The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality


This book will be on my reading list.

Originally posted on Mark Carrigan:

I41mRZVYpOXL._SY300_n the last few years my interest in asexuality has shifted from a concern with the experience of asexual people to a preoccupation with why those who aren’t asexual find it as confusing as they do. This can seem to be a confusingly niche interest, or at least I occasionally worry that it might come across that way. It emerged from one recurrent theme in the many personal stories I encountered in my research: the incomprehension with which most asexual people have at times found their asexuality greeted. What makes the notion so hard to grasp? I’ve written about this at length in the past and I don’t think I have anything new to add to the discussion at this point.

What’s more important is how this incomprehension can lead people to act. This inability to grasp asexuality as a concept can bring otherwise well meaning people to act in deeply hurtful…

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January 21, 2015 at 10:36 am Leave a comment

Golden Slab of Distraction

Almost seven years ago, I wrote an essay about my distaste of Apple’s hype machine. It was written shortly before the launch of the now-iconic iPhone, where people were lining up outside the then-rare Apple Stores, waiting for this new, and very expensive new phone. iPods had already swamped the digital music universe, pretty much wiping out any competition. Tablets were still rare, and the few that existed were clunky, required styluses, and people were hoping that maybe netbooks might be something people might want. Windows had launched Vista, which was a massive flop, and people were disillusioned.

2007 was an interesting time, so when Apple launched the iPhone, people glommed onto it like it was gold. Three years later, Apple scored again, with the launch of the iPad, sending people swooning and swarming to get it. Like the iPhone before it, iPads started showing up in the hands of affluent people, parked alongside their newer iPhones, and it seemed, to me, at least, that the digital world was reshaping itself to cater to Apple’s whims.

As with the iPhone, and iPod before it, I watched this rising tide of expensive hipness wash through the culture, taking over stores (seemed that everything had an I-prefix on it), dominating downloads, and trying to shoulder out competition, but Samsung and Google weren’t having it. Apple and Android duked it out, with Microsoft being a distant and flaccid, third with their less-than-stellar offerings.

While I am certainly not an OS zealot, I’ve always been a Microsoft advocate, even through the image of folks like me was painted as square and unimaginative. Being a Microsoft fan, though, was akin to being a fan of a beloved, but perpetually bumbling and losing sports team. (The Cubs, perhaps?) We’d gather round for the latest offering, and realize that yet again, Microsoft had laid an egg. Or worse, they’d create a promising device (their tablet computers), then cripple them with an awful operating system (Windows RT), or abandon it. People approached new Microsoft products with trepidation, wondering what important feature they’d missed in this iteration. Happily, Microsoft finally found their sweet spot with their Surface tablets, although it took them three versions and four iterations to do so. When Windows 10 comes out later this year, we might finally have a tablet that works as sleekly and seamlessly as Apple, and to a lesser extent, Android.

See what I did there? Did I say something complementary about Apple? And Android? Like I said, I am no zealot, and even though I find hip bandwagons distasteful, I am willing to look at other operating systems. In fact, my job requires it, with an endless parade of my users with the latest gizmo, tablet, or phone asking me how to make it run. This has been an interesting experience, giving me the opportunity to get my mitts on all sorts of devices- mostly Apple and Samsung Android devices, with a few Windows phones sprinkled in for interest. I’ve messed around in all three environments, and have made some interesting observations.

Apple works. Period. It’s the same set of rules across all its devices and both operating systems. Learn which one you’ve got, make sure it’s updated, and things fall into place. Older models and OS versions are clearly clunkier, and I always look to see what version of the operating system or device I’m working with when I take a look at it.

Windows and Windows Phone are also fairly straight forward. They also just work. With Windows, there are a ton of tweaks and ticky-boxes, and radio buttons buried in the interface, permitting both extensive customization, and extensive head-banging if someone (kids, mostly) has screwed with them. Happily, Windows has also created ways to keep stray tinkerers out of places they shouldn’t go, and I know my way around those administrative corridors quite well. Each new iteration of the operating system requires a learning curve for me, but I am familiar enough with it that it’s not a problem. And I can bolt a classic overlay on the unfortunate Windows 8 interface, making it usable for a keyboard/mouse interaction.

Android? … Android has so darn many versions for their phones and tablets that it isn’t funny. There is no unified path through the operating system environment, because individual manufacturer often bolt on their own clunky ‘improvements’ to the OS, making it a minefield for techies to navigate. What will fix one device will cripple another. It’s a constantly shifting landscape of strangeness, hidden menus, things where they don’t belong, unintuitive placement… Android is a mess. I got an Android tablet two years ago, and each OS upgrade has sent me fleeing to websites trying to untangle what they’ve done -this- time. I hardly recognize the tablet I bought, they’ve changed things so much.

Which brings me back around to Apple. For years, I’ve staunchly declined to hop on the Apple bandwagon myself, eschewing all the iMacs, iPods, iPhones and iPads. They were expensive, and limited in their tinkerability, and since we rarely used them at work, I really did not need to become acquainted with them. Apple still isn’t ready for corporate interaction- administering the iPads we got two years ago was a real nightmare, and still is.

But I finally gave in and purchased my first Apple device back in November- an iPad Air 2. The price and features had hit the sweet spot that I insisted upon adhering to, and I pounced. I also added an iPod to the family, getting two Apple devices in the course of 6 weeks. And I’m eyeing a MacBook Pro, although I really do not have a justification for purchasing one. For what I would pay for a mid-level MacBook Pro, I could get a tricked-out Microsoft Surface 3, with better performance. Apple really needs to lower their prices.

Owning an iPad is quite different from administering them, or setting things up for other people on them. This is my device, which means I get to customize it, get used to iTunes and the app store, and all the things that are now available. No longer am I frustrated by the lack of applications for my Windows Phone (although the upgrade to 8.1 has improved things significantly), because I can get the Apple app.

And being a later adaptor of a Golden Slab of Distraction has other advantages, too. Apple has worked most of the kinks out of their operating system and online services, giving me a mature and well-reviewed environment to choose apps with. I got the iPad to mess around with musically, and when I hunt for apps, I now look at the ratings and reviews to see what earlier users say about them. I’ve avoided some real horse-turds that way, and also found some real jewels as well. I’m learning the ins and outs of the devices, and also learning that Apple and the rest of the universe are still mostly walled off. I have a large music collection with Amazon, but iTunes refuses to acknowledge it exists. I’m still trying to reconcile my Windows music library with iTunes, and realize that I will have to hand-sort what I do and don’t want in the iTunes library. It’s a mess.

But the device- the iPad itself- is a dream. I am really amazed at its clarity of function, its seamless operation, even the quality of the sound coming out of its speaker. Videos run without problems on it. Pages are crisp and clear. Games and photos are a hoot. And the music apps I have on it are opening new doors for me. I might even try one of the DJ controller apps just to see how bad a trainwreck I can make. The little iPod is also a jewel, easy to operate, and fun to have. I see why they’re so popular.

So, now I am juggling three operating systems- Apple, Windows, and Android. Each has their own merits and malfunctions, but they’re all unique and interesting in their own way. In finally acquiring an Apple device, and actually liking it, I am hoping to expand my own world. Being familiar with the two main OS isn’t a bad thing. And while I may still be something of a cranky curmudgeon about some things, it never hurts to remain open to new experiences and delights. Fear and closed-mindedness are what ages people, not chronological progression, although that is a factor.

January 18, 2015 at 10:49 am 7 comments

Old-school vs. new-finagled

I spent the last hour fiddle-farting around with my network, trying to get the TV to talk to the computer.

It warms the cockles of my little techie heart to be able to write a sentence like that. And if you’d told me 30 years ago that TVs would not only talk to computers, but essentially be computers themselves, I would have stamped my foot impatiently and grumbled about having to wait for it. But this 21st Century digital paradise has more than a few bad Apples. And Samsungs, and Dells, too. OK, maybe not really bad, but definitely not grade-A techie-licious.

The problem with all this new-finagled stuff is- as Scotty once memorably said, ‘the more you overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain’. And that’s true. There’s been an advantage to waiting a while before pouncing on some of this stuff- like the refinements of the UX/UI, but there are still a whole raft of bugs in the system. It works… sort of.

All these so-called smart devices don’t really talk to each other, or understand each other. One sends lasers, another smoke signals, a third uses Morse Code, or the digital equivalent. I want my TV to see my computer. It does- sort of. I want my computer to see my TV. It does… sort of. I fiddle-fart around with the permissions, tick on and off the ticky boxes, click the radio buttons, going back and forth.. and they still see each other… sort of. But they won’t share files.

All I wanted to do was play some newly acquired digital music over my stereo, to hear some Mr. FijiWiji over a proper analog stereo setup. (Go look him up if you have a moment. He’s good. Seriously. Great chill ambient lushness.) Even without a sub-woofer, my speakers can still follow a drop. And damn it, they sound better than these silly Bluetooth squeakers that are being peddled everywhere.

(An aside- it seems that, like turntables, ‘old-fashioned’ component stereo receivers are coming back into vogue, thus proving that everything old -or at least, middle-aged- is new again. I’m glad I kept my stuff.)

But all these fantastic interconnected goodies are probably being wasted on the vast majority of people. There’s a digital equivalent of the blinking VCR 12:00 light sitting in homes and pockets of probably 95% of the average public. My Smart TV has more features than a multiplex, and I’ve only used a fraction of them. Same with my smart phone, my smart car, and my smart, well, you get the idea.

Any more, I see the word “Smart” on a box with a gadget in it as a warning:

“Warning: There’s more shit on this stuff than you will ever figure out or use. Additional warning: don’t give this precious, expensive thing to a kid, because that kid will find something on this thing you’ve never heard of, and promptly screw it up so bad you’ll need to spend an afternoon on the phone with tech support, then, employ an expensive service to undo it. Or brick it.”

Here’s the rub: I’m that curious kid, who grew up to be a Digital Pioneer, which is relatively uncommon in my generation, who are mostly reluctant Digital Immigrants. I like messing around with things and digging up cool hidden features. Most of the time, anyway. I read the manuals, so my VCRs never blinked 12:00 unless there was a power outage. But even VCR manuals can’t hold a candle to today’s unbelievably complex gadgets. That they talk to each other at all is next to a miracle.

But sometimes, all I want to do is listen to a track, or watch a show. Once upon a time, that was simple: Flip on the stereo or TV. Find CD or DVD, plug it into the player, push play. It just worked. True ‘Plug and Play’. Today? My TV boots up. Geez.

I never did get the computer to share nicely with the TV. I ended up flicking the files I wanted to listen to onto a USB key, finding the right plug (the TV has 3, natch), and listening to Fij that way. Good ol’ sneakernet. Probably more secure, definitely a pain in the ass, but hey- it sounded great.

January 17, 2015 at 12:54 pm 1 comment

The Introverted World


I am an introvert, which makes me something of a minority in this extraverted world I live in. The internet is my main tool of interaction with this noisy, ego-driven place- permitting me to browse along the periphery of the crowds, dipping into thoughts and ideas that I would not normally peruse.  In the Actual World, the cognitive noise of extraverts tends to cause me almost physical pain, and I stay well away from things that attract tons of people. In fact, the word ‘attraction’ serves as a warning for me to either avoid such places, or to carefully prepare myself to bail when things get to be too overwhelming to me.

I just read this  article about folks like myself, and much of it resonated with me. One thing I sometimes get asked is if I am shy. No, I am not. I do not care about social judgment, or what other people think of me. I’d be unable to function if that were the case. Instead, I prefer to live my life as authentically as possible, permitting people to like (or dislike) me on my own merits. Happily, I’m a relatively humorous, intelligent, articulate person, and get along with all but the most pathologically insecure people. I also do not suffer fools or foolishness gladly, and will not permit such people to give me grief.

I am not shy. When I must, I can be incredibly bold and persistent, a quality that has served me well.

There were several things the article mentions that really got my attention:

They withdraw in crowds.

They succeed on stage — just not in the chit-chat afterwards.

When surrounded by people, they locate themselves close to an exit.

That above set of introversion qualities has presented a real dilemma to me, especially since I am developing a new set of interests around my love of collecting, curating, and playing music. I adore dance music. House, disco, techno, trance- “EDM”- I love all of them- and a lot of other music, too. But I cannot stand the venues these styles are played in- the clubs. I tried clubbing back in my twenties in Germany- even wearing earplugs to dampen the worst of the volume, but it was too overwhelming to me. I’d find myself wanting to leave before my friends even finished their first drink.   But I loved the music. And I still do- and I  collect, curate, mix, remix, and play this music in the comfort of my own home. I’d love to share it with others and see them enjoy it- but the idea of being a physically present DJ sends everything into a record-ripping trainwreck. I am sure that there are introverted DJs- guys like John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold come to mind- they’re all about the mix, and not the theatrics. But I wonder how they manage. Maybe it’s the stage- when they’re up in the DJ booth, they’re controlling the vibe, not being buffeted around by it. They’re famous enough to not have to contend with the hazards of the job- from drunks crowding the booth to venue managers screwing them over. Or being female. (Huge problem. Also, being older, but Giorgio Moroder is happily spinning tunes again. And he’s 74.)

I need to figure this out- perhaps I’d do better as a curator- creating mixes and sets to feed to DJs instead of having to contend with the maddening crowds myself. I would just need to figure out how to make a bit of money at it.

They are naturally drawn to more creative, detail-oriented and solitary careers.

I’m a techie. I am happier as a behind-the-scenes sort of person, the one who gets the computer running, or solves the problem, or creates a more efficient work flow. I like to solve problems. I like to find patterns in things and sort them- be it inventories, or moods in musical tracks. I listen deeply to music, and love building soundscapes with it. I am learning how to create original content, and remix things, too.

They physically can’t stand talking on the phone.

I ran into this when I was a member of Toastmasters- I was really good at giving speeches, and got a lot of positive feedback from them. But then I was made to assume a leadership position, and I ended up quitting, because I hated the social chit-chat and telephone calls I had to make. I use the phone if I must- but for the most part, I detest it.

Idle chitchat bores the hell out of me. I prefer signal to noise. Sadly, that amplifies my social solitude, because too many people just don’t want to live the examined life. Or talk about ideas, rather than other people or things.

I still believe that the internet is perfect for introverted folks like me. I can be social and solitary at the same time, and on my terms. I can bail out without offending anyone, and chat when I feel like it, far from the maddening crowds. Plus, I can filter a lot of it, and do. And I can find like-minded souls to exchange deep thoughts with, without having to leave my home, city, or time zone. (I do like to travel and see new places, but it exhausts me. I need vacations to recover from vacations.)

For folks like me, solitude is necessary and restorative. It keeps us from turning into growly bears if we’ve had too much people-time. Be kind to your introvert. Share the article with friends. Respect their spaces. We’ll thank you for it.


December 28, 2014 at 1:27 pm 3 comments

The Christmas Time Warp

It’s not yet Thanksgiving, but already the shops are jingling and moaning with the usual musical treacle that the holidays bring. It’s hard to go into a public retail space without hearing the same tired old chestnuts roasting over their various fires while trying to find new socks. When this happens in September, as it did in one shop I furiously stalked out of, it’s criminal. Dashing through the snow before the trees have even turned should be a criminal offense, with the miscreant companies forced to be wrapped in fake spiderwebs until December 1st.

But I digress. I’ll admit that I dislike 95% of holiday music. Whether it is religious or secular in nature really doesn’t matter- most of it is syrupy drivel stuck in a time-warp that creates a place that never existed- except maybe in a movie or two.

It occurred to me, and there are stats to back it up (we are in the 21st Century, after all) – that most holiday music we listen to was made in the 40s and 50s. We’re listening to ghost music. Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams- those voices that croon many of the more popular Xmas standards- are all gone- most recently, Andy Williams. (d. 2012). And the songs about ‘jingle bell rock’ and ‘rockin’ round the Christmas Tree’ are from the Fifties. They’re the music that the grandparents of Millenials listened to as teens. Boomer music. With vanishingly few exceptions, most popular holiday music is that of our grandparents. There is little or no new music- just remixes of old stuff. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has done the most to create newer music- but even Wizards in Winter is not well known, and is an instrumental used to run light-shows.

Makes you think, in a way. When I was a kid, a lot of the same music- the exact same recordings- were the stock in trade of the holiday season, which was much shorter. There was no ‘Black Friday’, and it was considered gauche to put up your lights or tree before mid- December. Most stores refrained from decorating before Thanksgiving, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade signaled the official start of the holiday season- with the Saturday after Thanksgiving being the launch date.

I’ve seen “Black Friday” ads in my email in May and June- it seems like a retail meme that cannot be let loose. And while I understand that a shopping frenzy once a year does keep people more stable, consumer-wise, it’s still something I recoil from. I love shopping- it scratches a primitive hunter-gatherer itch in me. But I hate greedy, grabby crowds, and the obligatory side of the holiday season- I prefer to give gifts when I see fit, not because I must. I frustrate my sister when she asks what I want for Xmas, because I really don’t want anything. And the question also reminds me that such questions are only asked by people who don’t bother to hang out with me to find out what my tastes are. Gifts should surprise and delight. A good gift should be a way of telling the recepient that you have been paying attention to them, and you know what they like and want without their telling you. Gifts are an acknowledgement of an almost mystical, telepathic insight. Someone I like might mention something in passing, setting a flag in my mind that reminds me in the middle of a flea-market that hey! They’ll LOVE this! But telling someone exactly what I want- giving them a laundry list of movies, books, shoes, computer software, music controllers, yard equipment, and home renovation wishes is really lame, and sucks the essence out of gift-giving. Yeah, sis- I want a new kitchen and bathroom. Got $50K? Didn’t think so. Well, I need some landscaping done. Shouldn’t be more than about $7 or 8K. Still too rich?  Oh, how about this really cool digital music launcher? It’s less than $1K. No? OK, why not a nice gift card from Lowe’s or Amazon? If she insists- that is what I ask for.

But I digress. I am no longer the child who presented my parents with my List of Stuff- usually including things like electronic breadboards, crystal radios, and sciency stuff- and being disappointed that I kept getting dolls, tea-sets, and girly things. That taught me that I had to earn my own way- that people didn’t pay attention to what I needed, they got me what they thought I wanted. To this day, I look on any gift with suspicion. And I stopped celebrating Xmas 15 years ago. But the ancient yuletide carols that accompany me on my rounds for this increasingly bloated season put me back into that frustrated time and place- where people could or would not see beyond my exterior, and thought they knew what I wanted better than I did.

In a way, the holiday season is a sort of purgatory that ends every year- a forced march of misty-eyed nostalgia, of concentrated greed, spite, and misery, of forced cheerfulness and artificial frenzy, culminating in the Hangover of the Year.

I could write “Bah Humbug” on my roof with LED lights, and have been tempted to do so. But instead, I have chosen to be selective about this season and the various things it brings- including the ghosts of holidays past, and the hopes of holidays yet to come. I don’t decorate extensively, have a tree, or give gifts. I do put lights outside to welcome winter. I play winter music- including a few standards that have been sucked into the Christmas vortex- like ‘Let It Snow’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’. These songs do not mention Christmas at all. Even the signature song, “Jingle Bells”- a time-warp song if there was one- isn’t a Christmas song. It’s about an extinct form of winter transportation- horse drawn sleighs.

I don’t hate Christmas, but I’ll put up with the ‘whoop-de-doo and dickory dock’, ignore the artificial ‘war on Christmas’, and dodge the worst of the crowds for the next 6 weeks. Then, it will be over. My favorite day, December 26, will arrive, and I’ll start whistling ‘Summer is Icumin in’ just to annoy everyone. Sing, cuckoo!


November 26, 2014 at 10:46 pm 2 comments

Mages to the rescue?

Could a ‘collective’ of Mages and assorted occultists, acting in concert, save the world?

In a word, no.

No one can. And there’s nothing about understanding the tangled and often deliberately dark and obscure corners of what is called ‘metaphysics’ that makes those of us who practice some flavor of magic any more able to turn this world and its people around than anyone else.

I’ve studied groups  who have tried- many groups. Some banded together under the loosely defined boundaries of the “New Age” back in the 80s, which sprang up from the ashes of  consciousness movements and cults of the WW II generations, which emerged from the failed attempts of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. All of them- from the Theosophists, the Spiritualists, the Gnostics, the Thelemites, the Rosicrucians, the practitioners of EK, the various permutations of the Golden Dawn, and even the newer reconstructions of various indigenous faiths of Europe- have attempted to create a way to solve this problem- and failed. Some failed disastrously. Others staggered into the realm of religion, and stayed. And still others, particularly those aligned with New Age beliefs, priced themselves into the realms of lunacy- becoming an expensive refuge for people with unfounded beliefs and money to burn. Charlatans flocked into its ill-defined ranks. Cults sprang up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Many still exist- with carefully polished websites and expensive seminars.

Occultism and religion aren’t the answer. Science might be- if it isn’t smothered and extinguished by True Believing politicians who are hoping that Jesus will come and pull us out of this wretched place we’ve created. Thing is, if they did return, Jesus/ JHVH-1/ [insert deity here] would take one look at the wreckage we’ve made of our only home, and wipe us off the face of it.

We are slowly smothering our world in a blanket of willful ignorance- in the guise of CO2- carbon dioxide. Its levels are climbing, and are showing no sign of moderating. We pour more garbage into our oceans, atmosphere, and land, and bring far more people into the world than the lands can truly sustain. We’re destroying ourselves with our own pride, hubris, and ignorance- some of it willfully created by entities we permit to exist. People who point this out are quickly silenced or extinguished.

There is no magical solution. We have to be the people who will rescue us- starting with ourselves, our families, and our communities. We have to stand up and shed light on the darker corners of our world, clean up our mess, and try to repair what we’ve damaged.

I do my own quiet thing. I do not desire students, admiration, or attention beyond a carefully curated circle of like-minded but diverse peers. While I’ve painted a bleak picture in the paragraphs above, I also believe that small beneficial changes, small ideas and actions, small nudges in the memetic zeitgeist can have huge effects, if properly seeded and propagated.  This isn’t useless ‘think good thoughts’ blather, it’s a ‘do good things’ directive. A myriad of small changes of action can shift the Current of events, leading to a change in the Pattern of outcome.

That’s not magic, people. It’s applied elbow grease.

November 15, 2014 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

A Veteran’s Journey

Today is Veterans Day. The radio, TV and Internet are chock full of stories about combat veterans, memories of those who were killed in combat, or while serving. It almost seems like this day, which originally marked the end of World War 1, gets confused and muddled with Memorial Day, which is meant to remember those service people who have died. I do not mean to trivialize those losses, but to instead clarify that today should be devoted to those veterans who are alive. Veterans like me. I am a veteran of the Cold War and Desert Storm. I enlisted in the US Air Force right out of high school, a few years after Vietnam ended, and was given about a year’s pay and shown the door right after Desert Storm. I honorably served 13 years- eight of them overseas.

As time passes, my generation is finding itself increasingly overshadowed on two sides- on one, by the Vietnam generation, and on the other, by the men and women who served- and are still serving- in the longest conflict our nation has ever engaged in. The Cold War generation of veterans is probably the largest group of veterans outside the Enduring Freedom cohort, but, like the generation that served between World Wars 1 and 2, we’re largely overlooked.

That’s the breaks. I saw 3AM many, many times while I served, allowing the rest of the world to sleep well while we jousted with the Russians, playing radio and radar games. They had a radar that we called the ‘woodpecker’ because of its rapid pulses, that bled onto our orderwires when they cranked it up on those long nights, in an attempt to jam us. We’d jam them back- sometimes literally, piping mixtapes full of music over the sidebands and channels we knew they monitored. They got a nice variety- pop, rock, metal, euro-disco. I sometimes wondered if they didn’t try to jam us just to get us to crank out the jams. Those were my military memories- long nights on swing or mid-shift, maintaining various communications nodes, sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

Those long nights in central Europe and the UK took their toll. I developed a deep and debilitating depression, which plagued me like a growing millstone around my soul. It leached away any ambition, eroded my capacity to learn, and utterly flattened my life. Towards the end of my service, it was extremely difficult for me to both sleep and wake up- and the last year or so of my service plays back in bits and pieces, devoid of color, interspersed with periods of no memory at all. My growing inability to react or cope was taken advantage of by my colleagues, who used it to gaslight me and worsen my illness. They actively sabotaged my work, including my maintenance and supply logs, building up ‘evidence’ that led to my demotion and removal from that field. I actively considered suicide at that point. Losing my rank meant that I had exceeded my high year of tenure, and had to study for and pass the test to regain my rank, or be forced to leave. I barely had the spoons to function, much less study for a major test. I tried- and failed. I was honorably discharged, with a handful of money- and not much else.

I was told that the VA would not help me. I did not get anything more than a cursory physical. I tried, and failed, to get a DOD job at a neighboring base, as I burned through the money that I had been given. I was unable to think coherently- the depression still had me in its grip, and my ability to make rational decisions was compromised. Had I been in a better mental state, I might had gone straight back to the US, instead of futilely trying to find employment in the UK.

A traffic accident was the catalyst that changed all that. I was involved in a multi-car pileup on my way to London to seek permission to stay in the country. My car was totaled. I lost the part-time job that I had at a base 50 miles from my old base. I had to go home. I sold and gave away most of my belongings, and had the rest boxed up and sent to a warehouse in New Jersey. I spent the next 3 weeks couch surfing, waiting for other attempts to find work in the US to manifest. They did not.

Crushed, defeated, demoralized, and profoundly depressed, I returned to the US, and moved back in with my parents. I spent the first 3 months literally unable to function, staying mostly in my room, curled up in a ball of misery. The only thing that got me out of the house were the ‘make-work’ jobs that people on state unemployment were required to take in order to get their checks. One such job found me standing in the middle of I-40, doing some sort of survey. Another had me on a litter crew.

I was still too depressed to truly evaluate my situation, and my parents, my father in particular, did not help. He kept giving me grief, telling me what a sorry loser I was, and how I would never amount to anything, and that I needed to get a boyfriend and move in with him. I combed the papers for jobs- trying and failing to get one at a new Circuit City that was opening. I traded on my minimal experience with PCs to get a job at a printing company that lasted 9 days, and finally got a minimum wage job in the local newspaper’s subscription department. It wasn’t enough for me to be able to live on, much less thrive, but I stuck with it for a year and a half. Then I landed a job at Circuit City- the same store that rejected me 2 years before. My income as well as my self-esteem shot up.

I finally made enough money to afford the rent in a modest duplex apartment. Then Circuit City was sold, and my income collapsed, and I found myself on the bare edge of homelessness again. I saw the handwriting on the wall, and found another job- my current one, and landed it.

Throughout this time, I still struggled with depression and inertia. I’d been told by a colleague that the VA would help me, but my first attempt to contact them in ’96 was disasterous. There was no outreach, no interface, and no real interaction. In fact, I was paged as “Mr” when I was there, and my attempts to register and get a VA card were ignored and rebuffed. I swore that I would not return. A second attempt in ’02 ended the same way, with the interface group- VFW, utterly ignoring me. They later claimed not to have received my paperwork, even though I’d sent it twice. My claims of disability were also rejected.

In ’09, a friend on the internet recommended that I try using Disabled American Veterans as my representative. Suddenly, things started to turn around. I had physical problems that were service related, including PTSD and MST (I was sexually assaulted twice while serving), but those claims were rejected for ‘lack of documentation’. My explanation that the command staff involved refused to document them was met with indifference. No paperwork, no claim. I later learned that this was routine- both on the part of many command staffs, as well as the VA- women’s claims of sexual assault were literally dismissed, not documented and swept under the rug, or turned on them as ‘mental problems’. In fact, many women were routinely sent to be mentally evaluated when they claimed sexual assault, in order to find a way to document their incompatibility with service, and forcibly discharge them. That happened to me- but I was lucky: I was diagnosed with depression, and treated. That landed in my medical records, and that saved me.

With the help of the DAV, I got a minimal claim of disability from the VA- the smallest one- 10%. Then, an audit of my records revealed that I had gotten money when I was discharged- and I had to pay it back. Every penny. My tiny stipend vanished- garnished to pay back that money. I would not see a dime until 2028. The VA giveth, the government taketh away. The DAV appealed my case, and the VA noted that I’d claimed PTSD, and reviewed my records. They boosted up my disability considerably, but the payment is still being completely garnished. As it stands, I won’t see a penny of it until 2016.

I’m still not done with them. I have a physical injury that was also documented, which they either overlooked or ignored- that is giving me increasing difficulty today. With the help of the DAV, I will return to the VA with this claim, and try to obtain my rightful disability payment for it. Any money I get from it will go towards modifying my home to age in place.

I realize that I am one of the lucky ones- a survivor. I was technically homeless for a while, but not profoundly so. I had an incredibly debilitating illness that was invisible to most, and in spite of it, still managed to function- albeit barely. During the depths of that depression, I gained 50 pounds, and developed hoarding problems, mostly due to food insecurity and poverty. During the last few months of my enlistment, and most of the time I remained in the UK, I ate poorly, mostly ramen and ‘toast-chee’ crackers. They were all I could afford. In the US, I’d stock up on food- most of which went to the food bank or was thrown out because of hoarding. I still have to watch myself today, questioning every purchase to make sure I’m not returning to those habits. The depression remains- a constant shadow in my life.

I was lucky. And maybe, in spite of my father’s beliefs, I am worthy. In all the things that happened to me, I did not succumb to drugs, alcohol, or suicide. I did get suckered in by a couple of con artists- people who prey on crushed souls like my own, dangling hope and false love and salvation before us, becoming false friends in order to get close enough to strip us of our money, dignity- even lives. Somehow, there remained a kernel of self-respect and defiance within me- a tiny diamond core that was invincible, imperishable- a fragment of light that refused to surrender to the darkness. That tiny diamond gave me the strength to say no, to push back, to hesitate before taking a wrong turn.

That tiny core of resilience also enabled me to build discipline and routines that helped pull me out of the worst of the depression, and entirely out of poverty. The Universe acts in interesting ways, and when I was functional enough to think coherently and maintain routines, it led me to books and articles that enabled me to dig my way out of poverty, repair my credit, build savings, and finally purchase a home.

Today, I’ve had my current job longer than I served in the military. The time that has passed since those dark days has given me perspective, and put me beyond the shadows cast by that time. For a long time after I got out, I did not want to reveal myself as a veteran. I wanted to get as far away from the military and its satellite services as I could. I chose not to serve in the guard. I got rid of all my uniform items. I kept the plaques and pins, and a folder of paperwork, including orders and one pay slip. Reading it today, I am both appalled and amazed- appalled by the tiny paycheck, and amazed that I managed to survive. My peak pay was $16K while I served. I’m doing much better today. And I am no longer avoidant of my status as a veteran- I even got veterans plates on my vehicle, and I ask about veterans discounts, as well. While I don’t like some entitlement attitudes, in my case, I’ve earned mine. I’ve paid for them dearly- and in some ways, still am.

I have a Dickensian take on my service: It was the best of times, and the worst of times. I have great memories of the places, and some of the people I served with. And I also have some harrowing ones. They weave in and out of each other- a tapestry of light and dark, of delight and horror. The scars remain- but so does the membership in a growing group of people who, no matter their age or sex, have serving their country in common.

I have these thoughts every year on this day- thinking about my service, my struggles with poverty and illness, and my climb out of that pit. I think about the VA, and what I have ahead of me. I still need to joust with them some more- wrestling with their particularly vexing interfaces and active discouragement to obtain what I should have gotten when I was discharged- a proper evaluation, and compensation for my injuries. I think about the sobering statistics for female veterans- 65% of us end up homeless and impoverished. I worry that my own period of relative stability might end, and I will find myself on the street- a bag lady living in a hole in the wall. It’s a recurring nightmare, and a reality for many. I think that if I bothered to enter and win a lottery of means, I’d use some of that to create a trust to assist my female peers.

Happy Veterans Day.

November 11, 2014 at 10:19 am 1 comment

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