Oct 15

At the 2009 walk which was an amazing experience

As a supporter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and its annual Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walks, I’m disappointed to write this post. I’d like instead to have seen something better today; something better for the walkers who’ve lost somebody to suicide, for the passersby whose awareness is increased as they witness the walk, for the cause which reduces the stigma attached to suicide and supports education and prevention.

Until last year, the Portland Out of the Darkness walk began outside the World Trade Center in downtown Portland, an area receiving sufficient traffic to be noticed, but not so much traffic as to deafen participants to the activities and events going on within the spot, including information booths and speakers to share their knowledge and experience with the community both before and after the walk. There were tables set up so that families could sit together prior to and after completing the walk. There was even a small cheer squad applauding walkers as they made it through the finish line.

This year’s event headquarters was the Main Street Plaza on the Eastbank Esplanade. Never heard of it? Located under the Hawthorne bridge in one of the premiere hotspots for Portland’s homeless population, the Main Street Plaza manages to find itself directly below every major freeway, or so it seemed. We could barely hear ourselves speak, let alone the event’s speakers, including Senator Ron Wyden. Their voices were effectively drowned out by the traffic overhead.

And the venue could not have been more hidden had we decided to hold the event in a coat closet. Nobody but the walkers themselves, and the homeless people camping out in the midst of the event, would have found the event. And by no means is this a criticism in any way of the homeless population, considering that 20 – 25% of the adult homeless population suffers from some form of chronic mental illness, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and can benefit from suicide education and prevention. This is a more broad criticism of the decision to hold the Out of the Darkness walk in the darkness. This is a criticism of the decision to uproot its location from an area in which the general population could be confronted with the reality of suicide. This is a criticism of the decision to hide the grief of suicide’s survivors under a bridge when the survivors were brave enough to come out of the darkness to honor those they loved and lost.

And it’s true that none of us came out to the walk this morning for the accommodations. Nobody came out into the cold so that they could sit at an outside table, or so that they could score free coffee. Everybody who was there came for the cause. But after having been in a semi-covered area in the past, with tables at which families could sit, particularly elderly and young participants, warming our hands with a good cup of coffee, listening to speakers we could actually hear, many participants are going to be sufficiently disappointed as to consider forgoing next year’s walk and donating more time to other organizations. I understand that cutting corners on the venue saved the organization a good amount of money, but given the downgraded quality of the event, I have to ask at what cost?

I would like AFSP to keep in mind when planning next year’s event that if it is to sustain the walk, its top priorities should be providing a quality walk for participants so that they return, and placing the event in an area in which those who are less informed about suicide and its prevention have a chance to witness the event. Let’s bring the walk back out of the darkness and give it some staying power. So that people considering suicide get the help they need to have the power to stay with us.

–Troi out

Sep 15

I don’t get it.

I observe that we’ve all been frustrated at Netflix lately, and I know why: It’s that tricky packaging in which they enclose their DVDs. Surely you’ve likewise experienced the dilemma of receiving your Netflix movie in the mail, only to be stumped by the precise points at which you tear, fold, cut, and paste (there is pasting involved, right?), in order to remove your coveted prize from its package. Before I mastered the art of Netflix DVD extraction, I destroyed the packaging of so many DVDs that I experienced a real fear they’d close my account, with this sort of notice: “You need professional help, or common sense.” And while my account remains open, I’ve heard they recently increased their prices, which is no doubt related to the packaging costs they experienced after I opened my account in May.

The price hike, which left all but the top 2% of the world’s movie watchers at a financial crossroads, divided the remaining 98% on the serious political issue of “streaming” versus “DVDs.” And strangely enough, I chose to side with those troublesomely-packaged DVDs, because streaming just sounded too easy. And I don’t know where I would find my excitement if I weren’t scrambling around my condo trying to uncover the DVD sleeve, package, and “that damn DVD I just watched last night, where did it go?” in my own Netflix-inspired version of a mini-scavenger hunt.

Now that I’ve mastered the Netflix packaging, I really hope they never drop the DVDs and transition to a streaming-only system. Where would I use my newfound unwrapping skills?*

–Troi out

*I could unwrap presents given to me by my Readers. My birthday’s just around the corner….. 😉

Sep 2

Dear Readers,

I’ve always had a scrabble problem. Or rather, a spelling problem. That is, a problem spelling too well, and compulsively correcting the spelling of those around me who might otherwise be my friends. My love of correctly-spelled words is the likely force behind my love of scrabble. It used to be a board game (and I hear it still is, in the nineteen hundreds), to be played face-to-face with an opponent you could see, and by extension laugh at when said opponent placed an incorrect combination of letters on the board, commonly known as the misspelled word. When your fit of laughter ended, you were then to challenge your partner, and watch him or her suffer through looking up the word in Webster’s dictionary and reach the eventual conclusion to which you’d already come; that the word was misspelled. Your partner then had to undergo the humiliating act of removing his word from the board and losing a turn, a satisfying end before you placed your next zinger.

And while the advent of spellcheck threatened to render my special skills obsolete in the academic and professional world, it was in the scrabble world that the inaccessability of spellcheck maintained the significance of my spelling superiority.

When at first scrabble programs became available on facebook and in iphone apps (first in the ill-fated scrabulous and then in the current scrabble-like giant words with friends), I rejoiced in my 24/7 access to scrabble (and my concomitant decrease in real-world social interactions, surely a coincidence). However, I soon came to find that the ability to spell, not to mention vocabulary and even the strategic skill of singlehandedly arranging one’s letters to create a word, had been usurped by a fatal flaw in programming. No longer did a person need to know how to spell, or even distinguish between a word and a nonword; a person need only randomly arrange letters in any number of combinations and place them on the electronic board that would declare their word “not a word” until their fortuitous three hundredth attempt when, by sheer luck, they placed the word “burgoo” and the computer accepted it, passing their turn on to their virtual opponent. Their opponent, of course, would not have been witness to their 299 failed attempts, unable to challenge their unwords like “rfgyi” and “gyifr.”

“What do these words even mean?” I asked a friend in the midst of her iPhone scrabble game the other day as I observed words like “chthonic” and “jorum.”

“I have no idea,” she replied, “but the computer accepted them, so that’s all that matters.”

IS that all that matters? Is anybody else interested in returning to the original scrabble game that adheres to the legitimate scrabble rules? Wherein the computer doesn’t notify you that “plirdiger” is a nonword (which I only know after having tried to play it in my current iPhone scrabble game) and allow you infinite retries, but rather displays your word to your opponent, who either accepts your word, or challenges you? Were this the case, upon a challenge the computer would then declare whether or not your placement is in fact a word, and if it were not, you would lose your turn, and your partner would play. Intelligence, not dumb luck, would prevail.

And that is why I’m taking a stand. Readers, I implore you to join me in my movement to Take Scrabble Back. It will be bigger than Scientology, though perhaps not as lucrative.

–Troi out

Jun 27

Dear Readers,

I recently wrapped my latest experiment: kindling. Not the dry sticks of wood easily ignited for the purposes of making s’mores, but rather the experience of reading on a kindle*. When my friend first offered to let me borrow his kindle, I wrinkled my nose in distaste, ready to denounce the latest in the wave of computers pretending to be other things,** but then I remembered what Jesus said, about how Thou shalt not judge the kindle in thy neighbor’s eye, if thou hast not removed the kindle from thine own eye, so I decided to accept my friend’s magnanimous offer and launch an investigation into the kindle. And you, my Readers, are the first to receive exclusive coverage of my findings.

*Kindle: (noun) A computer that, having witnessed the savage overthrow of the paperback book, has entered the Witness Protection Program and now masquerades as, inexplicably, a paperback book. To throw the paperback police off its trail, most likely.

**iPod: Computer pretending to be radio; iPhone: Computer pretending to be phone; iPad: Computer pretending to be weird flat screen of no use; Kindle: Computer pretending to be book.

In the following expose, I report my findings objectively with the highest journalistic integrity you’d expect from a speech therapist with no background in journalism.

The Kindle: Pros & Cons

Pros:
• The kindle has internet capability. This is awesome, because not enough things do these days.
• I no longer need a tray or endtable for my coffee. I can actually hold my kindle in one hand, cradle my coffee mug in the other, and click the “next page” button with either my chin or the excess flesh on my giant thumb.
• Flexible text size. I can magnify the text until only a few words are visible on the screen, and I can subsequently brag, “Look how fast I read that page!”

Cons:
• High risk of electrocution. While reading my kindle in the bath, I dropped it into the water (and quite frankly, I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t extend this information to my friend from whom I borrowed it), and this could have led to a disastrous and untimely end for my kindle. And myself. Also don’t take your kindle scuba-diving or on your jet-ski.
• Disorientation. One false click and you’re trapped in a maze of menus accidentally purchasing the entire Harry Potter series when all you want is to get back to the page in your current series where you find out if Katniss is going to end up with Peeta or Gale.
• Speaking of pages. There are none. So when you misclick, you can’t navigate back to a specific page number. And you can’t brag about how many pages you’ve read. You can only say, “I’ve already read 7% of my book!”
• Bookmarks don’t work. So despite tireless attempts to mark my spot by placing a bookmark on the screen, I was thwarted by the complete absence of pages.

The Traditional Paperback Book: Pros & Cons

Pros:
• It has pages, so bookmarks are an effective means of keeping one’s place.
• All books are available as books, but not all books are available as kindles. If you’re having trouble following this logic, it’s much like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are cardboard boxes, and no rectangles can be triangles without shapeshifting.
• No danger of electrocution, except for that one time when I tried reading in the bathtub while straightening my hair and texting on my cell phone.

Cons:
• Lack of space. In the absence of regular trips to Powells to unload one’s book collection, books quickly fill and eventually overtake one’s living rooms, bedrooms, and even the bathroom. I recently had to sell my toilet to make room for a bookcase in that exact spot. I really need to pee.
• Death. While one’s head remains stable while reading the kindle, everybody is familiar with the slight shift in neck position as one transitions from scanning the left page of a book to the right side. With these slight shifts happening as often as several times per minute, a frequent reader is at high risk of Spontaneous Neck Snap, wherein one’s head actually pops right off after one too many slight shifts. While practiced readers are skilled in shifting their books rather than their heads, no reader is entirely protected from Spontaneous Neck Snap.

And there you have it, Readers, from my (friend’s) kindle to your brain, all you need to know in order to make an uninformed decision whether the kindling experience is right for you. Comment below for your chance to win a FREE TRAINING VIDEO on how to hold the kindle. Comment TWICE and receive a free booklet entitled, “How to Tell If Your Kindle is Upside Down” AND an unlimited subscription to my blog.

Jun 12

*Disclaimer for regular readers: This blog post departs from its usual farcical tone and is somewhat serious. Readers suffering from serious-induced shock are asked to immediately link to other posts for comic relief.

Dear Readers,

Yesterday, I got an awesome t-shirt. It says, “Luke’s Local Artist.” I felt like a fraud putting it on, because anybody within a mile of me can spot that I’m not an artist. The students I work with would have no problem sharing the depth of my visual-spatial impairments watching me attempt a basic stick figure sketch during a lesson. “Here Ms. Troi,” says my student with fine motor impairments who can’t yet use scissors to cut paper as he takes the pencil from me and draws an admittedly superior stick figure to my own, “This is how you draw a person.” So you might be wondering why I would don apparel emblazoned with the word “Artist.”

I donned this shirt last night because I was volunteering for an event called Luke’s Local Artists. This event, inspired by a ten-year old boy named Luke who lost his battle with cancer and actualized by his chemo pal* Ryan Foote, one of the creators of 2600 Strange Ave** (and creator of my awesome t-shirt), brought artists from the Portland area to the Disjecta event space and invited Portlanders to share in an evening of food, drinks, art and music to benefit three organizations who help support children with cancer: Children’s Cancer Association, Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP), and Providence Cancer Research Center. 100% of the entrance fee ($20/person at the door, $15/person in advance) and the sale from drinks went toward these organizations.

When I offered to volunteer at the event, I didn’t know who Luke was, and when I left the event, I felt sad I’d never get the chance. From stories shared by those who knew him and a letter written in his own words, it was clear that In his three-year battle with cancer, Luke was a steadfast beacon of hope. The kind of hope that can be depleted for much less than the battle he fought. The kind of hope we forget to tap into when we’re tapped out by fear and loss.

People have sometimes asked me why I enjoy volunteering for organizations that matter to me, like the Children’s Cancer Association or American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). And I’ll often respond with the flippancy characteristic of the blog posts you’ve come to know (and love?), like the fun or the free t-shirts (my neon green oversized AFSP t-shirt is perfect for first dates, because nothing says “I’m fun!” like neon green and the topic of suicide). But if I were to give an honest answer, it would be, “Because I’m alive, so I can.” I wake up every single morning with the gift of life, which is really the gift of opportunity: opportunity to do more and become better. Luke’s story reminded me that the gift of life is fleeting, and if I embrace this life and catch its curve balls (That’s a metaphor. I’m as bad at catching baseballs as I am at sketching the aforementioned stick figures.) with half the courage and hope that Luke did, I will consider my time here a job well done.

–Troi out

*A chemo pal is an adult matched with a child undergoing chemotherapy, one of the many awesome programs through the Children’s Cancer Association. To learn more about volunteering with this organization, please go here.

**A percentage of t-shirt sales go toward select charities. Please see their website for details.

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