Eat Write and Exorcise

a blog by Scott Powell

Dystopian Novels – Why Do We Read Them?

We live in a troubled society within a troubled world. Why then would we want to read about people struggling to overcome far worse circumstances? How the hell would I know? Just kidding, I’ll take a stab at it, but be warned that my thoughts are based on nothing more than my best guess at why I love the genre.

Most of us live pretty comfortable lives in spite of the problems we face as a society. We periodically become outraged by the acts of our government or our fellow citizens, but we do so from in front of a television, laptop computer, or iPad. We watch from the comfort of our sofa or recliner in the comfort of our home. Most of us don’t personally witness our neighbors being dragged from their homes, imprisoned, tortured, or killed for their thoughts or beliefs. Things are bad, but they aren’t bad enough. If our government sent children into arenas to kill each other or forced us to choose only one aspect of our humanity we would know what to do. We may not know how to do it, but we would know that action must be taken. With the zeal that comes with the certainty of knowing right and wrong, good and evil, we would band together and act. We would have brothers and sisters at our side, united to end tyrrany.

The problems we actually have are a faltering economy, the gradual erosion of our rights, and the causes we each hold dear. We don’t agree about who is good and who is bad, or even what societal changes should be made. There is no clear choice. We believe things could be better, but we don’t know how. There is no urgency to act – the monsters are at our door, but our doors seem pretty sturdy. If the claws make their way through, we will take action. We may not now know what that action would be, but we know we would act. It is easier to fight the monster when it is in the room with you. As long as it stays on the other side of the door, we argue amongst ourselves about how best to make it go away. It seems that we will continue to argue until the door has given way.

In a dystopian society we would know and act. In actual society we suspect, debate, and argue.

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I’m OCD and You’re Not (Probably)

For those of you who don’t know me well enough to figure it out after reading this entry, the title is intentionally ironic.

The acronym “OCD” has become a way for someone to express that they are meticulous, possibly even in only one aspect of their life. As in “I’m so OCD about keeping my books in alphabetical order” or “I’m OCD about my desk being tidy.” First, one can not be OCD – remember, the “D” stands for disorder. Someone with cancer doesn’t say “I am cancer,” and one with a broken arm doesn’t say “I am a broken arm.” One HAS OCD, or they don’t. You may be O, C, or both about certain things, but if it doesn’t rise to the level of a diagnosed condition interfering with your life, then you do not have this D, and should be thankful you don’t.

As one diagnosed and treated for OCD, this trend for people to say they are OCD about something bothers me. The reason is probably not the one you suspect; it’s not that I care that it minimizes OCD, it’s that they are using it incorrectly. It is very similar to the way it bothers me when someone says “irregardless” or “a” preceding a word starting with a vowel, such as “a envelope.” In other words, it is a manifestation of my OCD that causes it to bother me. Clearly, the manifestations of my OCD include correct word usage, grammar, spelling, and the Oxford comma. That is not to say that my grammar and spelling are always perfect, but it does bother me immensely when I learn that I have made a grammar, punctuation, or spelling error. By the way, this is also why I concluded the title of this entry with “(Probably).” I’m fairly certain at least one person with OCD will read this, which makes the “(Probably)” necessary.

The primary manifestations of my OCD, and the reasons I require treatment, are hand-washing, stepping on certain things that I might track into my vehicle or house, and extending thoughts to an extent that becomes almost paralyzing. The hand-washing would sometimes result in spending ten or fifteen minutes washing my hands because I obviously missed a spot or bumped the faucet after rinsing my hands. Of course I had to use a hand towel to turn off the water and open the door. I couldn’t, and still can’t, use the first one up, because that one was exposed and might have gotten something on it. This would present difficulties as well, because naturally, I had to remove the offensive first paper towel before washing my hands and hope no one else used the next one up before I got to it. I know that many people aren’t comfortable with touching things in public restrooms. But, how many of you consider that the person who didn’t wash their hands before opening the bathroom door to exit then went on to touch, well, everything? They touched the next doorknob they came to, publicly shared pens, countertops, shook hands, etc. Transfer. The thought of transfer of particles to everything we touch left me almost unable to function. When I spoke with my doctor about it, it didn’t help that he agreed that such transfer actually occurs, but reminded me that I’d lived my life for over 40 years without it causing any great harm to me or those around me. Being aware of such transfer does not constitute OCD, but when the thought interferes with your ability to function in society, it does.

My rational mind is aware that my hand washing rituals and concerns about transfer are irrational, but without treatment the irrational won out every time. For example, I know that the hand towels in the dispensers in public restrooms are put there by someone’s hands, probably those of the same person who cleans the restrooms and I doubt he or she washes his or her hands before performing the task. Hence I use the word irrational.

Some of my manifestations are humorous, even to me. One is an obsession with the number 8. There are times when I try to rearrange sentences in my head so that they contain a number of syllables evenly divisible by 8 or a number of letters divisible by 8. If I’m manipulating the number of letters, my rules are a bit lax; I will include or exclude punctuation if it will render the desired result or I will count “w” as either one or three, since it has three syllables. Fortunately, I only do this at times when I am not working, writing, in a conversation, or it doesn’t otherwise interfere with my ability to communicate or perform a task. For example, I will do this is if I’m waiting for an appointment and forgot to bring reading material. In these same circumstances, I will sometimes make figure eights with my eyes. To finish with the number 8, if I am walking and there is nothing on my mind and no one to talk to, I will count my steps and will sometimes shorten or lengthen my stride so that the number of steps is evenly divisible by eight.

Another manifestation that is amusing to me is that I find myself performing other number-related behaviors when I’m trying to fall asleep. I will double numbers in my head as long as I can without making a mistake (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) or calculate the Fibonacci sequence as far as I can (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.). There are several other number related activities, but I think you get the picture.

Lastly, I sometimes think in haiku, verse, or in word play, such as double meanings or puns. I’m not sure why, and I will find myself doing it without realizing it. If I am communicating with someone, it doesn’t happen, other than noticing double meanings and puns. It seems that interacting with others suppresses the haiku and verse.

I’m fortunate that very simple treatment has minimized the manifestations that interfered with daily life to the point that I can function and only seem fastidious. The behaviors that remain, such as playing with words and numbers and thinking in haiku or verse, don’t affect my ability to function, and I actually enjoy them.

EUPHEMISMS

Euphemisms can be cute and playful, and in fact I use them daily. However, when used to sugar-coat the horrible in society they can be quite detrimental. For years, my go-to example has been “euthanize.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in euthanasia when it is appropriate. Unfortunately, animal shelters have decided to use the word to describe killing an animal because it wasn’t adopted fast enough. That is not euthanasia; it is just plain killing.

Lately, however, there is another disturbing euphemism that is creeping its way into our vocabulary. When a parent, adoptive or natural, decides to abandon a child with another person or family, they now “rehome” the child. What is most disturbing is that there is no screening required and no oversight of the practice. A parent merely has to sign a power of attorney allowing the new “parent” to make medical, education, and in fact all decisions on behalf of the child. When we think of putting a child up for adoption or Child Protective Services removing a child from the home and putting them in foster care, we most often assume it is in the best interest of the child. In fact, as far from ideal as they are, adoption and fostering are quite necessary. When a child is “rehomed” it typically means that the parent has decided that they no longer want to be bothered by the responsibilities of parenthood.

In many instances an adopted child develops behavioral problems that the adoptive parents are not equipped to deal with. There is a proper course of action for such parents to receive assistance, but some are concerned that if they utilize the system there will be a record of their so-called failure and they will be prevented from fostering or adopting again in the future. In plain English, the parent or parents put their future before that of their child.

Any of you who know me understand why I despise the use of the word euthanize as a euphemism for killing. My wife and I have the three most amazing Beagles that have ever graced our planet, and they were all saved as seniors by The Southern Nevada Beagle Rescue Foundation, which quickly became our favorite non-profit organization. Only a few of you, however, know why rehome as a euphemism is repugnant to me on a personal level and not just as a human being with emotions and a sense of right and wrong. At age fifteen, I was rehomed. I was an honor student who had never been in trouble and was never demanding. When I say I had never been in trouble, I mean that I quite literally had never been in trouble. As an example, in grade school I had a teacher who awarded Citizen of the Day stickers, Citizen of the Week certificates, and a Citizen of the Year trophy. Not only did I receive the Citizen of the Year trophy, I also received more Citizen of the Day and Citizen of the Week awards than the rest of my class combined. Surprisingly, I did this without making enemies or being considered a suck-up by my classmates. Don’t worry, this isn’t me bragging about what a good kid I was or trying to relive some glory days of my childhood. I bring it up only to demonstrate that I was a good kid and not an undue burden.

In my case, rehoming meant being left in the care of a so-called family friend who was given power of attorney as described above. Without going into any details, my experience with rehoming was not ideal. If I were to go into details you would likely nominate me for Understatement of the Year honors. I will suffice it to say that the family friend was later charged with, and pled guilty to, crimes involving child pornography. In fairness to my parent who rehomed me with him, he had been a family friend for years, my parent and I had already been living in his house for several years before she moved out, and this was at a time when parents – at least mine – didn’t discuss with their children what to do if an adult engaged in inappropriate behavior. By the time I was left in his care, his inappropriate behavior had been going on for years and I was far too brainwashed, indoctrinated, or whatever phrase you prefer to say anything. Although I know on an intellectual level that I am not responsible for those upon whom he preyed after me, it is possibly my greatest regret that I did not come forward when, almost immediately after my eighteenth birthday, I walked out his front door for the last time.

You may wonder why now, so many years later, I would put this information in a public forum. There are two primary reasons: it is just recently that I have started to hear the term rehome used in place of abandon, and I have recently been inspired by others who have set their embarrassment aside and told their most personal stories.

Strange Etiquette

I often wonder if women think I’m being rude or creepy when it comes to stairs. I’m just old enough that I learned a certain amount of probably outdated etiquette, and still follow it. For example, if you’re walking on a sidewalk with a woman, the man should walk closer to traffic. That one has obvious explanations – for example, if there’s a splash from a passing car the woman will be at least partially shielded.

When it comes to stairs, however, etiquette seems backward. When descending stairs, etiquette dictates that a man go first. If one isn’t aware of this, it can seem rude because we are used to “ladies first.” When going up stairs, however, etiquette dictates that a man go last. This can seem creepy because it places the man’s eyes at butt level, and a lot of women may think it’s a ploy to use the stairs to stare.

Women – if you find yourself on a staircase with me, I’m not rushing past you or trying to check out your butt. I’m just trying to remain downstairs from you, so that if you slip or trip, you’ll fall on me instead of falling down the stairs. It may be outdated, but it’s pretty firmly ingrained in my brain, so I probably won’t stop.

Poetry can be beautiful (but it doesn’t have to be).

The photo below, and assistance from two others (anonymous for now, until I get their permission to use their names), inspired the poem further below.
Image
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Amish Savior, a poem by Scott Powell
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Among the bloody husks of corn,
a mutant infant – vengeance born.
Swaddled in quilts of English flesh,
It takes its first unholy breath.
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A prophecy none dared believe,
too horrific to be conceived.
Secret sisters, fear their savior,
soothe its brow to curry favor.
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Closet brethren, bloody buggy,
headless horses, cannot whinney.
Whisk the child to hidden caverns,
for it to grow, and hate to learn.
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When moon is full and stars are bright,
for none can look in full daylight,
they offer gifts, some still living,
knowing soon he’ll do their bidding.
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When faithful travel to their towns,
the people laugh, as if they’re clowns.
They know they must suppress their rage,
as it is written on the page.
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Although terrified as it grows,
it must be done, as each one knows.
They wish to live in blessed peace,
and only it can bring release.
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They are shamed, and take no pleasure,
knowing future drastic measures.
Their vengeance soon will visit those,
who love to taunt and land their blows.
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Too soon it seems, the day has come,
though some object, it must be done.
The English threat must be controlled,
their way of life they wish to hold.
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Soon the peace they dearly treasure,
will be granted them forever.
The prophecy will be fulfilled,
when all the modern men are killed.
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Again, I ask that you please not attempt to have me committed.
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Childhood memories

My earliest memories are of learning that I could fly and that I could breathe underwater. Also, that there were dinosaurs in our backyard. These may have been dreams. One of the earliest memories that I am pretty sure is real is of a duck trying to eat my toe (It was bandaged up following an ill-advised encounter with a scorpion, and looked like one of the marshmallows we’d been feeding them). A couple more are my brother reading me bedtime stories (Poe – The Raven, The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc. (I was 5 and he was 9)) and at age 6 getting a dog, and naming him Finley because we finally got a dog, but “here Finally” sounded awkward. His middle name was Parentheses, because he was bow-legged.

Most of my other childhood memories are the usual assortment you’d find in the head of someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family, and may or may not be discussed later.

Haiku for the Masses

Definitely not my best effort, but as the name of the blog implies, there are some things I just have to get out of my head.

Limericks Masquerading as Haiku

A low branch protrudes
Pants stretched beyond their limit
His penis exposed

A Nantucket man
His penis is very large
A Limerick born

Why-ku? (or why the hell would anyone write Haiku?)

Five short syllables
Followed by seven, then five
What’s the fucking point?

Such short poetry
Yet such great capacity
To annoy us all

Why do I write them?
I have not chosen this form
They come unbidden

Unleashing my inner twelve year old.

 

Beagles

You’re made of meat,
so I’m sure you’d be quite tasty.
But you’re too cute to eat,
So let’s not be so hasty.

The butcher charges by the pound,
and the economy’s not doing well.
But you’re such an adorable hound,
that I fear I’d burn in Hell.

Your trust would make you easy prey –
but would it, for one with moral sense?
Or is it weakness that makes us say,
instead we’ll share our pittance?

 

Education Doesn’t Always Help

Even pedants
When their bladders are full
Will do the pee dance
‘Cause they’re so uncomfortable

 

Angst in My Pants

Got angst in my pants
My girlfriend can’t stop gigglin’
Got angst in my pants
No reaction to her wrigglin’

Got angst in my pants
Don’t know why she thinks it’s funny
Got angst in my pants
She can’t get none from her honey

Got angst in my pants
The blue pills just aren’t workin’
Got angst in my pants
Though she’s diligently jerkin’

Got angst in my pants
We’re gonna try to get some sleep
Got angst in my pants
So now I lay here countin’ sheep

 

I will now attempt to reign him back in. Wish me luck.

The Desert

I love the desert, and one of the things I love is that its beauty can be elusive. Not that the desert doesn’t have abundant beauty, in fact once you’ve found it, it can be as breathtaking as a waterfall in Hawaii. The desert, however, doesn’t care what you think of it. It sometimes even hides its beauty behind a cloak of thorns, treacherous terrain, and a hostile climate.

However, if you are determined, you’ll find intricate patterns of color caused by the varying mineral content of the rock and soil. You’ll find rock formations that look delicate, even fragile, but will stand for thousands of years. If you look closely enough, you’ll see the iridescent carapace of an insect or the luminescent, fiber optic quality of a mineral such as selenite. Agate and quartz add to the magical quality that is there waiting to be found. The majestic bighorn sheep, the trickster coyote, the kit fox, the cottontail rabbit, the horned lizard, and the ground squirrel all call the desert home. Even the cacti grow in almost unbelievable shapes and sizes, and can have large velvety flowers of purple, yellow, and white. If you pay attention to the scents, you’ll find the incredible fresh smell of earth and the creosote bush, particularly when a storm is brewing and the plants open to invite in the moisture. These are but a small percentage of the beautiful, fascinating sensory experiences the desert has to offer.

Braino, for the toughest clogs.

I have a sixth sense. Unfortunately it’s only an extra sense of smell.

Is a sense of humor a sixth sense? Where does it stop? Sense of style? Direction?

I met a man with kind eyes, but his mouth was an asshole.

Panic value should not be a medical term. How about “calmly deal with this situation immediately” value? Medical personnel shouldn’t lose their cool in an emergency.

Which is it, “In for a penny, in for a pound” or “Don’t throw good money after bad?”

How can it be good to have a big heart but bad to have an enlarged heart?

I have arrhythmia of the heart. And of the feet, legs, and arms.

A tender heart makes one a good person. A tenderized heart makes one a dead person.

How is “Your heart’s in the right place” a compliment? It just sounds like good news from the cardiologist. If your heart is in the wrong place you’re screwed. Particularly if it’s in the microwave.

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