I’ve gotten up early and sat down to put this into words because I need to say it.
“Orange is the New Black” has been one of my favorite shows since it dropped down to earth six years ago. Season six came out the day after my birthday this year and I inhaled all 13 episodes in three days.
Because of course I did.
Not gonna lie, I had to reconcile some unexpected feelings – and I do mean both emotional, dopamine-type responses in my brain and physical sensations – to Laura Prepon that I had not anticipated.
I mean, I watched “That 70’s Show” just like the rest of creation. I always agreed that Donna was, indeed, Hot Donna.
But as Alex…I don’t know.
You learn things about yourself, when you engage with story.
All I can say.
My prison personality is basically if Vause and Nichols had a love child.
So it started out as really, really funny and sort of lighthearted, really. And, as always happens, as the story developed the atmosphere has grown darker. There have been prison riots and murders. People have been abused in all of the ways in which one can be abused.
It’s gotten incredibly dark, and I think that’s why a lot of original fans have dropped out, but that’s exactly why I’m hanging in.
Warning: jarring lack of segue ahead.
I saw this docuseries featured on Netflix last night and, being that I’m searching for something to fill the void now that I’ve binged yet another beloved show for the year in a short span of time, I gave the trailer a try.
And it took six seconds for me to be hooked.
It’s called “Dark Tourist,” which is unfortunate because it’s easy to confuse with a shitty 2012 thriller of the same title (full disclaimer: I don’t know if it’s shitty I’m just passing judgement based on the title and DVD cover and it’s completely arbitrary, baseless, and unfair). But after six seconds of the docuseries trailer I realized that I’d found my male kiwi alter-ego…
I hate this bastard for getting paid to go to crazy ass places and talk to crazy ass people. That really needs to be my gig. I was reflecting as I watched him interview one of Pablo Escobar’s
vaginas girlfriends on just how fucking perfect his situation is. He gets paid money – absolutely a shit ton more money than me – for traveling and meeting people and just asking them things that come to mind as he casually interacts with them. He’s given access, and money, and best of all he gets to just rack up these experiences, these opportunities to empathize and experience parts of life that most people don’t even realize exist, and he’s fucking rich.
No matter what David Farrier gets paid to do this show, he is story rich as hell.
Being story rich is something that anyone who writes will tell you is above all other jealousy-inducing traits. When a writer goes on vacation she’s going to pay out the ass for experiences more than souvenirs.
It’s all about experiences. Experiences are the raw material from which stories are forged and I can’t explain it. Like, I’m sitting here writing this almost in tears because the abject adoration I have for story and storytelling and its role in the human experience is just too great to even be expressed in words.
Or even interpretive dance.
I wouldn’t subject anyone to me testing that theory, but.
I’m pretty sure.
So anyhow, before I finished season six of Orange I came to a point where one of the corrections officers who’d been held hostage during a prison riot where a guard was killed talks about trauma.
Now, trauma can be your typical war, car accident, prison riot sort of one-off fucked up experience that scares you so bad that you wind up reacting to other things as if it’s the original thing that fucked you up.
That kind of trauma tends to lead to pretty textbook PTSD manifestations. Jumping at loud noises. Avoiding leaving the house. But it’s directed. It’s focused. X happened and it led to symptoms A, B, and C.
It’s not simple, but it’s simple.
Complex PTSD is a different thing altogether. It’s not an official code yet because the fucking clowns who did the DSM-V decided not to make it official, which was kind of invalidating for a lot of us but whatever.
But C-PTSD is what happens to a person after extended experiences with chronic trauma. And not necessarily physical trauma. The fact that C-PTSD was not given its own diagnostic code in 2013 when they trotted out the DSM-V? It only strengthened the feeling among most of us who experience the very valid, real symptoms that “we were never hit” so therefore we can’t be traumatized.
I get a little wound up when I talk about the mindfuckery that is diagnostic coding. In a tangentially related note, so does my friend M. Anyhow, C-PTSD and PTSD are different. Very different. In terms of origin and expression of symptoms, they are worlds apart from one another. Cousins, but too far away to even think about kissing.
But in a lot of ways – in the way it feels to experience them – they are a lot alike. So as C.O. McCullough talks to another guard who has not been through a prison riot about what it feels like to be her (after she gets caught burning her legs with a cigarette in the C.O. toilet, because self-harm), I was almost in tears again.
Connection is hard to come by in my world, so when I feel it, even in tiny doses and from impersonal sources, I get a little emotional.
Anyhow, she’s talking to a peer, right? Someone who shares her job. Who understands her life in the context of what caused her trauma. But this guard – Ward and McCullough – may as well be living on different planets. And that separation, that lack of connection in even the most similar of people to me, is what makes C-PTSD so difficult.
Ward busts McCullough burning herself and brings up the fact that McCullough “must not forgive and forget too easy.”
To which McCullough replies:
“Forget? I wake up in sweat puddles from nightmares every night. I jump if I hear a loud noise. And will never fucking forgive them. I mean, shit. If I’d had a gun on me in that yard? I’d have mowed them down without thinking twice about it. But those girls were just excited about playing kickball. They are horrible people, who have hurt me. And they are regular people who just wanna play a game. Or get through the day. Or feel human. And I just get so messed up when all I can see is the horrible. Which is pretty much all the time. But I don’t know how to exist in the world with so much hate inside me.”
That, you guys. For me, I came into the day my husband got arrested already lugging around an impossible amount of emotional baggage. An impossible number of interpersonal traumas. An impossible number of fears and insecurities bred from an impossible amount of time learning to see the world in a dysfunctional way.
The day he was arrested was my prison riot. And even though I came into with all that shit I had basically, up until getting married and having the girls, managed to get through it and function. Even function well. I was getting my master’s. I was on my way to PhD land after that. I excelled in my work. In my writing. I was developing a reputation – a good one, for the first time in my life – and I felt good. I felt competent. I felt like I was, everything else was going to be, okay.
And then I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart who turned out to be bitter, angry, and hateful. And I thought “oh, he’s the same man I always knew. He’s gotten into the weeds but he’s good. At his core, he is good, because I know him.” I know that we can’t change people but I truly believed that he just needed the support of a good relationship. That he just had some growing to do. We both did, and anyhow, wasn’t that what marriage was? Growing up – and growing better – as a team?
I couldn’t have known how rotted he’d become because he hid it too well. And by the time it was too much work to hide it, as he himself said, he “had me now.” There was no longer any need for such pretense.
I’m off track. I get that way when I write about him. But the point is that I have tried and tried to put into words what it is to be changed by experience in a bad way. Storytelling is generally about a protagonist coming up against conflict and the conflict changing her for the better. Even in tragedy, the protagonist grows in some way that she could never have grown had it not been for the tragedy that was the catalyst for her amazing transformation.
We’re not expecting our lives to change us for the worse. And that moment when you realize that it has – that you’ve become a really bad version of yourself – and that you don’t know how to get back?
No, for real. Not the way hipsters use the word Kafkaesque at dinner parties where they’re sure they’re the only one who kinda sorta knows what it means.
It truly is like waking up in the very same predicament as Gregor Samsa. You open your eyes one dim, softly-lit cold morning to discover that you are now an insect. And how, how can you ever begin to adapt to it? How could you ever expect to change back, having no idea how you’d gotten there in the first place?
It was really exciting and validating to hear that monologue the other day, in the unlikeliest of places. Because while I love “Orange,” I don’t think the writing rises to the level of literary greatness. It’s popular fiction. It’s good popular fiction, but it’s not literary.
Or at least it hasn’t been until now.
That’s a thing that happened.
The other thing that happened is that a reader (who has a badass blog of her own that you should probably check out, by the way) and the only one of you chickens who comments (not sayin’ anything, just sayin’) hipped me months ago to a podcast featuring Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed.
If you’re not literature nerds you have no idea who those people are.
They’re basically some of the biggest current rockstars in the relatively niche market of literary fiction and memoir.
I’ve met Steve Almond at a writer’s conference at Chautauqua once. It was unfortunately the year after Mike got arrested and I was just in this gnarly place of really bad grief and feeling wounded and raw, and I did not put my best foot forward at that conference. Nothing shameful, really. Just not being able to blend in. Being conspicuously hurt and struggling. Anyhow, he and I had a conversation about how my kids didn’t like the Beatles and how it bummed me out because I named Harper Lennon after John Lennon.
The disconnection between me and everyone at that conference was palpable.
But life goes on. I’m over the embarrassment of it at this point and so I finally, finally went to find it this morning and the first one I listened to was this one (not gonna lie, I picked this one because it said Shirley Manson and Shirley Manson is my spirit animal and yes I know that phrase is culturally insensitive and I’m using it and I’ll have to answer for that:
And it was all about this 16-year-old girl who’s being homeschooled and isolated by her religious parents and the resentment she’s feeling and again.
And I just bought a liquid liner.
Goddamn it, Becky!
I did have to redo my liner, though, because I recognized that feeling. I was fortunate to not be homeschooled and to get to experience the social ineptitude firsthand on a daily basis, but spiritual abuse (my parents didn’t spiritually abuse me but that church I was raised in to the age of 14 absolutely did) is a real thing that, again, is disenfranchised.
“But you were never hit.”
Anyhow. I like Dear Sugars because it’s the writing side of the same topics. Where Hidden Brain takes an issue from a psychology perspective, Dear Sugars goes with it down a craft of writing road.
And I feel as though I walk through life with one foot perpetually on each of those two paths. It’s really great to find a writing podcast I love as much as I love my psychology podcast.
So thank you Becky! I’m officially addicted. And being that I’ve inhaled every episode of Hidden Brain, past and present, I’m glad to have a new podcast with a few back seasons to gorge myself on.
Happy Tuesday, bitches.
Get out there and kick life’s ass.