Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Tomfoolery

Halloween is a holiday typically associated with children. They comprise a vast majority of the target audience because they love nothing more than to dress up in whimsical, spooky outfits, gorge themselves on candy (since they're far too young to worry about healthy diets), and because they're easily scared.

Most of Halloween's kitsch is cute and harmless, but there is a slightly-less-than-subtle dark element to it all. Seriously. When you think about it, Halloween really serves no purpose other than to give both young and old an excuse to expose, mock, glorify, and celebrate their over-fascination with the macabre; particularly anything associated with evil and death.

Traditionally (bear with my glossy summary), All Hallow's Eve, being the night before All Saints Day, was believed to be a night when all the evil spirits converge on earth to wreak whatever mischief they can achieve before the Holy Deceased have their feast day. Most Halloween fans are probably only vaguely aware of the implications of this holiday, but, true to its origins, Halloween does seem to bring out the primal pagan in its perpetrators.

This past weekend's experience is a prime example. Thanks to a good friend of mine, I had the opportunity to participate in an annual event put on by Oklahoma City's favorite rockstars, The Flaming Lips. As part of the official Halloween Parade, hundreds upon hundreds of loyal Lips fans (and their curious friends) suit up in skeleton costumes, smear paint on their faces, and march at the end of the parade in row upon row, carrying tiki torches and accompanied by wagons blasting fog and creepy music.

My friend and I showed up at the appointed time (the entire thing was coordinated by the Flaming Lips website, roadies, and the band members themselves), received our costumes, put on our makeup and lit our torches (after standing around for some time). I was somehow on the outside edge, nearest the onlookers, as was my friend who was directly ahead of me. Everywhere I looked were witches, ghouls, blood-spattered zombies and vampires and the odd star wars character. Most of them were likely drunk and, at the over-enthused prompting of my friend (who was very excited) shreiked and cried their approval. I entirely forgot that I was part of the freakish spectacle...I gawked at the crowd as much as they gawked at me. I turned while walking to stare wide-eyed at a street full of endless walking skulls and fire. It was utterly surreal.

The actual experience was pretty fun and silly. But it was unsettling somehow. Everyone knows there are things to be scared of in this world, and Halloween is a holiday in which people reveal rather interesting methods of acknowledging them. I understand this completely; heck it's really fun to get to dress up in something gruesome or funny or just simply odd.

But perhaps it was the magnitude of this event. Seeing such numbers of people all embracing their macabre side was mildly concerning. People have a fascination with evil, even in such benign forms as the off-color joke costumes like naughty nuns. Realizing this is universal and then giving everyone an opportunity to exploit this aspect opens the door for much less benign forms of cutting loose and having mischievious fun. That dark potential which lies within each of us is perhaps the scariest thing of all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guts: Trust them

So for those of you interested or involved in the medical field, I'd like to provide a quick disclaimer before I get on my soapbox. I do not doubt that medical school provides very in-depth education and specific training and I believe our blessed country has some of the best, most advanced medical care in the world.

That said, I think doctors sometimes forget the art of observation and listening to their patients' complaints and instinctual reasoning. They may have the 8 years' of education backing them up, but it's still the patient's body, and only the patient can really know how he/she is feeling.

My family has a pretty elaborate history of health woes. Diabetes, thyroid malfunctions, mental/emotional troubles, heart disease, cancer, and addiction have all surfaced in both mom and dad's extended family. Within the past 15-20 years we've discovered that my female predecessors have shown a strong susceptibility for endometriosis, a disorder of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries which, if unattended, will lead to infertility.

Endometriosis has some shockingly far-reaching side effects. The textbook case will likely include such troubles as severe abdominal and back pains with menstruation as well as violent emotional peaks/troughs and bowel and bladder irregularities - symptoms which don't seem logically related to the uterus at all.

Without going into too much detail, I had been suffering these and other symptoms for 4-5 years and all the while figured (based on my aunts' and cousins' experiences) that it was normal for me. When the emotional symptoms got too intense I went to my doctor and was presrcribed an anti-depressant to regulate the mood swings. It didn't have fantastic results, but it was enough for me to scrape by.

Because of my complaints about severe menstrual pain, my doctor recommended birth control. I was hesitant - this seemed a little extreme, after all it was just some bad cramps (I ignored other symptoms since they weren't as interfering with my daily life). I sought the advice of a gynecologist, but they said the same thing. My aunts had tried birth control as a solution to their problems and had all suffered such side effects as infertility and significant weight gain so I stubbornly refused; putting on pill weight didn't sound like a good solution to depressive episodes.

I toughed it out for about a year and a half, pain and weird symptoms getting continually worse. One of my mother's sisters who had been suffering from severe endometriosis for 8 years was told by her doctor that she was barren as a result. Since she was engaged to be married and desperately wanted children, she sought the advice of a specialist in Nebraska. Her symptoms were a more severe version of mine, so I got scared and went back to the gynecologist. After just talking to me (and not doing any tests or exams) they ruled out endometriosis (even though I described hallmark symptoms).

Meanwhile the violent emotional difficulties and incapacitating menstrual cycles started affecting my school and work. My parents were concerned as I was starting to despair and think this was my predicament indefinitely (lest I cave and start taking birth control). After some particularly bad incidents, we managed to find a doctor who didn't prescribe birth control at all, and after one session with her, I felt my hope restored.

Based on my descriptions she told me I almost definitely had endometriosis (and was incredulous as to how 2 other doctors had so cavalierly ruled this out). She explained how all my symptoms (even the emotional craziness) were connected to this disorder and scheduled me for a laparoscopy, a surgical procedure which is the only way surefire way to diagnose and treat endometriosis.

I went in for the laparoscopy yesterday morning. The surgery went well, and sure enough my doctor found inflammatory fluid and adhesions (scar tissue) already beginning to form on the fallopian tubes. Had I taken the initial advice of other doctors and gone on birth control, the medication would have not only masked the symptoms and thus hidden the real problem, but actually fed the scar tissue with the estrogen it produces and rendered me infertile after a year or so.

Moral of the story? Doctors aren't always right. If you're not getting the results or options you want, seek a second, third, or fourth opinion - you might dodge some pretty frightening, unforseen outcomes.

Monday, October 5, 2009


So I've been putting off blogging for several reasons...which could all be summed up in the fact that I really have nothing good to say or talk about as of late.

However, thanks to the only class which I consider worth my hefty investments (Intro to Professional Writing) I do have a topic of interest for those of you kind (or bored) enough to actually read this...spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen "No Country For Old Men"

Toward the end of class today, after Mel had discussed the essential elements of scenes in fiction, the question was raised about resolution-less endings in stories - namely the ending of No Country For Old Men. Mel expressed his intense dissatisfaction with the film's ending (despite its otherwise being magnificent), and I, being the devil's advocate that I am, expressed my counter-active appreciation for it.

No Country For Old Men presents the iconic clash of good and evil; there is the psychotic (and very creepy) villain, and a handful of hopeful heroes who attempt to thwart his drug trafficking, serial killing rampage through South Texas. In the end, everyone is dead, the last standing hero is disillusioned and retires, and our villain escapes with the money, but is also (in my opinion) stripped of his own twisted romantic view of himself. Mel hated this, mainly because the hero we're all rooting for recognizes the futility of the fight and quits his quest to bring a very evil, dangerous man to justice. By a mere twist of fate, the villain is badly hurt (but not killed) in a car accident in one of the last scenes, so in some way he gets to suffer, but hardly in proportion to the horror he has wreaked.

I argued for this ending because I am, almost without exception, a pessimist. I liked this ending because it seemed so true to life - ultimately, breaking even is the best you can hope for in my opinion. Good doesn't always make a smashingly triumphant exit, and Evil often doesn't get what it deserves. Sure, the ending to No Country was something that made me recoil and feel pretty bummed. But at the same time it made me believe everything I'd seen, because more often than not, that's how the story really ends.

People often argue against movies and stories that are too truthfully depressing, saying that we use these and similar media as an escape from that reality we are painfully conscious of. I agree completely - total victory of good morals and noble aspirations has universal appeal; it's what everyone wants to see. Not only that, but we want to see it win against all odds and escape highly dangerous situations with lots of dramatic explosions and perhaps some clever dialogue.

Everyone dying or despairing in the end? That's way too realistic....for most. Mel said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the younger generation can afford to be pessimistic because they've lived long enough to expect not-so-great, but haven't lived long enough to actually experience it. Those who HAVE experienced their fair share of injustice need the hero and his/her ultimate victory in their stories. It preserves the hope that all that injustice will one day be served its dues.

I agree to an extent. When/if I ever have kids, I will certainly not read them stories where everybody dies in the end, they'll figure that out on their own. But will I give them the false impression that good people always get rewarded for being good? Probably not...mostly because I don't want them to wind up as jaded as I am.