Delving into the Psyche, The Zebra

The Letter: The Sequel to The Letter

Dear 23-Year-Old-Me,

Damn, if you were shocked by the last letter, just you wait until you hear what I’ve got for you this time.

Everything I said in the previous letter about the abuses at the hands of your mother is true. All that trauma pressed down upon your psyche until you were warped and changed. (I will never be safe/I will never be sane/I will always be weird inside/I will always be lame.)

But it turns out there is more to the story.

Just about a year ago, a few months after the first letter, you were lying in bed, stoned (oh yeah, you smoke weed now, fyi) one Sunday night when a thought popped into your head: Oh. I’m autistic.


 I know, right??

But think about this: you have already questioned whether or not you were autistic. Remember when you read that book in middle school about the boy who had autism but “recovered” from it? And you asked your mom if you might be autistic but she brushed it off and told you that everyone is a little autistic? Yeah, turns out there’s a lot wrong with all of that.

You’ve spent all these years trying to understand your mom. Her official diagnosis is bipolar, but you question that because she’s never had a manic episode. You wonder if she might have borderline personality disorder and that seems likely for awhile until a psychiatrist tells you he doesn’t believe that borderline exists (he’s bullshit – don’t listen to him). But eventually you will realize: she was autistic, too.

It makes sense: she was often crippled by sensory stimulation, being barefoot even when socially awkward, as just one example.

There’s a thing called autistic burnout – it’s sort of like a computer taking certain systems offline when it’s trying to fix something. On the daily it can look like exhaustion at the end of the day, but to the extreme. Right now as you are still working a fully time job, you already are experiencing daily burnouts. It’s why you can’t get anything done after work. After peopling all day (it’s called masking), you no longer have energy to make dinner or attend to housework. You currently think you are just lazy or unmotivated or lack a work ethic or something. Eventually you will recognize the role that childhood traumas played in this, but after that you will learn about burnout and finally have a more complete understanding of yourself.

But burnout can also be bigger, lasting for months, or years, or forever. And you will come to think this is what happened to your mom. It explains why she just stopped doing housework one day.  You’ve long recognized that your mom didn’t really fit the typical hoarder profile – she was generally okay with people helping her to clean up and throw things away, which is very unlike hoarders – and this makes it all make sense, finally. She burnt out. Her brain went offline and made her incapable of housework from that point on. Perhaps if she had been supported through this, with a housecleaning service or something, she may have been able to recover.

Of course, you will also wonder if she would have tried to. Because autism was clearly not her only issue. She also always refused to acknowledge her role in your traumas and that’s not an autism thing, its an abusive thing. Autistics can be assholes, too.

But it explains so much about you, too. Your own sensory issues, your auditory processing issues, your relationship troubles (people have always thought you are “too much” in one way or another), your lack of understanding about how to get projects accomplished, your school troubles… Even the fact that you still have meltdowns like a small child despite being an actual adult now – you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Also, you have ADHD. Somehow that’s less of a surprise.

It will make you angry that you struggled for all these years, believing yourself to be lazy, incapable, stupid, and, worst of all, unmotivated. You will long for the life you didn’t get, where maybe you would have had a chance at success. You will also understand that when you were growing up people didn’t have the understanding of neurodiversity that they do today so you can’t blame them, really.

You will feel relieved that there is a reason, and it will fill up your self-esteem significantly, but also you will feel frustrated that there still aren’t really supports for you. You will love discovering new insights about your psyche and how you work, but you will become even more frustrated at the people in your life who refuse to do their own work. Discovering your autism helps you shape yourself for the first time into the real you and that’s exciting but exhausting.

You will spend your 42nd year mostly taking your psyche apart, examining it piece by piece as you disassemble it. You will feel vaguely panicky because now your psyche is all over the living room floor and you don’t know how it goes back together. But you did this once nearly a decade ago with your spirituality and it felt the same and it came back together finally – but in the way it was always meant to be rather than the way it actually was mashed and molded into their shape, not yours. So you know the same thing will happen with your psyche and you are excited to see what shape you are meant to be, but you are also afraid of being disassembled and you worry you’ll get stuck here.

Because here’s the other thing: You are probably also going through a significant time of burnout yourself. Compounded by so many other situations (don’t freak out or anything but your hip bones are gonna start decomposing for no reason and then also your uterus will try to murder you, every month by wrapping its hormones around your brain and choking out all the happiness. nbd.), you are currently unable to work and frankly have a hard time keeping up with even the simplest of life chores. It’s scary not only because a great fear of yours is turning into your mother, but also because you don’t know whether you will recover or not; your mother didn’t.

But also, you always do the work that your mother refused to do. Already you are rebuilding yourself into what you are actually capable of, finally. Already you acknowledge your faults and transgressions and work to make amends. Even if some of your abilities never do come back online, you are a psychologically healthy woman who works to build your community up, rather than to harm it and abuse it. You are not toxic.

It will be the great irony of your life that you have (quite accurately) armchair-diagnosed random people in your life with autism but you missed your own for so many years.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You didn’t miss it. You were just mistakenly redirected.

The thing about growing up with undiagnosed autism is that you have an understanding from a very young age that you are different somehow. You realize that everyone else knows what’s going on and you are definitely not “good enough” to have your own thoughts, opinions, knowledge, etc. You, in particular, remember having thoughts about wanting to be “a real kid” from the age of two or three. Your belief in your own inadequacy is deep in your bones, it runs through your veins, it steeps your mind in toxic fumes. You know you cannot be an authority on anything, not even on yourself.

So when your mom told you that you aren’t autistic, you had to believe her. When psychologists or educators tell you that you (or your children) aren’t autistic, you will have to believe them. You won’t even consider it because you don’t want to … culturally appropriate? … neurodiversity. You have been saying for years now that you “have attention issues” because you recognize that it creates very real challenges for you, but you never actually consider ADHD because that would be inappropriate; you are clearly neurotypical.

Part of this process of discovery is to learn to believe yourself. So many things have been brushed aside because you assumed you didn’t have the right to consider them. This has done nothing but harm you.

But now you stand tall; you rebuild your frame yourself, imbuing it with all the logic, wisdom, and strength you have inside you. You are learning to believe you, to trust you. You are becoming the woman you always wanted to be: the woman you already were, have always been.

You are autistic and that is awesome.


PS if you want to read the document I’ve been working on regarding the DSM diagnostic criteria, you can read it here.

Delving into the Psyche, Pandemic 2020, Political, Ranting and Raving, This Shit is Thursday as Fuck

The Apocalypse Is Here

too little too late

Haha no but really though.

When I started blogging (April 24, 2001), I never thought I’d blog the apocalypse. I was so young. So innocent.

Of course people talk about the Flu of 1918. I never took them seriously. It was ancient history. We have better medicine now, better health care in general.

I was so fucking stupid.

Dear future me, future generations reading this, it’s the Coronavirus.

The quarantine happened so slowly and quickly at once, like living through an avalanche. At the beginning of the week we were still living our regular lives, mostly. By Wednesday, places were closing down and schools were holding massive board meetings to discuss this. Thursday evening San Diego Unified stated that they would remain open until local health care leaders told them otherwise since they knew most about the virus. Local leaders said they’d leave it up to the districts because they knew what was best for their children. This is pretty much how everything is going in general right now, nobody knows what’s happening and everyone else is responsible. Later that night the teacher’s union was like “Uh nope” and by Friday all schools were announcing closures.

It just felt like the ground was sliding away from us and we were grappling to hold on.

And now the United States government is quite literally stating that they will just let people die rather than risk the stock market. And this isn’t just Trump. Turns out the US government was briefed on all of this back in January and instead of acting in the name of public health, they sold their stocks in things like airlines and bought stock in things like online meeting platforms. And this isn’t just republicans. Here in San Diego, Scott Peters and Susan Davis were caught doing this insider trading.

So things are a mess, obviously. But I want to talk about what this feels like.

It feels fucking scary is what it feels like.

For one thing, this is entirely new. Never before in all of human history has the entire world shut down for a quarantine. We don’t have precedent for this, but we know it’s fucking huge.

The information about this virus itself is confusing and scary. At first we were told it’s not as severe a the flu, now we are seeing young people taken down with it in huge numbers. But there are also invisible carriers who don’t get any symptoms. We were told to avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs because they worsen this virus and then we were told they didn’t know why they told us that but they never actually said it’s FINE to take ibuprofen. We were told this is a respiratory thing, not a digestive thing, but now it’s also digestive. The new symptom this week is a loss of smell not associated with congestion. Like. What? This flurry of facts alone is frightening.

We are alone, not allowed to touch. We are afraid of an invisible enemy, floating unseen, coating surfaces for literal days. The government had to close beaches and parks because people would not stop congregating there; photos taken at the beach last weekend look like a regular summer in San Diego – it was packed.

I don’t know. There aren’t answers for this because nobody has ever been through this. It’s scary. We don’t know what’s happening, how we will get through this – many of us wonder if we will get through this – or what happens when this is over.

In terms of apocalypses, this is probably one of the better ones. Nuclear holocaust is something I hope I never have to see, for instance.

This is what it feels like. Way back on 9/11, we saw our nation attacked. That morning, as planes were falling from the sky all over the place, and we didn’t know where the next attack might occur, we felt the trauma of the privileged – war had finally come home and we didn’t know what would happen next. Not much, it turned out. Not here, that is. Too many of us, settled back into our comfortable American existence, still living the lies of the former midcentury: the the US is a powerful and benevolent nation which will ultimately keep us safe and thriving.

I would pay cash money to go back to that protected, privileged life.

But it was always a lie anyway.

I hope that we learn from this. I hope we make the world better after this. I am afraid, though. I’m afraid we won’t. And also? I’m simply afraid.

Being a Mom, Children of Hoarders, Delving into the Psyche, Depression/Anxiety, Edumacation, Spirituality, The Zebra

The Letter

Dear 22-Year-Old-Me,

I want to write to you today, as the steady stream of college graduations that you are not a part of is passing you by this month. I know that you feel like you are a failure because you are not among those numbers. I know that already you recognize that college isn’t the only way to succeed, and I know that you already recognize that not completing college certainly doesn’t mean you are stupid. But I also know that you can’t make yourself believe that yet; you can’t internalize those words, breathe them in until they flow through you as naturally as your life force. But here is something you don’t yet know: you will graduate college. In fact, you will graduate Magna Cum Laude. I am so, so proud of us.

I want to tell you that you are more precious than you know. In fact, you are a lot of things that you haven’t discovered yet: smart, capable, reliable, passionate and compassionate, artistic, wise. Don’t worry, you’ll discover these things as you begin to finally peel back the layers of emotional callus that you don’t yet even realize you’ve built up.

I know you are in a dark place right now. You don’t fully realize it yet, although you do currently recognize that you identify too closely with “Adam’s Song.” You are not actively suicidal right now (and you won’t be for at least the next 19 years), but this is the closest you get: sometimes you threaten it in overly emotional moments. I know how you feel ashamed and embarrassed when you lose control, crying, yelling, falling apart. But what you are really saying is “help me, I hurt so so badly.”

Here is a thing you don’t know yet: you have been abused. For all those times your mother threw the word around at you, it was projection and deflection. She was a master of both. I know right now you feel rage at her. I know right now you feel like you have to forgive her, that forgiveness on your part makes you a better person. I know that you believe that to be Christlike, you must simply “let go” of anger. And I know that you have no idea how to do that.

Here is another thing you don’t know yet: All of that forgiveness shit is a big, societal lie. The truth that you will learn over the next two decades is that forgiveness is actually a collaborative act between the person who has done wrong and the person who has been hurt. It is actually not possible to “just forgive” or to simply “let go” of anger and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, or the Dalai Lama.

You will spend years beating yourself up for not being better. You will believe your mother’s lies about how you are an angry person. You will hear her say the words “I know I failed you” and even “I’m sorry” and since you have been taught to believe that a transgression ends with “I’m sorry” you will fault yourself for not being okay. It is not your fault. A true apology may begin with the words “I’m sorry,” but it must also include a true understanding of the gravity of the sin, and it must include efforts at change. Your mother never truly met either of these markers.

It is the abuse that has clouded your vision and thinking. It is the abuse that allowed you to do poorly in high school, that allowed you to drop out of college. Think about it: when did you begin struggling with school? The same year your mother fell apart. Even if you could concentrate on homework, or think clearly to learn, where would you have been able to study? On the piles of trash?

You may not have discovered this word yet, but your mother is a hoarder. You will find this word, and you will find your community. But even before that, you will, somehow, speak up. Not for a couple of years yet. You are already living on your own, but you will have a child soon, a wild pink daughter, and everything will change. Somehow, you will be driven to speak, the words bursting forth because something inside of you knows how desperately you need to get the poison out. Secrets make people sick, and you have been holding your mother’s secrets for far too long already. So you write. You will have a safe space online: a locked diary that only your trusted people can access. And you write. Everything. It’s terrifying for you, but you can hardly pay attention; you are driven by something internal, some strong, primal urge to get well. Anyway, your trusted people are good people and they lift you up and in that moment you feel the first sensations of healing. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, the psyche stitching itself back together. You sense that this is only the beginning and you want to rush forward, but you couldn’t if you tried. That is not how healing the heart works.

Over the years (you will also have a sweet, sensitive little boy) you continue to grow, continue to heal. You begin to untangle the vision you hold of yourself from the one you hold of your mother; you find that she has buried your true self in a mess of her own toxicities. Some of those have stained you: you will always struggle with depression and anxiety; you have PTSD. These are the scars that abuses leave upon the psyche. But what you will learn about scars (and, oh, you will devote your life to learning to love scars, and to teaching others to love scars) is that they never go away, but they are tougher than the skin surrounding them. You are tough.

And so, one day when your kids are older, when you have figured out that the spouse you chose when you were 20 years old and broken might not have been the best life partner for you, you will find yourself a proud single mother, dragging her children onto campus so you can register for college again. You don’t really know what you are doing here. You don’t yet fully believe in yourself and a degree seems so foreign that you barely even look ahead towards it. But the A’s will begin rolling in and you will marvel at them. The more of them you get under your belt, the more you begin to believe in yourself. Those old calluses begin to fade away, the self doubt no longer rubbing at them.

And then you get accepted to a university, and you earn an associate’s degree (for transfer) and you are so unbelievably proud that your eyes leak any time you think of your degree. Two and a half years after that and you will hold your bachelor’s degree in your hands. Your dad and stepmom will come out to attend your graduation – your children will attend, too, and this is a gift to them as much as to yourself – and you will walk across that stage and shake the hand of a professor as you accept your diploma.

You are so precious right now. I can see through all of what you believe is so ugly and worthless. I can see through to the core of you and your soul shines golden. Life is still a struggle, and it probably always will be, but you will rise to meet challenges again and again. You are a hero and a goddess (oh, also, you are now Pagan, but don’t worry, you also don’t believe in Hell) and you are stronger and smarter than you believe, but it’s there. I promise you.

You don’t need to believe in yourself yet, because I believe in you.


Delving into the Psyche, Depression/Anxiety, Happy Things, Spirituality, The Zebra



The kids and I have been on Spring Break and it has been so, so good.

Last week, I struggled under a wet blanket, made of wool and smelling of old damp things. Last week I had a flare up of one of my illnesses: this time it was depression. It was triggered by a small (not really) thing and I wound up spending 36 hours crying and trying not to cry at everything and nothing. Things got a little better after that, but I was still wearing shoes of cement and walking through boggy mindfields. It was a struggle to make it to the end of the week with some semblance of functioning, but the knowledge that spring break was on the horizon kept me going.

Things are scant now, we are in the winter of our life’s path and the seasons leading up to this winter were not exactly fecund so our stores were already low: money, goods… mental energy to handle the stressors that continually arise.

We have never been wealthy; we have always been low-income, but we managed to make ends meet and we managed to enjoy small extravagances through careful planning and resourcefulness. My first divorced Mother’s Day, I had only enough gas to get us to Balboa Park where we took a free tour and listened to a free concert and it is one of my favorite memories. But those days I had not yet been beaten down by all the various Systems that are antagonistic towards the poor or the disabled. It is harder these days to find energy to be resourceful like I used to be.


But this week has been such a blessing. Slowly, I have begun feeling like the old Me again. The kids and I have gone on a little hike to enjoy the superbloom of wildflowers, we visited the Wild Animal Park to see butterflies and take a tram ride, we visited my university for GradFest and my children looked on so proudly while I had my graduate photo taken. We have been silly together and we have navigated difficulties together. I have allowed myself plenty of rest and forgiven myself for not doing as much work as I had hoped. We have watched movies and played games. It has been the best week we’ve all had in a long, long time. We all feel happy.


I have felt myself being knitted back together.

I didn’t even realize I had come apart.


In my chest, in a place behind my stomach and nestled just below my heart: this is the place where I am held together by the threads of family and love and beauty and wholeness. Over time, through traumas and betrayals, my threads have been snipped or have come loose. It’s not something you notice right away; it happens so slowly like being boiled alive. And then you are walking around, jostling the parts of your soul until they are bruised. You walk more carefully like you are stepping on a floor of glass and too much movement will send you crashing through into the void below, but still you never notice.


Until you begin being knit back together.

It is a physical sensation. A tightness, but not a threatening squeeze like anxiety. Rather, it is a good tightness, like being swaddled, or cuddled. But more than that, really. It is a healing sensation. I am becoming whole again.

This is not the end, I know. Life is still very hard, things are still tenuous. I will likely come undone a thousand times before I find true and complete stability (if such a thing exists – if such a thing will exist in the future). But right now, I am here in this moment giving thanks.


Ostara (which my family and I did not celebrate because of my flare) is a holiday marking Springtime, fecundity, growth. It is an equinox which is all about balance. In the context of the journey of the Sun, it is a time in between rebirth and death, in between the darkness of winter and the light of summer. If my graduation happening at Yule was appropriate, then so is this. My spring is returning. It may return with winter storms, with mucky flares of swamp walking, but the darkness is already halfway gone and I am facing the return of the Sun.


Delving into the Psyche, Edumacation, New Year New Me, Onwards, Philosophy, Spirituality, Wheel of the year, Witchy

The Darkness


Yule – the Winter Solstice – is an ancient holiday dedicated to honoring the sun. For ancient people, this was the darkest time of the year (in the Northern Hemispehere, anyway). It was cold, people survived with food stored from the harvests, preserved by drying, curing, or fermenting. More dark means more danger, for a human is a daytime animal with poor eyesight for night movement. The Winter Solstice is the longest night, but within that lengthy pitch black time is a message that brighter days are to come. After all, if you’re in the longest night, logic follows that the next will be shorter, and science proves that each night after that will be shorter and shorter until the sun is back with a warm presence and the ability to see one’s work and one’s path for the majority of an Earth rotation.

The ancient people were, after all, scientists. We tend to forget that because we have had the benefit of millennia of collective human knowledge to build on and we consider our knowledge superior because it is more correct in the details, but in some ways this is a privileged point of view and it dishonors our ancestors by implying that they are less intelligent than we are. They were not. Their science might not look like ours, but they didn’t have the benefits we do of all the hard work that’s gone before us. They were the first. They marked the seasons and noted the calendar both on earth and in the skies. They learned how to cultivate gardens and farmland, how to breed animals to more fully nourish themselves. Tell me that’s not scientific genius. To take this planet, entirely from scratch, and to use it to sustain life, to eventually create civilization (and, yes, modern life has SO. MANY. PROBLEMS. but when you step back from that and realize that even the “synthetic” things in our life have all come from the genius of humans learning how to use the resources on the planet and nothing else, you can see how remarkable our species truly is).

I digress, but the point here is that these dudes knew their shit. Maybe not as completely as we know it, and maybe in different terms with different meanings, but they knew it.


So. I graduated.

It is dark in my life right now, but life doesn’t operate as predictably as the seasons and I don’t know whether this day is my shortest one, and income is about to lift me out of poverty, or whether I am still early in the fall and I must wait for my darkest night still. That thought is terrifying. There is, of course, also the possibility that spring will never come back into my life. It sounds dark, but I say it without emotion: sometimes, terrible things happen to good people and that’s just how it is. The American Dream, the Bootstrap Myth—none of that shit is real. Capitalism is toxic and most do not thrive in it.

I am not really as pessimistic as that makes me sound. But I am humble enough to recognize that against the forces of fate and capitalism I am no more special than those who do not survive these systems. Just plain and simple: sometimes shit happens. *shrug*

I know it’s a couple of weeks on beyond the winter solstice now, but to face this time in my life – to graduate at the winter solstice – seems particularly apt. I am comforted by the knowledge that the Universe has a rhythm for this. It doesn’t ease my anxiety completely by any means, but it does comfort me to know that darkness is cyclical. Night ends, winter ends, and life changes take effect and the new normal becomes the expected and the comfortable.

I don’t know what my new normal will look like and if I am being honest, I truly hate that part of all this. But I am taking one blind step after another and eventually I will come out of the darkness into the day and I will see my way back to Summer again.


Where I will hopefully stay for ever and ever with no more darkness or poverty ever again. Right? Yep. We’re just gonna go ahead and go with that.


Media Archaeology: The View-Master


Our world only exists to us through our perceptions, curated by our brains. But our brains are merely computers and they cannot show us more than they have been evolved to show us. There are countless more colors than we can perceive, for instance, with our mere three-cone eyes. “Bats can hear shapes. Plants can eat light. Bees can dance maps.” We are only human, really nothing more than a very fancy bundle of cells. We are, in some sense, prisoner to what our brains can decipher for us.

The View-Master knows how to work with our brains to trick us, to Master our vision, to make something simply two-dimensional into something magical. A simple device, really, it operates based on our binocular vision. Our eyes, being in two slightly different positions, give our brain two different sets of stimuli it must sort out into one image. This is how we perceive depth perception. A View-Master takes two 2D images and forces our brain to stitch them together into one 3D image.

Our understanding of things is not unlike this. The View-Master has a history made up of 2D slices throughout time, and when we place them in context with themselves, we can get a 3D understanding of the device that can shift our perceptions and create a better understanding of this technology and how it pertains to us and our understanding of the world, and maybe also a better understanding of technology in general and both how we relate to it as well as to how it shapes our perceptions of the world around us.

Photo: Bonnianne Ratliff

In the introduction to their book on media archaeology, Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka write that “media archaeologists have begun to construct alternate histories of suppressed, neglected, and forgotten media that do not point teleologically to the present media-cultural condition as their ‘perfection.'” This is what this essay is about: to dig into the history of the forgotten View-Master and to examine what is excavated. To learn about the contexts surrounding its creation and usage, and to extrapolate from the findings what can be learned about technology and its uses, but also what we can learn about the human experience. Because, as it turns out, there are some very “human-ish” elements to the story of the View-Master which should not be forgotten or erased, but which it is hard to know, exactly, what to do with, particularly in the context of an excavation of technology which we tend to avoid associating with the humanities. But the fact is that everything we do in technology is for the advancement of our species and that makes it extremely relevant to consider all interconnected aspects of this device.

The View-Master itself makes an excellent analogy for this concept because it is all about what our minds perceive versus what we are actually looking at. It is time, then, to dig into this project and to be ready to perceive new things, in 3D, despite what we have believed we have been seeing up until this point.


A chance meeting by two men in a cave in Oregon in 1938 led to the first 20th Century virtual reality trend, but it was merely a midway mark of the technology’s long past.

Exactly 100 years before, a man named Charles Wheatstone, a British scientist, created a device to explain how stereoscopic binocular vision works in humans. His device was a tabletop one which used mirrors and relied on two drawings, nearly identical, but from slightly different perspectives. The drawings were, of course, two-dimensional, but when viewed through the device, they appeared in 3D.

Photo: David Tett via King's College London
The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1859

A handheld stereoscope was designed about a decade later by David Brewster and, fueled by the recent emergence of photography, the stereoscope became another major trend of the Victorian era. American doctor and author Oliver Wendell Holmes created his own version of it and chose not to patent it with the desire that more people would be able to appreciate this innovative new technology. It worked and thousands of devices were made.

Photo: Samantha A. Smith

“The technology was picked up by astronomers for scientific reasons and by educators to help teach children, among other scholarly uses. This was about more than education. It was about forging a new style of cognition and behavior. The science of psychology was new, and proponents believed that children’s mental apparatuses were trainable with rigorous practice. Studying 3-D scenes, the experts argued, would help sharpen children’s attention. ‘Educators would always describe kids as chaotic and unfocused,’ says Meredith Bak, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University. ‘There was this idea that you had to train kids how to look,’ by giving them an ‘object lesson’ to closely study. The stereograph seemed to fit the bill perfectly: By sealing off a student’s vision, it removed the distractions of spitball-tossing classmates and sealed the child into quiet contemplation” (Thompson).

Photo: Underwood and Underwood via the Library of Congress

Eventually the craze faded and VR technology waited in the darkness of the human imagination for the next idea.

Which brings us back to the Oregon caves in 1938. And here is where the story gets weird.

The Nazi, the FBI, and the View-Master

Photo:, photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

William Gruber, a German-born man living in the US, had combined the idea of the stereoscope with the technology of photography and created a new type of viewer. He was out in the Oregon Caves photographing their strange formations with a special camera he’d created by fixing two Kodak Bantam Specials onto one tripod. Harold Graves, an employee of Sawyer’s Postcard Company found Gruber’s setup intriguing and, once he understood what Gruber was doing, he saw the potential for Sawyer’s to work with Gruber on making the device marketable. It debuted at the World’s Fair the following year as the View-Master.

Photo via

Things got tricky rather quickly. In the absence of an American company able to manufacture the lenses for the viewers, Gruber suggested a German company he knew of. However, trade embargoes in the years leading up to US involvement in WWII ultimately made the deal with the German company fall through and they returned Gruber’s money.

Which the FBI noticed.

A German-born man receiving funds from Germany suggested potential spy activity and, while this wasn’t the case with Gruber, he was a member of the Nazi Party since shortly after it’s inception and he supported Hitler. It is said that after the war, once the world was able to see the extent of the Nazi atrocities, he recanted his former position, although, admittedly, the Nazi agenda to begin with is difficult to forgive so this leaves us to muddle through a complicated and messy history of a beloved toy. Most things in our world have complicated and messy histories, the important thing is to be able to hold both at once – to not allow our shame to shape our perceptions to the point that we erase the ugly so that we can more fully enjoy the pretty. That would be a false perception and therefore dangerous.

Photo: Walter Sigg via eBay

Gruber was exiled to Idaho with serious potential legal ramifications, but his work with Sawyer’s and with Graves did not stop. He communicated by letters to help keep the project on its path, and the government occasionally allowed him trips to Portland to oversee certain aspects of the work.

This seems strange for a man accused of espionage. But, as it turns out, the US had interest in the project as well. They felt it could be used in military training and they had more than 6 million reels of aircraft and ammunition created for identification training.

Photo: Unknown, Photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

After the war, the soldiers came home and brought their fascination of the View-Master along with them and Sawyer’s original hope of selling a new postcard-type souvenir was fulfilled. The trend extended to the children of the Baby Boom as well and many children’s reels were made of Walt Disney films or other childhood stories.

Photo: Scanned by Lance Cardinal, Photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

The trend was such a success that View-Master even made their own camera so that families could have reels made of their own vacations, holidays, and lives, bringing control of the view into their homes and hands.

But wait, there's more!

That whole Nazi thing wasn’t the last of View-Master’s troubles. In 2001, after a half century of operations, they finally shut down their Beaverton, Oregon factory amid controversy of health conditions; it was found that there was more than 320 times the legal limit of a toxic degreaser in the well water the employees drank. The company had disposed of the degreaser for more than 30 years by dumping it into the grounds around the plant. Out of 633, more than 200 employees self-reported diagnoses of cancer.


The View-Master craze has, like the stereoscopes before it, died down. But these things tend to become exciting to a new generation; as more modern technologies become standard the old become kitsch and cool all over again. Perhaps View-Master cannot fully compete with Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but they have iPhone apps which work with Google Cardboard (or their own product).

The app is fun and mildly educational, but lacks depth in terms of information provided as well as what you can do with it. In a sense, it’s more complex. Using modern technology allows it to become a wider 3D image. But the lower-tech View-Master and even Victorian stereoscopes created an image that felt magical whereas these new View-Master apps seem like little more than simply another screen to interact with. The absence of magic means an absence of emotional connection and the viewer becomes less likely to go back again and again because the draw simply isn’t there. It winds up feeling like View-Master is simply trying to keep a placeholder in the market until the technology catches up to the ability to create magic once again.

What Does it Mean?

In 1838 when Charles Wheatstone understood that our eyes can take a simple sketch, doubled, one for each eye, and trick our brain into seeing an image with depth, as though one could walk right into it, he began this journey that eventually led to the virtual reality that is in its infancy today.

In 1938 when William Gruber began working with Sawyer’s Postcard Company to make the View-Master, the US Military was intrigued. Today, too, the military is interested in virtual reality. What civilians are interested in for games, the top levels of the government are working on for training soldiers. Does this sense of gaming have the potential for separating individual soldiers from the humanity behind their warfare? Does the military have a responsibility to make their training lack cool or fun impacts? How does this relate to the violent video games that children play as they are growing up? And is any of this so different than ancient tales of warfare like Beowulf, The Iliad, or the tales of King Arthur?

And, just like the Victorian children with their stereoscopes, educators are looking for ways to use VR with students today (in fact, View-Master’s apps are clearly educationally-driven as can be seen by the focus on imparting information than on simply enjoying a story). There are detractors to students using screens too liberally, but there have always been concerns about fads. Consider this article about the origins of the kaleidoscope and note how similar the Victorian’s concerns of the device sound to the concerns surrounding the iPhone today.

Finally, it is our responsibility to consider the darkness lurking in the history of the device. While I believe we have a responsibility as a supposedly enlightened civilization to not hide the darker aspects of our history, it does raise the question of how we might handle a person like Gruber today? It would be unethical to continue working with a Nazi, but it would be perhaps equally unethical to steal his intellectual property and to continue the project without him. Yet, I cannot fathom a childhood not enriched by the View-Master. Is there an answer here that is acceptable? Is there a balance?

A lesson we can learn from this excavation of the View-Master and, indeed, from the View-Master itself, is that what we perceive is purely in our mind; just as our mind takes two identical, or nearly-identical images and merges them into a 3D fantasy for us to perceive, so too are our other perceptions in the world and they may differ from the perceptions of another person’s. If we can accept that bats can hear shapes and that plants can eat lights, surely we can accept that other humans have different perceptions of the world than we do? This is our humanist duty to never forget. So, then, if this layering of the history of this device can give us a 3D understanding of the device itself, we must also remember that that understanding can be tweaked through our perceptions, even misunderstood or mis-used.

It becomes our responsibility to look to our past as we head to the future and choose to use a 3D view and use it to make ethical choices. It becomes our responsibility to not separate technology from the humanities because they are, in fact, inseparable, and doing so makes it too easy to lack consideration for our fellow people as we progress. After all, all we really have on this earth is each other.

Sources and Credits

The image of the classic red View-Master and reels is by Luke Fandrich of Editing Luke.

Much information was learned via the following links:
The Hidden History of the View-Master (Mental Floss)
Stereoscopes Were the Original Virtual Reality (Smithsonian)
Caves, History, and Invention – The Story of the View-Master (Oregon Travel Experience)

Scholarly guidance and inspiration found here:
Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, Implications by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka
The Forgotten Kaleidoscope Craze in Victorian England by Jason Farman

Delving into the Psyche, Feminist Shit, Literary Shit

Becoming the Medusa


Art by Rainer Kalwitz

“[Who] hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted woman has a . . . divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster?” (Cixious 876).

We are raised by the patriarchy, carefully tended, wings and instincts clipped so that we cannot escape or even think. We are crippled in our minds, confused. We believe what they tell us even though it feels wrong. Instincts, we are taught, are not scientifically based, not “real.” So we discredit them and disassociate.

“A feminist becomes she even if she has already been assigned she, when she hears in that word a refusal of he, a refusal that he would promise her inclusion” (Ahmed 4).

Something, somehow wakes us up, if we are lucky. There is still major disconnect, but we can see that something is not right, that we have been lied to and manipulated, that we have played a role in this ourselves. We cannot quite put our finger on it, but we know that something is very, very wrong.

“I think of feminism as poetry; we hear histories in words; we reassemble histories by putting them into words” (Ahmed 12).

“Feminist theory is world making” (Ahmed 14).

We see that the world is wrong. We understand that we need to fix it, but we don’t know how, and we are afraid of how we may fit into it when we are finished.

 “When you expose a problem, you pose a problem” (Ahmed 37).

We begin trying to speak up and are laughed at, silenced, threatened, or attacked. It is not safe work.

L’Engle talks about how every act of creation is risky, dangerous, even while it is worth it. “Creation is still wildly beautiful, and it is still wild” (L’Engle 16).

 “’To assess the damage is a dangerous act,’ writes Cherrie Moraga. To stop there is even more dangerous” (Anzaldúa 169).

And so we keep going.

To become feminist is to disassemble oneself. To look around the room and see your various parts strewn about. It is unsettling. It is alarming. You have no manual. How do you go back together?

 “Perhaps when you put the pieces back together you are putting yourself back together. We assemble something. Feminism is DIY: a form of self-assembly” (Ahmed 27).

“So I cut and paste and line the floor with my bits of paper. My life is strewn on the floor in bits and pieces and I try to make some order of it. . . ” (Anzaldúa 169).

There is no going back, you cannot fit the parts back together the original way, you must find a new way now.

 “Feminism involves a process of finding another way to live in your body” (Ahmed 30).

We must rewrite our body. We must stitch it back together like the Patchwork Girl.

 “I see that your scars not only mark a cut, they commemorate a joining” (Jackson).

Sometimes, we must share body parts and become one, covered in lines, crisscrossing. Another form of skin-writing.

 “Scar tissue does more than flaunt its strength by chronicling the assaults it has withstood. Scar tissue is new growth. And it is tougher than skin innocent of the blade” (Jackson).

Put back together, we need to bring ourselves back to life because, at our core, we still need work. The patriarchy has done quite a job on us.

 “I began to realize what I already knew: that patriarchal reasoning goes all the way down, to the letter, to the bone” (Ahmed 4).

“Stories are medicine,” says Estes (15). This is how we heal ourselves, how we learn to reassemble, how we stitch ourselves back together into a new person, this is how we write ourselves into existence. We listen to stories, we listen to others. We write ourselves, we write poetry and lyrics, we sing over our bones like La Loba.

 La Loba, Wolf Woman, collects bones. “Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her speciality is wolves.” When she has a complete skeleton “she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong. . . . La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon” (Estes 25-26).

Once ourselves are healed and whole, again and for the first time, we can see that hysteria is not a problem just as the womb, the hystera, is not a problem. Now we we get to work.

 “Our emotions can be a resource; we draw on them. To be a killjoy is often to be assigned as being emotional, too emotional; letting your feelings get in the way of your judgement; letting your feelings get in the way. Your feelings can be the site of a rebellion. A feminist heart beats the wrong way; feminism is hearty” (Ahmed 246).

“Her appearance would necessarily bring on, if not revolution . . . at least harrowing explosions” (Cixious 879).

“You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful, and she’s laughing” (Cixious 885).

You have gotten past her snake hair. You can truly see her. Why? Because you chose to look at her straight on.

What’s more is that you are not seeing the Medusa, you are seeing you. She is the mirror that was supposed to be her downfall, but that part of the story was a lie because the Medusa always saw herself through truth. The mirror, for Perseus, was his shield, metaphorical and literal, his tool for gaslighting. He saw her hair as snakes and thought it would scare her as much as it scared him so he showed her who she was. Naturally it did not, and so he used it to avoid having to see her straight on, to avoid seeing her truth, her mortality, her beauty and her emotions. Using a mirror allowed him to remain unengaged in the interaction, he remained on this side of the Looking Glass, avoiding crossing into the realm of understanding and growth. Who was really gaslighting who?

To look at Medusa straight on is to see all of this.

We have disassembled ourselves, laid the pieces out, and stitched ourselves back together, singing over our bones to bring us back to life. And now we become the Medusa. We take her crown of snakes and place it atop our own heads in our coronation ceremony through which we become truly ourselves. We reclaim our feminine words and shout them to the world: hysteria! pussy! cunt! bitch! We reclaim our emotions and refuse to be ashamed of them any longer: we cry, we rant, we scream, we rage! Heads turn, confused, because the uninitiated do not know what to make of this spectacle, this sensation. “Feminism is sensational. . . . When you speak as a feminist you have to deal with strong reactions” (Ahmed 21).

And now what? Now, we write.

 “And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you!, you are for you; your body is yours, take it” (Cixious 876).

“Write your self. Your body must be heard” (Cixious 880).

Write yourself into existence. Write on you, write you on paper, on walls, on canvas. Speak the language of watercolor and oils and HTML. Become the hypertext; you are the cyborg that is one and all.

Is this, the last form of the feminist, the end?

Dear god I hope not.

The moment we are “finished” with ourselves, we die internally.

It is not easy to be the Medusa, to refuse to be ashamed of those parts of us that we are demanded to shame. “To expose a problem, you pose a problem” (Ahmed 37). It is hard work and it is exhausting. All psyche-work is spiral-shaped. Sometimes you will come back around and need to re-disassemble yourself all over again. Sometimes you will need to forget how to be the Medusa. “No wonder feminist work is often about timing: sometimes we are too fragile to do this work; we cannot risk being shattered because we are not ready to put ourselves back together again. To get ready often means being prepared to be undone” (Ahmed 27). Sometimes we hibernate mid-spiral, sometimes we power forth. But each time around we come closer to being wholly comfortable as Medusa.

This is the gift we give to our friends and to the next generation: a template for becoming the Medusa and a community in which we can comfortably be gorgons together, doing our gorgon work together.

And then?

 “From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always” (Cixious 878).

We’ve come back from always.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. 2017.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Speaking in Tongues.” This Bridge Called My Back Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, SUNY Press, 2015.

Cixous, Hélène, et al. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, 1976, pp. 875–893.

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. 1st ed., New York, Ballantine Books, 1992.

Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. 1995.

L’Engle, Madeleine. The Genesis Trilogy. WaterBrook Press, 2001.

Philosophy, Political, Social Justice

In which the Universe sends me the most obvious message of all time

Over the weekend terrible things happened. And many people I know were devastated and angered. And they wondered where they would find the energy to fight darkness. I know I did. My life is hard. I am a single mom to two kids dealing with their own special needs. I am self-employed. I am a full time student. I struggle with depression and anxiety and numerous nebulous physical symptoms that leave me tired before I even begin to deal with my immediate responsibilities, let alone fighting injustice. My friends and I talked about this as we drove down to the vigil here Sunday night (“I’ll go if you go.” “Okay I’ll go if there’s coffee”). We all agree that we don’t have to attend every single event, we don’t have to do All the Things Every Time. But we also agree that it hurts not to. We are not sure how to balance that. t what point is it legitimate to not do An Important Thing, and at what point should we try to rally for one more rally?

I don’t have the answers.

But a funny thing happened at the vigil. It’s almost stupid it’s so blatantly obvious, but I swear I am not making this up.


We are standing there lifting our candles and singing “This little light of mine/I’m gonna let it shine” and my candle starts to go out. Just mine. Some small breeze wound through the crowd and hit my flame, but not the flames around mine. So I brought my little light down and sheltered it until it was strong again, and until the little breeze went away. When I lifted it up, it shone as strongly as those nearby. The Universe was reminding me how community works.


The estimation was that more than 1,000 people attended this vigil. Not every one held a flame, and sometimes our flames needed tending to, or went out entirely and needed to be refueled by a generous neighbor. But look at the crowd. Look at all those lights. They are working together and it is not obvious whose flame isn’t lit at this moment because, as a community, we are strong.


I still don’t know the answers. I don’t know where the line is between when I’m legitimately too tired and when I can push myself a little farther. I’m sure I’ll have to reassess every time. And I’m sure I’ll make mistakes sometimes, either pushing myself too far or not taking my turn when I can. But so long as we just do our best – our honest best – the community has got our backs.

Looking for ways to contribute? These links have some ideas.

5 Valuable ways to use your white privilege to fight anti-black racism

Women’s March: How to get involved

Get involved in the fight for black lives

How to fight white supremacy after Charlottesville

Children of Hoarders, Delving into the Psyche, I Own a Home. WTF?, Witchy



When my mom died and I had to clean up her house, her kitchen sink was clogged. We didn’t get to it right away because, frankly, a sink full of gross water was not a priority in that house. It took a few weeks to drain fully.

Later, as I was sorting through all her old papers, I came across a move out list from when we moved in 1989. This was the house we lived in when she fell apart. It was the worst of all her toxic waste (literally) and her hoarding. She fucked that place up. Once the toilet was broken for I don’t know how long. But we couldn’t call a plumber because of the state of the house. In the move out papers I found that she’d clogged that kitchen sink, too. And then I remembered her telling me that an old landlord of her in the 70’s had charged her for a broken garbage disposal when she moved out.

The woman had serious problems with draining, with letting shit GO. And this is metaphorical as well as literal. She was a hoarder with clogged sinks and grudges that were 30 years old. I feel like the clogged sinks were a desperate cry from the Universe to JUST LET IT GO, WOMAN.

When we first came to view this house, I could tell the woman who owned it at the time was a hoarder. She was clean, but her hallway shower was storage and that’s never a good sign in my experience. I don’t know how I find all the hoarders in the world, but I do, somehow.

Anyway, she put these stupid metal hair catchers in the bathroom sinks and they are forever getting clogged. She couldn’t let things drain, either.

I haven’t done anything about them in almost four years for a few reasons including not really knowing what to do (cause they were STUCK in there), being super busy in other, more important, areas, and, simply, being lazy tired. But today I yanked them out with jewelry tools because that is how I roll and I replaced them with cute little plastic cups from Daiso. I am so ready to let shit drain now. DRAIN AWAY, SHIT. BEGONE. (Certified witchy spell right there.)

I pulled a random goddess card for my altar last night and it was Ostara. Fertility. At first I almost burned it and ran away BECAUSE THIS UTERUS IS CLOSED FOR BUSINESS OKAY (despite the fact that it would have to be the son of god or some shit bc the vagina isn’t exactly a party zone either right now) but then I read the card and it can also apply to the fertility of art, creativity. I read that as: the goddess who motivates you. So, yes, I am choosing to tap into Ostara’s energy of motivation and creativity. I did a deep cleaning of the living room yesterday, pulling all the furniture out and doing battle with the sentient dust bunnies who have been trying to set up civilizations back there. I feel so much clearer in my head without al that dust. I feel so much lighter in my core now that my drains drain. Household cleaning is the same as soul-cleaning and I too often let it go because it feels too overwhelming, despite the fact that I know damn well how much better I’ll feel once I’ve just sucked it up and done it already.

These past few months have been filled with a lot – a lot – of psychological work, much of which has been the Universe’s way of forcing me to do the work of psychologically untangling myself from my mother. I spend so much time and energy worrying about whether I’m turning into her and apparently the Universe has decided it’s time to stop that bullshit and figure it out once and for all. So I’ve been tested by being put in triggering situations that mirror my own traumas and I’ve worked it out each time. When I used to knit more often, sometimes I’d have to untangle yarn. Sometimes I’d have to untangle a whole skein of yarn. I’d declare THE YARN NEVER WINS and it never did. I untangled it every time (except one time, but that was some of that fancy yarn with fringy stuff and so that doesn’t count). That’s what this felt like. I’d struggle with it, and then suddenly, I’d find the key knot and I’d feel it loosen and come undone. And just like that I was me and she was she. And – surprise! – turns out I’m not my mom.

It’s fitting that I’d finally get around to making my drains drain after all that. It was like closure on this chapter of the psyche work I’ve done recently (KNOCK WOOD, UNIVERSE, PLEASE NO MORE PSYCHE WORK FOR AWHILE OKAY). I untangled myself from the shit, and now I’m washing the shit away. Furthermore, I’ve worked to redo my drains in such a way that they won’t clog again. The little cups I’ve got in them are easier to clean, and semi-disposable. In the mean time I’m looking for a more permanent solution, but the point is that things are flowing away again. Just as they should be.

Delving into the Psyche, Political, Social Justice, Spirituality

Women’s March on Washington (San Diego), January 21, 2017


I am Pagan and I call myself a witch, but I don’t do spells. Not the usual spells Wiccans do, anyway, with an athame or crystals or candles. I’m simply not called to them in any way. I think I’m a little too Atheist for them to speak to me. I have a need to be grounded in a spirituality which is very tangible.

But last night I took sharpies and poster board and did magick with them. I sat with my friend Sofia and made all these signs. I think this is magick. When you create some kind of art, any kind, even if it’s just markers and poster board, you’re constantly thinking about what you are doing. This is a prayer. Knitting a baby blanket is like a prayer for that baby. It is mind work. It is magick. It is spellwork.


And then we took those signs and joined I-don’t-even-know-how-many other people on the streets of San Diego to show the world that we exist, that we are taking back our power, that we are here and not going anywhere. And we were answering the call of marchers on the other side of this country, this continent. And they were answered by marchers in countries around the world, on every continent, even Antarctica.


This is spellwork, this is magick, this is a prayer that we all, of every religion and culture, can do together. We raise our voices together and send messages of hope and power together. Of course it’s magickal; of course it’s prayer.

But it won’t fix anything, said my inner voice. It’s not enough.

Of course not. Prayer is not the world’s work. It’s the spirit’s work. As Bethany says, prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes the pray-er. We still have to make the phone calls. We still have to vote. We still have to be aware and educate ourselves. We still have to stay conscious.


But I came home today and, after napping for two solid hours, I watched a White House video and read some news stories without having to scroll past them before I could allow that horror, our new reality, to sink in. This sounds simple enough, but I’ve not been able to do it for weeks now. My mind’s eye is purposely not making eye contact with the concept of this new president, of his inauguration.

So that’s what the spell did: it gave me renewed strength. Where before I was too weak to do the work of the world that needs to be done, when surrounded by my sisters and brothers in that March today, and throughout the world, I was recharged. The spirit’s work lifts a person up to get the world’s work done.


This is spellwork. This is magick. This is prayer.