Open Letter to rabble re: Meghan Murphy

Please go to and leave a comment to add your name to this important letter.

Last Wave Feminist

To: The Editors, Publishers, Founders and Editorial Board –

We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep dissatisfaction with rabble’s response to the recent attacks on Meghan Murphy.

In past weeks, Meghan Murphy has become the target of a vicious and focused attack that we believe is aimed not only at her—as the most visible voice of a set of feminist principles with which we broadly agree—but at women in general and feminists specifically.

This attack—sparked by an article at Playboy magazine and a petition inspired by the Men’s Rights Movement and women who are known for their promotion of the sex industry—focuses nominally on a brief piece written by Murphy in response to nude photos published of a trans woman named Laverne Cox. Her piece criticized the notion that the publication of highly sexualized, pornographic photographs of a woman or trans woman is “empowering.” We see no fair…

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Where My Prayers Went

A friend asked me to pray for her.

She does not know

my most awful secret—

I do not know where my prayers went.



Maybe my prayers are aloft in winds

that were never scooped up for review.

Prayers decades old—each launched with

anticipation’s faint acrid film upon my tongue.



“Prayer can move mountains,”

Sister Pauline told our second grade class.

So I spent my recesses and lunches praying

for almost an entire school year.



Well, nothing changed.

And those were my very best prayers,

I said them exactly as I was taught.

I do not know where those prayers went.



I kept praying. Later, I tried

new gods, old gods and made-up genderless gods.

In Latin, Sanscrit, Hebrew…

Alas, I do not know where those prayers went.



I prayed fervently for love

for decades. On pillows, onto sleeves and

into every blackness that that my desperate hope

led me. Faithfully, without question.



Maybe I was facing the wrong direction

or did not have the appropriate attire.

Finally, I stopped praying—because no god that I knew of

knew where my prayers went either.



Even if a deity relented, it would take an eternity

to hear all my tearful requests.

Even if they all arrived today, sorted by topic

and arranged by urgency.



So, when someone asks me to pray for them,

I don’t.

It is the kindest thing that I can do.

Because I do not know where my prayers go.



Even now, I am always looking, looking

for their sounds, the taste of tears that would identify them.

Surely, they are still somewhere,

wherever my prayers went.



I hope that one day

I’ll find all my prayers

caught in some trees or maybe

strewn on a beach like starfish after a storm.




When I find them, I will gather them up

and hold onto them forever

Because everyone wants to know

where their prayers went.

Zeno’s Paradox and Addiction

It’s Hard to Get Enough of What Almost Works

I just finished Dr. Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, the most humane, scientific and, dare I say, Jungian-without-Jungian-terminology foray into addiction I’ve read. This is high praise from someone who has read more than 200 books on addiction, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts and audiobooks, read maybe another one hundred research papers on the topic. Several times since the 2008 publication, I’ve heard the author interviewed, and made a mental note to read the book.

Yet, Dr. Maté’s earlier interviews had never addressed the damage that addicts do to those around them, which I felt deeply ambivalent about. He seemed so okay with active addicts being, well, active addicts. Yet, I remembered that I’d left an utterly unrepentant addict and was in no frame of mind to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards to addicts. Nope, I was holding addicts accountable as I was struggling to identify and process what I had been dealt. Wondering Why didn’t he just bloody stop? haunted me.

Early this summer I heard a podcast interview with Dr. Maté, coincidentally, while in a bookstore, and left the store with the book. Hungry ghosts is a Buddhist notion for intensely unconscious and instinctually driven beings, no longer fully alive due to their compulsive behavior. Ghosts may crave intensely and seek incessantly, but their ability to be nourished is long absent.

The Jungian therapist David Schoen depicted addiction as an archetype in The War of the Gods in Addiction. Anyone who has observed an addict over time probably sees the addict’s behavior very much like an archetypal possession. Attempted communion with the archetypical destroys mere humans, overwhelming the ego with too-potent energies. But we humans persist. Sometimes we so desperately want to transcend distress that no risk—psychic, spiritual or physical—seems too great. Maté calls all addiction “a flight from distress.”

While reading Maté’s patients’ evocative stories, one senses their addictions as an archetypical presence. This well-written volume weaves the reality of addiction with the vanguard of science. Peppered with the neuroscience of our brains’ dual cravings—both the opiate attachment-reward and the dopamine incentive-reward systems that dictate some of our behavior with nary a frontal cortex neuron’s involvement—Hungry Ghosts goes onto explain that our earliest experiences “set” these two systems.

An imbalance created early in life in one or both reward systems foreshadows our future cravings/compulsions and, perhaps, addictions. Early trauma, abuse, neglect and injury can affect how our brains function for the whole of our lives. Although brains can recover to surprising degrees upon cessation of active addictions (both substance and process addictions), the addicted brain is ever-susceptible to its pre-established imbalances.

Without knowing the powerful dictates of maladapted brain chemistry and its resultant cravings, Jung posited that it would take either a spiritual transformation or a strong human community to overcome addiction. Writing of one his former patients, Roland H., who had shared Jung’s adumbrations about addiction with Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), just before Wilson became sober and started AA in this now-famous letter, Jung stated:

“…his (Roland W.’s) craving for alcohol was the low-level equivalent of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.

…you might be led to that goal (of sobriety) by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends…

…the evil principle prevailing in this world, leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by a real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society cannot resist the power of evil…you see, alcohol in Latin is spiritus and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.”

Jung also realized that both substances and processes were addictive:

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”

Maté writes of his own work addiction. And his compulsion to own classical music CDs, most of which he admits are never played once purchased. He writes plainly that he has lied to his wife about compulsive  CD purchases. On many occasions. That he has hid purchases, or parts of purchases, to manage his wife’s reactions to his latest music acquisitions. Just like an addict. He describes dulling the painful, empty place inside of him by planning and obsessing about owning various recordings and the ultimate high and release of his inner anxieties when he succumbs to the purchases. Followed by shame and deception. Oh, addiction, you are predictable.

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and addiction are interrelated. These bilateral structures of the brain are rich in opiate and dopamine receptors and have an a plenitude of connections to the limbic (emotional) system. Additionally, the OFCs receive sensory inputs from all five senses while maintaining vast connections with both the implicit and explicit memory systems. Both substance and process addicts’ OFCs do not function normally.

Why does that matter? The OFC’s purpose is to evaluate diverse stimuli and make a story for the frontal cortex. To tell a story to the frontal cortex for final decision-making. According to PET scans, the OFC has made decisions up to ten seconds before subjects report that a thought has occurred, with muscles already taking action well before the moment that the decision had been made. Although sometimes overridden by the frontal cortex, the OFC determines much of our behavior, emotional lives and decisions by acting as a hub for many portions of the brain to cohere into a story.

I am awed that Jung seemed to know that senses, feelings, imagery and story-making were connected decades before there was a shard of evidence. The OFC findings point to a wiring and chemical connection.

Addicts of all stripes report a nearly identical addictive process: a fantasy/preoccupation, intense craving, using, anxiety reduction followed by shame and increasing anxieties, which loops back to preoccupation. The short biochemical description of addiction is that all addicts are addicted to their own brain’s chemical surges. The variety of ways that addicts jolt their brains into overproducing shows a remarkable and telling creativity on the part of the addicts. So that begs the question of why one person is drawn to a work addiction and another to alcohol? Why heroin? Or sex? Or methamphetamine? Or collecting classical CDs? Or information avarice?

To address that, Maté quotes Dr. Vincent Felitti: “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.”

It was music that soothed Maté during a traumatic infancy in a Nazi-controlled Budapest ghetto. His father had been taken to a concentration camp, leaving his mother with the baby Gabor. Sometimes she spent 18 hours a day outside the home getting subsistence-level food for herself and her baby. When Gabor cried, no one came to soothe him. Both parents were utterly non-responsive to his crying. His mother left music playing while she was away obtaining food. Music was not the closeness to his mother that he really wanted, but it almost soothed him. Now, Dr. Maté finds that he will employ identical behaviors that he sees in his substance abuse patients to own yet another recording of Don Giovanni.

And his wife inquires: “Gabor, don’t you already have eight of that one already?”

Reading of Maté’s curious compulsion, it occurs to me: information almost works for me. Copious information almost makes the the world make sense. It almost bolsters me to face life courageously. Almost. My history offered knowledge-gathering as a substitute for parental bonding. Doesn’t the word almost conjure the image of hungry ghosts? Always grasping, yet ever empty?

Any particular addiction (or combination of addictions) almost works for that addict. Whatever combination each particular addict crafts is indicative of whatever it is that s/he is trying to resolve/staunch/sooth and what is available to relieve that. Again, Jung’s reach into patients’ histories for personal narrative in cultural context seems like current neuroscience.

Would a PET scan of my brain taken after a research binge reveal similarities to an alcoholic after a drinking binge? I do not know. I only know that I crave information. There I said it. If I could, I would inject sentences, thoughts and concepts into my veins to keep the information coming in. Information almost works for me.

Yes, clearly an addiction to information lives within me. Books are my first choice, followed by podcasts, audiobooks, lectures, workshops, classes, documentaries, research papers…and ad infinitum. Even though I have read piles of wonderful books, an identical anxiety looms in the last paragraphs of every one of them. An understood world is not a safe world, just a less anxious one for me. Hungry ghosts, indeed.

Like many addicts, I have been rather self-justified about my addiction, smug rather than ashamed of my imbalances. Because isn’t being uninformed just the worst of all possible fates? Isn’t not knowing like being an slack-jawed imbecile? I’ve certainly thought so. Years ago, I remember my son watching the DVD, Gladiator, and perhaps, in passing, I muttered something about conflating Roman emperors and movies with poor historical foundations. Perhaps.

“Oh stop, Mom, go argue with the History Channel.” my son protested, annoyed that I was questioning the veracity of the movie he found enthralling.

I am sure I shot something right back at him, which I am equally certain he ignored.

Now my son’s words sound uncannily like“Gabor, don’t you already have eight of that one already?” and Why didn’t he just bloody stop?

Why didn’t he just bloody stop? Because it almost works, that’s why. Was that the gem I have long been reading and listening for? Maybe, just maybe. Addiction is the repetition of what almost works, including my own.

And where does this take me, this new realization? I simply do not know and that is finally and incredibly satisfying.

Pursuit: The Creative Process

I awoke this morning and
a poem began speaking
itself to me. Softly at first.
Of course, I ignored it, silly poem.

I have things to do, a schedule to keep.
I brewed my coffee with the
danged poem murmuring into my ears.

Coffee made, I escape to answer email.
Surely, the poem will not follow me.
It should get the hint and give up.
I have things to do.

While answering emails,
the poem became, yes, louder.
Louder! The words more distinct.
“Look,” I say to the air around me—

“I do not have time to jot you down.
You goofy poems take hours to write.
I have to go to work.
No, I will not take notes. Go away, you pesky poem. Scram.”

I answered emails with the poem getting louder
And even typing itself into my emails.
Luckily, I was able to delete those
crazy words it was making me type.

It was not even in sentences, now,
what if my emails were sent out like that?
The email would be senseless responses to
very serious questions. A narrow escape.

But then the poem resorted to
also becoming a holograph hanging
between my thoughts and the outside world
As if I invited it in that place.

I am bemused that this poem is so brazen.
Uninvited entity that it is.
But it simply does not stop.
Now I am getting annoyed.

I can see the verse, hear the words
demanding that I write it down.
I defy the poem—
Who does it think it is?

Commandeering my morning like this?
From the time I awoke, it has been haranguing me
I listened to a podcast while I was taking my walk
or at least I tried—

But the damned poem was louder!
It even blocked my view of the sunrise,
putting its ascenders and descenders all over.
In a font I do not particularly care for.

I tried to shower, and dry my hair,
get dressed because I have a schedule to keep.
But the poem was so insistent that
I was forced to stop and jot the damned thing down.

Are you happy now?
I am running late for work.
Look what you have gotten me into, you creepy poem.
I hate you.

Do you suppose I can just call in
and tell my manager
that I am running late
because a poem hounded me this morning?

That I was trying to get dressed and
all I could see or hear was this stupid poem?
Poem, do you know how crazy that sounds?
Do you have any idea what my boss will say to that one?

Oh, you will have me in the human resource
hall of shame, you bratty-ass poem.
I am going to write you in prose format
to punish you for this disruption.

How dare you. I will paragraph your sorry ass
into common courtesy, I will.
And justify your ragged lines,
finish your incomplete sentences.

Do I look like a poet? No, I do not.
So what are you bothering me for?
Did you get lost on your way to
a real poet? Get a GPS.

You poor-grammar poem,
you will be so sorry you came
to bother me this morning, I have things to do.
Oh, what was I doing when I began telling off a poem?

Okay, I wrote you down, just to stop you
from shouting even louder, do you hear?
Are you happy now? Now there is no way at all
I can get to work on time.

I call in with allergies.
That should cover us, poem.
So here I am spending
the morning with a rude poem.

Miffed, then you retreat for
exactly as long as I called you a blinking pest.
But I am going to wait you out, poem.
Yoo-hoo, poem, I am here waiting for you—

Hmm, I am beginning to miss hearing
you whisper and your holographic verse
all over my morning.
Are you there, poem?

I really have nothing better to do
this morning than
write down exactly what you tell me
I should write. Not really.

Oh, poem, I have written down
everything you asked me to write.
Are you going to return like now
and help me make sense of this?

I have a bunch of crazy scribbling on this
notepad in my bathroom, the birds have
not been fed and I called in with sinuses
or something like that, I forgot.

I am waiting for you, poem.
Are you aware that I’d be called a lunatic for
saying that a poem spoke itself
into my ears this morning?

And that I would be accused
of having hallucinations for
confessing that you displayed your verses
all over my reality this morning?

Can I coax you back by saying how much
I liked the way that you
read to me while I was having coffee
and answering emails?

Before I realized that I have nothing
better at all to do than
spend the morning with a poem?
Way back when I thought I had things to do?

Terre Spencer
June 2011

Change Your Metaphor—

How tragic that so many men treat their own precious sexuality like it were a sports statistic, something to be documented on the front page of the Sports section of their favorite newspaper. To wit: keeping score, always wanting something better, keeping mental, and sometimes actual, statistics, turbo-charging it with porn, taking Viagra as if it were a chemical cast for a sprained member (or perhaps, a fix for a flat tire), etc., all competitive, linear, sports metaphors for one of the greatest mysteries of life.

Therein lies the problem. Such men are applying a one-dimensional metaphor (sports statistics) to their sexuality. Genuine sexuality cannot be flattened, captured, bought, sold, possessed, understood, measured, quantified, dominated, enhanced or diminished—none of those things, not at all. Poetry alludes to sexuality, great music dances with it, literature and art express our yearnings, our joys and frustrations, but such things are the closest we humans are allowed to “document” sexuality. The metaphor for sexuality is Mystery itself.

Genuine sexuality requires full-on masculinity. That means a fully-developed man—including his heart. A man’s penis is invited to participate by his own heart and his partners’ heart. Taking Viagra is a complete misunderstanding of where and what the dysfunction really is. Given that many men do not bring their hearts to their sexual experiences, it is especially poignant that Viagra is dangerous to the heart. These men continue having “experiences” and try to make quantity the cover for the vague emptiness they feel somewhere in the vicinity of their chests.

Change the metaphor for sexuality, guys. Forgo the Viagra and read Robert A. Johnson’s We, (and everything else that man ever wrote). Read Robert A. Masters’ work. Allow Mystery to be your sexual metaphor and the Viagra will be exposed as the marketing ploy to flatten your sexuality that it really is.