How Horrors Happen: The Milgram Experiment

June 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about the Milgram experiment conducted by Yale University. It’s been a while since I’ve studied psychology, but the details have stuck with me through the years. It was designed to test obedience to authority figures. Volunteers (teachers) were assigned to “shock” a learner—a person on the other side of the glass. For every wrong answer the learner gave, they would be shocked in 15-volt increments. The teacher was accompanied by an instructor who would prompt, coercively, the learner to always continue the session, no matter what. The learner on the other side of the glass (who was always noted to have a heart condition) was, in reality, an actor. No shocks were administered in reality, but the learner did not know that. (You can read more details here.)

The study essentially showed how people became Nazis—that the “just following orders” excuse was an unacceptable justification for atrocities. Decent-seeming people were not only complicit, they were active participants, accomplices in committing atrocities. Very few participants in the experiment (the teachers, the ones doing the shocking) halted the horror show. The goading from the teacher was enough to make a person commit the unthinkable—given that they thought the experiment was real. If given the full voltage, the learner effectively died. Ordinary seeming people committed atrocities not unlike those in Germany.

I’ve been thinking about this for days, seeing children torn from their parents. I’ve seen the photographs, and I’ve read the firsthand accounts. I’ve watched the response from different person in our government. I’ve seen a lot of flat out lies. “It’s the law” has become a common refrain, except the policy was only recently implemented by Sessions. Children are currently being used as a bargaining chip (we’ll stop enacting this policy, if the border wall gets funded). Some have even gone so far as to say what’s happening totally isn’t. And damn, that’s one thorough collective hallucination, right?

There are times where people are tested, and I’m afraid this is one of them. Anyone who justifies horrible, unforgivable actions (especially those perpetrated against children) as being some kind of Us vs. Them situation is not someone to be trusted. Children are not bargaining chips. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And playing fast and loose with the emotional wellbeing of parents and minor is unfathomably terrible.

Right now, this is all happening. And it needs to stop. We can be better than this. Remember that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Don’t do nothing. If you have questions, ask me. I’ll try to help.


Points of Change

April 13, 2018 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, a weird confluence of things happened, and it made it think about some things. It made me wonder what-if, and it made me start to daydream. There are times where I have to remind myself that things don’t happen like they do in the movies. And even if they did, John Hughes isn’t directing my life. I don’t know if that happens to anyone else—a few moments of incredibly impossible maybe—but it happens to me.


No matter what, I’m a hopeful person. I cannot turn it off, even though I have tried. I don’t really know how to give up on dreams or people—especially people. Unless you’ve gone the way of Manson or been mean to someone I care about, I’m yours for life. I don’t waffle, except under extreme circumstances.


Depending on the person, extreme circumstances vary and are relative. There are social pressures, stigmas, concerns. When making choices, people often worry what others thinks, because society tends to be mob-like its viciousness. By which I mean, people fear change and dislike what they don’t understand.


But here’s the thing: people don’t have to understand the things you want in life. It’s not a requirement. Why? Because those in your life only need to accept your choices. It isn’t necessary, or even healthy, for everyone to agree on them. And I’m always reminded that we get one spin around this crazy hunk of rock. Tomorrow doesn’t come with a promise. The next second doesn’t. And in our lives, there’s a tremendous amount of power in our choices.


This brings me back to extreme conditions, or points of change. Moments—really, a series of moments, because nothing is ever one thing—that makes us stop walking a certain direction. Circumstances that shift everything, with one choice, whether it’s, “I’m not going to stay in this job anymore” or “I don’t love this person; I need to break up with them.” Fill in the blank with your current question mark. I suppose I’ve wondering a lot about what makes someone give up—on a dream, situation, or relationship. When is enough enough? There’s obviously no easy, clear cut, or standard answer.


This made me think about someone I used to know, someone I used to be close with. He could be the strongest person, but he was also the most scared. He kept his fear close to his chest, tethered, feeling it but rarely letting it be seen. Sometimes, he’d start to make strides in one direction—to go after what he wanted—only to put himself back into the muck, hitched to that anvil of terror. Over and over again, he’d make the same choices, the same mistakes. It was sad to watch for a lot of reasons.


I think the most frustrating thing is that it wasn’t that he didn’t have the courage. He simply allowed the fear to make his choices. There’s something so heartbreaking about the idea of what might’ve been. Potential, not snuffed out, but simply unseized.


I miss the person he could’ve been, but not as much as I miss the person he was, underneath all the armor and the mess. In those rare unguarded moments where he allowed himself to breathe. Sometimes, I wonder what might’ve happened if he made a brave choice and stuck with it. But like I said earlier, life isn’t like the movies. Jake Ryan doesn’t show up unexpectedly. No one is holding up a boom box playing Peter Gabriel.


But there are instances, however fleeting, of ordinary magic. And those are the surprises I live for, honestly. The swirling chaos that results in something truly miraculous. The raw honesty, the stumbles, the mistakes. The recognition that feels like a jolt, seeing and being seen. It can be terrifying, can’t it?


But we live one life. This life, right now and here. No one can reconfigure the past, scoop it out and make it Not True. Connections are never as simple as we try to make them, or unmake them. But that’s not the point. No, my final point is this: hope is a terrifying creature, unmistakable in its persistence, unflappable in its truth. There’s nothing unremarkable about it. It’s a thing that shines. And it sometimes finds us at the strangest time, years after the fact of a thing.


And just when you least expect it to, it starts to sing.

Categories: Uncategorized

but claimed, once

March 27, 2018 1 comment

These days, everything is under construction:
this street, my body three days a week
when I try to outrun myself,
the texts I write, over and over,
but don’t send,

The past, untethered, one moment
slipping down another,
pulled away, discarded
like old bones,
something unnamed
but claimed, once.

Now, everything starts
again, tentative
as a fresh spring,
new scaffolding
in the old foundation,
the blueprint of a spine,
the heart a map
of forgiveness.

Too many mistake softness
for weakness, chide the offering
of a struck match
for its ash
instead of its light,
but these days,
fragile and small
as an open hand,
pale as the first slant of sunrise,
things break,
but also chains—
here, listen:
something is calling,
a name on the wind,
lingering like a dream
you feel
more than remember.

Categories: poem, Poetry, Uncategorized

old love letters

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Is there a word
for the impact
of old love letters?
For the sucker punch
of a standalone
I miss you
that hits like a meteor,
playing all the old songs
across my skin, until
it is impossible
to think around
the feeling.

There you are, solid,
in writing, declarative
and definitive, vulnerable
and honest—
love full of chaos,
what never became nothing,
what always,
what still.

Is there another word
for silence
so loud
that it screams?
The way everything
across a heart, time
devouring itself,
a revelation
of unruly
and mess,
unraveling every pretense
of defense.

Here I am, looking
for you, as if I haven’t
always been. This is
the give in, the lean in,
the question unsaid
with a kiss—
tell me,
I can take it:
what do you miss?

Categories: Uncategorized

there are things I shouldn’t say

March 7, 2018 Leave a comment

At some point, you wake
with my name in your mouth,
a spark in a forest
long since burned,
a haunting of bones,
a car crash kiss,
stolen light
woven into the ghost
of longing,
you and I,
an arsonist’s lullaby,
every note, a sustenance
of stars, the curve of the moon,
hearts too big
for the night.

Let the memory fog up
like windows in summer,
the catch of an indrawn breath
obscuring all view, all thought—
why not take
with both hands, here
this trespass, there
the impossible,
always this
sacred space,
a blessing of salt,
a benediction of hip,
a reckoning prayer.

We are new reflections
of our old selves, imperfect
as every photograph
we never took, happiness
caught up
in the trap of time—
tell me, do you still love me?
Tell me, have you learned
to love yourself?

There are things I shouldn’t say:
I crave your mouth, your eyes
full of mismatched feelings,
our silence leaning
away from our hearts,
all the noise rushing in,
your voice carrying
further than it should,
something snapping
in my chest, a spell
breaking, hope
from a cruel curse.

It would be easy to end this,
to begin it again, possibility
spinning like an unsatisfied compass,
we could pretend
bending toward joy
is an unforgivable sin,
let the dust settle again,
familiar and easy—
but what is dust
except a reminder
of what isn’t there?

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

On the Unexpected

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

The other day, something unexpected happened. The details don’t matter. They’re hardly ever the point. But it was the kind of thing where time slowed down, and everything narrows in on a single point. In that moment, in reality, the world is still functioning as it should, things bustling around. But now, there’s this lighthouse, a beacon, something you cannot help but see.

Later, after thinking about it, all I could articulate was, “I wasn’t prepared for that.” Which made me laugh. Being prepared for something is a myth, a fairytale. It’s a story we tell ourselves, so that we have just a little bit of armor. Because there are things you can’t defend against. Things you can’t extract yourself from, because you feel something.

Even, perhaps, when you thought you wouldn’t. Assumed you’d blazed past…what? Humanity? Emotions? The heart is a goddamn trickster, and no one can really argue otherwise. And the hard truth is that maybe there are things that we are always holding close, flames of a candle that can’t be snuffed out. In moments, that flame becomes a lighthouse, a thing impossible to ignore. And I wonder, then, what happens after that. Can a flame so big be tamped out? Or is that a comfort we extend to the weak section of our souls that banishes us to hiding?

I’m not really looking for actual answers, here. I’m not even convinced that any exist. But here is what I know, for sure: the only things in life worth having are those we go out on a limb for. Those we risk and rave for. Because that flame is, or has become, part of who we are. Love, I think, is a bit like that—honoring the fire of recognition, the undeniable spark. Of course, there’s also the saying that love can either warm you or burn your house down—you can never know which.

When necessity has demanded it, I can hold back certain things. I can be an expert on silence, on inaction, on pretending I don’t see/feel what I do. It’s a skill, but it’s also bullshit. Because it’s not a good look for me, never has been. You don’t ask a match not to spark. Good luck reasoning with a hurricane. And woe be to the fool who tries to convince the stars they’re too bright. Point is, life is short. You can only hold your breath for so long, until you’re blue in the face. Or less yourself. Happy only on the outside. And that’s a prison made of familiar bones. It’s self-made and stupid. Yes, stupid. I said it. Deal with it.

No one is prepared for the things that happen in life. They just happen. And how we react—how we act—is what matters. And it’s always a choice, between action and inaction, before silence and speaking, between bravery and cowardice. No one magically wakes up feeling invincible and ready. But you decide and then you take baby steps, instead of sitting in a corner pretending the status quo is fine. Sometimes, baby steps don’t work. You have to vault into the unknown, uncomfortable space of maybe.

Man, that’s always a terrifying thing, isn’t it? But that’s life. If you’re not scared, you’re dead. Your body just don’t know it yet. For me, I’m a messy miracle of a human who should’ve been dead a lot. But I’m not. And I know what it is to lose people, so I’ll be damned if I let fear live my life for me. That doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing or that I’m some kind of emotional unicorn (complicated, but stabby! Actually…). It just means I’m here, right now, in the moment. And that’s something you can always count on.

Categories: Uncategorized

this unruly universe

December 15, 2017 1 comment

The howling is relentless, blind,
a glinting hope
spreading like moonlight,
making unexpected things
silence cracks itself in half,
brittle with impatience,
slung over the last moment
made entirely of ghosts,
an old want giving out
underneath the weight
of what it was trying to outrun.

This, too, is a blessing—
but also a trickster,
a heart derailed
by its own desires,
still refusing
lesser dreams,
a drowning girl
turning her back on air,
bending toward hope,
this unruly universe
of mouth and bone.

Here, a name rising on a tongue,
a grey benediction,
the firm grasp of god
raptured, on his knees,
undone by the flick
of maybe, a rosary of yes,
skin aflame
with joy.

Hands, open and empty, reaching
beyond the thick tick
of here, now—
heartbeat by heartbeat,
the world changes, spaces
keening for disarray,
the mess of imperfection,
the full-throated wonder
of unapologetic surrender—
call it destiny,
call it sin.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,