Creepy midnight memory

This is another repeat post from my old blog, this time from July 2012. It was weird enough that I thought it was worth sharing. (To me, weird = valuable. Your mileage may vary.)

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I’ve been having strange experiences with dreaming lately.

In the spring, when I was a few seasons into watching the Tenth-Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, I had a dream about being his companion. Up until then, I had had a totally asexual appreciation of the show. But somehow that dream triggered something akin to my teenage obsession with Mr Spock– I realized with a sort of blinding flash that David Tennant was sexy (something every other geek girl had noticed long ago) and spent the next few months with a very intense crush on him, much to my husband’s irritation.

Then, recently and perhaps unrelatedly, I had a much stranger and more morbid midnight epiphany.

I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm, with something in my mind that felt like a memory. As far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with the dream I’d been having, which was sexy and Doctor-Who-related. It was vague, but it felt like a memory from real life, not a piece of a dream.

It seemed to be a memory of a time in my childhood or teens, when I was living at my parents’ house. It was composed of images of me going through boxes that belonged to my parents, and finding a box that had been sent to them or given to them by some acquaintance. I don’t specifically remember a name on the box, or any papers inside it– there’s just a feeling associated with it, a feeling that it came from someone who lived somewhere else, maybe one of our European relatives.

And inside the box were some bones and dried tissues that appeared to be human remains.

I don’t remember what part of the body they appeared to be, or how many pieces there were. I don’t remember what I did with them. But there was another strong feeling associated with the memory– a feeling that I did the wrong thing, that I hid them or buried them or threw them away, without talking to my parents about it. I don’t clearly remember why, but there was a feeling of fear, maybe fear that my parents would get in trouble for having them around. I vaguely remember wrapping them up in several layers of paper and tape, or some other sort of covering, before putting them wherever I put them.

Despite how vague this whole thing was, it stuck with me very strongly for at least a few days after it happened. I was thinking about it at work, for most of the next day.

I still don’t know what it was. It could very easily have been a memory of a dream after all– maybe a scary dream I had as a child, so long ago that the memory of it is no more vague than my memories of reality at that time. It felt real, but I know that under certain circumstances the brain can sometimes get confused between dreams and reality.

If it was real, I suppose there are quite a few possible explanations. It wouldn’t be the only time there were human remains in my parents’ house. They’re doctors; they had a real human skull on a shelf in the living room for much of my childhood. I’m not sure why someone else would send them parts of a dead person, but given their professions and widely varied interests, it could have been anything from a medical sample to an archaeological specimen.

Anyway, I find it a very interesting example of how the brain can work so very differently in the middle of the night. When waking up from a dream, people can get so many inspirations, realizations, and new perspectives on the world, even ones unrelated to the dream itself. It must be something about the state of the brain as it shifts from dreaming to waking– maybe it’s overactive at that moment, in prime condition for dredging things up from the subconscious.

I don’t know if my what I dredged up was a false memory, or a repressed memory of a long-ago dream or reality. But another interesting thing: putting together this blog post has changed the quality of what I remember. As I put it into words, it began to feel less vivid as a real memory, and more as if it could have been a dream.

This is actually something I’ve noticed before: putting my memories into words reduces their clarity as memories. It’s as if my brain realizes that describing a memory in words is a way of compressing it to save space in my brain– not lossless compression, but like resizing a family photo to a lower resolution. Actually, more like replacing the family photo with a text file saying “Christmas party, 2009. Left to right: Grandma Ruth, Aunt Carol, Mom, me.”

My brain realizes that once I’ve summarized a memory in words, I don’t need the visual, sensory and emotional detail of the memory anymore, and so it fades. I’ve hears that the people most likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder are the people who think about their traumatic experiences in pictures instead of words. I’m a strange type of person– someone who does much of her thinking in pictures and abstract concepts, but frequently puts them into words later.

Portrayal of sexual violence in one of my short stories (Trigger warning!)

In my short story collection “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” I have one story called “Ardent,” which is set in the same world as our science-fiction novel “Kea’s Flight.”

As warned in the mini-introduction on the page preceding it, “Ardent” is a dark story, portraying the descent into madness of one of the villains of “Kea’s Flight.” And it may bother some readers that it contains what appears to be a scene of attempted rape, from the point of view of the aggressor, who is undergoing a mental breakdown and losing control of his actions.

Even as a woman with openly liberal political views, I know I’m taking a risk by having a scene like that in a story. Every day I see more and more articles online complaining about rape being used as a plot device, giving the impression that many people don’t find any fictional depiction of rape or attempted rape acceptable.

And because of the nature of my story’s depiction, I’ve been feeling some concern about the possibility that people might interpret the story as an expression of support for rapists, a sympathetic account of what it’s like from the rapist’s perspective, or a statement that rapists “just can’t control themselves” and are “driven” to commit the crime.

This is obviously not what I intended, but I understand the complaint, and I’d like to do what I can to explain why I wrote the scene as I did. First, a clarification of exactly what the scene entails. (Possible triggers and spoilers after the cut.)

Continue reading

My one regret: I didn’t spend enough time working

They say that people never die wishing they had worked more.

But I’m pretty sure that if I died now, that would be my one big regret. I fully expect to die someday wishing I’d worked more.

Not at my job, necessarily, but at writing, participating in events, talking to people, making connections. Perhaps even if I worked harder at my paying job, earned more money, earned promotions, that would have contributed something to my life’s goal.

My life’s goal is to make my way into a position where I have the influence to help fix the greatest problems in the world.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Neurosis, math, grammar, empathy, and the transformative power of love

Falling in love can change a person in so many ways.

I’m not just talking about how you become a different person when you’re falling in love and your levels of bonding hormones are all over the charts. That’s a whole issue of its own, with its own set of relationship problems. (Ever think, “He’s not the man I fell in love with anymore,” or “We got married and then he changed everything about himself”? Maybe he just changed back into the person he was before he fell in love… and for that matter, so did you. Oxytocin and the other mating hormones that run rampant at the beginning of a romance are powerful mind-altering chemicals; the mind you fell in love with was probably under the influence.)

No, what I’m talking about is the change that happens over the course of a long, happy relationship. It can be slow, or fast, changing speed and intensity over time, but it’s always there, the way two trees growing close together change their shapes to adapt to one another’s presence.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Hangers

Sometimes I wonder why plain wire coat hangers are so hard to find in retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. You can find the plastic hangers and the wood hangers, and sometimes really thick metal hangers, but not the simple hangers that are made out of a plain old 16-or-so-gauge wire bent into a hanger shape.

You know, the kind that’s cheap, and doesn’t take up much space, and is tougher than plastic hangers and doesn’t break after you’ve hung a coat on it for six months.

Maybe someone at the top of the corporate world decided that selling wire hangers was too dangerous, because women would just use them for abortions?

One time I was looking for hangers in a store, and my brain thought up this elaborate corporate conspiracy, complete with pervasive surveillance and abortion-police keeping files on people:

“Warning, warning. Hanger alert. A woman in aisle P17 has asked an employee where the plain wire hangers are.”

“Commence surveillance on subject. Bring up her internet history, make note of any abortion-related searches.”

“Alert! Subject’s pharmacy records show she takes birth control pills. If she’s pregnant she would undoubtedly be seeking an abortion. Must bar her from all access to hangers. Intercept if she approaches a dry cleaning service.”

“Danger! Danger! She is buying 16-gauge wire from a hardware store!”

“Roger that. On my way, following her home.”

“Do you have a visual on the inside of her home? Repeat, do you have a visual?”

“Roger that. I have her on screen.”

“What is she doing with the wire?”

“She’s… making hangers out of it.”

“…Hmm. This is a devious one. We’ll need to keep extra close tabs on her.”

Seriously, though– plain wire hangers are great. Not only are they the most durable hangers you can get for the money, but they can be used for all sorts of clever household solutions– including this thing I came up with today, when I needed another over-the-door hanging hook and didn’t have time to go buy one:

(I agree they’re probably terrible for abortions, though.)

Hunger strikes: a baffling human custom

Strange things happening these days. This anti-gay-marriage protest is probably the worst thing a hunger strike has ever been used for.

In fact, I’ve often thought about how strange it is that hunger strikes are socially acceptable at all. They’re really just a variation of “I’m going to commit suicide unless you do what I want.”

Usually you end up institutionalized if you say something like that. Does the method of suicide really matter that much?

Last Christmas

Last year, I was killed in a tragic car crash on Christmas Day. Thanks to my organ donor card, you received a life-saving heart transplant… only to die in another crash on December 26th. Luckily for another heart patient, you also had a donor card. #ParaphrasedSongLyrics

Is it safe for pregnant women to eat pomegranates?

A while ago I was reading about the history of pomegranates, and saw some mention that they were used as birth control in ancient times. Researching more on the subject, I found a few other mentions of this, including several references to a study that showed an effectiveness rate of 72% in rats and 100% in guinea pigs.

I can’t find anything that specifically quotes the source of the study, or whether it has been successfully repeated with other groups of rats or guinea pigs. And I can’t find out whether any studies suggest it works in humans, or any mentions of how it’s supposed to work. (What chemicals in the fruit have that effect? Does it prevent conception, or cause miscarriage?) It’s as if this study happened and then everyone lost interest, and no one ever tried to do any more research on the subject.

Now, I can understand that science would have little interest in this for purposes of birth control, because we already have effective birth control methods, and thus we have no real need for any insights the pomegranate might give us.

But, what about women who WANT to have kids? If eating pomegranates can prevent, or even end, a pregnancy, surely those who hope to be mothers would want to know that! And lately, with pomegranates being constantly touted as superfoods and healthy sources of antioxidants, there must be lots of expectant mothers eating them, with no knowledge of their other possible effects.

Now, I have no interest in ever having children, and I love pomegranates and would never stop eating them. But considering how many women are desperate to conceive and give birth, I’m scratching my head as to why there hasn’t been more research on this.

Siri’s healthy new feathers and feet

Sirius Marley the starling is no longer bald-faced from fighting with other starlings. In the time he’s been living with me, he’s grown a face full of pretty feathers!

That picture is also the latest in a series of photos showing the improvement of Siri’s feet! When we first adopted him, he had pretty severe hyperkeratosis (overgrowth of keratin, such as leg scales, claws and beak), which can be a result of nutrient deficiency or other things that can impede a healthy molt. His leg scales in particular were huge! With good food, sunlight and an aloe gel regimen, he’s made a lot of progress:

(Update: Another picture added in December)

(Update: Another picture added in January)