A Tradition of Blackouts

It started in the children’s wing of a hospital in the year 2000. They were taking my blood to run some tests. The nurse pulled out a needle attached to a square bandage. Overall, the needle was probably only a couple of inches long, most of which was hidden behind said bandage. I turned my head away and stared at a wall, trying to think of anything else than what was about to happen.

Someone standing nearby, watching, gave a small chuckle and said, “Oh, that’s just ‘The Butterfly,’ show him the other one.” The nurse taking blood shared a knowing smile and pulled out another needle from her bag, twice the size in length and width.

I nodded my head and promptly blacked out. They had to wait until the next day to draw the rest of my blood—starting the process all over from the top.

I’ve never been great with things like needles and hospitals. Even as a small child, having to get a short for something (I honestly can’t remember what, but something ridiculous like tetanus) I remember seeing the nurse pull out the syringe and shoot a small stream of the vaccine in the air and explaining it was to get air bubbles out. I forced my eyes to the ground and hummed loudly as she stuck me.

That moment in the facility with ‘The Butterfly,’ however, was my first incident of blacking out, but certainly not my last. The very next year it happened again, but in a less likely place.

I’ve never been particularly good at science and math—my comprehension and memory of technical facts are not great. I always managed to squeeze by with the help of friends and some teachers. It was for this reason that I tried to keep a low profile in those sorts of classes. My greatest fear was being called on to answer a question that I simply wasn’t grasping.

In my eighth grade science class we were having a casual discussion about viruses and diseases (specifically the differences between the two, if I remember properly). As usual, I was just trying to keep a low profile while also retaining any information I thought would come up on homework or a test. My teacher began talking about a sister or cousin or someone she knew that had one of the forms of hepatitis. She described the symptoms and how the person had to go to the hospital and do this and that or whatever.

I remember my teacher’s voice getting foggier, and the edges of my vision going fuzzy then black. I had an inkling of what was happening, having experienced it the year before, and I fought it as best I could—keeping my eyes wide and shaking my head (both things did more harm than help).

The next moment I heard my teacher calling my name. “Oh, great,” I thought, “She’s going to ask me to answer a question and I don’t know the answer.”

Okay, honestly, I was probably actually thinking something like, “Wha? Am I…? Where…?” but my second thought was that I was about to get in trouble. Instead, she asked if I was all right and whether I needed to go down to the nurse. I was confused for a moment, turning to notice that the entire class was staring at me.

I’d blacked out, stone cold, in the middle of class. I was embarrassed more than concerned. I told her no, but she insisted I take a breather out in the hall—a good idea in retrospect, if not seemingly at the time.

And thus started a new tradition for me: Passing out in class.

Every year from eighth grade onward, in one class or another, I’d black out as my teacher lectured on something usually relating to human anatomy, blood, needles, or medical procedures. Freshmen year, in fact, it happened twice: Once in biology, once in health class the next semester.

I could typically pass it off as falling asleep—something I’d get in more trouble for, but I found less embarrassing—but occasionally a teacher would give me that suspicious look and I’d explain after class what had happened. They’d give me the option of skipping my next class to go to the school nurse, which I’d politely decline. After all, it was their talks on what would happen to the human body if subjected to the vacuum of space that did me in—I’d be just fine next period in art class.

The problem, ultimately, came down to my active imagination. When I read a book or listen to someone talk, I imagine exactly what they’re describing, whether I want to or not. Therefore, even when I’m not in an actual hospital, getting my blood sucked by The Butterfly, I can see myself there with the blood and bones and tissue and…

*  *  *

…Sorry, I was just getting a bit lightheaded and needed to take a break*.

I’ve been told that it’s “fight or flight,” and that my body is choosing flight. Really, I think my body is closer to a possum than a bird. “Fight or fall face forward unconscious.”  It’s called “syncope,” from what I can gather (I tried to do some online research while writing this piece, but had to stop before too long). It occurs in lots of people, apparently. The fear of needles and hospitals are relatively common.

What’s strange is that I actually really like hospitals; they fascinate me. I watch medical dramas, even if I have to look away when they show the super realistic open chest plates in a surgical room. When I go visit family in the hospital I’m very comfortable—until I get a glance at an intravenous tube sticking out of their arm and I get a pang in my chest.

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve learned to see the symptoms and how to calm myself down. It’s easier now that I’m not in school anymore. Even when my friends who are nurses start up about how at work this and that happened and they had to do blah blah blah, I can tell them to shut the fuck up before I pass out all over their floor (certain friends think it’s funny, however, and will go on in fuller detail).

When you can just throw your hands up and leave the room, it’s different, though. It’s definitely not like being stuck in class where you can’t quite raise your hand and say to your teacher, “Excuse me, can you please shut the fuck up before you’re peeling me off my desk?”

It’s a funny sort of tradition I lived through for five years, from eighth grade all the way through my senior year of high school. I absolutely don’t miss that tradition, however. I’ll take my current life of muting the TV while watching Grey’s Anatomy and secretly being glad of not having health insurance so that I have an excuse to never go to the hospital.

Because when you blackout at home, at least no one notices.

*This isn’t a joke. I was actually getting lightheaded, which is the first sign of me about to blackout, just before random body parts (usually a foot, knee, or shoulder for some reason) going numb.
†By the time I finished this piece, I was completely worked up, by the way: Lightheaded, weirdly placed pangs of pain/numbness, tight chest, and fidgeting uncomfortably in my chair. Rereading it for editing purposes didn’t make it better either.
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I get several follows a day on this site--some of which are real people and not spam bots!

I get several follows a day on this site–some of which are real people and not spam bots!

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Creativity is a Faulty Light Switch

At work I’m one of two people who have been pegged as being “the creatives.” This means that we get tasked with doing things ranging from building a James and the Giant Peach display to coloring in a picture because the color printer wasn’t working properly. Then we get in trouble when whatever project we’re working on doesn’t get done in time.

Everyone is a little bit creative. Creativity is utilized by people in all places and professions. Doctors doing surgery sometimes must get creative while they have a hand inside someone’s chest; custodian workers must come up with new ways to get tasks done with more efficiency; mathematicians often come up with new ways to work around equations or theories to make things fit into place. Truly, the most creative people in the world are not even artists, but engineers.

Yet it is the artists who are expected to be creative on a moment’s notice. If someone needs something drawn or want a new way of saying something, we are the ones they go to. There is no, “Are you feeling imaginative today?” or “How are your inventive cognitive abilities right now?” No, it’s “Dance monkey, and do it on time and under budget.”

This expectation is daunting when it comes up. The prospect of being forced to come up with new alternatives to someone else’s terrible ideas is a bit like a dog taking a dump on your carpet, then looking at you as if saying, “You gonna pick that up?” It’s like finding out someone does stand-up comedy and saying, “Make me laugh, funny man.”

Creativity is not a faucet—it cannot be turned on and off at someone else’s, or even our own, will. It is more like a faulty light switch: Even when you walk into the room and flip the switch, there’s always the possibility it doesn’t turn on any lights.

This certainly doesn’t just apply to other people asking us to do would-be creative things for them. It also applies to our own minds. “Writer’s block” is simply an off-hand phrase for most people, but for writers it’s frustration and anger. There’s also the less-commonly used phrase “artist’s block,” which means the same thing, if a bit broader in terms of usage.

Unless you’ve sat in a room for hours on end, simply staring at a blank page or canvas, it’s hard to really imagine what this is like. It’s like being a mechanic needing to work on a car but you can’t find your tools anywhere. I’ve been reduced to tears from frustration at these blocks before. It’s gotten so bad for me that I’ve even punched a wall or two in my day.

I’ve assigned myself to update this very blog twice a week, and I know the dangers of skipping even one update: One leads to two, two leads to three, three leads to giving up completely. It’s why I sat staring at my computer for an hour today, trying to come up with a decent topic I could go on about without hating the end project. It took mowing the lawn and a hot shower before I decided to talk about the difficulties of not knowing what to write (the irony!).

With writing, however, I always come up with something in the end. Blocks are much worse when it comes to personal projects: When I desperately want to paint something but can’t come up with a subject or want to draw but can’t seem to land the first line. Honestly, it’s why I have so many self-portraits (in the end, I’m always around to model for myself).

A lack of inspiration can be devastating to any artist. Beyond the frustration with simply not being able to create, it can also mean that they don’t have anything to sell, and therefore aren’t getting paid. Luckily, I’m not a professional artist and I can always lean back on my part-time job…

Even if I do go in only to have someone say to me, “Oh, good, Garrett. I need someone creative for this project.” At which point they hand me a piece of paper with a faded storybook character with the instructions to fill in the lines so it’s darker.

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Don’t forget to check out Wednesday’s blog entry about selfies (just click the link below).

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The Age of the Selfie

Ten years ago, when I bought my first real camera and began taking pictures, I also became obsessed with photo books. I particularly enjoyed black-and-white photographs from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. I tried to imitate the gritty, beautiful shadows of 35mm film with my DSLR for a long time before realizing it simply doesn’t look the same.

My love of these pictures were not really about style—the light versus shadow—or even about the content. What really struck me as wonderful was the idea behind them. The books I checked out from the library or picked up at yard sales were always of someone behind a camera taking a picture of something or someone else; far enough away that the cameraperson and subject couldn’t touch, yet close enough to feel the interest of one for the other.

In an age of profile pages and top-quality cameras embedded into our phones, however, we’ve lost something in the world of photographer-to-subject relationship. Nowadays it doesn’t take much effort to get a clear and in-frame picture of yourself, duck-face and peace sign and all. Then, with a tap of the finger, that picture is up on the internet for the world to see.

Oprah pretending to take a selfie for her magazine (which is basically already one big selfie). Photo: Sioux Nesi, via Oprah.com

I marvel at candid photographs—they’re by far my favorite. When a person doesn’t know you’re taking their picture, you catch the true emotions across their face. They don’t have time to turn toward your lens and smile, or, as is more likely, turn away and hide their face; because people love taking their own picture, but hate getting it taken.

There was a time when a photographer was so fascinated by a subject that it was common place for the greats to follow around celebrities in a personal and mutually respectable way. Well known photographers were invited along with bands on tour, or into the homes of novelists or activists. The photographers held status and power and were well-liked.

Today we have TMZ and individuals alike doing the complete opposite. We shove our lenses and faces into the life of famous people in hopes of getting them to fuck and up prove their mortality once and for all. We take the time to photograph average people out in public for the sole reason of making fun of them. Somewhere in the past two decades, we stopped using photography to show respect and began using it as a weapon to make ourselves feel good.

There are still the good guys out there, taking great pictures of other people. Humans of New York (and all the sites for other places that copy it) is a great example. That’s a website where we see that old glimmer of interest we once held for other people over ourselves.

Photography is this amazing medium whose greatest quality is being able to catch the truth of a single moment with a few adjustments of a dial and a click of a button. It’s a tool that has revealed corruption, shown devastation, and has also painted happiness upon a piece of paper.

And yet, it is most widely used in our day-and-age for taking pictures of ourselves at arms-length. We’re so obsessed with taking our own picture that there is even a device out there called a “selfie stick,” which allows you to take a picture of yourself at a slightly further distance. Say what you will about my self-portraits, at least I use a tripod.

Of course, I am guilty, just as everyone is today, of the occasional selfie—I probably take more pictures of myself than of other people. In fact, ten years ago, while coming home from the store after purchasing that first real camera, one of the initial pictures I took was of me in front of a rundown theater (back before “selfie” was a word).



I also never take my camera out with me when I leave the house anymore. It used to be that if I was walking out the door, I had my camera strap across my chest, but now, not so much. Out in public, people get upset with you for taking their picture and the old mantra of “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” goes out the window when you can delete the photo right there in front of the person.

I get the reason we love taking pictures of ourselves: Beyond our pretentious natures, we are our easiest subjects. We don’t have to go out searching for someone to snap a quick pic of, but, instead, we can stand in front of a mirror, one hand on a hip, the other holding up our phones with the flash glaringly on.

But can’t we all cool it down with the selfies? After all, if each of us is such an interesting subject for photography, shouldn’t the half-dozen people around us with cameras in their phones be taking our pictures? And, more importantly, shouldn’t we be taking theirs?

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Sarcastic Polar Bears

And you thought your mother* was good at guilt tripping; try talking to a polar bear about your non-endangered species problems.

And you thought your mother* was good at guilt tripping; try talking to a polar bear about your non-endangered species problems.

*Happy Mother’s Day, mom!
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In Defense of Jar Jar Binks*

Last week, from boredom and a basic sense of nostalgia, I rewatched all three movies of the Star Wars prequels. A couple of months ago I’d watched the original three again, meaning to go back and check out Episodes one, two, and three, but forgetting to.

The prequels get me into some trouble in life: I tend to get very passionate about Star Wars in general, but I’m one of the only people I know who is willing to rush to the defense of these three movies. I’ve gotten into shouting matches over it, and stormed away angry, even.

It might seem silly to you, but it really bothers me when people talk about how much they hate the prequels. They say all these things about how they were terribly acted, had bad special effects, and the plot was boring—all things that we could be said about the original Star Wars movies, too, but don’t because they are infallible.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the original Star Wars films to death, but if you go back and watch them, you’ll notice some of the hokey acting, the obvious claymation effects, and the plots aren’t nearly as in-depth as the prequels.

I also grew up with all six movies. In the ‘90’s, I was watching the four, five, and six and falling in love. Then, when the special editions came out, I hopped on that train quick. And in 1999, when the release of Episode I happened, I was beside myself. I got so many Episode I toys that year for my birthday and Christmas (I still regret breaking my Darth Maul double lightsaber). I went to Taco Bell or wherever to get the collectables (actually, I got two of each: Ones to play with and ones to keep sealed). For a time, I even had it on VHS, back before DVD’s were standard.

When the other two episodes of the prequels were released in theaters, I went to see them. I bought the toys and other paraphernalia, too. I have a massive collection of Star Wars junk from all six movies.

This is why I defend the prequels so heavily. Most Star Wars fans became fans long before me—in the time when the original movies came out in theaters. The prequels are part of my Star Wars experience. For others, however, it was probably like expecting to regain that magical feeling they got when they first watched A New Hope on the big screen, but being sorely disappointed instead.

That magic is often something reserved for younger people. When we grow up and expect to feel like a child again, then fail to, we can feel betrayed. Millions of people felt betrayed by the prequels, I think.

It wasn’t the movies’ faults, though. Those three movies were awesome in the eyes of a kid. I remember being genuinely scared of Darth Maul as he stepped out of the shadows in his introductory scene. And the pod racing segments left me wide-eyed. But then, I was still experiencing them as a child.

The release of the upcoming Episode VII will be different, however. Everyone will be blown away by it—young and older. It will bring back that feeling of magic within us all because it—just as with all six movies before it—will be working with the technology of the day.

In 1983, when an oddly-moving rancor reached out its obviously fake arm to grab Luke Skywalker, it was something nobody had seen before. In 1999, when a clearly CGI Jar Jar Binks brushed a real life branch out of the way, people did a double take. In 2015, however, our effects are perfected and outstanding—there will be no questioning of whether something is real or not. We will simply be immersed in the story and the world.

Episode VII will be excellent not because George Lucas handed over the reins, but because we are so good at making movies in this day and age, that no one stops to complain about how terrible effects are. Not like when we watch the older movies today. Looking back on the green screens of the original Star War movies or the CGI of the prequels, they look dumb and hokey because we’re so spoiled by the amazing technology today.

Monday was May the Fourth, the national Star Wars holiday because, obviously, it deserves a holiday. We’re also all getting hyped up for the next movie this December. Yet, there are still the multitudes that shake their fists in the air anytime the prequels are mentioned. Whether you like it or not, they are part of the canon Star Wars universe. And, honestly, they’re not as bad as you remember them being.

So this week, the week that began with May the Fourth, try going back and giving Episodes one, two, and three another shot. You may just find that they’re just as fun as the originals. But I do give you full permission to skip the love scenes between Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones.

I’m reasonable, not delusional.

*I’m not actually defending Jar Jar Binks. His character was super annoying and kinda racist. Although, Palpatine couldn’t have gained power and created the Galactic Empire without Binks, sooooo…
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