#2. Worried about Women

I don’t remember ever being at much of a disadvantage growing up by virtue of being female. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have always loved being a girl. It never even occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything a male couldn’t do. Except maybe pee standing up, which I have to admit is pretty cool. Otherwise, all the things I wanted to do growing up; sports, science, math, travel, music, were all things I had access to just like the boys.

It really wasn’t until I became a mother that I felt like I had gotten the shaft. Being pregnant sucked. I watched my body explode and even though I had moments of enjoying the idea of growing a human being, most of the time it just wreaked havoc on my body and bladder and drained all my energy. Then of course giving birth was complete agony. And if you read my first blog you know how things went for me postpartum: not great. Yes, motherhood is what made me realize that we are living in a man’s world because men are not capable of giving birth and hence being weighted down by all the responsibilities that come with it.

Now, in my post election horror it is clear to me; women are in big trouble. We’re not just in trouble. We fucked up. Or let me clarify; I didn’t fuck up, my friends in blue states who voted for HRC or even third parties didn’t totally fuck up, but a lot of women out there voted against their own self interests.

You always hear about concepts like institutionalized racism and internalized homophobia. But I want to talk about institutionalized misogyny and internalized anti-feminism. I want to talk about women who are so used to being second-class citizens in their own homes that they decided to vote for someone who wanted to keep them as second-class citizens in their politics. I want to talk about why women would ask for White men to have control over their reproductive rights and why they would be okay with sexual assault?

Yes, we all know now that this country is far more racist, bigoted, and misogynistic than we had thought possible over the past eight years. The cat is out of the bag. But something else is going on. Women have decided that they are not ready for the presidency. They have decided that being catty and petty towards each other is acceptable behavior. They have decided to slut shame a woman for her husband’s infidelities as if she is to blame for not being more desirable yet when a man cheats he is doing it just because he can, because he earns the bacon and wears the pants, he has the power to make such decisions.

There are many women in this country who don’t want the status quo to change because they think that society will then demand more of them. If there is a female president than maybe that means that they too should be educated and earn an income like their husbands and not just be a homemaker or work part-time for their spending money. If women are equal to men, if they receive equal pay for the same work, then that means they have to work just as hard.

But here’s the catch; women have always been working just as hard, and usually much harder than men do. They just don’t get paid to raise the kids and do the laundry and clean the house. Women do all the shit men don’t want to do, which is substantial for most households, mine included.

I do the grocery shopping, I clean up constantly, I do the laundry, I maintain the household and coordinate service providers, and I care for our daughter about 90% of the time that she is not in childcare. Did I mention I work full-time? My husband also works full-time and he works very hard. He makes a lot of money, which don’t get me wrong, is very helpful, but his contribution is mainly in green currency. My contribution is only partially monetary. I do more maintenance for our lifestyle and I get paid less because caring for your child, doing the laundry, cleaning, and shopping doesn’t pay.

Women have always been getting the shaft. We just have been sold a bill of shit that this is just the way it is. For those women who are career focused they are placed in a tight spot. They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If they make their career a priority and forgo motherhood they are shamed by society for not being more family-focused. If they have children they get shamed for not being more physically available for their children and the homemakers their husband’s would appreciate in some white picket fence la la land.

There are so many women in our country who hate HRC, and even though I don’t know exactly why, I would guess that at least half of that hate is just because she is a strong woman. The other half of their hate was likely propaganda generated by Fox News and DT’s smear campaign to blame anything and everything on that “nasty woman.”

For me, the most redeeming quality about HRC was that she is a woman. I want women to succeed. I knew that if she had given birth and been a mother than she knew at least ten times as much as any man about what it really means to get shit done and multi-task. I knew that she had probably experienced humility ten times as much as any male politician. I knew that she was ten times more qualified than her opponent but that didn’t seem to matter because when you are a tough man you are a strong leader and when you are a tough women you are just a bitch.

When I saw the results of this election and how many women, both educated and uneducated, who voted for DT, it made no sense to me at that moment. It still doesn’t really make much sense to me now, but this is my running theory: women have internalized the misogyny of this culture and embraced their role in that hierarchy. They are not ready to let go of that Mad Men image of women. They want men to keep making decisions for them. They don’t want to demand more. They don’t want to be set free to choose for themselves what they truly want.

I’m worried about women, I really am.

Posted 11.23.16


#3. Burning the House Down

It seems that with this blog I am creating fires. It’s not completely intentional, I don’t meant to alienate people I’ve known my whole life, people I love, people who I have looked up to, but I also can’t keep silent. This blog is a reaction to feeling voiceless after the election and knowing that I may not understand everything or be right in all my opinions, yet I know I am also not wrong in feeling outraged.

Like many Americans, I struggle with my identity as a citizen of this country. However fortunate I may feel to have been born in the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth, it doesn’t outweigh my concern over our dominance in global warfare, the military industrial complex, environmental degradation, and the creation of many of our own enemies.

We played a large role in creating the terrorist groups who have attacked us both abroad and on our own soil. Because of the wars we either supported or started in the Middle East, we are responsible for much of the terrorism around the world. In many ways we are not the victims of radical Islam, we are the instigators. But I didn’t come to these realizations living here in the U.S., I came to them living and working abroad listening to how other people felt about our America.

I was living in Sydney, Australia in 2001 when 9/11 happened. Even though I was crushed by the horror of the attacks, in the aftermath I found myself hiding my citizenship. When I traveled to Southeast Asia, India, and Nepal, mostly I told the people I met that I was Canadian. It was easier. I felt safer and more neutral. When I told people I was American they would either treat me like some sort of terminal cancer patient who had just undergone an operation or blame me for the root of all terrorism due to our military occupation of foreign lands.

Before 2008, when I toured in Europe playing music and when Bush W. was president, I found myself apologizing to people about our politics. The Irish, the French, British, all of them felt we were ruled by a war mongering religious zealot. And we were. So I spent my time convincing them that I may be from the U.S. but I didn’t agree with our foreign policy.

Then in 2008, I was in Dublin when Obama got elected. We stayed up late into the night and cheered and cried when it was called in his favor. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. A few days later when I was in Paris one of the club owners said to me, “I can’t believe your country was able to do something like that, it would never happen in France.” What she meant was that France would never have elected a Black president. All of a sudden America had a new identity and a clean slate to be the progressive, melting pot that came with mottos like “Hope,” and “Yes We Can.”

Now, eight years later, we are back to square one. The international community must be reeling from such a horrible mess we made of this election and how, by some sort of accident, a narcissistic reality TV star bully managed to get elected as our leader. It must seem so ridiculous to them from afar. They probably think we forgot the difference between our celebrities and our politicians when we were voting.

I am so glad that I have no plans to travel abroad anytime soon. I can’t take the embarrassment all over again. The international community is shaking their heads in disbelief just the same way half of us are. Most of the other half in this country who voted for DT does not even own passports.

So here is my new dilemma. If I’m going to keep living in this country, because it is not just where I am from, but where I have built my life, how am I going to function within it if so much of what it stands for I am opposed to? I know I am not alone in this challenge. Many of us need to find a new way of living life inside the bubble.

We may want to ignore it. We may want to forget about it as best we can and just keep living our lives as though there isn’t a shitstorm about to hit. But most of us hear this as a call to action. We’re going to have to find ways in our communities and in our country to heal the wounds of a vast divide.

Apparently there are about 60 million people who live here that think so little of our country, that think so little of our democracy and who we are and where we come from, the children of children of immigrants, that they have decided that isolationism is a solution. The no longer want to share. They would rather blame black and brown people for their problems than look to themselves for solutions.

If there really are those many people opposed to equal rights, and if they are willing to burn the house down by voting in a lunatic to tame the circus, then I’m going to burn the house down too. And I’ll do it one brick at a time. I’ll keep posting blogs about all the holes in this fractured identity of our split America and see if anyone is listening. Some of us may feel voiceless after the election, but for many of us, our voices are just getting warmed up.

Posted 12.1.16

If you would like to respond please email audreyryan79@yahoo.com


#4. The Story of THE LOFT

I found the Loft on a craigslist ad back in 2004. At the time I was looking for apartments but somehow I stumbled upon the post. I don’t remember the specifics but the description was brief, “Large, open artist space in warehouse, $600/month.” There was enough intrigue where I felt I had to at least go take a look.

Boris, a professional “kids comic” aka clown, was the building manager back then and he showed me the place. The outside was brick and surrounded on all four sides by some kind of activity. Market Basket was the zoo to the left, a loading dock was behind, and a garage/chop shop with mostly illegal Central American mechanics to the right, and in front was a semi-historic graveyard.

I walked down the hallway noticing the 20-foot ceilings, old creaky hardwood floors, and sheetrock that in many places they hadn’t even bothered to paint with the screws still visible. When I walked into Loft #4 I was immediately caught by the amount of open space and natural light the room held. The windows covered two sides of the room and were so large that you didn’t even need to put on the overhead lights during the daytime. The room was sparse and still dirty from the last tenant. There was an old grungy pink couch (still there) and some bad art abandoned by the sculpture that had just ended her lease. It was love at first sight.

My brain did a few calculations and the general math equation quickly became: do whatever you need to do to make this thing work. Who needs an apartment when you could have an awesome artist loft? Right? I could see the raw potential of the room. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do there yet, but I knew that the space was my key to something awesome.

I signed a “Tenant at will” lease which basically meant I had no rights and that I paid the rent each month or had to leave and that was that. Boris then showed me architectural plans for luxury condos. Yes, that’s right, the building owners hadn’t bought an old paper warehouse in Somerville for supporting local artists, they had bought it as an investment for more housing. However, the area was not zoned as residential, it was zoned as commercial and mixed use. It was a battle they would try to fight, but as of yet, have never won. But seeing those plans made me realize that my days there could be numbered, but as far as I was concerned, I would just enjoy the ride for as long as I could.

In the early days of my time in the building, I remember slowly getting to know the other tenants who were all artists or general weirdoes. Most of them I only knew by face, not name. There was a professional juggler, Peter Panic, who always wore green and literally identified himself as a modern day Peter Pan; I assume he related most to the part about never growing up. There was a small British lady who always carried her things around with her in a roller suitcase. There was also a warehouse cat that was overweight and a great mouser. All of these beings lived there illegally from what I could tell.

Boris turned out to be the biggest weirdo of them all. Besides being a professional clown with a sailor’s mouth, he was a Republican who had property both in Florida and Western Mass. He also dealt weed in the building and extorted money from me when I held events. He would ask for a cut from our Loft shows and sometimes turn the electricity off on the breaker if he felt it was too much of a party. He liked to make sure we knew he was in control.

But Boris also had his good side. He was a great accordion player and for a while he bread little Jack Russell dogs in the building which were actually quite cute, even if it made the place smell worse that it already did. Boris of course also lived there illegally. He may have owned property in other places but in the Boston area, the old paper warehouse building was his crash pad.

Over the years Boris and I became friends. I used to do face painting for him sometimes at certain kids events and he paid me well. He eventually got evicted and when he left it took him months to get rid of all the stuff he had collected there over more than 20 years of residing in the building. At his going away party it seemed like every weirdo in Boston showed up to the warehouse, lots of middle-aged eclectics, street musicians, performers. In the end, it was sad to see him go, the end of an era.

In all honesty, I only “lived” at the Loft for about three months and only slept there for 5-10 days total in my life. But when I “lived” there it was around 2007 when I was right in the thick of trying to “make it” as a professional musician. One of the only things stopping me from that dream was paying rent. Living at the Loft allowed me to pay a marginal amount so that I could just concentrate on touring. Which at that time I did incessantly. That year I was in Europe twice, and all over the US, playing upwards of 20-25 shows a month and close to 250-300 shows that year. Who needs an apartment when you’re living on the road?

The shows I hosted at the Loft came about pretty early on but were sporadic and not well organized at first. What I remember most from the early years were actually our epic Halloween parties. We had some amazing costume parties and my favorite was the year we had a solid, scary haunted house. I was dressed as Sarah Palin (it was in 2008 I guess) and led the haunted house tour. Peter Panic and his girlfriend rode their bikes around the first floor (the space that is now “Little India”) with scary music, strobe lights, and a fog machine. We played “Night of the Living Dead” in another part of the building with spooks around each corner and someone hanging themself off some scaffolding in the loading dock. But the grand finale was bringing people out to our real authentic graveyard where we had a legit homeless guy, Jimmy, living in a shed. He was the same guy who had almost peed on me once when I had approached him; I had to dodge his urine stream. Him and the ghouls really scared the living shit out of everyone. Now that was fun.

We have had our fair share of tragedy at the building over the years. Back around 2005-2006 we had a fire in one of the studios that left a huge hole in the floor and drenched many of the rooms with water from the sprinkler system. Our room was spared from damage but we had to cancel a show that weekend and in general it raised concern over the safety of the building. We made a point to remove all candles or anything else that seemed potentially dangerous and the management accordingly updated the sprinkler system to code.

In 2008, after the economic crash, the building went into some kind of financial peril and was potentially up for auction. During that time period our future was uncertain. We had a meeting with some of the tenants and I tried to propose that we all chip in and buy the building together. But it quickly became apparent that none of the artists using the building had any money saved up and it was a pipe dream to keep it from developers. Thankfully, the auction somehow never took place and the owner was able to keep it and weather the financial crisis.

The music shows were happening the whole time. The Loft “scene” was building between 2005 onwards to the point where it quickly became “a thing.” I hosted shows on average about once a month and put them together by asking my local musician friends and then having a touring act I had met on the road. Usually hosting a touring act was a return favor for them hosting me in their hometown. I brought acts from California, Chicago, Colorado, Texas, NYC, Canada, UK, Ireland, Belgium, France… the list goes on. Someone even made a DIY documentary about it called “Loft Show Upstairs” featuring clips from gigs and interviews with the bands and some regular audience members.

Originally, I did all the footwork myself for the shows. Then I found a door girl for a while, Sophie, who helped make sure we got the money we needed for the artists. The only expenses we took for the house were for paper towels, chips, and seltzer. Occasionally we bought ourselves some wine as our payment. Otherwise all the money went straight to the bands. It was a utopian version of a fully artist run space. Everyone BYOB and the audience would usually help clean up the room, emptying bottles and taking out the trash, at the end of the night.

When Sophie retired, Jenn Harrington took over and became a more active part of booking the shows and finding other volunteers, like Aaron and Kate, to help them run more smoothly. This happened at an ideal time when my life was changing. In my early 30’s I got married, bought a house and had a baby, all in the course of a couple years and all while working full time. I had less and less time to devote to events at the Loft, even though I wanted to keep them going.

Now, in many ways, the Loft is my connection back to the world I built and thrived in during my 20’s. It is still a place where events are held; the annual holiday art fair, the clothing swap, and monthly music shows curated by Jenn. This year we plan to add an extra event during Somerville Open Studios. Each one of these events takes a village, the organizers, the artists, the audience all coming together to enjoy our community in an old warehouse space next to Market Basket.

If it weren’t for the Loft it is hard to say where my life would be at today. There is a good chance that I never would have stayed in Boston. Every time in my 20’s I considered moving to NYC, the West Coast, or even Europe, I always reminded myself that I did not have the Loft in those new places and that I likely would never be able to find or afford any space nearly as inspiring anywhere else.

When I saw the footage of the Oakland fire it immediately hit a chord. Images of a large cement building in an industrial looking part of town with graffiti on the walls. Ghost Ship was a space run by artists hosting a music show in an illegal DIY space. The news articles describe old couches, rugs, pianos, organs, and instruments filling the open space. Sound familiar?

What struck me most was the footage and interviews with the building manager. Some guy in his early 40’s with three kids who was living in that space, probably running it in exchange for his rent. The media was trying to make him out to be some sort of psychopath, showing footage of a silly video he had posted on YouTube years ago. This poor dude was just living his life in Oakland, making art and living in some crappy old building and the next day he is all over the news and portrayed as a psychotic murderer.

I tried to imagine myself in such a horrible situation, the newscasters saying, “She called herself a psychologist, meanwhile she had a history as a touring one-man-band vagabond sleeping on people’s couches and posted a blog where she ranted about her own struggle with postpartum depression and her lefty, feminist views…” I could easily be the villain. The leaseholder of a crappy warehouse space that had gone up in flames during a show when I wasn’t even there to supervise. That could have easily been me.

Just remember folks, art is what makes cities hip and cool, not the people living there just to make money. Cities aren’t cool because of the people who work for Google, Verizon or Pfizer. Cities are cool because it is where worlds collide. Minorities and privileged White people. The LGBTQ community and frat boys. Academics and the working class. Bankers and street musicians. Hipsters and the homeless. Without any of these things it would not be the big melting pot we call home.

At the Loft many of these worlds come together for one night. Many of us now have day jobs, families, bills to pay and boring things we do to pay them, but we are still cool on the inside. Our politics are left. Our beer and cider is craft. Our music is local and original. The Loft is my utopian version of the world I want to live in, where we all come together to hang out and listen to each other for a minute.

This blog is dedicated to the people in Oakland who were affected by the horrific fire last week and to the 36 people who lost their lives enjoying music in an art space.

Posted 12.7.16

If you would like to respond please email audreyryan79@yahoo.com 


#5. An Update from Unplugged

It has been a month and a half since I unplugged from the news. Likewise, I have taken a huge diet from social media. So far so good. I don’t know why I didn’t try this sooner. I think the reality is that ignorance is bliss. The less I know about things I don’t want to know about, the more I can focus on just living my life and being in the moment.

I have been practicing Mindfulness for the last couple of years. I actually started with hynobirthing when I was pregnant with Story. I had so much anxiety over giving birth that I needed to find a way to calm down about the inevitable. Easier said than done. I listened to hypnobirthing recordings, which are essentially mindfulness meditations focused on birth, for several months leading up and even during my labor. Meditating helped me embrace my body and the process of doing what it was designed to do. It calmed me down enough to manage my fears of the future.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as Mindful Meditation to prepare ourselves for the shitshow that will ensue on January 20th, 2017, but if anyone has any ideas, please share them! My anxiety over how the next four years will unfold for this country and this world is only dissipated by my constant self-redirection to my immediate surroundings. I constantly refocus myself on the things right in front of me. The things I have some influence and control over.

Like many people I’m going through the stages of grief. Some days I’m sad about it. Other days I’m angry (recently I actually let out a little yelp at Walgreens when I saw a magazine with DT on it). There is still a little bit of denial and bargaining in weaker moments. Sometimes I’m curious how the rest of the world is dealing with the bad news, but most of the time, I just want to hide my head in the sand.

My husband came home one night recently and told me about how he heard some Middlebury professor on NPR’s On Point ripping DT apart. It peaked my interest enough to ask for specifics and my husband started to tell me about how DT has been filling his cabinet with a basket of deplorables; corporate moguls who hate the regulation from the very government agencies that they are being appointed to. Businessmen who do not believe in regulation or global warming. It immediately occurred to me that cooperate America is quite literally going to run the American government and all hope of restrictions and regulations will then go out the window.

I have no doubt that in this administration we will see many of the problems we started with grow. Terrorists will have new targets. The middle class will continue to shrink and the poor will get poorer as the minimum wage stagnates. Jobs will not come back to the rust belt. Environmental regulation will be scoffed at and ignored and global warming will come to a new boiling point. And most importantly, the rich will continue to get richer. Because that’s what you get when you hire a businessman scumbag who hires his cooperate scumbag friends. You get a new swamp that is even swampier than any swamp we could have ever imagined.

And now I have to throw a couple shout outs to whoever is reading this thing. For those of you that voted for DT I ask just this: what the fuck? Tell me one thing about this administration that will truly make your lives better? How will cooperate greed taking over America help you raise your family? While you were busy being White and privileged yet blaming your first world problems on Black and Brown people, you let the fox in the hen house.

To my Bernie-or-Bust friends I ask this; was it worth it? Was it really worth holding on to your ideals and voting for some 3rd party so that we could watch something even worse than a Clinton Oligarchy unfold? Don’t get me wrong, I love Bernie, he stands for so many of the things that I believe in. He is my ideal candidate (or maybe him mixed with Elizabeth Warren would be my super duper candidate). But here’s the thing; Bernie is too good for America. We don’t deserve him.

When I was in Vermont a few weeks back I asked just about everyone a saw there to please please lead VT in the movement to succeed from the union. I think Vermont should become its own country, and make Bernie their president. Then all us crazy “libtards” could move there and build our own Kumbaya compound. I’m all for it.

No, but seriously, Bernie is too good for this shitty country. This country has a heavy demographic of uneducated idiots and super greedy scumbags all out for Number 1, themselves. There is no “common good” anymore. We can’t come together. We can only focus on our differences. We don’t “get” each other anymore because we’ve been divided among enemy lines. Both sides think the other is brainwashed. Both think the enemy side ascribes to fake news sources, be in Fox or NPR. It is now assumed that whatever our media source is, it is only telling us one side of the story.

If we could find the common good then maybe we could listen to each other again. If we remembered what we have in common rather than what divides us, maybe we could realize that we’re ultimately on the same team. But it feels pretty dire right now. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. It really feels like America is about to implode.

I’m sorry I can’t end this blog on a more positive note. Maybe it’s still too soon, but I feel just as strong, if not stronger, than I felt on November 9th. I’m still angry at the outcome, and I’m outraged at the people who voted for this dingleberry. I’m outraged at the electoral college and how it has bound us to a lunatic even though he lost by almost 3 million votes. To those of you who are with me in this outrage, I reach out my hands in solidarity. Happy holidays, and let’s hope 2017 brings us a miracle to offset the horrors of 2016.

Posted 12.23.16

If you would like to respond please email audreyryan79@yahoo.com

#6. The Humanity of Being Human

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is human worth. Not so much the actual value of life, but of how we value each other as human beings. I think this election has brought to the surface the vast discrepancy between how people see themselves and value their own lives and how they view “the other.”

A lot of the current national discourse is just a ploy to take our attention away from what really matters. Instead of us focusing on ending wars and saving our environment by finding more sustainable ways to survive the media has diverted our attention to this idea that all our problems are other people’s fault. If there were less people trying to take our jobs and tax money for their food stamps then we’d be happier.

Mexico is the bad guy for proliferating all these extra, and “illegal,” people in this country who also conveniently provide cheap labor. China is the bad guy for selling us all the cheap shitty things we buy from Asia instead of from our own country where labor is too expensive yet still too little for most people to actually live off of. And of course all Muslims are responsible for terrorism because they are the ones with the radical religion. These are the blanket statements and thought processes that float around in this country and that allow people to fixate on blaming other people for their problems. Meanwhile, a bunch of rich White men, who were already fat cats, will line their pockets and become even bigger fat cats during this administration.

What scares me most is the lack of humanity in this current paradigm. We are devaluing each other at a rapid rate. Some people think that they deserve to live happy, healthy, plentiful lives while other people should go back to where they came from and be oppressed and poor. That’s not our problem. Except it is our problem.

In my line of work I see a lot of people in tough positions. One time I saw a teenage boy in the hospital who was considered psychotic because he thought that people were poisoning his food. He had been brought to the U.S. a few years before by a “coyote,” which is a professional smuggler who illegally transports people from Central America to the U.S. for a large fee.

This kid was found working illegally at a fast food restaurant and brought into DCF custody because he was a minor. He was living with a foster family when I met him in the hospital. He didn’t speak any English so I had to use a translator. I had a meeting with an entire medical team about this kid because it turned out he had a pretty serious medical condition that affected his ability to walk and function normally. I just remember how scared and confused he looked lying in that hospital bed with all those people surrounding him. And I remember how bad I felt for him, knowing that he had so many odds stacked against him.

In moments like that it is almost like your brain has to make a quick decision; do I pity this person? Do I pretend this doesn’t bother me so I can stay professional? Sometimes you have to reason with yourself that there is no benefit to your emotions because feelings won’t change the situation. In fact, you can try and separate yourself so much from the circumstances of your patient that you may devalue them to some degree. So maybe I did look down at that kid a little just to get through my evaluation, I compartmentalized and put my compassion on the shelf.

My job when I work in crisis is to think and act fast and sometimes that means you turn the sympathy nob down so that you can turn the problem-solving nob up. But taking a step back now, I’d like to put myself in his shoes for a moment. How would I feel as a young scared illegal immigrant in this country with no family? How would I feel if I didn’t know the native language? How would I feel I didn’t know who to trust or who could help me?

I think I would feel very very lost. I think I would feel like the world was a big scary place. I bet looking up from that hospital bed at a bunch of strangers talking over me in a language I didn’t understand would feel like a bad nightmare. If I turned on the news or overheard people talking about building a wall and deporting immigrants I might feel even more scared. I bet I would feel like people didn’t even really value my life, that I was at the very bottom of the totem pole. Maybe I would feel so suspicious about these people in the hospital, observing and writing things down, that I would think they might poison my food to eliminate me so I would no longer be their problem.

Empathy is such a powerful tool. Putting myself in his shoes opens up a whole new train of thought. Like why is that kid’s life somehow less valuable than any other life being lived right now? Why is his life any less important than mine? Or DT? How come he is a scapegoat in this country? How come so many people would devalue him and detest him and his existence without ever having met him but only knowing a few labels on his chart: Latino, immigrant, illegal, disabled.

Why is it easier to blame a person than blame a failed system? And then I ask myself the redundant question of how any of this rhetoric helps things if he is just screwed regardless and nothing more than an anecdote in some blog? I don’t know the answer. I just know that something is wrong. We are forgetting about how we are all human with a shared humanity. The definition of humanity is the human race, which includes everyone on Earth. It’s also a word for the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love and have compassion, be creative, and not be a robot or alien.

That definition sounds a lot like the common good, which is for the benefit or interests of all. In trying to find my own sense of a common good, I consider everything that I think is essential to our existence. I think we all deserve medical care when we get sick because healthcare is a right not a privilege. I think we all deserve a right to an education, clean drinking water, and affordable housing and food. These are just the first few things that come to mind.

Republicans like Mike Pence are caught up on a specific detail of their view of humanity. I remember in the debate when he said that a society should be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable, and he was referring to fetuses. Here is a Christian man so obsessed with saving unborn children that he will turn a cold shoulder to the people already here. These are the same Republicans that want to abolish abortion yet support the death penalty. That makes sense: save the unborn but kill the living. If what he said is really true, if our society should be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, then we should be much more concerned about our immigrant population, minorities, gay and transgender, and people struggling to survive on the minimum wage.

I’ll never understand why Republicans can get so hung up on issues like abortion when there are 7 billion people on this planet already. Meanwhile, most old White male Republican politicians seem to de-prioritize the 99% of us that are not rich and White. They focus their efforts on the 1% that own and run everything. So why do they want more of us little folk? Just more people to rule and make money off of? If they are so disinterested in the population at large then why do they want us to reproduce so rampantly?

I get why some rich White men are Republicans; they are greedy and selfish. They want to keep all their money in a big pile, avoid taxes and regulation, and could care less about the common good. But I don’t get why the other, much larger, chunk of the country, the poor White folk, choose the party that cares least about things that would actually benefit them. Issues like raising the minimum wage, making healthcare available and affordable for people, keeping social services and social security afloat for those who need it. Nope, they voted for the party who will have all those things on the chopping block the minute they can, because, hey, rich people need tax cuts, poor people don’t need services, they just need the idea of a pretend wall to get their vote.

Bernie Sanders cared about the common good. I’ll never forget what he said when they asked him about his religion, about how when someone else hurts he hurts, because we’re all in this together. Now that is the common good. That isn’t socialism, or communism, or some other hippie dippy term used to scare people. It’s just plain old humanity at its best. It’s acknowledging that we are all alive on the same planet, breathing the same air, drinking from the same sources of water, all just trying to survive on this big revolving ball.

In the common good there is an understanding that we may not all be the same, but we are also not that much different. If in being human we are all human beings than that is our shared humanity as a species. If our constitution says that all men are created equal can we hold up our end of the bargain? Can we look each other in the eye; rich, White, Black, Brown, poor, queer, legal, illegal, young, old, abled, disabled and say that we are equal, truly equal, and mean it?

I don’t know if we can do that, but I want to hold out my hand to that kid, that poor, vulnerable illegal immigrant, and I want to tell him that I may not be able to solve all his problems but that he is a human just like me. In solidarity I want to hold out my virtual hand to him, wherever he may be right now, and tell him that I see him, that I saw him in that hospital bed, and that he is a human being to me.

Posted 1.11.17

If you would like to respond please email: audreyryan79@yahoo.com 

#7. The Narcissist in Our House

An ongoing concern of many, including myself, is that this nation somehow managed to elect a man with a personality disorder. If that doesn’t mean anything to you then let me briefly explain. The definition of a personality disorder is a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind, typically manifest by the time one reaches adolescence and causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society. 

If you or anyone you know is unfortunate enough have been diagnosed with a personality disorder via the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV or DSM-V) we use as psychologists to diagnose patients, then you might know that this is bad news. People who have personality disorders are commonly thought of as extremely difficult to deal with. They are the kind of people that are often categorized as “crazy” or “volatile” in their behavior towards others.

In the psych business people with personality disorders are considered to be some of the most difficult patients you can work with professionally. One of the many concerns is that there is no “cure” for a personality disorder and there currently are no medications that effectively treat them. Hence, the best prognosis for someone with a personality disorder is that if they identify that they have a problem enough to at least work to improve the way they interact with others. Unfortunately, many people with personality disorders do not believe they have a problem and instead deflect any negative feedback and always find blame in the actions of others rather than looking inside. Not surprisingly, one hallmark of personality disorders is a marked lack of empathy.

The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality, functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits. The first criterion for a diagnosis is impairment in self and interpersonal functioning. The person’s identity would be derived from ego-centrism where their self-esteem is based on personal gain, power, or pleasure. In addition, their self-direction and goal setting would be based solely on personal gratification. For these people there is an absence of prosocial internal standards associated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior.

The next criteria is an impairment in interpersonal functioning as demonstrated by an absence of empathy and a general lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others. These people show a lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating others. They can also demonstrate impairment with intimacy. For many people with a personality disorder there is an incapacity for mutually intimate relationships. Instead they view relationships as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others, including by deceit and coercion; use of dominance or intimidation to control others. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?

The last criteria area is a list of pathological personality traits in various domains:

  1. Antagonism as characterized by manipulativeness and frequent use of subterfuge to influence or control others; use of seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one’s ends. [MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN, BUILD A WALL aka SAY ANYTHING TO GET ELECTED]
  2. Deceitfulness: Dishonesty and fraudulence; misrepresentation of self; embellishment or fabrication when relating events. [TRUMP UNIVERISTY, SIX BANKRUPCIES]
  3. Callousness: Lack of concern for feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one’s actions on others; aggression; sadism. [BULLYING: ALICIA MACHADO, MEGYN KELLY, ROSIE O’DONNEL, HRC…. GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY BECAUSE I’M FAMOUS AND THEY WILL LET ME DO ANYTHING]
  4. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults; mean, nasty, or vengeful behavior. [TWITTER, TWEET, TWEET]
  5. Disinhibition characterized by irresponsibility and a disregard for – and failure to honor – financial and other obligations or commitments; lack of respect for – and lack of follow through on – agreements and promises. [REMEMBER ALL THOSE SMALL BUSINESSES AND CONTRACTORS HE NEVER PAID!!]
  6. Impulsivity, such as acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing and following plans. [CONSTANT FLIP FLOPPING ON ISSUES, GOING BACK ON CAMPAIGN PROMISES; HE ONCE WAS A DEMOCRAT, HE ONCE WAS PRO-CHOICE,]
  7. Risk taking: Engagement in dangerous, risky, unnecessarily and without regard for consequences; boredom proneness and thoughtless initiation of activities. [TWEETS, TANTRUMS, THREATS]

Many people have heard of various personality disorders, the most well known is Borderline Personality Disorder which is seen more in women than men. A less common, yet still well known one is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is seen more in men than women. In our culture we have a tendency to casually throw mental health terms around calling someone who is very organized “OCD” or calling someone who seems sure of themselves a “narcissist” but the actual pathology behind these terms is quite concerning.

Chances are you either know or have known someone with a personality disorder in your lifetime. These people live among us. I have had several clients who have had either a parent, relative, or friend who has a personality disorder and usually they come to therapy with anxiety and depression that stems from the burden of that relationship. In many cases they have to cut that person out of their life to maintain their own sanity. In other cases, they have to draw strong boundaries as a means of dealing with that person on their own terms as they are continually berated and devalued by that individual.

Now for our case study. No need for a made up patient of Joe Smith to explain this, we’ll just use POTUS. Narcissistic Personality Disorder – The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits. To diagnose narcissistic personality disorder, the following criteria must be met:

A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

  1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
    1. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem. [OBSESSED WITH FAME. CONSTANT NAME DROPPING. I’M BEST FRIENDS WITH PUTIN ALTHOUTH I HAVE NEVER MET HIM]
    2. Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations. [EVERY FIXTURE IN MY HOUSE IS MADE OF GOLD, SELF PORTRAITS EVERYWHERE, MY NAME IS ON ANYTHING FROM STEAK TO WINE TO GOLF COURSES TO PHONY UNIVERSITIES]

2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

  1. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others. [NEVER APOLOGIZES TO ANYONE. ONLY RESPONDS TO CRITICISM WITH ACCUSATIONS AND EXCUSES. MADE FUN OF A DISABLED REPORTER AND STILL DENIES HE DID SO]
  2. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain. [ON HIS THIRD TROPHY WIFE. “I GO THRU THE ROOF WHEN DINNER IS NOT READY WHEN I COME HOME”]
  1. Pathological personality traits in the following domain:

a. Antagonism, characterized by Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others. [SELF EVIDENT. HAVE YOU EVER EVEN ENCOUNTERED ANYONE SO SELF ASSURED OF THEIR BULLSHIT?]


c. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.

  1. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment. [REPUBLICANS MIGHT ARGUE THAT HIS BEHAVIOR IS “NORMAL” BECAUSE HE HAS A RIGHT TO HIS ENTITLEMENT BECAUSE HE CAME FROM A WEALTHY FAMILY WITH A SILVER SPOON IN HIS MOUTH]      
  2. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma). [REPUBLICANS WOULD ALSO LIKELY TRY AND FIND ANY EXCUSE RATHER THAN ADMIT THAT THEIR POTUS HAS NPD FOR ORGANIC REASONS]

So there you have it. POTUS meets every criterion for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It’s a slam-dunk diagnosis. There are various historical figures that are also thought to have NPD. To name a few there is Hitler, Stalin, Ted Bundy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Saddam Hussein… not good company. This is not good news for America when your POTUS is in the same league as dictators and serial killers.

I run a weekly group at a community clinic that teaches a certain kind of therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which is thought to be helpful for people with personality disorders. One of the main tenants of this therapy is helping people see the middle ground in situations rather than only categorizing the world into extremes of good and bad. People with personality disorders have an uncanny ability to think in all or nothing terms. We call this a black and white thinking process. This means that everything is either amazing or horrible, there is never a middle ground, and there is never a compromise of information. DBT teaches the middle path where you integrate the opposing forces.

There are three things that concern me most moving forward with this knowledge about POTUS. One is that he functions with his NPD as though it were an asset that helps him maneuver the world unencumbered by other people’s feedback. This is someone who will act impulsively and unapologetically regardless of the context and given any flack will never stop to self reflect. The only way a person with NPD could improve their behavior is to admit to themself they have a problem and then work to gain more insight into their deficit of thought. But how can this happen if the bullying and behavior this man has demonstrated has led him to the most powerful office in the world?

Another great concern I have is that he only thinks in black and white and yet what we truly need is a negotiator. We don’t need someone who can “make great deals” because for him those great deals are only on his own terms, which could include not holding up to his end of the bargain. We need someone who can put themselves in the shoes of the person they are dealing with, show some empathy for the opposing side, and then make a compromise. Obama was actually very good at this yet some people saw him as “weak” because he was able to strike deals with Iran, Cuba, and other countries by finding the middle ground. With this POTUS, there will only be action in extremes.

My last concern is that this is a highly impulsive man who has his finger on the button for countless life or death situations for thousands, millions, perhaps billions of people. This man now has the nuclear codes for this country and actually questioned defense department officials several times about why they don’t use nuclear as if it were an easy solution to ongoing problems like ISIS. I honestly now fear nuclear war is a possibility and I never thought that I would type these words, yet I do not trust this man one bit because I understand the pathology behind his erratic behavior.

As we hold our breathe for the next four years (hopefully less…) may we use this dilemma as a pivotal moment in modern history to not make the same mistakes that were made in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia yet again. Only a true narcissist can think so much of their own life while thinking so little of others. For the people who voted for DT they seem to have mistaken the idea of “strong leadership” for a megalomaniac. Some of Obama’s last words to us in his goodbye speech were reminding America why we have chosen democracy over authoritarianism.

The global wave of nationalism has led us down a rabbit hole that will be difficult to climb out of. My greatest hope for this country in the next four years is that this nightmare will somehow unites us on a deeper level, that we can start to appreciate all that we have rather than continually asking for more. Life without empathy is a life without authentic connection with other people. DT may never have experienced empathy, but most of us have, and now is the time to use it as a tool to unite. We need to use the power of our connections to each other as human beings as a weapon, stronger than any nuclear warhead. Without each other, without valuing each other’s lives, without real authentic connection, empathy and compassion we are nothing but automatons, nothing but sheep being led to the slaughter.

This blog is dedicated to President Barack Obama and his family who have been an inspiration to me and many Americans. He has skillfully balanced his leadership with pragmatism, compromise, and optimism and demonstrated to us compassion, empathy and humility while being in the most powerful position in the world for 8 years. He has made me proud to be an American again.

I am not a religious person but every political speech ends in “God Bless America” and my last thoughts on this inauguration day are “Please have Mercy on us Dear Lord/God/Higher Power Above please, please have Mercy.”

Posted 1.20.17

#8. The Victim Olympics


On inauguration day I was listening to college radio (since I stopped listening to NPR) driving around and heard these two music DJ’s rambling on about the demise of our culture in the post-DT apocalypse. I was half listening and half trying to forget that it was in fact happening, that at that moment they were actually swearing in that nutbag down in DC while I was driving my kid to her Kindermusik class. But one of the DJ’s started on a rant, which I followed him down into and is still rattling around in my mind.

He was talking about how “everyone is a victim now” and that his own neighbor was saying how annoying it was to wait in line at Starbucks on his way to work behind all the mom’s with their big bulky strollers, yakking on their cell phones, waiting for their lattes. This neighbor’s attitude was like “hey man, I have to wait in this long line shitty line before I head to my day at WORK, it’s not fair.” This of course is to suggest that his life would be so much easier if there were no line at the coffeshops and no mothers blocking the sidewalks with strollers as if their lives are a piece of cake. But at the root of that anecdote is the identity of American victimhood, the mantra “I work therefore I am.” And if you do not work, and work hard, then you are a freeloading sack of shit and you should get a job because you are in the way.

What is complex about this train of thought is that it is redundant. The people working think the people that don’t work are victims but they also feel that they are the victims because they “work soooo hard” and “pay taxes that then go to freeloaders.” This is of course the mantra of many DT supports. I know this because I have seen it said numerous times on some of the social media feeds I have been unfortunate enough to visit. I remember one guy was complaining about the protestors in DC saying that the police should “shoot job applications” at them. Another person argued that they could never do something as trite as be in a protest or Women’s March because they are too busy earning a living. The thought process here is that if you are not working then you are taking advantage of the system and because people who work are forced to pay taxes they are therefore being forced to support you freeloaders against their will. [Hence both parties are victims…]

Are you following me?

So that is my new premise: we all think that we are victims. Now the 60+ million of us that didn’t vote for DT are victims of his populist presidency and will likely see some of our social and civil rights go down the tubes. And the DT supports are victims because they are the hardworking blue collared, rust belt, White fabric of America that is being torn to shreds by globalism. They are the economic victims of the new economy that many of us in the cities are thriving in. So we’re all fucking victims and we’re all blaming each other, and it’s exhausting.

I have only really ever felt like a victim once in my life, and that is when I got sick. But I don’t want to talk about that again because it was a truly horrible and painful time in my life that I’m trying very hard every day to forget about because there is nothing I can do to change that it happened. But when it did happen I felt like I had been hit by a bus. It was like I was just living my life unassumingly, minding my own business, trying to raise my daughter and be a decent mother, and then out of nowhere I was blindsided by a gigantic fist of an unknown threat that knocked me off my feet. I felt like I was a victim of incredibly bad luck to be struck with both post partum depression and a disease in a matter of a few months. It was a horrible feeling and I wallowed in it for a long time.

But I am not a victim anymore. I chose to rejoin the living. I chose to focus on the things I can control in life rather than ruminate on the things that I cannot do a fucking thing about; all the things beyond my control. And I feel a lot less burdened now that I am no longer a victim. I feel almost weightless and free at times. Although I have to admit that this election is weighing me down again.

It’s weighing me down because it is bringing out the worst in people around me. It’s as though DT has unleashed this animal that lives inside many of us. For some people that animal is just their inner racism and entitlement. They feel oppressed by how much America has changed in a short period of time and they want things to go back to the way they used to be when it was more wholesome (and White…). For some other people the animal is our despair that we live in a country where we are so divided that we find ourselves hating people we used to shrug our shoulders at and say “they’re just old-fashioned.” These days we find the other phenotype offensive because it goes against so much of what we stand for.

But now I want to talk about the victims I work with, because I think there is more to them than people think. I’m talking about the victims that DT supporters love to rant about. Not the protestors, but the people “living off the system” and in their mind “taking advantage” of it. These are the people living off of social security and social welfare. I have met several of these people because I work with them at a community clinic on what I call my “community service day” of the week.

These people on SSI and SSDI are diagnosed with major mental illnesses, usually bipolar, schizophrenia, and sometimes personality disorders. Some people living off of SSDI have serious health problems like Diabetes Type I, COPD, heart conditions, rheumatoid arthritis and other disabilities that make it difficult for them to be employed. To obtain SSDI you have to see a doctor who agrees that you are physically unable to work. One of the criteria is whether or not you are able to lift 20 pounds as this is thought to be indicative of your ability to hold a job. There are also psychiatrists who sign off on disability paperwork based on mental incapacity based on thought process, paranoia, associates, and other criteria. In either case these people are typically physically or mentally incapacitated and in many cases both.

Many DT supporters would probably argue about the criteria for obtaining social security but I have seen many people rejected for it. I actually think it is fairly difficult to obtain unless you can make a strong case. But a more concerning stereotype about this population of people on social welfare is that they are “too lazy to work” and that they have chosen to just live off the system. I have no doubt that there are situations where that may be the case. I have certainly seen people who believe they are victims of their situation and demand more and more from the system and become almost institutionalized in their dependence and victimhood. Yet in reality, most of the people I see would love to have a job. But no one will hire them.

I hear stories constantly from these people who live off of SSI and SSDI trying to obtain employment and they usually never get a callback or an interview. Their work history is usually spotty at best so their resume has several large holes. These gaps in employment were from hospitalizations and stints they were homeless. In many cases these people have been struggling their entire lives for just basic stability such that having consistent housing, food, and medication if enough of a challenge for them from day to day. Occasionally they may actually obtain a job but usually they do not last long there because their mental illness may prove a challenge to employers.

One client I had who was bipolar and also struggled with several health issues, diabetes I and breast cancer to name a few, was fired from a job after about a week because she was so slow using the cash register. The slowness was a combination of her anti-psychotic medications and her delayed mobility due to her ongoing health problems. Without those medications, that some people say make them feel like “zombies,” she would experience manic episodes and paranoia. The trade off seemed pretty clear to me; either take the meds and be stable yet slowed down, or be off them and be a mess.

Another client I once had who struggled with schizophrenia had worked at a department store in the past. Even though she had worked full-time there it was only minimum wage so after taxes she only made a few hundred dollars more a month than she did living on SSDI. Once in session I did a budget for her and got all the numbers on paper. She was living off about $1100 a month from SSDI, when she was working it was about $1325.

Most people living off SSI/SSDI get a check for $800-1100 a month and that is supposed to cover everything. This woman couldn’t afford an apartment so she was living on someone’s couch and giving them a couple hundred dollars a month and going to the liquor store for their booze runs. The saddest part of that story was actually not that she was living on the couch of an alcoholic but that this woman had a low IQ and had been taken advantage of by a car dealership. They had sold her a brand new car so almost two thirds of her check was going towards a car payment and car insurance. When I tried to help her fix the situation I realized that she had to choose between a car and a stable place to live, she couldn’t afford both. Even if she still had the job at the department store it wouldn’t have been much better and she still couldn’t afford both.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen what rent costs these days but $800-1100 a month from the government won’t get you much if that is supposed to cover your rent, utilities, and other living expenses. While the cost of living has risen the checks have remained about the same, I’m not sure they are adjusted much for inflation. As a result many of these people still may live in a shelter or go to soup kitchens for meals. Some of them do have an apartment or a rented room, I’ve visited quite a few of these dwellings, and in many cases they are in bad parts of town and have mice and bed bugs. So yes, you can live off the system, but it isn’t very glamorous.

What is most disturbing is how much we judge other people and blame each other. It is as though we have nothing better to do than complaining about each other. The irony is that when I am at work seeing these clients “living off the system” they are too busy just trying to survive to complain about other people. In some cases they are too preoccupied to vote, I was at the clinic the day after the election and told a schizophrenic client that DT had been elected and he didn’t believe me, “No, that smart ass? No way he could get elected.” This guy had never voted because that would mean having to register and he hadn’t had a stable address in years. Politics is the least of these people’s concerns most of the time, even though the result will likely affect them and the services available to them.

I guess I’ll leave you with this: being a real victim in the system isn’t so great. Working would be much preferable to most of these people. It just isn’t an option. The other thing I want to emphasize is; WE CAN AFFORD IT. This country is rich, or at least 1% of it is filthy filthy rich, even their pennies could support people who struggle with major mental health and health issues. If you don’t agree with me, PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES. What would you do if you were un-employable? Too messed up in the head and body to be of use to an employer? What we need in this country right now is less judgment and more empathy and compassion for each other. Stop blaming other people for your problems. Stop being a victim.

Posted 1.27.17


9. Formal Operations: Education is not a HOAX


An ongoing joke we had in grad school was whether or not people had gone through Piaget’s cognitive developmental stage of Formal Operations. The reason I think many of us fixated on this criteria is because it really is a hard line of intellectual development between the ability to do various tasks needed to survive on your own and the ability to think abstractly. Our developmental psychology professor who taught us about it said, “If you’re in graduate school, you’ve gone through formal operations,” but she made it clear that there were many among us in society, full grown adults, who had not.

To give you the cliff note version, there are four stages in Piaget’s cognitive development. The first is the Sensorimotor stage, which is from birth through ages 18-24 months. In this stage infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. A key test of basic motor and sensory skills is object permanence. This is when a child understands that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. For instance, when a ball goes behind the couch does the child think it disappeared or do they know that it is still there? This is considered an important milestone in early development.

The next stage is Preoperational, which begins when children are toddlers (18-24 months) through early childhood (age 7). In this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people. They also often struggle with understanding the idea of constancy. An example would be if you poured the same amount of water into two different sized containers, one that is tall and thin and the other that is wider and larger, and the child thinks there is more water in the thinner container that looks more filled to the top and doesn’t realize there is the same amount of water in both containers.

The third is the Concrete Operational Stage, which happens between ages 7-12. Kids at this point of development begin to think more logically, but their thinking can also be very rigid. They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts. At this point, children also become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel. Kids in the concrete operational stage also begin to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that not everyone else necessarily shares their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

The fourth and final development stage is Formal Operations, which begins at approximately age 12 and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, word problems, making inferences and systematic planning also emerge during this stage. An example of formal operational thought would be imagining the outcome of a particular action that has yet to be undertaken such as drawing conclusions about things they have not actually experienced by considering information presented to them.

The truth is that many people do not reach Formal Operations in their lifetime. It is estimated that only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood. It is estimated that about 30% of people in the U.S. never actually develop advanced abstract reasoning skills.

I would make the inference that many of the 30% of people living the in the U.S. who have not undergone Formal Operations are the same very people who voted for DT. I believe this because I think they were unable to imagine what it would really be like with a reality star that had never held an elected office running our country. Most people who are able to think logically using facts presented to them could infer that it is a bad decision to elect someone who makes things up and revises history constantly. This is called gaslighting.

People who support DT are relying on opinions rather than scientifically proven facts. The notion that global warming is a hoax is a ridiculous opinion thrown out by people on the right who want to put the fossil fuel industry above our environment. It has been proven by thousands of scientists that global warming is a threat to our survival on earth yet DT has used his manipulative skill of gaslighting to make his followers believe that his opinion can subvert actual facts. Anyone who could fall for such a myth would likely have not gone through Formal Operations because the act of critical thinking allows people to decipher fact from fiction.

Systematic planning is also something that has been missing from the #trumptrain from the beginning. There was no real plan behind his campaign, just platitudes. Even building a wall was more symbolic of isolationism rather than realistic as a way to deter immigration. The idea of “Making America Great Again,” is based on a myth that America should go back to some nostalgic era like the 1950’s when there were factory jobs that no longer exist. Instead of laying out real plans and policies, DT relies on soundbite slogans and generalities that have no real data to back it up. We call these empty promises.

Empty rhetoric is dangerous for many reasons but most notably it has been used as a weapon of propaganda. There have been so many lies and misinformation slung about that we no longer can keep up with what is fact and fiction. People who are less educated and do not engage in critical thinking may take any information presented to them by the media and politicians as an automatic truth. A classic example of this is the birther lie that DT spread about Obama. There were people who actually believed our former president was a foreigner and a Muslim based on propaganda that DT and the Republicans spread. If DT hadn’t planted the seed of the birther lie no one would have ever fallen for such a preposterous and racist conspiracy theory.

What is disheartening is that what America needs more of right now is proper education yet DT has nominated Betsy DeVos, a vapid billionaire puppet of a woman, to lead the country as the Secretary of Education. The irony of this pick is that with someone like that in charge of public education it will continue to spiral and fail and more of the people who cannot engage in critical thinking will graduate from our schools. These are the kinds of people who will then vote for someone like DT in the future. If we keep our public dumb they will continue to make bad decisions that endanger our planet and all of us.

There is a war on education right now. There is a war on facts. There is a war on logic. The right feels they are being talked down to when really they just are not listening, paying attention, and making an educated decision. They have rejected what the media tells them because they think it is yet another conspiracy theory of the educated against the uneducated to tell them what and how to think.

The only thing that will save us now is to take back our right to facts. We must take back our right to logic and science as being the answer to many of our problems. We have to take back our right to a good education and not let Betsy DeVos flush public schools down the toilet. We have to use our critical thinking and not apologize for being intelligent, thoughtful, creative people. We have to teach our own children Formal Operations so that they too can be part of the solution rather than the problem in the future.


Posted 2.7.17


10. The Evolution of Freeloaders & Compassion


I’d like to start this blog with a quote from Sebastian Junger’s new book Tribe, which is about how important group mentality is to our survival. In the book he describes how soldiers form such a powerful bond with each other in combat that it can be hard to assimilate back to their post-war existence at home. Modern life, with all its conveniences, also sacrifices interdependence and connectivity for autonomy and privacy. Junger explains this phenomenon in a historical context of how humans evolved to depend on each other and work together as a means of survival.

In one part of the book he makes a point about our evolutionary roots and how this has shaped the dichotomy of our political system:


“The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives and it’s a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right.

 The perennial conservative concern about high taxes supporting a nonworking underclass has entirely legitimate roots in our evolutionary past and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Early Hominids lived a precarious existence where freeloaders were a direct threat to survival and hence they actually developed an exceedingly acute sense of whether they’re being taken advantage of by members of their own group

But by the same token one of the hallmarks of early human society was the emergence of a culture of compassion and empathy where we care for the ill, the elderly, the wounded and the unlucky. In today’s terms that is a common and real concern that also has to be taken into account.

 Those two driving forces have been consistent for hundreds of thousands of years in human society and have been dually codified in this country as a two-party political system. The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs and more broadly over liberal and conservative thought will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.”


I found this excerpt to be very powerful because it actually states that both sides are in fact correct or rather have legitimate concerns. This struck me because instead of seeing the issue in black or white or right and wrong, it is more just a simple philosophical divide. If we were all in the same Tribe, half of us would want to leave the perceived “freeloaders” behind while the other half of us would be compassionate enough to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the greater good, and assume that the “freeloaders” may have legitimate reasons for not being able to contribute equally to the group.

It is easy as an educated liberal (or “liberal elite” or “libtard” if you will…) to feel that the political right is just ignorant or selfish or both. But likewise, most conservatives feel that us liberals are either lazy or idealistic and just don’t understand the financial reality.

Many Republicans I know are overly concerned with their own wealth and privilege. They feel they work hard and deserve what they have earned and have no interest in paying taxes to subsidize the supposed “underclass.” And in some cases, they don’t want to pay taxes because they just don’t like the government, period. Many conservatives believe that typical liberals don’t know what it is like to own small businesses and be subjected to endless regulation. They may also be racist, but in many cases they would state that it is not overt racism they practice, rather it is a reality that many of these supposed “freeloaders” are people of color, hence the support in this current administration for not having to be “politically correct.”

The liberal argument is that of compassion and empathy being the qualities that separate us as human beings from other mammals. We have the intellectual capacity to be compassionate to each other. We also have the education to understand our own power and privilege. Our skin color, our socio-economic status we were born into may have unequally put us in a position of power that we can only truly understand by practicing empathy and exploring what life might be like from a different point of view.

I just spent the last week in Mexico at a resort where people of color continually waited me on. Even though it was a great vacation, and very relaxing, it was also hard for me stomach at times. Throughout my stay there I experienced waves of guilt and gratitude. I felt like I was constantly being reminded of my own White privilege. I was surrounded by other White people from all over the world being waited on by Mexicans who might make in a month what some of us make in a day.

What was even worse was being from the U.S. and knowing that these native Mexicans must feel that our country feels they are literally second-class citizens. Our tour guide at a monkey sanctuary said that he felt that Americans who supported DT probably wouldn’t come to Mexico anyway. My husband and I later joked that they would still come as long as they were being waited on while they were there.

Sometimes I fantasize about the U.S. breaking up in half between the Midwest and the South and the two coasts. Maybe we can all migrate to like-minded parts of the country and then have one united state of hard-working independent people who don’t have any social welfare or liberal agendas and can have their low taxes and libertarian ideals. The other state (that I will live in with my family and friends…) can have Planned Parenthoods on every corner, single payer healthcare, gay marriage, gun control, social welfare, and civil liberties galore. Or I can just stay in Massachusetts forever.


But what I want to better understand is this philosophical dichotomy that Junger wrote about in his book. Is there a middle ground where these two concepts can co-exist? Can we keep freeloaders in check and still be compassionate human beings? Can we function anymore with a group or tribal mentality or are we coming closer to being “every man for themselves” because the larger group mentality is no longer working?

This is a discussion I want to continue to explore and would love to hear what you think…


Posted 3.14.17

If you would like to respond please email audreyryan79@yahoo.com