Tuesday, December 20, 2011

slanted and enchanted

i don't know how we started living at 100 mph in the humidity and heavy breathing or why our lives are now a metaphrastic version of ourselves. there are acres and acres and they are made more lovely by drinking the sun and losing ourselves more and giving ourselves more to the night and moon and this ravine. i wonder if there is more space between me and you or me and myself. the perfect contours of your face look baltic but i know they're not, it's just the cerulean film of the light.

eastern bloc

It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences (like the meeting of Anna, Vronsky, the railway station, and the death or the meeting of Beethoven, Tomas, Tereza and the cognac), but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.

Milan Kundera

breathe breathe breathe

i watched you reading what i wrote about you, and you looked at me and said it was the best thing that you'd ever read. that you didn't know those things about yourself or how i see them every day, every second i'm with you. i can't believe that you didn't know them already, but if what i can give you is the assurance that i do, and that i believe that many people do, i will give that to you. i feel inadequate when i try to put you into words, but since that's the main thing i have ever had an affinity for i think i should at least try. because if i don't, what am i giving you? nothing. and i can't stand the thought of not giving you everything i have, even if it is just words that come to me as naturally as breathing. i feel like i am giving you my own chaos, and if that's ok with you it's ok with me. it is consistent with how i understand my own life. somehow you never see it and it fills me with incredulity i can't understand, but that's ok because understanding what is going on when i think of you is the first thing i gave up on, and i would rather find destruction trying to figure it out than not try to figure it out at all.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tell all: Viet Nam; Part 1

In keeping with what I said in the previous post, this is what happened in Viet Nam, from the beginning (I didn't realize 'Viet Nam' was actually two words until a few months ago, but it is).

My flight was on July 4 from Chicago to Hanoi with a layover in Tokyo. I heard several times that leaving for Viet Nam on the 4th of July was basically the least patriotic thing I could do, but I was going to meet up with Danish people so I don't think that was considered in the decision. I was nervous about flying by myself and I didn't sleep until near the end of the flight from Tokyo. I had a dream that I accidentally got off in North Korea. I was thinking about this because I had just told my family that on my return trip I would have a layover in Seoul, South Korea, which prompted a discussion on the safety of the border between North and South Korea and how I should be careful not to step over it. My momentary confusion about where I was when I landed dissipated, and getting off the flight I was simultaneously proud of myself for being so far from home alone and terrified as I realized there was really no going back now (no going back for 3 weeks).

The officer at immigration scrutinized my passport and visa to the point that I thought I definitely had something wrong. I watched him looking repeatedly from me, to my picture, to his computer. He finally let me in and I rushed out to the arrival gate where my friend Louise and her friend Signe were supposed to be waiting. When I got to the gate I couldn't find them, and I was barraged by people offering me taxis and hotels and other assistance (I could barely understand most of what was being said, and instead of even saying 'no' most of the time I just looked at them blankly, which really didn't help). The airport had a very dismal and imposing atmosphere, and as I called the hotel my friends were coming from I started to wonder why I was in an airport in Viet Nam by myself. Twenty minutes is enough to thoroughly question your judgment.

The hotel told me that Signe and Louise were waiting at a different gate and that I should stay where I was. Louise ran up to me and hugged me before I even realized it was her, and I almost started crying. I hadn't been happier to see someone I knew in a really long time. Louise had become one of my best friends last summer while teaching English in Bolivia. The 3 months we spent there together gave us a closeness it is hard to build with friends I've known for years.

Leaving the airport the mid-summer humidity made me feel like I had been hit by a wave of wet heat. I don't mind heat, but I was still taken aback. I noticed that there were sometimes 5 people on one motorbike, sometimes a child holding a younger child and sometimes a driver texting, smoking and driving simultaneously. The traffic was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I started avoiding looking at the cars and motorbikes around us.

Our first few days in Hanoi were a sweltering blur. We saw Hoi Loa prison, where John McCain was incarcerated for 5 1/2 years, and I developed a new respect for him to have survived more than a week in the worst living conditions I could ever imagine. We also saw a water puppet show, which was made even more adorable by the fact that Louise (not understanding my mumbling English) initially thought was a "water puppy" show and wondered where all the puppies were when the show started.

The first few days were trying. I had never experienced the dirty, oppressive heat that was inescapable in Hanoi, I could barely sleep. I had a constant knot in my stomach from anxiety and exhaustion. The second night we were in Hanoi, there were widespread power outages in the city. We had an overnight train to the northern mountain region of Sapa, so we showed up at our tour company to wait inside with the other travelers. We noticed a crowd forming outside of the tour agency, and when we went outside the building we saw that the building next to it (connected to it, because the buildings in Hanoi all spill on top of each other kind of like those in San Francisco) was engulfed in flames. The crowd was volatile and screaming in Vietnamese. There were people trying to run into the burning building, which I think means that people were trapped.

We ran down the block, past the civilian blockade and were rushed to Hanoi station. We left Hanoi for a borderline delirious overnight train trip on a train akin to the Hogwarts Express. The first thing I did on the train was listen to the album "Farmhouse" by Phish, which I don't think I've listened to since high school, and by the morning we were in Viet Nam's idyllic northern mountains.

* * *

Monday, July 25, 2011

twenty ways to see the world

"No be scared! Put on your sunglasses and hat, and walk! All you have to do, walk!"

He glanced down and saw the burgundy scarf on my lap and then added "and scarf!"

I listened to his advice- his English was difficult to understand but I could get the jist (gist?) of what he was saying; I should cover myself up to attract less unwanted attention for being a foreigner. I should not be scared.

He knew I was scared, he saw me saying goodbye to my Danish friends and then sitting blankly in a chair.

I remembered what someone had told me once, that there is sensible fear and there is fear that paralyzes. Maybe the fear I had of exploring Phnom Penh by myself could be considered sensible, but it was only one day and I had already been in Cambodia for a week. I deemed the fear part of the latter, nonsensical category.

I listened to his advice and put on my huge sunglasses and wrapped the scarf around my neck and the lower part of my face. I took off onto the street, looking pretty incognito (which I particularly enjoyed) not because I really wanted to but because sitting in the hostel for the final day I had in Southeast Asia seemed anticlimactic. I thought about my location on a map, farther away from home than I had ever been, and got some satisfaction out of the novelty of the situation. A whole day alone in Cambodia. I was at once excited and anxious. I remembered reading that Cambodia is ranked 166/180 in the world for corruption and poverty. I have traveled alone before, but it was in Western Europe. This is different.

The best place to start with a story is at the beginning. This isn't the beginning of the story, sitting at a hostel alone in the capital of Cambodia, Phom Penh, with more than 12 hours until I can begin the 20+ hour flight back to Chicago, receiving a pep talk and advice from someone who worked there after my friends left for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The planning for this trip started last winter when I was in DC, feeling stifled by the working world and drowning in the human rights violation reports I was reading. I was constantly wondering why all these things were happening, why so much devastation and tragedy were so pervasive in the world.

That's not the point of this though. The point is that while I was sitting at a desk working from 9-5, my mind wandered to different places. That's when I got it into my head that I needed to come to Asia. And now, I'm here.

This trip began on the 5th of July when I arrived in Hanoi, Viet Nam, after a flight that took me more than 8,000 miles away from home, to my 4th continent and 17th country.

I realize that the way I am writing this is bizarre- starting at the end of my trip, now sitting in an Internet cafe instead of the hostel to escape the torrential rain. I am a few hours into this day and I am doing great, pretty much avoiding contact except for the usual questions shouted in broken English on the street "WHERE YOU FROM? WHAT YOUR NAME? HOW YOU? WHERE YOU GO?"

I am going to write more and start from the beginning (not the real origin, though, the beginning of this actual backpacking trip 3 weeks ago) and tell how everything happened.

Right now, that seems daunting because of everything that's happened. Also, the rain is slowing down, and the clock is tick-tocking before this flight to South Korea I have to catch. I am going to the riverfront and the next time that I write will be from home!

as ever

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

open a vein

Writing about events in my life frightens me. It is strikingly personal and revealing, like hearing yourself on a voicemail for the first time, and being at once disgusted and intrigued by the sound of your own voice. I read that Rudyard Kipling was known for mixing fiction with autobiography to lessen the sting of recounting the most painful moments of his life. This allowed for a more comfortable disconnect between his work and his memories. I can see why he did this.

I remember my teacher saying that as a writer, what you have to offer is yourself. Your experiences, crossing the spectrum of human sentiments from elation to despair. This is how people know they are not alone. It is, "No, you're not crazy. Someone else has felt that way too. Please don't feel alone because while your experiences are unique, the human condition is not."

People have been deep in depression, have struggled, have questioned if the struggle is even worth it.

It has been 7 years since my Dad died, and it isn't really easier to talk about now than when I was 15 and giving a eulogy. Strangely, I think it's harder. The reality hadn't set in then but it has now. When people express sympathy for something, the focus is on the event and the immediate repercussions. There is nothing wrong with this and I think it is a natural inclination. The thing with these events though is that it is not something that happens and ends. It ripples outward and touches every aspect of your life and those involved. It tests mental resistance and faith. It forces you to ask questions you never wanted to think about; to confront parts of yourself you didn't want to acknowledge. It will establish a permanent presence in your mind. I say these things because I know that they are true.

I don't think my feeling is unique. Everyone has trials and tribulations they deal with every single day and there is no way to completely understand how the events in someone's life affect them. I don't think that everything we get in life is something that we deserve.

There is no ultimately redemptive aspect to this because I still don't know it myself. I was thinking, though, that when I read something where someone says that they have been there, they have experienced something that was hard for them and they lived to tell the tale, it always makes me feel better. I am not saying that I have any answers, I am saying I know how it feels and you aren't alone.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the tempest

at 2 am today i woke up to the crashing sound of thunder and unrelenting pummeling of rain. i woke up in the sense that i saw the flashing crystal-white splashing through the window of my room, but getting out of bed melded in with the dream i was having. without my contacts the lightning illuminated the rainwater rushing through the street next to my house to look like a molten stream of liquid light.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


The whole system that we live in drills into us that we’re powerless, that we’re weak, that our society is evil, that its crime ridden, and so forth; It’s all just a big fat lie.
We are powerful, beautiful, extraordinary. There is no reason why we cannot understand who we truly are, where we are going. There is no reason why the average individual cannot be fully empowered. We are incredibly powerful beings.


by definition, when you make something no one hates, no one loves it. tibor kalman

the bruises go away, and so does how you hate, and so does the feeling that everything you receive from life is something you have earned. foer

Saturday, May 7, 2011

goodnight neverland

i am going back to chicago tomorrow. i have a lot to tell you, and i would tell you now, but it's 2am and the ambien is starting to kick in. i will just put some little things i've been thinking about down, and the rest tomorrow. goodnight neverland
* * *

i am so averse to feeling committed (or what i general think of commitment as, being trapped) that i often don't want to feel anything. and that's where forgetting helps, because it's like puzzle pieces that aren't ever put together. they don't even know that another part of the puzzle exists.
* * *
the thought of removing some part of vitality, like giving blood is kind of appealing because i know it will slow me down. that's the worst thing to say, but it's true. i know i will feel drained and exhausted and fall asleep right away. i also like being out in the sun for a long time. because then i feel like all the anxiety and sadness gets baked out of me.
* * *
she fell asleep, but it was the feverish, unhappy sleep punctuated with bizarre dreams and waking up feeling like she wasn't really breathing.
* * *

What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land.
ernesto che guevara

Monday, April 25, 2011

no, i don't think so.

i met him when the anxiety was starting to split me apart. i was focusing on everything too much, feeling it too much and very easily upset. i was making rapid progress, and at times i had flashes of noticeable talent. for every step ahead, though, i felt like i would blow it in some way, and the divide between the two parts of myself got bigger. there were always signs of latent torment, but only a few times it got to the point of debilitation. i was intersected with railroad tracks that ran through the middle of two different parts of town. events would trigger a split that went right through me, and each new sensation of happiness and satisfaction had to be met with an episode of panic or neurosis on the other side, like a schism. to me the stakes seemed higher. looking back, i don't think they really were. mentally i had more to lose. i was climbing higher into my mind, and simultaneously finding lower recesses. at times i would descend into dark places in my psyche that i didn't know if i could get out of. every time i got out i suddenly had a new fear of being back there again. it's a terrifying thing, to be scared of yourself and the places you know you are capable of going.

for those things i took to him in something akin to an addiction. i loved it all- the dissatisfaction with society, the smoking, the way he did not give anything the time of day to let him down. he didn't judge me, and dared anyone to judge him. he didn't care, and when i was with him i didn't either. when i was with him all the built-up torment twisted away in the smoke, and i was the most liberated i had ever been. and with each other it was like we were exploring a boundless unreality free of the constraints that had been keeping us in.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

the sound of rain

considering everything that had been happening the past few weeks, he knew that nothing that happened would surprise him. whatever adversity he was met with was surmountable; he knew this now from experience. knowing this gave him a sense of serenity he had never felt, and he let it flow through his veins and introduce a respite to the burning torment, going through him like an anesthetic. he sat for a while on the fire escape, listening to the calming, even sound of the rain on the roof and watching the people below disappear into the sparkling wet parisian night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

how soon is now?

as soon as i start to build something, i feel like it starts to trap me. and that is the worst feeling i could have, so i start to tear it down. you don't need water to feel like you're drowning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

as desperation takes hold

If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweller's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does. safran foer a kiss about spotlights fanning the sky and the swollen sea spilling like tears all over your legs.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

i couldn't help thinking, if people were rain

i was never idle long enough to do much thinking but I felt somehow that my instincts were right
hunter s. thompson

i made my flight from DC to Chicago by about 2.5 minutes. i ended up running through the airport and getting on just as they were boarding. A guy sitting a row in front of my offered to switch seats with a woman who had a back problem, so she could sit where there was more room. this put the man next to me. he was pretty quiet at first but eventually started talking to me about what i was doing in dc, why i was flying to chicago, how everything was going. we then spoke of other things- books, traveling, why i was hungover, and the time he spent in india. i was really surprised of how platonically intimate our conversation became. being on trains or airplanes with limited interruption and close physical proximity has some way of fostering intense connections between people that seem to make very little sense.

reading about south american cities has given me a strong urge to chronicle the thoughts that were racing through my head in the different places that i've traveled. i am going to start that as soon as i can and it's going to be a big project, i can tell. i have decided that writing is the only career that i will truly be happy in. for some reason right now I am feeling really inspired to write down everything that I am thinking; like i'm drowning in it. you don't need water to feel like you're drowning. my mind is reeling and all my memories are running together.

like i said in the previous post, here is the paper i got 2nd place for.

The Science of Sleep

Insomnia, Drug Culture and Depression

Carolyn Lang

Heather Knoelk looks down at the table, explaining her struggle for the past three years and the lengths she has gone to in order to alleviate it. She talks about the lack of concentration, the strange side effects of prescription drugs, how difficult it is for her to have a normal social life when she knows that she can not stay out as late as her friends for fear of disrupting her schedule. I am momentarily disarmed that a person who seems so effervescent and so often dissolves into an electrically white smile could feel consumed by anxiety, which she labels as the root of her problem. If she had not told me about her affliction, I would never have guessed. It reminds me of the saying that everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, and most people’s visible daily demeanors are only the part of the iceberg that is above water.

“I feel like people don’t really get it. It’s like- ‘If you’re tired, go to sleep.’ But I can’t, and at times, it’s almost painful,” she says, her expressive eyes flickering like candles being blown out.

Almost everyone has experienced a sleepless night. There are hundreds of factors that can occasionally disrupt a healthy sleep cycle. For some people, however, an inability to sleep is normal and nights of staring at the ceiling, worrying about things that will probably never happen and trouble getting through the next day are part of their lives all the time. There are as many ways of coping with insomnia as there are factors that can cause it, ranging from changes in behavior to use of an ever-expanding plethora of prescription drugs. It is undeniable that insomnia’s causes and effects have been a source of both fascination and frustration for decades, however the rapidly changing fields of modern medicine and psychology have changed the ways that people are dealing with it.

According to Dr. Charles Lawler, primary care physician at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, college students are especially susceptible to the conditions that perpetuate insomnia, from an erratic sleep schedule, to often intense amounts of stress, to the tendency to binge drink.

While there are a handful of neurological reasons for insomnia, including conditions like restless leg syndrome and destructive sleep apnea, most of the time the causes of insomnia are behavioral or psychological. More than half of the cases of insomnia Lawler sees (at least 15 per week) are rooted in anxiety, depression, or poor “sleep hygiene”- a person’s habits contributing to his ability to get a good night’s sleep including everything from caffeine intake and diet, to the noises surrounding him when he tries to sleep, to his routine minutes before he gets in bed.

* * *

Into the Evening

Many college students fail in establishing a regular, healthy evening routine and experience difficulty sleeping because of it. Once a person has set a precedent of an unproductive sleep schedule, he increases the chance that he will be up for hours and experience the racing thoughts characteristic of a sleepless night.

Greg Thompson*, a senior studying poetry, has developed an irregular sleep schedule that often leads him to stay up all night and sleep through class. Recently Thompson has become desperately exhausted and resorts to any means necessary to sleep.

It does not take much to see that Thompson is a deep thinker. He speaks about famously tormented writer Dave Foster Wallace with noticeable reverence and referenced dark science fiction classic Slaughterhouse-Five in casual conversation. He seems to draw connections between seemingly vapid occurrences and lights up when talking about his desire to write. At one point, I wonder if a map of the neurological activity in his brain would look like I imagine it- a riot of literature and poetry and THC.

Greg Thompson

October 13, 11:15 PM, 24 hours without sleep

My brain hurts. Things I've tried in the past: not sleeping, boozing myself to sleep, smoking myself to sleep, staring at my wall. Pretty much only the middle two see any success. I mean, none of those options are productive. But at least the two of them get me some shuteye.

Insomnia is not a black and white affliction that can be understood simply through a person’s description of an inability to sleep and treated with a chemical. While anxiety and depression are usually diagnosable, a person’s personality plays a large role in his ability to calm down in order to sleep.

“The way a person looks at life is a huge factor in things like depression and insomnia. Some people see so much amiss in the world and their life, and it bothers them. It doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s not. But it may present more difficulties for them, and it will certainly keep them up,” Lawler said.

People with high levels of energies are often very creative and intelligent, but this eagerness of mind is often contrasted with a tendency toward depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In one of the most famous scenes of landmark 1960s novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath describes a particularly creative period followed by a week of being unable to sleep that epitomizes the psychological effects that can result from fatigue: “I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next day had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate avenue.”

Lawler calls stress one of the most detrimental aspects to a person’s ability to get to sleep.

“It can really exacerbate the situation if you do something important or stressful before you go to sleep, like pay bills or try to plan something. Your mind won’t stop thinking about it. If you look at society, people’s schedules aren’t as random as you might think. People usually have dinner after work, and then watch TV for a few hours, and then go to bed. That allows your brain to quiet down before you sleep.”


11:30 PM

Oh, I guess I've tried meditation, too. It's great for a while. You know, during the part that I'm actually meditating. Real calming. But then I come back to the real world and I'm all like "FUCK I STILL HAVE SHIT TO DO BUT ALL I'VE BEEN DOING WAS SITTING AROUND IN FULL LOTUS STYLE!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!" With that many exclamation points. Fucking six of them. What are they doing there? Do my thoughts really need to be that exciting? But they get that way whether I like them to or not. It's like my thoughts are all like... like "FUCK YOU" at me, because they know I think exclamation points generally make for weak writing.

Lawler explains that telling a person that he has insomnia can set off a mental chain of events that contribute to the person’s doubt that he will ever be able to sleep normally. The doubt is ultimately self-fulfilling. Many people resign to their inability to sleep and eventually learn to function on smaller and smaller amounts. Knoelk describes her inability to get more than six hours of sleep no matter what the circumstances as both frustrating and puzzling.

“The label of ‘insomnia’ I think can be detrimental. The diagnosis can contribute to a fixation on inability to sleep, or lead to depression later in life. If someone is depressed, you have to treat the underlying depression first, and not just tell him he has insomnia,” Lawler says. “It’s not simple cause and effect.”

The psychological effects of sleep deprivation set in far before the physical effects, and the first indications of a severe lack of sleep are paranoia and hallucination. The timing of these reactions varies widely depending on a person’s mental resistance. There are very few cases of insomnia that are so severe they push a person past these effects to mental unraveling, but ultimately, the effects of sleep deprivation become fatal before those of starvation or dehydration.

Dave Banaszak, a senior in Economics, has recently been struggling with extreme difficulty sleeping. As we sit in the darkening twilight, I notice the circles under his eyes look like bruised-colored half moons and wonder if they are always that pronounced. He seems controlled, if slightly drained, and talks about his difficulty sleeping as someone who has contemplated a problem so extensively he has lost the desire to reflect upon it. He calls his problem simply “racing thoughts,” and doesn’t elaborate much on what that means. His endearing demeanor becomes serious when he speaks about his desire to remain true to his religion and his constant failure to live a life embodying his ideals.

Banaszak suddenly seems very conflicted, and for the first time I wonder if this is a cause of significant inner turmoil not typically ascribed to a person of his age.

* * *

In the midnight hour


October 13, 12:00 AM

Hey look, it's midnight. What a strange place to be, only half an hour later. Midnight-thirty. I type. I feel as I've been hit by a truck. That actually happened once. Got hit by a truck. Driver's side: BAM. I fear my bones may break. So far I've only ever cracked a pinky. My muscles are so sore.

One a.m.

Now going on one and thirty. Rolling around on the floor. She's coming this weekend. Finally some good news. Absinthe and poetry.

Two a.m.

Now three a.m. I'm thinking about pickles. Ate pickled herring tonight. And if you want to get ethnographic about it: was I really thinking about pickles before or have I just filled the detail in by writing it so? Well, truthfully, I am now quite indeed thinking about pickles. I don't know how this has sprung on me.

In other entries, Thompson describes feelings of depression and an inability to get up in the morning. Thompson is currently taking anti-depressant Prozac to alleviate his depression and hopes that it will also help him deal with his trouble sleeping. He has also dabbled with prescription amphetamine Adderrall to improve his focus.

Lawler says that a prescription drug culture is becoming ubiquitous in the world of psychological medicine, but that he is hesitant to write prescriptions unless every other method of treatment has been exhausted.

“You remember how you used to see movies with patients laying on couches talking to psychiatrists about their problems? That used to happen, but it doesn’t happen anymore. Now almost all psychiatry is pharmacological. I always try to get to the root of a person’s insomnia by asking them what else is going on in their life. Some psychiatrists think it is Freudian, but I really believe there is almost always something that would be helped by something other than a drug. I think most people would benefit from behavioral or cognitive therapy more than anything else.”

The thought processes a person experiences in the middle of the night can be indicative of the issues bothering him that are only latently present in daily life, and what he can do to put them to rest.

Banaszak’s thoughts toward the middle of the night seem to indicate a feeling of guilt and confusion about the prospect of reconciling his human tendency toward error with his ideas of the way he should conduct himself.

Dave Banaszak

January 28, 12:59 AM

Thank God for hope. And literally in my case I can thank God for giving me hope. Without Him I don’t know how I would fall asleep at night. I don’t know how I would get through some days. I don’t know how I would tread year after year. I can only imagine what destructive item of life I would inevitably choose as my demise. Alcohol probably. That would be the death of me. Right now I’m walking a tight rope. I am dabbling a bit in my faith and a bit in the flesh. It can’t go on much longer. I hope. I guess if this dance continued it would be a living hell of sorts.

The strain and frustration of sleeplessness drives many people to use alcohol or smoke marijuana to slow the reeling of their mind. However, it has been proven that drinking excessively or smoking marijuana are not effective ways to fall asleep.

“I would like to dispel a rumor here: drinking alcohol does not help. I have heard many people that seem to think it does- maybe you will pass out more easily, but it will not help you stay asleep and you will not feel rested in the morning. If anything, it will further disrupt your schedule,” Lawler says.

* * *

Staring down the sunrise


October 15, 2:07 AM

I tried to write about David Lynch instead of Shakespeare today but I got docked points. Not specific enough. I think calling the ‘Rape of Lucrece’ the ‘Victorian Blue Velvet’ is pretty darn

specific. But I probably didn't actually say that, probably just babbled on about bears. I'd like to see a version of Hamlet where all the actors and actresses were bears. Or werebears.

It is hard not to wonder if this generation’s idea taking a pill to solve a problem and psychiatrists’ custom of prescription will result in a bunch of strung-out, if slightly more productive clones. Take a pill to fall asleep, to wake up, to focus, to be happy. It’s that easy, you can feel good all the time. You can gobble a prescription very closely resembling speed and stay up all night to study, and then take another pill to sleep as soon as you finish. Your body and mind are at your command in an instant swirl of candy-colored pills.

Knoelk, in stark opposition to the drug mentality of many young people, articulates her fear of developing a dependency on Ambien.

“I don’t want to have to take it every night. I have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep; I used to wake up every half hour and I had no idea why. My doctor wanted to put me on two drugs: zolpidem (sedative-hypnotic) to fall asleep and trazodone (serotonin modulator) to stay asleep. I said no; I didn’t want to constantly feel like I had that level of drugs in my body.”


October 17, 3:22 AM

Popped an Adderall this morning because I needed to do some work and I was told it worked better than Prozac. That stuff just barely helps with the anxiety, let alone in attaining any semblance of concentration. Usually it's the anxiety that finally barrels me into getting things done, but Prozac just seems to flat line me out of interest. I'd never thought about ADD, but on the come down now my mental capacity seems to be disappearing, everything boring. It's not a depressive removal, like a crash or withdrawal, but a return to sifting the Internet for Twitter-sized articles because I can't be bothered with the longer papers of the subjects I'm actually interested in.

There is something truly revealing about a person’s thoughts when he is unable to sleep; when his deepest fears and insecurities seem to gain power over him as his ability to reason recedes and the night stretches painfully into the morning. There are fewer distractions to drown out the noise in one’s head, and those people particularly prone to over-thinking seem unable to repress their mind’s torment- as if they are getting into a fight within their own psyche.


April 24, 4:24 AM

Wouldn’t I rather be only in this world and not of this world? How much am I really committed to my faith? I'm committed but does it really show? Why do I have trouble sleeping? Why can't my mind be at ease? Is it mania?

* * *

The Morning After

Knoelk has experienced negative side effects of Ambien, from feeling as if the ground beneath her is moving to blacking out. These kinds of effects are not uncommon; Ambien is classified as a hypnotic drug and works by putting the mind in a dream-like state where a person’s thinking is drastically altered. If a person remains awake after taking Ambien, he may experience a ‘trip’ and his actions often become very strange.

In the past, psychiatrists prescribed benzodiazepine-derivative drugs like Valium that had sedative and relaxant effects instead of hypnotics. These drugs were so widely abused that they are hardly ever prescribed anymore.

Lawler says that the most fitting time to prescribe a sleeping pill is during adjustment-disorder insomnia. This type of insomnia usually results from a major, and often traumatic change in a person’s life, including death or divorce.

“If something like that is going on, you’re not going to sleep, and that’s normal. I still think about it before I prescribe a medication, though, because some people do have an inclination toward dependency, even when a drug is not addictive.”

Chronic insomnia with no clear cause or trigger, however, is not uncommon.

“The difficulties of insomnia shouldn’t be undermined; it can pose so many problems for people and sleep is such a big part of life. It’s almost mysterious- we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and if people are having significant trouble with that, it will definitely be pervasive in many aspects of their life,” Lawler says.

* * *

All the Days Ahead

Lawler’s recommendations for people who are unable to sleep include exercising early in the morning, getting up at the same time every day, getting in bed only when you want to sleep, and developing a routine to reduce stress. He explains the meaning of medical jargon for the chemicals of the brain and body related to stress and sleeplessness: serotonin, melatonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine: that seem to be constantly used and misused in self-diagnosis by people with no medical knowledge. A healthy diet and lifestyle assist in regulating the levels of these chemicals in the body and make it more likely for a person to be able to sleep.

Lawler’s consistent emphasis is the same: a person with trouble sleeping is probably dealing with another problem that has manifested itself in insomnia. In order to control the insomnia, the person must first address the underlying cause of his affliction and then work to change his daily life.

“If someone comes in to me with heart problems and high blood pressure, I don’t just prescribe beta blockers. I tell him he needs to change his lifestyle and diet. Insomnia is no different from that methodology,” Lawler says.

Knoelk is in the process of slowly getting off Ambien, and describes the measures she has taken to help herself, including things as seemingly minor as making sure the color of the numbers on her alarm clock are red (perhaps counter intuitively, clocks with blue light tend to be very bright, and the shorter wavelength of blue light has been found to be the most alerting to the brain). Knoelk gets up at 9am regardless of when she goes to sleep, has eliminated caffeine from her diet, and does not get into bed until a few minutes before she wants to sleep. She no longer uses Ambien every night and is noticing small improvements. She is occasionally frustrated by the degree of regimen she has needed to develop to control her insomnia, but says that she has gotten to a level of normalcy she finds rewarding.

“Before I felt like I was at a standstill- I couldn’t sleep one night, and I would stress out about it so much that I wouldn’t be able to sleep the next night- it was like a vicious cycle. Now that I am taking steps in fixing it, I feel like I am more in control, even when it’s difficult.”

While Knoelk’s method of developing control in her daily life is not as easy as taking a pill, it seems that she is defying the current trend of an instant fix, withdrawal, and regret the next day. A person’s decisions about his mind and body are his own, but it is worth considering the pros and cons before resulting to prescription. Ultimately, though, whatever helps you sleep at night.

*name has been changed

Friday, March 25, 2011

we made ourselves an altar

first of all, a little bit of explanation about my previous post. due to the camera-losing in new york city, the only pictures that i took are on my phone. unfortunately this means i don't have pictures of my favorite part, our hotel room on the top floor of a hotel in united nations plaza. i will have my camera for my trip to boston and providence in two weeks.

* * *

'bioluminescence' was a word that was used several times in the environmental film that i saw about deep-sea fish. they used it for when a fish lights up under water, and it was one of the best words i've heard in a long time. when fish glow like a lite-brite (do you remember that toy? where you put the neon pieces of plastic into the board so the light could go through them?) they are bioluminescent. i really like this idea of contained light. like a firefly.

or like this! a sun jar!

* * *

i won second place in a writing contest at u of i! i was pretty excited about this, and a few people have asked me if they could read what i wrote. i will put it in the next post.

* * *
i have been pretty exhausted the past few days, and i keep thinking about the idea of addiction, and how someone becomes mentally and physically dependent on something. on a lighter note, i've also been thinking about summer, and having adventures when it gets warmer out. i will write more about this when i have had a chance to develop the idea past what i have now, which is verspertine and really only a secluded lake in the middle of the summer, and the idea that anything could be true, could be ours. a time that i can only confront in a way that creates internal distance.

* * *

Sunday, March 20, 2011


new york city

Emission of visible light by living organisms such as the firefly and various fish

"our blood is of the ocean. in our veins it is ocean water with red blood cells added. that's why we long for the sea- we belong to it. our minds can't remember but our cells do."
over your cities grass will grow, environmental film festival in the nation's capital
march 20, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

a wind in the door

we realized that the version of the world they had rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and that for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass, they didn't give a damn about lawns.
the virgin suicides

i like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, i like the kissing and the crying, i like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can't tell fast enough, the ears that aren't big enough, the eyes that can't take in all of the change, i like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.

what was it we expected and hoped from ourselves? that we were boundless, or quite different than we are? one could have the hope that he could become more real by reducing expectations, shrink to a hard, reliable core and thus be immune to the pain of disappointment. but how would it be to lead a life where there were only banal expectations like "the bus is coming?"

we leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. and there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there. we go to ourselves, travel to ourselves, when the monotonous beat of the wheels brings us to a place where we have covered a stretch of our life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

zack's science center

It's probably become evident in the preceding posts that I'm getting kind of bored of the working world. This is problematic because I have only actually been in it for two months. Lately I have felt like I have no creativity and by the end of the day I just want to get home. This is not my usual self because most of the time I feel very interested and motivated and I want to do things.

I decided that I need to do something to diversify my time and feel more imaginative like I used to. I decided to start volunteering teaching creative writing after work! The place that I chose is focused on creativity and innovation, so I think that I will love it. It is also kind of quirky (go figure) and the teaching center looks like a cave. Not like a run-down building kind of cave, an actual cave! Walking in there I felt like I was walking into Diagon Alley or some kind of hidden time portal. I also noticed that on the metro I saw the exact same guy get on the same train at two consecutive locations (which is impossible! but it happened!) so the time portal idea is not completely off base and I am feeling pretty confident about it. For some reason going into the cave also reminded me of when I was in grade school and we used to go on field trips to this little museum called "Zack's Science Center," which was the setting of some very special grade school memories for me. That is for 2 reasons. 1, they had a plethora of animals and you could hold any animal that had a green sticker on its cage. The green sticker meant "go ahead." You could maybe hold an animal with a yellow sticker on its cage, if you asked for someone to help you. That sticker meant "use caution." This included my personal favorite, the rabbits. It also included tarantulas, which I found to be pretty revolutionary at the time. If something had a red sticker you must leave it in its cage. This was the boring sticker which meant that you could just look at it. It included fish. Obviously I was not going to try to take the fish out of its cage anyway. I took this as condescending.

The 2nd reason for my affinity for Zack's Science Center was the planetarium. This was a small inflatable dome shaped like an igloo that took up about half of the center. You crawled in and the floor was lined with Christmas lights, and when you got to the dome part you watched a little show about space and the constellations projected on the convex ceiling. They connected together the stars in the constellations with lasers and then the shapes became animated and acted out the stories. You would lay on your back and watch Pegasus and Orion and Cassiopeia have adventures together for about an hour, and I remember listening to the stories but mostly just pretending that I had fallen into space.

Monday, March 7, 2011


i feel like i'm not breathing oxygen here. i am not just in this city, i am saturated by it. that's ok, i will just take what it gives to me. the energy is consuming and i could exhaust every means possible to evade it, and not be any farther than when i started.

it's in the air and it will infect you.

i can't slow down when everything around me is moving so fast. i won't sleep but it's ok, this city doesn't sleep either. it will stay up with me and watch the sky turn pink and i'll forgive it anyway.

Monday, February 28, 2011


"this one time, in serbia.."

"when did this become a hat party? when did we start WEARING HATS?"


this was supposed to be "looking serious" but i mostly just accomplished "looking like a tool"

it's so cold and i can't get warmer. maybe if the sun would come out it would melt the ice on the window and in our bones that's all soaked through to the middle. i think we need to get out of here; out of this city. i don't know how far to get away from this. maybe savannah. i think that would be far enough. if we went to savannah it will be sweltering with everyone's memories and fear and how inside they are all conflicted at once with good and evil. sometimes it will be chaos but that is what i want; i don't mind the struggle. you think it is oppressive but i think it's sultry. everyone will talk breathlessly because there is so much to say and reality will be boundless again. what i want is to never be cold or gray or hear "we could've done things differently, what a shame. "