Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The dangers of anti-depressants

After my divorce, I considered going on anti-depressants because my depressive funk lasted for months. But after some cursory net research and conversations with those who have been on anti-depressants, I decided against it. The risk was too great. I think it's silly that the potential side effects of anti-depressants include suicidal thoughts and depression.

And now, in the light of the NIU shootings, comes a video from 18 years ago on the dangers of Prozac, which Kazmierczak stopped taking just before taking his own and many other lives.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

The media crush

I got caught up in it. Esther and Jonny were with me for moral support as I returned to NIU for the first time since the shooting. En route to Reavis Hall, we stopped at the memorials around campus.

As we stopped in the commons, Esther ran to see her friend, a co-worker, who was good friends with one of the slain. As they cried -- and by this time it was golden sunset on the commons -- a photographer from the New York Times took about a million pictures and got their names. And as we were almost free of the phalanx of satellite trucks in front of Altgeld Hall, a lone reporter from Rockford channel 23 stopped me to ask a few questions.

And by golly, it made it on the evening news in Rockford:


Of course, the story is kind of hoaky, one of those where they publicize a wacky opinion that most viewers would balk at because it's easy to get common sense opinions from the public, in this case me.

I looked on the Times web site, but haven't found any pictures of Esther and her friend.

An update

The past couple days have been strange and subdued, as if seen through a gauze.

I fell asleep around 9 p.m. Thursday night not knowing if any students were dead, and woke up early Friday to find out, in addition to the shooter, five were dead, and, for a few hours, until it was retracted, a sixth dead student. Two or three are still in critical condition.

Finding out about these deaths upon first awakening set the tone for the day. I arrived at DeKalb High School at 6:3o a.m. Shortly afterwards, my sister Carol called from Texas. She joked that when she heard the killer's major was sociology, she breathed a sigh of relief. That's how brother Ken and Carol are. It's a years-long schtick. I'm the villain. And while I'm mature enough, confident enough in my own non-villainy, despite past mistakes, to take such humor, this was too soon.

Of course, to my sister, this event is more abstract. As long as I'm all right, it doesn't really affect her. So I forgive her flub. No biggie. Ken made a similar joke when he called me later. My parents are on a two-week cruise in the South Pacific, but Dad called Esther using a satellite phone onboard the ship to find out if I am okay.

As this story unfolds, the search for a motive remains unclear. So much mystery surrounds Kazmierczak. No note. The "erratic behavior" his last days not specified. The only photo revealed, a University of Illinois identification mug shot; perfunctory smile, acne, prominent Adam's apple, a gawky young man. The eyes tell nothing.

NIU is mercifully spared the evil smirk of Virginia Tech's Cho Seung-Hui. Kazmierczak seemed to have no sense of a cult of personality. His anguish was more private, fueled by Red Bull, Gatorade, cigarettes, and two lonely days at the Travelodge on Lincoln Highway. Seung-Hui left behind videos and photographs. What, if anything, will investigators discover about Kazmierczak's motive?

The NIU killings seems more of a random act of nature, of chemicals gone haywire. This is how I'm dealing. I'm trying to fit this into a rational paradigm. Mental illness is a reality. The greater the population, the greater likelihood of disease. There was nothing anybody could have done.

Unlike VT, where the warning signs, post-mortem, stood out like billboards. When fellow students heard the shooter was Cho, no one was surprised. The VT shootings force us to analyze how our country identifies and treats mental illness. This was preventable. If only we had listened and seen the signs. That can't be said, so far, about the NIU shootings. I don't know yet what lesson can be learned from Thursday's events.

NIU students scattered across the suburbs in the wake of this tragedy. When we come together again, will the student body forge a bond that previously did not exist? I've seen so much love and community support these past two days. We'll see.


Today's dictionary.com word of the day. A strong woman in western civilization is automatically stamped with the latter definition. Patriarchal backlash, and unfair as hell. Just ask Hillary.

virago \vuh-RAH-go; vuh-RAY-go\, noun:
1. A woman of extraordinary stature, strength, and courage.

2. A woman regarded as loud, scolding, ill-tempered, quarrelsome, or overbearing.

The intrepid heroines range from Unn the Deep Minded, the Viking virago who colonized Iceland, to Sue Hendrikson, a school dropout who became one of the great experts on amber, fossils and shipwrecks.-- Ann Prichard, "Coffee-table: Africa, cathedrals, animals, 'Sue'", USA Today, November 28, 2001

This virago, this madwoman, finally got to me, and I was subjected to the most rude, the most shocking violence I can remember.-- José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir

Virago comes from Latin virago, "a man-like woman, a female warrior, a heroine" from vir, "a man."

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Horrible Tragedy

Chaos is a force of nature, from roaring rapids to falling ice. And it's a force to be reckoned with, prepared for, defended against.

But this... This societal chaos. Men coming out on stage from behind curtains, guns blazing... this kind of chaos cannot be reckoned with. It, too, is a force of nature. But unlike a mountaintop blizzard, there is no forecast, no dark mass on the horizon, no time or way to prepare. What happened at Cole Hall was random madness. No legislation or increased security could have prevented it.

My thoughts go out to those personally affected by the tragedy. So far, no one I know is among the victims, but only one name has been revealed. I am worried about my ENGL 104 students, all freshman, all on campus Thursday, who could have likely been in that general education course.

I was safely at home when it happened.

I had a meeting in the Campus Life Building at 2 p.m. with a career counselor. After that meeting ended around 2:45, I went home. I debated going back to Reavis, where I'd been all morning, to grade papers. If I'd gone to the office, I'd have walked by Cole Hall when the shootings took place. Instead, I was a mile away.

When dealing with this kind of societal chaos, every small decision is analyzed. Something as simple as seating arrangements determines who lives or dies.

It is so surreal when a familiar place is on CNN. My (shared) office desk in Reavis Hall is less than 100 feet from where the shootings took place.

I heard about the shootings five minutes after they happened when I received an email from Dr. Betty Birner warning not to come to campus because of a shooting. I stayed online, turned up AM 720, and followed the news as it unfolded less than a mile away. Talk about surreal. I tracked the spread of this news, probably more closely than I've ever followed a news story. By 4:15 p.m., a little over an hour after the shootings, news of the events at Cole Hall were broadcast in Australia.

To hear the hum of helicopter and see on CNN a familiar place from above, broken window, following that aerial shot of Cole Hall into darkness, until the building glowed as if seething with its own anger. I'll never forget those images. Evil so close. Mere steps away. Thoughts of my son and how I can do nothing to protect him from this kind of madness. Sirens wail constantly.

I tried to call my brothers and sister to let them know I'm alive, but no cell service. An essential service fails in crisis. To the cell phone service provider's credit, they did bring extra transmitter trucks in the area to fix that problem.

Following the events on the university web site. I at first thought the gunman was still at large in the MLK Jr. Commons. A red flashing light on the home page. The web site alert eerily remindful of Dec. 10, when a day of finals were canceled because of shooting threats written on a residence hall bathroom mirror.

My day started early, around 3 a.m., when I got up and watched a movie before putting together a lesson plan for my 104 class that I didn't use. I got online and read trail friend Chris Willett's trailjournals.com entries for a trip he's taking on the Pacific Northwest Trail, and how the PNT is rugged, requiring a lot of non-trail cross-country navigation. Kind of like many sections of the Arizona Trail.

After reading Willett's entries and thinking about how invigorating it is to travel trail-less, to determine the When and the Where on your own, I wrote, with wild places in mind, on my Facebook update: "Greg has no fear of calamity or the deep unknown."

And that message remained all day, until...

I retract that statement entirely.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Thai-esque Sesame Split Pea Butternut Squash Soup recipe

As I peeled the skin off a butternut squash to make soup, I thought of the name of this vegetable -- butterNUT. But it doesn't taste nutty at all. And when I saw the recipe I was following told me to add oil, I chose sesame. Just a couple splashes to cook the veggies. That unorthodox move became the basis of what I call Thai-esque Sesame Split Pea Butternut Squash soup.

The following recipe is merely an approximation of the amounts. I don't know for sure because I didn't measure. But you should be all right. Amounts are easy to adjust.


1 small onion, diced
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
2 tsps. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. red cayenne pepper
One medium size butternut squash, peeled and diced into cubes
Three cups chicken stock (or two cans chicken broth)
One cup dry split peas


Heat sesame oil in medium size soup pot over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Stir every couple minutes until onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients. Put heat on high until boiling, then maintain a gentle boil over medium low heat for about an hour or two, or until the squash is tender.

Either in the pot or a separate bowl, use a hand mixer or food processer to puree the softened squash. I used the mixer and still had small chunks of squash, which is fine with me. Add water to thin or potato flakes to thicken. What looks watery after boiling thickens up on mixing when the split peas puree.

Optional: Serve with a dollop of heavy cream whipped with lime juice.

My soup came out green with, of course, orange squash flecks throughout. I call this dish Thai-esque because, like Thai cooking, this soup touches on most of the flavors in the human palate, except for maybe salt. I found delectable the interplay of the sesame oil, squash sweetness, and cayenne.