Reblogging: Are You Better Off Medication-Free?

A few weeks back, I posted my story of being overmedicated and getting off of pain medication and psychiatric drugs.  So when I read the blog post below, I thought it was a good follow-up to my story. I, too, was a victim of polypharmacy, which is why this post resonated with me. What is polypharmacy?  Here is a definition that is included in Dr. Brogan’s post below:

Polypharmacy is ambiguously defined as the prescription of 2-11 or more medications, simultaneously, 6 encompassing more than half of the American population. 7

For those of you who are interested in exploring this topic further, Dr. Brogan includes links to a lot of good resources. If you what to read my story of overmedication, here  is the link to the blog post–How Methadone Saved My Life–and if you prefer to listen,  here is a link to the the audio of my performance at Stoop Stories.

Deprescribing: Are You Better Off Medication Free?

I know that strategic medication tapering can be a ticket to an authentic experience of yourself. I get feedback like this, every week:

Is Gloria some kind of freak anomaly of someone who could possibly feel better off medication? You can see that part of her process was shifting out of a mindset that she was fundamentally broken, in need of medication as some sort of normalcy prop. I believe deeply in personal reclamation through a rewriting of this story of the broken self. But what if medications actually contribute to a poorer quality of life, not because of their metaphysical role in self-identity and outsourcing of power, but simply because of their toxicity, particularly in combination?

The Problem With Pills

We know that it’s not a matter of opinion, (despite what the NY Post would have you think!), that medications – properly prescribed – are the third leading cause of death in this country. 1 This does not include the quarter of a million deaths from medical errors 2 3and overdose, which in 2016 killed more than the entire Vietnam War. 4

These reasons and more are why I was delighted to read Poly-deprescribing to treat polypharmacy: efficacy and safety 5 in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety. This longitudinal, prospective trial addresses the major symptom of our fragmented, specialist-driven, the left-hand-doesn’t-know-what-the-right-is-doing-health care system: polypharmacy.

Polypharmacy is ambiguously defined as the prescription of 2-11 or more medications, simultaneously, 6 encompassing more than half of the American population. 7

The author, Garfinkel, states that the epidemic of polypharmacy is driven by:

(1) the increased number of doctors/specialists and clinical guidelines; (2) the lack of evidence-based medicine (EBM) and knowledge regarding drug–disease–patient interactions in polymedicated; (3) barriers/ fears of medical doctors to deprescribe.

His study was conducted on patients >66 years old taking >6 prescriptions (never mind the 666!), and this intrepid clinician endeavored to offer them the opportunity to discontinue more than 3 of their meds, strategically assessing quality of life parameters.

Getting Free, One Med At A Time

After approximately four years, Garfinkel found that: Overall, 57.4% of PDP patients/ families reported an improvement as early as 1 month after the intervention. In 82.8% health improvements occurred within 3 months of the intervention and among 68% improvement persisted for more than 2 years.

Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, feeling and describing only their part, neglecting the comprehensive appreciation of the whole animal, Garfinkel states:

…all too often specialists who treat patients ‘by their book’ have but one aim, to deal with their one aspect of the disease spectrum; no in depth consideration of the ultimate effects of medications they prescribe combined with other consultant’s interventions on patients’ overall welfare.

He also references the domino effect of prescription toxicity leading to new diagnoses and new medications, stating:

“The problem is further aggravated due to ‘prescription cascades’ where symptoms resulting from ADEs are perceived as representing ‘new diseases’.”

So, it turns out that when real life studies assess the effects of medications, stopping them – several if not all of them – can lead to a better quality of life.

I love his hopeful message, in conclusion:

Conclusions: This self-selected sample longitudinal research strongly suggests that the negative, usually invisible effects of polypharmacy are reversible. Poly-deprescribing] is well tolerated and associated with improved clinical outcomes, in comparison with outcomes of older people who adhere to all clinical guidelines and take all medications conventionally. Future double-blind studies will probably prove beneficial economic outcomes as well.

The study doesn’t particularly reference psychiatric medications (in fact, he references starting them during the study window), which, in my opinion, are the most difficult chemicals on the planet to detox from. While I acknowledge that the physiologic relief from discontinuing a medication may, itself, result in near-immediate improvement in quality of life, psychiatric medication taper seems to ask something more of patients intending for a medication-free life. The taper process asks for healing. Physical, emotional, and spiritual…and this healing does more than improve quality of life…it sets you free.

References:

  • 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25355584
  • 2https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_suggests_medical_errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us
  • 3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225187/
  • 4 https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/6/15743986/opioid-epidemic-overdose-deaths-2016
  • 5 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2042098617736192
  • 6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5635569/
  • 7 https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/nearly-7-in-10-americans-take-prescription-drugs-mayo-clinic-olmsted-medical-center-find/

How Methadone Saved My Life: a Stoop Story

I told the following story as part of Baltimore’s Stoop Stories at the Senator Theater. The theme of the show was On Drugs: Dependence, Destruction, and Salvation. Thank you to Jessica Myles Henkin and Laura Wexler for inviting me to share my story with the audience. This story is part of my memoir-in-search-of-a-publisher Noncompliant. More stories about the role of drugs and alcohol in my life can be found in my first poetry collection, The Altar of Innocence. 

Stoop Stories 2018
The Senator Theater

In the fall of 1993, I went out to lunch with my husband and a friend but came home with a massive migraine headache. I’d had a similar headache once before, and it had cleared up with the help of acupuncture. I prayed that this one would do the same. But the headache hung on for a couple of months despite several acupuncture treatments, meditation, and lots of prayer. Tylenol wasn’t budging the pain, and after a while, I began to feel emotionally depressed. I figured that was pretty normal, given the horrific, daily pain I was enduring. It was getting tougher and tougher to keep the condition from my husband, but every time I got sick, he’d yell at me and get very angry. I pretended that everything was normal and prayed for relief.

I had no family history of migraines and typically only got a headache once or twice a year, so I knew that this headache was more than a physical problem. I’d had a history of what I called physical depressions–intense physical pain that had no discernible cause.  Yet eventually, once I’d seen several doctors about the back pain, or the pelvic pain, or the stomach aches, I’d realize that there was an emotional root to my distress. I was 41 years old at the time, so I knew myself pretty well. But when I finally consulted a doctor about the headache pain, he just smiled as I told my story and related my theory. Then he gave me an antidepressant.

Fast forward to 1996. By that time, I’d consulted a parade of psychiatrists who’d prescribed grab-bags full of medication. Nothing had worked, for either the headache or the depression. My newest psychiatrist insisted that I consult a headache specialist. At my first appointment, I told her (a nurse practitioner) about my theory of physical depression, and followed up my explanation with my dilemma. “I don’t know what I’m stressed about. We have a lovely home, we’re well-off financially, our kids are great…..Yes, my marriage is difficult, and at times even painful, but it’s been this way for ages. And I’m coping.”

She immediately prescribed me MS-Contin (powdered morphine), Prednisone, and Migranol nasal spray. After a month or so, that regimen had failed to make a dent in the pain, she added DHE which I injected into my thighs.  I stayed on these pain meds for several months, adding them to the numerous psychiatric meds I was taking. Several months passed, and when the MS-Contin failed to relieve my pain, my nurse practitioner prescribed a new drug-OxyContin. She assured me that it was safe, and I used it in increasing doses over the next couple of years.

 

Grab-bag of antidepressants and pain meds

In 1997, after four long years that included hospitalizations, numerous combinations of drugs, and several rounds of ElectroConvulsive Therapy, my depression finally abated. My psychiatrist insisted on keeping me on maintenance meds, which I took in addition to all of the painkillers. Things had deteriorated so badly in my marriage that I no longer wanted to stay with my husband. But as long as I had the migraine pain, I knew I couldn’t work.  The migraine kept me locked in my marriage, and I was determined to find a way to get better.

At that time, I thought I was handling the drugs pretty well, and no one else thought there was a problem. Both my psychiatrist and my headache doctor said it was fine to take the combination of serious drugs they prescribed. The pharmacists never batted an eye when I picked up my prescriptions. The only person who could see how much the meds affected me was my daughter who was 14 or 15 at the time. She’d observe me cautiously at every stop light and notice how my jaw would unhinge right before I fell asleep. Then she’d yell at me to wake up.

In the fall of 1999, I had my first car accident. I swerved five times across three lanes of traffic on Rte. 70 before finally crashing into a guardrail. I wasn’t hurt—like the proverbial drunk who maims someone and walks away unscathed. My car was banged up a bit, but fixable.  More importantly, I hadn’t hurt anyone.  But by January of 2000, I had a second, much more serious car accident. I was driving on Rte. 40 out of the city to visit my parents on a warm January afternoon. There was a black van in front of me that slowed down. The next thing I knew, I had an air bag pinning me to my seat and smoke filling my nostrils. A man in a black leather jacket pounded on my window. I rolled down the window, still dazed, and said, Oh, God, I’m so drugged.”  That man, who turned out to be the van-driver, answered: “Lady, don’t ever say that again.”

He got me and my car off the road and onto a parking lot where he checked me over and made sure I was all right. He waited while I called my father to come and help me, and when I turned to thank the van-driver, he was gone. To this day, I think he was an angel sent to save me.

By the time of the accident, I was taking about seven or eight daily medications. For the migraine–Methadone, Migranol nasal spray, DHE injections, and I had a stash of injectable Demerol for the really bad days. My psychiatrist had me on maintenance meds to keep me out of depression: WellbutrinElavil, Topamax (a mood regulator) and Valium. But I wasn’t high. I was numb.

Western Medicine had failed me. The deep shame that I felt for taking Methadone combined with the shock of the second auto accident forced me to confront my life with fresh eyes. It was time for radical action, so I called an energy healer who’d been recommended by a friend. I told her my story and finished by saying I just want my life back. Can you help me?  Her answer: “I can almost guarantee I’ll get rid of the pain, but I cannot guarantee what else might happen. Are you ready?”

We began working together twice a week right after the phone call. Leah did distance energy healing, and she lived in White Marsh, a suburb east of Baltimore. I lived in Western Howard County, about 50 miles away. I’d call her up and discuss my medications, my relationship, and any other happenings in my life. Then we’d hang up, and I’d lie in my bed for about an hour while she cleared my chakras and balanced all of my bodily systems. All of this work required a suspension of disbelief on my part, but I was finally getting better, and I did whatever Leah recommended.

Leah was one of the few people to affirm my suspicions of the headache being a form of physical depression, and she worked on me as a whole person. She taught me tools for shielding myself in dangerous or difficult situations and explained to me how to keep my energetic vibration at a higher level. I grew stronger in every area, and my pain gradually decreased. We were able to taper my medications, and Leah began to supplement my healings with flower essences, again designed to strengthen my vibrations and assist me on an energetic level. As I got stronger, I tolerated less and less control from my husband and fewer disparaging remarks. I set firm boundaries and stood my ground with him.

By May of 2000, only about four months into our work together, I was completely headache- free and off of all my pain medications. There was one final incident between my husband and myself, and I decided to end the marriage after 25 years. With my new-found strength and confidence, I knew that I could take care of myself and earn a living.

Since May of 2000, I’ve been off of all pain medications and am migraine-free. Since 2002, I’ve been off of all psychiatric medications and have remained depression-free. I know that any mysterious pains  are probably signals that I’m in some kind of stressful situation. I trust the signs that my body gives me and know to pay attention to my body-mind-spirit balance. And I keep my flower essences close by!

 

Stoop Stories: On Drugs: Dependence, Destruction, and Salvation

I’m thrilled to be one of the storytellers for the upcoming Stoop Stories in Baltimore at the Senator Theater on April 19th at 8pm. I have a story to tell that will probably surprise many of you, and I want to tell it because I believe very much in the power of the mind-body connection. Come to the event on April 19th and hear some great stories of courage and triumph.

Thanks to Jessica Myles Henkin and Laura Wexler for their excellent coaching and support in our presentations.

Here’s a teaser for my story:

All Ann Bracken wanted was a life without pain.  A continuous migraine banged away in her head for seven years. The numerous hospitalizations failed.
Her doctor offered her one last drug: methadone.  But when Ann crashed her car twice after falling asleep, she rejected the methadone, the doctors, and the hospitals. She decided to heal herself. This story is an excerpt from Noncompliant,her memoir in search of a publisher.

More stories about the role of drugs and alcohol in my life can be found in my first poetry collection, The Altar of Innocence. 

Tickets and information: click here

Reblogging: Little Patuxent Review’s Reading at the Writer’s Center

Hope to see lots of folks there for this special event!

Annual Reading on March 17 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda

Rucker cover

Little Patuxent Review will host its annual reading of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at 2 p.m. on March 17 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. The reading will feature contributors to our most recent issue, including five members of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, as well as LPR editors and Ian Anderson, the editor of Mason Jar Press, an independent press in Baltimore.

A reception will follow the reading. Our lineup:

  • Daien Guo, fiction
  • Ann Bracken, interview with artist Paul Rucker
  • Steven Leyva, poetry
  • Maria Termini, nonfiction (read by Desirée Magney)
  • Ian Anderson, fiction

And from the Black Ladies Brunch Collective:

  • Saida Agostini, poetry
  • Anya Creightney, poetry
  • Teri Ellen Cross Davis, poetry
  • Tafisha A. Edwards, poetry
  • Katy Richey, poetry

The Writer’s Center in Bethesda is at 4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

Reblogging: A New School-to-Prison Pipeline That Might Surprise You

I used to work at the University of Maryland College Park, and I remember how excited the deans were about the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.  The powers-that-be touted the potential for innovations in pedagogy and forward-thinking education.  I, along with my colleagues, imagined a place where we would go to sharpen our pedagogical skills and learn new ways to engage our students with meaningful learning challenges. Well, one look at this video showed me just how wrong I was…….and even worse, the irony that the building of a prominent state research university is completely furnished with products made by imprisoned people. Where is the excellence in that practice?  Thanks, Morna McDermott, for this fine blog post on the story behind the new building and the irony of naming it for a real-estate mogul who supports charter schools.

Meanwhile, most imprisoned folks in Maryland are only able to earn a GED while incarcerated, and many wait years to be able to take classes for barbering and other hands-on professions.

Here’s what Edward St. John had to say about education—his words are displayed on a large plaque in the new building that bears his name:

“Education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities.”

Whose lives?  Whose communities?

I was appalled when an educator/activist/author friend of mine, shared with me over coffee, that University of Maryland College Park, in partnership with real estate mogul Edward St John, contracted with prison labor for the creation of their shiny new building:

MCE Helps Furnish New Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at UMCP
On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the University of Maryland dedicated the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. Named for Baltimore-based developer, philanthropist and 1961 alumnus, Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties, the 187,000-square- foot space, which includes 12 classrooms and nine teaching labs with a total of 1,500 seats, will elevate the culture of collaborative learning on campus.
Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) was responsible for designing, manufacturing and installing a variety of products used in the new building.”

Agenda University System of Maryland see item:
A-2. Maryland Correctional Enterprises  –  Edward St. John Teaching & Learning Center – Furniture $1,345,599.00UMS/UMCP Prince George’s

The contract is also presented on MCE’s Fiscal Year statement.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

Most of us are familiar by now with the concept of a school-to-prison pipeline, but  here it is, a prison-for-school pipeline, or better yet, prison-for-profit (all hail 21st century slavery alive and well) in the name of “education reform.”

It might be  a “great day” for Ed St John and U of M, but I doubt its a great day for the forced laborers who did the work.  The new center will “transform teaching and learning” but it will not transform systemic oppression or racism. In fact, it benefits from the fruits of oppressive labor. This is not the only time that U of M, or other institutions of higher learning have used prison labor. That is a deep seated problem in itself that warrants our attention. As one news article states, “”Maryland is just a symptom … of how the prison industrial complex affects African-Americans and poor people of color nationwide.”

What I choose to focus on here is the irony of the scope and purpose of the St John education building and education legacy itself through the use of prison labor, especially for an organization such as the Edward St John Foundation which says: “Our mission is based on the strong belief that ‘education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities.’”

Also ironic is that the new center is touted as being “designed to serve as a national model of collaborative learning and to create new spaces enabling students to launch their own business enterprises.” Will the students who attend those classes learn about how for-profit-prison industry is a boon to corporate moguls who profiteer from the incarceration of low income people of color as a “business enterprise?”

Edward St. John is also a big donor to KIPP schools, known for their “zero-tolerance” discipline tactics which ironically funnel more students into the prison pipeline than do public schools. But it doesn’t stop with KIPP. St. John is also the developer for a new charter school in Frederick County: The Frederick Classical Charter School. Clearly, St. John did his homework about the uber-profits that can be made by corporate venture investments into school “reform” like charters.

So, let me re summarize this succinctly once more for the cheap seats in the back: Corporate philanthropists like St. John use $ and power to influence education reform policies, and build their own charter schools, which create racist zero-tolerance policies that expel or suspend children of color, who wind up in the correctional facilities that build the higher education buildings where students will be taught to support education reforms that support the same philanthropists.

Any questions?

As his company credo says: Doing Well By Doing Good. It’s clear he’s doing “well” …  but is he doing “good”?

You Can Bring Books into a Prison, Right?

The literacy needs of men and women in prison are great, so you’d think that reading would be encouraged. Think again….and it’s not just in Texas.

Want to learn more about the importance of reading and its relationship to preventing recidivism?  Check out Begin to Read: Literacy Statistics.

And consider this statement from an article on prisoner’s illiteracy in SF Gate from a UMD professor:  “There is not a lot of causal evidence that specifically says people with educational skills won’t commit crimes, but there is definitely a strong correlation between educational ability and staying out of prison,” said Peter Leone, a correctional education expert at the University of Maryland.

Texas Prisons Have Banned ‘Where’s Waldo’ And ‘Charlie Brown’ But Not Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’

 12.07.17

UPROXX

Where’s WaldoA Charlie Brown ChristmasThe MapQuest Road Atlas.

On the face of things, these books don’t seem to have very much in common, save for, perhaps, their innocuous content. But there’s something much more serious linking them: They’re just some of the 11,850 books banned in Texas prisons by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), according to the Texas Tribune.

In 2011, the Texas Civil Rights Project put together a comprehensive,searchable list of all the books and reading material banned across the state prison system and argued that the TDCJ’s extreme censorship is violating the Constitution.

But according to the TDCJ, the ban ensures publications don’t “incite tensions.” Per spokeswoman Michelle Lyons, “It’s not a matter of picking books we like and don’t like. It’s a matter of maintaining a safe environment.”

And six years later, you’ll still find Charlie Brown on the no-no list. Because nothing is more dangerous than a group of kids picking the smallest, meanest looking Christmas tree and giving it all their love.

According to the New York Times, censoring reading material is still considered a “matter of safety” for the almost 150,000 inmates across 50 state prisons: “The reviews are conducted not by guards but rather by mailroom staff members who skim the pages looking for graphic sexual content and material that could help inmates make a weapon, plot an escape or stir disorder.”

But the ban is inconsistent at best: books like Mein Kampf, Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare — which instructs readers on how to make their own mortars — and even books by white nationalists, like the KKK’s David Duke are all permitted. But a book of Shakespeare’s Love Poems & Sonnets is off limits because of a nude portrait. At least one book by humorist Carl Hiaasen is banned, because, according to the TDCJ, it “contains information about manufacturing explosives.” Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is allowed. While The Color Purple is banned for incest, Lolita, which depicts pedophilia, is fair game. Freakonomics is banned specifically for their chapter on race.

The inconsistent nature of what books are banned is not only arbitrary — it also hurts the inmates. Per the Times, inmates struggle to read or suffer from illiteracy at far higher rates than the general population, and reading increases their chances of assimilating back into society once released.

Study after study shows that reading can change inmates’ lives for the better. Reading in general has immense benefits, including improving emotional skills and mental wellness, reducing stress, and strengthening analytical skills. Take Where’s Waldo, for instance. It has been shown to help develop cognitive processes in the brain. It can also fine-tune emotional processing. Maybe more Waldo is just what the inmates need.

Reblogging: What’s New in Faculty Development? Higher Ed Edition

"Backing the Blue" © Staff Sgt. Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force photo; Public Domain“Backing the Blue” © Staff Sergeant Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force

When I read the poem copied below, it jolted me back to two classes I taught at the University of Maryland in the late fall of 2015. I was in class with my students a couple of months after the Umpqua Community College shooting where a lone gunman had shot and killed eight students and an assistant professor of English and wounded seven to nine other students before shooting himself in the head. Everyone on my campus was chilled by the awful murders and yet another tragic incident of a campus shooting. The Umpqua shooting struck particularly close to home for me because I taught writing courses in the English department.

About a week after the shooting, when I wrote to the university president and the chairperson of my department to inquire about what kind of active-shooter preparedness training the university planned to provide, I was referred to the campus police.  Their response?  A video put out by the Homeland Security Department with the advice to run, shoot, or hide. It was around that time that the education section of the New York Times ran a story about a solution that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore had implemented to protect their professors–bullet-proof whiteboards that professors could hide behind in the event of a shooter in the classroom.

My response to the university’s solutions? As I told my students, I couldn’t imagine shielding myself behind a portable whiteboard while a shooter might be laying waste to all of them. I told them about the “run, shoot, or hide” solution, and expressed my outrage at the lack of planning on the part of the university. After discussing a few ideas that some of their high schools were implementing, we began to formulate our own survival plan.

I walked over to the classroom door and grabbed the handle. “First, we’ll lock the door.” It was only then that I realized the doors remained unlocked from early in the morning until about 11pm at night. We laughed nervously. “Now what?” the kids asked.  “Well, we can barricade the door with several desks and hope to keep the shooter from entering that way,” a few of us suggested.

Next we had to figure out where we could gather in the classroom–we needed a place where we couldn’t be seen either from the window in the classroom door or the windows that lined the back of the classroom. “We can lay down on the floor,” several of the young men suggested.  “We’ll have to turn off all the lights so no one can see us from the hallway,” another student suggested.

What struck me that day was the matter-of-fact way my students were responding to the unthinkable–that their classroom–a supposedly safe-space for learning and discussion–could be turned into a battleground without any warning. “I don’t want to have this conversation with all of you,” I told them, “but as the oldest adult in the room, I feel responsible for your safety.”  They thanked me for my honesty. One young woman said, “We have to talk about this. We’re just glad that you’re willing to make a plan with us.”

Several of them contacted the president of the university on their own. One young man came up to me after class and offered to talk with his father to get his advice.”My dad is a sheriff in Newtown,” he told me, he’s had all kinds of training.”

I’m grateful that nothing ever happened on the campus when I taught there and that my students have been spared the tragedy of another Umpqua-type massacre. One of my friends emailed me earlier this year to let me know that the university was finally instituting a training program to prepare them for what to do if there’s an active shooter on campus. While I’m pleased that the administration is finally stepping up to help the faculty, I’m deeply saddened at the thought of what’s in store for people taking faculty development. Can’t we find a better way?

Reblogging: Faculty Development Workshop

Do you know the sound of the gun?
One person raises his hand.

Locate. Leave. Live.
There is another rule, but I forget the “L” word for it,
Lock? It will make all the difference,
but I can’t remember it. There is Barricade.
That’s put all your junk up the wall—
and it will take that much longer for the bad guy,
he says bad guy, to get in with his gun.
But that is a “B,” and I don’t know the “L,”
and now I’m breathing fast
during this demonstration, trying to
relocate from my memory the fourth “L” that will
make all the difference.

Do you know much about guns?
Know the kinds of sounds each kind of gun can make?
No one raises their hand in this little northeastern college.
Do you know how to hunt? Anyone here hunt?
Do you know how to be hunted? You should run.

When should we run? After we have locked the door?
No, it depends.
When the sound of the gun is far away, you can run,
or you can stay. Really, you can stay.
You only need 15 minutes of safety. That’s all.
In 15 minutes, he says, the cops will have arrived.
Let’s watch this demonstration of a man
trying to break down the wall in a classroom
in which the door has been barricaded.
The classroom is six floors up, so there is no Leaving. We are working on
Live. Do you know the force of a man against a wall
barricaded with desks and empty filing cabinets and the pressure
of your feet against the chairs?
It may take 4.34 minutes, which is a good long time
to prepare to do the next thing, which is, in this case,
not to Leave, as this is not an option,
but to Live,
which is the one we are working on right now
when the gun pops into the door, between the barricade
and us. There is more to the video;
there is more to the reenactment. The barricade’s fallen,
and my heart’s still pounding. If only I could remember
the fourth “L,” as Locate, Leave, and Live
have taken me as far as I can go now.

 


Art Information

  • Backing the Blue” © Staff Sergeant Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force photo; public domain.

Julia LisellaJulia Lisella’s poems have been widely anthologized and have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit, Valparaiso, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Ocean State Review, VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, Antiphon, Literary Mama, and more. She has two poetry collections—Always (2014) and Terrain (2007)—from WordTech Editions, as well as a chapbook, Love Song Hiroshima (2004), from Finishing Line Press.

Visit her on Twitter @julia_lisella.

A Poem for Summer

Summer’s here!  It’s always a joy to welcome the warm weather, the flowers, the picnics, and vacations. Many people schedule trips in the summer to take advantage of the good weather and more relaxed schedules. How about you? What will you be doing this summer?

I will be taking time this summer to write, visit friends, and relax. I’ve felt that my schedule is too crowded and my to-do list never ends. I have to remind myself that I’m the one in charge of my schedule!  Now that I work part-time, I have more flexibility. Yet my lifelong habit of packing my days with activity is tough to break. I need a reset!

The Butterfly Beetle

So, I’ll be taking some time off from blogging to refresh and recharge. I may post a poem from time to time and then resume regular posts in the fall. In the meantime, take a look at some of the older blog posts and revisit some old favorites. Happy summer!

The Sunflowers by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come
and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today: Looking Back On My Summer of Sgt. Pepper’s

Sgt. Pepper’s Band Album Cover, 1967

 

If you’re a person of a certain age, you likely remember where you were the first time you heard the breakthrough Beatles’ album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  In June of 1967, I had just turned 15 and completed my freshman year of high school. Since I’d first heard them in 1964, The Beatles had been my favorite band. I couldn’t wait to listen to all of the new songs and look at the artwork on the album cover. Back then, we played the album on a record player and spent hours looking at the cover art and analyzing the images.  I first heard the album while attending a party at my friend Dee’s house. The big, old Victorian had a wrap-around porch where all of us partygoers could dance and talk. I had dated Dee’s older brother, Eddie, the summer before, and still had a bit of a crush on him. But we’d broken up after a few months and he’d moved on.  That night would be the first time in a year that I’d seen him.

I wore a new, yellow, cotton dress and took extra care with my long hair to get it as straight as possible–no easy task for someone with naturally curly hair. Dee and Eddie lived less than a mile from my house, so I walked into the warm June evening, anticipating seeing Eddie again and wondering if I’d get a second chance with him.

When I arrived at Dee’s house,  the porch was full of people–dancing, eating, and talking. I heard some really weird music–to my young ears–but then I recognized the unmistakeable voices harmonies of the unmistakable Beatles. I remember hugging my girlfriends and flirting with a couple of the boys I’d gone to grade school with, all the while scouting the crowd for Eddie. The music of Sgt. Pepper’s played loudly and drifted out into the streets where people walking by could hear. Dee and I talked for a bit and she showed me the cover of the album–then everyone gathered around, pointing to the famous people who filled the crowd. In typical teen fashion, we all agreed it was the most amazing cover we’d ever seen.

I finally saw Eddie walking towards me through the crowd, smiling. Maybe he’d want to dance with me. Maybe we could go out again. My heart beat faster and I smoothed my dress and patted my hair. He kept walking towards me with that smirky smile that I’d fallen for last year. Eddie was 6’7″, so he towered over everyone else at the party as he made his way towards me.  Now my palms were sweating. What would he say? What would I say?  Butterflies filled my stomach.

And then I saw her by his side–Toni, one of my best friends from grade school.  Eddie held her hand as he said hi to me and then put his arm around Toni. Dee and Toni went to the same high school, and I guess she’d fixed Toni up with Eddie the same way she fixed me up the year before. I wanted the porch floor to open up and swallow me. The butterflies in my stomach turned to weights and a sinking feeling filled my whole body. My mouth was dry and the words tumbled out in pat phrases about summer and swimming at the neighborhood pool. I wanted to run away.

But I didn’t. I stayed and survived my encounter with Toni and Eddie, up until people started slow-dancing–and then I knew I had to leave. Not the happiest teen memory I have, but I’ll never forget the first night I heard Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  And over the years, I realize that I got through that night like I’ve gotten through every other tough situation–with a little help from my friends.

Reblogging: Selling Ourselves on an Empty Medium

Many Thanks to my friend and fellow poet, Michael Dickel, for giving me permission to reblog this thoughtful and provocative essay. Read the original on the Bezine
Selling Ourselves
on an Empty Medium

MICHAEL DICKEL

I advertise sometimes on social media. I’ve learned something about how it works. These are some thoughts about what social media really is about—perhaps a change of perspective, like the famous wine glass or kissing couple image, will help us to think about how the business of social media provides structure for the post-truth phenomenon.

MIchael Dickel

To be clear, what I have to say is not new or exclusive to social media. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that “news” media (as all media) are not in the business of giving its audience (readers or viewers) the news (or entertainment or other “content”). The business model sells the audience to advertisers. Newspapers used to be sold for less than the cost of printing, and broadcast did not initially charge (cable and satellite changed that, but most news and much other media content comes in the basic plans, without premiums). And, famously, Marshall McLuhan told us “the medium is the message.”

News media at least also provide(d) content gathered, written, and delivered by journalists who (at least before “post-truth”) cared about ethics, truth, and fact, and who provided an important social service (if not perfect and often shaped or biased). The ads, are often seen as a “necessary evil”— commerce to provide this service. Still, ads remain(ed) the business model and, thus, subscriptions and ratings mattered.

Audience matters more than ever, because what social-media companies discovered is the medium is not just the message. It is everything.


Audience is the only content in social media, in a sense, and the medium (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) simply holds the audience. The audience busies itself with creating its own content and, well, being social. Hence, social media. These media should not be confused with content-media. While both sell audience to advertisers, content-media create or distribute others’ content to attract audiences. Social media create a medium for audiences to inhabit.

Therefore, social media are little more than empty frameworks—pure medium, with no content. The audiences are not only sold to advertisers, they now produce the content that keeps other audiences (and themselves) engaged.

This engagement is necessary in order for the social media companies, which provide the framework-medium, to sell the advertising to reach those audiences. And the medium—computers—provides detailed and accurate measure of the impact of the ads, which makes the advertiser’s purchase of audience more effective per dollar.

The medium, therefore, pushes engagement. Think of the increased availability of emojis / emoticons on the media, including Facebooks additions to the thumb on posts and, now, on post comments. More interactions that amount to increased engagement. Even those not posting have something to do and contribute to the process, and choosing an emoji instead of just clicking the thumb shows a higher level of engagement with that particular content.

So, what significantly differs with content-media, is that the content itself actually comes from the target audiences, who engage in it through an increasing number of channels (posting, comments / replies, likes, shares / replies, emoji, etc.). The social-media companies don’t produce content, just the frameworks—that is, the medium.

We, the users / audience, produce the content for social-media companies, give it away to them, and think we’re doing it to entertain ourselves and friends. However, more important to the business model, we’re also attracting and entertaining audience that the social-media companies can sell to advertisers—and make no mistake, we also are in that the audience for those advertisers.

Many of us, myself included, promote our own projects, work, businesses to these audiences with the “content” we produce. Many of us, myself included, also advertise on social media. So any one individual, such as myself, fills multiple roles within any one social medium. The social-media companies, however, control the medium and benefit from each and every role any individual plays. The more roles, the better for the companies.

(Granted, traditional media to “keep relevant” and stop audience loss, have increasingly incorporated engagement and aspects of content creation—from reader blogs to comments and replies online, so the distinction is less clear with contemporary news outlets than with traditional outlets of the past.)

We, as users / audience, engage— “curate,” “share,” “post,” “like” —all of which keeps the audience for the ads (ourselves and others) distracted from the marketing purpose of the media while providing the audience for the ads that the social-media companies sell (to us). This “engagement” also provides the framework with the information to target our interests so that it can present ads we are more likely to respond to with a “like,” “emoji,” “click,” or “conversion” (e.g., sale for the advertiser, purchase for you). And we participate willingly.

The algorithms the companies create don’t measure truth, although I should say they haven’t up until recently, when Facebook announced one to recognize “fake news.” The companies design the algorithms to measure and record engagement and conversions in relationship to interests and content. Content that attracts attention (and ad responses) rules the news feeds, timelines, recommend-for-you links, and thus rules the media waves.


They call it “Big Data,” all of the information that can be found out about us on the internet, much of it through social media and about our social-media engagement. And the Russians have taken this all quite seriously, using social media for political purposes.

Note that the social-media companies don’t directly sell conversions—the term for sales. The advertisers do track them, with help from the social-media companies and their software. They track these for the effectiveness of the ads and ad settings. Also, the more conversions, the more valuable an audience and the more successful the medium that holds that audience.

All of our content and engagement contribute to the “Big Data” out there. And the data provides a surprisingly, and scarily, detailed picture of who we are.

One researcher found a way to connect pages we like on Facebook with specific personality profiles with some reliability. The methods he used seem to have been used by a political consulting company to shape ad messages to fit those personality types and to target the ads to those specific audiences. They also used the data to choose which audiences to ignore as unlikely to respond.

Reportedly, the consulting firm worked with the Brexit and Trump campaigns, both of which succeeded when expected not to. Whether or not the work this company (reportedly) influenced the “surprise outcomes” remains a question for debate. However, the fact that these campaigns heavily used social media is another aspect of the medium and how important the audience it holds is (and such use is not only in ads, but for tweets and posts).

For reasons largely to do with evolutionary survival, we respond to fear, anger, and (literal and figurative) loudness. We pay attention to it because for most of our evolution, these types of social voices warned us, kept us safe, got our adrenalin going so we could put out fires, defend against dangers, or run away.

Therefore, it should not surprise us that LOUD lies, SHOUTED anger, SHRIEKS of fear (or ALL CAPS) get us going, our adrenalin roaring, and our tendency to quickly respond (with more action and less thought). This responsiveness could—just possibly—lead us also to more engagement, as a sort of “action.” We respond by clicking more little icons, typing another comment (reply), sharing (retweeting) more, and yes, probably also by clicking on ads more—a less direct response, but with adrenaline flow, we go.

Those famous (possibly Russian) trolls, however, keep the lies moving, the energy flowing. Why did social-media companies not “do something” about trolls before? And why are their responses (largely) minimal and ineffective now? Probably because they “influence”—the “audience” for ads probably “engage” more on social media and with the ads themselves when trolls keep the medium roiling. As the companies sell both exposure (showing the ad) and response (click), numbers alone are the main factor. However, the higher the response rate , the much more valuable the audience.

So the more engaged the audience and the more sales (of ads, by the users) the audience generates, the more the companies profiting from the medium don’t want to limit or lose that audience or anything / anyone who keeps it engaged.

Trump has mastered Twitter for getting people riled up—it doesn’t matter for or against, his Tweets get responses, articles, commentaries, editorials in response now that he’s President, symbolic head of the vast U.S. social network. Even if you or I reject the legitimacy of his presidency, he ranks as social-influencer-in-chief, or, in other words, troll-in-chief. And most of us have probably read one (likely more) of his tweets or at the very least, read about them.

Truth doesn’t matter in this medium. Only having an audience in it and how the audience responds to each other in it. The more engagement, the more the creators of the media can sell ads—ads fed into and made more effective in the medium according the data our engagement produces. The medium and its ability to hold an audience and promote engagement matter more than anything.


I don’t have evidence to support all of these ideas. These are thoughts I’ve been working through, and may eventually shape themselves into a long-term research and writing project. So don’t take these words as truth. They are not post-truth, either, though.

Think of them as speculation and hypothesis, a beginning of a process of trying to understand something about the media that contain us as its sole purpose to exist.

However, if it is the case that the liars, haters, shouters—the trolls and Trumps—do increase audience size and engagement (clicks and conversions), then we may be destined for a post-truth social media world until we choose not to respond and engage—that is, until as audience, we choose how to respond by not reacting, how to quiet the social around the trolls, liars, click-bait artists who (want to) roil it.


©2017 Michael Dickel