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Voyager

This morning was my weekly EMDR therapy. This is my treatment for PTSD. I feel like I’m drowning in initials, sometimes.

EMDR stands for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing”, but the name is a bit deceiving. Originally it involved eye movement , but now it can involve any number of sensory inputs. For my treatment, I hold two small vibrating devices, one in each hand.

Basically, when someone undergoes severe trauma, their brain gets rewired to process sensory data differently, so they’re always on guard, hypervigilant. It makes the sufferer tense and anxious and worried pretty much constantly. In EMDR, the therapist goes back into the traumatic memories with the aid of the sensory input to undo some of the traumatic damage and make the patient’s life less tense — easier.

My description doesn’t really do the process justice. I’m making it sound like the therapist is minimizing the trauma, trivializing its impact. It’s not that. It’s more that it takes away the power that the traumatic event has had over you. It helps you overcome.

As I was going through my memories today, strangely enough, I kept coming back to scenes from Star Trek: Voyager. Of course, I’ve been running through the series on Netflix (just finished Season 2 Episode 12 a bit ago). But I also have recurring dreams set in the show, in which the Borg are attempting to assimilate the U.S.S. Voyager.

The ship of my dreams, literally. From http://memory-alpha.org

At first, I tried to pull my thoughts back to the memory I was supposed to be working on, but my therapist told me to just follow this train of thought and observe it.

And I flashed through all the characters on the show as if they were photos in a family album.

Family. It struck me that this is the appeal of the show for me.

If you’re not familiar with the show, a very simplified version of the plot is that the crew of a starship is hurtled halfway across the galaxy, and they are trying to get back to Earth with none of the support or allies they are used to having. So the crew all have to learn to rely on each other. And as the series goes on, the crew think of themselves more and more as a family, even using that word for themselves.

And it strikes me that this is a common theme in shows at the time. (Voyager ran from 1995 to 2001.) I came across a critique of the show Friends a couple of days ago. (If I have time, I’ll dig up the link later.) It decried the show for featuring the most self-absorbed characters in history, that their entire lives revolve around their immediate relationships, with no connection to the outside world.

I think the critic is missing the point. Like many shows that achieve a certain canonization in our culture, it depicts a fantasy. It gives its characters the very things we wish for in life.

And for a child of the Nineties (which is really more what I am despite the fact that I’m pushing 40), this idea of security in relationships means everything. We, the generation whose families broke up, whose parents may not have been around (in the same way they were so conspicuously absent in John Hughes movies and suchlike) craved some depiction of the comfort, safety, and love we so desperately wanted in our own lives.

I may well find myself back on the bridge of Voyager after I drift to sleep tonight. And when I do, I’ll see a reflection of the sort of connections I’ve always wanted in my life.

Year’s End

So today is a time of reflection, as it is for many. I look back on this year, and see that I pulled off one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: apply to enter a creative-writing MFA program. I’d say that this particular type of  graduate program is more grueling to enter than most for two reasons. First off, you must write a substantial body of work that represents the best writing you’ve ever done. It means putting everything through nine or ten drafts.  And then you “finish” the writing and send it off to the schools, and because you are an artist, you find a million things wrong with it and are convinced it’s the worst writing ever.

Second, the norm for the creative-writing MFA is to apply to many programs–ten to fifteen is the norm, I’ve applied to fourteen–mainly because the acceptance rates are so low. And the process to apply to each school is entirely different from one to the next–right down to how much writing you need to send to a school. Though the standard is 20 to 30 pages, one school required 15, another 50.

Sadly, not much has gone on in my life this year beyond this process. I continued with classes, and continued to do well there. I tendered my resignation with Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus to aid my transition to the next phase of my life. I just got the news that I will soon be starting a new job as a writing tutor at my school’s tutoring center. Friends died, new friendships were formed, and life continued.

Looking forward to the next year, I will hear in February and March where, if anywhere, I will go to graduate school. Then I will plan my next move. I’m excited about my prospects.

I don’t believe in resolutions. But I do like challenges and goals. So the challenge I have set for myself for my writing at the moment is to write 26 essays. The idea behind the essays is that their themes will go in alphabetical order. I won’t guarantee I’ll do them all in 26 consecutive days, but I will do my best to approximate that pace. I will post these “alphabet essays” to this blog.

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Stay safe and have fun.

Gratitude

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving. On one side, as many do, I have an issue with celebrating part of one of the dark parts of human history in the European decimation of Native America. But on the flipside, I have warm associations with Thanksgiving. It was usually the holiday my family celebrated the most. I remember visits to my grandma’s tiny two-bedroom house (my uncle lived with her), and twenty, twenty-five people cramming in–none of it planned, all spontaneous, just, everyone decided to drive over to Grandma’s and bring something to eat. I remember watching football with my brother, or later, my friends. I remember that there was always an element of reflection and thoughtfulness involved, as our culture encouraged you to take a brief moment to consider whatever good fortune you had.
The trick now, of course, is that I’m not thankful. The word “thanks” implies that I’m thankful to someone, to a power bigger than me who gave me everything I have, and I don’t believe in such a being. But I’m certainly grateful for so many things. Perhaps I’m mincing words, but the distinction has a redemptive power for me in my process of reconstructing my worldview post-God.
So I want to take a minute to do what millions of other bloggers are doing today and share what I’m thankful grateful for:
  • I am grateful for my friends. My sanity, my strength, my joy–I am where I am because of you.
  • I am grateful for my family. I am fortunate that the people I was born into love me and look out for me. A mother who has been the model of unconditional love and maternal sacrifice, a sister who has been my biggest cheerleader, a brother who somehow manages to look up to me despite my screw-ups (and who has been taller than me most of our lives), and a brother to whom (I am confident) I will one day be restored.
  • I am grateful for the state of Minnesota. I may pick on you for your (in my view) weird culture sometimes, but so many of the good things in my life have come as a direct result of living here. Whether the grad-school gods keep me here or take me elsewhere, this great place will always occupy a sizable part of my heart. Donchano.
  • I am grateful that I am always warm and well-fed. Three-and-a-half years ago, I was dangerously close to becoming homeless. A bit of determination and a lot of luck kept me from that fate. There are few things I want more than to save every man, woman, and child across the world from that same fate. I work for a world where we will do that. And I remember every day that I am fortunate to have what I have.
  • I am grateful for music. It is my heartbeat, almost literally, as there is always a song in my head. I am grateful that I know how to sing and can play a few musical instruments, so that, in my awkward little way, I can share this most wonderful of human creations.
  • I am grateful for art. I am grateful for the artists who train and work tirelessly, often with little real reward, to share the most intimate parts of their minds and hearts with the world.
  • I am grateful for literature. I am grateful for every book that is on my shelf and the million more that are not. I marvel at the infinite power of the written word, and am humbled by the fact that I’ve had a little bit of training to wield this tool.
  • I am grateful for every second I have to be alive.

Heads Up

With today’s breakneck primary curriculum, focused more on getting students to fill in the correct ovals than on actually learning and applying anything, I doubt that young students have any sort of “down time” during the class day. This was not the case when I was a child. Our teachers were at times desperate, having fulfilled the day’s schedule, to figure out how to fill in five or ten minutes in the course day.

One of the most effective ways my teachers would fill in the gap was with a game called Heads Up Seven Up. In the game, the teacher would call seven students at random to the front of the class. Then the rest of the class was to put their heads down on their desks and close their eyes. The seven selected students were to each go about the classroom and tap one child on the shoulder. After seven seated children had been tapped, the tappers returned to the front of the classroom, whereupon the teacher asked the seated students to open their eyes, raise their heads, and indicate who amongst them had been tapped. Then each of those children was to guess who had tapped them.

It sounds like a simple guessing game, but in the world of the elementary-school student, it is fraught with sociopolitical implications. You knew there was nothing random about who was tapped. People tapped their friends, and didn’t tap their enemies, and a socially well-adjusted child supposedly had both.

I was not a socially well-adjusted child.

One day in third grade, my teacher Mrs. Benson rounded out the last fifteen minutes of the day with Heads Up Seven Up. She called forward seven children, whilst I joined the rest of the class in putting down our heads. It was a stressful moment.  Would I be tapped? Would a child deign to call me friend? Would I accidentally put my head up when tapped and get disqualified like that one time in second grade?

And then, I was tapped! I had a friend! That day, anyway. As any schoolteacher will tell you, the social landscape of children evolves constantly. Some days I had a friend and some days I didn’t. But that day I had a friend.

Mrs. Benson called us to rise. I looked across the seven students before me, and that is where my troubles began. On the positive side, there was not a one of them I would consider an enemy. But neither did I think any of them was my friend, even for that day. They all resided in this grey area. How on earth was I to pick?

I hoped that I would be the last to select my tapper, which, by process of elimination, meant I would not have to pick anyone. That is not what happened. I was the very first.

I stood up, as I was supposed to, to select my tapper. I looked across their faces for some hint of guilt to no avail. No-one tipped their hand. I flushed as I struggled to come up with the name of the guilty party. I used every deductive tool available to my eight-year-old mind, but came up fruitless.

As I went two minutes without saying anything, I invoked the grumbles of my classmates. Three minutes. Four, and then the grumbles turned into calls: “Just pick someone!” But I thought the goal was to guess correctly, and to “just pick someone” risked guessing incorrectly.

Five minutes. Six. The uproar grew, and even Mrs. Benson urged me to just pick anyone, it didn’t matter. My hands trembled. I nearly cried.

Seven minutes and I had no answer. And then the 2:30 bell rang and it was time for us to go home. As I shuffled to my coat hook, the eyes of all glared upon me. I had ruined the game.

I wish I could say that I have escaped that mentality. Though I’ve worked on it mightily as an adult, the urge to do something perfectly, even when that urge invokes the ire of my peers, still plagues me. The inability to “just pick something” when I have myriad options before me can shut me down. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in life is that there is often no one right answer, that choices are often value-neutral, and that if I do perchance make the wrong choice, I can recover from and learn from the consequences. Day by day, I’m learning how to defeat my “analysis paralysis”.

And now you know why I don’t post on this blog every day. Often, it’s not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I have so many things to say, and I’m afraid of not choosing the right one.