universe around me and draw my own conclusions. He emphasized the importance of thinking for myself and never just taking someone else's word as a functional truth. He also expressed an interest in hearing from me in a few years to see where I was at. I walked away from that exchange energized, believing that my drive to learn more about my faith and what drove it was of critical importance. In essence, I took this recommendation from an atheist and applied it to Belief. But to draw a Christian parallel, a seed was planted

Then we found the church that would change my life. We moved to a non-denominational pentecostal church, Agape Christian Fellowship. It was here that my musical abilities flourished, under the tutelage of the music minister. It is also where I became a part of a church's leadership, becoming a part of the worship team and occasionally filling the role of primary worship leader. I was even able to sell some of the music I wrote. At this point in my life, I had an absolute Faith that is no different than the Faith which causes people of other religions to strap bombs to themselves and kill in the name of their god. The only difference is in what I believed that my god wanted me to do with that faith. For me, it was a compulsion to witness to others in an attempt to help them realize the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. And a significant, near pathological compulsion it was, because I believed absolutely that anyone who didn't receive such salvation would be condemned to eternal damnation and suffering. As I mentioned, my dad is an atheist - so are some of my siblings, so this was a particularly terrifying notion to me. On top of that, I also took very strongly to heart the notion of loving others and believed that I was commended to do so with no strings attached, so I took my responsibility to be a good witness very seriously.

I didn't receive my first inkling of doubt, until I watched The Power of Myth, in which Bill Moyers interviews Joseph Campbell. It was not a sudden transition, it really didn't strongly affect me at all at first. Again a seed was planted. At the same time, I became heavily involved with working at a thrift shop my uncle had opened, to support a house he had started to house persons infected with AIDS. For the first time in my life, I was spending a lot of time around gays. And I discovered something – homosexuals are human beings too. But the major event that blew me out of the water, happened with my church.

A young women in the youth group committed the cardinal sin – she got pregnant. And instead of doing what I absolutely believed the bible was quite clear on and surrounding her in loving support, she was made a pariah. I was soon to follow. After talking with some of the leadership of the church, I decided to take matters into my own hands. The Sunday following the unsatisfactory discussion with the youth pastor and pastor, I used the time I was supposed to sing a new song, to make my feelings on the matter known, quoting scripture to back me up. Not too far into it the mic was cut off and shortly after that I was escorted off the platform and out of the building. It helped, but the fact that I didn't leave alone that day was little enough comfort.

I was devastated by the rank hypocrisy. I understood that such hypocrisy existed, even that it was somewhat common. What I didn't realize, was that it was alive and well in my own church. This, combined with some rather unsatisfactory discussions about geology, evolution and gay rights put me over the edge. I didn't set foot in another church for several years. Unfortunately, I was not done with my faith, though from then on it was to take on a very strange shape.

Shortly after this experience, I lost my virginity. I was smoking cigarettes and decided to try marijuana too. I soon came to the conclusion that this was all ok, mainly because it was so easy to manage all of these “sins.” I honestly came to believe that my god must approve, because when I saw someone I really, really wanted to have sex with, it ended up working out. Never occurred to me at the time that (at the time) I was a pretty boy. I also got to where if I wanted to get stoned, one of my friends would have weed. Never occurred to me that was because all the friends I had at that point were stoners. Nope. To me it was just evidence that my god wanted me to be happy and have all these things in my life.

I went through years of trying to reconcile the bible with my acceptance of evidence based geology, evolution and gay rights. I performed remarkable feats of mental gymnastics, I bought into outright lies. I decided that the bible was not actually the literal word of god, rather it was a collection of stories that formed the backbone of the Christian faith – to be accepted only to a certain point. But I finally crumbled when I was finally unable to justify worshiping a god that advocated rape, fratricide and genocide. Nor could I manage to fool myself into thinking that the god described in the Christian bible was anything but. But the final spike in the coffin, was the understanding that not all religions could be valid, but if one religion is valid, then all of them must be valid. At that, the hold out vestiges of my faith crumbled into dust.

Throughout all of this, I did manage to hold onto one final notion. I didn't become an atheist, except in the very broadest sense of the word. I don't discount the idea that there is a god, nor do I discount the idea that such a god might intervene in human affairs. For several years I was a very enthusiastic user of LSD and other hallucinogens, or as I prefer to refer to them, entheogens. I would even go as far as to say that I have addiction problems with hallucinogens, especially LSD – though I have thankfully been clean of them for eight years this summer. Throughout my experience with them, I found reason to hold onto something that, until now, I never believed I could question.

I have always believed in a spiritual/physical duality. I never questioned it – not once in all my years of searching for my faith and my god. Even when I completely rejected revealed religion, I didn't question that basic tenet. It may be that I have just been desperate to hold onto something of a faith that I had committed my entire life to – and have no doubt, I was committed for life. I can't even say how this doubt crept in or mark it's beginning. Nor can I say that I don't believe in this duality, only that my absolute certainty it exists is no longer a certainty. The most remarkable thing about it is, I'm comfortable with my doubt. I am at peace with it and have even found peace in it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Human Sexuality: Puritanical Feminism and the Religious Right

Be forewarned, the following post contains adult content, a very frank discussion about sexuality and probably TMI about yours truly. Though remarkably, I managed to keep the naughty language to a minimum.

I also wish to clarify that while I firmly embrace sex positivity, I also embrace personal choices. Just as I abhor sexual repression, I also abhor the pressure that is applied to people who have made a choice to abstain. Human sexuality is a beautiful, wonderful expression. But it is all too often made ugly and painful by the choices people allow others to make for them. People should never feel that there is something wrong with them because they happen to want to wait or forgo the sexual experience altogether. Just as I believe there is nothing wrong with casual sex, there is nothing at all wrong with no sex.

I like Teh Sex. Back when I was a little younger, a whole lot prettier and had a band, I proved it by having a whole lot of it. Casual sex managed the balance between using a whole lot of drugs and playing music all the time. Not one for romantic entanglements, I rarely delved into the world of significant others. Like who I'd play music with, I had standards when it came to sexual partners, but they were really more of a loose set of guidelines, than a firm set of rules. Basically I wanted to sex people who were fairly literate and interesting conversationalists. I preferred women who met certain aesthetic standards as well, though mine have always been rather wide ranging aesthetic standards. And I preferred to have sex with women, as I just don't find men sexually stimulating. But ultimately, none of those standards were fast and solid. If a women was particularly intellectually stimulating, I could look past potential failures to meet my aesthetic standards. Likewise, if a women managed to hit my aesthetic idealism, I might look past her inability to meet my intellectual standards. And if a boy met a certain aesthetic ideal, coupled with an emotional/intellectual attraction, I could enjoy time spent providing them sexual pleasure - not to say that I wouldn't get some enjoyment as well, but as I said, it's really never been my thing.

I wish that I could say that I never played women, never lied to them for sex. But unfortunately I have. My only defense is that I never lied to a women about my feelings, when I wasn't also lying to myself. For the most part, I sought women who wanted the very same thing I was after - casual sex. And on a couple of occasions, I even got burned by women who were playing me. One of them, I believe was deluding herself as much as she was deluding me. The other was just straight up lying to me. But I figure it's all ok, because in neither case was I doing anything but lying to myself about my own feelings. The fact is that hurting others and being hurt is part of growing up. Trying to minimize the damage is about all anyone can ever do.

For a few months, when I was eighteen, I worked as a stripper. The club I worked was mainly a female audience two nights a week and a mainly male audience three nights. I absolutely hated the ladies nights. They were really obnoxious and didn't tip nearly as well as the horny, greasy old men. The men had their drawbacks, one being that many of them expected something more after the show, but they tipped well (often with large bills that had phone numbers written on) and the worse any of them might do is play with themselves while they watched. I can honestly say that getting a bunch of cash from people watching me dance rather poorly, but in the buff, fed my narcissism in a big way. I would even go as far as to say it was somewhat empowering. But mostly, it was just a fairly easy way to make good money, something I just didn't manage very well at that time of my life.

I also managed a fairly short stint as a gigolo. I mainly did it for the experience of it, to have the opportunity to live in pretty extreme luxury and hob-knob with people of pornographic levels of wealth. Being young, sexy, highly literate and very well spoken, I was well received when I worked as an escort for a very wealthy, very attractive women more than twice my age. I fulfilled her need to satiate social expectations, fulfilled other, more personal needs and was absolutely discreet about fulfilling my own more personal needs. In turn she took very good care of me, providing an apartment that was luxury I understood existed, but never knew existed.

According to the religious right, I am an abomination on a great many levels. Even though I am pretty tame, here in my early thirties, abstaining from sex and drugs, I make no apologies for who I have been. Not only making no apologies, but embracing who I was, taking ownership of it. Though I am abstinent, I still identify myself as a philanderer, a whore. The years that separate me from that lifestyle, do not change the basic fact: There is nothing inherently wrong with casual sex, selling one's sex or otherwise profiting from one's sexuality. So to the religious right, I'm downright evile.

But that's not where the persecution of people who, like me, embrace their sexuality ends. Oh no. Because there is a fairly sizable contingent of feminists who embrace the same puritanical repression of the religious right. Only instead of believing that open sexuality is a sin against their gods, puritanical feminists believe that pornography and profiting from one's sexuality inherently supports the patriarchy. Porn and sex work, by their very nature are inherently oppressive to women - both those directly involved and by extension, all women.

I grew up in the church. Mostly in pretty right wing churches. I was preached to about sexuality for many years. I heard it from Promise Keepers and many other evangelical organizations. The truly frightening thing in all this, is that the message that puritanical feminism pushes, is almost identical to that of the religious right. People who firmly believe themselves to be progressive, to be sticking it to the patriarchy are instead embracing the fundamental idealism of the patriarchy.Hardline repression is hardline repression, no matter who's pushing it. And there is little that more firmly represents the very worse abuses of the patriarchy, than the sexual repression and oppression.

Like I put it on a very old thread at Renegade Evolution;
Puritanical bullshit that sounds little different than something the American Family Ass, or Concerned Women for America would come out with seems more like sucking patriarchal cock, than getting paid to blow a rich white guy is.