first in a series of series of declared series

I am so frustrated I could file a class action lawsuit! If, you know, I had a lawyer. And money to pay them if they did not want to do all this work for free because I have a hunch the system is rigged and besides I am the most unreliable witness alive.

Ok maybe not the most unreliable. But my credibility and my credit are both shot. Probably it is no coincidence that they would go down together but if I start drawing connections too sharply I am going to look like I am psychotic or something and that would just–

well, underscore the “with psychotic features” portion of my vast collection of diagnoses. Which diagnoses will come up again if I get that far before I die but I am not sure how far I will even get before the coffee wears off or my eyes start aching so badly that I must stop typing and stare at my feet for the rest of the evening.

Personal responsibility. I have a lot of thoughts about that. Of course in late capitalism the persons saddled with personal responsibility are not those persons the Supreme Court saw fit to fashion out of the inherently lopsided autocracies that are corporations. They can do whatever they want; the invisible hand will guide and protect them in its boundless mercy for profit seekers.

The rest of us though. No such protection.

Still I can fantasize that everyone who espouses personal responsibility would actually be happy to take some on themselves and prove to the rest of us that they do believe this responsibility applies to everyone, not just to those other people who are not able to meet the free-market definition of worthiness.

I had the idea today to go out into the world. Because lately I have not been doing a whole lot of that because when I do what often happens is quite a lot like what happened today. I took my camera; I sort of made a new Gregorian calendar year resolution to go take pictures on my block at least once a week for the rest of the year and to try to see things that I have already seen a million times at least differently enough to take interesting pictures. Part of the resolution included posting them, somewhere, for anyone out there to look at. I hope to be able to get to that in between what may be called dystonic storms if what is going on with me is what I think is going on with me.

Really I think this was just an idea I had around the first of the year and I figured well this is a punctual moment so why not start and call it (one of) my project(s) for the year.

Looking up at an old building with columns and wrought iron faux balconies on the boarded-up windows

Today I took pictures of an old building that I am quite certain will soon lose its beautiful crumbling facade when someone buys it and decides that restoring said facade would cut into profits too much and instead they replace the facade with a facile quote of said facade. Because this has already happened to the two buildings adjacent to this one that were built in similar styles some time ago when architectural flourishes were not seen as excessive or if they were seen as excessive then it was still worth the time and money to carry them out in order to simply be excessive.

The point of my field trip was not necessarily the photography although I was aware this might be the only thing I was able to accomplish if I did accomplish anything at all. My general plan was to walk somewhere where there was a place to sit and then to sit there and maybe write a little bit about one or two of the million things that have occurred to me in the last couple of years and then gotten lost in the ceaseless clatter that is my central nervous system looking for itself or America or some other nostalgia-ridden peaceful ideal and that also makes starting andor continuing to write or think on any of these things into a challenge of modestly exhausting proportions.

I got as far as the parklet outside of a cafe over on Valencia just south of 22nd Street. I had thought maybe to try for the library at 24th Street but my back did not like all the standing still I had done while using my camera so I stopped here. I even got some coffee although I could not really afford it because why not go all out?

So I took my coffee to a parklet table and got myself seated which is itself an involved affair for reasons I do not fully understand except that it might have something to do with how I hang half of the things I think I might need from my bag and so they often get tangled up in each other and me and the dozen or so wallet chains I decorate myself wtih besides. Plus today a camera on a strap around my neck and you would think that carrying a bag would make organization easier instead of harder but no. It gets even worse if I put things in or on a backpack with carabiners and velcro and paracord. Backpacks are made to keep things out of reach until you Get There but I usually need things enroute and I should probably just get a toolbelt or something similar that could hold lots of things without using up my hands and neck.

Eventually though I was seated with my iDevice out and my coffee in front of me and I opened a note-taking app all ready to start. And then I realized that my eyes, neck, and head were all throbbing. At slightly different frequencies and also and this has been going on for a while but I do not notice that much here in my house because I guess I do not look down much at home if I look down that is if I bend my neck rather than, say, my waist in order to see something below my current horizon line then my head starts to ache or in this case ache worse. My neck muscles apparently do not like to be stretched that way because the ache starts in the back on one or both sides of my cervical spine and apreads from there to my temple(s) and forehead(s–oh wait. I only have one of those!).

This can be annoying when trying to use an iDevice without holding it up so that I can look directly ahead at it. Holding the iDevice up in that way makes my shoulder muscles angry if I do it for too long especially if the reason I am doing it is because the muscles in my face are angry because they will just spread the love on down to whatever part of me tries to do anything but remain still and as relaxed as possible which often is not at all possible but you have to try anyway if you want to be able to do anything at all the rest of the day.

My nose was twitching. Not so that anyone could see it but some nerve in my right-nostril-flaring muscle(s?) was unhappy or alarmed or something and so sending a repeated signal to a tiny bit of that muscle to contract and then shiver at about 70Hz or so for half a second. A half second of rest and then another signal. You might say it was on a 70Hz over 2Hz sort of signal. Or the other way around.

I don’t know which.

But most of the muscles in my face twitch for short periods at about 70Hz and in the night when it is quiet I can hear them, you know, from the inside, through whatever bone is between the muscle and my inner ear. Because my jaw is trying to shut itself with great emphasis much of the time and with varying amounts of force fueling that emphasis, I can only tell if it is relaxed if I stop hearing it strain against itself. Sometimes this means my jaw can be fully slack, but it usually finds rest somewhere between clenched tight and teeth not quite touching. A point of homeostasis between warring muscle groups, always at a slightly different length of the arc that defines the full range through which my chin can move all by itself. “Slack” jaw for me actually requires continuous muscular effort against the contractive forces almost always exercising themselves. And this generates that same hum slightly higher in pitch than the familiar sixty cycles of AC power. Or wherever those sixty cycles come from. Wall socket I am pretty sure but don’t quote me on that.

My eyes do not hum. They just ache if I try to swivel them upwards or sideways. You know, in their sockets. Not moving my head. Not all the time but if my nose or cheek or eyebrow are twitching it is usually the case that my eyes are not wanting to do any work at all other than the heavy-lidded unfocused meditation gaze at forty-five degrees of nothing. And so that is what I let them do even if I am not formally meditating right that minute. In fact this whole symphony of muscular restlessness will sometimes relent of I meditate on the spot. Or at least I can keep it toned down a little for as long as I look down with my eyes half-closed and my neck absolutely straight or even bent back slightly. If I wait long enough I can say I was meditating even if I was just waiting for the storm to pass and trying to think calm relaxing thoughts to help it on its way as well as to retain my own composure for another few minutes.

Klonopin can help a bit too, so I took a quarter of one and washed it down with my coffee so as to maybe counteract its sleepier-making effects. Oh and also water. Especially if I have eaten recently, half to a full liter of water can hurry my face along towards placidity. Of course then I will be hurrying myself along to the restroom soon enough but I know where all the good ones are in my neighborhood plus if all else fails I can just use the one in my therapist’s waiting room I mean hallway.

And so once the Klonopin and water and coffee were administered I sat somewhat Buddha like in the parklet chair with my head facing forward and my eyes down. People walked past with great commotion of noise and light. They say that the eye thing–if dystonia is the cause or rather the effect become a cause of the twitches and contractions–is a slow spasm of the eyelid muscles, but that does not explain at all why sound becomes all clanky loud and light all knife-edged bright while I cannot look at anything that requires eye muscle movement of any kind not just lid-raising.

In any case. I managed to type two paragraphs into my iDevice eventually but that was all my body would let me do, so I got up and walked home after getting my bag and my jacket and my camera all tied on in the right places. I rifled through the things I keep in my head to write for the one that would be a useful tangent for the story I keep saying that I want to write which is my own story of which there are thousands if not tens of thousands or more and it hit me: fucking class-action lawsuit! The mess I have been in the last several however manies is one that others share and not one of us chose to place outselves here.

But against whom? I start to make a list:

Jack Chick, most definitely, or whatever he left of his little evangelistic comic empire.

The Southern Baptist Convention?

How far back into the multiple, ramified chains of events would one want to reach?

I think the statute of limitations has passed to try to find the dude who raped me.

Not my brother. I know where he is.

The other dude.

How about a class-action lawsuit against the whole of compulsory anatomically essentialist heteronormativity? Who precisely is responsible for that?

Billy Graham Industries or LLC or Incorporated or however his offspring continue to make money by threatening the masses with the Lake of Fire. Oh, sorry. This one belongs up there with Jack Chick. I would not say the Grahams are completely to blame for the heteroassumptions into which they were all born.

I am refraining from naming what might be the most obvious entity to sue if the symptoms that started as soon as I stopped taking Zyprexa and continue to this day are actually somehow even in the most tortuous of ways connected the drug itself or its method of discontinuation. I will just leave this here though.

OK this was going to be a short intro? And I was going to write the story of why Jack Chick is the first culpable party that sprang to mind upon imagining financial compensation for chronic daily annoyance? But probably I have lost most of my audience already so I will try that a little later with some luck and Klonopin and water oh and lots of just. breathing.



plain speech

This is not finished or at least I know I have plenty more to say but today if the voices in my head were still saying things very loudly they would be saying post some shit already!

There are tons of unfinished things and this is one of them. I am going to go start on something else now and if I do not finish it maybe I will still be compelled to post some shit when I wake up tomorrow.

This was written specifically for a certain Thing so if it reads sometimes as though you are hearing only one side of a conversation that might be why. The gist of the Thing was Tell your story in 25,0000 characters or more and since that is more or less the gist to which most of my writing responds–that and Post some shit already–I decided to put it here as well.

20140412 2032 -0800

It’s Sunday. I am not sure I can write this today but I can at least put my name down or in and I can probably figure out how to begin to describe what occupies me much of the time so here those are:

I am named Erik Joseph Martin Schneider and maybe it is overenthusiastic to write it all out like that but there it is all of it so far. I started out with a different name and only became Erik Martin Setc at 35 and there is a story behind that and I will tell a little of it a little further on. We were a few years Erik Martin and then what I really wanted to do was name myself Will after my great-grandfather–Elsie Schneider’s father–but my uncle was named William long before I showed up and then he named my cousin Karl William and so I thought maybe William was mostly spoken for so I took Will Brugger’s middle name Joseph and moved Martin over.

Martin Schneider was my great-grandfather who was gone by the time I could have remembered seeing him or maybe even before that. I have a picture but it says almost nothing to me. If there are stories nobody has told them where I could hear.

Now I am inclined to somehow take on also Maggie Phillips Wilcox’ name but I do not know where to put what remains of her in such a way that I can promise her some rest and if not exactly safety maybe better odds on most days and I wonder was it she who was buried there underneath stones and books and chests of old clothes in the house that visits me still although I have not in some time been pulled down the long hallway dark at the far end with death at the least and sometimes cold soundings through the basement of the earth steep and always narrower and narrower but never reaching the absolute zero itself rushing up and rushing up and rushing up but never taking my wrist as I knew it would if it ever arrived but it never did.

This hell was unrecognizable all the others I used to dream up appropriately aflame and glinting and hot and complete with those recordings of ordinary human voices slowed down and detuned just enough to emphasize that devil’s note the one my mother always hears first before anyone else would suspect a thing.

She knows what evil is she says. Don’t you think that music is sick. No it is precisely the sort of melody I will learn to write as soon as I am out of your earshot but I never said that just shrug or maybe well you know they’re just trying to be shocking because that was my stock answer to throw off any possibility of meaningful connection in the face of such immense and cynical irony or disaffected and ironic cynicism. I threw whole theaters between myself and her questions so that no more questions would make any sense at all.

It worked insofar as the questions would stop but whether she believed me to be as earnestly jaded as all that–well it was not important whether she truly believed it as long as she had an excuse to pretend to so that we did not have to cross words. We were both relieved at the opportunity to say nothing.

But she knew that too already and I knew that she knew but I did not know very much at all about what I knew yet and so I only noted down at the bottom of the list what next never to admit loving until you have studied all the faces for however many years it takes to detect even the faintest distaste some milliseconds before it arises.

They call that hypervigilance or that is I recall the long hours of practice that began there. Today I can always tell you where the cats are or who is walking up the stairs.

Except right this minute I am not sure where one of the cats is and it is making me very anxious even though his distress call is loud and unmistakable and currently not to be heard at all so he is probably napping in one of those spots I never can find when I am looking for him while he silently cats along as he always has.

I am still in San Francisco. This was not the plan but whether that is because there was some other plan I cannot say for sure. I can say that I think I have learned by now that the part you cannot imagine happening even though you need it to will probably not happen in the way you cannot imagine it. The Rhetoric program produced teachers and therefore if I completed my degree I was to have been made into someone who could teach without first having to subdue panic that grew wilder with each and every time it was time to teach.

To be brief, that did not happen in precisely that way. I can teach just like I can sometimes get up on stage and sing or read which is about once a month for short bursts and then not at all for another year or sometimes a handful of years.

So I have the degree and once in a great while I have some chops but most of the time I practice alone or occasionally with a proven ally the rest of the time I cannot face them audiences or students or anyone who wants anything from me even if I do in fact want to give it to them. Sometimes especially then.

This is sort of how I also did not become a rock star even though I was in a band in Atlanta GA at just the right time and then when that did not work we moved to Seattle at just the right time which also did not work or not so much as we would have liked. That said, we do still have fans mostly in Europe. We are not big in Japan. We also have not made music together since 1992 when I decided to return to school to try for that magical transformation into a member of the professoriat.

We mainly referring to myself and the first family member that I chose upon leaving the family that had forced itself on me since the very beginning. I used to walk around as a body sort of recognizable as what is called female–in 1962 the Doctor was quite sure I was female and my parents were quite sure I was female then and mostly later while I myself remember puzzling over why I could not grow up to be a man since I identified with them so but I was a girl they told me so I guessed that was just something I would get used to somehow only I never did and then later on I sort of got distracted with other problems and so I was a tomboy for a very long time and that was that–and since Lisa recognized even herself as female we were lesbians at first that is not just best friends and then I was a dyke a little while later and we were partnered for eleven years and something. She still lives in Seattle where we moved from Atlanta in 1987 and although we are no longer not just best friends we are at least best friends and still even family although we cannot come up with a name for what we are to each other and we celebrate our whateversary every January 19 even if we cannot meet up that year.

In 1996 I left Seattle for San Francisco to start grad school at Berkeley and also to transition physically to what I called at the time male. It took me less than a year to figure out where to go and whom to talk to about the possibilities which were wider here even than I had guessed, and so I have been Erik since early 1997 or that is when the name began calling me out loud. To be slightly clearer, I have been taking injections of testosterone since 1 July 1997 and they have worked pretty much the way I had hoped they would physiologically speaking.

There is way too much story to tell about what my gender is or is not now so I will just note that I do answer to the pronouns labeled masculine but I did not become a man as it turns out which is fine since I did not transition from being a woman either. I think I may be too old to be genderqueer and besides I do not have the energy to perform various permutations of those genders that do not refer to me I just put on whatever smells ok when it is time to get dressed. This is just one of the many points at which I find myself looking over at the language I learned to speak the first time around while it looks at its feet and toes the dirt because it has nothing readymade for me to wear. Which is why when asked for my gender I answer with a short persuasive essay unless it is clear that either I need a long one or I can get by with a deflecting shrug.

Mostly I tell people I am transsexual and that I used to be a dyke. From there I let them add it up so at least they can get an idea of whose stories they might have heard that sounded similar to girl -> dyke -> transsexual -> bearded deep voiced person.

So at this point maybe it is looking like I grew up queer in a fundamentalist Christian family and it may have taken place in the Deep South or somehow I was there when the major record labels descended on Athens GA in the early 1980s? Yes all of that is the case although I only laughed at the stars on friends’ roofs in Athens from time to time I never lived there myself but Atlanta was just down the street and so it was easy to visit.

I do not know where I am from: born near Tacoma WA but shortly afterward my father got the same layoff from Boeing that everyone else was getting around the same time and then he found a job at Lockheed Georgia and so off we went. We moved to Marietta GA along with a small influx of other non-Southerners. I attended school with the children of Lockheed engineers from all over the country. One of our neighbors was from Ohio. Another was from Utah. All the native Georgians lived in houses a little older than ours there in that new subdivision carved out of a huge forested tract of land that may have been homesteaded by a family named Shaw.

My parents never meant to stay but they are still there or close anyway. Not so long ago they retired to a new house about twenty or thirty miles further north where the city of Atlanta has not quite reached yet. The one thing I do not regret picking up from them was their obsession with moving back to Seattle. They got over theirs but I never did and that is why when I moved here to San Francisco I was from Seattle but while I was in Seattle as an adult I was from Atlanta at least whenever its proximity to Athens was a topic and this was the late 80s and into the 90s and I hung out with other music geeks so it came up rather often. Starting from age two until I got back there at 25, I was from Seattle.

Now when I visit Seattle I am from San Francisco and I have been here long enough that it is credible to say so.

So for the most part I think I may be from the West Coast but a bizarre and awful 23-year detour into the very hide of the Bible Belt made me the non-specifically-gendered person I am today: wary and tenacious; not fond of sudden movement when humans are doing the moving; obsessive . . . [what. obsessive what. I am overcome with spontaneous bedtime!]

Yes there was, over and above the sheer abusiveness of telling a seven-year-old apparent girl that she will be going to Hell unless she follows instructions very closely and those instructions include at least one thing she will be terrified to do right up to and past the moment where she finally does do it about six more years after that and even then only after mortifying intervention from three church ladies. Yes there was other abuse also and so with my current permanent PTSD sideshow I get flashbacks as they may be popularly called of all sorts.

All I want to say right now about the other abuse is that everyone on my mother’s side of the family has experienced it and probably they continue to but I moved far away from almost everyone and I do not hear from many of them anymore just I know of my very large array of cousins many are becoming grandparents one by one as the family is far too fertile for its own good.

The salient details to the central points of my autobiography are these: my brother molested me after he had reached puberty but before I had and a year later I was raped by a total stranger who was probably completely grown up as far as I could tell then on a beach when I had been left alone for a moment. Because all this happened, you know, in the short life span that is childhood and so it all overlaps and collides and nearly any trivial innocuous event that might happen on Earth has the potential to stir up confusion andor panic andor paralysis andor that feeling that does not sink but plummets its leaden cosmic rays shooting right out your feet and through the ground and through the molten iron engine that spins us round and out the other side of the planet into deep interstellar space where nobody can touch it.

You know that feeling?

The older I get the more appalling this all seems. It was normal then.

I think maybe I will try to go backwards from here now. I do not claim any religion in particular but I practice zazen–Zen meditation–nearly every day and I vastly prefer Zen Buddhism’s take on almost everything to any other of the takes my culture has offered me as serious alternatives. That is I prefer it to, say, Christianity certainly but also wider Anglo-European-American mythologies and ontologies not that those two things are distinct at any point that I have been able to tell so far.

I think I stumbled upon Zen in two ways: I had to attend NA/AA meetings for a short while but every single one of them freaked me out because they are inevitably structured like Protestant church services in some alarming way or another. The only one I have ever been to that did not freak me out in this way and I mean by that I was in full panic for a few days after each one was the meeting held at the San Francisco Zen Center. And so I went to that one only for the necessary duration but I went back to the Zen Center to learn zazen not long after my required NA/AA attendance was no longer required.

The other vector was Dialectical Behavior Therapy which although I was not formally doing it did provide me with some remarkable and valuable insights when I read about it on the internet and since it is partially grounded in mindfulness and in acceptance without judgment it folded almost without a ripple into the zazen I was sitting at least occasionally and occasionally even regularly.

My current practice string began last winter that is the one that spanned 2012 and 2013. I was taken off of the ‘atypical’ antipsychotic Zyprexa in August of 2012 after something like fourteen years on it and if all the things you hear about withdrawal or what they call protracted discontinuation syndrome so they don’t have to call it withdrawal are bad it has been at least as bad as you have heard.

If you haven’t heard then it has been way worse than you might have guessed otherwise and it also is another story that will blossom quite out of hand if I begin to tell it so for short: I lost fifty pounds but that was ok they were mostly Zyprexa Pounds™ but losing all of them in one year’s time was rough especially since here at the other side of those fifty pounds I am not very big at all and so now I have to work very hard to get in enough protein to keep from getting smaller still. Most every other symptom made it and still makes it sometimes difficult to eat. Or walk very far. Or sometimes use my eyes.

I am fortunate though because all of the involuntary muscle twitches that remain are usually too small for others to be able to see because if they were bigger my face would be all bunched up all of the time now. Instead the bridge of my nose aches. And aches. And aches.

So I started meditating about six months into this because what else was there to do there is no cure that is not worse than the condition ie more of the same or similarly-classed medications and I am not interested in taking more of those than I am still on. The other alternative is wait until you feel better. Which is happening slowly and I think I can expect it to continue slowly to happen.

Also as I tell my therapist without the sedating effects of the Zyprexa all my emotional responses go to eleven now. Sometimes approaching twelve. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is interesting and the meditation helps me not to be reactive and not to freak out when some slight neurological shift manifests itself as something I am not sure what to do with. Oh hello full force of grief and terror that I swallowed in 1973. Um, come on in? Have a seat? You.. you would rather pace. OK. You can do that. Can I get you anything? Clothes? You would like clothes? I can get you some clothes; take my jacket and I will be right back. Don’t leave the room? OK. Here is a blanket. It’s sort of old but it is warm.

And then we sit because in zazen it is easier to hear what those parts of me who never learned to talk the first time around have to say and most of them have to say at least something and some of them pepper us with questions like bewildered rip van winkle children waking up thirty, forty, fifty years later to see that not only did we all survive but we even made it to San Francisco which was a mythical land on the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite in the 60s and 70s all in black and white but colorful enough to spark my imagination to fashion my hippie self who of course grew long hair but was always puzzled about where the beard was going to come from.

This happened just the other night: I came home from a longish walk through the Mission in the evening where I saw that my whole neighborhood had been swapped out for some other neighborhood while I was mostly at home recovering from neurotransmitter/receptor assault the last almost two years. I was so stunned by what I saw that by the time I got home I did not even recognize my own kitchen at first.

We live here?
It’s kind of dingy.

[See we live in an old-fashioned Mission flat where the lease is someone else’s distant memory and the maintenance is DIY and many of the furnishings were chosen by some other punk rock queers in the 1980s or 90s and it is easier to use what is already here than to go buy new things especially when the old ones work just fine. But so some of the dirt is also vintage MTV era and we some of the few remaining longterm residents in this part of town are also a little unkempt because this is where the unkempt people used to find places they could afford among people who knew enough not to stare.

By vast contrast, what I saw on my walk the other night were spotless new condos and storefronts and freshly-painted and redecorated Victorians and restaurants where I could not possibly afford even the tip for walking into one. This is a national story by now but I myself have not been paying close attention until very recently.]

Yeah it’s not as clean as Mom would have liked.
Fly paper? People use that?
My housemates do. You and I we just talk to the flies and try to keep them confined to the compost bin if they prefer to stay in rather than fly out the window when we open it for them.

I don’t feel safe here.
Honey we have been here for over sixteen years and it has been safe this whole time.
It has?

Where’s Mom?

::deep breath::
She doesn’t want to see us. You remember.


We have other people now. The people we live with here are not afraid of you. Or me. We’ve known S__ for almost twenty-five years. You remember? Nobody here is afraid of any of us in any way.


And so on. This conversation went on for half an hour or so: the questions voiced in my head and the answers spoken quietly out loud so as to sound no different from the various topics I discuss with myself even when my housemates were home which they were at this point but in the other room. When I got to my bedroom finally things looked more familiar and it was clear that whichever of me had just seen the kitchen for the first time had been awake and aware here where I can close the door and be even safer than out in the kitchen.

If I had to specify I would say I was talking to an eight year old girl me. When I was about that age I had been told enough times that I was a girl that I believed that it had to be the case even though I could not imagine growing up to be a woman. And so I started at least that young to stop imagining growing up at all because nothing that was foretold to me concerning my eventual life as a grown-up made the slightest lick of sense.

I did not learn self-compassion. Or that is I was not taught it while I was being taught all the other things that were supposed to be the pillars of security and happiness in this world or maybe just the next I am not sure any of the teachers really knew which or even why they thought it was a good idea to tell young kids that Jesus loved them but they had better make damned sure to demonstrate how much they loved him back or he would do very very very very mean things to them for much much longer than they could ever conceive of having to wait even in the most awful boring ugly empty doctor’s office waiting room ever.

For a long time nothing I did was going to get me any brownie points with the Father or the Son or even for that matter with the angels who would be casting me into the Lake of Fire at the Last Judgment if I did not Repent and accept Jesus as my Personal Savior.

It was not enough that I believed with absolute credulity everything my mother told me, everything the Sunday School teachers told me, everything the preacher told anyone even when he probably was not aware of how absurdly dangerous it was to be lecturing adults and children at the same time in the same way. It was not enough that I had done precisely what I was told the Bible said to do ie ask Jesus into my heart and repent my sins and die to my old self by the time I was thirteen I was doing all of these things several times a week but it never took. Because there was this one last thing I was scared to death to do.

In our church, you had to walk.

You know: the aisle. Walk the aisle.

At the end of every service we of course sang the invitation while the preacher stood up front waiting for anyone who wanted to humble themselves before God and the congregation for whatever reason: to give testimony, to ask for salvation, to publicly humiliate themselves for any of a list of mostly petty and inoffensive sins. This was also the only way to make your decision and to be saved, to be born again. The one rationale for this that I recall clearly is that walking somehow counted as Publicly Professing Your Faith or rather that walking was the only thing that counted as such and if you had not yet publicly professed your faith you were still bound for the Lake of Fire no matter how many times you begged Jesus to let you off the hook for this one thing pleeeeeeeease.

Sorry. No. You know this is not going to work no matter how many times you try to get away with it and eventually you will give in and you will walk but no nobody is going to volunteer to walk with you or anything you have to do this by yourself or it does not count. And if you don’t do it soon we are just going to start the Rapture without you in fact we just did!


until I heard the car our 1966 Plymouth Barracuda could be heard half a mile away or at least I could hear it and it was a midnight-hour reprieve each and every time but it motivated me not at all to do anything but cower when a late-afternoon thunderstorm made everyone else late and tortured me with bolts and crashes and the fury of a god who had no patience for girls who did not even know why they were terrified of walking they just were to the point that not even hellfire could move my feet out of the safety of the pew. The aisle was carpeted and it pointed a straight line between rows and rows of stares: the penetrating gauntlet that knew all your secrets as soon as they heard a rustle and plod behind them telling them to turn their heads to get a look at who had been sufficiently overcome by conviction to leave the anonymity of the congregation for the aisle that never held more than one traveler at a time.

As I got older, most of the other kids whose parents brought them to church more than a few times a year walked at some point or the other, got sobbed over by the older ladies, then baptized and sent on to witness to their friends or wait to be called to be missionaries or just to get married and have babies who would then be sorted out by the same mechanism to see who was going to enter the Kingdom and who was going to throw away the marvelous gift they had been given of this choice that was no choice at all: walk or burn forever.

Everyone waited for me to walk. I wouldn’t do it.

introductory preface to a prolog on the combination and recombination of networks of terrestrial systems on Earth for the next few billion

I have this manifesto. Well I do not really have a manifesto. I have been trying to write one or it has been preoccupying me more than usual that having something to say is not the same as having the wherewithal to say it or the energy to take down out of the vast wandering hoardes of sounds and images just the right ones in just the right order to say something like what all of them would say if any of them could say anything.

Wait a little while and you can make art out of it.

Which is true. You can wait. And you can make art out of it or anything else you care to. You can exchange long intimate notes with yourself refining each point down until it vanishes into its own infinite resolution.


You can speak plainly.

Except that never works well and I haven’t another whole lifetime to figure out why that is so to be unplain and unclear:

I do not know what to put here.




Thanksgiving as we call the last Thursday in the last full week of November here in the US is mostly to me an insufferable holiday although not as insufferable as the holiday immediately following.

William Burroughs says it well and I am not inclined to stretch the critique out any further this year but only to point out that it is convenient and simple to give his hymn a listen and a nod and then decide that cynicism is unbecoming and go back to doing just as we always have done. It might be more challenging to move from cynicism in some other direction besides attributing Burroughs’ attitude to young disaffected people and something to get over and grow out of and then never give another thought to unless some foundation that we have thoroughly researched as responsible with their funding and not actually any danger to our comfort asks for a little money and then we can open our wallets and do our bit for


what was it we were doing our bit for? Well whatever. I am glad that part of my life is over. It does get better you know.


I mean unless it doesn’t get better exactly or it just gets different and complicated in ways that somehow are always slightly enough beyond the scope of your current store of understandings that to understand and outline and craft the correct response to each point and then close the account catalog it and file it in the drawer marked domesticated seems at first only not quite possible and a little later on less possible than that.

Was William Burroughs always a disaffected and rebellious young man?

Did William Burroughs have a respectable American adulthood to retire to when he’d had enough of fighting authority?

Did he remain uncomfortable on purpose just to be annoying?



We can convince ourselves of most anything if it helps to prop up our worldview and our worldview is what gives us comfort and stability.


I am an old queer. I remember being a young queer and unearthing stories about and pictures of queers who were old when I was not. It used to be quite difficult even to find out that you could be old and queer at the same time. At first old queers seemed miraculous.

Old queers are miraculous.

By that I do not mean to say I am a miracle although the odds have never appeared to me to be tipped in my favor and yet here I am getting old. I am still young of course but any claim to youthfulness I have now and will have for the rest of my life will be metaphorical. The teeth are already starting to go. As are eyes and skin and joints and hair in one particular spot but hair in general is its own narrative for me but I am not going to write about hair now.

Your Holiday Mom is offering virtual families for queer children again this year. I followed them last year not knowing what the operational definition of children was for we are all somebodies’ children even if we are very old and our parents have been gone a very long time.

I still do not know. My parents are not gone but they are not here either. I have not seen or heard them nor they me for more than seventeen years. We have email contact at the moment. They were young parents and so are not terribly old just yet. I do not know whether I will see them again alive and the question of whether I want to is sort of complicated to answer although it is slowly becoming less so. Less complicated that is.

Last year I left a comment for a couple on Your Holiday Mom. I do not recall precisely what I said. They may have had a decade on me if that but it did not feel quite right to me to address as proximate parents anyone younger than I and I was not even sure I was supposed to be looking for familiar reception there given my age but I figured it was worth a shot.

There was no reply.

I do not know if I will do more than read their stories this year. It is said that many connections were made last year.



Sometimes it is so easy to write that I can barely type fast enough to take everything down. I thought this was going to be like that but I made the mistake of starting it with the knowledge that I wanted to post it. I tried to pretend that was not the case but it was too late for the elaborate offices of censorship that I myself built out of the need for self-preservation to reverse course or even slow down the procedure for the initial establishment of emergency services because he is about to say something.

Among the many projects that float around in protean form in my head is some sort of online, public but safe-as-internet-space-can-be writing project open to anyone who is unsure of their voice or who has experienced on a regular and or systemic basis their voice being shouted down or hushed or ignored or ridiculed or forbidden. You might guess that this would be one of many attempts to do an end-run around my own internal bureaucracy and you might be right. I am wondering though, if it is easier to do that surrounded by people in similar straits and or people who are willing to be patient with our bureaucracies as we try to spit out whatever we have to say.

I am fairly convinced that what we have to say needs to be heard. Almost convinced enough to burst out here on my own, but that may or may not happen. I have hundreds of thousands of words already arranged in mostly sensical sentences in text files on various digital storage media. I could just post them. If I tell myself this a few more times maybe I could get undiagnosed out a little more quickly than its current faint trickle of a few thousand words every three months.

Or maybe I need some other strategy.

Fits and starts. Throat-clearing. Setting the stage.

Continual reduplicating of effort.

Exhortations to speak.

Exhortations to keep quiet.


after Jackson

Jackson, a dilute orange tabby, looking to the right

Jackson in motion

Some short time after 24 Feb 2011: some short time after I looked at Jackson and decided that I could not ask him to live through the weekend to the following Monday as he crouched hunched up and obviously uncomfortable anywhere but in my lap with a puppy piddle pad to catch the constant urine leak which now went everywhere he did. Some short time after I brought him to the clinic that evening and talked to the attending vet and she and I came to the decision to end his life then rather than wait for doctor who had known him a long time but would not be in until Monday.

Afterward. Immediately afterward, after his head dropped in my hand and I laid it down on the towel and looked into his eyes and they did not look back: only nowhere, seemingly focused upon whatever distance a completely relaxed eye will focus but not focused upon that distance at all for all signals had ceased so that light fell without disturbing anyone or anything: it occurred to me for the first time: I just killed my cat!

There is no getting around it. Agonizing as the decision is every single time for everyone who has ever to make it, the essence of the decision is to take the life of an animal after having accompanied it for some significant portion of both of our lives. To save them suffering, yes. To relieve them of pain, yes. To give them the gentlest exit still possible at whatever time it needs to be done. Yes.

All of that is true. And it is also true that we take responsibility for their lives upon ourselves and ask for them to be put to death.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I found the weight of that responsibility so heavy as to be impossible for me, myself, to pick up. There was no way I could take it on, and yet, there I had just done so. It was immediately unbearable but I could not shrug it off, for his death was quite literally in my hands already. Ours was an inescapable quandary, his and mine, and it had been both necessary and impossible for me to assume control of his mortality.

Yes. I think it is time. That was what I had said while feeling so uncertain of the right time that even now I repeat to myself the veterinarian’s response: I support your decision. Not because I found reassurance in it–rather I saw that we were equally helpless, trying to attend to this cat in obvious pain, but we without means to relieve him of either his pain nor his obligation to die because of it–or of some other pain. At this or some other time.

So we did the best we could. And it was as inadequate as it was unavoidable.

Outside the clinic life went on normally as it always does which is to say that all things and all persons animal vegetable and mineral kept moving almost without deviating even a moment. And inside? Inside was no different from outside except that the routine there is familiar with its own disruption and deals with it methodically but not mechanically or without feeling: death is routine, or it shadows routine so closely that routine is routinely imperiled, suspended, and consulted for directions as to how to return to it while holding casualties to a minimum.

Shortly afterward, I wrote this:

The first anthropomorphic gods as adjudicators between the other and the self? That is, I cannot assume the responsibility of Jackson’s or anyone else’s life and yet I cannot protect them from death. To leave all matters in “god’s hands” is to ask god to forgive on the behalf of the other, with or without the permission of that other. If instead the divine is the relationship I have with the other or that the other has with me then I must face what I cannot face and what tears me apart in the face of the other: responsibility for an other’s vulnerability. Its absolute, irreparable, mind-blowing vulnerability. Perhaps this is where personal guilt emerges from original sin: our inability to keep the other safe from death–which is not the same as being unable to protect oneself from death–is where we perceive our fatal insufficiency, the one that will do us in before we can begin to do anything at all. The loose thread. The gap in the circle.

Fundamentalist Christianity reacts to this insufficiency by seeking to protect the self from death and disavowing responsibility toward the other by resigning all questions about death to a god who not only should be able to tame those questions well enough to protect his elect ones from their uncertainties, but who also is supposed to stand in for the other and forgive on the other’s behalf when the elect pronounce and/or enact that other’s damnation to separation and torment. But no mere god can do that. What is divine in our bonds to others cannot be abrogated by a mythical figure who somehow straightens everything out so that death does not in fact ever take its share. In seeking relief from our own mortality we also seek relief from responsibility for the mortality of the other, but there is no relief from either except to the extent that both destroy the self, leaving it unable to assume anything like responsibility. The death of the other destroys me–shows me my profound inadequacy–and calls into question then my ability to take responsibility for that death.

At that point whatever remains of me takes its place in death beside the other. My inability to save the other from death results in the disruption of my own being and lays me out beside that other in an adjoining grave. It is not that I die of guilt or responsibility but rather that I die of not being able to be relieved of that responsibility, which does not measure itself in guilt except when my ego insists on finding redemption for itself. Asking to be spared in the face of the death of the other is the beginnings of totalitarianism: an ego that dares to think itself immune from destruction, or deserving of such immunity. Death is not punishment but life’s radical vulnerability, and disavowing that vulnerability may be one early step closer to cynicism and egotistical fascism.

To face it, to face the impossibility of protecting the other from death and the subsequent disruption of egotistical mastery [I look into Jackson’s eyes as though to assure him one last time that suffering has come to an end but they no longer respond and I cannot reassure him or myself that this was the necessary action at the necessary time. My response does not arrive in time], is to lose the self in a kind of remorseless compassion: one that does not relieve us of responsibility for the other’s death but relieves us of ourselves and our demand for grace from some figure that could step onto the scene of mortality and usurp the other’s place there in order to restore ourselves to ourselves.

Instead we are left with our own disfigurement at the disappearance of the other, our own dissolution at the point at which we cannot assume this responsibility even under its inexhaustible insistence. It is a paradoxical moment in that what commands me also destroys me and renders me incapable of responding to it: thus irresponsible perhaps but also bereft of myself. One cannot have it both ways: the subject cannot persist after the other has perished no matter how long it denies that its only response is both necessary and impossible. The subject can only respond by relinquishing its perceived capacity to respond as an integrated, intact individual.

I found this in an odd spot for this sort of writing. It took me a moment to recognize it as something I wrote myself, as I do not recall writing this down, although I recall the thought process very well. Because I also remember very well how shocked I was to understand what I had done–or rather, to understand that there would be no simple way of understanding this or of reconciling myself–my self–to the deed of ordering Jackson to be killed. I had help. I had a witness; I even had a willing agent and assistants. I had been an assistant many times before. I can say with some accuracy that I have seen at least hundreds of animals euthanized, if not upwards of one or two thousand. All of them presenting as choices to be made where no adequate choice can be made out even while it must be determined. We are bound to answer even while the call itself is impossible to fulfill without overstepping our bounds.

The English language, at least in my opinion, does not offer an adequate word for that friend with whom we share absolute trust. What is worse, it does not offer a particularly easy way to name the relations we have and are with the life around us. All of it. Not just humans, not just primates, not just mammals, not just vertebrates, not just animals, and possibly not just those entities we recognize as alive: we are bound together in such a way that we are not even distinct from each other, but the language I know is somehow so clumsy it cannot bridge even the mythological gaps between mythological individuals.

Familial terms do not work for me at all but the explanation for that is already 500 pages long and counting. Worse, “brother/sister” only makes room for the two genders our particular culture chooses to assign on the basis of questionable criteria. Neither would even include me in the relation I would try to use it to describe. “Friend” does not do it for me. I do not know why, or that is I might consider why some other time. Losing a friend sounds no more or less serious to me than losing a dog or cat or bird or bunny or rat or goat or.. but none of them imply the rending sensation they try to name even if they are able to acknowledge that loss does not obey any hierarchical chain of being, great or otherwise. Is it shameful that I feel Jackson’s death as acutely as my Grandmother’s death? It is true that they took place within a year of each other and within another year two more people on the same side of the family had died so yeah it’s been a rough few years but Jackson’s departure is still very much Jackson’s departure and nobody else’s. I can line up their effigies and while loss includes every one of them they are each the mnemonic of a very specific moment within the procession of mortality as I am apparently bound to experience it.

What I can never find the right word for is the nature and extent of that bond. It is, to me, every alibi for passion that there is, and extends to so many relations it seems odd to me to try to line them up on some linear gradient, as though watching, say, capital’s daily assault on every form of exploitable embodiment within reach were not every bit as wrenching as leaving Jackson’s body behind when I walked home that night.

Unbearable, all of it.

He wrote, sitting as upright as he could. Which was not very. But still a bearing of sorts.

the historical record is skipping again

This will be short, I think. I have things I need to do that are not completely centered around computers–an almost impossible coincidence but it does happen–but this needs attention now.

Actually I am finding the ramping up of violence and legally mandated persecution against QTBLG people in Russia too alarming to be able to form many coherent thoughts about it, or at least not enough to fill much of a page here. Mostly I have been like: shit! I have been having nightmares about this exact thing since the turn of the millennium only in my dreams we are hiding from the police in New York or Seattle, but maybe we have been in St Petersburg this whole time? And now it is actually happening? Uhhh, somebody do something! Anything! Somebody?

A couple of people with more readers than I will ever have have spoken up so far, and they are articulating my own thoughts very well. Especially Stephen Fry, who points out the obvious–the glaringly fucking obvious–parallels between the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics set to be held in Sochi, Russia.

It could be argued that both he and I are overreacting to these similarities, and perhaps we are, but how much of a risk would we take if we acted (or did not act) as though nothing is really going on because we do not believe fascist regimes of extermination could possibly ever arise again in “the west”? I might address the difficulties of terminology later: is this truly fascism that we see emerging in Russia? How “western” is Russia? I cannot say I care all that much about those sorts of problem just yet and I do not know if I will. Right now is a time to act if I ever saw one.

George Takei beat Fry to the punch; he posted yesterday a similar request to move the Olympics. He is less pointed about the historical resonances, but he includes a link to An Internet Petition as a point of registering protest.

Pass these around, please. More importantly, make noise. The petition is a nice start but please do not stop making noise until the Olympic Committee finds its ethical backbone.

This shit scares the fucking daylights out of me.

where you must repent before kindergarten

I was talking to my therapist the other day–auspicious start for a blog post innit?–mainly because I pay her to give me an hour a week in which to think of something to say out loud which is itself a major exercise in social willpower for me not that in my universe “the will” names something at all legible as such but this may be idiopathic or really I am not going to try to explain the problems I have with it right now.

But so a topic arose as it frequently does concerning the tenets of the Judaism that she follows in relation to such things as the Buddhism we are both interested in and the Christianity I was raised to believe but walked away from for the sake of self-preservation in early adolescence which was a late adolescence which is why at 16, 17 I was only in early adolescence and the question we were looking at that is the other day my therapist and I not in 1978 was what does each say about self-anything. Self-regard, self-care, self-compassion, self-hatred, self-ish-ness–we mentioned all of those and probably some more self-doings/qualities/things.

I do not know precisely which sort of Judaism she follows but it is likely not Conservative or Orthodox but I have not asked so that is what it is a likelihood and not a confident assertion. But she said that if you are Jewish, then the general form of a prescriptive rule is, in her words, “Do this–unless it is not healthy for you.” I drew from this that the Jewish Rules are serious but they are not intended to do harm and so one is more or less obliged to be mindful about the consequences of following a rule and that includes a mindfulness toward oneself.

I pointed out that although one might think to look for this same principle in Christianity what with its shared history with Judaism, regard for the self seems not to have translated well if at all. What I hear from my Catholic friends is that Catholicism did not pick it up and what I have experienced of it tells me that Protestantism did not pick it up either or at least the more conservative parts did not or at least not the evangelical and or fundamentalist and or dominionist strains with which I am far far too well-acquainted.

Anathema, actually, is what would be any principle of caring for oneself first rather than others, and especially powerful others, and especially powerful others holding positions of authority who have laid down rules they expect you to follow. It is not that the self is any kind of illusion. The self is eternal. The self will survive the self that is the death of “the flesh” and be judged according to how well it withdrew from and overcame its fleshy self during its earthly bondage to it.

I walked home with visions of Platonic horses pulling chariots this way and that but in the ten minutes it took me to go the four blocks I drew out for myself something like this:

Fundamentalist Christianity has done with the Platonic idea of the unruly horse leading the disciplined horse astray and the chariot of the self to ignominy that which it does best with most ideas it did not come up with from scratch. It runs them all the way through the very ends of logic and out the other side and then continues on indefinitely or until it reaches a level of sufficient cruelty toward the negative term.

There is always a negative term.

So unlike the Buddhist self which might be said to be not real or to be an illusion or at the very least impermanent and delicate and subject to the same decay and entropy as any other phenomenon arising from a collection of living matter and so in a practical sense something for which attachment leads to grief this fundamentalist self could not be more real existing as it does in a physical dimension for now and a spiritual dimension forever. More precisely the earthly part is split from the really real part that must purify itself of itself or of its other self.

Bajillions of academic points of departure await. I am not going to take any of them although they might sneak in anyhow. Because experience is more compelling to write about much of the time or that much time that I spend trying to estimate what style to aim for forgetting that style will emerge according to the general outline I am trying to follow and who made that outline because who wants to speak. And so I quote many preachers, sunday school teachers, evangelists, and those traveling revival preachers who had the precise amount of charisma to charm a congregation for a week or so before they needed to move on lest anyone get worn out in the spirit.

Something like this and many times in slightly different ways sometimes but sometimes the same phrase once and twice and three times with a rising voice for emphasis maybe a pointing finger often an intense, penetrating gaze and then quickly whisper and hush and the air crackles and stirs until down to the heartbeats auditioned by their own bodies for some measure of faint resonance or conviction stirring almost without pattern or rhyme. until now.

We must die to the self. The self is evil. The self is in thrall to Satan. The self was born separate from god (or the universe or everything but not out loud). The self will lead you that is the real you astray. You must not listen to what your self wants. The self must be deprived of its fondest wishes. The self must be rebuked. The self must be conquered, subjugated. The self must be denied that is it must come to know itself as abject as fallen as unworthy as treacherous mad sick mistaken broken beyond humanly-possible repair so dangerous and to be endlessly blocked from getting what it says it needs or wants at least until it admits to its own degeneracy and begs for forgiveness rather than mercy because mercy is not on offer even though the word is invoked so frequently that one might think it meant something quite unusual.

Otherwise we risk ‘Hell’: that catastrophic condition worse than death where all connection and light are extinguished not just forever but repeatedly taken away to heap loss upon loss and anguish upon anguish.

Because God— well here things get quite out of hand and I am not really in the mood to draw out the entire Protestant or conservative or fundamentalist or evangelical Christian cosmology, but as many have pointed out the fundamentalist Christian version of God has a way of looking like an authority figure with some baggage of his own flying into fearsome rage if any of his children dare to withhold affection or wish him ill or even look at him wrong. The point of salvation–be it whatever any given congregation determines it must be–is not the point at which the self gets a break from the

well I will go ahead


Is that clear? I mean is this as clear to you as it is to me? However large a line can be drawn around the Christianity that treats its selves this way and I think the question I am going to pursue next is where the line itself might have begun with the Reformation or prior to that but wherever it began did that particular articulation of Christianity could it have emerged out of a culture in which abuse, that is intergenerational child abuse along several spectra was not endemic or (about to or already become) foundational?

Explanations and analogies are only what they are because we who come up with them are good at seeing patterns but patterns are sometimes nothing but pattern rather than the expression of some force more fundamental than that perceiving the pattern. This is how the question arises for example whether the patterns we see in the positions of celestial bodies relative to this celestial body as it would be looking up at somewhere else’s ceiling are interesting pastimes or alignments of cosmic forces whose influence on us is related somehow to the patterns we have been able to elaborate out of them. The question then whether the pattern is also an expression of forces that necessitate that very pattern or whether the existence of the pattern is a consequence solely of our ability to create patterns sometimes or almost always we forget to ask unless our method requires that we remember but still we forget. And also the question could some other array of forces completely different from what I am thinking of also have produced this pattern because if so the whole puzzle is still open this question also falls away in the euphoria of having constructed a pattern that appears to fit neatly and everywhere we currently have data points for. That a given pattern is the best and most useful to come along so far does not rule out the possibility that a better one could come along in some other place and time but for the same set of data.

My experience tells me that the last question remains open when imagination is willing to grant that it cannot imagine everything imaginable or at least not all at once and certainly not yet. There may be other conditions keeping it open but this one seems necessary. And generally speaking I tend to imagine that almost anything else could be the case if it could be considered reasonably as that which currently appears reasonably to me to be the case. This would be why I almost never make claims without a few dozen qualifications.

And so my argument from incredulity may come to nothing but I am going to continue to act as though it is worth thinking through even over a long period of time because I am sort of on a mission although I have never been able to name that mission exactly I am pretty sure I took off on it almost 45 years ago or maybe even one or two years before that.

Here is a list of things that I have read mostly in other people’s writing about childhood abuse that make sense to me within the context of relatively general ideas about child development here in the culture that I grew up in whichever one or ones that is or those are and which–
well here is a list and some interjections:

It is said that:

Children are dependent on their primary caretakers or parents (and from here I am going to use “parents” as a synecdochical or abbreviate reference to whoever carries the most responsibility for feeding, protecting, sheltering, nurturing, training, and all else that is needed to keep a child healthy and safe. I know that there are many individuals who do this who yet might not be “parents” in a legal or biological sense in my culture but “primary caretaker” has too many syllables even for me and “caretaker” is not specific enough). The younger the child, the further the extent of dependence to the point of absolute dependence in infancy. Children will each view their parents as all-knowing and all-good in rough proportion to both the child’s age and their level of dependency.

I take this at face value when not purposefully engaging in deep psychoanalytic spelunking. In my own experience it seems true enough of what I can recall of conscious thoughts and feelings when I was small. I took everything my mother told me about the world as the literal, infallible truth, even when I was old enough maybe to start to intuit the potential problems in being that credulous and that trusting.

But that was me. And this sort of thing gets said by a wide variety of people who work with a wide variety of children and so whether it is strictly true in every case it is mythically so in general. Interestingly I think also this infallibility and goodness are usually attributed to conservative constructions of ‘God.’ And often for the same reasons.

None of that is news.

Children whose parents are abusive, who inflict pain, who punish their children for perceived imperfections–and I am thinking of such things as being unable to avoid spilling ever or unable to be always perfectly quiet or unable to always suppress anger or unable to always suppress sadness, doubt, upset, jealousy, desire, or other affects that strike the parents as negative, threatening, dangerous in some way whether to their own peace of mind or to the child’s future as an acceptable person and I am also thinking of outsized punishment for anything or for nothing at all using physical beating or refusal to meet basic needs or deliberate and deep shaming or turning away repeatedly in a kind of serial abandonment that leaves a child always at risk of losing those upon whom their survival rests–these children are faced with a dilemma that they can only solve one way.

That is, their all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful parents cannot possibly be doing any of these things out of any sort of error at all from the point of view of a child. That would be catastrophic: the parents would become untrustworthy during a time when a child has no means to protect itself from capriciousness and needs its parents to be consistently benevolent. Functionally a child with untrustworthy parents would be an orphan and quite without any remedy: when you are very young, to be orphaned is to be as good as dead.

And so self-preservation dictates that some solution be found very very quickly.

In an abusive family, children are also often punished for behavior over which they cannot be reasonably expected to have control: strong feelings for instance–especially feelings that parents do not know themselves how to handle without shame and punishment. Expressing unpleasant (to the parents) feelings can earn vociferous correction and this amplifies the dilemma to the point that a child comes to understand that its very existence as an emotional being is putting them at risk of abandonment and death.

The solution may already be clear: a child experiencing this kind of abuse from its parents must choose to reject whatever parts of themselves seem to be angering or alienating or upsetting its parents. Because if they can somehow keep those parts hidden the risk of orphanhood and death begins to diminish. Put another way to emphasize the enormity of this threat: the risk of sudden and catastrophic annihilation begins to diminish to the extent that the child can learn to hide its strongest feelings from its parents.

Parallels jumping out at me so quickly I can barely keep up with them so here is one of them: fundamentalist Christianity taught me that I was born evil and that I must repudiate myself in order to find favor with a god who otherwise wanted to see me suffer disproportionately to anything I could realistically have done to that point. I was often bewildered to be told that this god was very upset about something I had done which at the time I felt I had done out of necessity and sometimes under the duress of having to choose from possible actions that all seemed risky and so it was imperative to find that one that would be least painful or more importantly the one I thought least likely to annoy god or my parents because their annoyance was more urgent a problem than my own relative well-being.

But I also learned eventually–too soon really but not right away not the very moment I learned to speak–that a place of eternal catastrophic abandonment and annihilation awaited all people for their inherent evilness. If that sounds like what has been called hell, then I am describing it adequately for now.

The only choice offered to all people all of whom are defined as evil at the moment of birth–and this varies across denominations but the basic idea of original sin holds that we are born into a fallen state whether or not we have a few years of grace in which we are taught that we ourselves are responsible for that fallenness in the eyes of the god who cannot apparently be anywhere near anyone who is in this state for reasons that can be logically circular at times–the only way to escape orphanhood or death or catastrophic abandonment or hell is to reject one’s fallen self: to repent, or acknowledge that one has been evil all along and that as an evil being one can do nothing acceptable in the eyes of this god who does by now begin to resemble an abusive parent: arbitrary, unpredictable, and uniformly rejecting in that no part of the self will remain uncondemned: eventually even the best of intentions catch dad/mom/god on a bad day and will bounce back to the self as unanticipated shame, abandonment, and/or violent rebuke.

Reality for a child in an abusive family can become chaotic as violence or shame or rejection are unpredictable outgrowths of the parents’ own shifting emotional or physiological rhythms–rhythms that a child cannot comprehend well enough to be able anticipate their effects. The only controllable entity in a child’s universe is its own self or rather the child’s own self is the only entity on which it is allowed to exert any control be it effective or not. Much as the fundamentalist Christian self remains under constant scrutiny for shortcomings that cause its god to turn away–to stop speaking, in effect, or to send a believer to her/his room to search themself for signs and motives of and remedies for disobedience–this child’s self will be under whatever degree of self-surveillance is necessary to keep its parents from turning away.

There are finer splittings of the self within the tradition called Western but this one resonates here: a child living in an abusive family will come to militate against its own self or that is it will divide itself against itself or against the bad self or against the self who appears responsible for unpredictable abandonment and or injury. Or at least so far as the child can make out those qualities in themselves that enrage or upset or drive away their parents must be repudiated–one might say the child must repent–and carefully controlled lest they emerge in any recognizable form. Because those parts of the self for the child at that time are in fact dangerous and they represent a certain evil insofar as they appear to the child to directly jeopardize their only source of sustenance and protection.

And so the child’s self repudiates or repents of its other self in order to reduce the immediate danger of sudden catastrophic abandonment and annihilation–or something like hell, say.

I recall hearing more than once that the family was the microcosm for god’s kingdom but I doubt that anyone saying that had looked closely at the what similarities might be seen between that kingdom and abusive families. Of course abusive families have only been relatively lately recognized as abusive and I do not know how many others might have noticed by now that the abused child’s necessary war with itself might be mirrored or otherwise reproduced in the fundamentalist Christian’s war on themselves–and even could easily pass for abusive parenting when fundamentalist Christian teachings are handed down and enforced through familial power structures.

So I am just going to say that I think I see something here and it looks entangled to me with the culture I grew up in to such an extent that it is not always clear where abuse and fundamentalist Christianity can be completely distinguished from one another. If a culture produced abusive parents who produced abused children who grew up needing substitute parents while only recognizing abusive authority figures as acceptably parent-like then those grown children might predictably choose or stick with a religious tradition that supplies them not only with such a parent but with an entire social structure that feels like home because it supports ongoing abusive relations between its upper and lower hierarchies. And so their campaign against themselves can continue but not only that: it is reinforced and modeled as normal and necessary.

It seems clear that USian mainstream culture has absorbed this hostility to the self albeit in complex and ambivalent ways: selfishness is almost universally regarded as a defect even while a self with a drive to dominate others and to profit from this domination is hailed as ambitious or possessed of a strong work ethic–whether or not the dominating requires any sort of productive work. One could investigate the Protestant/Puritan/Calvinist roots of such ambivalence or rather it has been done but I am not aware of connections yet drawn between micro-cultures of abuse–abusive families–and larger structures of abuse or not in such a way that they might be detectable in fundamentalist Christianity nor much written on any historical or genealogical analysis of that connection. If there is one.

The last thing I want to say though is something of a resistant push back against the notion of selfishness as a defect of character but not at all in some Ayn Randish exultation in cruelty inflicted on others out of the crude narrow selfishness arising in a culture where abuse is practiced as a matter of course. And especially not so long as a self who inflicts cruelty on others is able thereby to achieve some great accomplishment or idea–one that will eventually avenge all the insults sustained by this reactive, resentful self who still lives and acts under the rule of self-abnegation as its reverse side and so does not in any way undermine or question the tradition of abuse.

Instead of this polarized tendency either to torment the self for the sake others or to torment others for the sake of the self, one thing–and it is not just one thing but here I will condense a few things–that appeals to me in Buddhist thought is that the self is a transient effect among all the other transient effects in the world and as points of unnecessary suffering these would benefit the most from a compassionate intervention: one that shifts attention away from continually judging the self as to its acceptability and especially away from the cultural axiom that there can be no connection between a yes and a no judgment on this question, no possible position between the extremes of elect or damned.

Suspending reactivity against oneself can create space in which to do not much more than note that oneself appears here at this time and place, but that notice can set off a curious cascade of perceptual and conceptual change. This has been my experience, once I manage to interrupt my own self-obsession by studiously and calmly observing whatever–whatever as in whatever happens–and I am able to pause the reactive impulses from my own sense of besieged self: the siege comes to an end. Or is suspended at least, and all of us here the non-royal we can breathe a bit and begin to pay greater attention to what comes to pass, be it self or other or other other, without always meeting it with suspicion and hostility.

* * *

Most of what I have relied upon here for descriptions of abusive families has come from elsewhere but the only discrete elsewheres I can recall at the moment are Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good and also Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. I think the specific question of familial abuse is distinct from the more general ideas I have read in what is sometimes called trauma theory. At least so far, the mentions I have run across of “abuse culture” as an attribute of westernish cultures have arisen mainly in activist circles, which are not necessarily coextensive or even concentric with academic ones. And so this is all the bibliography I currently have, but it leaves out all those titles and writers whose names I never took down.