Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I have synesthesia. Synesthesia, according to the greatest resource of all time (wikipedia), "is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."

For me, this means several different things. When I see numbers and letters, a color is strongly associated with them. An "A" for example, is a violet red, but with only a hint of the violet. I took a test by bbc and they gave certain colors options, and I couldn't find the color that most of the letters should be, so I was really frustrated. I might make an alphabet with all the right colors, because I get really annoyed with pictures or magnets with the wrong colors.

Some are more acceptable than others. An orange 5 is more acceptable than a blue 5, even though it really is yellow. I get really annoyed at blue As. I'm used to all of them being black, but sometimes I see the colors anyway, even if they are in black.

I also feel tastes. This one is the funnest, but hardest to articulate. How do you explain that cows milk tastes like a log on your molars but soy milk tastes like dipping your toe in a bath on the tip of your tongue? Or that cucumbers taste like a sharp wave on your upper gums but celery tastes like a firework on your tongue?

Most people look at my like I'm crazy but some people get it. To one of my friends, a certain soup tastes green but it should taste brown. Not everything has a strong feel to it. Chocolate, for example, feels like chocolate melting over my whole mouth. Popcorn feels vaguely like a glacier along my inner gums, but mostly I just taste the flavor of popcorn. Not so remarkable. Interestingly, tomatoes feel the same as chocolate but back farther in my mouth.

I taste the flavors too, and I can ignore the feeling just as much as I can ignore the flavor. The feel of vodka, for example, is fairly pleasant even though the taste is awful. Gin feels and tastes awful. It feels like there's a thin rubber layer inside my mouth and it's being pulled out from the back, inverting on itself.

Lastly, I can somewhat feel sounds. Like, I can feel a tingle along my middle back when I hear a violin playing, or a tingle in my upper abdomen when I hear a tuba. Usually it's more the tones and notes I hear than the instrument, but certain instruments I feel more strongly than others. People's voices do it, too. I have a professor whose voice tingles my lower ribs, and another who tingles my collarbone. I am not sure why, and usually my own pre-existing opinions determines if I like the feeling or not. For example, the upper abdomen tuba-induced tingling is usually because when there's tense music playing, I don't really feel happy (during a movie, for example), so that tingling usually makes me feel anxious, even when it's happy polka music.

Anyway, that is how synesthesia works in my body. I'm sure it's different for many people, and it will probably change over my lifetime. I remember when I was a kid, I would see the words that people said aloud, like it was typed in a book, but that doesn't happen anymore. Won't it be fun when the dementia starts when I'm old? Who knows what happens then?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Righteous Dopefiend

I am usually not profoundly impacted by most of the books I read for school. Some of them have made an impact (like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, or Mountains Beyond Mountains) in how I understand the world and how I want to interact with it. The book Righteous Dopefiend is one of those books.

It's an honest photo-ethnography of homeless heroin addicts in San Francisco. What I have taken away from it the most is the fact that I/we ignore people whose lives are truly miserable by rolling up the windows when we drive by the homeless guy on the side of the road and looking at everything except the beggar on the sidewalk. How cruel are we?

Ethics and the Righteous Lumpen

We share so much of our society with our lumpen dopefiends than we care to admit. We live in the same cities, we have the same people in powerful positions making decisions and we share many of the same norms and structures. We went to the same schools, joined the same military (or at least claimed we did), and use the same hospitals when we're ill. While homeless drug addicts are invisible and ignored by everyone but each other, we cannot ignore the fact that we are completely intertwined with them. If they had had a different situation as a child, or made different choices, they wouldn't be one of “them,” they would be us.

However, are they so similar to us? Their addiction to heroin is the most important thing in their lives. Bourgois and Schonberg claim that the righteous dopefiends have sacrificed everything in order to satisfy their heroin addiction. Getting their heroin fix is more important than keeping a job, their family, their social status and even their dignity. They have given up our morals and norms and placed themselves outside of society. They are lumpen because society does not consider them to be worth inclusion. This group of social flotsam is considered to be the lowest of the low who have given up our moral standards.

But have they? Despite their rejection from social norms and morals, they also strive to achieve the “good life.” Tina and Carter make a home together, for example. Many of them try to prove they're not as bad as the others (for example, Tina doesn't consider herself a prostitute, the black heroin addicts do not skin pop, others claim they were veterans) and they have justification for their actions. They don't want to be like this, so they create separate bedrooms in their camps and make promises about “when they're sober.” They create a “good life” through finding a running partner, someone with whom they share their belongings, who they can take care of and who can take care of them. They are not part of society, but they maintain the norms of social lives within their lumpen group. They do not have to conform to the norms and morals of America, but they make attempts to still participate.

How alike are mainstream Americans and those who are excluded from it? In our behavior, we are alike. The norms of family and sharing and racialized behavior are still prevalent in the dopefiend camps. However, when it comes down to thin morality and values, the drug addicts have replaced their morality with addiction. When there is room for other norms and values, they follow them. But even Sonny skin pops when he cannot find a vein, and Tina will sell her sex for drugs. Taboos are easily broken, and morals set aside in order to avoid being dopesick. Unlike Stephen's idea that we are morally alike in thin ways and when we put them into practice, the thick morals are different, it seems as if with the lumpen, the reverse is true. Our behavior is similar in our strive for the “good life,” but what is morally good is different. For them, good is avoiding dopesickness at any cost. For us, while we avoid human suffering, we can still drive by or walk past without being moved to help them. We have other values and morals that take precedence over helping people avoid becoming dopesick.

In fact, we do not even pity those who are dopesick. We hope that by being dopesick in their jail cell, they'll be able to kick the habit. We take hope in their suffering, because we see their suffering as a consequence of their choices. Do they deserve this forced suffering? What do they deserve from mainstream Americans, who have the power in the relationship? With our value of easing human suffering, it would seem logical that they deserve medical care to ease the side effects of addiction, such as treatment of abscesses, or even small doses of medicine while in jail. However, they do not receive it. Furthermore, their shelter is repeatedly taken from them because we have decided that people should not live under overpasses, making them exposed and without a home. As fellow humans, they deserve dignity, but we do not give it to them. They partially take it away from themselves, as a result of the dopesickness and poor cleanliness habits. However, when we pretend they don't exist or ignore them, we take away their dignity and humanity. When we treat them as things that don't even deserve to be in the hospital, we rob them of what dignity they have left.

This raises the question: if avoidance of suffering is truly part of our morals, why don't we help them? Why do we drive by? Why do we look at everything but the face of the man who is asking for money downtown? Why do the police clean up their camps, as if taking away their home will make them disappear, as well? Why do the doctors in the hospital take all day before helping the man with maggots in his leg? Perhaps because we see it as hopeless for us to try to ease their suffering. Perhaps it is because we see them as choosing to suffer. Perhaps this suffering isn't easily fixed by a donation or a race, the way a cleft palate or cancer supposedly is. We don't donate our Facebook statuses to homeless dopefiends. How do we help to alleviate their suffering? The only easy solution is to ignore the problem. If we consider these homeless drug users to be choosing their own fate, to be outside of our concern, we are allowed to ignore them.

Our treatment of homeless addicts raises the issues of choice. What role does choice play in all of this? Did they actually make the choice to use drugs in the first place? There are many other factors involved in drug use besides the individuals decision to inject heroin. The presence of drugs in their life, whether or not other people in their life use drugs, how they've been taught to cope with adversity, their class, their family life, etc all go in to someones likelihood of using drugs. If someone has so many social factors stacked up against them, it becomes less of a choice to use drugs and more of a choice to not use drugs.

Similarly, do we actively make the choice to ignore and judge them? Rarely are homeless heroin addicts portrayed in the media except as a social problem. Few people in society help or talk to the panhandlers who may or may not be drug users (but we assume they probably are). We're taught to avoid them and stop staring when we're young children, and our parents roll up the windows and lock the doors when there's a homeless person begging on the side of the highway. Is it any surprise that we ignore them?

How can we learn from Righteous Dopefiend? How do we judge them with this new awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness and drug addiction? Do we even have the right to judge them, knowing their moral standards are different from our own? Should we judge them for their choices in lifestyle, even if it's not a complete choice? Furthermore, how do we judge ourselves when we see ourselves doing nothing? This book leaves more questions than answers, not only about the dopefiends, but also about ourselves and our understanding of morality.

What dichotomy?

People always talk about the mind as something separate from the body. I disagree. Your body includes your mind, and your mind wouldn't be anything without your body. They're both necessary, intertwined, interdependent parts of You. Everything that you do with your mind has effects on your body, and vice versa.

Tired? You're probably crabby, too. Stressed? Wow, look at that zit. Sad? There isn't enough sleep in the world for you when you feel sad.

In any case, I am stressed. How do I know? I am crabby, tired, breaking out and bloated. Almost sounds like it's that time of the month, but it's not. Trust me. The feeling of being overwhelmed has been, well, overwhelming me lately. And it's taking a toll on my physical well-being. Adrenaline has been almost non-stop and the exhaustion has been unavoidable. My body is saying "Calm down!"

Then there's the inevitability of it. I will never not be stressed. I may not have 6 papers to write, and post-graduation stability to find, but I will always need to worry and stress about things. Money, family, careers, etc. It will never stop. Even when I'm retired, how will I pay for my prescriptions? Will I be lonely?

Aw, dang. Anyway, time to get back to my paper that's due soon...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day of Silence and Ra Ra Riot!

My Day of Silence was pretty awesome. We did a freeze during chapel time for 5 minutes. We planned out strategically where we were going to stand. I froze holding a door open for Phil who froze partway through it.

The girl stopped behind him, waiting. She waited like, 30 seconds before she realized neither of us were moving and went through another door. There were also a lot of visitors today. The Regents were on campus and there was an Economic Summit so there were a lot of smart-looking business types there. Also, it's an Accepted Students weekend. Good times.

My first professor was really supportive ("everybody ok? Catey? Thumbs up!"), and my classes. The other professor just said "ok." But he didn't make me talk, so that's cool.

This evening, we hosted the Night of Noise at our house. We had about 30 students and one Townie. She was a sweet middle-aged woman. It was fun.

The fun part of the night was Ra Ra Riot. The music was good. The crowd was really awkward, though. You know how when there's someone in the crowd who is way more into the music than the rest of the crowd is? (if you don't, you're probably that guy who is premature). There were 10 of them, humping the stage and awkwardly waving their hands in the air. Eventually the rest of the crowd got there, too, but then they got even more into it and one even tried to grab the singer.

In other news, they're all really attractive. Especially the cellist and bassist (story of my life!). Now if only they didn't dress like 12 year olds trying on their parent's clothes from the 80s.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

OutFront and Day of Silence

Today, several other students and I went to St. Paul for OutFront Minnesota JustFair Lobby Day. It's a day where pro-LGBTQ supporters go to the state Capitol and make appointments with their state senators and representatives and ask that they support LGBTQ people in Minnesota.

It's so much fun! I love going there and seeing everyone and even meeting with my absolutely unsupportive legislators. Also, really weird legislators. My lobby coach was, who is a regular at the capitol, was wearing pigtails, and my representative pulled one of them. Considering she is a city councilwoman, that is extremely inappropriate and unprofessional. She was really creeped out, and tweeted about it right away. She is not a professional politician, she says. He is really good at avoiding topics, too. And interrupting people.

My senator was better this year than last year. Although we pulled him out of council, so we had to be brief. Last year he talked about how his faith dictates how he has to act. This year, he just talked about how he thinks government should stay out of everything (note, he isn't introducing any bills to get government out of marriage)(another note: he alluded to the fact that his party won't let him introduce any bills at all, so maybe he would if he could)(another note: but he did say he would support government banning same-sex marriage outright, so that's not really government staying out of it. it's banning one type of marriage while actively supporting another). He also got hit by a car a few days ago... he seemed to be okay, though.

And, despite the snow at the outdoor rally, it was just a really awesome day!

Tomorrow will be awesome too. It's the Day of Silence! :D

I'll write more about that tomorrow, though, after I experience it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

The Vagina Monologues. So far, 2 sold-out shows at St. Olaf, with a third performance tomorrow. Pretty successful! I love the Vagina Monologues. I don't identify that much with my reproductive organs, but I love my vulva.

Mine would wear a blanket. A warm fleece tie-blanket.

The Vagina Monologues have been very influential in my life. This is the fourth year I've seen them, and for the fourth year, I have laughed and cried and thought about and identified with the monologues. "My Angry Vagina" and "The Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy" are two of my favorite funny monologues. Cold mean duck lips, dry wads of fucking cotton and the surprise triple orgasm get the whole audience laughing. Others, like "My Vagina Was My Village" and "Memory of Her Face" bring me to tears to think of the pain that women experience because of they are women.

Others, like "The Flood" and "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could" make me so thoughtful. These poor women have/had oppressed any comfort or identification with their down there's and coochie snorchers. Our vaginas are a part of us. What has to happen for you to only associate your coochie snorcher with pain and misery and humiliation? And even more perplexing, how did more abuse save your coochie snorcher and help it become a source of pleasure? Probably, my favorite one is "Hair." Hair is about a woman whose husband made her shave her vulva, and cheated on her when she wouldn't. Why would shaving your vag to make yourself look like a 10 year old be a turn-on? Hair is there because it hasn't lost it's evolutionary purpose yet. Being sanitary is important, but having hair isn't unsanitary. I don't need to shave my vag. It and I are just as happy and healthy with hair as without it.

In any case, if you haven't seen the Vagina Monologues, I suggest you see it. It's a wonderful play, and all proceeds help end violence against women (money is donated to local organizations depending on where you see it).