Systems Abusing Systems – The Realities of Haunted Girlfriend

What we reap from bereavement may alleviate the pangs of loss and mortality itself. Knowledge expands with increasing rapidity, proliferating unprecedented advances. But even the savviest technologies may not be enough to spare us from an asteroid approaching earth. However, should some of us manage to survive its impact, we can gear our ingenuity towards respite and repair. Conversely, we may lose ourselves in greed, devising society’s demise through omission, selection, and an ultimate complacence. The dualism in the all-too-human capacity for nurturance and upheaval sears the conscience in James Nulick’s Haunted Girlfriend.

I do not typically read horror novels, or horror stories, and it was eye-opening to witness the overlay of literary poignancy with grotesque realities we often deny in favor of prettier things. Nulick couples contemporary contentions with the gravity of implication. The first story in his collection addresses capital punishment and the salience of compromise. Rather than having murderers repay their victims’ loved ones with their lives, society forces them to watch certain aspects of their treachery projected on a screen. This viewing proceeds in perpetuity, until the murderer dies a natural death. One may argue that this is crueler than an execution itself, and while it may seem an appropriate sort of retribution, the practice might contribute to an eventual desensitization to deeds that resulted in the murderers’ very incarceration. Elements of this piece are traced throughout the story collection, prodding us to contemplate the destruction of which we are capable, despite our well-meaning intentions to rectify perceived wrongs.

“Body by Drake” carves the animus of Haunted Girlfriend, submerging its audience in a chlorinated pool that rises in depth the further we swim. Headlines continue to occasionally touch upon Earth’s dwindling resources and human attempts to compensate for such. Food is produced in multitudes, but pounds upon pounds are wasted. It becomes questionable as to whether our systems lack resources, or if these resources are subjected to inefficient use and stagnant distribution. “Body by Drake” warns of the abuse of systems by systems themselves. Through the perceived loss of the planet, society tries to reclaim what it’s owed, albeit arbitrarily. People are compensated to “recycle” at an earlier age to assuage an overcrowded Earth. Compensation for this “recycling” varies from group to group, highlighting eugenics as a mechanism for public policy. Those who differ from the status quo are deemed “Ethnics,” but it is unclear as to what makes these individuals so different and thus, promptly recyclable. Nulick incorporates contemporary debate in his ever constricting dystopia. We can interpret the varied degrees of monetary compensation as a form of affirmative action, though these polices which target minority groups only marginalize, rather than empower them. To further appreciate Nulick’s social commentary, readers should first read the glossary attached to “Body by Drake.” Re-reading this glossary after ending the story only sharpens our understanding of possibilities we prefer not to acknowledge.

Haunted Girlfriend finds itself cradled in the aches of growing. “Peach” is one of those grittier reads that makes the unspeakable more of a tangible reality. Nulick’s delicate prose accentuates the trauma of disillusionment that comes with spiritual and physical violence. He paints his images with soft pastels, cradling our line of vision until we hit a charcoal boundary. The story as a whole is like a carefully upholstered futon, eventually perforated by insatiable moths. This hunger proceeds in its ravenous haunt throughout “Vinyl Hearted Boy,” a heart-wrenching pinnacle to its emotionally dizzying predecessors.

Nulick is a writer of emotional depth and acuity. His images, though provocative, diverge from the vulgar in that they echo in their horror. He juxtaposes the shocking with the ordinary, allowing us to visualize consequences that we may have laid the foundation for, however inadvertently. In the face of a diminishing planet, we strive to recover what we only think we’re entitled to, through flawed means and dogmas even asteroids fail to dismantle.

Haunted Girlfriend can be purchased directly from Expat Press, at https://expatpress.com/product/haunted-girlfriend-james-nulick/.

Review of Scraped Knees by Kristine Brown – Michael Rush

Michael Rush has written quite a thorough review of my collection of poems and flash stories. I give Mr. Rush and Forage Poetry great thanks for their time in receiving my work and sharing the goodness others create. Forage just released their last issue. Please give them a visit and peruse the entire archive. The showcase is truly something.

Additionally, if you’re interested in purchasing a signed copy of Scraped Knees, feel free to let me know. Again, thanks for your support. Happy Monday.

++++It would be easy to label Scraped Knees as a collection on growing up. It would be easy to see its poetry and prose about someone finding their voice, then connect it to your own upbringing and drift back into personal moments of discovering the world. Yet for me Scraped Knees is much more; it is a book of contrasts. A collection of poetry and prose which can speak from the perspective of the young, but do it with a more mature voice. Wonder is mixed with rationality and realism. Expectation mingles with disappointment. We experience some lighter moments, but there is a weight to carry with us both before and after that lightness.

++++Anemic Disappointment would be an example of that weight as the speaker’s uncoordinated efforts are further highlighted by her Mother’s reminder of her own athletic exploits. Yet it’s not the rebukes or even the…

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Construction in Expression – Holding Pattern/Joyride

“… it’s easier to get ahead over the corpses of those who disrespect you than it is to ride their coattails.”

I’ve recently found myself interested in compiling quotes. Oftentimes, they are silly, nonsensical, and essentially, fodder to save whatever tiny notebook I have on my nightstand that’s about to hit the trashcan. Lately, I’ve been scribbling down words of an angry Mel Gibson. As some of you know, I have what the socially prudent would call a fiery temperament. Aside from verbal assaults and racial slurs dismissed in a discussion on alcohol, Mel has some pretty interesting things to say. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, he professes to “murder inanimate objects.” The ability is so impressive that we should watch him “choke a toaster in the morning.”

It’s all quite amusing, but are the rants constructive? If I were to compile a book titled Quotes of Mel Gibson, would it be anything more than a list you find in your supermarket’s Cosmopolitan that details sixty-nine ways to please your man with a chocolate eclair? I highly doubt it.

Recently, I was privileged with reading and assembling over sixty poems from J. Walter Falconer’s blog, Holding Pattern/Joyride. Some pieces are worthy of an aching chest, others read like battle scenes from fantasy novels I’m too intimidated to open, but all the poems saturate, ideal for any weather and worthy of multiple re-reads. I’ve found myself doing this quite a bit, visiting the blog, admiring the precision in Falconer’s stanzas, and more so, reminding myself that my issues, both internal and interpersonal, aren’t unsolvable and can certainly be articulated in less than abstract ways.

I’ll reiterate that Holding Pattern/Joyride is more than a poetry blog. It’s a collection of writing that likely appeals to an ample span of readers. Students, nature lovers, hunters, enthusiasts of health, medicine, and psychological complexities. And let’s not forget those angsty people like myself who need a bit of a grounding. My obstacles aren’t necessarily insurmountable, and the grievances and ambivalences I clumsily attempt to juggle aren’t exactly sixteen-pound bowling balls.

If time allows, I highly recommend you read the blog from first entry to the most recent. Holding Pattern/Joyride is more than a glimpse into the happenings of a poet. Here, we have a cancer survivor embarking on patient advocacy, a friend with advice regarding relationships gone sour, the cool guy at the coffee shop who gives me the gritty details of what it’s like to be in grad school, and how working in a lab isn’t to be glamorized. There’s a poignant bit about the kind impartiality of animals we hold dear. As someone who frequently finds solace in the company of other friend’s cats as I save for my own, I can only smile at the declaration of “No prejudice here, no sir,” followed by an entry on therapy animals.

Indeed, not everything’s permanent, and the idea of the world constantly fleeting makes me pretty anxious. Self-identity is often muddled, and still, at twenty-five, my coping skills need work. Falconer’s blog reminds me of this, but not so patronizingly. It’s kind of like a self-help book, but better. A compilation of tips, poetic, detailed, and structured with a purpose that directs me away from the sinkhole angst can sometimes lead us to, including recorded arguments we’ll likely soon regret.

Serendipity, Altruism, and Sociopathy – The Beauty in “This is a Book”


Serendipity is often defined as a happening of chance, purveyor of help, good fortune, smiles. Serendipitous phenomena may beckon joy in times of despair, alleviate need in the midst of hardship, and quite possibly, restore faith in humanity. Quinn Farstride, town eccentric, arrives when most needed. No one knows how he pays his bills, keeps up with school, nor buys a home. Not a geographic coordinate can ever be determined for where he presently roams. Apparently, Quinn is a miracle worker. But is he altruistic?

In A Narcissist Writes Letters, to Himself, E.I. Wong has posted a draft of a mesmerizing novella. Transferred onto MS Word, single-spaced, the text comes out to 70 pages, feasibly read in two to three hours. But it is to be read again, firstly for its depth in themes to involve human relationships and the psychological, and secondly for the intricacy Wong’s writing imbues in character development and ambiguity. Is Q.F. a narcissist? Schizoid, a sociopath? A disorganized schizophrenic, as he initially proclaims? Soundness of mind aside, I wondered, “Did he really donate his kidney, blood, and marrow out of sheer kindness, or were they tickets to immortality? If they are simply tickets, should I be disappointed? Should I be mad?”

Dr. James Thatcher, professor of anthropology, writes a letter to his daughter, Melanie. Dr. Thatcher is a man who hates to lie, and on his deathbed, writes a letter to Melanie relaying a secret kept for eight years. As his son Todd faces renal failure, a gaunt ghost from Melanie’s childhood makes a university visit. Awkward, yet forceful, Quinn Farstride insists that he donates his kidney, already wielding test results that determine a plausible compatibility. Otherwise, little brother Arthur would donate, but doing so would jeopardize his journey in competitive football.

Quinn tells Dr. Thatcher he is losing his mind, and by donating, aims to preserve a functional aspect of his personhood before descending into madness. The mannerisms, speech, and uncanny knowledge of family affairs are all too unnerving. Predictably, Quinn fades, undetectable and absent to thank. After the donation, Dr. Thatcher ventures to find Quinn, speaking with his wife, consulting with mental health specialists, and finally, speaking with a Dr. Paysinger, the administrator at the hospital where Todd received treatment. Her disclosures captivate and intrigue, providing a detailed sketch of the vanishing oddball.

Emily, Dr. Paysinger’s daughter, has always been strange. In retrospect, Quinn’s mentorship only cultivated her peculiarities. Emily is sickly, needing blood transfusions to the extent that reserves have been drained at the hospital. Of course, Quinn has just the right type O negative blood to be a donor. Like the case of the Thatchers, Quinn coerces Dr. Paysinger into allowing him to repeatedly give blood to her daughter. Despite his frailty, donations continue, until the time of her transplant. The prospect of Quinn not needing to visit proves so distressing that ultimately, he vanishes from Emily’s life. At this point, erasure is a trend, a trademark end of Quinn’s interpersonal relationships.

But why does Quinn act, think, and commit to the feats that he does? Because he’s weird. This is a gross oversimplification. The goal of the narrator, and perhaps of readers, is to determine motives. What drove Quinn to give his blood, his time, his knowledge to an ever precocious young girl, and donate his kidney to the brother of a childhood friend with whom interactions were scarce? Quinn professes his love for Melanie. We know he hasn’t gotten over her, as his wife is a redheaded replica. Why does Dr. Thatcher take all this time to rediscover a strange bird who has already shown he can’t be found? Hell, Quinn doesn’t even want a “Thank you.” His ultimate request reads:

“I would like my last sane act to be a noble one. I would like myself, as I can perceive now, to be immortalized in this deed, so that in the future, when I am lost, I have a definite idea of the man I truly am; the man who I will try to uphold against my own illness.”

While Quinn’s desire is understandable, is it altruistic? He wants to preserve a sense of self. Of course that’s self-serving. But it doesn’t detract from the magic of his deeds, his resilience to the wear and tear of medical giving, the ability to self-sustain in the face of meager supply. Quinn is pretty weird. And impressive. He teaches martial arts to a young girl as a hands-on lesson in physics. A creative guy, though exasperating.

An exchange with Emily Paysinger gives Thatcher greater closure. The severance her mother describes was not permanent, for Emily visits Quinn after the kidney donation. Again, he disappears, despite the operation leaving him debilitated. Several lines shook me. Emily remarks,

“It wasn’t until I went to visit him in recovery that I realized that he had been…grooming me for some sort of purpose.”

Eventually, Emily receives a seven-paged letter from Quinn. More text that eerily resonates:

“He called me his ‘little catalyst for change.’ He wrote that I was to finish the ‘projects’ that he no longer could, and wrote me a list of instructions on how to complete each ‘equation.’ Quinn called the list a sort of training manual for what I was supposed to do and become.”

Bluntly, I admit that I thought to myself, “What a frickin’ narcissist!” Did Quinn write these equations, the framework for all these projects? What if he didn’t? And what kind of change was Quinn hoping to actualize?

Another of Quinn’s rarely explicit desires, and thoughts:

“‘It is my wish that you become a paragon of goodness. I see within you that potential to become something greater than the caliber of individuals that fill our world. You, my little angel, can be a creator and perpetuator of goodness and light…This is not a charge, or a demand I set upon you, but an acknowledgement from one friend to another, of the perfection I know you are capable of, and a design, a path, a way to that unified state.'”

Quinn seems to express a disappointment in the people around him. So does Melanie. In the beginning of Dr. Thatcher’s letter, he recalls her commenting, “‘Love isn’t real.'” But the letter aims to dispel this notion.

A dysfunction in personality seems to be a recurring topic of interest concerning Quinn’s character. I found him too deliberate and composed to legitimately suffer from the complexities of disorganized schizophrenia. He is written as a man who thinks, deliberates, inculcates. He reveals himself to be former thief, a rebel scornful of contemporary conventions, traveling yuppies, the ignorant layperson, organized religion. He is the quiet child in the corner of one of your college classes, never speaking his mind, though his facial expressions and mannerisms reveal all you need to know that something’s amiss. Something is brewing that chills, potentially harms without conscience. You’ve met “The Sociopath Next Door.”

And while it is dictated that sociopaths cannot feel, and indeed lack a moral framework, I refuse to think his interactions with Emily were purely self-serving. He taught her things of utility, and the end results of his doings, and her completion of the “projects” were good. Beneficial. Improved the lives of many. This seems too descriptive of utilitarianism. While the popular philosophy embraces maximization of good for all involved, altruism stipulates that good is spread to all except the actor, or “creator and perpetuator of goodness.”

Does Quinn benefit from any of his doings? It’s a topic for solid debate. Melanie, the love of his life, gives him the confidence to adopt a new perspective and disown his former ways. Emily, his adoring student, absorbs all the wisdom he wishes to teach, continuing his grand projects. But even if the projects perpetuate good, it seems that Quinn prefers not to be thanked, or even acknowledged. While the benefits he gleans are up for questioning, we know that he is gone. Regardless, miracles are made, within the story and craftsmanship alike.

Chianti, beaches, beautiful women, and paradise in Rumors of Cortez

“Henri asked the angel what happened if you  had nothing to possess, his face pressed to the glass, trying to see the empty fields below.

The angel said, then the light will descend upon you and you will be clothed in it.”

Jeffrey Levine, man of assorted talents, not only writes poetry but maintains a blog at http://jeffreyelevine.com/, walking aspiring authors through the writing and traditional publishing processes. Here I came across Rumors of Cortez, a 2005 collection of poetry assembled in five parts. Often massaging a worry stone as I think of which of my many thoughts to say or write down, I thought I’d buy a copy, and take some time to listen. I tell you, these 83 pages of linguistic melody will be read, re-read, and kept as inspiration, both stylistically and conceptually.

Levine incorporates the extended line, while few poems in Rumors are presented with considerable white space. The writing I would call demonstrative of stream-of-consciousness or continual flow has the potential to overwhelm, bog the reader down and perhaps frustrate her to the point that she does away with the work. Rumors doesn’t do this. Each piece guides you on a journey, walking on a Downtown sidewalk where a beautiful woman waits, to admiring the majesty of the sun-kissed Galapagos. Of course, Part IV’s sojourn into Rome with Orpheus and Eurydice may emerge most memorable to readers. It can definitely hold its own among accompanying pieces, though verses of the Adam and Eve we can all relate to serve well as a sensual prelude. Where love drops by, longing lingers. “There’s a Hole in the Screen” reminds us,

“Bach was right. Joy is all in the desiring.”

Wanting, possessing, remembering. Levine’s implementation of these potentially heart-wrenching topics works to carve an image you can take anywhere, a fantastic conversation starter. Something relatable to much of what you see everyday. Those who appear in Rumors – Nana, Henri, Caruso, and others – possess a longing for love, adventure, passion. Chopin, Eurydice, Orpheus, and other prominent figures aren’t so intimidating when we see that they too, are blushingly imperfect. Remember a time you were so preoccupied with a gadget, a hobby, a video game? Orpheus develops a fixation with his camera, while Eurydice ventures through the catacombs, alone. I found this scene most striking in that it reminded me of relationships where one felt guilt, persisting in a disconnect while the beloved other was so close by. Think the man on his computer, surfing the Web, while his wife is asleep in the other room, wishing they could spend just a little more time together.

Levine couples the classic and contemporary to where the two become one. In essence, Rumors is “stopless.” I read these poems at a moderate pace, absorbing the richness of each long line, breathing in the fragrance of beaches, oceans, seagrass, the grand Pacific. The vitality of red, photographs of paradise, and descriptions of birds with personality recur throughout Rumors. While readers may leave this work thinking about that Ferrari, its preceding trinkets lend the collection a touch so richly organic.

Often, in the world of the average, everyday reader, life gets overwhelming. Simply, it’s “stopless.” Rumors serves as a constrained, yet intricate alternate universe, albeit so realistic. For the traveler, these poems may bring back fond, spectacular memories, despite the problem of characters forgetting from time to time. And even for one who hasn’t wandered out of her nest for quite a while, Rumors can comfort. Inspire. Inform. Pick up a book on French. Get introduced to Descartes. Learn basic Italian, and grow familiar with regional recipes. Plan that trip to Rome. Easter Island, Puerto Ayora. As the poem “Comprimario” states:

“When one is ready to leave, even a single wooden spoon is enough to stir the world.”

Rumor of Cortez is a worthy guide to worlds within a globe that keeps on spinning. Levine writes, “In our country the only currency, my best girl, is longing.” In multiple aspects, these poems suggest that maybe, we are all from that country.

Mental Illness, Treatment, and Stigma in Girl, Interrupted

The Memoir, not the Movie with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie

Girl, Interrupted, an account of a young woman’s long-term stay at the famous McLean Hospital, provides a look into the institutionalized lives of women suffering with severe mental illness. Several treatments of the time were administered to ameliorate their symptoms, though the efficacy of such treatments was often debatable. Though brief, the memoir opens dialogue regarding misdiagnoses, the perception of nonconforming individuals as “crazy,” and the stigmatization of those receiving a mental health diagnosis.

Schizophrenic symptoms were common among McLean’s patients. Polly, left disfigured with burns after a suicide attempt, is void of emotion. Not happy, unhappy, or agitated, Polly’s emotional responses indicate a flat affect. She rarely speaks, even in stressful situations. For Polly, negative symptoms take hold. The indifferent viewers of the television set sit catatonic without response. Even when Lisa covers the couch with toilet paper, the catatonics remain still in their seats. The girl who claimed to be an alien’s girlfriend, as well as a proud penis owner, beams delusions of grandeur, calling ice cream vulgar names that all rhyme together. Wade, Georgina’s boyfriend, is a bit paranoid, and claims he was persecuted by two friends of his father, who he falsely reported to do dangerous work for the CIA. He is indifferent to Georgina’s burns.

Susanna Kaysen, admitted to the hospital for mental exhaustion and a suicide attempt, is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is impulsive, her interactions jarred by routine splitting behaviors. It’s mainly black and white in Susanna’s world. She cries in front of a painting she finds relatable, much to the annoyance of a boyfriend. Frustrated, he remarks on her self-centered way of perceiving things. Susanna faces conflict within, perceiving herself as a terrible person to later identify as the venerated Angel of Death. She scratches her hands, desperately wanting to know if there’s still bone beneath. Banging her wrists on a butterfly chair, regardless of vein damage all can see, is how she bears the numbness. Scratches mark her face. As Susanna showed at least 5 of the criteria for borderline personality disorder, as listed in the DSM-IV-TR—(1) Tumultuous relationships where splitting is common, (2) An ever-changing self-image, (3) Impulsive behavior, (4) Frequent episodes of self-harm, and (5) Dissociative episodes spurred on by distress—it is reasonable to conclude that her diagnosis was valid.

Lisa, on the other hand, is diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Cold and insensitive, Lisa cares not for the feelings of others. She jeers at the catatonics sitting around the television set, even turns it off despite the possibility that someone may really like the show that’s played. Lisa does away with rules, scheming to escape Mclean. Even in exclusion, Lisa expresses no remorse for her bad behavior, continuing to plot other escapes and even the escapes of others. Of course, these plans lack authentic concern. Self-interest dictates her behavior. She wants to be liked among the girls, and indeed, she has an appealing sense of humor that brings color to a dull environment. However, while Lisa doesn’t struggle in making friendships, she doesn’t give them value. Stable relationships are impossibilities. Towards the end of the Kaysen’s memoir, Lisa raises her son, whose father she disowns.

Aggressive and provoked by perceived threats to popularity, Lisa takes measures to derail rivals. Her continuous bullying of Lisa Cody, a diagnosed sociopath who seems to only emulate Lisa’s behavior, only fuels the latter’s self-indulgence. Blame is the name of Lisa’s game. Various times, she bemoans her lack of rights, using her attorney to bully the hospital staff when her requests were ignored or unfulfilled. I’m sure we’ve encountered these sorts, in college, doctors’ offices, and popular tourist attractions. While at least 3 criteria in section A of the DSM IV-TR must be met to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, Lisa meets 6, such as (1) Failure to adhere to social norms relating to lawful behaviors, (2) Deception in the name of self-interest, (3) Aggressiveness and frequent irritability, (4) Pervasive disregard for the wellbeing of others, (5) Repeated irresponsibility, as evidenced by a failure to fulfill her daily obligations, and (6) Lack of remorse for her cruelty towards others.

Reflections on Treatment

The drug treatments mentioned throughout the memoir had an inhibiting effect on the patients. Thorazine was a common resort for those with highly unstable behavior, such as the trembling Torey or Susanna, who experienced an episode of extreme agitation upon scratching her hand. Feeling heavier than usual, the patients would calm down and their agitation would cease. Other antipsychotic drugs, such as Stelazine and Mellaril, seemed to calm those with schizophrenia, although their movements grew more sluggish, as evidenced by Polly’s way of walking and the odd suspension of her hands. Periods of sleepiness may have been influenced by benzodiazepines such as Librium and Valium. The depressed woman, Cynthia, received electro-convulsive shock therapy once a week, with therapy twice a week. Her memory was noticeably impaired, with her speech disorganized after initial treatment. Daily, most patients were required to see three specialists. Sessions with doctors were uninformative and short, as were sessions with residents concerned with medication and the granting of privileges. Therapy was also described as unhelpful, with therapists expressing a lack of sympathy, refusing to discuss life in the hospital yet determining whether patients were to have increases in medication. This three-part regimen seemed more systematic and impersonal than helpful to the individual needs of each patient. Susanna, deemed capable of undergoing “analysis,” recalled the treatment as ineffective. It seemed that the treatment did little to benefit her, the specialists’ repetitive questions irritating her so much that she would simply fabricate answers to placate them.

Is She Crazy? 

Susanna explicitly questioned her diagnosis during her hospitalization. She felt that what others perceived as inappropriate, tiring behavior were hallmark characteristics of young adulthood. She criticized the DSM as a vague collection of generalizations, often subjectively applied to those who do not conform to social norms. The only person in her affluent high school to not attend college, Susanna was the black sheep of the family, defying expectations to attend a prestigious college and unable to handle the duties of simple jobs. Perhaps the shame her family experienced impacted their willingness to pay for her costly hospitalization for almost two years. They may have wished to maintain normalcy without directly dealing with her chaotic behavior. I feel that her inability to maintain her typing job may have related to sexist attitudes of the time. All the supervisors were men, while the typists were women. Strict regulations were placed on their behavior and dress. This could have been agitating for Susanna, who defied such rules. Although her behavior was erratic, “crazy” is not an accurate word to describe her.

Considering the aforementioned behaviors, it’s reasonable to say that Susanna showed striking characteristics of borderline personality disorder. The episodes of self-harm, the persisting interpersonal conflicts, and emotional instability indicate that psychologically, she just wasn’t healthy. However, these behaviors may have been byproducts of growing up in an environment with rigid, highly demanding expectations. Ultimately, “troubled” may be a more fitting description, as it does not dehumanize nor stigmatize, but emphasizes that Susanna is a person who at the time needed guidance and empathy.

Ultimately, Girl, Interrupted (the memoir, not the movie) gave me a glimpse of the impersonal and rushed nature of psychiatric care in these facilities, given the amount of patients who have to be treated. I observed how sexist attitudes of the time period may have influenced perceptions of women already struggling with a mental illness. Susanna was expected to be sexually modest, emotionally stable, and uncomplaining. The scorn she received, made salient in a doctor’s writing that she “might sell self or get pregnant” (11) shed light on the stigma imposed on women who rebelled against norms of conservatism. The title, inspired by the poignant painting Susanna saw at the Vermeer, is more than an allusion. It is a description of Susanna’s destabilizing experience—a long term hospitalization, a stigmatized diagnosis, and a lost sense of self—that prevented her from enjoying life in the way that most young women do. It was only after this hiatus that she could continue living, hopefully with a greater sense of stability.

Dispelling Conventional Perceptions of Intelligence

I remember a boy in the second grade by the name of Joel. Friendless, a burden to our impatient teacher, and a playground pariah, Joel was often ridiculed for three things: flapping his hands in frenzy when excited or distressed, banging his head against his desk when things did not go his way, and when his turn came to read out loud, he would turn a story into an awkward song, singing the lyrics in some rigid, broken melody. Other than participating in class readings, and screaming at the top of his lungs when a classmate picked on him, Joel never really talked. Unfortunately, news of his strange behavior reached several parents, who demanded that their children be taken out of an “unsafe and disruptive learning environment.” I recall my mother pulling me from him when she volunteered at a school event, scolding me for befriending “that strange, abnormal kid.” Years later, reading about Joel’s distinctive behaviors, I learned about autism.

For a long time, I didn’t really have a solid understanding of autism, nor the thought processes of individuals with it. In past psychology courses, the condition was simply glossed over, either in text or during class lectures. However, I was taught that the majority of people diagnosed with autism also display a degree of mental retardation, capable of little to no speech. Wretches and Jabberers depicts the story of two men, Tracy and Larry, who dismantle a large misconception that people with autism are incapable of intelligible communication. Through the use of a keyboard, they learn to communicate their thoughts with others, and indeed, I was surprised and impressed with the eloquent messages conveyed to observers, whether such messages were simple questions regarding where to eat in Japan, or references to Buddhist philosophy when discussing personal experiences. Observing these men use technology to pose inquiries, express needs, and convey opinions that were silenced for so many years in the absence of advanced technology was not only heartwarming, but eye-opening. This is a documentary that allows viewers to take a closer glimpse into the lives of individuals who, at the outset, appear so alien in their appearance and behaviors, but really possess a comparable depth in emotion and capacity for communication as those without autism.

Recalling the opening facts presented at the beginning of the documentary, that in previous years, many children in the United States diagnosed with autism were institutionalized and cast away as mentally retarded, I thought of how liberating it must be for Tracy and Larry to finally convey to the world that they are more than just “disabled.” Provided with an avenue to convey their thoughts articulately and cogently, they clearly develop a greater sense of confidence, dispelling stereotypes the public may have about individuals with autism and similar conditions. One may opine that these men possess an intelligence that is not only markedly different, but perhaps more dynamic than that of verbal communicators. To maneuver around autism’s problematic symptoms—the tics, peculiar speech patterns, and impaired interaction—and be able to relay their thoughts in such depth, is an impressive feat, a daily challenge which I myself cannot imagine having to tackle. It saddens me that Tracy, Larry, and Joel from second grade have to deal with constant discrimination and meager confidence in their abilities. However, Wretches and Jabberers provides hope that such individuals can defy negative expectations, delivering the message that one’s intelligence manifests in alternative ways, not simply defined within the confines of disabilities often so heavily stigmatized.