“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” by The Flaming Lips, and the Inevitability of Death

I used to have serious ambitions to achieve immortality, first by having my brain transplanted into a cloned body, and then eventually having the information in my brain uploaded into a computer. Basically, I had a severe case of thanatophobia. The music of The Flaming Lips, and this song in particular, helped me to eventually accept the inevitability of my own death.

On Therapeutic Writing, and Putting Hexakaidekaphobia in Remission

hexadeka

When my mother died, last November 16, I wrote an obituary for her, which I was then asked (unexpectedly) to read at her funeral, as one of two eulogies. This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but writing it did help me (somewhat) with the immediate problem I was having dealing with grief.

After the funeral, I felt numb much of the time, for months, until May 16 arrived — exactly six months after she died — at which point my tightly-controlled emotional state shattered, leaving me in worse shape (in some ways) than I was on, say, November 17 of last year. This was unexpected, and caused significant problems, including the development of monthly hexakaidekaphobia, a morbid dread and fear of the 16th day of every month. (The word is a modification of “triskaidekaphobia,” an irrational fear of the number thirteen).

June 16 was worse than May 16 — absolutely full of PTSD attacks. (I’ve had PTSD for most of my life; my mother’s death made it worse.) Fortunately, I don’t try to hide mental health problems, as I once did — I try to find the help I need, from physicians, to deal with such problems, and, when I find things that help me, I write about them. I also have long used recreational mathematics to help me feel better when depressed.

It was in this context that mid-July arrived. I went to sleep on July 15th with the knowledge that it was extremely important for me to find better coping mechanisms before the start of school in August. When I woke up on July 16, which could have been another horrific day of severe depression, anxiety, and other problems, I did not feel those negative emotions. This does not mean I had “gotten over” the facts that my mother did die, and that I miss her terribly. However, it did mean I was experiencing grief differently: I was feeling grief, rather than letting feelings of grief control me — and there is a huge difference between the two.

That morning, July 16, I knew what I needed to do as soon as I woke up: I needed to write. For me, that generally means blogging, and that’s what happened. This “therapeutic writing,” as I call it, was helpful enough on July 16 that I continued it the next day. When I next spoke to my doctors, I told them I was doing this, and why, and they agreed that such writing (like the “mathematical therapy” I have done for years) was an excellent, helpful activity. (This “check with professionals” step is essential, and I do not recommend attempting mental health therapy without the help of at least one licensed, qualified psychiatrist, and/or other type of therapist, such as a clinical psychologist.)

Of course, I could do this therapeutic writing in a spiral notebook, and keep it private; no writing has to go on the Internet. Why, then, do I choose to post such material where anyone can see it? I first explained why I blog about mental health issues in this post, but the short version is this: I hope that my openness on this subject can help reduce the social stigma which, unfortunately, still surrounds topics related mental health. This stigma is harmful because it keeps millions of people from seeking the professional help they need. I have also found it a personally liberating experience to come out of the “closet” on such issues, for, as with other metaphorical “closets,” it is the truth that closets are not good places for people to live their lives.

School starts on August 15 — only four days from now — and I’m going to do everything I can to make that day, the next day (the formerly-dreaded 16th of the month), and the rest of the days in the school year as good as they can possibly be for my students, as well as myself. I could tell I was on the right track when I decided to write about monthly hexakaidekaphobia early this morning, but in the past tense. Before I started writing, I “warmed up” by constructing the geometric art at the top of this post, which, if you examine carefully, you will see is based on — what else? — the number sixteen. In my case, at least, mathematical therapy and therapeutic writing go hand-in-hand, and this is what I am doing to try to leave my monthly hexakaidecaphobia in the past, where it belongs.

I still miss my mother. She was once, as I am, a science teacher, and was also involved in education in many other ways. She would want me to have good school days on August 16th, September 16th, and so on, as well as the days in-between — and, to properly honor her memory, and give my students the education they deserve, I am determined to do my best to do exactly that.

Goodbye, Mom

Mom's Dodecahedron

Soon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will run my mother’s obituary. However, it would not be right for me to allow the obituary they print to be her only one.

Mom’s name when she was born, on January 4, 1942, was Mina Jo Austin. Later, she was known professionally as Mina Marsh. However, I chose to legally change my last name to her maiden name, in 1989, after my parents divorced. I did this so that I could have a last name I associated only with my good parent, for I only had one — the one now in this hospice room with me, as I write this, with little time remaining to her.

This is an old photograph of her, and her two younger sisters, taken when my mother was a teenager.

IMG_1188

Her father, whom I knew (all too briefly) as “Daddy Buck,” taught her many things, very early in life, just as Mom did, much later, for me. He taught her about justice, and its opposite, using as one example of injustice the internment camps for Japanese-Americans which were then operating, here in Arkansas, when my mother was a little girl. Even in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and in complete disagreement with the masses, my grandfather thought it an obscenity that people had been herded into these camps simply because of their ethnicity, and, in a world where evil does exist, he decided his daughter needed to know about it. Only with knowledge of evil can one stand up to it, oppose it, and speak truth to it, even when that evil is mixed with power, as happens all too often. He instilled in her a strong sense of justice, and taught her courage, at the same time.

Mom started college at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, and demonstrated her courage, and refusal to tolerate injustice, there, during the 1960 presidential election campaign. The assembled students of Harding were told, in chapel, that it was their duty, as Christians, to go forth on election day, and cast their votes for Richard Nixon, because allowing John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, to become president would be a horrible, sinful thing to do. She found this offensive, in much the same way that her father had found America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans offensive during World War II. On principle, therefore, she withdrew from Harding, and transferred to the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville) to complete her college coursework. She also, later, left the denomination associated with Harding, eventually becoming a member of the Episcopal Church. I am grateful to her church here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the many comforts they have given her over the years. They even went so far as to raise the funds needed, in 2010, for her emergency transportation, by air, to a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where surgery was performed to save her from a rare adrenal-gland tumor called a pheochromocytoma. Without this help from them, her life would have been shortened by over five years.

Mom is survived by two children. I came along in 1968, and my sister (who had three children herself — my mother’s three grandchildren) was born the following year. Mom is also survived by three step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren. Mom began to teach both my sister and myself, as early as she could, what her father had taught her, early in life. Strangely enough, one of my earliest memories of her doing this also involved Richard Nixon, for the first news event I clearly remember seeing on television was Nixon’s 1974 resignation speech. At that young age, and with my parents clearly disgusted with America’s most disgraced president to date, I blurted forth, “I wish he was dead!” Mom wasn’t about to let that pass without comment, and did not. I remember the lesson she taught me quite well: there was nothing wrong with wishing for him to lose his position of power, as he was doing — but to wish for the man to die was to cross a line that should not be crossed. One was right; the other was wrong. It is my mother who taught me how to distinguish right from wrong. From this point forward, I now have a new reason to try, in every situation, to do the right thing: anything less would dishonor my mother’s memory.

It was around this time that my sister and I started school, and to say Mom was deeply involved in our experiences at school would be to understate the issue. In a conservative state where many schools openly (and illegally) do such insane things as teach young-earth Creationism in “science” classes, and anti-intellectualism is sometimes actually seen as a virtue, our entry into the school system was not unlike entering a battleground. At this time, education specifically designed for gifted and talented students simply did not exist in Arkansas. Mom had already had some teaching experience herself, although she had since moved on to other work. She was often appalled by the inane things that happened in our schools, when we were students, such as this from the fifth grade, and this (also from elementary school), and this especially-awful example from the seventh grade. Never one to tolerate injustice, Mom was deeply involved, from the beginning, in the formation of an organization called AGATE (Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education), which fought a long, uphill, but ultimately successful battle to bring special programs for the education of gifted and talented students into the public schools of our state. She did this for her own two children, true — I consider forcing someone (who already understands it) to “practice” long division, year after year, to be a form of torture, and she was trying to save me from such torture — but she also did it for thousands of other Arkansas students, and tens of thousands have since benefited from her work in this area.

mom

Mom was never content to fight in just one struggle at a time, for there is too much important work to do for such an approach. She was also a dedicated naturalist, a Master Gardener, and served as the Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission for 25 years, seeking ways to protect and preserve areas of natural beauty, and scientific significance, in our state. After retiring from that position, she later served on the board of directors of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, and also became the Development Director of the Ozark Natural Science Center.

My mother affected the lives of a great many people in her 73 years of life, including many who do not even know her name — but neither gaining credit, nor fame, was ever her goal. She will be deeply missed.

# # #

[About the rotating image: the picture of the banded agate, a reference to AGATE, the organization, on the faces of Mom’s dodecahedron, at the top of this post, came from here. The rotating dodecahedron itself, which the ancient Greeks associated with the heavens, was created using Stella 4d, software available at this website.]

Ebony Against Onyx, with Low Albedo, but High Ilumination

Dodeca icosa low albedo

This is the compound of the icosahedron and its dual, the dodecahedron. I made this rotating image using Stella 4d , which is available here.

When the Westboro Baptist Church Protests Leonard Nimoy’s Funeral, What Is the Appropriate Phaser Setting?

leonard-nimoy-westboro-baptist-church-665x385

I’ve been trying to determine the appropriate phaser setting for dealing with these people, and have decided to go with “heavy stun.”

Heavy stun is kinder than the WBC adults deserve, but some of those WBC people are infants and children, and they have a chance of throwing off their brainwashing as they grow up. I would not deny them that chance.

[Photo credit: This website is where I found this image. It’s a story about the WBC announcing their intent to protest Leonard Nimoy’s funeral.]

On Life, and Death, in the Marvel Comics Universe

o death

To write this, I did a lot of research, and had much help from friends. One of them, Craig Deaton, gave permission for his name to be used, but the others have not. I am grateful to them all.

This is a compilation of three lists, for purposes of comparison and analysis, and concerns life, death, being “unkilled,” then “re-killed” after being unkilled, and then, sometimes, being “re-unkilled,” and so on. In other words, the topic here is bad writing, and a terribly overused plot device. To (try to) keep this simple, I’m limiting this survey to the primary Marvel Comics universe, in which Earth is called, for reasons I do not understand, Earth-616. I started this yesterday, by simply posting some questions on Facebook, and watched, with growing amazement, as the information started pouring in.

The shortest of these lists includes only comic book characters who are currently dead, but whom I have high confidence Marvel will unkill, before too long.

  1. Wolverine, a/k/a James “Logan” Howlett
  2. Uatu, a/k/a The Watcher
  3. Charles Xavier, a/k/a Professor X

At least two of these characters (Wolverine and Professor X) have been killed, and then resurrrected, before, and I will be shocked if this process is not repeated, again (and again, and again, and again…).

The next list includes characters who have been killed, have actually remained dead, so far, and whose resurrections I do not (at least not fully) expect.

  1. The Abomination
  2. The Ancient One (associated with Dr. Strange)
  3. Hector Ayala, the Black, Hispanic, male version of the White Tiger, killed after Matt Murdock failed to secure his acquittal on a murder charge, of which Ayala was innocent
  4. Blink, of the X-Men
  5. Daken, son of Wolverine
  6. Jean DeWolf, a police detective who used to work with Spider-Man
  7. Dr. Doom’s mother
  8. Leland Drummond, a corrupt FBI man involved in “outing” Daredevil’s secret identity
  9. Richard Fisk, son of the Kingpin (Wilson Fisk)
  10. Flashback, a little-known mutant killed in a weird time-travel scenario created by his own superpowers
  11. Bill Foster, a/k/a Goliath, a/k/a Black Goliath
  12. Adolf Hitler, a/k/a Hate Monger (brought back from the dead, and then re-killed)
  13. Karen Page, the primary love interest of Matt Murdock’s (Daredevil’s) life
  14. Mar-Vell, a Kree warrior who went by the name “Captain Marvel”
  15. Microbe, of the New Warriors
  16. “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock, best-known as Daredevil’s father
  17. Namorita, of the New Warriors
  18. Night Thrasher, of the New Warriors
  19. Scott Perkins, a police officer whom Hector Ayala (see above) was falsely convicted of killing, despite Matt Murdock’s best efforts, as his lawyer, to secure Ayala’s acquittal
  20. Pyro, one of many foes of the X-Men, who was killed, brought back as a zombie, and then killed again
  21. Spider-Man’s father
  22. Spider-Man’s mother
  23. Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben
  24. Gwen Stacy, former girlfriend of Spider-Man
  25. Katherine Anne Summers, the mother of the mutants Cyclops, Havok, and Vulcan
  26. Turbo (the original one)
  27. The chain of unnamed criminals who first got Daredevil’s secret identity from Karen Page to Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of crime, and were then ordered killed by Fisk
  28. Numerous unnamed people who lack superpowers, and also lack connections to superheroes who are neither Daredevil, nor Spider-Man
  29. The unnamed woman whom Daredevil’s wife Milla, under the influence of mind control, pushed in front of an oncoming subway train, leading to Milla’s institutionalization
  30. At least one person affected by the Wendigo curse (killed by the Red Hulk)

What can we learn from the list above? Well, for one thing, characters in the Marvel Universe who have no superpowers should stay far away from both Daredevil and Spider-Man.

The last list, and easily the longest, includes characters who have recovered from death at least once, and are currently alive in this fictional universe — one where death obviously “has a very loose grip,” as one of my friends on Facebook phrased it.

  1. Bucky Barnes / The Winter Soldier, and, briefly, Captain America
  2. Bullseye
  3. Cannonball
  4. Captain America / Steve Rogers
  5. Colossus, of the X-Men
  6. Cyclops / Scott Summers, of the X-Men
  7. Cypher / Doug Ramsey, of the New Mutants
  8. Daredevil / Matt Murdock
  9. Darwin, of the X-Men
  10. Dead Girl (except that she’s still sort of dead, being, after all, Dead Girl)
  11. Elektra
  12. Firebrand
  13. Vanessa Fisk, estranged wife of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin
  14. Galactus
  15. Jean Grey (not exactly the same as Phoenix)
  16. The Grim Reaper (brother of Wonder Man)
  17. Havok / Alex Summers
  18. Hawkeye / Clint Barton / Ronin
  19. The Human Torch (original android version)
  20. Loki, Norse God of Mischief
  21. Longshot, of the X-Men
  22. Moira McTaggert, friend of the X-Men
  23. Mockingbird, ex-wife of Hawkeye
  24. Mysterio / Quintin Beck
  25. Nightcrawler, of the X-Men
  26. The Owl / Leland Owlsley
  27. Petra, of the X-Men
  28. Phoenix (not exactly the same as Jean Grey)
  29. Agent Preston
  30. Kathryn “Kitty” Pryde, of the X-Men
  31. Madelyne Pryor, estranged wife of Cyclops / Scott Summers
  32. Psylocke, of the X-Men
  33. The Punisher / Frank Castle
  34. The Red Skull
  35. Rogue, of the X-Men
  36. The Sentry
  37. Speed, of the Young Avengers
  38. Spider-Man / Peter Parker
  39. Spider-Man’s Aunt May
  40. Spider-Man’s clone
  41. Storm / Ororo Munroe, of the X-Men
  42. Hope Summers, of the X-Men
  43. Sway, of the X-Men
  44. Tarot
  45. The Thing / Benjamin Grimm
  46. Thunderbird, of the X-Men
  47. Toro, the original (android) version of the Human Torch
  48. Trickshot
  49. The Vision
  50. Vulcan, of the X-Men (brother of Cyclops and Havok)
  51. Wiccan, of the Young Avengers
  52. Wonder Man
  53. Wong, associated with Dr. Strange
  54. Zzzax

It is clear that the most effective way to cheat death, in the Marvel Universe, is simply to be one of the X-Men. Are there more characters who should be on this list? Yes, but we all got tired after several hours of this, and moved on to other things.

Seriously, though, Marvel needs to stop doing this.

However . . . they won’t.