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I Know What I Know

Giving Back to the Web since 2015

Haunted Houses

Haunted Houses Haunted Houses by Larry Kettelkamp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I definitely read this in elementary school at some point! I stumbled on a copy at a garage sale in my home town that was withdrawn from the local library and presumably bought at a book sale. My copy is from 1965!

The illustrations are completely adorable, and the stories refreshingly new — yes, I’d seen pictures of the Brown Lady, but hadn’t heard the music teacher’s ghostly tale. The theories and stories about poltergeists were boringly familiar (I mean, I have read this before, I’m pretty sure) but there was an entirely refreshing theoretical section about the nature of time and space, and their dimensions, etc. The author was obviously well-researched and credits some paranormal researchers affiliated with institutions of learning in the forward. A lot of his information seems to come from the famed parapsychology lab at Duke University.

I’ll be keeping this copy for my daughter to read someday. It was so cool to imagine ghost hunts and research taking place in the ’50s-’60s with their limited technological equipment (like in The Conjuring) and none of the flashy ghost hunting TV show bull**** that invites people to try and fake results or wear too much Ed Hardy (yes Ghost Adventures I am calling you out).

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Evidence

EvidenceEvidence by Luc Sante
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: do not read before bed.

This astounding collection of NYC crime scene photos were discovered by Sante in a forgotten archive where they were spared the fate of others who were thrown away or dumped into the river when buildings and departments moved.

Collected here for you are postmortem photos meticulously curated by Sante, chosen by someone with a strong sense of poetry and reverence for and identification with the anonymous dead.

Sante pairs the images with whatever information he could find about the victims depicted, which is scanty at best. Also after the collection he allows himself to speculate about the dead and the America they lived and died in. He draws the reader in by challenging them and acknowledging the exploitation of their gaze, as well as musing on the nature of photography itself.

“Through the act of looking, we own these pictures, or, rather, they thrust themselves upon us… to look at these pictures is to glimpse the work of the recording angel on the day of judgement… these pictures are documentary evidence of an end we are afraid to recognize.”

This is a remarkable thing.

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Nostalgia and Memory are Two Different Things.

Note — I had a really great post here about the difference between nostalgia and actual memory, prompted by my recent 15 year high school reunion.

Then WordPress didn’t save it and the page weirdly reloaded and now it is gone.

I am very sad because I don’t think I can really recreate what I wrote.

VERY SAD.

This old post on nostalgia will have to suffice.

Points I guess I was trying to make… growing up is it’s own special brand of trauma, even though it is lauded as a natural experience. The truth of our middle/high school experience is not our nostalgia. Nostalgia only uses memories of events when it fits correctly with the narrative of sweet wistfulness. Nostalgia is watching The Craft, listening to Sublime, and looking at pictures that showed up in old Delia’s catalogues. Nostalgia is what sells because it generally feels good, though it is dangerous to long for something that never existed.

I have access to a lot of my school-age memories because I’ve kept them alive to reconnect with my students. I purposely separate my nostalgia from my memories and I’m aware that one is “fact” or “true” and the other is not, a narrative and series of feelings woven into a blindfold that we can choose to put on.

In other news, the reunion was VERY FUN because I saw some of my good friends and got to rock in the hammock I made out of my nostalgia-tapestry I’ve woven over the years. The truth wasn’t important, factual memory wasn’t important, who was friends or did or didn’t get along back then was not important at our gathering.

Also it’s pretty cool to drink in what used to be the library of your middle school.

I really wish this dumb website would have saved my awesome post. WordPress, you are on my LIST right now.

Murder in Montmarte

Murder in Montmartre (Aimee Leduc Investigations, #6)Murder in Montmartre by Cara Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book in a Little Free Library on the way into what was sure to be a boring series of meetings. Every time I could, I snuck a peek at it. This was about a year ago, and I just decided to pick up the book and finish it.

Overall, this was a very fun mystery. My favorite part, of course, was the location. The author has a very intimate knowledge of Paris. It surprised me that she wasn’t French. Also she has a really good understanding of French politics and different cultures that make up the Paris neighborhoods. This book educated me about Corsica, actually. Though I’ve been to France 5 times and researched a bit about it, I didn’t know anything about Corsican history and the colonization (knew more about Algeria). I adored that it was set in the ’90s, too — that really added to it for me as a ’90s kid.

I hadn’t read any other books in the series, but I was still able to follow the story and get a flavor for Aimee’s character. She’s a bit of an archetype in a way. She reminded me of a more tech-savvy Jessica Jones. Sassy, but sad inside, with a bit of a self-destructive streak.

I thought the pacing of the book was great. I don’t have a lot of time to read, so it was great to read a fast-paced book with a lot of action and characters packed in, and a great setting to boot. It definitely was more enjoyable than the last book I read, which was like 800 pages of people reading in archives and then dodging a vampire every 200 pages or so.

My only complaint was that there were times where the writing maybe… pandered to an audience who just wanted to have the characters’ emotions told to them, or who wanted a symbol explained. When Aimee sees plastic bags blowing around but not getting anywhere, the narrator makes sure we know that’s how she feels inside, which is a lot of hand-holding for a more apt reader. Not everyone is a writer/English teacher, but I don’t like it when nuances of character emotion or symbolism are rolled out too obviously.

If I found another one of these books, preferably the first one, I would read it. Thanks to Cara Black for a well-researched mystery!

I put the book back in a Little Free Library for the next person to enjoy ūüôā

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Insomnia = Forever Alone

Humans allegedly spend a third of their lives asleep. Like eating and pooping, sleeping should be one of the easiest human things to do, something extremely hard to be terrible at. Sleeping. Duh. You lay down when you’re tired and you sleep and then you wake up and you aren’t tired any more. No prob, Bob!

Yeah, except about 30%-35% of us experience brief periods of insomnia, and for %10 of the population, it’s a chronic problem. I’ve been ass-terrible at sleeping my entire life, though I don’t know if I would describe my issues as chronic insomnia so much as, well, being crap at sleeping. Like how I’m crap at Scrabble.

Here are some gifs that I think nicely illustrate what my frustration with sleep has been like over the years.

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I’ll just be over here entertaining myself *sob)
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why does everyone else get to sleep

 

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bored…

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The worst part about insomnia isn’t actually the sleep deprivation. Motherhood has proven to me that I can rely on a lot less sleep than I think I need. The second part that sucks of course is the anxiety factor. “If I go to sleep RIGHT NOW I will have four hours of sleep, and I need to sleep because it’s a field trip day tomorrow…” That mental chanting is definitely not fun. But the worst part is actually the loneliness. Everyone else is asleep, so you’re up by yourself, but you can’t really do anything because it might wake people up. So you crawl into a little corner with a flashlight and hate your existence.

I was never a good sleeper. My mom had to bribe me to stay in my bed. She put a purse on the doorknob, and put a dime in it each night. If I stayed in my bed and didn’t call for her, I got to keep the dime. Eventually I saved up enough to buy a My Little Pony. Maybe I need to start doing that again? Definitely something I’ll try with my daughter, because I’m afraid she’s on the same track.

The worst, though, was sleepovers. Call me crazy, but as a tween/teen I liked to sleep in a bed, with the lights off, in a quiet place. My friends’ random basements and bedrooms did not provide me with that. I guess I was sleep-picky because I couldn’t fall under with the TV on, watching whatever movies we’d rented, and people snoring, rustling around, etc. Seriously, everyone at the slumber party would go to sleep and I would just lay there in my sleeping bag wondering why I was doing this. It’s seriously detrimental to not be able to sleep in other places. I’m sure there were slumber parties I skipped and social situations I missed out on because I didn’t want to pull an all-nighter all by myself.

I remember one night in particular I spent the night at a friend’s with a bunch of other girls, and I ended up reading a stack of¬†Newsweek magazines in the bathroom for hours.¬†Newsweek.¬†I was 14.

You’d think that would be a low point, but it was actually college. My freshman year, I had a room mate I ended up not getting along with for a number of reasons (this link should explain our lifestyle and philosophical differences). She wasn’t super accommodating about my sleep schedule, and would often stay up until midnight or later on AOL instant messenger… keeping the dumb little messaging sounds on the computer so I had to lay there and listen to it. She came home late a lot, and her computer desk was like right next to my head. The light from the screen she NEVER SHUT OFF didn’t help. Never mind the people talking loudly on the phone in the hallway, or the fact that they were building the Belin-Blank Honors Center right outside our window. Let’s just say I drank a lot of NyQuill that year. Like, a lot of it.

To this day, I still struggle. At least now they have invented Ambien, and I can get it when I need it. Mostly. Because it’s like I feel bad explaining to my doctor that I am so much more rested on that medication. I suppose they don’t want people taking it all the time, but if it helps?!?!?! Don’t judge me. Still, some nights, I wander around our condo while my husband and daughter and all three stupid cats are asleep.

Ideally, I would sleep in a soundproof pod with just a little bit of violet ambient light. I always thought it would be super cool to go into cryogenic sleep because you’d have no choice other than to fall asleep, right? Or go into stasis on a space ship for a long voyage…

There are some nights when I know I have an early morning where I’m just hoping Spock would come along and just neck pinch me.

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why is she always asking

The Historian Review

The HistorianThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Research-wise, this was a fun book. I learned a lot about a part of the world and many cities I didn’t know anything about. Also I’ve always been interested in Dracula’s connections to the Islamic world. I really, really enjoyed the Cold War elements here and how the regimes tried to control history and information — the for-real thought police!

I’m a fan of old-school narratives like Dracula and Lovecraft’s work, where there is a narrative within a narrative within a narrative and characters are forced to solve a mystery using notes, diaries, and letters from other characters. I really appreciate Kostova’s attempts to bring that old-school style of braided narrativity back.

However, as a writer myself, I felt like this book was someone’s like, first or second draft of the novel. It was wayyyy too long. I shudder to think how long the first draft was. Things clipped along for awhile, but somewhere in the last third of the book when Helen and Paul had to go to yet another city and look into yet another archive it was just too much. The plot as a whole needed to be shaved down and everything needed streamlining/tightening. Another issue I had, which I think speaks to the “first-draftness” of the book is that there were WAY too many characters. And not enough action overall. There were too many scenes of “and we were welcomed into this place by this colorful character, and we ate this local food that the author clearly researched.” Hand to God there was more about yogurt-based salads in this book than vampires.

I think it was a brilliant attempt, and it feels like a story that could have gone from good to amazeballs with more drafts and an editor less afraid of the red pen.

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Trauma vs trauma — There is No Scorecard

Recently, our school had an unbelievably eye-opening professional development session about how to support students who suffer challenges with their mental health. Our speaker was from Tanager Place, and though it was two hours without bathroom breaks, I was riveted.

The speaker elaborated at length about brain development, and certain factors that can influence kids’ ability to be resilient and cope in certain situations. ¬†These include adverse childhood experiences, trauma, economic factors, system-based and generational factors, cultural factors, and environmental factors. She gave us some amazing resources for how to help students feel safe and welcome in our classrooms, and how to diffuse tense situations. It was all EXACTLY what I needed to hear for my new position next year as Secondary IDS, which also includes working with students who are at-risk. It was SO MUCH GOOD INFORMATION!

This was me watching this presentation:

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Yet, this was also me watching the presentation. Because I realized how much of what the presenter was saying applied to me as an adult. 

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Specifically, the speaker’s discussion of trauma struck a chord in me that I didn’t know was strikeable. It hit me very suddenly, like smacking your face into a pole (which I have done) that I have been traumatized, and my trauma has given me a pair of “glasses” through which I view the world, other people, and myself.¬†

I came to this realization when the presenter showed us this list of negative vs. positive core beliefs that can result from various traumatic experiences. I realized that most of the negative column listed the voices in my head that are constantly telling me negative things. It was so unnerving to see them all written out, like someone was closed-captioning my head.

I was struck dumb and numb looking at the list. And then a sentence rang throughout the echo chamber between my ears.¬†I did not come by this naturally. I am like this because of things that have happened to me and how I coped or didn’t cope at the time.

First off, I did NOT have a bad childhood! I know my mom is probably reading this, and in no way did my parents not provide a good childhood for me. That is NOT what I’m saying.

What I am saying is that I have had traumatic experiences that I didn’t think of as traumatic until I became more informed about trauma itself. The speaker described the difference between big-T Trauma and little-t trauma. Trauma is usually something that could get you removed from the home when you were a child, such as abuse, parents using drugs, etc. But trauma of the little-t variety can be just as destructive. This includes things like divorce, bullying, a death in the family, etc.

The most important thing that I came to understand throughout the presentation is that trauma has no scorecard. Two separate people can have the same traumatic experience. One walks away unscathed and able to deal while the other gets PTSD.

I have been ignoring¬†my traumatic experiences for years and refusing¬†to see how they shaped my self-image and view of the world because I thought I didn’t deserve to acknowledge the link. I grew up in a safe place, in a two-parent home, a white, middle-class person with a stable income. So what the hell did I have to complain about? What could have traumatized me enough to, over time, erode my self-esteem and warp my world view?

I need to acknowledge these traumas and realize that they have given me a negative lens through which to view the world, others and myself. I think the first step to altering these “glasses” (and hopefully smashing them) is to write and talk about experiences I think caused the glasses to form in the first place.

I can’t tell you about all of them. That’s too private for a forum like this. But I can share just a few that I am comfortable with.

Bullying:¬†a lot of my negative cognitions are a result of rejection or not feeling good enough. As a kid, I was not typical. I was significantly taller than others, and did not have the cool clothes etc. I liked nerdy stuff like science and reading. Third grade is when I first remember being picked on as the pecking order started forming. I had friends, but I can’t seem to totally forget being targeted for the way I looked, my weight, not having the coolest stuff, etc. There was NO WAY for my parents to protect me from this, and I wouldn’t expect them to. Kids should have been less shitty, or teachers should have gotten involved. This was before the big push to define and end bullying in schools, so I don’t suppose there’s anyone to blame, really. Many of those kids ended up being nice to me later. But in the process, that sense of rejection, not belonging, looking different/ugly, and never being good enough to merit niceness and respect left a mark on me.

College Friends

When I first arrived at Iowa, I basically divorced all of my friends from high school, because I wanted to reinvent myself. This time I would be better and perfect. Obviously you can see how stupid that was. I made some friends, and these friends started dating people. I never seemed to get a date or keep a relationship going. I remember one time we had a fake prom with our friends that was really just a house party. I technically had a “date” but it was a just friends thing. My friends all went out to dinner together as couples and basically told me I couldn’t come as a fifth¬†wheel or whatever. I remember eating a single serving microwave dinner and feeling like a piece of shit. My parents met and fell in love in college, and I felt like the clock was ticking for me to find my life partner. So this led into a long string of guys I went out with because they liked me a lot, and you can guess how that ended. All throughout my young life I simultaneously desperately wished to be normal and rejected it because it was easier to be a self-proclaimed weirdo than let people label you as such.

Anyway. There are a lot more that I’m not ready to share. But the important thing, what made me giddy and sad at the same time is that I know why I think the way I do. I didn’t come by it naturally. And I think I can repair it given enough time and working through my emotions and tough spots with the people I love.

I think I just never let myself acknowledge my trauma. Because I kept thinking, “This happens to everyone, get over it, it’s nothing to make a big deal out of, you were so dumb back then to let this bother you.”

Thank you for listening. Here is a gif of some cats.

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Beyond Black

Beyond BlackBeyond Black by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Hilary. What you do to me!!! This book is so dark but so funny and just terrifying and GROSS. I don’t know how to begin describing it. The summary on Goodreads and the back of the book doesn’t really explain… Morris and the fiends… memories… trauma…

Mantel plays savagely with our concepts of life and afterlife. I’ve never seen ghosts portrayed in such a way before. The way her dead physics works is truly unsettling and so very original. Her characterization as usual is superb. This is Mantel at her cringeworthy best.

All I can say is… wait until Princess Diana shows up in the story. That is all.

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I Bet You Think This Song is About You…

One thing I think all of us did as teenagers was obsess over songs and their lyrics. See, back in “The Day” not all of us had the internet to research what artists were actually writing about when they composed their songs (like I spent most of middle school singing along to “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette only to figure out it was inexplicably about Dave Coulier… maybe). All we had to go on were the paper inserts in the CD jacket and our imaginations. And sometimes, when a song was really special, it was like the artist had written it with my life in mind! How amazing and connected that felt.

Looking back, yeah, it was kinda dumb. But I know why I felt that way, why I was searching for meaning where it probably didn’t exist. As a tween and teen, I was on a journey to discover signs and signifiers to explain to me what life was about, especially the facets of life I had yet to experience (like a relationship, a bad breakup, partying in California or particpating in riots). Now, let’s not get freaked out and overstate the power of song lyrics on kids. We all know that parental involvement and school environment, as well as performance activities are the best predictor of how a kid will “turn out.” But if I hadn’t been blasting Smashing Pumpkins constantly from about 1997 until about 2003, would I be the whining angry sentimentalist obsessed with everything that is vintage and overwraught?

As we age, enter adulthood, our concepts of who we are and where we fit in the world solidify. We have experiences, we get out on our own (hopefully) and we don’t need songs to help us formulate identity or speculate on experiences we haven’t had yet. At least, I haven’t felt taht need to find music that clicks with me and describes how I feel. I just like music I can sing along with and that has a cool melody, and yeah, the songs can feel familiar but mostly I’m just enjoying them thinking “Oh you young’uns and your relationship problems” or “Wow, this song makes me wanna dance but also has a serious problem with women” or “So glad Elton John got knighted…”

Then, one day, at the age of 30, I heard “Gasoline” by Halsey. And it grabbed me by the shorthairs. This song is about me when I struggle against my anxiety and depression, and yeah, I’m looking at it metaphorically, but daaaaamn. I feel like a teenager again.

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So, let’s take a look at the lyrics.

Are you insane like me?
Been in pain like me?
Bought a hundred dollar bottle of champagne like me?
Just to pour that motherfucker down the drain like me?
Would you use your water bill to dry the stain like me?

Okay, insane and in pain, that doesn’t need much interpretation. When you are having an axniety attack, or suffering through depression, you can’t percieve the world as it really is. To me, mental illness is like having a VR headset on. What you percieve is not real. There could be people standing around you in the real world not seeing what you see, telling you that the dinosaurs or the fish you’re seeing aren’t really there, trying to guide you so you don’t bump into the walls. But you can’t see it, and it’s so hard to believe people that what you percieve is not true. Inside the VR headset, I’ll see myself as ugly, worthless, someone who should be erased. People on the outside (mainly my husband) tell me the opposite is true. But I can’t quite believe him until I “take the headset off” by either calming down or taking medication. Then I can remove it and see the world as it is.

As for the champagne, I see that as symbolic of something good that I ruined with my symptoms. We could be having a perfectly normal afternoon, then I discover I have misplaced my poetry journal. I know it has to be somewhere in the house, but I cannot stop looking until it is found. The longer I look, the more frantic I become, and the rest of the day I am struggling with anxiety even if I find the book. Because then I’m thinking about how I snapped at my family or said something mean while I was trying to find a book of crappy poems nobody will ever read. So it spirals. I pour the champagne down the drain, then use the water bill to dry the stain. Anxiety has a ripple effect that causes me to ruin things in a chain reaction that I can’t seem to stop. I can’t change my attitude and turn it around without a significant amount of time passing or medication.

Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me?
Do the people whisper ’bout you on the train like me?
Saying that you shouldn’t waste your pretty face like me?

Well, nobody’s telling me that I’m wasting my beauty, but there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way. I read that as society trying to dictate that I need to feel bad about myself until I lose 40 pounds. Do I tear myself apart to entertain? Every day of my job as a teacher. As time has gone on I have shifted into a pretty serious introvert. I still feel comfortable talking in front of a crowd, but being around people for long periods of time (like 8 hrs a day) is exhausting.

And all the people say
You can’t wake up, this is not a dream
You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being
With your face all made up, living on a screen
Low on self esteem, so you run on gasoline

This is my life. This is my reality. Job, family, a few hobbies, some great travel and memories… but is there something more? As Belle said, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” You can’t wake up. This is not a dream. This is your life. You are part of a machine, you are not a human being. Low on self-esteem? Yeah. So what keeps me going? My inablility to accept I could ever fail at anything or disappoint anyone important. That’s pure gasoline. It’s fear and anxiety.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

I think the line “I think there’s a flaw in my code” hits home with such force. If I’m supposed to be a machine, there’s something seriously wrong with me. I’m constantly wondering what it’s like to be normal. I thought I would have this shit figured out by now. I have that voice in my head that’s constantly berating me for how I look or what I’m doing or not doing. It never stops. And my second favorite line is “My heart is gold and my hands are cold.” I know I have a big heart. I love so many people and things and I have such loving emotions. But on the outside I can be cold and awkward, or downright heartless and mechnical. Ruthless efficiency allows me to “get things done” on an endless to-do list that I keep ¬†beliving will someday be accomplished.

Are you deranged like me?
Are you strange like me?
Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?
Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?
Pointing fingers ’cause you’ll never take the blame like me?

Light a match to make some light, and then just eat the flame. Good intentions and all of that. Am I a fucking hurricane? Yes. When my anxiety gets going, it’s not safe to be in my path because I could take it out on you. That’s the other thing about anxiety people don’t really talk about. It’s all about being blameless. Everything is simultaneously attacking poor pitiful you, but at the same time you’re convinced you’re a piece of shit who did this to yourself. And you’ll do ANYTHING to have whatever problem you’re facing NOT BE YOUR FAULT. You need to be PERFECT. Things happen to you, you don’t do things, or that’s what you would desperately believe to get through the day.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

What was Halsey really wrting about when she penned “Gasoline?” I don’t really want to know. I like the way it was in the ’90s when it was just you and the CD liner notes, staring at the ceiling and trying to experience and connect with what the artist sang through your cheap headphones. Claiming that a song “really gets you” strikes me as immature and kind of lame, but I have to say that “Gasoline” has been my anthem for the last two years or more. It is the honest, nihilistic song that allowed me here today to explain to you what it’s like living with my personal brand of mental illness.

Listen here:

 

 

 

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