Thursday, April 30, 2009


Monday morning I went to post an entry here and the big black symbols of internet doom appeared on my screen: ERROR 404. I spent a few hours fiddling with DNS and CNAME junk, to no avail. So, I let it be. And today, voila, here it is fully functioning once more.

This inflicted pause gave me some time to reflect on what I write here and who writes here and what am I doing here?! I am in a wondering stage right now. I wonder whether this blog in its current form best represents where I am now. I no longer consider myself a former Jehovah's Witness. I do not consider myself a former anything. Nor do I consider myself a humanist. I am just me. I am just. I am.

This journey we've taken together has been long and meandering, painful and triumphant. I'm not sure whether to leave this blog up as a testimony to that journey and the hope that it will be of use to someone on a similar path, or whether I should pull it down and start anew with something else. Or perhaps there is a middle ground where I can just continue on from here and reinvent what "tall penguin" represents.

Blogging is a strange medium for expression. Very different from writing a book or something else concrete that can't be edited later or deleted or changed into another form. There are so many options here.

I wonder what I will do next.

tall penguin

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mother Dearest

If you've read my blog regularly, you know I have had many issues with my mother over the years (as evidenced by the fact that there are more blog entries about her than anyone else). When she chose to convert to the Jehovah's Witnesses when I was just five years old, it turned my whole world upside down and only in the past few years have I begun to heal the damage done. And heal I have.

Something has shifted profoundly between my mother and I in the past six months. I blogged back in January about my mother's brush with cancer late last year and how that affected things between us. This past week, my mother did radiation therapy for what we hope is the first and last time. Every day I called her while she was in isolation, not because I felt obligated to, but because I wanted to. Because I actually care for her. And it's not that she's my mother. It's because I finally see her as a woman just like me. A woman searching. A woman in pain. A woman who is strong and vibrant and courageous. A woman who loves and laughs and does her best each day to find meaning in this crazy life. I am this woman. And she is me.

There was a moment on the phone the other day when she thanked me for my calls and attention through this week and how much it meant to her. And I said, "I love you Mom."

And she said, "I love you too."

And something opened up, like angels singing a hole through the sky. There was this deep sense of peace around the whole journey my mother and I have taken during the 35 years of my life. It is as if a circle has come to completion, opening the way for a new relationship between us.

I am deeply satisfied.

tall penguin

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Equal Opportunity...

I don't claim to be an expert on Feminism by any means and I am only addressing a small part of it here, but it seems to me that the Feminist struggle for equality for women was still based on "male" as the measuring stick. Being able to enter the previously male-dominated fields of science or engineering or math does not mean equality to me. This idea of "equal opportunity", meaning giving women all the same work and educational opportunities as men, is a false perception of what equal opportunity means. To me, equal opportunity means the opportunity to be fully who you really are, to explore the depths of what makes you human (male or female) and to be honored for that humanity. And it means, in the working world, to be compensated for that fairly.

I am not man. I am woman. I am different than man. Not lesser. Not greater. But different. I want to be able to be different from man and still be seen as a human being worthy of all that is. I want to live in a world that values what is "female" equally to what is "male". I want to live in a world that values empathy and nurturing and tenderness and vulnerability. I want to live in a world that values those traits just as much in men as well. I want to see a world that no longer even needs to think of equality between sexes but rather the equality of all human life, and even further, the equality of all life in general. The recognition that our differences, whatever they might be, are variations on the one pulsating current of life that runs straight across this universe. That there is no division. That differences are not barriers. That our differences are the colors of an endless palette of creation, of an infinite consciousness that loves variety.

I have grown weary of these out-dated ideas of equality. We have contrived the illusion of equal opportunity but haven't yet fully understood what equality really means. When children are free to accept and explore who they really are; when children can be encouraged to celebrate differences while still retaining the connection of what makes us all lifeforms worthy of beauty and love; when children can be permitted to pursue any direction in life they so choose and be supported by a system that allows them to survive and thrive in that direction, then, I believe, we have a chance as a species to understand what equal opportunity really means.

tall penguin

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All is well...

The place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you
wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
the beloved has bowed there-

The beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming…


Friday, April 17, 2009

Unseen Friends...

Music, books and movies have always been emotional experiences for me. This week I realized why. I didn’t really have friends growing up. Or rather, I had friends but none of those relationships were real. Because I was not real. I lived in a box within a box. I kept myself closed off for fear of vulnerability, fear of judgment, fear of the love I so desperately craved. I was there for others but could never let them be there for me. I did not trust anyone with the deepest parts of who I was. I was alone for a very long time.

And so, I sought out music, books and movies to be my friends. Any time I heard something, read something, or saw something that resonated with me, I felt as if maybe, just maybe, there was someone out there who understood what I was feeling. These art forms became the friends I would converse with from within my solitude. In those rare moments, I felt heard, I felt seen, and I felt loved.

Today, I have friends. Real friends. Because I am real. I am no longer afraid of my own vulnerability. I do not concern myself with the judgments of others. And I welcome love, in all its forms, with open arms. I am never alone. And yet, in my private moments, it is music and books and movies that shelter me and give me strength. It is those unseen friends who make all the difference.

Perhaps, this is what art is for.

tall penguin

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another Day

Timing is a funny thing. I am a huge Peter Gabriel fan. Peter and I have been through a lot together. And yet, I had never heard of this cover duet he did back in 1979 with Kate Bush. Until today. It showed up this morning via a Facebook share.

It is beautiful. Just beautiful.

The lyrics, by Roy Harper:

The kettle's on,
The sun has gone
Another day.
She offers me Tibetan tea
On a flower tray.
She's at the door,
She wants to score,
She dearly needs to say,

I loved you a long time ago, you know,
Where the wind's own forget-me-nots blow
But I just couldn't let myself go
Not knowing what on earth there was to know.
But I wish that I had,
'Cos I'm feeling so sad
That I never had one of your children.

And across the room
Inside a tomb
A chance is waxed and wanes.
The night is young,
Why are we so hung up in each others chains?
I must take her,
I must make her
While the dove domains
And feel the juice run as she flies
Run my winds under her sighs
As the flames of eternity rise
To lick us with the first-born lash of dawn.

Oh really my dear
I can't see what we fear
Sat here with ourselves in-between us.

And at the door
We can't say more than just another day

And without a sound
I turn around and I walk away.


tall penguin

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


So, I started Adderall last week. We're addressing the possible ADD/ADHD stuff before investigating the possible Bipolar stuff, taking the dosage low and slow so I can monitor anything that comes along. I must say I am very blessed to have a team of doctors and specialists that are working very closely with me and are very honoring of my patient autonomy. I still feel very much in control of this process and don't feel as if my innate personality has been altered, as previously feared, by this ongoing experiment in my own psyche and biochemistry.

Adderall is a stimulant, which in the ADD/ADHD brain is supposed to have the opposite effect, a slowing down of the mind rather than a speeding up. So far, I find my brain more focused and my mood more level. Not sure if this is placebo effect at this point, but I do feel more able to do things I want to do. My follow-through and motivation is noticeably improved and I find my levels of fatigue and pain improved as well. Perhaps Adderall is giving my ADD brain in the Chronic Fatigue/Fibromyalgia body a reversal of fortune. I am hopeful about this. Meh, I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Time will tell.

tall penguin

The Sexual Paradox

I just finished reading The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap, by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. Pinker’s book combines developmental research over the past century with interesting anecdotes from her life and the lives of many successful men and women to support her thesis that “fundamental sex differences influence male and female ambition and career choices” (from Dust Cover of hardcover edition).

The Sexual Paradox tackles the feminist-purported notion that gifted women are blocked from higher levels of success by an education system and work model that discriminates against them. Pinker’s findings show just the opposite to be true. Gifted women are now generally better supported than men to enter previously male-dominated fields like math, science and computer science but often opt out of these careers or even if they do enter them, choose to leave. “Especially in the physical sciences and engineering—which, as traditionally male fields, are seen as test cases for equality—women can now have what men have, but many decide after trying it that they don’t want it. The vanilla gender idea that given every opportunity, they should want it, if that’s what men choose, hinges on the assumption that male is the default against which we measure everyone’s wants and dreams.” (page 90-91)

So, why is this the case? Why are more and more women opting out of the male-dominated fields the feminist movement worked so hard to give them access to? “Having the opportunity and the ability to do a job doesn’t mean that a person wants to do it. Interests and motivations count.” (Page 85) Pinker’s argument is that the interests and motivations of men and women are fundamentally different and that, given the choice, women will, more often than not, gravitate towards fields where they can make a more immediate human difference, as in the social services, education or motherhood.

Pinker’s book investigates some of these fundamental differences and their impact on the choices men and women make in their careers and life. She explores the differences in the hormonal systems of men and women, looking at those at either ends of the spectrum from highly aggressive males to highly empathetic females, and how these biological differences affect the jobs they gravitate towards and the values they live by. She also looks at the extreme cases of those with ADHD, Autism and Aspergers and how these shed light on what motivates men as opposed to women.

What I found particularly interesting is one of the later discussions in the book since it is a hypothesis I have held in recent years. And that is that the real gender gap is not in access to careers, but in what is financially valued in this society. While women can now choose to enter the previously male-dominated fields, they often choose not to, at their own financial expense. Because, the fields they do gravitate towards, the social sciences, childcare, etc., do not have comparable wages. And this is my main beef about this world we've created. I can go to University for four years, come out with an advanced degree in Early Childhood Education, find work in a daycare and still only be making $12-$15 an hour. I can be as gifted in my field as any male is in his, but society does not value the fields that women are more inclined to value. Just look at the pay scales in education, childcare, eldercare, nursing and the social services. This saddens me.

I have to quote this passage here because it speaks to my heart and I hope it will prompt a shift in the way we see the workplace and the differences between what motivates men and women.

“Ignoring sex differences also has the unintended effect of devaluing women’s cognitive strengths and preferences. As long as a significant proportion of women have a different, or broader range of interests than most men, many women will be attracted to different occupations. And as it happens, the people or language-oriented occupations that appeal to most women are not as well paid as the standard male career choices. Despite comparable levels of education, teachers and nurses earn less than computer analysts and engineers. Speech pathologists and social workers earn less than most draftsmen or sound technicians. And even within professions, the specialties that attract women—say, family medicine or pediatrics—command lower salaries than those more popular with men, such as surgery, pathology, or radiology. It’s not clear what comes first—lower rates of pay in people-oriented jobs, or stagnant pay scales in occupations dominated by women, who are less likely to negotiate. Either scenario results in lower pay for the work women prefer. Market forces determine pay scales in the private sector, but even then, if there’s a will to retain and pay women fairly, corporate policies could be drafted that pay senior managers in human resources and media relations—more likely to be female—as much as senior managers in finance or production—which attract more men. Instead of expecting women to take jobs that don’t interest them, acknowledging sex differences in the careers people choose might stimulate a more fruitful discussion of ways to redress these imbalances. In the public sector, more transparency about both gender differences and pay scales might overcome the inertia that has professors of education and nursing with equal qualifications earning less than those teaching engineering or economics.” (page 261-262)

Susan Pinker’s research is thorough, the case studies compelling and the conclusions controversial. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It will have you asking more questions about who you take yourself to be and what has lead you to make the choices you've made.

Nothing is quite as it appears. Haven't I been saying this all along?

tall penguin

Thursday, April 9, 2009


In my teens, Depeche Mode was one of my favorite bands. Still is. "Wrong" is the single off their new album to be released this month. Wow. The song is haunting. And the video, is well, haunting.

Something about the combination of Martin Gore's lyrics and Dave Gahan's voice sends shivers down my spine. Nothing says melancholy like Depeche Mode. Their work gave me a voice long before I found my own. Thank Goddess for the conflicted artist.

Edited to add the lyrics. I do love lyrics. Poetry they are.

I was born with the wrong sign
In the wrong house
With the wrong ascendancy
I took the wrong road
That led to the wrong tendencies
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time
For the wrong reason and the wrong rhyme
On the wrong day of the wrong week
I used the wrong method with the wrong technique



There's something wrong with me chemically
Something wrong with me inherently
The wrong mix in the wrong genes
I reached the wrong ends by the wrong means
It was the wrong plan
In the wrong hands
With the wrong theory for the wrong man
The wrong lies, on the wrong vibes
The wrong questions with the wrong replies



I was marching to the wrong drum
With the wrong scum
Pissing out the wrong energy
Using all the wrong lines
And the wrong signs
With the wrong intensity
I was on the wrong page of the wrong book
With the wrong rendition of the wrong hook
Made the wrong move, every wrong night
With the wrong tune played till it sounded right yeah



Too long


I was born with the wrong sign
In the wrong house
With the wrong ascendancy
I took the wrong road
That led to the wrong tendencies
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time
For the wrong reason and the wrong rhyme
On the wrong day of the wrong week
I used the wrong method with the wrong technique


tall penguin

Monday, April 6, 2009

Down With Love...

Yet one more illusion broken down into scientific terms. We are firing neurons and chemical impulses. Love is a farce. Read this.

The best quote? "We were not built to be happy but to reproduce." Indeed.

This life is beginning to look more and more mundane all the time. I am so bored. Goddamit, where's those meds? Let's get this pill-induced happy going already. Re-insert me into the Matrix.

tall penguin


Often, those who require more evidence for another's beliefs are accused of not being open-minded. This is an interesting video that attacks this fallacy and explores a more accurate definition of what open-mindedness is.

tall penguin

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Journey Dance

I had the most incredible dance experience this weekend. I attended a Journey Dance class. Wow. I have never felt more alive, free, and in touch with my body in my life. I danced for two hours! Yes, two hours!!! And yes, I could barely move the next day, but it was so worth it!

Journey Dance is the creation of dancer Toni Bergins. It is an experiential journey through movement and breath and play. It is not structured, in that there are no steps to be learned, but rather the instructor inspires the movement and creates the space for you to enjoy your own freeform dance. I cannot even put into words how much energy was coursing through my body during this class. I could hear myself. I could breathe myself. I could move from the stillest and most vibrant parts of my soul.

I have blogged about my inner dancer before. I was so happy to be able to unleash her in such an incredible way. I cannot say enough great stuff about this class. If you can find one near you, do it. It will change your life.

tall penguin

In the Mirror...

It’s a rainy Friday in April. I open the door to my friend Imma with, “So, this is what the mentally ill look like on their day off.” She smiles.

Standing there in flannel penguin pajama pants covered over by a beige nightdress and striped navy hoodie, I look like I’ve spent the night sleeping on the street.

“Please excuse my appearance but I figured I’d keep it real”, I say, pointing to my oily, unkempt hair and the dark circles under my eyes that match my disposition.

Imma is here to shoot some photos for a University project. Her theme: mental illness. Little does she know that the illness she’s assigned me to model for, Bipolar Disorder, is the one I’m currently being assessed for in my latest journey through the wonderful world of modern Psychiatry. Life is never without a sense of irony.

I lay across my bed as lifeless as possible. I look sullenly out the window at a world I have little interest in. She clicks away as I alternate between open and closed eyes. I am tired and depressed. I don’t have to act this out.

We switch to a seated shot where I am to change between manic and depressive facial expressions within seconds, while Imma rapidly shoots my mood shift. This is harder. I have difficulty accessing the mania today. I try to conjure up my mood from a few days ago and, although the smiles look contrived, she manages to catch some pretty good shots.

We sit on my couch and go over the photos together. She clicks over to the shots of me lying on the bed, despondent. I choke back tears. I am looking at my mother. My earliest memories are of walking into my parents room to find my mother sprawled across the bed, depressed out of her mind, staring off into the distance, barely aware that I am there beside her.

As I stare at this photo of I, this mirror of she, I feel a deep acceptance of my decision not to have children. And I realize that as much as we try to be different from our parents, there are genetic factors that we can never outrun. In this moment, it becomes clear that if I am to continue to break these patterns and have a different life than the one my mother has had, there are tough choices to be made.

I am going to try out medication. It is time.

tall penguin

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Your Eyes...

I met O today, a 10-year-old disabled and deaf boy suffering from severe dystonia, amongst other things. As he sat contorted in his wheelchair, I looked into his eyes, smiled deeply and stroked the brown, sweaty curls off his forehead. Eyes alight, his lips curled into what seemed to be a smile in return.

"Every day is a struggle for him," his support worker said.

I will not even compare our lives. All I know is we are both trapped in minds and bodies we do not understand.

tall penguin

The Sound of Music at Antwerp Central Station

Wow. I believe this is one of those groups that shows up in public spaces and does improv performances. Anyone with more info feel free to comment.

This delighted me greatly. Gave me shivers of joy. Even got me a little teary. I love watching people do what they love. Art in action is one the deep pleasures in life. Beautiful.

tall penguin

Edited to add: Apparently, it's a promotion for a new reality TV show in Belgium. Here's the full story. (Thanks Elizabeth for the link.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Stand and Be Heard

Interestingly, I just received a newsletter from a former colleague who is in education and she included a link to this New York Times article about a classroom in Minnesota, USA, where Sixth Grade teacher Abby Brown, in conjunction with a local ergonomic furniture company, created a set of specialty desks that give students the option to stand or sit during class. (Photo by Ben Garvin)

Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that sitting still is not only difficult for most kids (and some adults, including myself), but that the energy spent trying to keep still often interferes with the process of learning. I worked with enough ADHD kids who spent so much time shifting in their chairs trying to keep still that they missed most of what the teacher was saying.

The desks have adjustable stools and swinging footrests, allowing the students to sit or stand as they see fit. I love interventions like this. They honor the individual learner, giving the power back to the child to learn in a way that works for them.

This is creativity at its best. Bravo Abby Brown!

tall penguin

Freedom to Be...

In the comments on my last post, a discussion began around the use of medications and how they affect creativity. As I stated there, I am not anti-medication by any means. My concern is in seeing any variation on the "norm" as a disease. And in the medicating of children and adults for the sake of conformity.

When you get to the point of wanting to be medicated just to be able to keep up with a job you are not passionate about, just because society says you must be a contributor to the great economic machine, I think it's time to take a step back and re-evaluate. How often do we medicate what our soul is trying to tell us? That is my lament here.

I am reminded of the story Sir Ken Robinson tells in his video "Do Schools Kill Creativity?":

I highly recommend seeing the whole video but I will share this to make my point. In the video, he shares the story below, which has been retold in a brilliant article over at School Band and Orchestra magazine:

"There was a little girl (we will call her Jill) whose teachers suspected she had a learning disability. Jill couldn't sit still. She couldn't concentrate on her work. And she didn't seem to care. There was talk of sending Jill to a special needs school.

So Jill and her worried mother visited a psychologist. The psychologist interviewed the mother, all the while watching the daughter and recognizing some telltale signs. The psychologist asked Jill's mother if they could speak privately. On the way out of his office, the psychologist turned on a radio.

Hidden from view in the hallway, they watched Jill dance around the room with amazing grace and in a state of pure joy.

"Jill isn't sick," said the psychologist. "She's a dancer. Take her to a dance school." And that's where Jill discovered her element and found herself in the company of others who had to move to think.

In this story Jill is actually Gillian Lynne one of the world's most accomplished and acclaimed choreographers (Cats, Phantom of the Opera). She's also worked as a ballerina, dancer, actor, and theatre and TV director."

Robinson, a renowned expert in the field of education, human resources and creativity, has recently released his thoughts in his new book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. He explores the importance of finding ones element, matching ones innate talents and the workings of ones inner world with a passion in the outer world.

In the book, Sir Ken makes the same point I've been attempting to make in my questions and meanderings about medication and creativity. Speaking again of Jill (Dancer Gillian Lynne), Robinson notes:

"Someone looked deep into her eyes – someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn't a problem child. She didn't need to go away to a special school. She just needed to be who she really was."

This is all I want. To be who I really am. Whatever that is. To be it fully. I am either going sane or going crazy. But I suspect, it is the former rather than the latter. Yes, my brain is running fast. Yes, my body is running slow. Yes, I am processing all manner of memories, experiences and emotions each moment of each day. And yes, it can be disconcerting. But God, I've never felt more alive. I honestly believe that my whole life is about to shift. Breakdown? Breakthrough? I am so done with labels. All I want is to be free.

tall penguin