commentary and current events, neurodivergence

Inauguration Day 2021: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Four years ago today, I studiously avoided watching the inauguration. Instead, I wrote the introduction to Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber, a volume that seemed even more vital then than it had when AutPress released its call for submissions ten months earlier.

Four years later, I still find the Spoon Knife 2 intro meaningful. Here it is, reprinted in full, for another inauguration day – and the entrance into another test chamber.

National Day of Testing: An Introduction

“You know what my days used to be like? I just tested. Nobody murdered me, or put me in a potato, or fed me to birds. I had a pretty good life. And then you showed up.” – GLaDOS, Portal 2

My debut piece in The Spoon Knife Anthology relied heavily on the mythology of Portal, a video game in which the player-protagonist navigates a series of nineteen test chambers, accompanied by promises of cake and increasingly sinister commentary from a sentient supercomputer named GLaDOS. As the player progresses, completing each chamber becomes increasingly difficult. Breaking out of them altogether becomes unavoidable.

Portal is primarily a puzzle game. The same test chambers that trap the player-protagonist and obscure the final goal also provide both the tools of escape and the necessary practice in how to use them. The moment of escape is devilishly simple but requires quick thinking; the game’s ending implies exactly how far one can test the chamber.

For several months after submitting my first Spoon Knife piece, the concept of the “test chamber” intrigued me. “My Mother, GLaDOS” was my first tangible test (of the) chamber, the first time I’d committed some of the rawest and most gaslit parts of my childhood to print and the first time, outside the safety of my therapist’s office, that I had ever criticized the malignant programming that tested me. I played with the concept of the “test chamber” for several months before generating the Call for Submissions that produced responses in the form of the poetry, fiction, and memoir that appear here.

The writers (and editors and publishers) of the book you now hold in your hands all have this in common: we all diverge in some way(s) from the normative, the expected, the acceptable. We’ve all been pathologized, scrutinized, corrected – often, in horrible ways.

As I write this, the United States finds itself in a new test chamber, one whose outputs will inevitably affect the rest of the world. Those of us who find ourselves already marginalized, like the authors represented here, will suffer first, but we will not suffer alone. All of us need the tools of defiance and resistance.

The Spoon Knife Anthology gives its readers the chance to name demands for compliance when we see them, and to try on the means of defiance and resistance. In Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber, we explore what happens when those tools – and others – are applied to a particular purpose or demand. We test the chamber in which we find ourselves, and in so doing, we find the power to subvert it.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp
January 20, 2017


For more literature on compliance, defiance, and resistance, visit autpress.com.

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commentary and current events, satire, fiction and humor

How to Find Out What the F*ck (Is Going On)

The title of this post comes from a predictive text Twitter thread I did recently that used blog post title templates. In a moment of hilarity-induced poor judgment, I offered to write any of the posts predictive text generated titles for.

This one won. For good reason! The world is full of “what the fuck?” moments. To navigate it successfully, we need skills in finding out what, indeed, the fuck.

Here is a guide to doing just that.

wtf

First: Is It F*cking Familiar?

When your reaction is “What the fuck is going on?,” start by looking for familiar elements.

Do you know who the fuck is involved? Do you recognize the setting or tools used in this fuckery? Do you have an odd sense that you’ve been in this fucking place before?

When we cannot quickly identify or categorize an event, process, person or object, our brains trip the “What the fuck?” circuit. By looking for familiar elements, you help your brain categorize what it’s perceiving more quickly – shortening the time between “What the fuck?” and “Oh, this fuckery again.”

Second: Can You F*cking Ask Someone?

When encountering fuckery, your first instinct may be to ask someone else, “What the fuck is going on here?”

This is natural! Humans are social creatures; we rely on one another for advice, perspective, and guidance all the time. Relying on others’ perspectives is one way we turn the unfamiliar (“What the fuck?”) into the familiar (“Oh, this fuckery.”)

If someone is present who might know what the fuck is going on, don’t hesitate to ask them.

Do, however, take a deep breath and consider other options for phrasing the question. While “What the fuck is going on?” might be the most emotionally honest statement in the moment, it’s not always the most effective for eliciting answers. Try “What’s going on here?” or “Can you tell me more about this?”

Third: Where to Get More F*cking Information

If it’s fucked up but not urgent, seeking information from an additional source can help you unfuck it.

Here are several common sources of fuckery and a few resources for dealing with them.

Household Repairs

For large household systems (HVAC, plumbing), look for a phone number on the unit for the manufacturer, installer or maintenance team. Household appliances like refrigerators may have a hotline you can call for advice. Some people like to invest in coverage like home warranties, which can help ensure your household stuff gets fixed quickly after a “what the fuck?” moment.

Auto Repairs

Once upon a time, having access to the Chilton manual for your vehicle was the gold standard in addressing vehicular what the fuckery. You can still access many Chilton manuals online today. Also, consider investing in a code reader if you want to find out what the fuck your car’s latest blinky light means without having to take it all the way to the fucking dealership.

Children

What happens if you mix glitter into cake batter? Would the baby look better covered in Sharpie? Can goldfish survive in hot water?

There’s nothing like young children to generate a lifetime of joyful “What the fuck?” moments. Keep a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher handy at all times. Place items you don’t want children to access out of their reach, such as on a high shelf in a hut halfway up Mount Everest. And take lots of pictures. Someday, you’ll miss this fuckery – and you’ll need the photos to remind yourself why the fuck your nostalgia is misplaced.

Politics

I know, right? What the actual fuck.

There’s actually an answer for this one, and I’ve been relying on it since the 2016 election. What the Fuck Just Happened Today? aggregates the biggest political stories daily, draws connections between events, and so on. It also aggregates links to news sources covering those stories, so if you’re convinced that only your favorite news outlet of choice can be trusted, you can find and click the link to its coverage.

The next time you need to find out what the fuck, take a deep breath and keep your head on. You got this fuckery.


Help me fuck around: buy me a coffee or share this post on the social medias.

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commentary and current events

We No Longer Have to Guess at Trump’s “Real” Mental State

I logged into Twitter this morning to encounter this article from Raw Story, which interviews Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and one of the authors of the report that seeks to answer the question “Does Trump have adequate mental capacity to perform the tasks of the Presidency?” (Their answer: He does not.)

I did both my law school internships in criminal law, one on each side of the aisle. During the first, I represented several people who, for various reasons, lacked competency; during the second, I worked with an assistant prosecutor whose job was to push back against competency claims at the state mental hospital.

While I couldn’t have recited the criteria Dr. Lee and her co-authors use in the report, they were immediately familiar to me in practice, based on my internship experiences. And when I read the Raw Story article, something else became immediately familiar to me as well.

trump has dementia

Losing My Religion Filter

Trump’s racism, itself, isn’t news. Trump has a history of subtle racism, including but not limited to his thirty years of accusing the Central Park 5 of rape, despite DNA evidence exonerating them.

But, until the last few years, the keyword there has been subtle. Trump hasn’t expressed that racism in a way that would raise eyebrows in polite company (in fact, raising one’s eyebrow would be seen as the impolite thing to do). He hasn’t, historically, attacked in the way he has now attacked Reps. Omar, Pressley, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez.

The racism has always been there. It’s just louder now. Why?

I Submit: The reason Trump’s racism is now laid bare is because that’s what dementia does.

Dr. Lee doesn’t attempt to diagnose Trump with dementia. In fact, she and her co-authors are very clear that they can’t diagnose Trump without seeing Trump in person.

Nevertheless, the question “Does Trump have dementia?” has been discussed in several venues (I find Tom Joseph’s particularly persuasive – here’s just one part of it).

And while I’m not a doctor, I am someone who has (a) worked with adults who lacked mental capacity and (b) had multiple grandparents with dementia. I can’t diagnose Trump or anyone else, but I can talk about what I see.

Here’s what I see.

Dementia Sucks

For my grandparents, as with most dementia patients, dementia was a gradual slide. They didn’t turn incoherent all at once; the word salad built up over time. For a period of several months to several years, the word salad was sufficiently related to current events that one could pretend it was an actual conversation.

This, in hindsight, was also the point at which personalities began to change – or rather, to be laid bare.

Everyone has a certain category in their heads of things they think and feel, but that they don’t feel it’s proper to say. Typically, these things are “improper” because they conflict with the person’s self-image, the image others have of them, or both. They don’t fit with the role the person plays in their family, society, or the greater world.

Saying these things would rock the boat. It would provoke comments like “That’s just not like you!” It would erode trust. So we don’t say them. Even if the things are totally innocuous.

Before dementia makes you forget those things, though, it makes you forget why you decided they were off-limits.

For one of my grandmothers, this meant an abrupt change from Sweet Little Old Lady Who Uncomplainingly Endures Everything Including the Depression to torrents of invective about what a whore Mabel down the street was for using six eggs in her meringue and self-pity about how lonely she was now that childhood friend Beatrice (d. 1965) had stopped talking to her for Mean Girl reasons.

For my grandfather, it meant a change from Stalwart Businessman Community Leader Yes I Have Always Been This Rich Real Men Don’t Cry to telling me stories about his boyhood fishing in the Ozarks and how proud he is of me and my psychology degree.

(N.b. I don’t have a psychology degree. I suspect he always wanted one.)

At both those times, I realized that I no longer had to guess at what either grandparent was “really” thinking. I knew. They were telling me. Because they had forgotten not to.

We’re at the same point with Trump.

Trump has gone from genteel rich racist to bloviating invective racist because that part of his brain that used to tell him that Bloviating Racist was incompatible with his image is now gone.

He hasn’t forgotten the racism, any more than my grandfather had forgotten how it felt to catch his first catfish or my grandmother had forgotten how much it hurt to be cut by Beatrice for no reason. He has forgotten what his personal reason was not to talk about it.

He has forgotten that he ever had a reason not to talk about it.

Weirdly Trustworthy

I hesitate to say Trump is more reliable now than he was 20 years ago. Lacking capacity brings with it an instability with memory and reality, and Trump in particular has succumbed many times in the public eye to a reality dictated by his feelings, rather than facts. (Just ask our intelligence agencies.)

But there is a certain reliability in the emotions he expresses now, which is to say that they’re no longer filtered through his own constructed self-image or others’ image of him. He does still have an ego; in fact, that ego is perhaps even more easily bruised now, because he no longer has the protection afforded by playing the role of Rich Man Above Your Nonsense (a role which, arguably, his tiny hands never fully grasped in the first place). But he doesn’t play a role anymore.

He can’t. He’s forgotten that there was a role.

What we see from Trump now is pure, unadulterated Trump. We’re seeing what Trump has thought and felt on the down-low for decades now.

In the past, Trump was a highkey racist playing a lowkey racist in public. Now, he’s just a highkey racist, because he’s forgotten how to be an actor.

I am not looking forward to finding out what else Trump downplayed back when he still knew how to act.

 

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