Sunday, November 25, 2012

Out Out Cruel Light! (Surprising facts of Irlen Syndrome that affects 12-15% of the population)

How would you feel if for 10 years of your schooling, your teachers labeled you as a slow learner and put you in remedial classes and labeled you as having emotional disorders, when really you are highly intelligent, creative, and self-controlled? The only problem was that you have Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, also known as Irlen Syndrome, where the slightest ray of light gives you a splitting migraine headache for days and black print on a white page swirls and jumbles and vibrates like Dyslexia on a Really Bad Trip.
This is the story of Miss X, a 19-year-old somewhere in the United States, who has the worst case ever documented of this syndrome that most people don't even know exists. She lives in her bedroom with black-out curtains over the windows. The walls and ceiling are painted a dark blue. If a housemate forgets and leaves the white nightlight on in the bathroom, Miss X would get a migraine from even that weak beam when she went to take care of her necessities.
Once she was a martial arts champ sparring with full contact and throwing big sweaty men to the mat in triumph, but, as her light sensitivity worsened, she not only missed the camaraderie of those stinky guys, she missed being able to exercise her once strong muscles.
Alone in her "cave" the Internet connects her with friends and teachers as she continues her studies at her own pace. A driven artist, she loves to hone her craft, but a few hours of concentrated work can trigger a migraine that lays her low for days.
With no sunlight entering, day and night lose their meaning. Days blur one into the next. But Miss X has learned to maintain a cheerful spirit even in the face of all the obstacles and excruciating physical pain that her severe disability presents.
Most people who have this condition experience much less extreme symptoms. Children with this disorder are often misdiagnosed as having a learning disability or dyslexia. Irlen Syndrome is believed to originate in the retina of the eye or in the visual cortex of the brain.
If you would like to take a self-diagnosis test or see a sample of how printed text can appear distorted for people with Irlen Syndrome, you can visit Often, using special colored filters or tinted glasses can greatly improve the quality of life for the estimated 12-15% of the population who suffer with this condition.
For more severe situations, like that of Miss X, she and her caregiver request that you open your heart to people suffering from this or any other disability and offer your empathy, and don't tell them to just "get over it."
A closing quote from Miss X herself - "I am happy you are willing to write my story and share it with others. Hopefully it will give some insight ... and get the word out that what I have does exist. Maybe somebody won’t come to judgments as quickly as many did with me, by reading this article — which is all I could ever ask for."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Maple Leaf that Didn't want to Die

Once upon a time there was a maple leaf that didn't want to die.

"I have too much to live for!" it said. "I have lofty things to do, and stories to tell. There is a big change coming called Winter; I hear the fir trees whispering about it in their sylvan voices. I must see it and document it. For I am a Big Leaf and what I have to say is more important that anything in the world."

The maple leaf was so persuasive that the squirrels who lived in the branches of the tree stopped their nut gathering and nest building and approached the maple leaf with a plan.

"We'll help you," they said in their high squeaky voices. "We are experts and know everything -- for we have traveled hither and yon through-out the parklands; while you have only been on this one branch your whole life, since you were born last spring. We have studied for many years and therefore know far more than you do."

The maple leaf was overjoyed that the squirrels understood his deepest desire and were altruistically going to help him live! He would not die!

The squirrels twitched their whiskers and their tails as they consulted among themselves, then ran off in all directions -- except for Fluffy, Puffy, Muffy and Robert who stayed behind.

"We are your medical administrators," they chirped in unison to the maple leaf. "We are the ones to fill out forms and process payments and file referrals and seek for donors and bill your insurance and hire new specialists and and and . . . "

The maple leaf felt overwhelmed and perplexed by all of this information and terminology, but he told himself it was worth every sacrifice, for he would live!

A squirrel returned, leading three stellar blue jays, each of whom had something in his or her beak.

One had a shard of broken glass. Another had a needle from a hypodermic that some human had carelessly disposed of. The third held a long string, which dangled in loops and squiggles that danced in the wind. And then a fourth jay appeared. He carried a fresh sprig of fir needles.

"The fir tree," announced Fluffy, "has generously volunteered to be a donor for this historic first-ever fir-to-maple transplant . . . "

"Grafting," Robert corrected.

"First-ever fir-to-maple grafting," Fluffy continued, with an irritated expression on his furry face. The facial expression would have been difficult for humans to decipher, but squirrels know the way of squirrels. Robert interpreted the irritation to mean his boss had a weak spot, a touch of insecurity. Robert was vying to move up the corporate ladder in this booming new medical industrial complex, and this triumph would carry him higher. His name would go down in history: "Robert, the inventor of the maple/fir graft!"

Well, if you have ever worked in an office, or had occasion to visit one, you can imagine the rest from here. So I won't go into every little detail of the back-biting and money-grabbing and reputation-building that went on in the ever-growing community of squirrels, jays, then crows and moles and even the spiders who were trying to cash in on this. For of course everything had a price, and a reasonable profit to be made each time a product changed hands.

The poor maple leaf who wanted to live took out a mortgage to pay for it all. And the "all" was an ever expanding total that got bigger and bigger.

The fir sprig was grafted onto the maple leaf in an ingenious operation involving the cutting edge of technology.

The maple leaf felt horrible, what with the holes poked in his stem and that resinous stuff gunking up his system. But, he kept telling himself that it was all worth it. After all, this was an issue of life or death. And death was to be avoided at all costs, no matter how arduous or painful.

The squirrels' nest was filling with nuts that the squirrels themselves did not collect.

"This medical administrating business is a heck of a lot more profitable than collecting our own nuts," they congratulated themselves in the evening, as they reclined in their nest made of already dead leaves, lined with the softest and spongiest moss, decorated with the rarest downy feathers, and filled with a hoard of only the finest nuts of select trees from all over the land. All of this luxury was brought to them, item by item, by subcontractors as their processing fee for getting certified as "Approved Providers."

The squirrels rubbed their white bellies in contentment, and groomed each other's gray fur.

"You're getting fat," Fluffy said.

"So are you," Muffy said with a sniff and a frown.

Since they no longer ran around to forage for their own food, and never left the big old maple tree, they needed more exercise.

They needed a gym.

So, ingenious crows built the administrators aerobic workout devices in the branches of the tree. For of course the squirrels were far too important and busy to leave their work of administrating the medical care in this dire life-or-death situation of the maple leaf that didn't want to die.

One day, an artist went for a walk in the woods. She sat on a fallen log and admired its texture as it weathered in the forest. The skin of bark had long ago decayed back into nourishment for Pachamama to share with all of life. The bole skeleton was beautiful as grubs consumed it. The grubs enjoyed its flavor then cast it, reformed, back into the soup of life.

Dead leaves crunched under the artist's feet as she shifted her position. The scene glowed amber before the fall of early night. Autumn was her favorite season of the year, so quiet and introspective.

She scratched pencil point over paper for several minutes.

Suddenly, the artist was startled by a noise. A strange sight greeted her eyes. An unexpected conglomeration of wildlife scurried by; a convoy of moles, wood rats, hares and other small creatures hurried along, each carrying something. Jays and crows flapped overhead. The birds toted strange objects in their beaks.

Startled by these unusual sights, the artist arose from her magnificent tree corpse to follow the animals and see where they were going.

She came upon a path much trodden with all shapes and sizes of feet, paws, and slithering bellies. The path led to a maple tree.

And what an odd tree it was. The artist frowned at the sight. Her heart felt sad when she gazed at the overweight squirrels running in suspended hamster wheels dangling from skeletal limbs. Other arms of the maple bent low with the weight of the biggest squirrel nests she had ever seen. At any moment the branches could snap from the burden.

All of this feverish activity of forest critters running, flying, and crawling up and down the tree went to -- and originated from -- a certain point on a certain twig from which dangled a lone maple leaf.

And what an odd leaf it was.

A multitude of metal devices fastened the leaf to its twig, while a massive tangle of hoses and pumps transported green fluid into its tender arbolean veins.

The leaf was alive, yes.

"But what kind of life is this?" the artist asked aloud. The stillness and beauty of the autumn day was destroyed for her.

The artist turned and walked away from the chaos and hubbub extending the life of that leaf beyond its season. Her footsteps crunched on the crisp corpses of the leaf's fallen comrades.

Later, she sat at her drawing table. She finished the sketch she'd started while sitting on that log in the woods, bathed in the golden light that is only seen once the trees have shed their leaves.

Thoughtfully, the artist rose, went to the kitchen table and looked at her assortment of amber-colored plastic jars with childproof caps, each of which was to treat the side effects of one of the other medications.

"What do I need with all this?"

With a sweep of her arm, she pushed the jars into the trash.

First published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, October 2012. Thank you! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is Obama's Call for Peace an Impossible Dream? (How global domestic abuse affects you, and what you can do about it)

How can we explain the stunned silence of the crowds when President Obama mentioned the word "peace" in his acceptance speech? Like an abused wife, have we become so accustomed to the control tactics of global domestic abusers that we now see abuse as normal and peace as an impossible dream?

Domestic abuse gone global. It's not just an intimate couple trapped in a cycle of abuse based on power and control, it's all of us in the world. Global domestic abuse. Domestic abuse tactics include:

• Isolation

o Controlling what we do, who we see, who we talk to, what we read, where we go (The Patriot Act and Homeland Security, and their counterparts around the world)
o Limiting our outside involvement (Creating a climate of fear of traveling to unapproved countries such as Cuba, and restrictions of movement for travel and immigration across the US border)

• Male Privilege

o Treating us like a servant (Wage slaves)
o Making all the big decisions (WTO, World Bank, IMF, etc)
o Acting like the King of the Castle (All those experts we are expected to believe)
o Being the one to define men's and women's roles (Women still do not legally have equal rights, and what rights women do have are being challenged every day)

• Economic Abuse

o Preventing us from getting or keeping a job (We've all seen this)
o Making us ask for money (Mortgage applications, car loan applications, Health Insurance applications, Social Aid applications, Student loan applications, Grant applications, etc, etc, etc)
o Not letting us know about or have access to the (global) family income (Rich getting richer and poor getting poorer)

• Emotional Abuse (Turn on the TV and you'll find all of these; hence the epidemic of mood-altering medications and suicides)

o Putting us down (If we're not an expert, our ideas don't count)
o Calling us names (Advertisements that imply "You're ugly, fat, unlovable!" etc, if we don't look like a model)
o Making us think we're crazy (Prozac, Paxil, Ritalin, etc.)
o Making us feel bad about ourselves ("You're a social reject if you don't have the latest iPhone!" or whatever)
o Playing mind games (Too many to list)
o Humiliating us (Airport security)
o Making us feel guilty (Mortgage foreclosures, IMF loans with harsh conditions)

• Coercion and Threats

o Making us do illegal things (Invading countries is not legal)
o Making us drop charges (US ignores the World Court)
o Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt us (People jailed under the Patriot Act for just reading, talking, or not talking like Leah-Lynne Plante)
o Threatening to commit suicide (Suggesting that the world will end unless the economy keeps making the rich richer and the poor poorer)

• Intimidation

o Making us afraid by using looks, actions, gestures (Turn on the TV and almost everywhere we see something trying to make us feel fear, such as a news show about terrorists)
o Smashing things (Atomic bombs blowing up cities, etc)
o Destroying our property (Our home, the Earth, is being destroyed by transnational corporations)
o Abusing pets (Species going extinct due to industrial pollution)
o Displaying weapons (Selling and using weapons seems to be the number one industry: the military-industrial complex)

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. As you can see, the abusers are the super rich people who create transnational corporations that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, while buying up radio and TV stations and major newspapers to spread propaganda justifying the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and paying politicians to do their bidding. The victims of this global domestic abuse are all the rest of us: almost 7 billion people living on this globe.

When the abuser is an individual trying to control another individual, any domestic abuse hotline you may call will probably advise you to leave the situation and sever all ties, physical, financial, verbal, emotional, etc., with the abuser.

But when you're a victim of global domestic abuse, you can't leave the globe and go to another planet, as in Eric Frank Russell's 1951 science fiction classic tale of a Gandhian utopian planet, ...And Then There Were None. Like the Democrats, Republicans and other parties in Washington, and everyone on the planet, we all have to find a way to come together, dialog, and work things out. How can we, as President Obama said, "Do the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move . . . forward?"

A huge first step would be for abusers to take a lesson from one of their own: the late transnational CEO, Ray C. Anderson. In his autobiography, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose--Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, he shows how he woke up from being an abuser and developed empathy and compassion.

In the United Kingdom there is a program for abusers to learn how to accept responsibility for their actions and reform their ways. Perhaps they can take their program to corporate headquarters around the world, Wall Street brokerage firms, and government offices of obstructionist politicians.

In the meanwhile, we can each develop our own state of life. I feel inspired by these words of Daisuku Ikeda, president of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International, which I jotted down during his 1990 live-simulcast speech from Los Angeles, California:
"When you feel entrapped by the chains of society, stand up with courage (compassion and wisdom) and your life will be as huge as the universe."

Article first published as Is Obama's Call for Peace an Impossible Dream? on Blogcritics.