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The Global Brain


Although the idea of a Global Brain may sound like something you’d read about in a 21st century science fiction novel, it is in fact a concept that first emerged in the social and biological sciences in the late 19th century, when an increasing number of evolutionary and social theorists began to realize that the entire human system was, in a sense, “behaving.” As scientists began to identify underlying patterns in global human systems – that appeared to be structured and self-organizing, in the same way as are those of any biological organism - scientists hypothesized that our species could, in fact, be understood as a “superorganism” as opposed to a random collection of individuals, families, groups, cities, or nations.

One of the first things to alert scientists to this possibility was the very nature of human, animal, and plant metabolism itself – which is the mechanism by which individual biological organisms process matter and transform it into energy, allowing us to live, reproduce, and function on a daily basis. The metabolic process is a highly complex one, and it is probably safe to say that no one understands it in its entirety. We do know, however, that metabolism consists of eight primary functions or “functional subsystems,” all of which have been identified and discussed by cyberneticist Francis Heylighen in his 2007 paper on the Global Brain:

• Ingestor - i.e., eating, drinking, inhaling
• Converter - i.e., digestive system, lungs
• Distributor - i.e., circulatory system
• Producer - i.e., stem cells
• Extruder - i.e., urine excretion, defecation, exhaling
• Storage - i.e., fat, bones
• Support - i.e., skeleton
• Motor - i.e., muscles

We also know that within our very own global society, we can find an analogous mechanism that perfectly mirrors the metabolic function of biological organisms, and in which we can identify the following “functional sub-systems:”

• Ingestor - i.e., mining, harvesting, pumping
• Converter - i.e., refineries, processing, plants
• Distributor - i.e., transport networks
• Producer - i.e., factories, builders
• Extruder - i.e., sewers, waste disposal, smokestacks
• Storage - i.e., warehouses, containers
• Support - i.e., buildings, bridges
• Motor - i.e., engines, people, animals

If we take the time to look at the world in this light, it is easy to see that human systems - taken together – can easily look like a giant, planetary superorganism.
But, if this is true, then where is the brain in this superorganism?

Most complex multicellular organisms have some type of nervous system, and many have centralized brains that allow them to process information, to learn from past events and experiences, and to non-randomly predict the future. Do we see evidence of this type of activity in the human superorganism? Do human systems, examined globally, display the ability to process information, to learn from past events and experiences, and to non-randomly predict the future?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists could not identify a global nervous system. And it is no wonder. During this period in human history, our communication systems were quite primitive, with most of us relying on postal services, physical meetings, and landline telephone systems to interact at even the most basic level. Only toward the mid-20th century did computer scientists, evolutionary scientists, physicists, and a few science fiction writers begin to suspect that a global nervous system was developing or emerging. Some came up with the idea that a "noosphere" could explain the organized, behavioral nature of human systems, that evolution was, in fact, pushing us towards a kind of planetary consciousness. Others saw the possibility that a global world knowledge center consisting of all human thought – was in the process of being created.

But what could create such an entity?

Well – the Internet, of course.

With the development and widespread use of the Internet, scientists could finally identify the emergence of a nervous system. From the very beginning, humans have been quick to adapt to its many uses, to rely on the Internet to store, catalogue, and process vast quantities of information – and most importantly, to facilitate communication and data transmission, breaking down more and more physical and geographical limitations as time went on, and in so doing, changing the very way humans relate to one another on a daily basis. Very few would disagree that the Internet, still in its infancy, has already completely transformed our planet and our species. With the advent of the Internet, there is nothing to prevent humans from forming connections, building social groups, and collaborating with one another, regardless of where we are on the planet.

Thank you Internet.

But is this nervous system comparable to the nervous system of a biological organism? Again, the patterns and functions seem eerily similar. In an animal’s nervous system, the following functions can be identified:

• Sensor i.e., sensory organs
• Decoder i.e., perception
• Channel and net i.e., nerves, neurons
• Associator i.e., synaptic learning
• Memory i.e., neural memory
• Decider i.e., higher brain functions
• Effector i.e., nerves activating muscles

In the global nervous system, the following functions can similarly be identified:

• Sensor i.e., reporters, researchers, etc.
• Decoder i.e., experts, politicians, public opinion, etc.
• Channel and net i.e., communication media
• Associator i.e., scientific discovery, social learning, etc.
• Memory i.e., libraries, schools, collective knowledge
• Decider i.e., government, market, voters, etc.
• Effector i.e., executives

All that said, the question remains: Are we in the process of building a Global Brain?

To answer this question, it would be a good idea to back up a little and define what we mean by Global Brain.

Right now, the idea that a Global Brain may exist in the future is merely a hypothesis, according to which scientists have posited that a higher distributed intelligence may, in fact, be emerging from an otherwise complex network of people, machines, and ideas. According to this hypothesis, a Global Brain would, through our continued collective action and/or consciousness, eventually have the ability to mediate and to regulate all human activity. Now, before we begin comparing the idea of a Global Brain to that of an Orwellian Big Brother, let's remember that the Global Brain is a “distributed” intelligence. Such an entity would not be controlled by any one agent. In fact, the Global Brain's existence would depend exclusively on the behavior and existence of its neurons (i.e., us). Just as your own “global brain” (i.e., you) is produced by the collective behavior of your neural networks, the Global Brain’s behaviour would be dependent on the collective thoughts and wishes of individuals and organizations around the world.

In my opinion, the evolution of a Global Brain is – in the very least - theoretically possible. After all, many technological and system-level trends appear to point towards the emergence of such an entity sometime during this century.

Consider, for example, the following trends:

1. Everyday, humans around the world continue to provide increasing amounts of data to the Internet, including information that we had once considered personal and private.

2. Everyday, humans around the world are spending increasing amounts of time on the Internet.

3. Everyday, humans around the world have increasingly easy and cost-effective access to the Internet.

All of these trends are likely to continue. It is not difficult for most of us to picture a world – in 2030 - when all humans are on the Internet, all the time - sharing, liking, tweeting, hash-tagging, commenting, discussing – generally outsourcing our lives to a medium that has access to all of our personal and collective information. Assuming that these trends will continue, one can easily hypothesize that at some unfixed point in the future, most or perhaps all human interaction will take place there.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that a Global Brain does, in fact, exist – or is in the process of development - and that we are simply the neurons that make up this vast nervous system. Using the analogy of a human brain, we know that a Global Brain could not function if its neurons were not fully connected with it, if its neurons were not engaged in a continuous stream of communication with one another. A Global Brain, after all, could not exist if its neurons were disconnected from it or from one another.

In the last decade, we have seen computers shrink in size and weight, becoming increasingly portable, accessible, and user-friendly. Whether in the form of laptops, tablets, or other mobile devices, we are using computers in more intimate ways. We have come to rely on computers on a daily basis for all kinds of reasons and they, in turn, have become ubiquitous in our lives. In the 1970s, computers could be found only in laboratories, research facilities, and universities. In the 1980s, they invaded the work place. In the 1990s, computers found their way “en masse” into our homes. In the 2000s, they found their way into our pockets in the form of mobile gadgets, portable phones, and listening devices. In this decade, we are already beginning to witness the emergence of "wearable" computers (i.e., Google Glass, Smart Watches). In the 2020s, computers will make our homes, businesses, and transportation grids intelligent, and in the 2030s we will probably begin to allow computers into our own bodies, so that they can interface with our organs, including with our brains.

In this light, it is easy to see that a global nervous system may indeed be coming to life, and that once the Internet is connected to or somehow integrated into our brains, we will have given it the power to mediate everything we do, say, and think, and that we will be able interact with it as seamlessly as we currently do through the medium of spoken and written language.

The Global Brain refers, in short, to the Internet at its full maturity. It will be an intelligent planetary network of people, machines, and ideas – a collective system within which we will probably spend most of our existence. Will it be conscious? Well, WE are conscious. So if all human consciousness on the earth is merged together on one planetary communication medium, my guess is that this will give rise to a meta-consciousness. Evolution, taken to its natural next step, will permit us to create an all-encompassing global consciousness endowed with its own intelligence and its own nervous system, opening doors to innumerable possibilities that could never have existed otherwise.

If you’d like to know more about the Global Brain, come see me at where I am attempting to raise money to fund my research, and where I have included additional information about this very exciting project. I look forward to answering your questions at:

Photo Credit: Istockphoto

Cadell Last is a science writer and evolutionary scientist with a Master’s Degree from the University of Toronto, with experience in the fields of anthropology, biology, cybernetics, and history. He is in the early stages of his doctorate research at the Global Brain Institute in Belgium, working under cyberneticist Francis Heylighen. If you are interested in supporting Cadell’s groundbreaking research, or would like to find out more about it, please visit or contact him directly via Twitter (@cadelllast).

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Summer at Tubbs Hills

by J.D. Coburn

In 1966, my late best friend, Phil Dickenson and I spent the summer living on Tubbs Hill near downtown Coeur d'Alene. Tubbs‚ as it is known locally, is a knoll about 400 feet high situated on the North Shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. There’s a nice two mile hiking trail that winds around the hill adjacent to the shoreline with spurs leading up and down along the way, a wide creek to cross, boulders of basalt and cliffs of granite ideal for diving, a smattering of private beaches, a couple of caves, and just about anything a kid would want in the way of a forested playground. No shirts, no shoes, no problem. In the city by the lake, there was one rule: Don’t track in the sand for someone else to clean up. So clothing was kept to a minimum. A pair of cut-offs with your tighty whities peeking out over the top was plenty for us boys. In the summer, we kids were either swimming, or riding our bikes to other places where we could go swimming. The Hayden, Fernan, and Coeur d’Alene lakes, and the Spokane River were all within biking distance. Some of my best memories are of the little bubbles squishing out of the wrinkles and creases in my wet cut-off jeans as I pumped my twenty-six inch Schwinn from one beach to another, the sun baking the trails, streets, and my bare skin equally. Phil and I were fourteen years old. Phil's older sister, who was sixteen, had just run away from home because she was tired of her father’s daily rampages, which we referred to as ‘the beatin’s.’ That left Phil as the eldest kid in the family, which meant he would now bear the brunt of his father’s rage. So, for respite, for his sanity, we camped out on Tubbs that summer. ‘The beatin’s’ always started after dinner. So, on most days, I'd show up at Phil's around dinner time. We’d walk to the coffee shop where we'd meet up with the other members of our clique, aka The MOB. One of our junior high teachers had named us as such, and the name had stuck. In school, we were defined less by who we were than by the numbers we represented, so for ease of reference, the teachers referred to us simply as The MOB. We weren’t jocks or nerds, and we were too cool to be popular. We smoked cigarettes and played in a band. We listened to The Stones, thank you, and The Doors. If we had a Beatles album among us, that meant that one of us had stolen it from a party we had crashed. Phil would take a few thumps from the old man, Jerry, before he left the house, but with Phil out for the evening and his older sister gone that summer, it meant that his little brother and sister took more than their share of ‘the beatin’s.’ Phil's mom, Joanne, took the worst of it. I'm sure that their fifth child was stillborn because Jerry beat the baby out of her. I remember that a little white coffin was buried at Forest Cemetery over on Government Way. Only the family was in attendance for the services, but three or four of The MOB looked on through the fence surrounding the grounds. We were ready in case Phil’s dad decided to start punishing Joanne or the kids for the death of the baby. After dinner, Phil was safe, at least for the time being, so we went to the coffee shop where we could smoke and talk about what we'd all be doing for the rest of our lives when we managed to get to anywhere but Coeur d'Alene. ***** That summer, the summer of 1966, Phil and I lived in a small outcropping of rocks on the eastern edge of Tubbs. We were only a couple of blocks from Sanders Beach and maybe a couple hundred feet from the home of a fellow MOB member we called Mouse. His real name was Kevin Anderson, but from the moment we first saw him coming out of the water looking like a drowned rat, he was Mouse. Mouse's dad worked for the city water works and part of the deal was a free house next to the reservoir on Tubbs. He'd get really pissed when we'd break into the reservoir for a swim. It wasn't just the fact that we had the whole damn lake to swim in that got him so upset. It was because he'd have to drain the reservoir and refill it after our escapades. He suspected that we were the perpetrators, I'm sure, but there was no evidence, just some whispers and stifled laughter. Sanders Beach was next door to Mouse's place. It was a smaller beach than City Beach where all the tourists went and it was cleaner, so it was the beach of choice for the fourteen and fifteen year old girls with their bikinis, golden hair and tan lines. Phil and I, living on the hill without parental supervision, were very, very attractive to the girls. Two or four of them would follow us to our campsite where we would giggle and tease, and grope crotches and budding breasts. Away from the prying eyes of adults, our mischief was gleeful and harmless. For some reason, I was the funny guy that summer. I’d always tried hard to be liked by others, and that was made clear by my litany of bawdy vaudevillian jokes that had been handed down from my theatrical family. Mostly, my neediness was looked upon as obnoxious, but that summer, maybe because we were all fourteen, all of my jokes seemed hysterically funny. During the day, from sunrise on, we were at the beach. In retrospect, it was strange that no one ever looked for us or reported us missing. We sure didn't tell our parents we'd be living on Tubbs Hill that summer, but no inquiry was ever made as to our whereabouts. In fact, I have no recollection of ever being hungry. I don’t even remember eating. Of course, Mom knew I was at the theater most nights. I was doing repertory with the Montana State University Red Door Players and we were staging a melodrama on the pier over the lake that summer with our local theater group. After the shows though, I was gone. I’d meet up with Phil backstage and we were off on whatever adventure was planned for the night. Usually our late evening activities involved getting girls to sneak out and hang with us. If we were very lucky we might get the girls involved in kissing practice. It was just what it sounds like, practice only, nothing serious. After exhausting the girls with laughter and play, Phil and I would peruse the streets until the wee hours. We'd break into cars to steal cigarettes that had been left on the dashboards and whatever else that hadn’t been bolted down. We had all these trails and pathways around town that allowed us to steer clear of the local constabulary. I think there was a Debbie or a Rhonda who made my heart go pitter-pat that summer. I don't recall. But I do remember that it was late in the summer, in August, when one of Mom's friends gave me a car. A two-tone, 1957 Studebaker Commander V8 in oxidized purple and sky blue, three speeds on the column, four doors, three of which worked, and a full complement of three spare tires and three gallons of oil in the trunk. We called it the X-15 because the speedometer went sideways and always indicated a speed that was much faster than the car could go. If the speedometer had gone around about three times you knew you were doing fifty-five miles per hour. At fifty-five, the car started to shake violently, so I would say that was its top speed. Since we lived in a tourist community, there were always activities for teens on summer nights. The Slab, near the entrance of City Park was determined to be a safe place for local and visiting teens to meet and carouse, and a band was hired to set up there on Saturday nights. The events were known as Slab Dances and they were well attended. At the last Slab Dance of the summer, I finally came into my own. A hint of a mustache had sprung up over the summer, and there was muscle tone where there had previously been only gangly limb. After a long summer of swimming, hiking and camping out, I was fit. It was a Saturday night and I had a rare night off from the theater. The Slab was a huge piece of concrete that accommodated four half-court basketball areas surrounded by a fence made of logging chain. Put a live band on one end and old Joe Whitley at the entrance to collect two dollars a head, and you had an enterprise. I had not seen a barber or a shoe all summer so my hair was long, wind blown and sun bleached. My tan was perfect. I could put out a cigarette with my bare foot. My soles were like leather. I wore a baby blue pinstriped muscle shirt and a pair of hip hugger wide wale cords the same color. It all fit like a second skin, which was very cool at the time. I showed up at the dance alone. It was already dark. I had to walk clear across town because I couldn't drive at night yet, but things were just starting to hop when I got there. I was very existential in those days and was therefore convinced that if I wasn't there, the party didn't exist anyway. Well, Pam, Debbie, Carla – I don’t remember their names exactly - took one look at me and got all squishy. They were quite literally hanging all over me. By the time Phil showed up at the dance, I was feeling very secure about my immediate future as a spelunker. But, nothing happened. We danced outside the chain fence. The music didn’t seem to recognize the fence as a barrier, and neither did we, but at the end of the night, everyone just went home. School started a couple of days later. Phil and I were back living at home with new shoes that hurt like hell and clothes you couldn't swim in. Phil and I spoke infrequently about that summer in the following years, but when we did, we both acknowledged that we’d never laughed so hard or so much before or after. For Phil, that summer was the first time in his life that he had not been beaten on a daily basis and that he’d felt free. I was just glad to be along. As soon as the abuse at home had resumed, Phil had started taking it out on me again, just as he had our entire lives. My best friend for life, my BFF, in the vernacular, was the living definition of the cycle of abuse. A year or so later I casually mentioned ‘the beatin's’ to the mother of a mutual friend. She quickly attacked me for telling lies, insisting that Phil’s father, Jerry, would never raise a hand to those kids. I didn’t argue. I didn’t say another word. I guess she must have said something to Phil's mom, because two days later the whole family moved out of the house, leaving Jerry alone. A couple of days after that, Jerry moved out and the family moved back in. And that’s the way it stayed. The nightmare was over. ***** Image Credit: Istockphoto/AlpamayaPhoto

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One Trick Dog

Monique Witt, founder and owner of NYC-based independent music production company One Trick Dog Records, is a retired international finance attorney, former Yale University English professor, and Hollywood ghostwriter who has devoted herself to the creation of music, film, and visual art. An accomplished artist in her own right, Monique has worked with many musicians, including Alida Rohr, Nando Michelin, Roy Assaf, Adres Boiyarski, Esperanza Spalding, Pedro Ito, Tom Larsen and David Rosenblatt. She also works closely with her two sons, jazz pianist Ben Rosenblum and fusion artist Dev Avidon. Recently, Monique has written and produced an off-Broadway play entitled “Splitscreen,” and has since directed a variety of short films, including “Ease of Access” and several music videos. In the following interview, Monique talks about her career, her films, her comic book art, and most importantly, about the incredible music she helps create at One Trick Dog Records: Q. Can you tell me a little about your background? I originally thought I would be a graphic artist. My father is a well known painter, a magical realist who was Jackson Pollock's only protegé, and he was involved with the original Bauhaus. While I was at college, a family tragedy made it important for me to make a steadier income, so I went to Yale Graduate School, studied with Harold Bloom and the linguistic phenomenologists, and then spent several years training at Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute. Unfortunately, the market for professors in the humanities collapsed, so I went to Yale Law School, and finished my Ph.D. in 1980 and my J.D. in 1982. I practiced law for a number of years in the fields of project finance and sovereign debt restructuring. The latter involved working with the World Bank and the IMF and to some extent the U.S. State Department. My expertise was primarily in Latin America in what were at that time termed "lesser developing countries." I loved my work. It was a combination of diplomacy and complex math as well as market analysis. We helped to build the wine industry in Chile. This helped my family, but it meant I had to leave drawing, writing and reading behind for a while. I did begin making jazz recordings as a kind of hobby because my sister, Alida Rohr, was heavily involved in the jazz scene and I wanted to help her with her career. But, I had always wanted to return to the creative arts. When my older son Dev was born, my husband and I were working very long days, seven days a week, and I never saw my son. So I took this opportunity to retire from the law. I returned to ghostwriting and cartooning, because cartoons are the form of graphic art I like the best. They skirt the edge of ‘dangerous’ while beguiling us into believing they are harmless. And I think that the best popular art populates that edge - sweet yet sinister - like Frank Frazetta, who is skilled like Titian, but who worked on "Little Annie Fanny" for Playboy. My graphic art, in the form of adult comics, continues to have something of an underground following. I have never restricted the use of my drawings so they have made their way onto the net and around the world. I received a picture from Japan some years ago with one of my girls on the nose of a jet plane. This is the way I think popular art should spread. When I retired from the law, I began running a small production company with family and friends called One Trick Dog Records. Essentially, everyone does everything, because we're on a small budget. I don't take anything from the artists. This is why it’s me singing "Mary Mack" in "Ease of Access.” I was the only female voice in the room. Two years ago, we were making and recording jazz, jazz fusion, Brazilian, and blues when a group of friends convinced me to put on an off-Broadway play. The result was a play called “Splitscreen,” which was about a young man who is gravely injured in a climbing accident, and who is waiting in an ER to be admitted to rehab. To promote the play, I directed a short video. It was hugely successful, and we began getting video work. Since then, we have been approached to turn one of my longer works into a pilot for a potential "Netflix" type story arc, but that is very much in its early stages. Our next two projects are a theatrical work called "The Walking Man Monologues," and a four piano musical concert entitled "Piano Conversations." In addition, we have four discs coming out soon: "Urban Griot" (the second series of works by the Roy Assaf Trio which has already been released in Europe), a blues album by People v. Larsen, and archived work from two jazz legends Manny Williams and Alida Rohr. We will also release a remix of "Tears of Men" and a new album by pianist Ben Rosenblum. Q. What was your childhood experience with art? My sister and I were raised in a house where everyone we met was an artist of some kind. We were surrounded primarily by visual artists, but by some musicians as well, as my Italian mother loved opera and my father loved Bach. In addition to being an extraordinary painter, my father had a beautiful baritone voice, and one of my earliest memories was of him singing "Wachet Auf." I can still hear him humming it as he painted. I remember when my father was working as the art director for the 1964 World's Fair. I must have been nine or ten and he was doing the architectural drawings for the Unisphere, which is the huge steel globe that sits in Flushing Meadow by the tennis courts. His drawing table was separated from the living room by an open divider and I would sit on one side for hours watching him draw. I would draw next to him on my own pile of scratch paper which was kept on the lower shelf of the divider. My first drawings were very similar to the cartoons I draw now. My only formal training was an undergraduate photography course. I was trained primarily by watching my father and by absorbing his aesthetics from his paintings. I also learned from the way he constructed his environment. My father gave me two pieces of advice that I try to live by. He told me that successful art will inspire animosity and admiration, but never complacency, and that I should not be afraid of controversy, because it means that I am challenging accepted notions and that is the cultural mandate of art. He also said that every artist must be the sole and final arbiter of whether he has succeeded at what he has set out to do. Q. What city are you based out of? We're based out of New York. We run the production company from Roosevelt Island where we have offices, mix and master facilities, and space for drawing and artwork production. But we also have affiliations with artists in Boston. We are basically a family enterprise supported by our friends, and everyone involved has multiple skills. Q. What are the things that interest you? I guess I'd have to say everything interests me. People particularly. I'm deeply committed to my boys, Dev and Ben, and to the arts. Q. Your short film entitled “Ease of Access” is based on Jeff Musillo’s novel about a male prostitute who is hired out to service reality TV celebrities. Can you tell me how this film came about? Jeff saw the promotional short film for Splitscreen. He contacted us through our publicist, Michael Martinez, to see if we were interested in doing a promotional video for his book “The Ease of Access.” I loved the fact that all we had to work with was a monologue. In essence, we had complete freedom to create and map and explore the landscape of this young man's isolation. If you think about it, sex is about intimacy. When we pay for it, we make it about power and control, and one of the most important and ratifying aspects of our lives, our intimate relations to ourselves and to others, becomes a floating signifier, stripped, as Chang-rae Lee would say, of its native voice and its emotional content. This creates an unnatural vertigo that keeps demanding an explanation. I love monologues for the question they ask: “What fills the pregnant emptiness when we are alone in the company of our thoughts?” The actors in the film Alex Montaldo and Adam Rashad Glenn were amazing. Directing them is a dream. I directed them in Splitscreen, and their acting was effortless, because they have inhabited many of the same psychic landscapes that we are attempting to convey in that work. My son Dev was the engineer on the audio for "Ease of Access." His studio is called Avidon Audio Labs. Most of the comments we have gotten back have been about how amazing the sound track is. The children’s rhyme and voice over parts are balanced beautifully with the jazz piano and the effects. And the clarity of these is exceptional. Dev designed and recorded the sound track and it is very strong. The cinematographer, Kahleem Poole-Tejada, is quite extraordinary. I talk to him about what I see, and more often than not he gets it the first try. I think his work is beautiful, and he is a permanent member of our production team. He has a rare sense of balance, color, narrative, and he brings so much to each project. He is such an intuitive filmmaker. Alex and I talked a little about why "Ease of Access" was so interesting. I think it’s because of the edge I was telling you about, between the sexual, the sweet and the sinister. I like J-pop because of what I like to call its "empowered vapidity." As a culture we are fascinated by this. It's what sells Lindsay Lohan even when she's a total train wreck. It's what Tennyson understood and referred to when he wrote the Dappled Partridge Sonnet. Love and death are first cousins. Alex and I were talking about the image of the ghost lover in "Ease of Access." The kanji on the pianist's hand says "ghost lover," and was meant to suggest that the interlocutor who frames many of the scenes, played by Adam, may not be real at all, that something about selling sex has caused such a primal break in the speaker's relation to himself that he is watching himself through the eyes of another. Q. Can you tell me about "Splitscreen"? Why did you decide to write this play? This is kind of a funny story. I have known the lead actor, Alex Montaldo, for a few years. As well as being a gifted actor, he is also a professional fitness trainer who works off the island. I have trained my whole life, so he and I began to work out together. One day, in the gym, he remarked that he was at a transitional point in his career. He told me that he couldn’t find a theater role he liked, and that he was looking for a one-act play. In a moment of foolishness, I said, "How difficult can it be to write you a challenging role? I'll write you a one-act play." Having said that, I was committed. I had been ghosting for thirty years, working on everything from Hollywood scripts to legal works to medical texts as well as children's books. I find it easier when I write in someone else’s voice, so I figured I'd just treat it as if it were someone else's work, not my own. I wrote "Splitscreen," and gave it to Alex a week later. He loved it and showed it to a director who was also excited about working on the play. We did a short run at the Helen Mills Theater in the fall of 2013 to packed houses. I have since written it up to a full length script at the request of a second director who was interested in it, and we are doing a pilot treatment of the work on which "Splitscreen" was based, at the request of a third director. I loved doing "Splitscreen" for the challenge it posed in having the lead character in a wheelchair the whole time, but the video was really the first time I directed seriously, and it led almost immediately to several music videos. There is one I particularly like. It’s the music video for "Second Row Behind the Painter,” an album by the Roy Assaf Trio. Q. Can you tell me more about One Trick Dog Records? What kind of music do you produce? One Trick Dog has been around in some incarnation or another since the early 80's. We do primarily jazz and have worked with artists from around the world, including American jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, and a legendary line up of Brazilian artists, but we also do blues every so often. I favor melodic jazz. Close to my own heart is minimalism - Philip Glass, Keith Jarrett, Eric Dolphy - but we record trios and quartets, and do some acid jazz as well. Q. Have you always been interested in music production? Are you a musician? Yes, I've always been interested in jazz, though I am not a musician. I always wanted to be Keith Jarrett but wasn't blessed with his gift. When my young son announced at four that he was going to be a professional pianist, it meant the world to me. His name is Ben Rosenblum and at 21, he is a well-respected professional jazz pianist. My older son Dev Avidon, 27, is a jazz-rock fusion composer, singer, engineer and producer. My sister, Alida Rohr, is a jazz singer, and has worked with some of the heaviest cats of the last two generations. She has one of the most exceptional instruments I have ever heard. Like my sons, she can play almost any instrument, and she has perfect relative pitch. I produced my first record in the early 80's and have been involved in music in some way ever since. I have a natural instrument but it is wholly untrained and I don't pretend to be able to do what my sons and sister can do. I sing only when we can't find someone else who has the right range. Q. Please describe a typical day in your life. How do music and filmmaking fit into your day? Yesterday, I began writing early. I worked on the first draft of the narrative for a rap video we are going to shoot this week. When I write I try to rough out something, then sleep on it and see what happens. Cadence is always the most important, because if the voice isn't authentic, there's no point in trying to pass it off as real. The reason James Blunt did so well with "You're Beautiful" was not because of his voice but because of the nakedness and truthfulness of his story, the manner in which his voice conveyed how exposed he felt at the time. Glenn Campbell, Michael Bolton, Neil Diamond, it's the same raw authentic emotion. It is why we are drawn to music. I then set about responding to inquiries at One Trick Dog. Because we still sponsor the tracking, mixing, mastering and pressing of our artists, we bring in a number of new jazz artists each year. Right now, I have three albums in the pipeline. I particularly wanted to review the first mixes of one and the final mixes of another - one jazz piano trio and one fusion. I had already heard the roughs, but we had just installed an SSL console in the mastering space and I had not yet heard the sound of the new board. Each piece of pro audio equipment has a sonic "signature," and the role of a great audio engineer is to make these play well together. Any time I go into the studio I end up helping to rewire, because the engineers are forever optimizing their toys. Yesterday was no different. My days are broken into two shifts, because I play two hours of tennis everyday and box or run with Alex afterward. So the second shift involved a re-write and reformat of a pilot for a new series that is going out to LA in a week. The primary writing responsibility is mine. Alex formats and Dev - my older son and chief engineer - edits. We then met with the director and the videographer to go over the stock footage. By stock, I mean what my videographer has shot for his own projects, to see what we wanted to use. The day ended with two hours of Cannonball Adderley. This is listening time, when we share and explore older artists or brand new ones, what anyone has found that seems cool or different. Q. What kind of advice would you give to musicians and artists who are just starting out? My advice to musicians and artists in general is to try to find your own path. The business is very exploitative and does not provide real opportunities for success. People will always suggest that artists should work for free to get exposure. Exposure is a myth. Artists should not give away their work. They should value it so that the culture does. Right now, the Internet encourages people to believe they have a right to get music for free, but if musicians aren't paid, they won't be able to support themselves by creating. I try to encourage people to understand that what makes us human is twofold: our ability to create and appreciate objects of beauty and our desire to believe in something, some order, that is larger than ourselves. The anthropologist, Arjun Apadurai, observed that when a culture commercializes its sacred objects it destroys meaning. I believe this. I believe that art sanctifies life. It preserves what is greatest in a culture. So I would encourage young artists to stay true to their art, not to compromise their vision for commercial success, not to give away their art, and, finally, always to have a day gig, so they don't have to shill their work. For more information about Monique’s work, please go to: or contact her at To view "Ease of Access," please go to ***** Cover Image Credit: Kahleem Poole-Tejada/One Trick Dog Records Image Credit: Monique Witt Description: One Trick Dog Records, Production Crew on site at Avidon Audio Labs, Clockwise from upper left: Dev Avidon (sound design, audio engineering, voice over, and writing/arranging/composing), Ben Rosenblum (musical composition, arranging, and recording), Kahleem Poole-Tejada, (cinematography and video editing), and Alex Montaldo (acting, editing, tech support). Music copyrighted to One Trick Dog Records Featured Piece: "Lilian," written and performed by Ben Rosenblum (2012), recorded and mixed by Dev Avidon at Avidon Audio Labs for One Trick Dog Records.

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Living Among Shadows

by David Philip Norris

Lately, I’ve been watching American author and educator John Green’s “Crash Course: World History,” a series of forty-two videos that basically covers all the world history you should have learned in high school, but probably didn’t, in about eight hours. There are a number of different courses on this particular YouTube channel, ranging from psychology to U.S. history. One of these courses is on literature, and in one video, Green discusses the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I was particularly struck by the following excerpt, in which Green addresses the tragedy of suicide: “Dear Suicide, you are a permanent response to a temporary problem, and you are a solution to nothing. I just want to say at the outset that there is nothing good or romantic about you, Suicide. You are a tragedy. You are also, in almost all cases, preventable… So, it’s very important to me whenever we talk about a writer whose life ended with suicide that we note that people survive depression—and also that Sylvia Plath wasn’t a good writer because she eventually committed suicide. In fact, her career was cut short, and I mourn all of the many wonderful books we might have had.” ***** I live in the shadow of suicide. My grandmother committed suicide in 1960. As a writer, I am aware of the corpses that litter the landscape of our profession: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Sarah Kane. To most, these names represent words on a page, a collection of letters and dates. But each of these human beings lived entire lives between the bookends of their birth and demise, enduring what must have felt like an eternity of bleakness and torment before finally gasping out their last breaths, whether head first in an oven or staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of suicide. For one, it was—in my then Christian mind—an appalling sin, the ultimate act of rebellion against God. For another… well, I couldn’t even bring myself to prick my finger during the unit on blood type in biology class. Plus, it seemed like such a cowardly way out, an option for those who just didn’t try hard enough. Somewhere in my adolescence, probably around the time I started to become aware of my sexuality, but possibly as early as the age of eight or nine, I found myself experiencing periods of darkness. As an Evangelical, I believed that these slumps in mood had a spiritual cause. The cure was more Bible and more Jesus. It wasn’t until I took a course on psychology during my junior year in high school that I learned that my dark moods had a name: depression. And it was different from “the blues.”* ***** Most people associate depression with sadness, but it’s much more than that. In a 2013 TED Talk, writer Andrew Solomon described his downward spiral into depression: “Everything there was to do seemed like too much work. I would come home and I would see the red light flashing on my answering machine, and instead of being thrilled to hear from my friends, I would think, “What a lot of people that is to have to call back.” Or I would decide I should have lunch, and then I would think, “But I’d have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it,” and it felt to me like the Stations of the Cross.” Over the years, I’ve come to understand that depression is more than a condition. It’s fundamentally shaped how I view the world. In addition to affecting my moods, depression alters my perceptions. The smallest setbacks are magnified into megaliths of personal failure, and tiny inconveniences set me off as if they are crimes against humanity. It’s like having lenses in my eyes that pre-filter the light, dramatically changing how I see people and events. Everything is distorted, like in a funhouse mirror. When I am in a depressive state, I feel worthless. Powerless. Hopeless. Disconnected from everything and everyone in my life. Even happy moments are colored with gloom. The flavor of celebration comes across more like sand than sugar. Well-meaning friends try to cheer me up and lend support, not understanding that the problem is within, not without. At its worst, it feels as if I’m shut up in a glass box, able to see everything going on outside but unable to touch or be touched by anything or anyone. Things that would otherwise bring me joy seem gray and uninteresting. I can’t concentrate on anything. Even sex doesn’t interest me. ***** In June of 2008, just months away from my decision to finally come out as a gay man, I abruptly began having random and intense thoughts about death. While sorting my recycling one afternoon, I suddenly realized that it was almost July, which meant that the year was nearly over, which meant that I was a quarter of a century old, which meant that I was going to die someday. Gradually, thoughts of suicide began to creep in. I would think of driving my car into oncoming traffic. Slitting my wrists while working in the kitchen. Overdosing on pills I’d take for a headache. As an atheist, I have come to terms with the reality that death is merely the cessation of brain activity and that consciousness just fades. The more I struggle with the loneliness and exhaustion of dealing with the emotional minefield of my past and present, the more alluring these thoughts of suicide have become. ***** Setbacks or disappointments that might merely discourage a non-depressed person appear catastrophic and calamitous to me. For example, a few weeks ago I met a guy on OkCupid who seemed decent. We went on a date, had dinner and a wonderful talk. A few days later, we went on a second date that seemed to go equally well. After that, I heard from him less often. Then on Sunday night, he explained that his ex-boyfriend had recently contacted him, and he was pondering whether they should get back together. I asked whether he missed him. He said yes. They had been together for eighteen months before breaking up. I gave him a few days to collect his thoughts, and then texted him to ask if he’d come to any decision about whether he wanted to pursue things further. He apologized, saying that he hadn’t been ready to start dating again and really hadn’t thought things through when he first contacted me. But yes, for my sake, I should move on. Now, here’s how a normal person might view this situation: We went on two dates. It was fun, but it wasn’t meant to be. Just try again. This is how it looks to a person who is depressed: I am crushed. And disappointed. Not so much by the loss of a prospective boyfriend, but rather by a persistent and growing realization that this is how my entire dating life has gone so far, and probably will for the rest of my life—I meet a guy I like, and things might seem to go well for a bit, and then something like this happens. Rinse, repeat. So that night I made a decision—one I’ve contemplated many times over the years: “If I’m still single when I’m thirty-five, I’m going to kill myself.” Because, I reasoned, if I don’t meet anyone by then, there’s no way it will ever happen, and I don’t want to be one of those single, older gay men constantly getting passed over or used as a one-night stand. Again—that’s the depression talking. It is frightening to think that after all of the years of struggling, the idea of simply not existing, of not having to worry about anything anymore, is so comforting. Then my reason snaps into gear again, like a bucket of cold water to the face. After all, who knows what tomorrow will bring? And the day after. Maybe I’m about to meet my future husband. If I kill myself, that future will never be written. It’ll be like an O. Henry short story, where an ironic twist of fate causes two people to just miss each other at a train station. ***** Depressed people do not kill themselves simply because they are sad. Depressed people choose to end their lives because they are tired—tired of waiting for things to get better, and of listening to friends and family members tell them that it will get better if they just hold on. Tired of hurting all the time when everyone says they should be happy. Tired of the guilt of feeling like a burden or drain to everyone around them. As I write this, I am in the midst of a depressive episode that has lasted almost five months. On even the best of days, it can take an enormous amount of energy just to get out of bed in the morning. Deciding whether to leave the house or even to see a few friends is like balancing my checkbook, making sure there are enough funds in my emotional bank account to attend even a small gathering. Most days I avoid seeing people because the anxiety about what we might talk about or what we should do or what we should have for dinner is overwhelming. Even finding the energy to finish this article is exhausting. ***** The best advice I’ve received for living with chronic depression is to chart my moods and look for patterns and cycles. This helps to remind me that, no matter how bad a depressive episode seems, it will eventually come to an end. When I am depressed, I am intellectually aware of this fact, but I still find myself thinking that the present situation will last forever. No matter how much I remind myself that the light at the end of the tunnel will eventually appear, the depression is always there, casting its Edward Gorey-esque shadows over those hopeful thoughts. I see the world as it is, but also a shadowy mirror version. There’s a shadow double of everyone and everything—friends, family, strangers, billboards, television shows. Even a potential relationship that fizzled out. “Who are you kidding?” the shadows sigh, the sum of their voices drowning out the messages of the real world. “You’re holding out for a dream that might not ever come true. Your future husband or your future career could always be just beyond the next hill. Or the next one. Soon, you will be wrinkled and gray, and your whole life will have passed you by, and you’ll have nothing but white-hot regret to warm you…” It’s like having a Dementor for a roommate. ***** Over the years, I’ve learned an important lesson about depression. In the words of Andrew Solomon, “Shutting out the depression strengthens it. Talking and writing about my own depression in recent years has taken away some of its power over me, and by acknowledging it I have been able to seek out help and support to manage my dark moods when they inevitably come around." And yet, despite scientific evidence of the physiological nature of depression, there is still so much stigma in our society surrounding mental illness. We continue to stigmatize and alienate those people who are suffering from depression, who already believe that they’re alone, that no one cares, that they have no right to feel bad when they have it so good, that everyone will think they’re a failure, and that their friends will abandon them if they find out what’s going on. A few years ago, I was with a group of people, and I mentioned that I was seeing a therapist to help treat my depression. One woman exclaimed, “I’m so glad you said that! I’ve been seeing a therapist too, but wasn’t sure if I could mention that here.” I think we treat mental illness differently from other physical conditions because there’s no easy solution. And that makes many people uncomfortable. ***** In interviews, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has stated that the Dementors, the dark creatures that guard the wizard prison of Azkaban and feed off human happiness, were inspired by her own bouts of depression. As fans of the books and movies will recall, the only method to repel a Dementor is by way of the Patronus Charm. In the third Harry Potter book “The Prisoner of Azkaban” we learn that this charm is cast “with an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.” (Rowling, p. 176) As events in the story unfold, we see that the Patronus charm is a difficult one to master, and at the end of this book, thanks to a plot twist involving time travel, Harry is gifted a second chance to cast the Patronus charm to save both himself and another character. This is a scene I’ve been thinking about lately. It is a reminder to me that the Patronus charm is an elusive one, that on some days I simply won’t be able to conjure a happy memory. On these days, I know that I’ll have to call on friends and family who love and care about me to provide me with the strength I will need to hold back the darkness. It is a tremendous act of courage to call upon the people in your life for help, to tell them how you’re feeling, to defy those voices that tell you that it’s hopeless and that everyone would be better off if you were dead. Our greatest strength is each other. ***** I will close with one final quote from Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk: “The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It’s of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again, “This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it.”” “… I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I’ve found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely, and sometimes against the moment's reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture.” ***** *Note: Depression differs from “the blues” in one significant way: depression is persistent. Everything could be going perfectly for a person’s job, relationships, and personal life, but the ability to enjoy these things is impaired. The DSM-IV defines Major Depressive Disorder as: “Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least two weeks and at least five of the following symptoms that cause clinically significant impairment in social, work, or other important areas of functioning almost every day.” These diagnostic criteria include symptoms like fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness; recurrent thoughts of death; insomnia or sleeping too much; and diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities. Along with major depressive disorder, the American Psychiatric Association’s revised fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) outlines six other depressive disorders along with their subtypes. These include dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, substance-induced mood disorder, adjustment disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. From a clinical standpoint, all of these must be considered as possibilities when approaching a depression diagnosis. References: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (n.d.). Appendix D—DSM-IV-TR Mood Disorders. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved June 28, 2014, from Rowling, J. (1999). Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury. Solomon, A. (2013, October 19.) Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share. ***** Image Credit: Istockphoto/sokolovsky

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Finding Peace, Part 2

by Selina Uglow

I became pregnant with my first child in my senior year of high school, but attended my prom and graduation with pride as the ‘Outstanding Senior of the Year’ – which I find a bit hilarious considering the times back then. Needing to work, I took a job in office administration after I graduated. I could do a lot of things well, but men were a different story. I wasn't always proud to talk about it, but I own it now. I have three great children who don't share last names, but you would never know it. Although I was a single parent, I quickly took on management and leadership positions, and maintained this type of success until 2007, at which point you could say I finally got smart about the ‘men’ thing. At the time, I was working as an office manager. I left my job to go to Edinboro University so that both of the soon-to-be graduating children in my house could have an opportunity at a college education. One day, I went home to spend time with my partner, only to discover that he had actually been sleeping with his ex-wife for some time. This would be the fourth broken relationship that my children would witness, and I decided that I would no longer rely on a partner to help me take care of myself and my family. If I wanted something more for my children, I knew that I would have to do it alone. I made the decision to invest in a formal education. The shortest route to the greatest pay in a field that I was very much attracted to was the Licensed Practical Nursing Program at Mercyhurst College North East. It would require me to work twenty-five hours on the weekend and attend classes forty hours per week, but it would only take three hundred and sixty-five days. I was awarded a Clinical Excellence Award, together with pompoms at graduation – the pompoms a result of my desire to ‘count it down’ for everyone everyday, even when it was difficult. Over the years, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by great people who supported me and believed in me. Without the help of these individuals who recognized my existing potential, I am not sure that I would have become the person I am today. Upon graduation, I was blessed to work with two of the best physicians in our area. They specialized in both Sports and Integrative Medicine, and treated patients who hadn’t experienced any improvement in the care of other specialists. These patients needed an environment in which they could be heard and paid attention to. The more I learned, the more I wanted to pursue additional education in this area, thinking this would become my lifelong career. I enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania Online and obtained my BS in Sports Management & Wellness. Other than the birth of my children and grandson, the greatest moment for me up to this point in my life was graduating from college with my oldest child standing behind me. We received our degrees at the same time. I still cry when I think about it. While I was earning my degree, I worked as a Clinical and Office Administrator, and became very involved in the care of our patients. I also had the opportunity to work in management and electronic medical record training. But I was working fifty to sixty hours per week to handle the workload and my additional responsibilities, and the situation quickly became toxic. At the time, I made another important realization. I saw that the health care industry really did not serve its customers very well and that with all of the changes that were expected in the future, it would only get worse. I felt that this problem was due primarily to administrative inefficiency, and to the clinic’s failure to educate the entire staff in the big picture. So I began to structure my own consultation business. I called it Medical Office Management Solutions or MOMS for short. After all, we all need a mom to guide us on the right path. ***** I couldn't really tell you when the shift happened, but I truly believe today that I was somehow led in this direction. At this point, I had put together a circle of individuals whom I trusted, and who were also involved in holistic health. In our discussions, we reflected on what people really needed in terms of wellness. From our perspective, we saw that no one started at the same place. So, in an effort to share these ideas with others, we put together a community wellness program and negotiated with a local country market to allow us to set up on their premises on a monthly basis. The series was called ‘From the Pharm-A-Cy to the Farm-I-See’. The program featured everything from ‘Renewing the Spirit of Wellness’ to ‘Extending the Life of your Garden’ to ‘Understanding the Benefits of Knowing that Stress Happens at the Holidays.’ Just as we were about to launch our series, I received a telephone call from one of my previous supervisors, Dr. Gregory Coppola, who specializes in Sports and Integrative medicine in Erie, Pennsylvania. He told me that he was scheduled to speak in Warren but that his wife had fallen ill. He explained that I was the only other person he could trust to speak about Integrative Medicine on his behalf. ‘Could I go down there this afternoon?’ he asked. We met, and I agreed to speak to an amazing group of women who go by the name ‘Running Revolution.’ (With the encouragement of Charles Gray, a woman who has since become a great friend and inspiration, these incredible women are empowered through learning to run a 5K race.) Two days after the talk, I was informed that some people were looking for me. One of these people was an individual whose family member was suffering from cancer, and felt that he just needed to hear my story. Would I agree to speak with him? I agreed. And so it began. People were inspired by the fact that I would share my story with them, and I realized that sharing my story could perhaps help change people’s lives. ***** Today, I have a wonderful husband of five years who is a fifth grade science teacher. I also have three beautiful children, two stepchildren and a grandson who are all creating their own journeys. I also care for my in-laws to help them live independently, despite the limitations that come with Alzheimer's. In my weekly blog, for which I do all of the writing and design, I try to encourage individuals to embrace small and simple changes that can be made in their lives. Many people think that in order to have what you want, it takes a great sacrifice or a drastic change, but the lasting changes really come from incorporating small ones into your already intact life and schedule. I am also a wellness coach. That means that I am constantly chatting with people about finding a better way. Where others see things as complicated or difficult, I tend to see things as uncomplicated, and so I share when given the opportunity. The funny thing is that although this is my business, it is not unlike me to be on the floor of a dress shop teaching someone how to ‘unload’ their back and reduce their pain. As a service provider, I try to meet people wherever they happen to be in their lives, and help them incorporate the simple changes that are needed to live a better quality of life. Sometimes, I’ll send my clients a morning motivational text, or I’ll spend time with them on a one-on-one basis to go through the information I’ve asked them to journal. In other cases, I’ll suggest that they join me in a fitness program two to three times per week. I have elected to avoid a "brick and mortar" office because the flexibility in terms of cost savings and improved service seems to work for those I hope to assist. By collaborating with others and by offering my services to some in trade, I can make arrangements for ‘host’ locations, and I can meet people in their homes. My schedule can be flexible, and I feel that I can help a greater number of people this way. ***** The Internet has provided us with access to a vast amount of information with regards to what is healthy, but it still doesn't help people apply this information to their own lives. It doesn't address personal needs, and is mostly generalized based on recent fads or studies. A healthy lifestyle is so much more than diet and exercise. It’s about balance. It’s about finding a balance in your life that can bring you peace. This doesn't necessarily mean getting it all done all the time. It really is more about recognizing and rewarding yourself for what you DO get done, and finding ways to do those things a little better. It’s also about resting, and about doing so in a quality fashion. This can mean everything from learning to let go, to taking some time to create a sanctuary in your bedroom, instead of using it to store things you don't want other people to see. It’s about exercise and changing your attitude towards it. Motivating more movement is my goal. But, a healthy lifestyle is cumulative and comes in many forms, not just in what you find in a gym membership. Diet is important. It doesn't have to be organic, gluten free, or low fat. But it’s important to be mindful of what you are eating. Why do you eat? Do you really taste your food? Do you breathe when you eat? How often do you chew your food? Most importantly, do you plan and dedicate time to eating or is a meal just another task? When you approach your habits from all of these different angles, you can begin to make a change that will lead to a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is one in which you can live peacefully and enjoy activity without restriction. It is not based on the size of your clothes or the number on a scale, or even on your physician’s evaluation. Being healthy means that you have the ability to truly embrace life to the fullest possible potential so that you don't miss out on how good it can be. ***** I think that we all have the ability to change the direction or course of our journey. Sometimes, we just need someone to tell us we can. This is what I try to do. In my life, I have lived through difficult times and have made poor choices. I have witnessed and experienced circumstances at an early age that children really shouldn’t have to deal with, and I have survived abusive relationships. I have been diagnosed with colon cancer and told that I had only five years to live. And despite everything, I am alive and well today. I believe that it is my attitude that has made all the difference in my fight and determination to live. I hope that by sharing my story and my perspective with others, I will help others live their lives to the fullest. ***** Image Credit: Istockphoto

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Finding Peace, Part 1

by Selina Uglow

My childhood experiences were challenging, but afforded me a great sense of compassion for people. When I was a child, I attended something like fifteen different schools by sixth grade and grew up much sooner than I should have. My mother was an incredible woman with a lot of demons, an alcohol problem and a circle of friends that didn't help either. She was, however, the most giving individual I will ever know. When my mother was sixteen years old, she became pregnant with me, and dropped out of high school. My mother didn’t talk much about her childhood, but she did say that she had done better than her own mother and her grandmother before her. I do know that my grandmother had left her children when they were very young, and that my mother and her two brothers had been raised by my grandfather. When I was growing up, family members told me that my mother had been molested as a child. For my entire life, she had battled with alcoholism, and while I don’t have much information about her childhood, I can only imagine the things she was trying to forget. After I was born, it didn’t take long for my parents’ relationship to come to an end. My mother was young, and although she participated in many programs from Alcoholics Anonymous to Serenity, she struggled with her own insecurities and alcoholism throughout much of my youth. Over the years, we relocated several times to different places in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio for many reasons, including broken relationships, lack of money, or lost jobs. My mother seemed to choose partners who had substance abuse issues or who were physically abusive towards her. When she was single, she often tended bar or took jobs as a caregiver and we would live in places where someone was close by for daycare or available if I needed something during the night. I spent a lot of time as a kid in situations that involved drugs and adult circumstances. I remember one incident very vividly. My mother’s husband at the time made me sit in a chair and watch as he kicked, hit and threw my mother down a flight of stairs, threatening to kill her if I moved. The beating she got resulted in a broken jaw and damaged ribs. My memory is a bit spotty, but I have many small recollections like that of growing up. As a rule, I’m pretty good at letting things go. I was told once that this beautiful gift is my way of coping with the challenges that have been thrown my way. Please understand that my mother was not a bad mother. She did a great job with the tools that were at her disposal. She was a very caring and generous individual, often opening our home and giving her last dollar to help another person. It was not uncommon for me to wake up to a stray animal or a new person in our home that my mother felt needed help. My father was a spotty presence in my childhood, but he worked hard to do the best that he could. I remember that he would pick me up and take me to the Peninsula. We would go swimming or he would teach me how to spot deer. My father was very young at the time, and my mother didn’t exactly make it easy for him to be a part of my life. Today my father is a union representative who is an advocate for good pay and for the fair treatment of employees. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and is always seeking ways to make a difference for others. Both my parents set a great example for me in what they did and didn't do. ***** In some respects, I made the same poor choices in relationships that my mother had made. I sought out people who at first made me feel that I was valued, but then quickly walked all over me. Like my mother, I fell in love and became pregnant with my first child, Christopher, when I was a teenager. I was insecure and immature at the time, and I felt that my child’s father would much rather be with his friends than with me. Three children and two broken relationships later, I found myself in my second marriage at the age of twenty-six. My husband at the time was very abusive towards me. Because of my lack of self-esteem, I was convinced that I simply needed to be a better wife. Because of the choices I had made, I felt that I had to make this relationship work for my children. Standing at 5’2”, my husband was two inches shorter than I was, but this didn’t prevent him from contributing to my feelings of worthlessness. He had assured me that our marriage could only end in a pine box, and I didn’t feel that a lot of other options were available to me at the time. And then a miracle happened. I was diagnosed with colon cancer. ***** During a regular checkup for my youngest child, I decided to ask the doctor a question. I had been experiencing slight abdominal pain that was becoming increasingly worse – which I had attributed to having being punched in the stomach. I asked the doctor if this could cause scar tissue. In response to my question, the doctor ordered a battery of tests. The tests came back negative, but my symptoms continued. When I had my first colonoscopy, I awoke in a room surrounded by my physician, my husband at the time, and my cousin who was a nurse at the facility where the procedure had been performed. I knew something was wrong because I was well aware that post colonoscopy, I should be sitting in a room with a bunch of other people waiting for flatulence. Instead, I was in a private room, and my physician was telling me that I had to go directly to the hospital, that I needed surgery, and that part of my colon would have to be removed. He told me that in most cases, what they removed was cancer. I put everything on hold, went home and prepared for surgery. After all, I had to make arrangements for my three children, and I was working as a manager for a major landscaping company. We were in the middle of a busy season. ***** Two days later, I smoked my last cigarette in front of the Metro Health Center. Thanks to the colonoscopy, the doctor had discovered that a tumor was blocking my colon by 98% and that it had broken the colon wall to enter the lymph system. After a resection was completed, I met with the surgeon who gave me a straight up answer to a straight up question. “What could I expect?” I asked. The doctor replied, “Go home and plan for five good years.” When I heard these words, I realized that my children needed me in their lives. The choices I had made in the past had not necessarily equipped them with better opportunities. I was regretful more than anything else, and I was determined to set things right. I was in a marriage with a man who has since been diagnosed with Bi-polar Disease. He was unloving and abusive towards me, and I was doing everything I could to hide my situation from my children. So I said to those who were providing me with medical care, “Tell me what I need to do to overcome my illness.” I didn’t decide to change my life then and there, but when my sentence was handed down, I decided that from that moment on, I wasn’t going to let anyone put limits on my life. For my first course of treatment, I tried an experimental drug. I didn’t want statistics. I just wanted to do what was necessary to raise my children. One week after I was released from the hospital, I went back to work. I was determined to live. There was an irony to all of this. On the same weekend I prepared for the colonoscopy, I attended a Christian marriage retreat with my then husband because I thought things could get better between us. But following my diagnosis and well into treatment, I realized that things were not getting better. In fact, they were getting worse. I was tired from all the chemo, and according to my husband, I wasn’t there for HIM. So when I found out that he was sleeping with another woman, I knew that this would be the final straw. I finally made the decision to leave. I see now that my cancer diagnosis was my second chance. ***** After meeting with the oncologist, to whom I am entirely grateful because he was a “No BS” kind of guy, I was set up for treatment. At the time of my diagnosis, there was an ongoing trial to test the drug Oxaliplatin, and I had decided that I would participate in this trial. My first appointment at the cancer center was an informative one. I found myself in a private room watching videos regarding my diagnosis and what I should expect from treatment. Afterwards, a nurse came in to discuss my medication regimen. I explained immediately that I was not interested in knowing about the side effects or the statistics with regard to the success or failure of the drug. So, we proceeded. I remember that a warm blanket was placed on me beforehand, and that the medicine burned when it entered my body. It wasn't long before the toxicity of the drug treatment required that a mediport be surgically placed. I had hated needles prior to this treatment, but I had to get comfortable with them very quickly. Truly, my mindset at the time was that I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to resume life as I had known it, so that I could be there for my children. I returned to work a week or so after I was discharged from the hospital. I wore sweatpants because staples were still holding my incision together, and my employer was kind enough to let me do what I could under the circumstances. My chemotherapy sessions were set up on Fridays after my morning meetings at work. The treatment was administered over the course of a few hours, and then I would drive home where Little Caesar's pizza and my wonderful children would make sure that everything was low key. I spent Friday nights on the couch mostly. I really didn't ask about the efficacy of the trial until much later in November when I went to an outdoor shopping center and a gust of cold wind resulted in the temporary paralysis of one side of my face. After discussing the situation with him, my oncologist relayed that this could be a permanent side effect. He wasn’t sure. By then, I had made the decision to discontinue the trial. I resumed a regular regimen of chemotherapy instead. My Fridays were glorious, sitting in a recliner at the cancer center meeting others who also struggled with their condition. I met some wonderful people, and came to know the staff. During these sessions, I learned that many relationships dissolved after a cancer diagnosis, simply because caregivers are either not acknowledged or because the stress is too much for them to handle. My husband was my caregiver at the time, but I believe that he resented the attention and concern that others were showing me. The chemotherapy caused extreme pain in my hands, and he took advantage of this situation to remind me of my ‘bad behavior’ in public. He provided me with a cue to correct myself by reaching over and squeezing my hand, causing pain. I knew I would leave my husband when I finally sustained a black eye after discovering that he had rekindled an interest in another woman. Later, he would stand in the cancer center during my treatment and make a scene, telling everyone that the only reason anyone cared about “this piece of shit” (me) was because I had cancer. I decided that the next step in my life was to dissolve this relationship. Bernie Siegel's book, “Love, Medicine & Miracles” had given me the hope that I needed and the realization that my cancer had definitely been induced by stress. In order to fight it, I knew that I would have to eliminate the stress from my life. ***** My husband had assured me that I would have to die to escape from my marriage, and so I set out to find the help I needed to get out. But the night I left, my husband found me. His intention was to kill me. He was arrested. ***** When I left my husband and my history of abusive relationships behind me, I also decided to make some immediate lifestyle changes. I addressed the following: 1. Honesty. I knew that I had to be honest with myself and others. I had to accept that I had made some poor choices in my life, but I could take pride in the fact that I had made some good ones along the way. 2. Stress reduction. I realized that it was time to reduce the stress in my life, particularly the stress that I had created for myself. 3. Weight management. I realized that it was time to take better care of myself, and to make better choices for my health. In the next six years, I would learn to read the labels on food packages, to prepare my own food, and to meditate. I have always maintained a positive attitude in my life. It was the one change I didn't have to make, but it was probably the thing that saved me in the end. I have always worked to build people up and to help them see the gifts with which they have been blessed, regardless of their situation. A wise woman once said to me, “take the best, leave the rest,” and that’s pretty much how I have lived my life. I believe that every circumstance, even the ones we don't want to think about or remember, can make us better people. Once my treatments were completed, I put the cancer diagnosis behind me. It took a year or so for me to regain my energy. Since then, my health has been great. I have some residual neuropathy, but several colonoscopies, two brain scans, and twelve years later, I’m feeling pretty awesome and am now considered ‘cured.’ I understand the value of holistic living. I eat fresh, enjoy the outdoors, and read everything I can about spiritual and physical wellness. My entire life has been a journey of learning and growth. My diagnosis was definitely the “exit” I needed to take my life to the next level for myself and my children. Sometimes I feel my life would make a Jerry Springer special look mild, but I am proud of my ability to overcome. (To be continued...) To read Part 2, click here ***** Image Credit: Used with Selina Uglow’s permission

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Aaron Schwartz

Fascinating. Thanks, The People Project.

19 days ago

Eduardo Ribeiro Alves

I like (very much!)

18 days ago

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