A Peek Backwards, as Far Back as Possible

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Never before have I deliberately tried to recall my earliest memories. This morning, however, simply to see what might happen, I tried it. In my imagination, I returned to further back than I ever had gone before, to a period before I learned to communicate. In this early period, I could visualize things, with the imagery which appeared being geometric in nature. Later, I had to learn English, as a second language, to express the mathematical ideas in my head. My first word, according to my parents, described one of the two shining round things in the sky: “Moon.” I have always preferred moonlight to sunlight, for the intensity of direct sunlight is painful to me.

At least, that’s how I remember these things; I could be wrong about the earliest parts. All I know is that the image above popped into my head, when I tried to recall my oldest accessible memory. I then made the image above, in a short period of time, using Stella 4d, Polyhedron Navigator, available to try for free at this website. (I’ve used the program for over a decade, and find it an indispensable tool for geometrical investigations, such as this recreation of what I found in this morning’s early-memory-search.)

Daredevil Fan-Fiction: Why Did Matt Murdock’s Mother Leave His Father?

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I will start with an introduction, to set the context of this story.

In the issue of Superior Iron Man shown above (#4, published in 2015), Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man (having had a “moral inversion,” or good/evil reversal), is the villain of the story, while Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil, is the hero. It isn’t a typical comic book, for, in this story, the bad guy wins. Stark uses advanced technology to overpower Murdock, and then this happens, near the end of the issue.

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In the next panel, Matt wakes up, in a hospital, with no memories of the conflict with Stark.

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It is important to note that, earlier in this multi-issue story, which begins in Superior Iron Man #1, Stark restores Murdock’s ability to see. Realizing that the price of this is far too high, Murdock deliberately shuns this “gift” from Stark, and voluntarily allows his blindness to return.

Now that the stage is set, on to the fan-fiction, which takes place, mostly, in the mind of Matthew Murdock, who is also an attorney, in-between the two panels shown above.

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Matt Murdock was blinded in a childhood accident, so he is used to darkness — but the darkness now enveloping him is far emptier than usual. His enhanced senses are gone. Hearing nothing, smelling nothing, tasting nothing, feeling nothing, and his “radar-sense” gone, he is now blind — really blind. Deprived of all sensory input, he also has no idea what is going on. However, he can think, and can also remember.

The first thing he remembers is a single name: STARK!

That name triggers a recent memory: the brief, recent period where one of Tony Stark’s inventions restored his sight. For a time — an unknown amount of time — he simply watches, as if watching a TV show, the things he saw during this short time. The show plays itself out, as if on a large screen. His anger at Stark forgotten, Matt watches the show of his recent memories, as one might passively watch a movie. He feels he is floating, in a void, as he watches. As this “movie” plays, there is a sudden freeze-frame: the pictures stop moving. Context is immediately forgotten. All he sees is a single image, which is what he happened to be looking at when the “movie” of his recent memories was suddenly, and unexpectedly, put on “pause.”

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A jar of peanut butter? Why did the images freeze at this spot? What’s going on? Did I see this in a store? Did I see it in my home? Where did I . . . ?

Daredevil is popularly-known as “The Man Without Fear,” but he’s always known that this description is inaccurate. For example, he fears the possibility of those he loves getting injured, or killed, by any of his numerous enemies, because of his exploits as a costumed hero — for that has already happened to him, more than once. He also realizes that he fears something else, but only if he sees it: peanut butter.

Peanut butter? Why that, of all things?

An earlier, strongly-repressed, memory then surfaces, and a great many things fall painfully into place for Matthew Murdock.

Oh, no . . . anything but this . . . . 

He is no longer seeing recalled memories from a few days ago, but from early childhood — before the accident that blinded him. He was very young, had a bad head cold, and could smell nothing, explaining why the smell of peanut butter never triggered this memory before.

Young Matthew looks around. He sees the kitchen of his childhood home. His parents, Jack and Margaret Murdock, are still together. He is wearing the clothes of a toddler, because that is what he was at this time. He’s on top of a counter in the kitchen, having climbed up there, using chairs to make a crude “staircase.” And there, on the floor, is a five-pound jar of peanut butter, surrounded by shards of broken glass. 

Matt, as a toddler, had only been looking for some cookies. He had not meant to knock his father’s gigantic glass jar of peanut butter off the counter, but the deed was done. The jar was broken, and could not be unbroken. There was broken glass in the peanut butter now; it could not safely be eaten. His family didn’t have much money, for his father’s career as a professional boxer was going nowhere, and his mother only made a little money, at the elementary school down the street, working as a substitute teacher. “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock, whom the adult Matt Murdock had idolized for years, was eating as much peanut butter as he could, simply to gain weight, and protein, in the hopes that this would, somehow, make him a better boxer.

The crash of the glass jar hitting the floor echoed throughout the family’s small Hell’s Kitchen apartment. With his earliest memories now unlocked, he knew what was coming next. Matt tried desperately to stop the memory-playback.

He failed, and his mind filled with fear.

Loud footsteps . . . Dad? No! Please, please don’t . . . I don’t need to see this happen again . . . not again . . . . never again . . . .

“MATT!” His father had just burst into the room, having heard the crash. He saw the broken jar of peanut butter on the floor. His son started to cry, afraid of what he knew, in hindsight, was about to happen. “You clumsy little %$#@! Do you have any idea how much that jar COST me?” An incoherent, deep-voiced, roar of rage followed — and the noise from his father seemed louder than anything the adult Murdock had ever heard, even from his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, and even with his enhanced senses taken into account.

Matt’s father, already drunk, in the middle of the afternoon, kept yelling at his son: “I’ll KILL you for this, you worthless little son of a &*%$#!!”

And, with that, the enraged “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock grabbed his only son, by both shoulders, with his son facing him, and started shaking him as hard as he could. Young Matt’s head flopped back and forth, rapidly, just like a worn-out rag doll. Matt heard a sharp “crack!” sound from one of the bones in his neck. The shaking continued.

The adult Matt Murdock then remembered a legal case he had refused to take, over ten years earlier, defending a man who was then put on trial for murdering his son via shaken baby syndrome, which can kill children up to the age of three. Later, he learned the man had not only been convicted, but eventually put to death — the last legal execution in the state of New York, for killing his 2½-year-old son . He remembered smiling when he learned of this, but had not known, at the time, why this news had made him happy.

Now, all at once, he knew.

Luckily for Matt, the toddler, help was on the way. School had been dismissed, and his mother, Margaret Murdock, was just arriving home. She walked in on the most horrible scene she had ever witnessed: her husband attacking their only child.

She didn’t hesitate, and had, fortunately for her young son, entered the apartment unseen by “Battlin’ Jack.” She ran at her husband, a trained boxer, jumped onto his back, and began clawing at her husband’s face with every ounce of strength she could find, screaming as she did so. Not only that, but it worked — she saved her son’s life. 

“You rotten little %$#@*! This is all YOUR fault!” She had saved Matt, but only by getting her husband to redirect his fury at the only other target available — herself. This was not the first time Jack Murdock had beaten his wife, but it was the worst beating she ever took from him, and it was also the last such beating.

This was the last time Matt Murdock ever saw his mother — and, until many years later, as an adult, this was also the last time Matt heard her voice. Unknown to her son, or her monster of a husband, she escaped, to a shelter for battered women at a nearby church, but was unable to take young Matthew with her — her husband changed the locks after she left, and she was not able to gain access to him, in order to rescue him. She did, however, make contact with a friend who worked with New York’s Child Protective Services agency, and begged her friend for her help. She was (incorrectly, she later found out) told that, with no hard evidence available, there was no point in calling the police: an arrest of Jack Murdock would be, she was informed, impossible. However, she did convince her friend to have CPS keep an eye on the situation, for years, in order to ensure her son’s safety.

The toddler Matt, of course, knew none of this. In fact, even as an adult, he never did find out about the CPS-monitoring which his mother had arranged, for his protection.

As his mother was savagely beaten, young Matt laid limp, on the floor, his neck forming a very odd-looking angle, as the result of the trauma he had suffered. He could not move, nor could he speak, for he was in shock for over an hour. He could, however, see and hear. He heard his mother crying, and screaming, as her husband continued to beat her. He saw two of his mother’s bloody teeth fly across his field of vision. He heard some of her bones break, but could not turn his head to see which ones the monster of their lives had broken. He saw a calendar on the wall, and his adult self did the math, and figured out how old he had been when this happened: two and a half years old.

This was now Matt Murdock’s earliest memory — but not for long. The weapon Tony Stark had designed, built, and used against him was programmed to seek out (and record) a person’s most traumatic, but still repressed, memory, and then force them to relive it, vividly, and, next, allow that person to suppress the memory once again — and then keep going, wiping out all memories for several days before the device was activated. When Matt Murdock awoke in the hospital, he remembered nothing about either the conflict with Stark, or with his father. However, Tony Stark examined the recorded data about Murdock’s childhood, and filed it away, in case he ever decides to use it. And, of course, Matt Murdock’s earliest memory is not gone, but merely repressed. If Stark’s technology ever fails, which is certainly possible, these memories could always come back.

Tony Stark now understands Matt Murdock’s prime motivation for putting on a devil costume (despite the fact that he is Catholic), going out almost every night, and selectively beating only those people who seriously deserve to be beaten, and Stark enjoys knowing that he is the only person in the world with this information, to use however he sees fit, at any time.

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CREDITS

I took the picture of the jar of peanut butter myself. All other images in this post are from Superior Iron Man #4, published by Marvel Comics, written by Tom Taylor, penciled by Yildiray Cinar, and with cover art created by Mike Choi. For other credits, I refer you to this comic book.

The “fuzziness” of the comic book images is deliberate, and done with the intent of avoiding copyright infringement, while leaving the dialogue readable.

While writing this short story, I made every effort to keep it consistent with the decades-long story of Matt Murdock / Daredevil, a work which has involved dozens of talented people. Without their work to build on, I could not have written this story.

The information in this story regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome is factual, as of the date of publication. A search of medical sources with Google will reveal that it does kill large numbers of babies, as well as children up to age three. Everyone needs to know this: shaking can kill babies and children. In this story, Matt Murdock survived. In real life, the author of this story survived; it is my earliest clear memory. Not everyone lives: 25% of us die, and of those who survive, 80% have to deal with permanent damage.

Obviously, I’m among those who survived, but I’m also among the 80% of survivors with permanent damage. PTSD doesn’t just “wear off” once you get it, either . . . or at least, I haven’t found a cure for mine yet.

How I Hit My Personal Mathematical Wall: Integral Calculus

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To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I have written publicly on the subject of calculus. The fundamental reason for this, explained in detail below, is something I rarely experience: embarrassment.

Unless this is the first time you’ve read my blog, you already know I like mathematics. If you’re a regular follower, you know that I take this to certain extremes. My current conjecture is that my original motivation to learn how to speak, read, and write, before beginning formal schooling, was that I had a toddler-headful of mathematical ideas, no way to express them (yet), and learned to use English in order to change that. Once I could understand what others were saying, read what others had written, write things down, and speak in sentences, I noticed quickly that interaction with other people made it possible to bounce mathematical ideas around, using language — which helped me to develop and expand those mathematical ideas more quickly. Once I started talking about math, as anyone who knows me well can verify, I never learned how to shut up on the subject for longer than ten waking hours at a time.

A huge part of the appeal of mathematics was that I didn’t have to memorize anything to do it, or learn it. To me, it was simply one obvious concept at a time, with one exposure needed to “get it,” and remember it as an understood concept, rather than a memorized fact. (Those math teachers of mine who required lots of practice, over stuff I already knew, did not find me easy to deal with, for I hated being forced to do that unnecessary-for-me chore, and wasn’t shy about voicing that dislike to anyone and everyone within hearing range, regardless of the situation or setting. The worst of this, K-12, was long division, especially the third year in a row that efforts were made to “teach” me this procedure I had already learned, on one specific day, outside school, years earlier.) It might seem like I have memorized certain things, such as, say, the quadratic formula, but I never actually tried to — this formula just “stuck” in my mind, from doing lots of physics problems, of different types, which required it. Similarly, I learned the molar masses of many commonly-encountered elements by repeatedly using them to show students how to solve problems in chemistry, but at no time did I make a deliberate attempt to memorize any of them. If I don’t try to memorize something, but it ends up in memory anyway, that doesn’t count towards my extremely-low “I hate memorizing things” threshhold.

When I first studied calculus, this changed. Through repeated, forced exposure in A.P. Calculus class my senior year of high school, with a teacher I didn’t care for, I still learned a few things that stuck: how to find the derivative of a polynomial, the fact that a derivative gives you the slope a function, and the fact that its inverse function, integration, yields the area under the curve of a function. After I entered college, I then landed in Calculus I my freshman year. Unbeknownst to me, I was approaching a mental wall.

My college Cal I class met early in the morning, covered material I had already learned in high school, and was taught by an incomprehensible, but brilliant, Russian who was still learning English. Foreign languages were uninteresting to me then (due to the large amount of memorization required to learn them), and I very quickly devised a coping strategy for this. It involved attending class as infrequently as possible, but still earning the points needed for an “A,” by asking classmates when quizzes or tests had been announced, and only waking up for class on those mornings, to go collect the points needed for the grade I wanted.

This was in 1985-86, before attendance policies became common for college classes, and so this worked: I got my “A” for Cal I. “That was easy,” I thought, when I got my final grade, “so, on to the next class!”

I did a lot of stupid things my freshman year of college, as is typical for college freshmen around the world, ever since the invention of college. One of these stupid things was attempting to use the same approach to Calculus II, from another professor. About 60% of the way through that course, I found myself in a situation I was not used to: I realized I was failing the class.

Not wanting an “F,” I started to attend class, realizing I needed to do this in order to pass Cal II, which focuses on integral calculus. A test was coming up. In class, the professor handed out a sheet of integration formulas, and told us to memorize them.

Memorize them.

I read the sheet of integration formulas, hoping to find patterns that would let me learn them my way, rather than using brute-force memorization-by-drill. Since I had been skipping class, I saw no such patterns. All of a sudden, I realized I was in a new situation, for me: mathematics suddenly was not fun anymore. My “figure it out on the fly” method, which is based on understanding, rather than memorization, had stopped working.

A few weeks and a failed test later, I began to doubt I would pass, and tried to drop the class. This is how I learned of the existence of drop dates for college classes, but I learned it too late: I was already past the drop date.

I did not want an F, especially in a math class. Out of other options, I started drilling and memorizing, hated every minute of it, but did manage to bring my grade up — to the only “D” I have on any college transcript. Disgusted by this experience, I ended up dropping out of college, dropped back in later, dropped out again, re-dropped back in at a different university, and ended up changing my major to history, before finally completing my B.A. in “only” seven years. I didn’t take another math class until after attempting to do student teaching, post-graduation . . . in social studies, with my primary way of explaining anything being to reduce it to an equation, since equations make sense. This did not go well, so, while working on an M.A. (also in history) at a third college, I took lots of science and math classes, on the side, to add additional teaching-certification areas in subjects where using equations to explain things is far more appropriate, and effective. This required taking more classes full of stuff I already knew, such as College Algebra and Trigonometry, so I took them by correspondence (to avoid having to endure lectures over things I already knew), back in the days when this required the use of lots of postage stamps — but no memorization. To this day, I would rather pay for a hundred postage stamps than deliberately memorize something.

In case you’re wondering how a teacher can function like this, I will explain. Take, for example, the issue of knowing students’ names. Is this important? Yes! For teaching high school students, learning the names of every student is absolutely essential, as was quite evident from student teaching. However, I do this important task by learning something else about each student — how they prefer to learn, for example, or something they intensely like, or dislike — at which point memorization of the student’s name becomes automatic for me. It’s only conscious, deliberate memorization-by-drill that bothers me, not “auto-memorization,” also known as actually understanding something, or, in the case of any student, learning something about someone.

I don’t know exactly why my to-this-point “wall” in mathematics appeared before me at this point, but at least I know I am in good company. Archimedes knew nothing of integral calculus, nor did his contemporaries, for it took roughly two millennia longer before Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz discovered this branch of mathematics, independently, at roughly the same time.

However, now, in my 21st year as a teacher, I have now hit another wall, and it’s in physics, another subject I find fascinating. Until I learn more calculus, I now realize I can’t learn much more physics . . . and I want to learn more physics, for the simple reason that it is the only way to understand the way the universe works, at a fundamental level — and, like all people, I am trapped in the universe for my entire life, so, naturally I want to understand it, to the extent that I can. (A mystery to me: why isn’t this true for everyone else? We’re all trapped here!) Therefore, I now have a new motivation to learn calculus. However, I want to do this with as much real understanding as possible, and as little deliberate memorization as possible, and that will require a different approach than my failed pre-20th-birthday attempt to learn calculus.

I think I need exactly one thing, to help me over this decades-old wall: a book I can read to help me teach myself calculus, but not a typical textbook. The typical mathematics textbook takes a drill-and-practice approach, and what I need is a book that, instead, will show me exactly how various calculus skills apply to physics, or, failing that, to geometry, my favorite branch of mathematics, by far. If any reader of this post knows of such a book, please leave its title and author in a comment. I’ll then buy the book, and take it from there.

One thing I do not know is the extent to which all of this is related to Asperger’s Syndrome, for I was in my 40s when I discovered I am an “Aspie,” and it is a subject I am still studying, along with the rest of the autism spectrum. One thing Aspies have in common is a strong tendency to develop what we, and those who study us, call “special interests,” such as my obsession with polyhedra, evident all over this blog. What Aspies do not share is the identity of these special interests. Poll a hundred random Aspies, and only a minority will have a strong interest in mathematics — the others have special interests in completely different fields. One thing we have in common, though, is that the way we think (and learn) is extremely different from the ways non-Aspies think and learn. The world’s Aspie-population is currently growing at a phenomenal rate, for reasons which have, so far, eluded explanation. The fact that this is a recent development explains why it remains, so far, an unsolved mystery. One of things which is known, however, is the fact that our status as a rapidly-growing population is making it more important, by the day, for these differences to be studied, and better understood, as quickly as the speed of research will allow, in at least two fields: medicine, and education.

Only one thing has fundamentally changed about me, regarding calculus, in nearly 30 years: I now want to get to the other side of this wall, which I now realize I created for myself, when I was much younger. I am also optimistic I will succeed, for nothing helps anyone learn anything more than actually wanting to learn it, no matter who the learner is, or what they are learning. In this one respect, I now realize, I am no different than anyone else, Aspie or non-Aspie. We are all, after all, human beings.

“Strong Grape Juice”

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My earliest memory of a church service involves a trip to visit relatives, and I started discovering how different from others I was at a very young age. This is one of the episodes which played a major role in that discovery.

I was only four of five years old, and had already developed an intense hatred of being bored. Ignoring the sermon seemed like an even more boring prospect that actually paying attention to it, so I consciously chose the latter, which I’ve observed is often not the choice young children make.

This church’s denomination is one of those that teaches that drinking alcohol is sinful. They are also Biblical literalists. This, of course, poses a problem, for there is a lot of drinking of wine to be found in the Bible. This preacher didn’t avoid the contradiction, though. His task, that Sunday morning, was to deal with it head-on, and he did so with the following claim: when Jesus, his disciples, and numerous other people from the Bible are described as drinking wine, that wine actually contained no alcohol. It was not wine as we know it today. It was, rather, merely “strong grape juice.” Those were his exact words.

Even at that young age, I had already started working on building, in my own mind, the best crap detector I could possibly create. (Improving it is still something I work on today.) I didn’t yet realize that real wine would be far safer, before refrigeration existed, than grape juice, simply because alcohol, at the concentrations found in wine, kills lots of disease-causing bacteria. However, that morning, I had learned enough to instantly recognize this “strong grape juice” claim as absolute crap.

Dismissing the preacher as not worthy of further attention, I stood up in our pew, and turned around to face the back of the church. We were sitting near the front, so this let me see most of the congregation. I didn’t need to speak to them — I just wanted to look at them. I remember being stunned by what I saw. Nearly everyone appeared quite attentive to the sermon. Some mouths were half-open, and numerous heads were nodding in agreement with the preacher’s droning nonsense. I figured it out: they were actually accepting what this man was saying as the truth, and were doing so without question! They believed him! At first, I felt dizzy, and then, later, I felt sick. The more I thought about the experience, the worse I felt, and I could think about nothing else for a long time after that church service finally ended.

I’d been exposed to religion many times before, but it always seemed to me that adults didn’t really believe what they were saying, any more than when they told children my age about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. At that moment, though, I realized I had been mistaken. This was no act. These people, in that church that day, actually believed what they were told. Why? I didn’t know. I still don’t. If that man told them that two plus two equals six, would they believe that? I suspected they would.

I was surrounded by a herd of sheep. That moment of clarity, when I realized this fact, scared me. It made me wonder, and not for the last nor first time, if I had been secretly planted on earth by aliens, as a baby, and without a guidebook.

This is only one of many experiences that convinced me of the importance of skepticism.
The fact that it is so clear, in my memory, leads me to think it was one of the more important of those experiences. It cemented, in my mind, a scary truth: the world is infested with large numbers of incredibly gullible, deluded people. They weren’t like me. I didn’t understand them. They were everywhere. I wasn’t anything like them, and didn’t want to be, either. I was, however, stuck here with them.

I was stranded on the wrong planet, with no prospect for escape, any time soon. That was over forty years ago, and I’m still here.

Issues of Control

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Issues of Control

There’s a common phrase which has been said to me many times — often enough, in fact, that I sometimes now find it amusing when I hear it. You’ve probably heard it, also, or perhaps have said it to other people, yourself: “You have control issues.”

I sometimes wonder why anyone would feel the need to point this out to me. It’s something that is so blindingly obvious, to myself, and to all who know me well, that it really doesn’t even need to be said. My usual response, the last few years, has been the following: “Control issues? I don’t merely have control issues. I’ve got a lifetime subscription.”

The painting at the top of this post was a self-portrait I painted many years ago, while still struggling with (metaphorical) inner “demons” that bother me much less now, compared to how I was even a few years ago, at a time when my mental health was far more precarious.

Am I, to use an informal term for it, a “control freak?” Well, yes, I am — but not of the common variety. I’ve discerned that there are two very different types of control freak in existence, and have labeled them, simply, as type I and type II control freaks. I’m of the second type, but the first type is far more common.

Type I control freaks, as I define them, put a lot of time and energy into controlling other people, or at least trying to do so. I see such people as insecure, on an unconscious level, and suspect they have a strong drive to force their will on others, simply as a way to help them feel more secure about themselves. Such people are extremely unpleasant for me to be around, and I avoid them whenever I can. When forced to be around them, conflict is common.

Type II control freaks are very different from those of the first type. They — or, rather, we — have no particular urge to control other people. We do, however, still have very strong issues related to control, and, yes, this can cause problems at times.

(As an aside, I should explain my use of the word “freak,” since some people find that word offensive. It’s a word I’ve applied to myself since childhood. I don’t ever use this word as an insult. If I call someone “normal,” though, that’s another matter. “Normal” is a word I do use, when I use it, as an insult — a synonym for such terms as “boring,” “ordinary,” or “typical.” The idea of being normal is, to me, horrifying in the extreme — and to be a “freak” is, of course, the exact opposite.)

So what’s up with these people I call type II control freaks? In short, what’s our problem, and how do we differ from control freaks of the more common variety? Well, in my case (and that of others like me, I suspect), we were subjected, when very young, to extreme amounts of manipulative, controlling behavior by others — to such an extreme degree that we are now hypersensitive to any real (or perceived) efforts to control us. In my case, this overly-controlling person — the overwhelming monster of my childhood — was my father, deceased since mid-2010, and, at least by me, completely unmourned. When I painted the painting above, he was still alive. Now that he is gone, and can, therefore, never harm another person, the chains depicted in this painting have, after many decades, finally been broken, even though I still have to deal with lingering PTSD, and likely always will, because of the trauma he inflicted on me in childhood. (The difference is that, now, I simply have to deal with the fact that I used to be “chained up,” and cope with the resulting memories, whereas, before he died, the chains were still “on,” even though we were estranged for many years.) Hearing the news of his death was, quite possibly, the most liberating moment of my life.

Type II control freaks have no need to control others — we simply have an overwhelming need to keep others from controlling us. We are lovers of freedom and liberty, and need it almost as intensely as all humans need oxygen. At least in my case, I can’t even stand to see the first type of control freak in action, against another, without feeling an overwhelming urge to do almost anything in my power to stop them.

I have no qualms about being, and openly admitting to being, a control freak of the second type. It’s simply a part of who I am. There are certainly less healthy ways to react to childhood trauma, after all — such as when someone turns into the same type of monster that terrorized him or her in the first place, thus perpetuating a multi-generational cycle which is unhealthy in the extreme.

As for the type I control freaks, I am unable to feel any sympathy for them. They victimize others whenever they can. They’re bullies. They need to be opposed, and they need to be stopped. They are, in a word, evil — and that’s not a word I use often, nor one I use lightly.

I’m a permanent part of the resistance to such people, and have no reservations about this. If it were in my power to change this part of who I am — and it isn’t, anyway — I certainly would not choose to do so.

Every American Who Is Old Enough Remembers 9/11/2001

Here’s the main thing I remember about that day. I was teaching 9th graders when the attacks occurred.

Student, 12 years ago today: “Mr Austin! Mr. Austin! Turn on the TV! Someone just flew an airplane into the World Trader Center!”

Me: “Yeah, RIGHT.” I was finally convinced to turn it on — just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.

I don’t think I’ll ever live THAT one down. I had to spend the rest of the workday trying to reassure my students that Mayflower, Arkansas had zero strategic importance, and that they could relax about their fears of their small town being the next target. This was not easy.

The boiling anger set in after I no longer had to take care of students, and remained with me for days. Many (or most) Americans experienced this same emotion.

On Writing Treaties with Memory

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Writing a Treaty with Memory

At an age of four years or so, my favorite song was Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer,” which I had not listened to in a very long time, until this morning. I still remember the lyrics well, and was singing along with the song. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, here it is:

Everything was fine, until I found myself singing this part of the song: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him ’till he cried out, in his anger and his shame — I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”

I made it to the words “his anger and his” — before literally choking on the word “shame.” Music is a powerful tool for evoking memories, I now realize, and sometimes that can be dangerous.

I choked because some horrific, repressed memory was brought close to the surface of my consciousness by this part of the song.

Despite the picture here of “The Man Without Fear,” fear is not something I lack. However, these days, I almost never fear that which is right in front of me. I can face down bullies, and other tyrants, in my present life, especially if people I care about are threatened, and now I have a better understanding of the reasons for this: such present threats are as nothing, when compared to the horrors I now only half-remember from when I was very young. The parts I do not remember at all are blank spaces for which I am grateful, for those are memories I do not need.

What exact memory did this song dredge up, from the depths of my own unconscious? I can’t tell you that, because I simply don’t know the details. I do know that this part of that song — or, rather, my reaction to it — instantly dropped me into a nearly-comatose state for the better part of an hour, and prompted me, in that state, to do an emergency-rewrite of the software installed in my brain, re-submerging the memories that had nearly surfaced. I then wrote, and proceeded to install — yes, I view my own brain as a computer, which it is — new safety protocols to protect myself from such problems in the future. This is by no means the only time something like this has happened, and I am tired of being temporarily disabled by such events.

These new safety subroutines were written to recognize repressed memories that are in the process of surfacing, before panic sets in, but they don’t simply push them back down, as previous versions have attempted, with limited success. Instead, they break off a small, invisible piece of mind which can operate independently of, and simultaneously with, my primary consciousness. Internally, it “sits down” with the dangerous memory in question, and has a conversation with it, calming myself down without medication, until the past can be safely left in the past, where it belongs. The process leaves me tired, and the scars of memory are, of course, still there, just as Matt Murdock’s/Daredevil’s scars are visible, in the picture above. These memory-scars will exist as long as I do. However, a scar is nothing but a wound that no longer hurts, and has been healed by the passage of time, to the point where it no longer has to be dangerous. The job of my newly-installed subroutine isn’t simply to repress memories, but to actually write treaties with them, something I had never attempted before today. It was necessary. I didn’t fully leave this semi-comatose state until a treaty with this particular memory had been both written and implemented.

After emerging back into full consciousness, I tested my new software-patch — by listening to, and singing along with, “The Boxer,” more than once. I was able to do this without incident, which tells me my efforts were successful.

My new self-programming will be further analyzed, and debugged, when I next sleep. If necessary, it will be re-written altogether. I do this every time I sleep, a technique which took me decades to develop, but which has increased my ability to adapt to whatever life demands of me — in the present, in the future, and when dealing with my memories of the past, whether those memories are fully accessible, or not.

Everyone may do this sort of thing, although few are aware of it. This might be an undiscovered purpose of sleep — or it might not. Whether all people do this, or not, I am aware that I do it, and know that these metacognitive techniques are helping me get better.

I like getting better.