The Rose That Drowned

Max Lathrop


Close your eyes and witness how I feel
Away in my tomb where everything’s a catastrophic deal
Now expose your eyes: break the seal
Watch my movie as it spins off the reel

In this bleakness, faces blur
But then sparks from my distemper spur
The flame aglow, attaching to souls like burs
It seems I attack everyone, you concur

I set myself on a shelf
Save me from myself!
“I can’t do this alone,” I scream as into my past I delve
Strike on a box of matches; the sparks like ripples made by stones
thrown into the ocean into which I delve

Soaking in the moonlight
A white rose in a plot of daisies holds its petals tight
The ocean waves crash down, and the rose loses its petals in the night
These are the stressful nights behind locked doors, when I’m out of sight

Who will fix me now?
I’m exposed; I’ll tell you how
My dreams float on clouds of smoke and then pow!
I’m disrupted from my internal tragedy and I take a vow

Step inside my ring
Where I can’t hear a thing
Water to my eyes it brings
“Everything’s not alright,” the silence sings

Dark colors trap me with their grasp as the moon, again, begins to glow
There’s a cataclysm in the silence of the snow
Look what I found, the stem of the white rose! What do you know?
Growing with the moonlight, ready to provoke the ocean: its foe

After the rose’s drastic decay,
The rose thought to itself, “You’ll be okay.
The battle will go on another day.
The ocean will eventually lose the fight to his dismay.

Don’t you see? This rose will never surrender
The ocean’s just an outrageous bully, the ultimate pretender
Take the waves and return to sender
The sea won’t be my story ender.”


Rachel Tallon


Doaa Al Zamel and her fiancé, Bassem, were Syrian refugees living in Egypt who sailed across the Mediterranean Sea in a smuggler’s boat to pursue a better life in Europe.  Tragedy struck when pirates damaged the vessel and the boat sank, claiming nearly 500 lives, including Bassem’s.  After four days, Doaa became one of the eleven survivors, but only because she was determined to save two little girls who had been given to her when their families drowned.


Thousands of kilometers, over borders and
starving for salvation, life calls us to escape,
Save your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and lovers.
Save your humanity, your soul, yourself.

Men and women scared of our reality become deaf
when we wail of injustice.  Mothers mourn for
yesterdays, fathers fight for tomorrows,
and their children persist in the present.

We are the side effects of war.
Waves leave salty licks between
the cracks in parched skin and
slaps the blistering plastic saving
one, two, three lives from a temperamental tomb.

Faces of men, women, and children
fall under the watery curtain,
then bob up with wide eyes because
death deceives the weary with false peace.

Eleven of us know the harrowing tale
that transformed survivors of turmoil
into victims of tragedy, rescued from war
only to be butchered by liberation.

My girls, strangers until trial and tribulation
pushed little bundles of saviors into my arms,
were my debt to life to forgive my fiancé
and me for marrying inside our peoples’ grave.

Three Poems by Michael Oakes

Being Misled

When he was young he wanted to be like The Flash.
Quick. Agile. Unseen.
He could just run away from whatever was bothering him.
Just like his Dad did.

As he grew older he wanted to be like The Hulk.
Strong. Fierce. Larger than life.
Anything that bothered him he could destroy or abuse.
Just like his Mom.

As a teen he wanted to be Superman.
Incredible. Superhuman. Looked up to.
He wanted to be bulletproof.
Unlike his sister.

Now he just wants to be normal.
Quiet. Hard-working. Blending in.
No abandonment. No abuse.
He needed a Hero.



This Poem is Not an Apology

Be a storm chaser.
Fear not the consequences of your crazy conquest,
Target the terrifying tornado and thunder,
Wrestle with the wild whirlwind you’ve wrought.

Be like a hurricane hunter.
Stand inside the storm surge,
Let the water wail away on your skin,
Be free of the frightening fear.

Be an avalanche adventurer
Scratch the surface of the snowy lake,
Decide to dive into the depths
Dig deep and dare to deal with the cold,
Find peace in this perpetually polar place.

Act like…
No. Fuck that –
Be the storm.
Be the best blizzard.
Move much like a mudslide
Spring like a surging tsunami.
Hit harder than hail.
Flow free like a flood.
Be you.
Be alive.



Round 1
His overconfidence may cost,
but he doesn’t think ahead.
He hears his name.
“The Kid.”
Ecstatic cheers proceed to feed his ego.
Bell rings.
He’s dancing, he’s dodging,
he’s got this, hands down.
Couple jabs, couple hooks.
He can taste the win.

Round 2
His overconfidence is evident,
but he won’t think ahead.
He hears the count,
“Three, four.”
His opponent getting up damages his ego.
Keep going.
He’s punching, he’s punishing.
Opponent won’t back down, hands up.
A few strikes, a few connect.
He can taste his sweat.

Round 3
His overconfidence is waning,
but he’s trying to think ahead.
He hears his coach.
“Get up!”
The mat cracks his ego.
Skull pounding.
He’s dragging, he’s sluggish.
He can’t keep his hands up.
A bunch of regret, a bunch of uppercuts.
He can taste his own blood.

Round 4
His confidence is gone,
and he can’t think at all.
He hears his opponent.
“Stay down!”
His ego is eviscerated.
Knocked out.
He’s done, he’s down.
His hands are the least of his worries.
He feels the disappointment, he feels every jeer.
“The Kid” is broken.

Tempus Fugit

Brendan Lukomski


Time is the enemy of us all, and I only wish to be freed of it.

I am often left floored by the fickle nature of time. We are constantly reminded that time flies so we may savor every moment. However, to those in the midst of greatest distress, when their lives are a variable in an unsolved equation, time slows, and they would be able to testify that the mind has the remarkable ability of turning mere moments into a lifetime of thought.

So which is it, as both can’t be true?

As an FBI agent, you’d think I’d have a better grasp on time. But if there is anything I have learned in my twelve years as an agent is that as soon as you believe you have something figured out, the world decides to turn everything you thought you knew on its head. Even with something as certain as time; the minute you believe you have it all is the minute you lose everything.

In many ways, time is a trap. It traps us in our memories, many of which are sooner left forgotten, but we have no choice. Memories are what give our life, purpose, whether for better or for worse. And if sheer number of memories equates to purpose, then my life had purpose.  My adventures through the years had become stuff of legend, and the occupants of many cells can thank me for their incarceration. Maybe I think a bit highly of myself but speak the name Nicholas Blackwell in any federal prison and I guarantee you’ll find at least one inmate who owes their current living arrangement to me.

One tends to collect a fair share of memories from such expeditions, and I am no exception. Rather than set each case down at its conclusion, however, I like to thrive in their memory. It is no stretch for me to instantly call upon the minutest of details, reliving the cases which always seemed to leave me with a renewed sense of determination and pride in my work.

Now, I want nothing more than to be freed of them.

But I know I have no choice. Time is a fickle mistress, after all, who repays all debts.

I can feel the memories, flickering just beyond my conscious gaze, vying for my attention, but I won’t let them. I can’t let them.

Too late, I realize there is nothing, no willpower I can possibly muster, which will stay their approach. They burst forth, all hoping to provide an answer to a question I have not yet learned to ask. Suddenly, the target is set. One memory stands out among the rest. I know what it will show me, which is why I struggle against it, but in vain.

In an instant, I am taken back.

Back to the beginning.


“The way I look at it is either you love her or you hate her. There is no middle ground.”

“Now isn’t that a comforting thought?” Nicholas Blackwell replied sarcastically. “So, either I’ll love my partner, or I’ll hate her guts. Thank you for such a motivational pep talk, Hudson.”

Hudson’s face reddened. “I’m not saying she’s a bad person. I love Judy, but she can be a bit of an acquired taste.”

Blackwell rubbed his eyes and sighed as the pair made their way down the hall. All he was looking for was a little inspirational pep talk on his first day at the FBI, but instead, he got Hudson adding one more anxiety to the ever-increasing pile. He hadn’t known Hudson long, but he could already tell he failed to grasp the concept behind “little white lies”.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me about her, Hudson? From everything you’ve told me so far, I feel an involuntary urge to turn and run away.”

“Well…” Hudson began, hesitating slightly. “I process all the recruiting paperwork for the office, and I know for a fact you’re the first newbie who she has ever taken on. It could mean she sees something in you that she didn’t see in the rest.”

“Oh good. No pressure,” Blackwell said with a sigh. Hudson had tried, but even his attempts at instilling confidence in him only dragged him down lower. Receiving his first assignment would be stressful enough. Getting assigned to a legend like Judy Hanchon made it worse and having someone like Hudson around to give him all the wrong details didn’t make it any better.

He was assigned to Judy Hanchon. Even thinking about it now incited butterflies within him. At the academy, you couldn’t go ten minutes without hearing about her. Every professor loved her to this day, and she was at the top of every classroom she entered. Even though she was only a graduate of three years, you would be forgiven for thinking her reputation made her a seasoned veteran, and not a relative newcomer like himself. The very fact she was a newcomer made her even more of an inspiration, and a key role model throughout his time at the academy.

Many expected her to be offered a director’s chair as soon as she crossed the stage at graduation.  However, Judy chose a different life.

Giving up her promised seat of power, she chose the life of a field agent. Many wondered why, but she never offered an explanation, probably because she didn’t feel she owed them one. And from talking to Hudson, it was clear to Blackwell that there was much to learn about Ms. Hanchon that was kept from even those closest to her.

Hudson stopped walking. “Here we are,” he stated simply.

“The firing range?” Blackwell questioned, raising an eyebrow at the door they had stopped in front of. “I thought you were going to introduce me to Judy.”

“I am,” Hudson said. “When Judy’s not in the field, she’s either at her desk or the firing range. I chose the more likely of the two.”

“More likely of the two?” Blackwell repeated skeptically.

“You’ll see,” Hudson said with a smile. He opened the door, holding it as he motioned for Blackwell. The pair entered, emerging in an observation area which flanked the shooting range.

“Come on,” Hudson said, motioning forward. They entered the range, and Hudson immediately took the lead. Walking forward, he tapped a young woman on the shoulder. “Shooting well?”

“What?!” Judy said loudly, turning to face him. Hudson flinched slightly at her outburst, then motioned for her to remove her earplugs. Judy blushed slightly before doing just that.

With everything Blackwell had heard about Judy, he’d expected someone a bit more formidable. Someone physically intimidating, perhaps, or someone who could make people cower with a single flash of their gaze. What Blackwell got was neither of those things.

Judy was not physically strong, nor was she intimidating. She wouldn’t stick out in a crowd because there really wasn’t anything unusual about her. The only thing which really stuck out to Blackwell was her eyes. There was a kindness in them which was quite uncharacteristic of an FBI agent.

“What did you say, Hudson?” Judy asked in a much softer voice.

“I asked if you are shooting well,” Hudson replied.

Judy smiled. “Why don’t you be the judge of that?”

The targets at the far end of the range suddenly flew back across the room, riding on pneumatic hooks attached to the ceiling. When the target, which was a human silhouette, finally came to a stop, Blackwell’s draw dropped. He couldn’t tell how many shots she had taken, mostly because they had all formed a hole about the size of a quarter in the target. A hole located right over the heart.

“Now you’re just showing off,” Hudson said, seeing the target. “How many shots was that?”

“Ten altogether,” Judy replied. “One of them is a bit to the right though.”

Hudson scoffed. “Bit to the right,” he muttered. “Most agents would kill for a pattern like that.”

“I just know I can do better,” she said, examining her target with a longing look in her eye. Though some may see it as a conceited, Blackwell had the impression Judy was completely serious.

Seeming to remember why he was there in the first place, Hudson turned to Blackwell. “Judy, allow me to introduce Nicholas Blackwell. He’s…”

“My new partner,” Judy finished. “Nice to meet you, Nicholas.” She extended a hand, to which Blackwell hurried to shake.

“It’s a pleasure, ma’am,” Blackwell stammered, suddenly flustered. He didn’t know why he was suddenly so nervous but meeting his role model probably had something to do with it.

“Ma’am?” Judy scoffed, feigning offense. “How old do you think I am?”

“Again, with the quips?” Hudson muttered, leaning against the wall. Blackwell could think of nothing to do but chuckle nervously.

Judy rolled her eyes. “Quips give me life Hudson. You of all people should know this by now.” Returning her gaze to Blackwell, she smiled. “I’m just messing with you Blackwell. There’s no need to look so nervous.” She gave him a gentle jap in the shoulder. “Welcome to the FBI.”


Why did I believe this would be easy? Why did I believe time would let me slip quietly into history? But no. Time never forgives, and time never forgets.

My first meeting with Judy Hanchon would go down as the most significant event of my life, and for good reason. That day not only marked the start of our partnership, which would see us grow to become one of the best duos in FBI history, but it also began a lifelong friendship, a friendship which would grow to become more than mere coworkers.

I once looked back on the memory fondly. Now, it only brings pain, sadness, and grief.

The memories continue to swim in my mind, giving me glimpses of the past. I can feel their desire, their manic lust to provide me with answers before it’s too late. I only wish I knew the question.

With sudden vigor, my mind locks onto a memory, bringing it forth to the forefront of my conscious gaze. I struggle against it, but it is no use.

My strength is beginning to wane.




“You’re doing it again, and I won’t let us take my car next time if you keep it up. It’s a lease, you know.”

Still leaning up against the driver side door, he glanced down. A deep gash was visible in the car door, carved by the key laying in Blackwell’s outstretched hand. Any other day, he might have cared. This was not one of those days.

Judy sighed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Talk about what?” Blackwell replied with a forced laugh. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

“The car door would tell me otherwise.”

Blackwell, suddenly caught up in a wave of emotion, sat up and slammed his hand against the steering wheel. “Why are we even here Judy?!”

“That is the big question, isn’t it?” Judy replied, leaning back in her seat. “Why are any of us here? What is the meaning of life?”

Blackwell frowned, clearly not amused.

“You mean why are we staking out this warehouse?” she began again. “I was under the impression it was to make the world a better place and to combat the forces of darkness. Isn’t that our mission as FBI agents?”

“Yes, but why are we here, and not back in Washington?” Blackwell replied forcefully. “Any newbie can run a stakeout. There are real cases back in Washington which need us!”

“Real cases? In other words, your sister.”

Blackwell opened his mouth, but no words came out. Silently, he leaned back against the door and continued staring blankly off into nothing.

“Melissa was a good friend to me,” Judy continued, placing a hand on Blackwell’s shoulder. “I want her killer to be caught just as much as you do, but that doesn’t mean we have to be the ones doing the catching.”

“And why not?” Blackwell spat, causing Judy to jump back in surprise. “She was my sister! I don’t just have a right to catch this freak, I have the only right! If the director, Jackson, or anyone else thinks otherwise, they can tell it to my face and not stick me in some mundane task just to get me out of the way!” Blackwell took a deep breath, then said in a slightly calmer voice. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Then help me to,” Judy replied, leaning forward. “Jackson only has your best interest in mind. He’s the assistant director, and it’s his job to take you off the case if he thinks your judgement could be impaired. More than that, he’s your friend, and he doesn’t want to see you get hurt.”

“If he was such a good friend, he would leave me on the case,” Blackwell growled. “I don’t need protecting. I need to catch Melissa’s killer!”

“At what cost?”

“At any cost,” Blackwell replied, breathing heavily. His sudden outburst had brought the events of the past few days into sharper focus. For the past few weeks, Blackwell and Judy had been investigating several serial killings in the Washington DC area. As the pair worked the cases behind the scenes, Blackwell’s sister, Melissa, covered the cases in the public eye from her position at a local news station. Unfortunately, her publicizing of the killings seemed to have made her a target and led to her brutal slaying just a few days prior.

“Do you remember the Zerio case?” Judy asked.

“What?” Blackwell questioned, caught off guard by Judy’s sudden inquiry.

“The Zerio case,” she continued. “It was the first major case we ever worked on together. Remember, with the Soviet implants?”

“I remember,” Blackwell stated. Zerio was a former Soviet implant who was left in the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union. The pair eventually managed to track down Zerio, who had put forward former Soviet assets to fund the drug trade and grow his own power, but only after several murders, including a fellow agent. The case had left a black mark on the FBI and the utterance of the simple name still managed to create an air of unease whenever it was mentioned.

“Do you remember what you told me during the case? I’d been avoiding you for days, and you had finally cornered me in church of all places. Do you remember what you said?”

The memory was called up without a moment’s hesitation. “I told you not to be afraid,” he began. “I said you weren’t alone, and that I was there for you.”

“You won my trust that day, which as you know, is not the easiest thing to do. Now, I have the opportunity to return the favor.” Judy reached out, gently placing her hand back on his shoulder. “You don’t have to be afraid, Nick. You aren’t alone in this. We’re not just friends, but family, and family looks out for one another.”

She had said the magic word: Nick. Judy always called him Blackwell, save for exceptional circumstances, that is. If she used his given name, he knew what was to follow would be sincere.

“Judy, I…”

“He’s here.”


“The target’s here!”

A few seconds later, after the statement was clearly processed, Blackwell’s head jerked up, just in time to see a man disappear into the warehouse.

“Wow,” Blackwell said in surprise. “I didn’t think he’d really show up. Of all the things organized crime is known for, punctuality is not one of them.”

“You ready?” Judy asked with a comforting smile.

“Born ready,” Blackwell confirmed.

The pair exited the car, unholstered their weapons, and proceeded across the street towards the warehouse. There was nothing unusual which would differentiate this warehouse from any other on the block, but Blackwell knew the truth. He knew that beyond its bland and unassuming exterior, there was an arms deal going on within. A rather insignificant arms deal in Blackwell’s opinion, and hardly worth their time, but a criminal act nonetheless.

Arriving at the front door, Judy turned to Blackwell. “Standard play. I’ll cover the back. You flush him out. Got it?”

“Got it,” Blackwell replied, needing no further explanation. It truly was their standard play, having been performed successfully dozens of times before. There was no reason to expect that this would be any different. The pair parted ways, and Blackwell watched as Judy disappeared around the building, gun at the ready. He would never get tired of seeing her in action.

Focusing on his own task, he entered the structure. The electricity had been cut to the building long ago, leaving the grime coated windows and Blackwell’s own flashlight the only remaining sources of light. Though moving quietly to avoid detection, he still couldn’t hear anything from the facility’s interior to suggest anyone was inside. This fact alone caused Blackwell to tighten the grip on his firearm. He cleared the ground floor quickly, then with only the slightest hesitation, made his way quietly downstairs. He had barely cleared the bottom step before he heard footsteps echoing on the cold concrete just ahead.

“FBI!” He roared, bringing his gun up, followed quickly behind by the beam of his flashlight. “Get on the ground!”

A deep laugh answered from the shadows, followed quickly by the appearance of a tall man, seeming to materialize from the darkness itself. Though his hand obscured most of his face, put up to block the blinding light, Blackwell recognized him with ease.

“Make a move Ivan,” Blackwell growled, his finger hovering dangerously close to the trigger. “I would love an excuse to put a bullet through your head.”

“Why Agent, is that any way to act?” Ivan drawled, lowering his hand.

“It’s probably appropriate,” Blackwell replied. “After everything you’ve done, I doubt many would be sad to see you go. I might actually throw a party.”

“If someone cannot accept that there are people out there that want them dead, then maybe the business of crime isn’t for them.” Ivan admitted, taking a step closer. “I’ve accepted it, and you clearly have as well Agent. When you think about it, we’re not so different, you and I.”

“Not so different?” Blackwell questioned sarcastically. “If you kill me, it’s murder. If I kill you, I’m lauded a hero. How’s that for different?”

“Each side has its advantages. You have the law at your back, and I don’t have it slowing me down,” Ivan said, taking another step forward. Blackwell’s gun tracked him as he went, but no shot followed. A tense silence fell upon the pair as the stared each other down, daring each to make the next more. A cruel smile began to emerge upon Ivan’s features when Blackwell made none. “I’m glad you’re here: alone. Just the two of us together. No one else to sway you.”

“Keep talking,” Blackwell snorted. “All you’re buying is time.”

“You’ll be the judge of that, Agent Blackwell,” Ivan said with a smile, which only served to enhance Blackwell’s reservations.

“How do you know my name?” he inquired, unable to stay his curiosity.

“Oh, I know all about you Blackwell. Information is control, after all. Money and weapons may give the illusion of power, but true power comes from nothing other than knowledge.” Ivan said. “For example, I knew you were outside this facility since seven o’clock this morning, and I knew you would enter through the front while your partner staked out the back. It is your signature play, is it not?”

Blackwell’s gun wavered slightly, caught off guard by Ivan’s sudden show of knowledge. “You knew we were here?”

“Yes, and don’t worry. My associate is occupying your partner so she won’t interrupt us.”

“If anything happens to her Ivan…” Blackwell began, his voice turning sinister, letting Ivan know his threats were far from empty.

“I said not to worry Blackwell,” Ivan reassured. “I don’t wish to see you or your partner on a metal slab. You’re far too valuable for that.”

“What game are you playing?” Blackwell asked, his focus wavering for only a moment. “Stronger men then you have tried to throw me off, and none have succeeded yet.”

“That was not my intention, Agent. All I wish is to speak to you.” Ivan replied, his voice displaying a calmness that was greatly out of character for such a tense situation. “I’ve been following your career for quite some time, and I must consider myself impressed. However, I didn’t bring you here today to sing your praises. I brought you here to offer you a choice.”

“Brought me here?” Blackwell uttered, clearly caught off guard. “You didn’t bring me here. The FBI sent us here to bust a low-level arms deal that…”

“What you’re describing is a story I created and helped to perpetuate. Try to keep up Agent, as we have little time.” Ivan took a step closer. “It has come to my attention your sister was recently murdered. This saddens me to hear, as I was under the impression you two were fairly close.”

Blackwell visibly flinched. “How do you know about that?” He stammered, his tone suddenly rising. “What do you want?!”

“I told you already Agent. I want to offer you a choice,” Ivan began. “My line of work gives me the privilege of knowing information often kept hidden from the public eye. For instance, I know who killed your sister, and I am willing to tell you.”

“You know who it was?” Blackwell whispered, his voice eerily quiet as the weight of what Ivan was offering sunk in. “Why would you tell me?”

“Serial killers are bad for business. I deal in control, and they can’t be controlled. I would have had my men deal with the killer eventually, but I think it’s in both of our best interests for me to tell the name to you, then you can go apprehend the killer.” Ivan shrugged. “Or don’t. I’m not one to judge.”

Blackwell hesitated. “What do you want in return?”

“You’re quick. I like that,” Ivan replied with a small grin. “I merely want a small favor. I need a file buried deep in the annals of the FBI. No one would bat an eye if it suddenly vanished.”

Blackwell didn’t know what to think. On one hand, this man was a criminal, and represented everything he had come to hate about the world. There was nothing which could justify Blackwell siding with such a monster.

However, would the ends justify the means? Blackwell knew as well as anyone that this killer was good, and that they were no closer to catching him now as they were two weeks prior. And as long as Jackson held the assistant director’s chair, there was no way he would be assigned back to the case. If Ivan truly knew who the killer was, it could be his only chance to get his revenge.

Judy’s voice echoed down from upstairs. “Blackwell! Are you okay down there?”

“Time is key to a murder investigation,” Ivan said. “This information may not be around for long.”

Blackwell had made many mistakes in his life, but it was this very moment that he would spend the rest of his life regretting.

Blackwell lowered his weapon. “All clear,” he called out.


Ivan contacted me a short while later.

How he found me, I don’t know, nor do I care to find out. Despite the deepest desires of my heart, he never stayed away for long.

Ivan has his hooks in me, and nothing save for a miracle would pry them out. True to his word, Ivan provided the name. I didn’t realize it then while I was consumed with vengeance, but Ivan had laid a trap, and I, being the fool I am, fell right into it.

The first time Ivan called, I had the thought of my sister to sustain me. Information was all Ivan required, mainly files and documents, and though I was certainly acting on the wrong side of the law, I did what was instructed of me. The second time Ivan called, I succeeded again, thinking my debt had finally been repaid. By the time of the third call, I knew the relationship was not meant to be temporary.

I am powerless. I suppose I overlooked that small detail while I was consumed with vengeance, but it makes all the difference now. Ivan holds all the strength in our deal, and I can do nothing but comply with his wishes, or risk being revealed for what I truly am.

What am I? Despite every deed Ivan has forced me to commit over the years, it is this one question which has caused me more distress than all of them combined.

The passing years only bore this question deeper, and I suppose it is safe to say I lost myself along the path to an answer.

A federal agent by day. A hero of the country who represents all that society should strive for. The epitome of courage and strength. The moral center of a nation who keeps all from falling into darkness.

But what by night? A criminal. Even worse: a traitor. A mole within the Bureau itself. A passer of information to those who hold no ethics and who bring down society with their actions.

These conflicting halves of my personality seemed to fuel my own abounding insecurities. I’m not sure when Judy found out, but I shouldn’t have been surprised when she did. If there was anyone who could read my every thought, it was her. Personally, I don’t believe I want to know the exact details of when and how she found out. I will not have my memories of her soiled with the thought that she knew, deep down, who I really was.

Who I really was; I finally have an answer. The question has been without one for so many years, it’s almost appropriate that it be answered now.

I can’t be both the hero and the villain. I am no dark angel. I am a dirty cop, and nothing more.

Perhaps that’s the question that time is helping me to answer. How did I get here, about to die at the hands of a friend?

I suppose it could be seen as poetic to some.

I really don’t see it.


“Judy,” Blackwell asked hesitantly. “What are you doing?”

With a telltale click, the door was locked. Blackwell silently cursed himself. He should have known there was more to their little excursion into the backroom than just a discussion on the case.

“I could ask you the same question,” Judy said, her voice growing frighteningly icy. “What are you doing, Nick?”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Blackwell replied, apprehension clearly evident in his voice.

“Oh really?” Judy scoffed. “I’m smarter than you give me credit for, you know.”

“Judy calm down,” Blackwell said, inching closer. “Are you sure the stress of the case isn’t getting to you…”

“Save the act!” she cried out, her voice rising higher with each passing moment, catching Blackwell off-guard. “You may be able to lie to Jackson, but you can’t lie to me! After everything we’ve been through! After everything we’ve done, you threw it all away!”

“Judy, what are you…”

“You’re the mole, Nick!” she cried out, all composure now lost. “I’ve been trying to ignore it for a long time now, hoping I was wrong, but I can’t any longer. This whole case you’ve been acting like you wanted to track down the mole when it was really you all along! I hate myself for not accepting it sooner!”

“I can explain…” Blackwell began, trying in desperation to save the life which was now crashing down around him.

“Save your words,” Judy spat, tears now beginning to flow down her face. “They won’t make any difference to me.”

“Judy, you don’t understand,” Blackwell cried. “Ivan made me do it. He has a hold on me, and I can’t shake him. I’ve tried everything, and it’s impossible!”

“I understand plenty,” Judy said, wiping the tears from her eyes. Turning away, she made for the door. Stopping when she reached it, she turned around to look at the remains of what was once her friend. “I don’t think you ever loved me at all.”

With that to part them, Judy stormed from the room, leaving Blackwell’s shattered world behind her.


I now know the question.

Our final moments are not spent in solace, regretting our past and dreading the unknown. Our final moments aid in answering the question as old as time itself: what gave my life purpose?

My life had purpose, but it wasn’t due to the sheer number of my memories. My purpose was decided from the moment I became an FBI agent. It was decided from the onset of my first case.

It was decided when I fell in love with Judy Hanchon.

I know now what gave my life purpose. I only wish I could have figured it out sooner.


It was unknown to Blackwell how much time had passed, standing alone in Hudson’s office, until his phone buzzed in his pocket. He extracted it, only to find an unknown number at the receiving end. Hesitantly, he answered.

“Hello?” Blackwell croaked.

“You have failed me Blackwell,” came Ivan’s voice. “I left her alive as a service to you, under the condition she be left in the dark. It seems you could not succeed, even in that.”

Blackwell’s heart froze at his words. “It’s not what you think!” he cried in desperation.

“I’m sure it’s not,” he jeered back. “Did you honestly believe you were my only informant in the FBI? I have informants everywhere Blackwell. Ones who are much more loyal than you.”

If Blackwell didn’t know how to respond to this sudden revelation, there was nothing that could prepare him for what was to come.

“I hope your final words were heartfelt Blackwell.”

The phone hadn’t even touched the ground when Blackwell ran from the room.


In many ways, time is a trap.

It traps us in the memories we would sooner forget, letting us linger on the mistakes which have been made.

But in other ways, the more important ways, time gives us a choice. We can choose to be brought down by our past, or we can choose to let it go, and shape a new future.

I chose poorly. I only wish I could have chosen differently.


“Judy!” Blackwell cried out upon leaving the room. Too late, he saw her down the hall, entering the elevator, unaware of how much danger she was in.

Blackwell tore after her, but it was too late. When he arrived at the elevator, it had been long closed, and had descended all the way to the bottom floor: the parking garage.

Blackwell didn’t have time to wait for its return journey. He chose the stairs, flying down them three at a time. Nothing entered his mind save for Judy, and keeping her safe.


As an FBI agent, you’d think I’d have a better grasp on time.

My profession has surrounded me with death to the point that I forget about its inevitability. I have become desensitized to time, and took it for granted for too long.

We all have a set time. Time is not the enemy, for it is ourselves, and how we choose to treat our allotted amount. We know not when, or how it will come to pass, but it is always there. It creeps closer with every passing second, and nothing will stop its advance.

We often forget this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I suppose this wisdom is only bestowed in our final moments. If it was known to all, it could change the world.

I know how I chose to use my days. I only wish I could have used them better.


Though his footfalls made it difficult, Blackwell was still able to hear the echoing voices coming from the bottom of the stairwell.

“It’s nothing personal Judy. Blackwell failed, and he has to pay the price. I know you would do the same thing in my position.”

“Say whatever you have to in order to justify yourself,” Judy answered. “But it doesn’t make it true.”

“I really am sorry.”

Blackwell recognized the second voice, but it wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be possible.

His pace quickened.


I am often left floored by the fickle nature of time.

One minute, it is speeding past, and the next, it hesitates to pass at all.

It is quite amazing, the world with an absence of time. Pity we only learn to see it this way at the end, when we no longer have a choice but to examine and regret our past choices.

But maybe we do have a choice. A choice to accept there is evil in this world, but there is also good. We all have both inside us, but it is what we choose to act on which dictates our lives and our legacy.

I lost sight of this somewhere along the way. I only wish I had the chance to change.


Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Blackwell processed the scene in a moment’s glance.

Hudson had Judy at gunpoint, having caught her before she could draw her weapon. They were staring intently at one another, and Blackwell knew no action of his would incite pause.

His course, and fate, was now clear. He ran towards Judy and jumped.

Time slowed to a halt as Blackwell’s life passed before him in a moment, but only a moment.


Time is a gift to us all. I only wish I had more of it.



You Were There

Elizabeth ‘Lizziegh’ Enos


You were there
when time stopped.

And I held you in my arms,
gazing into deep pools of black tea,
my light, my reason for fighting – for being,
fading, as though clouds rushed in
covering my sun
hearing the beats of your heart
counting away the precious seconds
as though someone forgot to wind it

and then,
it stopped.

Tea-colored eyes
cooled and solidified
and the light was gone
the warmth stole from your body
and mine froze with yours.
You were gone.

How long did we sit there
among the torn and broken bodies
on that blood-soaked, war-ravaged ground?
How long did I sit alone
holding what remained of you?
Hands still laid over the gash in your chest
the horrid wound
I gave you.

There were no more seconds left to count
but if I moved, I would shatter.

And I missed you

Time stood still
even as it rushed forward
off into the distance
to the future –
a concept now devoid of meaning –

Swan of Blood

Alexia Whisler


A horizon stained with smoke
swirling from wings devoted
to choosers of the slain.

The gnawing of shields
has ended, and you
glide above war torn terrain
observing perished
warriors becoming chosen.

Screams of near death
quiver your black feathers
of those maimed
slipping their grip on
their dispatched souls.

Favored dead delivered
to the great hall
Valhalla, to feast
to fight, forever.

Your feast
bath of blood
yet remain of those
soaking the soil
empty of their souls.

You join a flock
those bearing the same
black pearl eyes
the same instinct
remains of death
to pick, to pluck
to plunder.

You, Raven
Swan of Blood
sink your talons in flesh
and feast on those
left behind by Valkyries
and clear the sea of blood.

The Wall

Leah Mockridge


Domestic destruction
People are breathing their last breaths
But we will call it
“Civilian casualty”

Bullets ringing like bells through the air
Bones cracking like the whips we have “long since” retired

A terrorist without the skin tone
Or the turban
Is called

We keep the death toll
Like keeping score

Pointing fingers
But never at home team

The flag is colored
Red with our blood
White like our hateful pride
And blue like our sorrow

And yet you boo when people kneel
Seeing them pushed down by the weight of the injustices we perpetuate
Pisses you off

Because people died for that flag
Like the unnamed slaves-turned-soldiers
Who never had a choice when bullets littered their backs
Dying for a country they didn’t ask to be in

The taking knees
Doesn’t honor that proud history
It doesn’t fit the status quo
The picture of
America the brave
And home of the free(d)

The freedom of speech
Our favorite card to play
Until someone has something important to say

So build the wall ten feet higher

We gave children dreams
now we ship back the dreamers
To a land they never dreamt of

Ten feet higher

We shot unarmed kids in the back
Blaming the bullet
Not the blue who pulled the trigger

Ten feet higher

We marched with swastikas held high
Neo Nazi
No, sorry
“White Pride”

Ten feet higher

Add a foot for every black life that didn’t matter enough
Add a foot for every white rapist that walked free
Add a foot for every family ripped apart
Add a foot for every terrorist that came from inside this country
Add a foot for every hate crime left unnoticed
Add a foot for every transgender person who can no longer serve
Add a foot for every life we could’ve saved in Puerto Rico
Add a foot for all the injustices that will never be addressed

Red with blood
The flag is red with the blood we wiped from our hands.

Pay attention
Be aware
Be angry

To the Person Who Gets to Love Her

MaKaila Marrison


To the person who gets to hold her hand,
She wears a feather ring for good luck.
It is a symbol of love and of hope.
I was with her when she bought it.

To the person who gets to comfort her,
She loves cuddly stuffed animals.
Buy her panda bears, elephants and foxes.
These little gestures will make her happy.

To the person who gets to make her laugh,
The sound could end all wars.
You will never want it to stop.
She loves cheesy, predictable jokes.

To the person who gets to hug her,
Her arms represent safety and home.
They are the cure to every sad thought.
Hold on tight and do not ever let go.

To the person who gets to meet her pets,
Her dog likes to steal her pillows.
Suki, the little gray cat, is her favorite.
She wants to help every stray she finds.

To the person who gets to move in with her,
She can’t cook, not even frozen pizzas.
Her favorite food is Chipotle Burrito Bowls.
She forgets to check when the milk expires.

To the person who gets to be with her,
Take care of her heart and her soul.
You are lucky to have been her choice.
Love her with everything that you are.


Old Southern Man

Daraka Hudecek


The tattered rebel flag waves in the wind,
as a way of pulling me into comfort.
He’s always there. Always there in his easy chair
or digging ‘taters in the garden, Old Southern Man.

Darkness comes. A panicked voice on the line
follows with the news. He’s gone. Papa’s gone.
Stillness in that easy chair. Death fills the room.
It’s surreal as I say goodbye.

Cold, rough, hard-workin’ hands on display
for the very last time. Hard and calloused, bruises
under the skin. Leather fingers takin’
their final bow in this act.

At least until the trumpet sounds and we meet again.
Cowboy shirts all left behind.
Smells still there. Inhale deeply. It won’t last.
Remnants of soil, spices, and mint.

The leaves are changin’ from greens to reds.
And making a carpet of colors on the grass.
That tattered rebel flag is gone.
Old Southern Man is gone. ‘Til the trumpet sounds.

Reunited at last.

A Very Brief Tale of a Most Unfortunate Fate

Genevieve Smith


The Wallstadt Boarding House was the greatest excuse of a shack that had ever marred the reputable art of architecture. An eyesore upon conception, and now an utter monolith of artless procrastination, the building huddled itself at the edges of Pointe Abbaye. Its continued tenacity to remain upright and general will to live were as improbable as its placement at the uncanny crossroad of Third Street and Third Avenue (an intersection which flummoxed generations of postal workers to no end). The building’s two stories were clearly abandoned in their rough draft form, and a well-rusted fire escape haphazardly cleaved to the exterior, connecting the two levels like the big sorts of cracks which sidle their way across antiquated china dishes (although the building was more the color of neglected pewter plates and had the insidious air to match).

In fact, the whole building looked as if it might have been dropped from a great height and then kicked an equal distance, although, this theory was quickly discounted, as Caelia reasoned that such a structure could only have arrived in a single direction – an ascent from Hell, that is – and further reasoned that even a mediocre kick was all the place needed to fall back into its constituent building supplies and make a Pompeii-style lumber yard right there on its fateful corner.

The sight was enough to call for a fresh cigarette. Caelia produced her pack of Lucky Strikes from her coat pocket and checked the address she’d scrawled on the side before she left home. Correction: before she left for home. Yes, this was indeed 3174 Third Avenue. This was certainly Pointe Abbaye, most assuredly New Jersey, indisputably America, most definitely Earth, and she was positively overdressed in a red wool coat and fine leather luggage. She had been allotted only a single bag, although, with H.J. Cave & Sons stamped to the exterior, even a humble handbag would be considered an extravagance in the present situation. She was not certain, however, at what point her luck had been left out to rot in the suns of fate.

This was the scene in the novel where the heroine would mutter to herself some husky sort of utterance, something darkly funny to cement the situation as a major turn of events yet reflect her inner gumption which would triumph over all that impedes her precarious path. The letter she’d received last night informed her that she was to board the train to Pointe Abbaye in order to meet her biological father. Wallstadt, apparently, was the dwelling of such an anonymous fellow. When Caelia opened her mouth to greet this plot twist however, all she could do was exhale an: “Oh, heavens.”

And just as the words left her mouth, ephemeral offerings into the descending twilight, a voice strangled the silence beside her.

“Paradise is just the word for it.”

She startled, dropping her cigarette and modifying her previous statement to an “oh, hell” as a man turned to face her.

“Need a light?” he asked.

“No, but perhaps a knife. Who are you?”

He took a step closer and slipped his gangly arm about her waist like an over-starched sash. “Don’t mind that ‘w’ there on the sign. I know it looks like it should be said Wall-Stat, but in actuality it really is Vallstadt with a ‘v’. Probably French or somethin’. They’re always spelling their words real funny.” His voice cascaded down the evening like a smooth swig of southern bourbon and drawled and twanged like the music of a banjo player who couldn’t tune the D strings quite right. “Only place in town where you can have a family of eight living for just a sawbuck every month.”

“And you are?” Caelia turned out of his arm, fairly certain it was a dance move she’d seen back at the Cotton Club when she and Charles had snuck out of the house that time Dad was off on business in London, Paris, or some other postcard-worthy place. After catching the two of them roller skating in the marble lobby, the cantankerous Franz had reprimanded them and told them to go chase themselves, and they did, all the way to the city in the new Cadillac to see Cab Calloway perform. She had worn a red silk dress and she remembered the way the glitter ball had reflected each ambient light from the outskirts of the room and made the whole club glow by the light of a thousand manmade fireflies.

“ ‘Sorry for being so forward there, ma’am,” the man removed his flat cap – a grand sweep whose effect only partially compensated the grime of the hat – and placed it over his heart as if he were introducing the one and only McKinney’s Cotton Pickers to the bandstand. “The name’s Thackeray James. Thackeray James, aged 20 years of Pointe Abbaye, New Jersey. Saw you standing here on yonder corner and that pretty smile of yours made me clear forget my head.”

“I can assure you, Strange Man of Uncomfortable Proximity,” Caelia said, maintaining a set distance from him as if he were a magnet of opposing force each time he encroached. “I was not smiling.” She shifted her suitcase to another hand. “And I must say, you’re the most southern New Englander I’ve ever met.”

“Naw, ma’am,” he said. “That’s what you’d call my affectation, you see. Makes me more refined and what’s the word…” He looked skyward for a moment as he took inventory of his lean-to of a vocabulary and thoughtfully stroked the stubble which made his chin look like a prickly pear cactus which never saw sunlight. He snapped his fingers. “Debonair! Real debonair. Anyways…” he continued, his intrepidness in the face of his own ridiculousness almost a tad inspiring. Like Edison and the lightbulb, if, of course, Edison had used his creative genius for generally creepy purposes. “I find that ladies take awful kindly to a southern gentleman – nearly swoon once I put my arm about their waist, whisper somethin’ ‘bout Atlanta and say that they’re prettier than magnolias in June. But, between you and me,” he leaned in. “It’s as real as you’d like it to be.”

“Well, Thack, I’m afraid my shoes have no tread for oil so refined.” By this point she’d taken a fresh cigarette and, blowing out the eager light offered by her companion, struck a match with one-handed finesse on its own box and taken a leisurely drag.

“Where are you from?” the staunch, self-appointed companion inquired.

“I’m from Carlton.” The smoky exhalation drifted forth from her lips and slowly danced itself to nothingness in partnership with the twilight.

“New Jersey?”

“Nope, Old Jersey. From the bottom of America’s hamper.” Any man who used an accent as a wingman and blew his own ruse couldn’t be too dangerous, she concluded. Not to mention, it was fairly indeterminable whether walking through the ominous door across the street and actually pursuing her destiny would be preferable to the possibility getting bumped off by a stranger on a street corner.

“That’s a pretty ritzy neighborhood, ain’t it?”


“Where you’re from.” He stooped to the ground and picked up a cigar butt from the gutter and lit it.

“Well…we have no Wallstadt boarding house, but…”

Carlton was a ritzy neighborhood, though on the surface it almost looked like a collection of movie stars got it into their heads one gin-fueled extravaganza to remodel a farming town into a patchwork of fields and neoclassical mansions. Carlton lacked the glitz and glamor of such places as Tinsel Town, but compensated for the lack in unprecedented opulence. It was a town comprised of upper-crusted misanthropes: top businessman (the few who somehow finagled themselves into success despite the present economic conditions), heirs and heiresses, two authors, and the east coast’s most beloved bootlegger, Phineas Francis Wayelin, or, as he was more fondly referred to, “Gin Phin,” and, more recently, “The Late Gin Phin.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m about four months short of turning 18.” Thackeray turned his eyes skyward and was overcome with a thoughtful look. “Save yourself the mental math,” Caelia said, as soon as fingers were employed in his figuring. “I’m 17.”

“You sure don’t act like you’re only just 17 years old.”

“Yes, well, I was raised to act older.”

“What brings you my way?”

“Bad luck, I’m afraid.”

Bad luck. Mourning. Incomplete legal documents. A shrewd stepbrother for whom jurisprudence was a cardinal virtue and whose flaming red hair seemed to be a true, outward manifestation of conflagratory temper.

“Ahh…know it well myself. You runnin’ away or somethin’?”

“No…I’m coming home.”

“So you had run away?”

“I’m returning to a place I never left.”

“I was going to say – I’m certain I’d never let a pretty face such as yours slip by without my discriminatin’ eye takin’ notice.” He stopped to ponder what she’d said. “You talk like a poem, you know that?”

“Thanks. You have your own brand of verse yourself –”

At this he removed his hat once more and bowed. “I’m mightily obliged.”

Perverse, but, anyways. If you’ll now excuse me,” she picked up her suitcase from where she’d deposited it upon the sidewalk somewhere amid their pointless conversation. It was a ponderous beast and an unpleasant compliment to her arm, which was less than sparsely muscled. “I’m obliged to meet my biological patriarch for the first time. It promises to be a momentous event, and I, the prodigal daughter, really shouldn’t be late. Goodbye, Thackery, and best of luck with the accent. Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

She tipped the brim of her cloche and promptly walked into the deserted street towards her destination. She had no sooner stepped from the curb when Thackeray was back, saying nothing this time, just bobbing along beside her.

“Sir, you’re making me long for my whistle.”

“I’m just goin’ home!” he defended himself.

She stopped and turned to him, thinking for a moment what a lovely movie poster that scene would make – the two characters standing there, the middle of the street, one whose glad rags appeared to be sourced from an actual rag bag, the other cloaked in red cashmere. The only stars in eyes that would take place, however, would be if she clocked him one right in the mandible, which not an altogether repulsive thought.

You live at Wallstadt?”

“Yes ma’am. That’s what I meant when I said earlier about the family of eight and the–”

“Oh,” Caelia muttered impatiently and continued on, no longer walking, but soldiering forth like a one-manned Light Brigade.

“You and me, we’re neighbors!”

“Wonderful. I’ll pass my Christmas fruitcakes on to you, then.”

“Your who?” the sound of leather-worn-to-parchment boots drummed the pavement beside her.

“If you wish to talk with me you’ll have to walk with me.”

“You said that you were gonna meet someone.”

“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’m meeting my father.” At this point, she was no longer stopping to chat. She simply kept her route, leaving him to dodge around her like a great minnow.

“How –?”

“Yes, it’s quite a little three volume novel. You see, I was orphaned when I was a baby, adopted at the age of seven and a half months, was subsequently orphaned once again when my adoptive father died, only to find out that I did in fact have a biological relative by the title of father who was living a contented little life here in Pointe Abbaye.”

“Say, wait a minute,” he stopped in front of her, obstructing her path and putting his hands on his shoulders. “You said you were from Carlton, right?”

“Now you’re on the trolley, ‘ole boy.”

“Well, I’ll be dammed as the Colorado River!” he threw his hat on the ground with triumphant enthusiasm and threw his arms out as if he were employing himself as a large-scale visual aid to inform a class of sixth graders of the phenomenon of obtuse angles. “You’re just the person we’ve been waitin’ for!”

Considering this man as the courier of such news, there was a certain ominousness to his message despite his outward display of enthusiasm.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that I’m Thackeray James Ludwin. I’m the son of Hank Ludwin!”

Hank Ludwin. Yes, that was his name alright, a name which left little room for forgetting – a name which sounded like it could fix a squeaky door hinge and fasten a bolt without the aid of a wrench.

“That means that –” she stammered, as she not often did. “You’re –”

“Your brother. Once removed but now back in your life! Just forget all that stuff I said earlier, ‘bout you bein’ so pretty and all of that.” He slapped her on the back, giving her a sudden infusion of brotherly love. “Welcome home, sis!”

And suddenly, tarnished reality reached out and snuffed the light at the end of the tunnel – a light which had been slowly waning as soon as she left the Wayelin estate that morning, ever since the train had left early and she’d arrived late, and as soon as she’d set foot into this town which was for all intents and purposes, every shade of drawing pencil. Charles was in England, and as Thackeray continued to speak, she was suddenly aware of how very alone she was in this pinprick on a map.

“May I take your bag?” he asked. She was sure he’d said something in between, but her mind had been a vagabond of memories and had missed every word he said.

“Sure,” she handed it out to him, only minimally amused when he nearly dropped the parcel at its unexpected weight.

“What’d you stuff this thing with, bricks?”

The two walked on, in tempo this time, Caelia no longer assuming the role of maestro.

“No, she said. “Books.”


“Yes, I presume you’re familiar with the medium.”

They were at the stoop of the boarding house now, and Thackeray stooped himself to place the recycled cigar back on the ground and open up her case.

“Holy Toledo, there, Caelia – you weren’t kiddin’!”

Inside, as meticulously stacked as a jigsaw puzzle was every book that had ever left its mark on Caelia. “These things are old too.”

“All first editions. I conducted a minor raid on the library before my departure, making use of the sudden leather ration which was imposed and thoroughly filling the one suitcase I was granted.”

Thackeray snapped the bag back together pulled ahead as they made their ascent. “Like I said,” he continued as he opened the door for her with all the combined gusto and dignity of a Maxim’s doorman. “Only place in town where you can have a family of nine living for just a sawbuck every month.”

November’s Storms

Taylor Worsham


–a dedication to the SS Edmund Fitzgerald


When the night falls, I stroll along
the banks of Lake Superior
on the tenth of November.

Waves crash to the shore, made so Superior could
write stories she’s created into the sand, but
nobody knows how to read them.

The gale caresses my ears with whispers
of those who are lost, twenty-nine souls
eternally ringing the bell.

The nineteenth hour strikes and it’s deafening:
the harmony of water sloshing in the lungs and
voices pleading for help bounces off the pines.

These haunting melodies keep Fitzgerald’s legacy
washing up onto the sand. Superior forever keeps
the souls reined and wanting, never giving

up her dead.

Innocence Lost: The Sexualization of Minors

Nicole Arkens


In today’s technology-based world, with countless advertisements and media platforms, it does not take long for one to find an example of the sexualization of minors. While sexualization has many implications and a broad meaning, throughout this paper it shall be defined as “the imposition of adult sexuality on to children and young people before they are capable of dealing with it, mentally, emotionally, or physically” (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 23). TV shows like Toddlers and Tiaras popularize the sexualization of minors and normalize behaviors considered intolerable in the past. This problem, coined the “Lolita Effect,” has been an issue for many years but has become increasingly evident with today’s media and technology (Durham, 2008). The growing popularity of such technology and social media platforms is prevalent in children and adolescents, so it can be inferred that they are increasingly being exposed to the sexualization and objectification of other minors.

Sexualization and objectification have been found to negatively impact and affect children in various ways. Objectification is quite related to sexualization; for the purpose of this paper, it shall refer to being “made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person” (American Psychological Association [APA], 2007a, p. 1). Objectification has various impacts. One such result is body surveillance, or the “constant monitoring of personal appearance,” which leads to several mental health issues (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 28). Yet another consequence of sexualizing minors is age compression. Age compression, or “marketing products meant for an older audience towards a younger crowd,” is also featured across advertisements and various media, as well as products being sold to all ages (APA, 2007b, p. 5).

No responsible person wants our society to follow a path that leads to increased extreme sexualization or an increase in sexual violence. It is imperative to stop the damage sexualization has on our children and society. The advertising world and every media outlet needs to immediately halt the emphasis of non-existent sexual features of children. Many contributions
may be unintentional; therefore education is the only way to learn how to prevent this. Any individual concerned with the well-being of children should be interested in this study’s efforts, as its findings heavily influence children and their psychological, mental, and physical development. By growing aware of, and developing an understanding of, the sexualization and objectification of minors, society as a whole can mitigate the impacts these influences have on
children and their development.

Due to today’s technology, marketing techniques, and culture, the ongoing battle to preserve our children’s innocence against the constant standards set and examples of sexualization they are exposed to should have a greater concern. Minors’ exposure to sexualization, and the negative impacts that result, are increasing. The issue of the sexualization of minors did not just begin; history and societal acceptance has led to the current climate in which young people find themselves. With modern technology and media outlets, children’s exposure to the sexualization of minors, and sexual content in  general, has increased. Sexualization has had detrimental effects on children, ranging from psychological to physical. Not only significant to young girls, men and women of all ages and society as a whole are also affected by these phenomena. Society’s current culture markets sexualized products, such as clothing, to younger and younger customers. These minors want to look more mature to gain power, yet older customers seek to extend youth to maintain attractiveness. This age compression results in blurred age groups; young girls are seen and forced to accept themselves as sexual objects. Another attributing factor to this issue is the advancements in technology and technology’s continuous growth in popularity. As a result, children are exposed to sexualization for which they are not developmentally prepared. This exposure can lead to negative impacts on their development and relationships. Due to these consequences, society should change the current trend with proactive actions. Our culture, current technology, advertising and marketing techniques, and society can all be attributed with this issue. However, by engaging in any of the solutions outlined in several of my sources, the negative impacts of sexualization on children can be minimized.

Technology in media and advertising has shown an increase of sexualized content in general, and especially in children. However, the issue of sexualization of minors has a long history of societal acceptance. Research indicates how the culture evolved into what it has become today. Advertising and marketing researchers have studied sex in these fields since the 1960s. The depiction of sexualized girls was found to increase significantly over time, where girls often appear with sexualized adult women and are posed seductively or in matching clothing.

This age compression is driven by the evolving fashion industry and young girls’ desire to gain power and move up the age prestige ladder. This is not new; more than three decades ago, Unger argued that physical beauty can translate into power for girls. It could be argued that the “final frontier in the fashion world” is the sexualization of children due to younger audiences
yearning for the power promised through sexualization, objectification, and age compression (Cook & Kaiser, 2004, p. 207).

Brumberg’s 1997 study on girls’ diaries revealed a change in girls’ perceptions and goals regarding self-improvement. In earlier eras, young women focused on the improvement of their studies and etiquette. In the last 20 years, girls almost exclusively described changes to their bodies and the enhancement of their physical appearance as the focus of their self-improvement (APA, 2007a, p. 17). This echoes the increase of women viewing themselves as sexual objects, with their main goal of being desirable to men and to sexualize and objectify themselves. With today’s technology, media outlets, and other influences, children have been increasingly exposed to sexual content. Unfortunately, this content includes the sexualization of minors. Children and adolescents spend more time with entertainment media than they do with any other activity, except school and sleeping (APA, 2007a, p. 3). Technological advances also lead to sexualization that had not existed in earlier years. Sexting, social media profiles, online dating, and communication apps are all evidence to this evolution.

Sexual comments and jokes are more prevalent in modern movies and TV shows than those of the past. It is now more likely to see women sexually assaulted, exposed to violence, or used and seen as a sexual object. In addition, over the past thirty years, the sexualization of minors has also shown a significant increase (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 7). Even in areas of our culture with seemingly no relation to sex, trends have indicated increases in sexualization and objectification. A prevalent example of this would be in the world of sports and athletic competitions. Female athletes should be given the freedom to focus on their sports and nonsexual goals, rather than worry about how their bodies are perceived and if they look desirable.

Areas that were once held innocent by society have now evolved into yet another threat for sexualization to pervade children’s lives. Corruption of characters from our past and the creation of new characters have shown that nothing is safe from sexualization. “Disney female characters today have more cleavage, fewer clothes, and are depicted as “sexier” than those of yesteryear” (APA, 2007a, p. 7). Classics like Cinderella are now depicted in lingerie online. Children’s toys and cartoons have become more sexualized. An example is the evolution from vintage dolls, to Barbie dolls, to Bratz. Dolls are no longer toys, but rather are tools for the progression of sexualization to influence our children. Halloween costumes are no longer cute or scary, but have evolved into provocative outfits that emphasize physical attributes and nonexistent sexual features. The association of sexuality in all aspects has slowly left society with the impression that it is acceptable to impose sexualization onto children by bringing “attention to sexual features they do not yet have” (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 7).

With today’s marketing techniques of sexualized products to younger and younger customers, the problem of age compression arises. By selling young children products, such as risqué Halloween costumes, lingerie, and heels, it becomes easier to view them as sexual objects. Children, especially adolescent girls, are eager to dress like an older age group to attempt to appear more mature. For example, cosmetics have been marketed to younger audiences as the years go by. Companies advertise makeup, perfumes, and personal hygiene products, along with fashion, to their anticipated market base of preteens and teens (APA, 2007a, p. 1).

With these sexualized products now available, sex is often used as a rite of passage for minors. Teen artists exploit their sexuality to establish a more mature “edgier” version of their former selves as they become adult musicians. These transformations, like Miley Cyrus, drive home the point that being a sexual object is the way to be perceived as mature and successful in the music industry. This belief also translates across different aspects in life, such as workplace and education. Parents find it difficult to stop their children from the desire to undergo their own transformations to transition into adulthood through sexualized products (Bragg, Buckingham, Russell, & Willett, 2011, p. 284).

At the same time, adults struggle to maintain youthful appearances. This age compression results in blurred age groups, and it grows more difficult each year to determine an individual’s age. Young children are seen and led to accept themselves as sexual objects. By viewing themselves as merely things for others’ pleasure, this age compression can lower children’s self-worth. Accomplishing this phenomenon is not a difficult task, as sexualized clothing and other products are now marketed to younger patrons. Some products that were once meant for an adult-only audience are now worn proudly by minors. Once considered unthinkable, it is no longer unusual for minors to dress in sexualized clothing.

As explained by Cook and Kaiser (2004), young girls are eager to buy these sexualized clothes to obtain the more mature look featured in advertisements and go up the “age prestige ladder” (p. 206). Young girls want to look more mature since they see this portrayed as an idealized value with premature sexualization in the media. At the same time, older women want to maintain a youthful appearance. This results in an indistinguishable line between women and girls. In ‘barely legal’ advertisements, one may find it hard to believe that the girls featured are above eighteen. Children are now often viewed as sexual objects even when the minors are not subjected to sexualization or objectification. When such trends permeate society, these younger viewers are led to accept the sexualization and objectification as evidenced across the media and products marketed. As stipulated by Renold and Ringrose (2011), girls are taught they are merely sexual objects meant for others’ pleasure, and this will negatively impact their mental health (p. 403). Children need to realize they have more worth than as eye candy next to a car or other products in advertisements. This was echoed in all of the research. For example, Coy and Garner (2010) discussed the impacts of sexualization and objectification used as a tool in today’s culture for women to gain prestige, power, and money (p. 659). Women view themselves as sexual objects, ignoring their value as human beings and contributors to society, in order to achieve their goals, with the methods encouraged through sexualization, objectifications, age
compression, and similar phenomena.

Sexualization should not be a means to obtain power, and girls should not fear social rejection due to a lack of self-sexualization. Just at the time when girls begin to construct identity, they are more likely to suffer losses in self-esteem. The double-sided sword of sexualization in media and the comparison to sexualized women makes girls dissatisfied with their own bodies. So while girls who objectify their bodies more have much lower self-esteem, they are also more vulnerable to the cultural messages that promise them popularity, effectiveness, and social acceptance through the right “sexy” look. Girls want the clothes that promote sexiness and desirability, so it is difficult to convince them to make less sexualizing choices. These young females sexualize themselves through consumer culture through choices on how to behave and whom to become based on media’s influences (APA, 2007a, p. 17). Again, they have the goal to obtain power and rise on the age prestige ladder.

As defined earlier, sexualization, objectification, and age compression are all phenomena that significantly influence children. It is true that children are like sponges, and they are impacted by the sexualization of minors. Being highly susceptible to these societal messages during vital developmental stages can mean a decrease in children’s mental health. As La Nauze and Rush (2006) put it, “children are – ill-equipped to deal with sexualizing pressure” (p. 35). Negative psychological impacts that result from sexualization include body dissatisfaction, poor self-esteem, depression, shame, anxiety, body surveillance, and diminished sexual health. Each helps uncover just how deeply children are hurt (APA, 2007b, p. 3). Not knowing exactly when or how one’s body will be looked at and evaluated creates anxiety about exposure; it requires regular body monitoring and a kind of chronic vigilance about whether everything is in place. Due to objectification and sexualization, consciousness can become fragmented and thought processes can become less organized because fewer resources are made available for other activities over the body surveillance that results. For children, this results in poor academic performances and inhibited abilities. Being exposed to sexualization is too much for a child to bear, and it causes overwhelming feelings that must be defended against. These defenses explain self-sexualization and risqué sexual behavior, which can lead to re-traumatization.

Interpersonal relationships and developmental processes also battle with additional hindrances due to the sexualization of minors. How young girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality is heavily impacted by the sexualization prevalent everywhere. Sexualization also complicates adolescents’ task to develop a healthy sexual identity. The societal pressures that result from sexualization, objectification, and age compression cause girls to grow up too quickly today (English, 2005). Children’s mental health should not suffer due to these cultural phenomena. Children should be granted the right to a childhood, where they can just be kids, without these outside influences to disrupt them.

The deleterious effects of these phenomena range from mental to physical. The sexualization of minors can lead to eating disorders and an increase in extreme sexualization. More extreme forms of the sexualization of children include child sexual abuse, pornography, prostitution, and trafficking. The sexualization of minors does not just damage young girls; it also negatively impacts men and women of all ages and society as a whole. Examples of this include an increase in sexual violence and teenage pregnancies. In fact, a report documented that “depictions of violence against teenage girls on TV showed it had risen by 400%” (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 40). There are also several other negative, physical impacts that could be contributed to the sexualization of minors. Examples include women who smoke cigarettes in hopes to be thinner and the limits sexualization imposes on the effectiveness of girls’ physical movements (APA, 2007a, p. 21).

More research on sexualization of young girls, not just women in general, is needed. The evidence so far indicates that it is time society “critically examine(s) the cumulative effect of the media messages to which our children are exposed and how we can mitigate any negatives effect resulting from them” (Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 9). As of now, research specifically on minors is
virtually non-existent. In the future, this is something this audience can hope to correct. The sexualization of minors is a pressing issue that has been permitted to exist far too long.

Looking back at history and the past of advertising and marketing techniques, one can find that societal acceptance has slowly increased towards the sexualization of minors. Objectification and age compression also both slowly integrated themselves into modern society. With technological advances, children are exposed to more and more media coverage, social media outlets, and advertisements throughout their day-to-day lives. Increased exposure to such electronics result in children’s increase of exposure to the sexualization and objectification of minors. By seeing women and children sexually-exploited and shown as sexual objects, children are harmed in many ways, ranging from psychologically to physically. The ramifications not only impact children, but society as a whole. This fact is ignored by our current culture, as younger and younger customers are targeted with sexualized products and advertisements. Minors are led to believe that age compression is acceptable and that to act and accept one’s self as a sexual object is an acceptable way to gain power in society.

The issue of sexualization of minors has been palpable for years, but society increasingly promotes and condones the sexualization of minors. While the issue grows, the adverse repercussions on children and their development are subjected to more studies. This increase can be contributed in part to the technological advances being made; technology has aided an increase of sexualization in general, especially in children. The sexualization of minors permeates all levels of social discourse. Proof of this can be found everywhere, from advertising to social media to toys. Likewise, examples of sexualization can be found in products, such as clothing, marketed to children. As a result, younger generations have begun to adopt age compression to conform to society or gain power.

Exposure to sexualization and objectification, whether on one’s self or others, has negative consequences on children. These can include eating disorders, mental health issues, and body surveillance. ​A trend in technology and a growing acceptance from society has led to an increase in the sexualization of minors, which leads to objectification and age compression. All three phenomena have negative impacts on children. In order to minimize the effects of this issue, society should learn alternatives, such as self-determining actions and to place more value on non-sexual attributes. Such steps will lessen the negative impacts of sexualization exposure found in media and help our children developmentally. The sexualization of minors does not have to remain a problem for our society.


American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007a). Report of the APA Task Force on the sexualization of girls. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007b). Report of the APA Task Force on the sexualization of girls: Executive summary. Retrieved from

Bragg, S., Buckingham, D., Russell, R., & Willett, R. (2011). Too much, too soon? Children, sexualization, and consumer culture. Sex Education, 11(3), 279-292.
doi: 10.1080/14681811.2011.590085

Cook, D. T. & Kaiser, S. B. (2004). Betwixt and be tween: Age ambiguity and the sexualization of the female consuming subject. Journal of Consumer Culture, 4(2), 203-227. doi: 10.1177/1469540504043682

Coy, M. & Garner, M. (2010). Glamour modeling and the marketing of self-sexualization: Critical reflections. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13(6), 657-675. doi: 10.1177/1367877910376576

Durham, M. G. (2008). The Lolita effect: The media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it. New York, NY: The Overlook Press.

English, B. (2005). The disappearing tween years: Bombarded by sexualized cultural forces, girls are growing up faster than ever. Boston Globe: Living, 3rd edition.

La Nauze, A. & Rush, E. (2006). Corporate paedophilia: Sexualization of children in Australia. Australian Institute. Retrieved from

Papadopoulos, L. (2010). Sexualization of young people review. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Retrieved from

Renold, E. & Ringrose, J. (2011). Schizoid subjectives? Re-theorizing teen girls’ sexual cultures in an era of ‘sexualization’. Journal of Sociology, 47(4), 389-409. doi:10.1177/1440783311420792

Apprehensively in Love

Jessica Orazietti


For most of my life, I held strong beliefs, which formed the basis of my morality. I was taught that being kind is the most important thing, family is prioritized, and you should always do right by the people you love. In essence, these are all good thoughts; however, it’s clear to me now that they are beliefs rooted in naiveté. Life isn’t as simple as a set of rules; you can be a good person and fail to uphold these standards. Lewis Carroll (1985) wrote, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then” (p. 18). We are all constantly evolving, everything in our lives affecting us, changing the way we think, changing the way we act, and ultimately changing who we are. Mental growth and maturity is a funny thing to me – it’s not something that can really be quantified, or even noticed as it’s happening, but it’s something you see one day and wonder how you could have possibly gotten through life with such innocence. There was inexperience present in the way I thought about life and love before; it was a beautiful, albeit incorrect notion, bordering on magical thinking. I thought that love was unquestionable and unconditional. I assumed that if you did something to hurt the person you loved, then the feeling was not real. In my mind, it was something so strong and present, that I blinded myself to important truths about human behaviour that I was typically apt to see.

I still remember in crushingly vivid detail, the day this fantasy began to crumble before me. My brother picked me up and I could immediately tell there was something on his mind. He stammered on his words over and over again, my anxiety increasing exponentially as the moments grew longer. Finally, the anticipation got to be too much and I yelled at him to simply say what he was trying to say. A moment, I immediately wished I could take back, because not only did this revelation end my relationship, but it was also the catalyst that launched me into a change in reality. After hearing what he had to say, the immediate truth I chose to believe was that the guy I had spent several years with did not love me, nor did he ever. He wasn’t the man I knew; he was an actor with the role of a lifetime and the regret and remorse he showed for months afterward was his commitment to the character. The truth was though, I knew all along who he really was. I saw it in the way he interacted with the people around him, constantly looking for attention, trying to be the funny guy, the tough guy, the anything but regular guy. I could see how easily he got hurt – his back always up against the wall – constantly feeling like the last call. I knew how he grew up, but even if I didn’t, his pain was etched all over him: in the way he spoke, in the way he behaved, in the way he drank. Pain, over pain, over pain, tattooed all over his body, his attempts at hiding it only making it more transparent. So how couldn’t I see it; how couldn’t I know? I saw it everyday: his efforts to shy away from it, covering it up, any way he could, vice upon vice, his pain only becoming bigger. He buried it, compacted the hole, waiting for the day it would explode. He was a ticking time bomb, self destructing, and revelling in it. It wasn’t about me; it was never about me.

That day clarity made me realize that one of the largest obstacles we are to overcome is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fear, bound with our implicit memory of past experiences, affects the way in which we interact. Insecurities and a need to feel important will often lead us to do things we know we shouldn’t. We hurt the ones we love, for fleeting moments of satisfaction and a boost to the ego. In his novel, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate (2012) explained, “the attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain” (p. 13). By this, I think he means that it’s as if we are in a constant cycle with no way out, whatever we choose to protect ourselves with, only creating more destruction. This can be said regarding love too – for aren’t we all in an internal struggle between, wanting to be loved and cherished and pushing others away, in an attempt to avoid the possibility of being hurt? Since this truth has become so clear to me, I see it everywhere. I see it in my neighbour, burying herself in work, desisting a social life, after her divorce last year. I see it in my brother with the succession of meaningless short-term relationships that came after she gave the ring back. I see it in myself, refusing to let my new guy in, pushing him away and telling myself that he doesn’t mean as much to me as he actually does. I continue to push – even though he hasn’t done anything but show me how gentle a man can be – knowing full well if I go too far, if I keep it up, he’ll be gone for good. Like bombs going off in a battlefield, each person racing to be the one to set them off, as if it’ll make it less painful if we are the ones to control our impending demise. If only we stopped and had hope that maybe the bomb wouldn’t go off. Maybe then we could heal, and find a way out, to somewhere better – somewhere great. But that reality is never in sight, it’s never a possibility, because we never jump all the way in. We hold back, never truly experiencing real elation, or complete love, because of fear. In his novel, The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow (2006) said it well “everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression, if you hold down one thing, you must hold down the adjoining” (p. 25). If we think about this, we know it’s best to feel all the things, than nothing at all, for we cannot pick and choose which emotions we want to experience. Shouldn’t the possibility of great and true love be worth the risk?

I believe that though love does ebb and flow, it is in fact a very strong force, that does not dictate our actions alone, but that is simply another one of many factors that does. Hurt, impacts us in such profound ways, that our natural survival system makes us want to flee vulnerability. Mate (2012) explained that, “the automatic repression of painful emotion is a helpless child’s prime defense mechanism and can enable the child to endure trauma that would otherwise be catastrophic” (p. 65). Naturally, we are beings that operate first and foremost by protecting ourselves from emotional anguish– a defence so innate, that even a child will do so, without provocation or instruction. Because of this, unconscious emotions start dictating our actions and reactions, regardless of intention, and regardless of love. A lot of the time we end up hurting the ones we love most of all, taking their apparent solidified positions in our lives for granted. Pain and unaddressed emotions can sometimes cause us to be unkind; and momentary satisfaction, when contested with guilt and possible backlash, often wins. When confused, or set alone, these things make love seem capricious and cheap. A cynical light can be shone, obliterating the child-like dream of this feeling that we have always yearned for. The truth is though, love is great, rather it could be, but like many things in this world, we mess it up, and make it something that could be ugly. We cheat and hurt each other and hurt ourselves, all in an attempt to feel what – not bad? Love is strong yes, possibly one of the strongest things a person can feel, but pain, pain is stronger, and the fear of experiencing it, well that is love’s biggest contender.


Dr. Mate, G. (2012) In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada.

Carroll, L. (1985) Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishers.

Bellow, S. (2006) The Adventures of Augie March. New York, NY: Viking Press.

Casual Killing

Jessica Orazietti


Death itself is an event that we as humans cannot know. It is something that is a huge part of our living existence, though it is an unworldly, mysterious thing that we cannot even begin to construct in our imagination. In their book, Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate, Battin et al. (1998) explained that religion and other spiritual narratives are able to explain death in a more literal sense, as a continuation of life, providing comfort to those confronting the reality of its inevitability. Though regardless of what a person believes, death is still something that plagues us with questions (p. 13). A terminally ill diagnosis is something that can bring on these questions, as well as conflicting emotions felt by the individual diagnosed and their friends and family. When left with the prospect of the serious physical and emotional pain that comes with a situation such as this, in addition to the psychological turmoil of watching loved ones deal with their grief, some people choose to end their lives in a way that they believe will provide them with dignity and control. Assisted suicide is one option that some people now have available to them in Canada, as a way to go about achieving this, though with it’s legalization, comes many ethical and moral implications that must be evaluated.

At Sault Area Hospital, medically assisted death is a legally practiced procedure. An interview with an anonymous nurse, who is employed there, brought the reality of the situation to light. When questioned about her thought’s on the topic she stated that she isn’t sure how she feels about it, but “it’s a much more difficult process than just making the decision; there’s a psychological evaluation involved, a concrete terminal diagnosis must be made and the individual has to be of sound mind up until the very moment that they receive the end of life drugs” (personal communication, October 28, 2017). The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (2017) Policy Statement on Medical Assistance in Dying, concurs with this account, outlining a precise process for this procedure. The first step involves the initial inquiry the patient makes to the physician, followed by a criteria evaluation and a secondary request, in front of two independent witnesses. The patient is then reminded that they can rescind the request at any time and a second physician ensures that the “eligibility criteria” have been met. A “ten-day period of reflection” then takes place, before the medication can be administered. Finally, the pharmacist is notified and the physician ensures the individual still has the “capacity” to consent. After which, they provide one more opportunity to withdrawal the request, prior to administration. (p. 7) The Centre for Effective Practice (2016), outlines capacity as the patient being “able to understand the information relevant to deciding to consent, or to refusing to consent, to MAID” and “to consider and appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of consenting or not consenting to MAID?” (p. 4). Now, although the person is faced with making the decision time and time again, is re-addressing it and a measly ten-day reflection, sufficient enough? This is the biggest decision a person can make; they are quite literally confronting the absolute unknown and consenting to the end. Further, when will someone ever have the “capacity” to truly understand the consequence of such a decision?

When discussing Bioethics, Boyle, J. et al. (2008), wrote that putting physicians in the position to legally provide medically assisted death, might raise concerns regarding coercion, abuse, or the risk of error. The authors believe that self-determination is something that should always be recognized; however, it shouldn’t be something that is necessarily prioritized, when there are so many other ramifications at play. With assisted suicide, death, rather than treatment, is the primary objective, but should death really be something that is considered a medical procedure? (p. 73). At the end of the day, the legalization of killing someone in a medical setting is really what we’re talking about. When explicitly stating what it is, is something that would make the majority uncomfortable, should it really be something that is practiced? It probably shouldn’t be an option, especially when considering the old and the poor may become susceptible to pressures from either the people caring for them, or from healthcare organizations, that feel it would be too difficult and too expensive to continue with care.

In the physician’s case, though the prospect of completely removing one’s self from the equation, in order to respect the autonomy of a patient is honourable, it doesn’t seem like a possibility, when they are in fact killing someone. The moral implications placed upon a physician must be evaluated as well. Bill C 14 of the Canadian Royal Assent (2016) amends the Criminal Code to protect physicians from offences of “culpable homicide and aiding suicide” (para. 1), but there isn’t a safeguard in place to protect them against judgements of conscience that come with the knowledge that they assisted someone in, or facilitated, their death. Sometimes actions should be judged based on intention, but when the action is so absolute, it cannot be overlooked; there should be no justification for purposefully ending a life. In The Cambridge Textbook of Bioethics, Boyle, J. et al. (2008), stated that, with the argument that assisted suicide can be a way to relieve the terminally ill from their suffering, comes the counterargument that, though compassion is important, there is no way to ensure that this will be limited to “truly voluntary patients” and it may bring about an “increasingly casual attitude toward private killing.” (p. 17). As true as the intentions may be, killing and suicide should never be something that becomes so common, and accepted, that it is no longer serious.

Mentioned many times, is an argument based on the belief that this procedure is the ultimate way to give individuals autonomy, in a situation that is, for the most part, out of their control. Respect for the freedom and individuality of a person, outweighing everything in the ethical decision making process, is a belief that needs to be looked at a little more closely. In discussing end of life perspectives, Battin et al. (1998), made a good point when they wrote “a person dying loses their autonomy and their existence becomes their relationships with others” (p. 18). If one is to think about this, and try and put themselves in the position of knowing death is imminent, then yes, life probably would, more so than ever before, become about interpersonal connections – has everything been said; does everyone know their importance? Things are no longer about self – autonomy isn’t necessarily something with which people are primarily concerned. The decision is ultimately more outwardly influenced, and granting such a request isn’t really then achieving the goal it has set out to. Much of the time the motivation for an early end, has much to do with protecting loved one’s from having harmful memories, which of course, is something that is wonderful to do; however, probably shouldn’t be a primary force in a decision to die.

As grand as a notion is – to be so compassionate as to allow for someone to die in a peaceful way, where they are in control, sacrificing personal discomfort to help them do so – in a society such as ours, disingenuous motives are assumed. As much as many of us would like to it to be, people are not always virtuous and concerns about malevolent, or misguided intentions are valid in this regard. The killing of another human being, regardless of the reasoning, should not be something that becomes regularized. The lack of knowledge and comprehension about death and what truly happens confounds our ability to make true decisions about how we should pass. Leaving our conscious world should be something that is natural, especially being that we have the means to provide comfort and alleviate suffering in an individual approaching death.


Battin, M. Rodes, R. Silvers, A. (1998) Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate. New York, NY. Routledge.

Boyle, J., Dickens, B., and Ganzini, L. (2008). Cambridge Textbook of Bioethics. Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from:

Centre for Effective Practice (2016) Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID): Ontario. Retrieved from:

Parliament of Canada, Royal Assent (2016). Bill C 14. Statutes of Canada 2016. Retrieved from:

The College Physicians and Surgeons and Ontario (2017) Policy System # 4 – 16 Medical Assistance in Dying. Retrieved from:

His Story

Ana Robbins


“I’m glad you came over tonight,” said Mike, hitting the 5 ball into a corner pocket.

It was around 1 am, and Mike and I had been enjoying the solitude of his “man cave” basement, away from wives, boyfriends, and mothers. Hanging out with Mike was a rare occurrence, made even more rare by newly shared adulthood. I was trying to cut back on Dex at that point, though I knew I couldn’t go off of it completely without depression overwhelming me. I was mostly sober that night, with only half of a Smirnoff Ice in my system. The other half was going flat lingering in my hand. Mike was on his sixth beer and third shot. He was still beating me at pool, however.

“Hey, it’s good to see you, man, we don’t get together enough,” I said with a smile. I had given up on the game a good ten minutes earlier; it was basically just an excuse to have something to do while we talked. I was not a fan of alcohol for myself, but I was impressed seeing how much my brother could down in just a few short hours and still be coherent and upright. I knew he had practice every night, but I hadn’t realized just how much. One of the few things we had in common, it seemed.

Fermentation made him much more easy-going and loosened his tongue to talk about things he would probably prefer not to think about. It also gave him some monikum of introspection. I always enjoyed him drunk.

“You know,” he said out of nowhere, “I’m gonna tell you a story.”

“…Okay?” I was confused but intrigued. I took a small sip of the tasty, warm beverage in my hand. Mike began to weave his tale.


Once upon a time, there was a boy whose mother married a new man after she left his father. The boy was already eleven years old at this time and wasn’t keen on having a new dad. He watched his mom completely change her life and his around this new man: they moved to a new state for his job, Mom sold her car to ride in his nicer one, she gave this man all her attention, and left the boy alone to deal with his five-year-old younger brother. The two adults would often go out to eat together, leaving the boys home to fend for themselves. The older boy learned how to cook fairly quickly after that. When he finally questioned his mom about why he couldn’t go with, she informed him that the new man did not want either of them there since they weren’t “his” kids. The next week, she announced that they were pregnant. The boy was absolutely alone except for his brother, who was basically his child at that point.

What had started out as unease over a new person in his life morphed into resentment and hate. He desperately wanted this man to act like a father and love him, but he would also not let him get that close. He was…hard on the man. A problem step child if ever there was one. He would call him terrible names, say he was not his real father, never listen to him, and just outright ignore that he existed.


At this point, Mike’s wife had made her way downstairs and was as enraptured by his story as I was, albeit for different reasons. She looked at me. “Who is this about?” she quietly inquired.

“My father,” I murmured, never taking my eyes off my brother.


The moment things culminated for the boy took place a few months after his mom’s new child was born. He, his mom, his brother, and his new little sister were walking a mile to the neighborhood grocery store. Mom pushed a stroller while holding little Paul’s hand. Mike walked unaided. Suddenly, Mike heard a familiar engine sound coming from behind them. He turned around to see his stepfather’s car rumbling down the road towards them. Mike felt his face flush red. Mom had told him that David wouldn’t drive them to the store because it was “his car.” But here he was, driving down the same road they were walking on! The car slowed down and beeped its horn lightly. Mike assumed David was stopping to pick them up. Instead? He smiled cheerfully from inside the air-conditioned vehicle and waved to them before speeding back up and disappearing. Mom never even acknowledged his presence, staring straight ahead with her chin raised. Mike felt a searing hatred flow through him. A car. Cars were the key to freedom and dignity. At that moment, he vowed to never have to walk anywhere when he grew up. He’d show him.

He’d show them all.


“So, that’s why I love my cars so much,” Mike sighed, taking another swig of his beer. “Cadillac in the garage, Civic out back, another Cadillac on its way. Cars were my escape. I was so humiliated that day. I never wanted to be in that kind of position again.” Mike’s wife and I stood in place, silent. It seemed wrong to speak. Mike went over to the mini fridge near the pool table and grabbed a bottle of whiskey, pouring himself another shot.

“The thing is,” he said, staring into the amber liquid, “it was all for nothing.” He knocked back the shot with the skill of a seasoned drinker. “It wasn’t true. David had offered to drive us that day, but Mom had told him no. She said it was a nice day for a walk and she wanted some alone time with us. So, when he drove by, in his mind, there was nothing wrong. To add to the charade, Mom even gave him the silent treatment the rest of the day. She always seemed to be mad at him for something. I guess that made it easier for me to be, too.” He took a long pause. I looked at the dirt on my shoes for a minute or two.

“I regret it, you know. Being so hard on him.” I looked up, confused. “He was a decent guy trying his best in a shit situation.” For the first time during his entire story, Mike looked up and looked me in the eye. “If I met him today, you can bet I’d be better to him.”

Dear Dad

Ana Robbins


I sat down on a bench just outside of the Administration building, a spot surrounded by flowers and flowering bushes that looked out over the green campus. It was early fall, one of the few times of year when sitting outside comfortably was possible. I took in my surroundings. Yes, this feels right. There were people walking here and there, but none were within twenty feet of me. I pulled my notebook and black gel pen out of my bag, set the paper open on my lap, and began to write.

Dear Dad,

I know it’s been a long time since you’ve seen me. I barely remember you, but I have some memories that will always be in my brain. I’m sure I am probably a piece of your past you’d rather not think about, but I wanted to tell you a few things.

I don’t hate you. I understand why you left. I understand why you never came back. I applaud you for making it with my mother as long as you did. She lied to me about you, but my brothers put some truth bombs into perspective for me. So, I no longer believe anything she ever said about you. I’m sorry you had that life for as long as you did.

Thank you for being there when I was a baby. Babies aren’t easy, and I know I was just a paycheck for her. I don’t know the truth of what happened between you two, and I don’t need to. I hope you have found happiness; I believe you deserve it.

I’m not writing looking for a relationship or to try and kindle any latent connections or love. I know it’s probably been too long for any of that. I’m not here to disrupt your life, or bring back painful memories, or make you doubt yourself. I want to tell you it’s all okay. You were right to leave. I was an unfortunate casualty of her, while being brought to life by her at the same time. I hope you are doing well, and I know you were always a hardworking man. My brothers may have been hard on you as kids, but they’ve told me enough about you to make me realize I take after you in all the important ways. I fight against upbringing, but I like who I am underneath. And underneath all that time, there is a little you.

So thank you.

Your daughter,


I looked down at the paper, sighed in relief and satisfaction, and promptly tore the letter into tiny pieces. I tossed the pieces into a trash can right by the bench and walked down to the dining hall for lunch.

Social Sustainability and China’s One-Child Policy

Michael Gordon


In 1979, the National Population and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China enacted the “Population and Family Planning Law,” which is known to much of the world as the “one-child policy.” This law states that, under normal circumstances, Chinese married couples may give birth to and raise only one child. The law was implemented to bring the country’s swelling population under control; China is the most densely inhabited country in the world, with a current population of more than 1.3 billion (The World Bank, 2012, para. 1). The Chinese government estimates that, had the one-child policy not been implemented, China’s current population would be closer to 1.7 billion (National Population and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China, 2011, para. 6). The government believes that it would not have been possible to accommodate such a quickly ballooning society had the trend been allowed to continue. Providing food, adequate living conditions, and employment opportunities for such vast numbers is far beyond the scope of the country’s social and economic institutions. This population reduction tactic was applied with the intention of creating a more sustainable People’s Republic of China.

Sustainability is a subject that can be approached from multiple angles and has many speculative definitions. One of the more widely recognized classifications of sustainability is denoted in the Brundtland Report of 1987. This report, by the World Commission of Environment and Development, defines a sustainable society as a society that can provide the social, economic, and environmental necessities of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet these same needs (Towards sustainable development, 1987, para. 1-3). The intent behind the Population and Family Planning Law is to create just such a society. Chapter one, article one of the law reads:

This law is enacted, in accordance with the Constitution, so as to bring population into balance with social economic development, resources, and the environment: to promote family planning; to protect citizens’ legitimate rights and interests; to enhance family happiness, and to contribute to the nation’s prosperity and social progress. (Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China, 2012, para. 1)

However, it is questionable whether such a stringent population control campaign is truly the best way to achieve these noble, yet ambitious goals.

The practice of population control as a tool of sustainability can be traced, in large part, back to the eighteenth century clergyman and economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, who did extensive research on the dynamics of populations. In his most famous literary work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, As It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, Malthus theorized that a population could propagate exponentially and infinitely, until stopped by the “positive checks” of disease and famine when available resources, such as food, were exhausted. He later acknowledged that there are other growth stunting forces, including “preventive checks” (contraception, abortion, or infanticide) and “moral restraint” (abstinence). These two socially concealed checks can work to guard a society from the pains of imminent starvation (Malthus, 2010, para. 1-4).

Today, many biologists and population scientists believe that the human race has recently outgrown its vast habitat, the Earth. It appears that the ever growing demand for the planet’s vital resources has surpassed the limited supply. Various manifestations of Malthus’ “preventive checks” are advocated as instruments to reduce the population and reverse this self-destructive trend, that the Earth might be reverted to a more sustainable, and therefore more congenial condition. It is argued, however, that many of the more popular population control methods are non-sustainable from a perspective emphasizing social justice ideologies; a society that is not socially sustainable is a non-sustainable society.

The Western Australia Council of Social Services provides a template delineation of social sustainability. The WACSS defines a socially sustainable society as one that exhibits equity and cohesion among its people, while providing and promoting good quality of life for current and future generations (Partridge, 2005, p. 9). China’s Family Planning Commission asserts that the one-child policy embodies a significant advance toward greater social sustainability. They claim that the policy promotes gender equality and generally improves quality of life for all Chinese citizens, including children, adults, and the elderly. However, the one child policy is not socially sustainable in the slightest; it is damaging to social equality and is a danger to many Chinese people. This paper examines the arguments surrounding the one-child policy’s impact on social justice in China.

The Impact of the One-child Policy on Equity between Chinese Citizens

A socially sustainable society is equitable, meaning it provides fair and impartial treatment and opportunities to all its members, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or social status. The Chinese government alleges that their family planning policies promote equity, but an examination of the full effects of these laws reveals that they have the opposite effect.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China argues in favor of their family planning practices, stating that the one-child policy improves gender equality in China. In particular, the policy provides greater opportunity for women, who have traditionally played a subordinate role to men. They argue that if women only have to raise one child, they will have more time for themselves to devote to professional careers or other personal pursuits. This could give women a stronger foothold in conventionally male dominated corporate circles. The Ministry boasts of progress that is already being made in some levels of society. They call attention to the pronounced increase in the number of women holding staff jobs, growing 24.1% from 45 million to 56 million persons in just seven years (1985-1992) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 1995, para. 20). Women have also made advances in education. The Ministry reports that 56.3% of urban women have a senior middle school education or higher, up from 9.1% for the previous generation (para. 21).

Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs argues that the one-child policy has instigated the implementation of better health services for women. The Ministry contends that the strong emphasis placed on family planning has prompted the government to construct a stronger network of hospitals, and maternity and child care centers. China has also committed to improving health care for women (para. 42-45).

It is true that occupational and educational opportunities for Chinese women are growing; however, it is not clear whether this growth is a direct consequence of China’s family planning policies. These advances could more easily be attributed to other recent governmental policies, such as the “Marriage Law,” the “Criminal Law,” the “Law on Protecting the Rights and Interests of Women,”  the “Law of Maternal and Infant Health Care,” or the “Labor Law,” all of which explicitly target increased opportunity for women (National Population and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China, 2006, para. 10)  Even if it is true that mothering a single child plays a significant role in improving prospects for women, the one-child policy still does more harm to women than good. In fact, the policy is causing a steep decline in the country’s female population.

In China, there is a cultural preference for families to produce sons rather than daughters. Parents may prefer a son because sons have a traditional obligation to care for their aging parents. Sons are expected to be providers of life’s necessities, such as food, shelter, and medical assistance, if and when their parents can no longer provide these goods and services for themselves. Daughters, on the other hand, sever any obligational ties with their parents after marrying into a new family. The parents of the bride are also expected to provide a handsome dowry. Because they seemingly provide no benefits for their parents, women are considered to be naught but a drain on family resources (Arnold, 1986, p. 226).

Also, ancestry and family history are integral parts of Chinese culture; many Chinese practice forms of ancestor worship. Sons are desirable because they traditionally carry the family lineage. Daughters only aid in continuing other family lines. The lineage of the parents will essentially terminate if they only have daughters (Arnold, 1986, p. 226).

The disadvantage of having daughters is causing an alarming demographic shift; China is diminishing its female population. The one-child policy is radically accelerating this process; many Chinese families feel greater pressure to have male children when the number of children they are allowed to have is limited. As a result, millions of baby girls are aborted every year in China (Johnston, 2005, para. 3). This crisis is often referred to as China’s “missing girls.” With such astronomical numbers of women being denied the right to simply live, the notion that the family planning policies, which fuel this injustice, are improving gender equality is utterly absurd.

What’s more, the women who are allowed to live are steadily shrinking to a minority status, a historically unfavorable position economically and socially. The advances women have made in recent decades will likely be diminished if current trends continue. There simply won’t be enough women left in the country to be proportionately represented in business and government.

The dwindling numbers of women left alive could be in danger in other ways. According to the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficing in Persons, human trafficking in China is driven largely by the increasing shortage of marriageable women. Many women are captured from surrounding countries, namely Russia, Romania, North Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Ghana, to be sold to Chinese men, and forced into marriage (U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficing in Persons, 2009, para. 354). The one-child policy is largely responsible for the gender imbalance that is fueling female trafficking. This abuse of human life is obviously not a promotion of gender equality.

The shift in China’s gender demographic is even affecting crime rates. The country’s crime rate has nearly doubled in the past two decades. A statistical analysis comparing the crime rate to the number of unmarried Chinese men found that there is a definite correlation between the two (Edlund, 2008, p. 1). With so few women in China, the number of unmarried men is increasing; unmarried men are statistically held to be the most crime-prone demographic (Edlund, 2008, p. 2).

Aside from the unrecognized, unintentional maltreatment the family planning policy inflicts on women, the language and enforcement of the law is inherently sexist. In 1988, the National Population and Family Planning Commission added an exception to the one-child policy; families living in rural areas are now allowed a second child if their first is a girl (Heartmann, 1995, p. 162). With this change, the Chinese government is authoritatively affirming female inferiority, implying that girls are not worth as much as boys. Also, the government encourages sterilization as a “safety precaution” to couples who have already had their allotted number of children; however, these prompts are imposed much more heavily on women, despite the fact that there are fewer health risks involved in male sterilization. In China, female sterilization is three times more common than male sterilization (Heartmann, 1995, p. 164). Despite this obvious sexism, the Chinese government still contends that their family planning policies improve quality of life for their citizens.

The Impact of the One-child Policy on the Quality of Life of Chinese Citizens

A socially sustainable society provides a good quality of life; this means that there are systems in place which guarantee education and employment opportunities to any who actively seek them. The Chinese government contends that their family planning policies help provide such opportunities, particularly where children are concerned. However, when all of China’s children are taken into account, it is obvious that quality of life is declining in the country.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission of China holds that the one-child policy improves opportunities for children, arguing that families with only one child can devote more resources to that child rather than divide time and income among siblings. In this way, Chinese children will receive more personal attention and better educations. The Population Research and Development Center of the People’s University of China performed a study to test this claim. Their findings indicate that Chinese children without siblings display a greater chance of enrollment and grade completion than those with siblings (Yang, 2006, p. 18). The policy has also been associated with a decline in child labor practices (China, 2009, para. 10).

The one-child policy may improve the lives of some children, but this argument ignores the growing number of children who are not receiving these benefits, in fact, the one-child policy diminishes opportunities for many children. As mentioned above, millions of children are aborted every year to provide more prospects for living children. A society that denies some the opportunity to live so that others might receive better educations is intrinsically unjust.

Many of the unlawful children who are not aborted are orphaned or abandoned. It is difficult to estimate the number of parentless and homeless children, as the Chinese government keeps no record of this unfortunate portion of the population, but it is clear that the number is growing (Zhong, 2006, p. 1). Abandoned girls are the living remnant of China’s “missing girls,” surviving the high levels of sex-selective abortion and infanticide (which usually involves drowning or suffocation of newborns). These young girls lack government registered births; this denies them from access to the state’s schooling and health services (Heartmann, 1995, pp. 165-166). A society which leaves so many of its children without these basic needs cannot call itself socially sustainable. The elderly will also be denied many basic needs as a result of this policy

The Impact of the One-child Policy on Social Cohesions between Chinese Citizens

A socially sustainable society upholds cohesiveness; it provides a system which ensures that people of varying demographic backgrounds can live together in social and economic security. The one-child policy is upsetting social cohesions between the young and the old. The combination of China’s current low fertility rate of 1.7 children born per woman (a result of the one-child policy) with the declining mortality rates for the elderly is causing a dangerous demographic shift (Hesketh, 2005, p. 1172). China’s population is aging; that is, the ratio of elderly people to working age people is evening out. It is estimated that, by 2040, 30% of the country’s population will be sixty-five or older. This number could be as high as 50% in some cities (England, 2005, p. xi). In the future, there may not be enough young people to support the growing number of senior citizens. Studies show that altering the one-child policy, essentially making it a universal two-child policy, could reverse this troubling trend (Li, 2009, p. 47).

The National Population and Family Planning Commission of China admits that the prospect of an aged population is a disconcerting scenario. However, they refuse to alter the one child policy. Zhang Weiqing, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission states that there are no current plans to repeal any of their family planning policies, and the policies will not be reformed or reduced in any way during the next decade (Yardley, 2008, para. 2-4). Instead, the Chinese government chooses to deal with the problem by implementing chronic-disease prevention programs and improving the long-term care delivery systems for the elderly (Population Reference Bureau, 2012, para. 18-20).

These solutions, however, are inadequate and unrealistic. Even with China’s growing economy, it is doubtful that the government will have the funds to support care-giving services for the elderly, according to policy analyst Toshiko Kaneda. Also, as the number of elderly people grows, so will the cost of health care (which is already higher than most of China’s citizens can afford) (Population Reference Bureau, 2012, para. 4). Social cohesion is not present in a society where care for the elderly is not affordable.

Traditionally, a senior couple becomes the responsibility of their oldest son when they can no longer care for themselves. This custom is even recognized by the state; sons can receive up to five years in prison if they refuse to provide care for their parents. It is estimated that as much as 70% of China’s senior population is economically dependent on their offspring (Hesketh, 2005, 1174). However, since the implementation of the one child policy, this system has been in jeopardy. Sons may be obligated to take in their parents, but it is often the son’s wife who provides much of the physical care (statistically, males have the weakest sense of family obligation). With China’s bride shortage (a consequence of the one-child policy), it is quite likely that the elderly will receive a poorer quality of care (Zhang, 2006, p. 156).

Again, the group who stands to lose the most in this scenario is women. Women, because they live longer than men, are very likely to be widowed. This is unfortunate, as women are often dependent on men and the surplus of elderly people will only escalate this problem. Additionally, China’s social security system is poor at best, but it is virtually non-existent for women (Li, 2009, p. 46).

Another problem associated with the aging population is the financial aspect from the son’s perspective. It is theorized that any financial advantages a married couple obtains by having only one child would be cancelled out if the household had to support both the mother’s and the father’s parents. This has been nicknamed the “4:2:1 phenomenon.” Four grandparents and one child are entirely dependent on the income and resources of two individuals. (Hesketh, 2005, 1174). It is clear that the one-child policy is causing a plethora of grim social and economic problems; it may not be unreasonable to ask: Is such a severe law really necessary?

The Overall Effectiveness of the One Child Policy

After reviewing all the evidence, it is clear that China’s family planning policies are fueling social instability in the injudicious country. If social sustainability cannot be achieved on even the most basic levels, the population will grow increasingly divided and disengaged, thus it is not likely that economic and environmental sustainability will be attained either.

Despite all the social problems the country is facing as a result of their one child policy, the Chinese government has refused to budge on the issue, even with growing disapproval from other nations. The Family Planning commission argues that the policy is the only civilized and efficient way to keep the country’s population down; supporting such a quickly expanding populace is both an environmental drain and an economic impossibility. There are those, however, who dispute that there are better, more humane ways to control the spread of a population.

This is the assertion made by Dr. Betsy Hartmann, professor of development studies and director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College. Hartmann argues that population spikes are not a cause, but a consequence of a non-sustainable society. She affirms that countries with high poverty rates, bad education systems, and great levels of inequality and stratification tend to have much higher birth rates. Citizens living in a country that promotes equality, opportunity, and cohesion among its people seem to naturally choose to have fewer children (Hartmann, 1995, p. 8). Hartmann points out that no democratically governed country is currently experiencing population troubles.

China itself is another example of this social phenomenon. The country’s largest decline in fertility actually occurred before the implementation of the one child policy. In the years between 1971 and 1979, China’s birth rate fell from 5.9 to 2.9 children per woman. During this time the Family Planning commission had the simple slogan: “late, long, few,” suggesting that women could better their predicament by self-regulating their reproductive demeanors (Hesketh, 2005, 1174). Also, there was a plethora of social reforms during this period which promoted equality among people.

In short, the People’s Republic of China would be far better off if they make social sustainability their primary focus rather than population control; their current system and methods are only destructive. China requires a socially sustainable society; economically and environmentally sustainable systems will inevitably emerge from this.



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Grab Some Rubbers: It’s the Law

Victoria Steffke


Throughout the history of America, the government has had many different laws regarding people’s sexual behavior. Some of these laws ban rape, child sexual abuse, incest, necrophilia, and sodomy to name a few.  Most of these were created to protect people from others, benefit society, and are enforced. However, some sex related laws were created and are no longer enforced because they are out of date. The sodomy laws are an excellent example. Currently, twenty-four states have laws against sodomy (Lectlaw). In the 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that consenting, private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights in the due process clause of the Constitution. This further explains why sodomy laws are not enforced and should even be removed as a law because this is a right people are able to decide for themselves. Similarly,  California’s Measure B, an amendment to the Los Angeles County Code that requires porn stars to wear condoms if any sort of penetration is occurring on set in San Fernando Valley, may be unconstitutional.  Additionally, the law would require producers to get a permit to produce the film, which, according to the California League of Women Voters, pays for a government employee to monitor the set to make sure it is complying with standards.  Measure B is not just a law telling people how to behave in regards to their personal sexual choices, but enforces the law, which is a step further than sodomy laws. With both actors being consenting adults to the actions performed, the law would be infringing on liberty rights to private sexual conduct.

Nevertheless, in November 2012, California voters passed the controversial Measure B.The controversy stems from the fact that the government would be controlling consensual adults’ sex lives and that this may be considered a misuse of tax payers’ money. The law was headed by the AIDS foundation to stop the spread of STDs and promote safer sex in the nation (Rogers). The adult film industry opposes this law because frequent tests are already conducted and the money the permit would cost would hurt the business (Lelyveld, 3).  They are even threatening to leave the Los Angeles area. The question then is should Measure B be enforced, and is it even a needed and justified law.

Support for the Law from AIDS Activists

The main reason Measure B originally passed was to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. On average, each actor has sex with 12 new partners a month, or 144 a year (McNeil Jr.). This is more than most people have in a lifetime. With having such a vast amount of partners, it is easy to assume that diseases would quickly spread. These actors have their own personal lives too, so any diseases they get may not stay within that community. Diseases are adapting to medications and now some STDs are resistant to antibiotics. With these strains, a person has the disease for life so raising awareness is important. In addition, diseases such as AIDS do not show up on tests for potentially ten years ( In the case of adult entertainers, the disease would spread like wildfire before a test would even show a positive result for the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that condoms are highly effective in preventing transmission of STDs and HIV. In 2009, 191,034 people in California died of a sexually transmitted disease (California Sexually Transmitted Disease Program 2011). These deaths could have been prevented had proper protection been used.  If actors properly use condoms, they will have an almost full assurance they will not be infected. This is a precaution similar to nurses wearing gloves around bodily fluids. This law alludes that the porn stars should want to take all the proper precautions to stay healthy and questions whether the tests they rely on so heavily really effectively identify all diseases.

The other aspect the AIDS Foundation wanted people to think about was the influence of entertainment. Whether or not a person believes it, what one watches has some sort of influence on them. The AIDS Foundation wanted people to realize that those who watch porn are probably more likely to then want to have unprotected sex too. Requiring condoms would boost the subliminal desire of society to have protected sex, especially if people saw it could still be sexy. With one million people in the U.S. having HIV and one fifth of them not knowing they have it, encouraging a protective barrier to prevent diseases is a smart move (

Criticism from the Adult Entertainment Community

In Los Angeles, the city makes a large sum of money from the adult entertainment industry. While Detroit is the auto capital of the nation, L.A. is the porn capital of the nation. Thousands of people are employed producing a film from the actors to the make-up artists to the sound crew. Even more money, in the millions, is spent producing these and is made from these (Rogers). The money made is taxed so it is helpful to the economy and the government. The last time these films used condoms, sales went down 30%, which over time would hurt the city’s economy and potentially lead to some people’s jobs being cut (Lupkin). Along with this decrease is the large amount the city would charge to receive a permit to film. The money for the permit would cover the amount the city would have to pay to employ someone to watch the films to make sure they are complying with the law. In other words, a government employee would get paid to watch porn all day, which many people do not think is a wise use of government money. This fee would hurt the business even more and possibly shut them down.

While Measure B created the fee to cover the costs of the employee’s salary, one important factor was forgotten. This fee does not cover the cost of government employee benefits. The California State government salary benefits include paid time off, pensions, Employee Assistance Plan for help with personal issues, and retirement. The money to fund these benefits will not come from the film fee, but rather from taxpayer money. While the law comes across as not hurting the state’s budget, in reality it does. Right now, the California Governor Edmund Brown Jr. estimates that the state deficit is $15.7 billion. This seems like a time to cut spending, not create it.

Another point to think about is that the actors choose to perform in these films. At any time they could say they do not want to partake or they could demand protection use. These actors know the risks involved when they sign up for the job and still choose to perform. This is similar to professional athletes who know they could physically be injured while performing and potentially die, yet there are no government laws against sports. Also, all of the porn stars are required to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS every couple of weeks. The results are shown to the director and the industry has made sure actors cannot alter the results. The industry seems to regulate these concerns on their own without the government needing to be involved. The actors also realize there is a great deal of money being involved in the production of the movies so a delay due to health reasons is inconsiderate.

Lastly, is the stance the adult entertainment community takes at perceiving this law: it is a freedom of speech and expression issue. Pornography is all about fantasy and the performers act out these fantasies. A certain image is trying to be conveyed to the audience and wearing protection may not be giving the right idea of the character trying to be portrayed. Actors should be allowed to say what they want through film, and this right is protected by our first amendment. In addition, since pornography involves consenting adults it should be seen as grouped into the Constitution’s liberty rights. Those opposing the law believe it is unconstitutional and have the laws to back up this claim.

Finding Middle Ground

Looking at all of the facts presented, it is easy to see that both sides have well thought out points, however, the reasons for the law are counteracted by reasons against the law. The idea that using condoms in the film would boost the public to also use protection is offset by the fact that people become less interested in the films and purchases go down when condoms are used onscreen. Both condoms and STD checks are not fool proof. These neutralized arguments leave us with the newfound idea that there was not a valid reason for this law. In fact, the argument of money being lost in Los Angeles and the taxpayers’ having to pay for the government benefits is a bigger issue and a good reason to denounce the law. The answer to the question of whether Measure B was necessary is no. The measure was specific in enforcing the law so it has no potential to become like the unenforced sodomy laws. California’s Measure B needs to be repealed to help sustain the state’s economy that is already in trouble.

The best idea in this situation is to find common ground on these two issues. Porn stars do engage in risky sexual behavior, but it is consensual. The actors receive testing every two weeks. California recommends getting tested for STDs once a year as a general statement and does not take into account how many partners a person has. Therefore, the actors are going above the call of duty in taking care of their bodies according to state recommendations. Instead of paying a government employee to regulate the films, an adult entertainment association should regulate the business. While this would still cost money, it would cost much less, would save taxpayers’ money and promote actors to be safe. Removing this law would keep the Los Angeles economy thriving. It will keep people employed and allow revenue to be put into local businesses and government taxes. Putting a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie would help remind viewers of the risks involved in unprotected sex. Making the general public more aware of the likelihood of contracting a disease and how to prevent them would be a better goal for the AIDS foundation and the government to have.

Works Cited

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS, 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.

California. Department of Public Health STD Control Branch. “California Sexually Transmitted Disease Screening Recommendations 2010.” CDPH. STD/HIV Prevention Training Center, June 2011. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

California. Office of Governor. “Governor Brown Releases Revised State Budget.” Office of Governor. May 2012. Web. 28 Nov 2012.

California. Sexually Transmitted Dieseases Control Branch and Division of Comunicable Disesease Control.Office of AIDS. “STD and HIV/AIDS Case Registry Matching to Estimate California STD-HIV/AIDS Co-Infection.” CDPH. Sexually Transmitted Disease Program, September 2011. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

“California State Government Salary.” Sunshine Review. Sunshine Review. 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

Lawrence v. Texas. No. 02-102. Supreme Court of the United States. 2003. Supreme Court Cases. Lawyers’ Edition, Lexis Nexis Academic, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

LectLaw.The Electric Law Library. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2012.

Lelyveld, Nita. “Condom Law Hot Topic in Porn World After L.A. Voters’ passage of Measure B, Industry Types Ponder Compliance and Departure.”  Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, 2012. Online.

Lupkin, Sydney. “Porn Industry Against Mandatory Condom Measure.”  Los Angeles: ABC News, 2012. Online.

McNeil Jr., Donald. “How Sex-Film Makers Prevent H.I.V.; Testing Appears to Work but Officials Still Want to Enforce Condom Use.”  Los Angeles: The International Herald Tribune, 2012. Online.

Rogers, John. “Measure B: Porn Industry Vows to Defeat New Condoms in Porn Law.” Los Angeles: Huffington Post, 2012. Online.

Smart Voter. League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, 2012.Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

“Sodomy.” The Encyclopaedia Britiannica: Merriam-Webster. 2004. Print.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel.” CDC. April 2011.Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

Of Pants and Para Gliders

Jerusha Lane


It was a miserable sort of day in northern Michigan. The sky was dark and serious, and it pelted the rain down in sheets, turning the firm path into a slippery and treacherous mudslide. The wind howled in from the north, directly off a stormy Lake Superior, chilling with its cold breath any traveler who dared to pass through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The previous day had been beautiful. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun smiled down on the lake. Its light had sparkled and danced on the gentle waves, warming the surface of the water and turning the cold sand on the beach into a wonderful place for a nap. It had been perfect hiking weather, and an altogether perfect day—until the flies hit, that is.

Now these were no ordinary flies. They may have looked exactly like harmless little house flies, but appearances can be deceiving. Evil is the best word to describe these terrible little beasts. At first there were just one or two, but two soon turned into six hundred eighty-seven. They swarmed over the hikers, hitched a ride on their backpacks, and viciously bit the legs of anyone unfortunate enough to not be wearing a pair of pants. Pants are probably one of the best inventions known to mankind. You may not realize this until you are attacked by an angry swarm of leg-eating flies, and you are wearing shorts. After a few minutes of torment you may find yourself daydreaming about pants. After several hours, you will probably be willing to trade your soul for the ugliest pair of pants on the planet, and then parade them gleefully in front of anyone unfortunate enough to be wearing shorts.

Very quickly the hikers (the ones not wearing pants) began to lose their sanity. They began wildly waving their arms and thrashing about in a most undignified manner. Their eyes began to have a wild glint, and they started smacking themselves trying without success to be rid of the flies. At their wit’s end, they finally broke into a run, yelling in frustration, backpacks bobbing up and down, and pant-wearing companions trailing along behind. That was the first day. The second one was not much improved.

At least there weren’t any flies. They had disappeared with the sun, and the rain and chill had replaced them. There weren’t a lot of adventurers in the wilderness that day. If there had been, they would have seen a spectacle worth hiking to see—nine garbage-bag-clad backpackers hiking single file down the muddy trail, resembling bulbous insects with little heads poking out of their protruded backs. They were almost unrecognizable from the previous day, but not much more dignified-looking.

As it turns out, the garbage bag wearing backpacker is a phenomenon that happens after said backpackers forget to bring ponchos on their trip, but they of course remember to bring oversized garbage bags. “I would never do that,” I might have thought to myself. But that’s exactly what I did. Garbage bags also make excellent insulators I hear. Rumor has it you can wear them like a sleeping bag and they will reflect your heat back to you, so you will be warm and cozy. It’s a lie. I should know, since I’ve tried it before. After shivering sleeplessly for half the night you will end up in front of the campfire, sitting on a deformed log and wondering to yourself why you didn’t bring a warmer sleeping bag. And soon, your fellow garbage bag wearers will join you to sit on their own deformed logs, to think their own sad little thoughts.

Pant-makers would probably make millions of dollars if the world was suddenly overtaken by flies. The most untalented pant designer would make a fortune, and shorts would join the dinosaurs in extinction. Even annoying little insects can raise stock prices overnight, and when it rains cats and dogs in redneck country, Jethro’s Convenience Store will probably sell out of garbage bags.

Vicious swarms of leg-eating flies and garbage bags that don’t behave at all like they’re supposed to: what else could possibly go wrong when you’re a two-day hike away from civilization? Your water filter could break. And of course if your water filter decides to break, it will probably do so when one of your number gets himself dehydrated and the rest of you have just drained the last drops out of your water bottles. And actually, if anything can go wrong, it’s much more likely to go wrong when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

So there we are in our cozy little camp, situated in a beautiful hardwood forest, which just conveniently happens to be a mere few yards away from the vast water supply of Lake Superior—at least it’s convenient if you don’t mind scaling a 40 foot cliff while carrying a fifteen pound bag of water (yes, a bag). Add paragliding and rock climbing equipment to the list of items we forgot to bring. They’ll fit quite well next to the pants and sleeping bags. Since we didn’t bring the proper equipment to carry out a covert water retrieval operation, we spent the greater part of the morning trudging the half mile back and forth from the nearest beach, lugging water in our filter which had been scornfully demoted to “water bag.”

In situations such as these, when you’re trudging down life’s long path with a sloshing bag of water, it is usually best to not reflect on the fact that you spent 60 dollars on the “bag” that is personally responsible for your current loss of sanity. It is also in the best interest of the pant-wearing companion in front of you that they not do a happy dance over their choice of clothing—unless of course, they are in need of a shower. Nothing like a cold splash of reality to make your gleeful companion realize that when you plaster that picture you just took of them in their overly obnoxious pants, all over the internet, they won’t be happy-dancing anymore.

Several hours later would find the fearless adventurers back on the path, sipping warm, smoke-flavored water (floaties and all) and daydreaming about ice cubes and Gatorade. Now, it isn’t natural for natives of the far regions of the north to be dreaming about ice. In fact, most of these people pay to have their ice removed. But ice must be preferable to drinking smoky, warm water: that or the hallucinations had begun to set in. Either way, it was going to be another long day.

Two evenings later, groups of tourists wearing their “Michigan” t-shirts, khaki shorts, and funny-looking hats strolled around the visitor center at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Smiling and chatting, they cheerfully enjoyed the sunshine while reading informative signs and snapping pictures of the local exotic wildlife—which was mainly constituted of the occasional chipmunk and seagull. This peaceful scene was suddenly interrupted by shrieks of laughter and cries of pure joy coming from the forest. A group of slightly crazed backpackers, careened out of the forest at a limping run, arms stretched wide in ecstasy as they ran towards the end of their journey. At the sight of a vending machine, one of them even dropped to their knees and began to weep tears of joy. Pairs of tourists glanced disapprovingly at each other and hurried away.

Trying to appear sane isn’t a priority when you’ve just completed a death-defying journey. It isn’t even worth a thought. The first thing on the agenda in this moment of victory is an ice-cold coke, a greasy burger, and a long night’s sleep. Nothing but living on peanuts and beef jerky for a week can make a crappy cheeseburger from a fast-food joint taste like food fit for kings. You’ve never really enjoyed a nap in the car until you’ve spent three nights inside a garbage bag. And sometimes it takes an angry swarm of flies, to give you the proper respect for that hideous pair of pants.

Thin is In

Alex Guillard


Magazines, television commercials, internet advertisements, and many other sources of mass media are all projecting the same image of beauty, and are bringing our entire society to believe the stereotype of attractive thinness they are advocating. The problem with this image is that it is one that is virtually unattainable for the majority of females across the country. Those who do attain it pay a high price, since the achievement of what is deemed beautiful results in unhealthy ultra-thinness, ensuing from or leading to eating disorders and other health complications. Those individuals who do not see themselves as beautiful may feel they can never measure up to the media’s image of “true beauty,” leading to an increase in depression and other psychological problems. Instead of benefiting society and increasing the self-esteem and good health of subscribers, mass media is causing a decrease in individuals’ perception of self-worth.

The topic of distorted beauty perception in America today is examined by Susan Bordo in her essay “Never Just Pictures.” She discusses the reasons behind eating disorders, especially focusing on the effect media has on our opinion of an attractive body. Referring to the role of fashion designers and models in our assessment of beauty and eating disorders, she says, “If this is a disorder, it is one that has become a norm of cultural perception. Our ideas about what constitutes a body in need of a diet have become more and more pathologically trained on the slightest hint of excess. This ideal of the body as beautiful has largely come from fashion designers and models” (367). Somehow, our cultural perception of beauty has changed, and is now judged by skinniness, while healthy weight is not seen as normative. When girls flip through a magazine they are looking for what is in style, and what will bring them success and popularity. If all they see are models who are practically skin and bone, they will aspire to conform to that appearance. Bordo speaks of how, “the fashion industry has taught us to regard a perfectly healthy, nonobese body…as…unsightly” (368). This view of extreme thinness as attractive is extremely prevalent in our society and hardly even questioned.

Studies have been done to prove this image of beauty that magazines today are advocating. Lora Beth Brown and others contribute to Bordo’s ideas on the influence of today’s media on individuals’ perception of beauty today. Their article, “The relationship between reading beauty and fashion magazines and the use of pahtogenic [sic] dieting methods among adolescent females,” was published in Adolescence magazine. They remark,

Several recent studies have analyzed a number of magazines targeted at adolescent females and have suggested that their content supports the perception that female happiness and success are tied to physical appearance, with ultra-thinness being the preferred state of health and beauty as well as the most important form of self-improvement.

This statement demonstrates that despite what designers and photographers say, “It’s just fashion…nothing to get all…steamed up about” (Bordo, 371), there is more behind the images. Ultra-thinness is being projected as most important, beautiful, and healthy, when in reality many of these models are starving themselves just shy of the point of physical collapse.

There is a reason behind the way beauty is portrayed by fashion designers today. Bordo explores the concept of the “profit motive,” and its role in the decisions of fashion designers. Obviously, “they want their images and the products associated with them to sell” (371), and they do not care about the means used to attain their goal. Women who are insecure about their bodies are the ones who will buy new clothes, beauty products, and diet aids, putting more money in the hands of the manufactures of these products. When the ideal of beauty is difficult to attain and maintain, this virtually guarantees the profit of cosmetic, diet, and clothing industries. Bordo also speaks of how we have been sucked into a “commercial war,” and how this war is not only affecting the clothing manufactures, but the entirety of society as well. While these fashion designers are serving their own selfish ends, individuals in society are being duped about what real beauty is.

This concept of “ideal beauty” is illustrated in a Dove film titled “Dove Beauty Evolution” (Piper). Part of their Campaign for Real Beauty, “Evolution” was launched by Unilever in 2006 to promote the newly created Dove Self-Esteem Fund. Time-lapse footage shows a normal, average-looking female who enters the studio to be “made-up” to become a model for a billboard advertising foundation makeup. Revealing the extent to which a person can be transformed by artificial means, this video shows how the media can alter the actual appearance of their models so that they become the picture of “ideal beauty” they are advocating. Gradually, this girl’s face is covered in make-up, fake eyelashes are applied, and her hair is styled. This is not all, though. Once the photo shoot is over, it is followed by extensive computer editing. The graphic artist progressively slims and elongates the model’s neck, enlarges her eyes and mouth, and changes her eye color. Now this girl who initially resembled the majority of the female population bears closer resemblance to a doll. She fulfills the media’s representation of beauty, but sets an impossible standard for the average female to attain. This could lower self-esteem when girls find they can never be as beautiful as the model on the billboard, not realizing that what they are seeing is not an accurate representation of the real person behind the makeup. It could also lead to health consequences including depression, eating disorders, plastic surgery, and maybe even suicide. The film concludes with the statement, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” This mirrors Bordo’s ideas about how fashion designers’ quest for profit influences our perception of “ideal beauty,” and leads to disastrous consequences for the young women of our society.

Facial attractiveness plays an important role in the assessment of beauty today. In their article, “Peer victimization as a mediator of the relation between facial attractiveness and internalizing problems,” from the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, Kurt Beron and others raise the topic of the role of facial attractiveness in an individual’s life. They reference a quote from a French realism writer in the 19th Century, which is still, if not more relevant today: “Beauty is the promise of happiness” (Stendhal, qtd. in Beron). Even almost 200 years ago, beauty was influential in individuals’ lives, and was predicted to be the difference between a happy or sad life. Now the social effect on an individual’s perception of beauty is indicated in how “unattractive individuals…[may] feel poorly about themselves as a result of appearance-based discrimination.” People are dependent on others for their self-concept, whether they realize it or not. This shows that it is largely the result of the influence of others that society’s definition of “beauty” can lead to happiness and “unattractiveness” to sadness.

Beauty’s influence in an individual’s life can be easily seen in high schools as well. Not long ago I attended a high school graduation. Afterwards, as I looked around the room filled with the recent graduates and their friends, I could see groups of people clustering around a graduate to congratulate that person. Noticeably, people gravitated to the individuals who stood out from the crowd as more beautiful or handsome. Those who were average or below average according to looks were more of the loners of the group. I would assume this would hold true in the midst of the school year as well. Certain individuals are regularly acknowledged by teachers and peers, and others go through each day virtually unnoticed. A distinct pattern in the relationship between attractiveness and popularity has developed. There is a scale of good looks in high school, even though it is implicit rather than explicit. Depending on where a teenager falls on that scale, their influence, popularity, and maybe even success, may be virtually decided for them by teachers and peers. The worth that is being placed on looks has resulted in consequences as varied as undue pressure to measure up, unfair advantage given to those who are naturally prettier, and inhibition of the progress of others who cannot attain society’s estimation of beauty.

Although this can be true, that does not mean that it is. People are not being forced to evaluate their self-worth through the eyes of the media. There is a healthy standard for self-confidence, and it is referenced in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s essay, “The Story of My Body.” She tells of growing up, and the struggles she had in respect to her self-image. She felt she was too skinny, and had an imperfect complexion because of an episode of chickenpox in her childhood. These were just a couple aspects that she did not like about her body. By the time she reached the end of her college years she had finally figured out her life. She states, “My studies, later my writing, the respect of people who saw me as an individual person they cared about, these were the criteria for my sense of self-worth” (341). Focusing on her accomplishments and inward character, she was able to move past her preoccupation with her outward appearance.

Individuals in society do not need to rely on the media to dictate how they should look. They can resist succumbing to the loss of self-esteem resulting from preoccupation with the image of beauty portrayed by the media. If they focus on other qualities, besides just outward appearance, this will set them free from their bondage to improving their physical appearance. When individuals ignore the messages of the media and instead focus on being content with who they really are on the inside, this will help them have a healthy and productive lifestyle.

 Works Cited

Beron, Kurt J., Lisa H. Rosen, and Marion K. Underwood. “Peer victimization as a             mediator of the relation between facial attractiveness and internalizing problems.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 57.3 (2011): 319+. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Nov.  2011.

Bordo, Susan. “Never Just Pictures.” Seeing and Writing 4. Ed. Donald and Christina             McQuade. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 561-73. Print.

Brown, Lora Beth, Steven R. Thomsen, and Michelle M. Weber. “The relationship             between reading beauty and fashion magazines and the use of pahtogenic [sic]             dieting methods among adolescent females.” Adolescence 37.145   (2002): 1+.             Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. “The Story of My Body.” Seeing and Writing 4. Ed. Donald and             Christina McQuade. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 561-73. Print.

Piper, Tim. “Dove Evolution.” YouTube. YouTube, 6 Oct. 2006. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Japanese for English Speakers

Lindsey McCullough



Japanese is considered to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to master; according to the Defense Language Institute, it takes roughly 2.5 times longer for native English speakers to attain a basic understanding of the Japanese language than to attain an equivalent understanding of a language such as French or Spanish (“DLI’s Language Guidelines,” 2010). Immediate differences between English and Japanese are many, the most obvious of which being the written language. While English uses one set of characters to represent its entire language, Japanese, as cited in the Random House Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary, “…is written using three different basic scripts: kanji (Chinese characters), hiragana, and katakana, the latter two being two distinct types of… phonetic script known as kana” (Nakao, 1997, p. xv). If this is not enough to deter potential learners, there are plenty of syntax differences to explore; for example, one chapter’s title in Making Sense of Japanese, a book by Jay Rubin, professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, reads, “Warning: This Language Works Backwards,” referring to the fact that Japanese verbs are always at the end of sentences, no matter how long and complicated those sentences may be (Rubin, 1998, p. 106).

With all these differences in mind, one may wonder how well a native English speaker could ever hope to learn Japanese. Is it possible for an English speaker to understand Japanese the way a native speaker can? What can be done to make the process easier? To what extent does one’s native language affect the ability to learn new and different languages?

Kana and Kanji

Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of the Japanese language from a native English perspective is the writing system. Kana and kanji are the building blocks of the written Japanese language. That the Japanese writing system is vastly different from that of English barely needs explaining; anyone who opens his or her multilingual digital camera instruction booklet can plainly see this. Aspects that make Japanese challenging for native English speakers are not hard to appreciate, but one may wonder if there is anything about the language that may prove to be less, rather than more, difficult to learn. Comparing the two languages brings some interesting findings to light.

English is composed of twenty-six letters that may be combined in a vast number of ways to create different sounds and spellings. According to Seigo Nakao, assistant professor of Japanese at Oakland University in Michigan, the Japanese kana syllabaries, which can be considered equivalent to the English alphabet in many ways, have over one hundred syllables each, with the hiragana syllabary representing native Japanese sounds and the katakana syllabary representing foreign sounds (Nakao, 1997). This fact could be discouraging to potential learners of the Japanese language, for there are far more kana than there are letters in the English alphabet. However, the pronunciation of any given kana is very consistent in that, with very few exceptions, it will not change no matter where it is placed in relation to other kana, nor does it have more than one pronunciation (as cited in Nakao, 1997). The 2004 Merriam-Webster Dictionary cites at least five possible pronunciations for the vowel “a” in the English language (Mish, 2004). In contrast, Japanese has a total of only five vowel sounds, and they are perfectly predictable according to their associated kana (Nakao, 1997). According to Gene Nishi, founder of the Nishi Institute of Language Education, one Japanese professor wrote that there are more than 3000 different syllables in the English language, a great deal more than there are in the Japanese language (as cited in Nishi, 2000). A 2008 study by Ann Bradlow, PhD., professor and Chair of the Department of Linguistics at Northwestern University, has shown that native Japanese speakers have quite a bit of difficulty with some English sounds, an example of which would be the difference between “r” and “l”; Japanese contains a sound approximate to English “r,” but nothing approximate to English “l,” and this fact in combination with the similarity between these two sounds makes mastering them a challenge for the native Japanese speaker (Bradlow, 2008). This is not so for native English speakers learning Japanese; all sounds in Japanese have some approximate equivalent in English (Nakao, 1997). It is possible to conclude that the pronunciation of Japanese is less complex than that of English; kana, perhaps, is not so intimidating, but kanji may yet be.

Nakao states that kanji originated in China, and that these symbols are used to represent native Japanese words—and some Chinese loanwords—along with hiragana; the pronunciation of these more complex symbols varies based on context, and some may have more than one possible use (Nakao, 1997). In The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary, linguist Jack Halpern writes that there are thousands of kanji, and that some are made up of as many as thirty strokes each (Halpern, 1999). This aspect of the Japanese writing system is obviously quite complicated, and will prove challenging for the native English speaker. However, Halpern also says the following:

…The effort is well worthwhile. Kanji have the ability to generate hundreds of thousands of compound words from a basic stock of a few thousand units. They form a network of interrelated parts that function as an integrated system, not as an arbitrary set of disconnected symbols. (p. 18a)

Looking at some of the entries in The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary, it is not difficult to appreciate this fact. The entry for the “water” kanji easily illustrates this. Combining this kanji with the one meaning “middle” creates suichuu, a phrase meaning “in the water.” Sui can also be combined with ryoku, or power, to create the term suiryoku, or “hydraulic power” (p. 2). According to language expert Florence Sakade and Japanese language professors Kenneth Henshall, Christopher Seeley, and Henk de Groot, both of these last two kanji are learned by Japanese children in the first grade, making them very basic (Sakade, Henshall, Seeley & de Groot, 2003). So long as a person knows the kanji for “water” and “power,” that person may easily gather what the two of them together mean. “Hydraulic,” having its roots in the Greek language according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is not so immediately accessible (Mish, 2004). Through the use of kanji, a first grade child in Japan would likely have a better comprehension of the term “hydraulic power” than would a first grade child in America. This building block approach is consistent with much of the Japanese language (Halpern, 1999). In short, the Japanese writing system may be complicated, but it is not incomprehensible.

Understanding Syntax

Together, kana and kanji form the words and phrases of the Japanese language; as with any language, however, these parts need assembling to form complete, coherent thoughts. Japanese grammar is different from English grammar in ways too numerous to detail here, but a few of these discrepancies can be used as examples. Jay Rubin has written a section each in his book for the concept of both verb placement at the end of the sentence and the apparent lack of subject in some Japanese sentences (Rubin, 1998). How does one go about learning a language so different from one’s own? Nishi (2000) rejects the idea of “direct method” learning, “using only Japanese to teach Japanese,” for its impracticality, choosing instead to use English to explain the language (p. 5). Rubin (1998) does this often, himself, in his own book, but he also mentions that “just as it is a mistake to expect students to master a language by translating it into their own, it is also a mistake to exclude translation… entirely” (p. 18). A combination of translation-based techniques and more natural understanding is necessary.

It would make sense, therefore, for a native English speaker to rely on techniques based upon translation and understanding of native language while he or she learns to become a more natural speaker. There are many tools to aid those learning Japanese. One textbook consists of nothing but sample sentence structures that learners may adapt by simply inserting the necessary parts of speech like variables into equations; Nishi’s book takes a similarly formulaic approach to the construction of sentences, but goes in depth, allowing the student more understanding of syntax. Rubin uses memorable anecdotes to explain somewhat difficult concepts; an example is his comparing the end of Patrick Henry’s famous speech to the effect a certain Japanese particle has on the sentence it is placed in (Rubin, 2000).

However, these techniques may not need to be relied upon forever. One study, conducted by Sanako Mitsugi and Brian MacWhinney of Carnegie Mellon University, has shown that English speakers can obtain language processing speeds similar to that of native Japanese speakers. The experiment measured the processing speeds of native Japanese, native Korean, and native English speakers for scrambled Japanese sentences; the native English speakers had spent three years on average studying Japanese, but the study showed no significant difference in the effects on processing speeds as compared to the native Japanese speakers (Mitsugi & MacWhinney, 2010). The case markers, used to infer meaning, were left attached to the appropriate parts of speech; English depends more on word order than things such as case markers, and the fact that the native English speakers were able to make use of the case markers to interpret the scrambled sentences meant that they had acquired considerable understanding of basic Japanese grammar (Mitsugi & MacWhinney, 2010). This finding may prove encouraging to aspiring Japanese speakers; despite the dissimilarity of English and Japanese grammar, native English speakers can make progress in understanding Japanese with practice.

Mimicking Native Learning

After exploring the idea of understanding Japanese based on knowledge of English, one may wonder how to obtain the more natural understanding of the language as mentioned earlier. As the difficulty of Japanese for English speakers seems largely determined on the difference between the two languages, it may be beneficial to observe the differences in how native speakers learn them. Waxman et al. (2013) reference a study comparing three year old and five year old children acquiring new nouns and verbs as they learned their native languages—English, Japanese, and Mandarin acquiring children were included—that bears interesting results in regards to English and Japanese speaking children:

English-acquiring 5-year-olds successfully mapped verbs to actions if the surrounding nouns were mentioned explicitly (e.g., “She is blicking something!”) but not if they were dropped (e.g., “Blicking”). In contrast, Japanese 5-year-olds more successfully mapped verbs to actions when the surrounding nouns were dropped than when they were explicitly mentioned (p. 3).

This means that while English-speaking children were more comfortable with verbs when connected to nouns, Japanese-speaking children were more comfortable with verbs alone. When remembering the fact that Japanese sentences sometimes lack deliberately mentioned subjects, something that regularly confounds native English speakers, this proves quite illuminating.

Knowing this, it would seem there is merit to approaching the Japanese language in the same way native speakers do. This idea can be applied to the acquisition of the written language, as well. One thing Japanese children undoubtedly learn about kanji, for example, is that the symbols are based on pictographs that explain their meaning (Kusuya, 2001). Examination of the origins of these characters may aid learners in remembering what they mean. Another imitation of Japanese schoolchildren’s learning style may be found in books such as A Guide to Reading & Writing Japanese, which contains the first 1,006 kanji learned by Japanese children in grades one through six in the order in which they are taught (Sakade et al., 2003). This guide, like The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary by Halpern, as mentioned earlier, also contains examples of how kanji and kana may be put together to form new words and ideas, but the order of the characters provides a different perspective in learning.

Learning kanji in the same order as Japanese children provides benefits most people may not realize. Nishi (2000) employs a technique in his book in which he prints romaji—phonetic representations of the Japanese language written using the English alphabet—above kana and kanji to aid the learner in pronunciation. This idea was originally found in children’s books and other such things, in which kanji would be accompanied by hiragana “ruby,” small text to help children with unfamiliar or complex characters. (Nishi, 2000, p. 6). Materials intended for very young children may have “ruby” accompanying every kanji that is printed; an example for this would be the instruction booklet for a new Japanese Tamagotchi toy, in which every kanji has “ruby” printed above it. In more advanced material, such as a novel based off a video game, some of the more complex kanji still have “ruby,” while more basic ones do not. This book may be printed differently than the instruction booklet—vertically rather than horizontally—but the “ruby” simply appear to the immediate left of the characters rather than above them. If one were to acquire such things, he or she could progress from basic reading materials to more advanced ones. When a word or phrase is still unfamiliar after learning its pronunciation, one of the many helpful smartphone or tablet applications available today would allow for easy lookup through either romaji or kana. This would allow the learner to gain experience with material meant for native Japanese speakers rather than rely simply on texts written for those acquiring Japanese as a second language. If native learning is important—and it appears it is—there are approaches that may be taken to gain a perspective that mimics it.

Japanese for English Speakers

Japanese is very different from English; there is no debate about this. It is, however, quite possible for English speakers to gain proficiency in the Japanese language. The writing system is complex, but the relative simplicity of kana pronunciation does offer easy access to beginning students of the language. Kanji may prove challenging to memorize, but it has been shown that there is coherence and structure to their use, meaning progress can be made. Japanese grammar is complicated and different from that of English in many ways, but with theories like those of Nishi and Rubin, native English speakers can gain proficiency. Native language has a large impact on ability to learn other languages later on, but mimicking native learning will aid English speakers in learning Japanese.

It may be best for traditional classroom learning of Japanese to be supplemented with materials that allow the foreign speaker to approach the language in the same way native speakers do; this would allow for a more natural understanding of the language to develop alongside the technical skills that allow students to decipher the more advanced, everyday speech and writing typically used among adults. There are aids to help native Japanese children understand kanji—such as hiragana “ruby”—that foreign students could easily use. All that is necessary is that they acquire the basic skills and perspective that allow them to do so.

This perspective, in particular, is very important. Japanese and English are two very different languages, and Japanese will prove challenging for the native English speaker to learn. It is only because the language is so different, however, that this is so. Japanese is not, in itself, a confusing language; it actually makes a great deal of sense when one stops to appreciate it. In fact, some aspects of the Japanese language arguably make more sense than do their counterparts in English—pronunciation being the most obvious example, the expediency of kanji as compared to the numerous Greek and Latin word roots of English being another. When these facts are realized, the native English speaker may approach the learning of the Japanese language from a different angle—one that allows for understanding of this unique language through both tools that utilize their understanding of their native language and techniques that allow for natural understanding.


Bradlow, A. (2008). Training non-native language sound patterns. In Edwards, J. G. H., & Zampini, M. L. (Eds.), Phonology and second language acquisition (pp. 293-308). Amsterdam: J. Benjamin’s Pub.

DLI’s language guidelines. (2010). Association of the United States Army. Retrieved from

Halpern, J. (Ed.). (2001). The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (2nd ed.). Saitama, Japan: Kodansha International, Ltd.

Kusuya, D. (2001). Kanji Starter 1. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press.

Mish, F. C. (Ed.). (2004). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Mitsugi, S., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). Second language processing in Japanese scrambled sentences. In VanPatten, B., & Jegerski, J. (Eds.), Research in second language processing and parsing (pp. 159-175). Amsterdam: John Benjamin’s Pub. Co.

Nakao, S. (1997). Random House Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Nishi, G. (2001). Japanese Step by Step: An Innovative Approach to Speaking and Reading Japanese. Tokyo, Japan: Shufunotomo Co., Ltd.

Rubin, J. (1998). Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You. Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd.

Sakade, F., Henshall, K., Seeley, C., & de Groot, H. (2003). A Guide to Reading & Writing Japanese (3rd ed.). Tokyo, Japan: Tuttle Publishing.

Waxman, S. et al. (2013). Are Nouns Learned Before Verbs? Infants Provide Insight Into a Long-Standing Debate. Child Development Perspectives, 7(3), 155–159. Retrieved from

The Diaper

Ana Robbins


Things changed when my mom met her boyfriend Kevin. What had once been the holy grail of unattainable luxuries (the local KFC buffet) was now a weekly ritual. A trip out to Wal-mart once a month, spent walking behind Mother, eyes downcast, staring at the linoleum? No more! Now, Kevin would come over every other day and want to take us somewhere. Mom always said yes, no matter if it was the middle of a homeschool lesson. I basically didn’t have to go to school for all of fifth grade. If his pockets were open, we were out the door.

It was like any other day of that year: Kevin shows up, asks if we’d like to go to Walmart, Mom says yes and we end the school day. Of course, I was pumped. Any time out of the house and with my new dad was always welcomed. So, we jumped into his big light purple van, nicknamed Wilhelmena, and made the two minute drive to air-conditioned paradise.

Once inside, we walked around the store, Kevin in the middle, and mom and I on either side of him. As they talked, I enjoyed not having to be within arm’s reach or direct eyesight of Mother, and took in all of my surroundings. I drooled over the candy, fantasized about actually owning the stuffed animals and toys we passed. Even the cleaning aisle held interest, since all we ever had in the house was Dawn dishsoap and makeshift Windex. Everything in the store was the unobtainable. I had stars in my eyes.

After about a half hour of meandering, we ended up walking through the ladies’ clothing section. I heard Kevin and mom joking about wanting to see more attractive ladies in town. Kevin said he would give mom a dollar for every attractive girl she could spot and point out.

I don’t know what made me open my mouth. Maybe it was my love for this nice person in my life. Maybe it was my need to make him happy. Maybe it was the fact that I had never and would never be allowed to handle money by my mom. According to her, children are what make you poor. So I always knew I was the reason everything in that store was off-limits most days. I had never had a dollar of my own.

And I loved him.

“What about me??” I piped up eagerly. “If I find a pretty girl, do I get a dollar?” Kevin and mom paused their conversation and looked at me, though neither broke stride or slowed down. Kevin looked at mom. I saw initial mild displeasure on her face, but after a moment of looking at him, she gave an “eh, whatever” look and looked straight ahead again. Kevin looked down and grinned. “Alright, you find a pretty girl, I give you a dollar! But remember, you have to point her out.” I grinned back. “Okay!” I started dreaming about finally buying a second dress for my little black-haired Kelly doll. She was my favorite, but I only had one child outfit. I felt she deserved better.

All of two minutes passed. As we walked past the pots and pans aisle, I saw my opportunity. “Kev, Kev! Look!” I whispered to him excitedly. I don’t even remember what that first woman looked like. I think she was around mid-twenties, nicely dressed, limited makeup. It was a blur. Kev smiled, and said that that worked. He dug in his pocket, and with mom standing next to him, looking at a new set of measuring spoons, he handed me my first dollar.

Six months passed. Things progressed.

It was an unusual outing from the start that day. Instead of Walmart, Kevin had suggested that we go to the grocery store Town & Country. I couldn’t remember going there since Walmart had first moved into town seven years prior. He seemed to want to hit all of the smaller stores that day: Town & Country to start, then moving on to Dollar General, The Dollar Tree, Aldi’s, and finally K-mart. As we had done countless times before, Mom grabbed her purse, I dropped everything, and we piled into Wilhelmina.

The old half-abandoned strip mall seemed to come out of nowhere. Over the hill, the reddish brown structure hit my senses. It was long, and shaped like an E without its middle. On one end, Petals and Lace Bridal stood proudly, and on the other, Town & Country’s sign staunchly refused to fall. The old Chinese restaurant next door hadn’t fared as well: one of its windows was busted through, and its sign only read “Gre t Wa.” I missed The Great Wall. I had always liked its chicken on a stick. But at least there were rumors of a new Chinese place coming in on the other side of town.

As for our destination, it stood as a relic, refusing to close under the shadow of “The Man,” even though almost no one was in the parking lot most days. I couldn’t figure out how they managed to stay open. Kevin parked the van a few rows back from the front, even though there were only about ten cars besides ours in the lot. We fell out, and made our way inside, Kevin and Mom side by side, me walking behind.

As soon as we got in the store, Kevin told Mom that he and I would meet up with her in a little while, and to pick up anything she might need. No problem on her end. She swiftly grabbed a cart and took off. Kev and I sauntered through the aisles, both keeping an eye out for “tunas,” our code word for attractive women.

It started out as “apples.” That meant boobs were showing, or at least a tight shirt was worn. But after a while, Kev started to point out ladies that weren’t very well-endowed in the chest department. He told me that he preferred women that were closer to my size (AAA) as opposed to my mom’s (DD). Pretty soon, getting down to B and A cups, the term apples didn’t seem descriptive anymore. So, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time and which were never explained to me, he changed our term to “tunas.” He began referring to going out “tuna-hunting” or “fishing.” I went gleefully, since he had never taken back the promise of $1 for each one I found. Every time we went out, he would keep a tally of how many I had spotted. Then, the game changed slightly. It became a dollar for every one I pointed out that he felt “deserved” a dollar. So, he began turning some of my choices down. I needed to learn his tastes better. He gladly obliged in telling me what he did and didn’t like. Pretty soon, I learned the difference between an 18 year old and a 30 year old. I knew that if they looked over 20, there was a good chance I wouldn’t get my dollar for that find.

To a 12 year old, everyone looks older, everyone is more experienced, is more attractive than you. Someone who just graduated high school seems taller than an oak tree, and more sage than a giant redwood. Or, they might just look the same as a 40 year old. The nuances of how people carry themselves, slight differences in hairstyle and clothing choice, and even makeup tints can be lost on a starry-eyed child. But I learned about those differences very quickly through daily experience, exposure, and gentle correction. No, see those shoes? She’s at least thirty. Yes, she’s tall, but see how low her top goes and how she’s not wearing a bra? She just left high school.

So, we came to high school. I had a picture of a high school senior in my head. Then, Kevin pointed out a girl who looked…a little younger. I couldn’t quite place it. Maybe it was her height, or her cup size, or the Happy Bunny t-shirt she was wearing. But I looked at him, confused. He assured me that she was also in high school. I shrugged, and made a new mental note about what looks to keep an eye out for.

About six months since he had redefined high school, he told me that he enjoyed the look of girls a little bit younger than me. Maybe middle school, or even elementary. When I gave him a shocked and concerned look, he quickly let me in on his great philosophy of life: “Looking doesn’t hurt.” I was a little iffy at first, but he went on to explain that if the girls never knew, it would never hurt them. It made him happy, and didn’t I want that? I did. I loved him. I loved him more than I had ever loved Mother. He spent time with me, played Barbie’s with me all the time, made sure I was fed, listened and talked to me, treated me kindly, etc. I told myself he must be right: what could it hurt? He wasn’t doing what bad people did. So, I agreed to his game.

Cut to our trek through Town & Country. We walked through frozen food, cereals, and finally toys. Upon turning a corner, the candy aisle appeared. In it was a nice looking young lady with a little girl in her cart. Frank elbowed me and asked, “What about her?” “The lady?” I asked hopefully, part of me silently wishing to raise the age back to adults.


I turned to take another look at the two. I looked at the little girl. Pink dress, little shoes…and a white teddy bear diaper.

I don’t know what made me say what I said. Maybe I still didn’t fully understand what the game was. Maybe I did. Maybe something deep within me knew that this was a line. An even bigger line than going from adult to high school, high school to middle, middle to elementary, or elementary to preschool. This was a baby. She probably couldn’t even walk yet. Or talk. Or…anything. Something within me rejected the suggestion so violently that, after a single moment that felt like hours, I blurted out, “NO!”

Kevin was taken aback. He asked me why. “She’s too young.” “What? That’s too young?” I paused and looked at him. “She’s wearing a diaper. That’s not sexy.” Kevin stared back at me, visibly disappointed and frustrated. “Okay.” And we walked on. I couldn’t believe I’d refused him; I couldn’t believe I wasn’t being punished in some way for it.

The rest of our day went normally. We stopped at the Dollar Tree, Aldi’s, the bank, and even stopped at KFC for lunch. Our last stop was Dollar General. We walked in, and did our usual split. This time, Kev told Mom to make sure to take her time. He then led me to the toy section. There was a giant aisle just jam-packed with nothing but stuffed animals! I adored stuffed animals more than any other toy in the world. There were giant rabbits, huge dogs, regular teddy bears, and tiny little everythings. I had never seen anything so wonderful. It looked like the shelves went on forever. I ran and started looking through every single plush. Kev held back and watched me. It must have been at least five minutes before I saw the most perfect stuffed animal in the whole world: A black horse, two and a half feet tall, wires in its legs so it could stand up and sturdy enough to be sat on lightly. It was on the very top shelf, along with at least ten others in assorted colors. I was much too short to reach it, so I stared at it for a moment. Then, I stood on my tip-toes just to try and pet one of the hooves. From behind me, I heard Kevin walking up. The black horse moved, then appeared before me. Kev was handing it to me. I took it, grinning, just happy to touch it.

“How much does it cost?” he asked. I checked the tag on its ear. $40. Forty. Dollars. Mom always had a $20 limit on all Christmas gifts total for each person. This beautiful, sleek horse was absolutely never going to be mine. I was sad, but used to it. “Forty, huh? That’s a lot. You’d have to do something pretty special to earn that.” I stayed silent, staring at the horse. “Maybe if we talk about that diaper, that might be worth $40?”

He slipped his hand in his pocket. Time seemed to stand still. He talked, expecting me to imagine the same things he was. I stared at the horse. He needed a name. I needed him to have a name. I held onto him tightly and stared into his glossy ebony eyes. I ran my hand over his back: a perfect curve. It felt just like a real horse, but softer and less frightening. He was so small, but so big. Tiny horse, just for me. Ignore what he’s saying. You love this horse. You love Ebony. You’re doing this for him. It’ll be worth it. If you don’t stay right where you are and let him talk, this gorgeous friend will slip through your fingers forever. It can’t be much longer. It just can’t…

We met up with mom, checked out, piled back into the car and went home. I took Ebony into my bedroom and set him on the floor next to one of the walls. I sat on my bed to look at him. No, it wasn’t the right spot. I got up and placed him a little ways from the foot of my bed so it wasn’t in my direct line of sight. I sat on the floor, picked up one of my Barbies, and never touched Ebony again.

At Ten I Was An Astronomer

Destinee Bruce


As a child I dreamed of the stars
I plotted my future
in the dead space between
galaxies of twinkling blue
light danced over the lines in my palm
If I closed my hands
I could capture the essence of life
all glittering stardust
breathing it felt like fire
Under the sun I was human
miniscule and wanting
but at night
doused in starlight
I was glory

Loving the Alien: An Analysis of David Bowie’s Spiritual Evolution

Daniel Foix


On January 8, 2016, English singer and songwriter David Bowie released his 27th studio album: ★(pronounced “Blackstar”). Upon its release, the record was met by widespread critical acclaim and initiated a surge of reinterest in Bowie’s career. However, a mere two days after the release, David Bowie passed away following an eighteen-month battle with liver cancer – a battle which had been carefully kept secret from the general public. Following this surprising twist of fate, the infant surge of reinterest in Bowie’s career grew exponentially – a passage of discovery for new fans and a rite of mourning for old ones. As reported by Business Insider, this postmortem Bowie fervor led to the artist breaking Vevo’s record for the most videos viewed in a single day, with over 51 million views (Oswald).

To satisfy this public hunger, Bowie’s career received an immense quantity of publicity from
many major news outlets. Primarily, this publicity revolved around the artistic influence of David Bowie and of his ever-changing personas – invented personalities used to explore the musical theater. Predominantly, this publicity focused on either his more famous personas (such as Ziggy Stardust) or his grandest, most influential persona – that of “David Bowie” himself – whereas the man behind the glitz and glamour tends to be glossed over [1]. That is to say, the focus on Bowie’s musical work and the influence thereof tends to distract from acknowledging his personal life. Most prominently, the evolution of Bowie’s personal spirituality – a focal point of the musician’s life and art (as will be discussed) – has been largely unrecognized.

In a similar fashion to his artistic career – which is renowned for reinvention and experimentation – throughout the course of his life, Bowie’s theology has undergone a plethora of “changes.” Despite originating from a Christian background, Bowie’s early life was characterized by conflicting systems of spiritual beliefs: ranging from Satanism, to Kabbalism, and to Buddhism (Buckley 233; Trynka 280, 314). In 1967, Bowie had considered becoming a Buddhist monk before being advised to continue pursuing music; however, he maintained an attachment to Buddhist philosophy for the remainder of his life (Buckley 47; Sawer). Though his spiritual drive assumed a slower tempo as he progressed into middle-age, it was never entirely subdued. In 1993, Bowie would profess an “undying belief in God’s existence,” only to engage in a serious flirtation with atheism as he entered the 21st century (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like”; Bowie, “I’m Not Quite an Atheist”). Suffice to say, Bowie’s spirituality emerges as consistent motif in his artistic work, lyrically and thematically.

Even at a surface glance upon Bowie’s life, the personal significance of his spirituality is deeply evident; hence, discussing the personal evolution of his spirituality and the effects it played upon his artistic work holds substantial erudite prospects. By diminishing the gap between act and actor, this analysis will serve to provide background information on the musician’s life for eager Bowie neophytes while simultaneously illustrating a new perspective for old Bowie acolytes. Furthermore, the interconnectivity between life experience and artistic production is prominently emphasized through Bowie’s life, and such an analysis will serve to emphasize the direct relationship between art and artist. Therefore, to facilitate this discussion, several questions must be posed and evaluated: Why has spirituality been of such prominent interest to Bowie; from where did this spiritual hunger originate? How has Bowie’s spirituality influenced his artistic output and to what extent are these aspects interconnected? For that matter, where did Bowie’s spiritual journey finally end and why was this route chosen?

The Effects of Bowie’s Dichotomous Childhood

David Bowie’s spiritual journey begins in the same place Bowie himself began: at 40 Stansfield Road, Brixton, on January 8, 1947. Though he was raised in a loving, supportive environment, Bowie’s childhood was characterized by a religious dichotomy – a dynamic resulting from a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. These differing religious philosophies provided a continual source of contention which Bowie’s parents readily utilized; the morality of their chosen philosophies was argued between them on a nigh-constant basis (Bowie, “Bowie on 9/11 and God”). During a 1997 interview with USA Today, David Bowie would later recount that this dynamic resulted in a sense of religious alienation during his childhood; specifically, he remembered doubting the validity of Christianity and questioning
where he “fit in” at an early age (Gardner and Gundersen). Significantly, during this same interview, Bowie cautiously suggested that his lifelong spiritual search may have been a result of this conflicting religious background (Gardner and Gundersen).

Though Bowie presents his spiritual hunger’s origins with a degree of skepticism, the findings
of Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin during their longitudinal study on the effects of religion on child
development suggest that Bowie may have produced a valid self-diagnosis. Taking note of previous evidence which emphasizes the influence parental relationships have upon childhood spiritual development, their study sought to evaluate the positive and negative effects which parents’ religiousity (based on attendance, faith homogeneity, and how religion is discussed) play upon psychological and social child development. Their findings demonstrate that religiously homogeneous parents generally provide positive effects on child development, whereas religiously heterogeneous parents are typically associated with negative effects on both child development and familial relationships (Bartkowski, Xu,
and Levin 21, 33). Furthermore, when considering the contentious role religion served between Bowie’s parents, the report’s discussion of familial religious conflict holds especial significance:

Frequent parent–child discussions about religion often yield positive effects on child development, while any effects associated with family arguments about religion are deleterious for children. Thus, religion can serve as a bridge that links generations and yields pro-social outcomes, but can also function as a wedge that fosters division and conflict, thereby undermining children’s development. (Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin 33)

Regardless of the implications toward Bowie’s early psychological and social development, it seems reasonable to suggest that religion impeded his early relationship with his parents. A later comment Bowie made about his mother gives credence to this suggestion; in 2002, when questioned about their relationship, he proceeded to recite Phillip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse,” which opens with the line “They fuck you up, your mom and dad” and continues on to describe misery deepening like a coastal shelf (Trynka 8).

The significance of the fractured relationship between David Bowie and his parents is
emphasized by social psychologist Lee Kirkpatrick’s attachment-theory perspective on the psychology of religion. According to Kirkpatrick, one’s religious beliefs are heavily influenced by the religious convictions of one’s parents’, yet the precise nature of this influence is dependent upon the quality of the relationship between parent and child (qtd. in Bridges and Moore 11). For example, children with secure parental relationships tend to espouse the religious doctrine of their parents, whereas children with insecure parental relationships are less likely to uphold their parents’ beliefs (qtd. in Bridges and Moore 11). Furthermore, such insecure relationships hold the risk of promoting atheism/agnosticism, which Bowie himself would later espouse (qtd. in Bridges and Moore 12).

An individual develops their view of God at an early age (qtd. in Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin
19). In a 2002 interview, Bowie would recount that the judgment of God always loomed over their household (a focal point of his parents’ debates); he described this sensation as “terrible” (“Bowie on 9/11 and God”). The nature of Bowie’s childhood resulted in an early distrust of Christianity and God’s nature and witheld him from adopting either of his parents’ belief systems. Without a stable system of beliefs to uphold, yet filled with spiritual unease, Bowie would proceed into adulthood on a quest to determine the exact nature of God and thereby escape the spiritual ambivalence of his childhood.

As a corollary to the spiritual unease of Bowie’s childhood, he would also suffer from
significant psychological struggles during his early life. Many years later, he would recount he had serious struggles with low self-esteem and personal/artistic inadequacy throughout his early career (Egan and Bowie 276, 323). In an 1997 interview with David Cavanagh of Q Magazine, Bowie uneasily details this aspect:

. . . A lot of the negativity when I first started was about myself. I was convinced I wasn’t worth very much. I had enormous self-image problems and very low selfesteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing . . . I thought I didn’t need to exist. I really felt so utterly inadequate. I thought the work [my art] was the only thing of value. (Egan and Bowie 323)

Based on the findings of Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin, as discussed in the previous section, this feeling of personal inadequacy likely resulted from the spiritual conflict that characterized his childhood. Bowie’s initial belief in the supremacy of his art – a corollary of his early lack of self-esteem – is not to be ignored; however, since he believed his sole purpose was to produce art, then the purpose of his art must also be considered. On multiple occasions, Bowie would state the central focus behind his entire work – regardless of the surface themes present – was exploring and locating his spirituality (Bowie, “Bowie on 9/11 and God”; Bowie, “I’m Not Quite an Atheist”; qtd. in Cinque, Moore, and Redmond 66). Therefore, since musical output was of paramount importance to young Bowie, it
corresponds that determining his spirituality was of equal value; locating this spirituality would provide his existence with meaning and circumvent his battle with self-esteem. Accordingly, the exaggerated exploration of Bowie’s spirituality during the ’70s coincides with the apex of his artistic production, further emphasizing the interconnectivity of both aspects. Hence, beyond surface commercial motives, Bowie’s passion for music was used as a tool to explore and express his personal spirituality, and thereby escape the inadequacy and fractured religiosity he derived from childhood. Furthermore, this information provides an oculus to examine the interconnectivity between Bowie’s spiritual and artistic evolution.

Spirituality as Expressed Through Music

At the age of thirteen, two years prior to forming his first band, young Bowie took an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, an interest which originated from reading from T. Lobsang Rampa’s book “The Rampa Story” (Gamboa). In actuality, Rampa was a pen-name used by Cyril Hoskin, an unemployed surgical fitter, who believed that his body was inhabited by a Tibetan Lama named Tuesday Lobsang Rampa following a process of transmigration of the soul [2] (Lopez 99-103; Rampa 149-155). Rampa’s work revolved around metaphysics, aura-reading, and other paranormal/occultic themes; in addition to Buddhism, this book likely served to develop Bowie’s later interests in occultism and Tibetan blackmagic, or, as it would later be described by him, “the dark side of Buddhism” (“Tuesday Lobsang Rampa”; König).

During Bowie’s formative years, his fascination with Buddhism developed to the point at which it threatened to supersede his musical ambitions completely. By the time he was seventeen, he began studying at a Tibetan Centre about four days per week; during this time, he met a high holy Tibetan Lama named Chime Yong Dong Rinpoche who would become his guru (Gamboa; König). After several months of study, Bowie was strongly considering becoming a Buddhist monk; however, Chime Rinpoche ultimately dissuaded him from this path, saying “You don’t want to be Buddhist. You should follow music” (Buckley 47; Gamboa).

Though he heeded Chime Rinpoche’s advice, Bowie’s Buddhist studies remained a lasting influence for the rest of his life. Immediately, these teachings were reflected in “Silly Boy Blue,” one of the first songs Bowie ever wrote (“Child of the Tibet, you’re a gift from the sun / Reincarnation of one better man”), and his twenty-minute pantomime 1968 performance to his song “Yet-San and the Eagle” – a coming-of-age tale of a Tibetan boy during Communist Chinese persecution (Bowie, David Bowie; Mendelssohn). Bowie’s later career continued to pay homage to Buddhism, as is exemplified by the semi-autobiographical soundtrack he wrote for the BBC miniseries The Buddha of Suburbia and his 2001 performance for the Tibet House benefit, which was intended to honor his Buddhist teachers and facilitate the preservation of Tibetan culture (O’Leary; Gamboa).

Though Bowie would soon explore a plethora of other spiritual philosophies following the 60s, he would never entirely stray from his Buddhist influences. In 1996, Bowie would state that the principles of Buddhism which initially interested him still held great personal values, citing specifically the concepts of transience and the fleeting nature of life – themes echoed throughout his entire career (Egan and Bowie 312-313). Appropriately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Bowie would have his ashes scattered on the Indonesian island Bali “in accordance with the Buddhist rituals,” following his death (Sawer).

Following Bowie’s early experiences with Buddhism, he would fluctuate between and investigate a variety of religions and philosophies (including Nietzsche and pottery, as quipped during an interview in 2004) (Bowie, “David Bowie”). His spiritual exploration of the ’70s largely culminated during the mid-’70s, with a fixation on Egyptology, Kabbalism, and black-magic. Occultic themes had long been present in Bowie’s work, as evidenced by references to Crowley and the Golden Dawn on his 1971 album Hunky Dory, yet as the years progressed his mild interest in occultism evolved into an all consuming obsession, leaving the musician in a state of “psychic terror” (Bowie, Hunky Dory; Buckley 226). During this period, Bowie spent his days scrawling pentagrams over the walls of his Los Angeles apartment, being visited by “disembodied beings,” burning black candles, storing urine in his refrigerator (lest his enemies use it to enchant him), and even exorcising his swimming pool (Buckley 227; König). While this spiritual crisis was fueled in part by an overwhelming cocaine addiction, a sober Bowie would later state in the early ’90s that his distress was likely a result of abandoning God (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like?”).

It was during this state of spiritual, physic, and physical distress that David Bowie recorded his seminal work, Station to Station. Interestingly, and perhaps contradictorily, despite being produced in this state of malady, Station to Station would be hailed as a “masterpiece of invention” by biographer David Buckley and argued among critics to be one of Bowie’s “finest records” (Buckley 263, 269). Fittingly, Station to Station is also one of Bowie’s most spirituality explicit records, containing tactile evidence of both his occultic preoccupations and his contrasting yearning for spiritual liberation (a curious parallel to the album’s dichotomous production and reception). While the funk, krautrock, and “romantic balladry” permeated throughout Station to Station tend to distract from the lyrical content, the album itself is very dark in nature – Bowie himself would later describe it as the closest album to a “magical treatise” he had ever written (Carr and Shaar 78-80; Bowie, CHANGESFIFTYBOWIE).

The title track, “Station to Station,” is the most prominent example of Bowie’s occultic and spiritual fixations of the time. Though the track is often assumed to reference railway stations (which is implied by the noise of a train during the song’s opening), in actuality “Station to Station” is preoccupied with the “Stations of the Cross”[3] and the mystical Kabbalah[4] (Bowie, CHANGESFIFTYBOWIE). Traversing the stations of the Kabbalistic tree of life is lyrically depicted in a ritualistic manner:

Here are we

One magical movement

from Kether to Malkuth

There are you

You drive like a demon

from station to station (Bowie, Station to Station)

It is worth noting that a typical Kabbalist does not travel from Kether to Malkuth, but from Malkuth to Kether. As can be observed from the Tree of Life [4], Kether is the topmost Sephirot in Kabbalism and thus the most sublime and closest to God. Contrariwise, our corporeal plane of Malkuth (the physical world) resides at the bottom of the Tree of Life. To “drive” in this “magical movement” from the apex to the nadir of the Tree would signify descension from the ethereality of God to the physical plane; occultic researcher Peter R. König notes that this descent would thusly “[make] man one with the Divine” (König). In his state of spiritual darkness, Bowie sought to use the Kabbalah – through his art – in an effort to reconnect to the God he had abandoned.

However, this spiritual longing is most clearly emphasized by a later track on the album: “Word on a Wing.” Just as Station to Station is the closest Bowie had came to producing a magical pact, “Word on a Wing” is lyrically more akin to a Christian hymn than a rock and roll jaunt:

Lord, I kneel and offer you

My word on a wing

And I’m trying hard to fit among

Your scheme of things (Bowie, Station to Station)

By “kneeling” before the Lord Almighty, Bowie conjures up the image of a lost soul, offering his life for God’s love and mercy. In a 1993 interview with music journalist Tony Parson, Bowie would later express his belief in the interconnectivity between prayer and music, stating that many of his songs are “prayers for unity within [himself]” (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like”). Similarly, shortly before performing “Word on a Wing” in 1999, he would describe the song as a definite “signal of distress” (Bowie, VH1 Storytellers). Rather than simply describing a generic lost soul, Bowie appears to have described himself, offering the song as a testament of his resolve to earn God’s favor – to “fit among [God’s] scheme of things” (Bowie, Station to Station). Indeed, shortly after the release of Station to Station, Bowie would move from Los Angeles to Berlin, in order to escape his cocaine addiction, occultic obsession, and the “scum” with which he surrounded himself – a move later described as a search for religious truth (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like?”). At this point in his career, until the late ’90s, a relationship with God began to manifest. As this connection continued to develop, the prominent occultic imagery present throughout his early career would greatly diminish. The progression this relationship is prominently expressed in 1992, by Bowie’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer during Freddie Mercury’s tribute concert (Kaye 2).

However, toward the end of the 20th century, Bowie’s faith in God began to dissipate. Though he did not speak in great detail about the origins of this spiritual doubt until the early ’00s, the direction of Bowie’s spirituality is subtly made evident through his art. In 1997, he would record Earthling, an album which he would describe as an expression of his need to “vacillate between atheism and a kind of Gnosticism” (Bowie, Earthling). Similarly, his subsequent album ‘hours…’ would explore equally dark themes: “The Gods forgot they’ve made me / so I forgot them too” (Bowie, ‘hours…’). As the years progressed, Bowie’s spiritual incertitude would largely culminate with the release of his 2002 album, Heathen – a record saturated with anguish and cynicism.

The most marked example of Bowie’s troubled spirituality is found on the track “I Would Be Your Slave” – a desperate ballad nestled at the centre of Heathen. The song’s sparse, jazzy rhythm is notably subdued, allowing the emotional vulnerability behind Bowie’s vocals to transcend to the universal:

I don’t give a damn

I don’t see the point at all

No footprints in the sand

I bet you laugh out loud at me

A chance to strike me down

Give me peace of mind at last

Show me all you are

Open up your heart to me

And I would be your slave (Bowie, Heathen)

The song, in essence, is presented as a pleading prayer to an entity Bowie doubts is listening – a prayer for peace, for perception, and for propinquity. The most significant line is in Bowie’s reference to “No footprints in the sand,” which serves as a reference to the famous Christian poem, “Footprints” (Bowie, Heathen). The poem itself describes a man walking on a beach with God, leaving two pairs footprints on the sand behind, with each footprint representing a different stage of the man’s life. During times of hopelessness and despair, however, these footprints dwindle into one pair, suggesting that God left the man during those arduous times. When questioned by the man, God responds, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you” (“Footprints). By pronouncing a complete lack of footprints in the sand, Bowie suggests that God was either never there to walk beside him or had chosen to ignore his life (the subsequent lines seem to emphasize the latter). Despite this acrimony, the lyrics “Show me all you are / Open up your heart to me,” compounded with his incessant offer of subjugation, reveal the track to be a plea for God to reveal the spiritual plenum Bowie had long been denied, seemingly as a final attempt to bring “peace of mind” to his lifelong spiritual quest (Bowie, Heathen).

In a later interview discussing Heathen, Bowie would attribute much of his spiritual doubt to the “anxiety in the air” present since the early ’90s – anxiety derived from the expectations and disappointments of entering the 21st century (Bowie, “David Bowie on 9/11 and God”). Throughout the subsequent years, until his apparent retirement in 2004, Bowie’s spirituality would seem to slowly settle on a definite school of thought – a school residing on the opposite end of the spectrum from his previously “unquestionable” belief in God (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like”). In 2003, a year following the release of Heathen, Bowie would state that he was “almost an atheist” and go on to say rhat he needed only a few more months to make up his mind (Bowie, “ I’m Not Quite an Atheist, and It Worries Me”). Apparently, Bowie had not been granted “peace of mind,” and thusly sought it himself (Bowie, Heathen).

From 2013 to Eternity

Relatively soon after nigh-espousing atheism, David Bowie would suffer severe health issues while on tour which would dramatically reduce his musical output and personal publicity, until his unexpected commercial return in 2013. By corollary, David Bowie’s pseudo-retirement presents an interesting conundrum in regards to analyzing the final destination of his spiritual journey. Following his health issues in 2004, Bowie would progressively slip away from the public eye until he completely disappearing from view. Though he temporarily stopped making music, he would permanently swear off interviews and personal publicity; during his hiatus, Bowie had learned to enjoy the privacy his career had long denied him of (Visconti 6). Any word concerning Bowie’s health, state of mind, or music was delivered second-hand through his collaborators (primarily from his producer/friend, Tony Visconti). Until Bowie’s tragic departure, these individuals primarily discussed the latter. Without any available personal details on his spiritually from 2004 onward, the only lens into Bowie’s life is that of his music. Hence, the only way to examine the final stages of his spiritual evolution is to examine the thematic evolution between his 2013 comeback album, The Next Day, and his subsequent final album, ★.

Both The Next Day and ★explore the same general theme: death. The difference, however, is the approach taken by either album. Whereas ★carried notes of grace and liberation, The Next Day was saturated with doubt and fear – or, as it would be described by academic writer/artist Tanja Stark: “a honeycombed-catacomb of cryptic mystery, rage and resignation” (Cinque, Moore, and Redmond 61). God and religion are featured as prominent themes throughout the record. The title track opens the album with an obvious diatribe toward the Catholic Church and religious hypocrisy: e.g., “They can work with Satan while they dress like the Saints” (Bowie, The Next Day). The accompanying music video depicted gruesome stigmata wounds, self-flagellation, and other horror/profane elements; Bowie himself is portrayed prominently as a Christ figure, vanishing at the video’s end in the twinkling of an eye (The Next Day). The video echoes Bowie’s publicized distrust of organized religion (Bowie, “CHANGESFIFTYBOWIE”; Gardner and Gundersen). However, beyond traditional religious theology, The Next Day takes a cryptic turn. After “walking the dead” on “Where Are We Now?” and mocking hanging corpses on “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die,” the album is closed with “Heat” – a spiritual reflection which Stark places among “the most torturous songs” of his career (Bowie, The Next Day; Cinque, Moore, and Redmond 73). The track itself, saturated with self-doubt and resignation, likely accumulates from his lifetime of spiritual questioning: “And I tell myself / I don’t know who I am. . .But I am a seer / I am a liar” (Cinque, Moore, and Redmond 73; Bowie, The Next Day).

The most telling example of Bowie’s spiritual state at that time is not found on the The Next Day but rather on The Next Day: Extra – an accompanying EP released eight months following The Next Day. The forth track, “The Informer,” seems to epitomize his spiritual longing:

So help me Christ

I’ve got major questions

About the Lord above

About Satan below

[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]

And I still don’t know

What we were looking for (Bowie, The Next Day: Extra)

In its entirety, the song discusses the ending of a man’s life and his attempts to reconcile his doubt in God as he lays dying. Though he claimed in 2003 to only need “a few months” to settle on atheism, ten years later Bowie still held “major questions” about the truth and existence of God with a seemingly intensified passion (Bowie, “I’m Not Quite an Atheist”; The Next Day: Extra). These open ended statements about both God and Satan and the subsequent lines concerning his search suggest that Bowie turned back from his atheistic contemplation and remained certain only of his uncertainty. Interestingly, the concept of turning to and questioning Christ in the face of mortality (“So help me Christ”) would be further discussed on his future single, “Lazarus” (Bowie, The Next Day: Extra; ★).

Approximately one year after the release of The Next Day, David Bowie would be diagnosed with liver cancer. He would begin production on ★shortly thereafter (Greene). Though ★’s lyrics detail Bowie’s struggles over mortality, they also contrast the torturous doubt which characterized The Next Day. “Lazarus,” the second single, is a paramount example of this aspect. The title of the song is an obvious reference to Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus famously raised from the dead (The Holy Bible: King James Version, John. 11.1-45). “Lazarus’s” opening lyric (“Look up here, I’m in Heaven) is an interesting contrast to Bowie’s description of crawling through “broken windows” and “cracked doors” at life’s end, as described in “The Informer” (Bowie, ★, The Next Day). Biblical elements reverberate throughout the course of the song:

By the time I got to New York

I was living like a king

Then I used up all my money

I was looking for your ass (Bowie, ★)

While “looking for your ass” could be taken as a vulgar way of “looking for someone,” in context with the title, it likely serves as a reference to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in which He rode a donkey and was hailed as a king (The Holy Bible: King James Version, Matthew. 21.1-9). As Lazarus was also searching for Jesus prior to his death – desiring to be healed – the lyrics could also suggest that Bowie “used up” the value of his material goods in search of lasting spirit fulfillment (The Holy Bible: King James Version, John. 11.1-45). With this in mind, the opening lines of the subsequent verse (“This way or no way / You know I’ll be free”) hold an interesting parallel to one of Jesus’ most famous instructions: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (The Holy Bible: King James Version, John. 14.6). Though it would be unrealistic to conclude Bowie’s final spiritual path based on pure lyrical analysis (which is inherently speculation, after all) the liberating spiritual and emotional tones echoed on “Lazarus” and all throughout ★seem to reflect a final catharsis to his lifelong quest.

Furthermore, Bowie’s wife, Iman, shared several uplifting spiritual messages through social media in the days leading up to his passing, culminating with the tweet, “The struggle is real, but so is God” – posted mere hours before his death was publicly announced (Park). In addition, Bowie followed “God” on Twitter shortly before his death (Schnitzer). While not directly commenting on Bowie’s spiritual state, these are certainly interesting corollaries.

In time, more information about Bowie’s final days may come to light; that which is currently available is insufficient for any definite statement on his final spiritual state, and any such conclusion would be a grave hubris. However, the information available, coupled with the distinctly contrasting tones between The Next Day,★, and even Heathen, suggest that Bowie may have progressed in a positive direction toward God. At the very least, the cynical voice of spiritual doubt present throughout his post-2000s musical production became significantly at toward the end of his life.

Remembering the Starman

Were it not for his humble Brixton origins, the artist David Bowie may not have existed as we know him. Though his spiritually tumultuous childhood produced extensive feelings of insecurity and spiritual doubt, Bowie channeled this esthesis into a lifelong spiritual hunger which in turn served to fuel his musical and artistic ambitions. Through music, Bowie was able to explore, express, and examine his spiritual worldview while searching for his “tenuous connection with God” (Bowie, “Bowie, What Is He Like?”). Despite the definite presence of spiritual uncertainty echoed throughout his body of work, he would continue to push these boundaries and evolve his spiritual philosophy throughout the course of his musical career. When diagnosed with cancer and confronted with the inevitably imminent prospect of his mortality, his music once again served to express and confront his beliefs. ★, his final artistic gift, suggests that he may have found some measure of spiritual peace at his life’s end; if a silver lining from his tragic passing can be gleaned, this is it.

It has been nearly four months since David Bowie passed away. The shock and sorrow of his sudden, tragic passing are beginning to fade away, yet his influence still resonates throughout the world and will likely continue to do so. Though celebrities and artists are remembered primarily for their work – their contributions to society – it is important to remember that these individuals lead intricately detailed lives much like our own. Art is not created within a vacuum. Regardless of how great or small, life experiences translate into one’s art, and the greatest works of art tend to have deeply personal origins; David Bowie’s life stands as an epitome of this concept. The utility of art to express personal beliefs and emotion is beautifully depicted through Bowie’s own thoughts on music, as recollected by his close friend, the actor Gary Oldman:

Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences. I can’t say that life’s pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it, but it has allowed me so many moments of companionship when I have been lonely and sublime means of communications when I have wanted to touch people. It has been my doorway of perception and the house that I live in. (Young)

Though David Jones has passed away, David Bowie continues to live on through his art and in the lives of those he touched. While his records continue sell, the spiritual evolution and experience conveyed through his music will continue to testify to art’s provocative healing power for all those still “running down the street of life” (Bowie, Reality).



1. In actuality, “David Bowie” is a stage name used by the musician christened David Robert Jones. This nom de plume was originally invented to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, vocalist of the American rock band The Monkees (Buckley 23). For the sake of convenience, however, David Jones will generally be referred to as “David Bowie.”

2. Transmigration of the soul is a process akin to reincarnation. In the case of Cyril Hoskin/Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, Cyril Hoskin was a fully grown man prior to his transmigration. In his autobiographical work, The Rampa Story, he details falling from a fir tree and seeing a vision of a Buddhist monk. As this monk’s body was old and feeble, he sought to be incarnated within Hoskin’s body; Hoskin, citing that he was dissatisfied with his own life, willingly agreed to let Rampa take over his body (Rampa 149-155).

3. The Stations of the Cross are a series of images, or “stations,” commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; they are commonly used as a Catholic devotion. There are fourteen Stations in total, each chronicling a different event leading to Jesus being laid to rest in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The Stations of the Cross are used as a form of prayer, rather than an “intellectual exercise”; the basic purpose of this devotion is to deepen one’s understanding of and relationship with God (“Stations of the Cross”).

4. The Kabbalah is an esoteric school of mysticism originating in Judaism. While the precise definition of what the Kabbalah “is” differs according to the individual practitioner’s traditions, the purpose of Kabbalism is to understand the relationship between Ein Sof (infinity/God) and the mortal, palpable realm (Dan 4-10, 39-41). As Kabbalists hold that God is beyond human comprehension, they believe that God created ten attributes/emulations, referred to as sephirot, through which his nature is continuously revealed (“Jewish Mysticism”). With the exception of Malkhut, our physical realm, these emulations are metaphysical, with each station representing the transcendent nature of God’s divinity and the path of man’s spiritual ascent; by ascending the sephirot, man can access the power of God (“Jewish Mysticism”). The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is used as symbolic representation of these ten Sephirot.

Fig. 1: The Kabbalistic Tree of Life (Kiener). 


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Bowie, David. Hunky Dory. Rec. Aug. 1971. RCA Records, 1971. Vinyl recording.

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On Natural Morality

Mel Gilbertson


What is morality? How do we know what is right and what is wrong, and why do we make that distinction in the first place? Morality is often seen as religious in nature, either as an innate, god-given gift or as a set of guidelines taught to us through religious texts like the Bible or the Qur’an. Moral philosopher Iris Murdoch suggests that the two are inevitably intertwined, for morality seeks its perfection in religion.[1] However, evidence suggests that morality has far more to do with biology than with religion. Morality does not require religion in order to develop; in fact, it is most likely a natural aspect of the human experience.

To begin with, let us clarify the definitions of “morality” and “religion.” In this context, morality is really shorthand for moral judgment — the ability to distinguish “right” from “wrong.” Ethical codes (e.g., the Ten Commandments) exist to assist this judging process. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, religion can be defined as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” Religion is thus a particular type of belief system — a coherent set of beliefs that inform one’s view of the world. Secularism, atheism, agnosticism, and non-theistic spiritualities are also belief systems, but are not religions per this definition. Depending on how you define “organized,” some theistic spiritualities — including many kinds of paganism — may not be considered religions under this definition, either.

Firstly, if morality were indeed religious in nature, then it could not develop within these non-religious belief systems. No morality means no ethical codes or other guidelines for moral behavior. And yet, non-religious ethical codes exist. Secular humanism, an atheist philosophy, includes “the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, [and] responsibility” as well as rationality, justice, fairness, compassion, and tolerance among its list of core principles.[2] Confucianism, an agnostic philosophy codified by the Chinese teacher Kǒng Zǐ,[3] has the Five Constant Virtues of humaneness, justice, propriety, wisdom, and integrity.[4] Most Wiccans and some other pagans follow the Wiccan Rede, “an it harm none, do what thou wilt.”[5] Political and social ideologies usually include moral guidelines that their adherents are expected to follow — feminists believe that it is morally wrong to infringe on someone else’s bodily autonomy; vegans believe that it is morally wrong to cause harm to animals. These ethical standards would not exist without a moral drive.

So, if morality is not inherently religious, where does morality come from? The Moral Sense Test, a four-year study developed by researchers at Harvard and Georgetown University in which close to 9,000 participants evaluated and responded to hypothetical moral dilemmas, suggests that morality is innate.[6] In fact, on average, participants agreed with each other on the proper moral course of action in each scenario about 88% of the time. Religious factors played a very small role in the participant’s responses to most of the scenarios presented, and no role at all in others. The participant’s gender, level of education, and politics did not significantly impact their sense of morality, either, with most variables accounting for less than 5% variance. The uniformity of responses means that either morality relies on values that the study did not measure, or that a good portion of our sense of morality is innate.

Why, then, do people disagree about moral issues at all? Dr. Ingrid Storm of the University of Manchester conducted a study evaluating the relationship between moral values and religiosity in Europe between 1981 and 2008, during which time many European nations became more secular.[7] In this study, she made a critical distinction between two kinds or “dimensions” of moral values — the first group of values being those which prioritize either personal autonomy or traditional, group-centered consciousness, with the second group being those which prioritize either self-interest or social norms that have been generally accepted across cultures and eras (i.e., don’t murder, don’t steal, etc.). She found that the former group of moral values were highly variable across the population and that as religiosity declined, so too did traditional, group-centered values while personal autonomy values rose. On the other hand, socially normative values remained relatively constant over time and across the population regardless of religiosity. It is these core, steady values, specifically, which I argue are natural and innate, while one’s feelings on personal autonomy vs. traditional values are derivative and taught by institutions like religion and politics.

This division between innate and derivative morals also neatly accounts for the fluctuation of what is or isn’t considered socially acceptable across cultures and eras; in some cases, derivative morals are held to be more important or stronger than conflicting innate morals. For example, the Romans allowed slavery as part of the ius gentium or international law even though it conflicted with the well-recognized natural law that all humans are born free. This legal distinction indicates that they recognized that slavery was immoral but practiced it anyways. Religions, too, have been (and still are) used to justify derivative moral values even when they would otherwise be considered immoral. During the Crusades, for example, the murder of Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land was considered justified and absolvable by the Catholic Church even though the Ten Commandments include an injunction against murder. On the other hand, core religious concepts reflecting our innate moral values tend to be similar across religions. The most famous and widespread of these similarities is the Golden Rule or law of reciprocity, a moral injunction shared by the vast majority of religions and philosophies which encourages people to treat others with respect.

Another way to examine the nature of morality is to look to people whose sense of “right” and “wrong” is diminished or absent. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), colloquially known as sociopathy, affects at least 0.6% of the U.S. population.[8] Psychopathy (as evaluated by the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version or PCL: SV) affects a similar percentage of people in the U.K.[9] Other studies estimate that sociopaths and psychopaths together make up about 1%-3% of the general population. Sociopaths have a sense of morality, but it is substantially different than most and they are more strongly influenced by self-interest. Psychopaths lack a sense of morality altogether and act purely out of self-interest.[10] Neither can empathize with others, although they can understand other’s emotions intellectually and can mimic empathy when it is in their interest to do so. Empathy is a key factor in the ability to make altruistic moral decisions, or decisions solely for the benefit of another. For example, let’s say you were to pass by a child drowning in a small pond. No one else is around, and intervening would save the child but your clothes would get wet. Is saving the child forbidden, permissible, or obligatory? This was one of the questions on the Moral Sense Test, and 97% of the participants agreed that saving the child is obligatory.[11] A sociopath or psychopath, however, would not save the child unless they saw it as beneficial to themselves in some way. Their self-interest and lack of empathy wins out over a diminished or absent sense of socially normative moral values. Because sociopathy and psychopathy are neurological variances that occur across all demographics, the logical conclusion is that morality is a neurological function.

The evidence is clear that our basic sense of morality is not religious in nature. So why is morality assumed to be religious? The belief that morals can only develop within a religious framework is a common source of discrimination against non-religious people. Indeed, this belief is so prevalent in our society that even atheists tend to be biased against other atheists.[12] One possible explanation is that most religions teach that their particular set of moral values are right and others are wrong, making no distinction between innate and derivative morals. Recognizing the non-religious nature of morality also means recognizing the virtues of other religions and non-religious belief systems as well as the failings of one’s own religion or belief system. How many of one’s moral assumptions are based on derivative or traditional morals, and to what degree might those conflict with one’s natural morals? How might one be judging others unfairly for not conforming to one’s moral standards? A non-religious concept of morality encourages tolerance and critical thinking in equal measure.

[1] Iris Murdoch, “Morality and Religion,” 1992, in A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers, 9th edition, ed. Lee A. Jacobus (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 366, 370.

[2] “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles,” Council for Secular Humanism, accessed October 29, 2016,

[3] “Master Kǒng,” the most common way he is referred to in Mandarin Chinese. “Confucius” is a latinization of Kǒng Fūzǐ, “grand master Kǒng.”

[4] These one-word translations are imprecise; please look into the original Chinese terms (rén, , , zhì, and xìn, respectively) if you wish to learn more.

[5] There are many variants of the Wiccan Rede, all essentially meaning that anything is permissible unless it causes harm to someone.

[6] Konika Banerjee, Marc Hauser, and Bryce Huebner, “Intuitive Moral Judgments are Robust across Variation in Gender, Education, Politics, and Religion: A Large-Scale Web-Based Study,” Journal of Cognition and Culture 10, no. 3 (2010): 253-81. doi:10.1163/156853710X531186.

[7] Ingrid Storm, “Morality in Context: A Multilevel Analysis of the Relationship between Religion and Values in Europe,” Politics and Religion 9, no. 1 (2016): 111-38. doi:10.1017/S1755048315000899.

[8] Ronald C. Kessler, Michael C. Lane, Mark F. Lenzenweger, and Armand W. Loranger, “DSM-IV Personality Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Biological Psychiatry 62, no. 6 (2007): 553–564. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.09.019.

[9] Jeremy Coid, Robert D. Hare, Amanda Roberts, Simone Ullrich, and Min Yang, “Prevalence and Correlates of Psychopathic Traits in the Household Population of Great Britain,” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 32, no. 2 (2009): 65-73. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.01.002

[10] This is but one model; in truth, the distinction between sociopathy and psychopathy (if any) is unclear as neither is an officially defined diagnosis. It is generally accepted that sociopathy correlates to ASPD, but even that is debated by some. Some researchers believe that the only significant difference between sociopathy and psychopathy is that the latter is inborn while the former develops in youth. Others view the two along a spectrum, with psychopathy representing an extreme form of sociopathy.

[11] Peter Singer and Marc Houser, “Godless Morality,” Project Syndicate, January 4, 2006,

[12] Will M. Gervais, “Everything Is Permitted? People Intuitively Judge Immorality as Representative of Atheists,” PLoS ONE 9, no. 4 (2014): e92302. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092302

Wind Energy: Risk vs. Reward

Molly Campbell


In a world where climate change is a real and serious problem, governments and environmental organizations are on a desperate search for clean, green energy sources. Harnessing energy from wind is one of the cleanest methods of generating power because it does not produce pollution or greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. It is abundant and infinitely renewable, and is considered by many environmental scientists to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels and, potentially, a solution to the global climate change issue. However, like any developing technology, this method of power generation has consequences that must be explored and taken into consideration. Wind energy production has serious negative environmental impacts and poses health risks for humans and animals, and for these reasons it cannot be considered a safe or sustainable way of powering cities.

At first glance, it is easy to say that wind energy is an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide emissions for electricity generated from fossil fuels are estimated to be between 0.6 and 2.0 pounds per kilowatt-hour, and for coal generated electricity, estimates are between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds. Wind turbines only produce 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour; at least fifteen times less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels and at least 35 times less than coal (Environmental). However, this is without regard to the amount of land that is required for the production of this wind energy. A recent survey by the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that wind facilities use anywhere from thirty to 141 acres of land per megawatt hour of power generated, more than coal or fossil fuels (Environmental). Because wind turbines must be placed five to ten rotor diameters apart (Environmental), and the average rotor diameter of current utility scale wind turbines is 116 metres (Anatomy), there is a significant amount of wasted space between turbines in a wind energy facility, space that could be better used through a different energy production method. In a recent study based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it was discovered that one-third of the projected electricity demands of the United States in 2050 could be generated with solar energy on 11,000 square kilometres of land or with nuclear energy on 1,489 square kilometres (Jenkins). Doing this with wind energy would require 66,576 square kilometres (Jenkins). Trying to meet the world’s energy demands with wind is not practical or sustainable. While it is true that the planet will never run out of wind, it will eventually run out of open space needed to harvest this wind. Tens of thousands of acres of forest would need to be cleared, resulting in the destruction of the habitats of countless wildlife species. The natural environment that would be destroyed is worth more than the clean energy that could be produced.

The risks posed to animals because of this energy harnessing method are too great to be ignored. The large, fast-moving blades of wind turbines are very dangerous to flying animals, specifically birds and bats. Many species are at risk of being killed either by the blades or by the drastic changes in air pressure surrounding the turbines (Farmers). Bird experts say that this could cause a chain reaction across North America or potentially on a global scale because many of the at-risk species are migratory birds (Farmers). Supporters of wind energy argue that the safety of birds and bats is taken into account and assessed during the construction of each facility, but according to BirdLife International Scientist Raul Ortiz-Pulido these tests are only run with a few wind turbines over a very brief time period (Farmers). Because the research is done on such a small scale there is a fairly minor injurious effect on avian species, many scientists and wind energy activists consider it negligible. However, a negative effect during such a short amount of time and with very few turbines is going to grow exponentially once the wind facility is operating at its maximum capacity for an indefinite time frame. It is the long term effect that will be detrimental; many species of bats and birds could eventually face extinction if enough wind power continues to grow in popularity as an energy source. Wind harnessing facilities are placing birds and bats in direct danger of injury and death and therefore are not an acceptable energy alternative.

It is not only birds and bats, though, that are threatened by wind harnessing facilities. Wind turbines have been shown to cause a variety of symptoms in humans, which together make up what is known by some as “wind turbine syndrome” (Campbell). These symptoms are the result of constant low-frequency noise, the shadow flicker effect from the blades, and electromagnetic radiation emissions and include sleep disturbances, headache, nausea, dizziness, increased blood pressure, weight changes, irregular heart rhythms, mood problems, chronic fatigue, depression, and tinnitus (Campbell). Dr. Albert Aniel, a physician, explains some of these problems and warns, “With low frequency noise, primarily generated by turbines, people feel that they must breathe at that rate, causing loss of balance, dizziness, and psychiatric disorders” (Adams). Because the emissions of the turbines and the way that individuals perceive them are both highly variable, some scientists argue that these symptoms cannot be considered a real medical condition and are not direct evidence that wind turbines adversely affect human health (Information Paper). Nonetheless, the fact that people living in close proximity to wind facilities have experienced these negative effects cannot simply be ignored. Whether or not all medical professionals and environmental scientists choose to accept this research as evidence, it is verifiably true that wind turbines make people sick. If wind energy use continues to grow, the number of people affected will grow even more quickly due to the increasingly large area occupied by wind turbines. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions while sacrificing public health is not a reasonable solution to the climate change issue; this trade-off would do our world more harm than good.

The risks of wind energy are not worth the reward. Energy from non-renewable resources can be replaced with energy from wind, however this comes at a great cost— too great a cost to be considered a viable option. Powering the world with wind would mean giving up thousands and thousands of acres of land. It would mean threatening countless types of birds and bats with extinction, potentially leading to a world-wide wildlife crisis as migratory species are killed off. It would mean jeopardizing the health of the public. Ultimately, the negative consequences of wind energy far outweigh its benefits. So, what is the solution to the global climate change issue? It isn’t fossil fuels, and it isn’t coal. Maybe it’s solar energy, or maybe it’s nuclear energy. Maybe it has yet to be found. But it isn’t wind.



Works Cited

Adams, Eileen M. “Pros and cons of wind energy debated.” Tribune Business News. 5 Feb. 2010. Proquest. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

“Anatomy of a Wind Turbine.” American Wind Energy Association. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. Campbell, Jackie, BScPharm, L.L.B. “Wind Energy and Health Effects.” Pharmacy Practice. 2010. Proquest. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

“Environmental Impacts of Wind Power.” Union of Concerned Scientists. 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2015

“Farmers and Scientists Consider Risks in Developing Wind Energy; source: IPS].” Noticias Financerias. 02 Mar. 2007. Proquest. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

“Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health.” National Health and Medical Research Council. Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.

Jenkins, Jesse. “How Much Land Does Solar, Wind, and Nuclear Energy Require?” The Energy Collective. 24 June 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Mopping with Love

Molly Campbell


Think of some popular commercials. How do the most effective ones catch viewers’ attention? Are they funny? Serious? Sad? Simply informative? Everyday, people are exposed to so many commercials that they often see them as a nuisance and may not pay much attention to exactly what effect a certain commercial is designed to have. However, with a closer look one can see that each commercial has been created to target the audience in a specific way. The actors, settings, and stories to tell in a commercial are handpicked from millions of possibilities. In a recent commercial for the Swiffer WetJet entitled “Cleaning is Easier with Morty and Lee,” the Swiffer company specifically chooses to showcase the lives of an elderly couple in order to make their product emotionally and practically appealing.

By telling a real-life story, the Swiffer company creates a commercial that is relatable for viewers. The commercial is set in Morty and Lee Kaufman’s home, and they are a fairly typical couple. A common stereotype that men are the messy ones and their wives have to constantly clean up after them is highlighted in this commercial. Morty admits to being untidy: “I don’t do any cleaning. I make dirt” (Swiffer). Lee, on the other hand, represents the stereotypical housewife when she says, “I like a clean kitchen!” (Swiffer). While Lee is doing her best to get the housework done with her traditional mop and water, Morty just watches. While Lee marvels at the dirt picked up so easily by her new Swiffer WetJet, Morty just watches (Swiffer). In both of these instances it is not that Lee’s husband wants to ignore her feelings; it is simply that cleaning is just not important to him. Women who view this commercial will be able to identify with Lee; at one time or another they have no doubt found themselves tirelessly cleaning up after their onlooking husbands. On the contrary, Morty is a relatable character for men, the messy ones who are inattentive or oblivious to the housework their wives are constantly doing. Lee and Morty are a perfect example of this stereotype, and because it is so common in today’s society its representation in the commercial illustrates something that both women and men experience on a regular basis. It makes the commercial relatable for both groups and automatically causes it to resonate with them. This stereotype has been portrayed intentionally to make viewers feel emotionally connected to the commercial and is one major reason why Swiffer chose to share this particular couple’s story.

Next, the commercial specifically uses elderly actors in order to illustrate how simple and practical the product is to use and how far its design has come from the mops that are standard for people in Lee and Morty’s generation. In the beginning of the commercial, ninety year old Lee is shown struggling with her heavy old mop. She is shown trying to lift the mop up to the sink and wring it out and admits that she simply cannot do it: “I’m not big enough or strong enough for this” (Swiffer). Then, Morty and Lee find a box on their doorstep containing the Swiffer WetJet. Puzzled, Morty asks, “What is a WetJet?” (Swiffer). Lee, who is almost as confused, answers him: “I think it’s some kind of mopping device” (Swiffer). The box is so small that they can’t believe something inside of it could possibly replace their big traditional mop, showing that this is a practical, modern product. The Swiffer WetJet is infinitely easier for Lee to use than her conventional mop (Swiffer). The functionality of the product is emphasized when Lee shows her surprise at how well it works and how effortless it is to use. She says, “There sure is a lot of dirt on there. Morty!? Look how easy it is” (Swiffer). The creators of the commercial exaggerate this to leave potential consumers thinking that if a ninety year old woman can use the WetJet without difficulty then so can almost anyone else. The Kaufmans’ age is used to exaggerate the practicality of the product. Their amazed reaction to this new appliance is due in part to the fact that they are elderly, and Lee’s ability to use the product easily despite being ninety years old highlights its simplicity and user-friendliness.

Lastly, the creators of the commercial incorporate scenes of heartwarming interaction between the Kaufmans in order to get viewers to associate positive emotions with the product. Although Morty does not take an interest in cleaning himself, he is concerned about Lee trying to use the old mop. When he sees her struggling with it he worries aloud: “There should be some way to make it easier” (Swiffer). It is touching that although Morty is completely out of his element in the world of housework, he evidently cares for his wife enough that he wishes it did not have to be as difficult for her to get the clean kitchen that she desires. When the product is delivered to the Kaufman’s doorstep Morty calls Lee out to see it saying, “Here’s a box, babe, open it up” (Swiffer). It is endearing to hear Morty address Lee with such a romantic, charming term especially given that they are ninety years old. Then, after opening up the WetJet and having Lee show him how simple it is to use, Morty remarks, “It’s almost like dancing!” (Swiffer) and proceeds to twirl his wife around the kitchen. Scenes of affection and romance somehow always seem to be even more adorable when they involve seniors, and the Swiffer company takes advantage of this. Through the use of this elderly couple, the creators of the commercial are able to take scenes that would have been fairly emotive already and make them even more poignant. This is done deliberately to give the product sentimental appeal and make it memorable. When viewers see this appliance in stores, they will recall the emotional effect that the commercial had on them and will be more likely to purchase it.

In conclusion, it is very evident that the company chose to feature this particular couple for specific reasons in their commercial for the Swiffer WetJet. Lee and Morty and their story serve not only to demonstrate the usefulness and practicality of the product being advertised, but also to add emotional appeal to it. Lee and Morty are representatives of a stereotype that is seen frequently in society: men make messes, and women clean up after them. Swiffer uses this aspect of Lee and Morty’s lives to create a commercial that is relatable for male and female audiences, thus helping viewers develop a connection to the product. Even as an elderly woman, Lee is able to operate the Swiffer WetJet quite easily, proving its simplicity and usefulness. Morty is very affectionate towards his wife, making the commercial touching and causing viewers to associate positive emotions with the product. Swiffer could have selected countless other individuals for this commercial, but chose Morty and Lee because they make the product practically and emotionally alluring. After all, who could resist the idea of quick and easy mopping combined with a little love story?


Works Cited

Swiffer. Cleaning is Easier With Morty and Lee. Youtube. Youtube. 1 July 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

Effects of PTSD in Military Personnel After Deployment to Iraq

Stephanie L. Spray



Returning from a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan changes lives for all veterans who served time there. The more obvious life-change involves learning how to accommodate any physical injuries they sustained; but not all veterans wear their injuries on the outside. Others must learn to cope with mental disorders because of their service. The focus of this paper is specifically on the issue of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the effects it has on war veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Symptoms of PTSD range from interference with sleep patterns, to experiencing unwanted flashbacks, and even thoughts of suicide. The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) assists veterans suffering from this disorder by providing services such as counseling services and compensation. Despite these services, an issue of stigma attached to military personnel with PTSD prevents some from seeking treatment. This paper will describe what PTSD is, what assistance is available to veterans, and possible solutions to reduce the stigma associated with this disorder.


Effects of PTSD in Military Personnel After Deployment to Iraq

Being part of the US military involves more than just fighting for your country and your freedom. Many civilians neglect to acknowledge the aftereffects deployment may have on military personnel. Returning from the War Zone, a guide provided to military personnel by the US Department of Veterans Affairs upon returning from deployment, attributes numerous symptoms to common stress reactions. These symptoms are normal for veterans to experience when making the transition from a military mindset back to a civilian one.  Some of the symptoms include having trouble sleeping, feeling overly tired, having nightmares, experiencing frequent flashbacks of unwanted memories, being angry, feeling nervous or helpless, having an upset stomach or trouble eating, headaches, sweating when thinking of war, a racing heart, shock, numbness, and/or an inability to feel happiness. Most service members are able to readjust quickly. However, others may experience great distress and an interference with how they are able to function. Their reactions are consistently more intense and bothersome and appear to show no sign of decreasing over the course of a few months. Three other possible red flags service members should watch out for accompany the aforementioned common reactions. The first is experiencing relationship problems brought on by constant and intense conflicts, lack of good communication, and/or an inability to meet their normal responsibilities. Second, experiencing poor performance in work/school/other community functioning due to an inability to concentrate, failure to meet deadlines, and/or having a higher number of absences. The third, and final red flag, is having any thoughts of harming oneself and/or another individual. The VA advises service members to seek assistance if they experience any of the red flag symptoms because they may indicate the veteran is suffering from a more serious problem such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2010). Veterans suspected of having PTSD will begin treatment after a formal diagnosis of the disorder.

To make a formal diagnosis, all clinicians must follow a standard developed by the American Psychiatric Association. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the most recent edition of the manual used by clinicians to diagnose persons for possible mental disorders. The essential features of PTSD are described as being the development of characteristics such as intrusive memories, avoidance stimuli, negative alterations in cognition and mood, exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations of oneself, and alterations in arousal and reactivity following the exposure to one or more traumatic events. The symptoms must last longer than one month and cannot be attributed to the physiological effects of a substance or any another medical condition. Those who have experienced trauma and lived through events such as rape, military combat and captivity constitute the highest rates of persons suffering from PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

PTSD itself has been a common diagnosis among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. In their article in Psychological Medicine, Sundin et al. (2010) discuss the difference between military personnel deployed to Iraq from both the United States and the United Kingdom. They were able to conclude that the United States demonstrates a higher number of soldiers returning home with PTSD but were unable to conclude whether or not the location of combat has any impact on whether or not a soldier will suffer from PTSD.  Sundin et al. (2010) noted, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been called one of the signature injuries of the Iraq War” (p. 367). By naming PTSD the signature injury of the Iraq War, Sundin et al. were emphasizing the level of severity existing in military personnel returning from deployment to Iraq.

The VA directs veterans diagnosed with PTSD to seek treatment. According to a study published in Health & Medicine Week, approximately 20 percent of veterans returning home from their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD with only a little over half seeking treatment for it. The majority of the veterans will avoid seeking treatment due to the fear that it will harm their careers. However, the veterans who do seek treatment claim to feel it is inadequate for their needs (“Study,” 2008). Their article in Psychological Services (2009), Treatment Presentation and Adherence of Iraq/Afghanistan, Erbes, Curry, and Leskela discuss the need for treatment of PTSD in Iraq War veterans. Erbes et al. reported, “The need for mental health services for returning veterans from the wars in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom or OIF) and Afghanistan (Operations Enduring Freedom or OEF) is substantial” (p. 175). Erbes et al. are expressing their belief that PTSD is a prominent issue for Iraq war veterans and treatment is necessary for the individuals suffering from it.

The number of Iraq war veterans diagnosed with PTSD exceeds the number of Afghanistan war veterans. The New England Journal of Medicine (2004) published the article “Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care” by Hoge et al. This article discusses combat duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, any potential mental health concerns for the soldiers, and issues soldiers may face when seeking treatment for such mental health concerns. Specifically, they discuss the difference in numbers of war veterans suffering from PTSD deployed in Iraq versus Afghanistan. Hoge et al. (2004) concluded:

Exposure to combat was significantly greater among those who were deployed to Iraq than among those deployed to Afghanistan. The percentage of study subjects whose responses met the screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD was significantly higher after duty in Iraq (15.6% to 17.1%) than after duty in Afghanistan (11.2%) or before deployment to Iraq (9.3%); the largest difference was in the rate of PTSD. Of those whose responses were positive for a mental disorder, only 23 to 40% sought mental health care (p. 13).

Hoge et al. provide statistical evidence of the substantial toll PTSD has on the lives of soldiers returning home from deployment; especially from Iraq. PTSD is conclusively a major issue for veterans returning from the Iraq War.

Impact on the Life of the Veteran and their Family

The impact PTSD has on the lives of veterans is apparent. Returning from the War Zone explains four symptoms of living with the disorder in depth. First, veterans may endure unpredictable bad memories of the traumatic event with the ability to bring back the very terror felt when the traumatic event occurred. Second, they may isolate themselves in attempt to avoid triggers (sound, sight, or smell causing you to relive the event). Third, they will emotionally shut down in order to protect themselves from having to feel the pain and fear. Fourth, the veterans are operating at all times on a high-alert mode causing them to be startled easily and often have very short fuses. The soldier suffering from PTSD is not the only one affected by the change it has on their behavior. The behavioral changes immensely impact the lives of their families as well. While the soldier is on deployment, their families were dealing with their own challenges such as feeling lonely, concerned, and worried. The separation may have caused insecurity, misunderstanding, and distance within the family. Resolving these concerns quickly results when the soldier and their family talk through their issues. This allows them to gain a better understanding and appreciation for all members involved, bringing the family closer together. When a soldier returns from war and is suffering from PTSD, their families will still have similar concerns needing to be resolved, only this task is often more difficult to achieve due to the behavioral changes of the returning veteran. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, trauma and PTSD may decrease the satisfaction the veteran has with their family relationship and increase the likeliness of them being violent towards their partner and children (United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2010, p. 6, 11). The effects of PTSD go beyond the veteran diagnosed.

Christopher Pupek is an Iraq War Veteran suffering from PTSD who provided a firsthand account of how this disorder has affected his life. He claimed that living with PTSD was troubling to him. His sleep patterns were irregular and his nightmares haunted him on a regular basis. Oftentimes they would cause him to wake up and not want to fall back asleep. He no longer enjoys camping in a tent because being out in the wilderness triggers flashbacks of the war zone. Garbage bags and trash on the sides of the road are triggers as well because they were a common hiding place for roadside bombs. His PTSD has negatively affected the relationship with his current wife and his three children, though he did not care to discuss that in more detail. He added that the degree to which people suffer from PTSD varies greatly (C. Pupek, personal communication, April 1, 2014). His testimony of his experience of life with PTSD after the Iraq War gives a better understanding of the extent to which this disorder impacts a veteran’s daily life and indicates there is a negative influence on the lives of their families as well.

Support Offered by US Government to Iraq War Veterans with PTSD

The US Department of Veteran Affairs developed a guide for military personnel, Returning from the War Zone (2009), to ease the transition from the battlefield to their everyday home life. It begins with a thank you and an explanation of how their deployment benefited their country and themselves. It discusses common reactions the soldier should expect following the trauma of war, the experiences they are likely to encounter at home, positive ways to cope with the transition, signs to watch for to know if they need outside assistance, and locations to obtain the services. It covers the likelihood of a veteran developing PTSD and covers the red flags indicating they may be suffering from the disorder, and what they should do if they are experiencing those symptoms. There is also a short and simple PTSD Screening Test included in the guide that assists veterans with determining whether PTSD is a potential concern for them. It also shares personal stories of other military personnel who suffer from PTSD and addresses the stigma associated with having mental health issues. The guide makes it clear that having a mental health problem does not mean they have a weakness (United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2009, p. 1, 9, 10, 11).  This guide is an attempt by the VA to reach out to the veterans at risk for PTSD.

In some cases, the VA offers compensation to veterans suffering from PTSD. In their article in the PTSD Research Quarterly, (2011), Marx and Holowka discuss how the VA offers disability compensation. They go in depth to discuss the issue of compensation seekers which is a common stereotype in returning Iraq war veterans who are suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In one section, they discuss the exaggeration of PTSD symptoms by returning war veterans but the compensation has no impact on whether or not they will seek treatment for it. Marx and Holowka explain:

Even among other decidedly subjective mental disorders, PTSD is a condition that is especially likely to be exaggerated. Importantly, though, service-connected PTSD was no more common among Veterans who exaggerated symptoms than it was among Veterans who did not exaggerate. This finding is inconsistent with the hypothesized negative impact of VA psychiatric disability policies (p.3)

In other words, Marx and Holowka are trying to point out that even if a veteran is exaggerating their symptoms, it does not mean that they will not receive treatment for PTSD even if they do not meet the standard for compensation for the disability.

The VA and the Department of Defense developed The Iraq War Clinician Guide as an aid for clinicians specifically treating veterans returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Chapter 4 of The Iraq War Clinician Guide (2004), Treatment of the Returning Iraq War Veteran, Brewin et al. discuss the various approaches that have been developed for treating veterans returning from Iraq that are diagnosed with PTSD. The methods of care according to this chapter are education about post-traumatic stress reactions, training in coping skills, exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, family counseling, early interventions for Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) or PTSD, toxic exposure, physical health concerns, and mental health, family involvement care, outpatient treatment, residential rehabilitation treatment, and pharmacologic treatment. Brewin et al. emphasize:

There are a variety of differences between the contexts of care for active duty military personnel and veterans normally being served in VA that may affect the way practitioners go about their business. First, many Iraq War veterans patients will not be seeking mental health treatment. Some will have been evacuated for mental health or medical reasons and brought to VA, perhaps reluctant to acknowledge their emotional distress and almost certainly reluctant to consider themselves as having a mental health disorder (e.g., PTSD) (p.33).

This shows that the US government is taking care to ensure their active duty military and veterans are receiving mental health treatment. It also demonstrates that a stigma does exist in the military regarding veterans diagnosed with PTSD and especially for receiving treatment for it.

The outline of the treatment provided by the VA specifically for PTSD, located in Chapter 7 of the Iraq War Clinician Guide (2004), PTSD in Iraq War Veterans: Implications for Primary Care, provides clinicians with a standard procedure when working with these clients. Prins, Kimerling, and Leskin discuss the importance of informed clinicians regarding what PTSD is and how it affects the clients they will be treating. It also touches on the importance of using assessments when treating their clients. The chapter suggests primary care practitioners should know two things. They should know their patients want primary care providers to acknowledge their traumatic experiences and responses. Also, they should know how to detect and effectively manage PTSD in primary care settings. A primary care provider should determine the patient’s status in relationship to the war, acknowledge the patient’s struggles, and assess for PTSD symptoms, be aware of how trauma may impact on medical care. There is also a procedure to follow in case a patient demonstrates symptoms of PTSD in the middle of a medical examination (p.58-60). Kimerling et al. noted, “Because far fewer people experiencing traumatic stress reactions seek mental health services, primary care providers are the health professionals with whom individuals with PTSD are most likely to come into contact” (p.58). Kimerling et al. are emphasizing that there is treatment available for Iraq War veterans but fewer soldiers are taking advantage of it.


Iraq War Veteran, Christopher Pupek, disclosed that he had an overall positive experience when dealing with the VA but he also has a few ideas about what the VA should do differently to help veterans suffering from PTSD. He noted it still suffers from bureaucratic woes of federal agencies such as having long waits for and between appointments and there is no urgent care clinic for veterans. He says living in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, driving 225 miles to Iron Mountain, MI is a pain in the neck. He also feels there should be more extensive counseling and psychiatric options for veterans and a better way to address the issues of stigma. He believes the VA should provide more awareness programs to friends and family. He used to be an Iraq War veteran who refused to accept he had PTSD due to the stigma associated with it. He stated that when he did finally accept it, he felt enlightened, like a weight lifted off his shoulders (C. Pupek, personal communication, April 1, 2014).

Other issues with the treatment provided by the US Government for veterans suffering from PTSD include compensation and a lack of assessment use. In their article in the Research Quarterly (2011), PTSD Disability Assessment, Marx and Holowka argued:

With so many evidenced-based assessment tools available, clinicians have no legitimate excuse for not using them in their practice. This is particularly the case in PTSD C&P examinations, where the use of reliable and valid instruments may mean the difference between whether or not a Veteran obtains compensation for his or her PTSD. Despite the wide availability of evidence-based assessment tools and what may be at stake in these examination, the available research suggests that many PTSD C&P examiners do not use such instruments (p. 1).

Marx and Holowka do well to point out the flaw with compensation and have discovered where the problem exists. By simply utilizing the tools already available, a better system for determining who receives compensation or not is born.

The most prevalent issues in dire need of attention are the stigma associated with both the diagnosis of PTSD and with receiving treatment.  In their article in Psychological Services (2009), Treatment Presentation and Adherence of Iraq/Afghanistan Era Veterans in Outpatient Care for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Erbes et al. report, “There are high levels of perceived stigma among returning soldiers” (p.176). One study published in Health & Medicine Week noted, “The Rand report recommends the military create a system that would allow service members to receive mental health services confidentially in order to ease concerns about negative career repercussions” (“Study”, 2008). Another article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2004), Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, Barriers to Care by Hoge et al. suggests something similar:

Efforts to address the problem of stigma and other barriers to seeking mental health care in the military should take into consideration outreach, education, and changes in the models of health care delivery, such as increases in the allocation of mental health services in primary care clinics and in the provision of confidential counseling programs by means of employee-assistance programs (p.21).

An agreeable solution to reduce the pressure stigma places on veterans returning from the Iraq War who suffer from PTSD in need of receiving treatment would be to move the mental health services into a more confidential and discreet clinic while also educating the public.

In conclusion, PTSD is a major issue for veterans returning home from the Iraq War. It changes the lives of not only the veteran diagnosed with the disorder but also their families. The US Government is attempting to assist with treatment for those who are suffering from this disorder; however, there is room for improvement. The current stigma associated with veterans diagnosed with PTSD and who seek treatment for it is of great concern. A possible solution is to create a more confidential clinical setting for treatment and to raise awareness by educating the public on mental health disorders. As stated in Returning from the War Zone, “Mental health problems are not a sign of weakness. The reality is that injuries, including psychological injuries, affect the strong and the brave just like everyone else” (United States Department of Veteran Affairs, 2010, p.9). PTSD affects the way people live and treatment is a necessity. Reducing the stigma attached is essential to open the door for veterans suffering from PTSD to receive the treatment they need.



Curran, E., Friedman, M. J., Gusman, F. D., Southwick, S. M., Swales, P., Walser, R. D… Whealin, J.. (2004). Treatment of the returning Iraq war veteran. In J. I. Ruzek. (Author), Iraq war clinician guide (pp. 33-45). Retrieved from

Erbes, C. R., Curry, K. T., & Leskela, J. (2009). Treatment presentation and adherence of Iraq/Afghanistan era veterans in outpatient care for posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological services, 6(3), 175-183. doi: 10.1037/a0016662

Hoge, C. W., Castro, C. A.,Messer, S. C., McGurk, D., Cotting, D. I., & Koffman, R. L.(2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. The New England journal of medicine, 351(1), 13-22.

Kimerling, R., & Leskin, G. (2004). PTSD in Iraq war veterans: implications for primary care. In A. Prins. (Author), Iraq war clinician guide (pp. 58-61). Retrieved from

Marx, B. P., & Holowka, D. W. (2011). PTSD disability assessment. PTSD research quarterly22(4), 1-6.

Pupek, C. (2014, April 1). Your experience with PTSD and the VA [Personal interview].

Study finds 1 in 5 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression. (2008, April 28). Health & medicine week, 42-45.

Sundin, J., Fear, N. T., Iversen, A., Rona, R. J., & Wessely, S. (2010). PTSD after deployment to Iraq: conflicting rates, conflicting claims. Psychological medicine, 367-382. doi: 10.1017/S0033291709990791

Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. (2013). In diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed., pp. 271-280). American psychiatric association.

United States of America, VA national center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010, September). Retrieved from

Psychology of Goaltending in Ice Hockey

Gordon Joseph Defiel



The position of the goaltender in hockey is extremely difficult to perfect. It entails a large amount of physical skill, but the psychological aspect of being a goalie is more often the difference-maker in the length of a goaltender’s career. Goalies at the collegiate level are having an extremely difficult time making the transition to the National Hockey League (NHL), and it is believed that they are having a hard time adapting to the psychological effects that comes along with playing in the world’s best hockey league. This paper focuses on the psychological barriers that goaltenders face, as well as how goaltenders in the NHL use mental imagery and positive self-talk practices to overcome these psychological barriers and reach peak performance on a consistent basis. This paper will explain how these practices work, as well as how goaltenders can implement these tactics to improve their game. These tactics are intended for goaltenders at elite levels looking to play in the NHL, but are also applicable for all athletes looking to improve the mental side of their sport. Through extensive research, this paper concludes that mental imagery and positive self-talk practices are proven to help goaltenders reach peak performance on a more consistent basis. College goalies looking to ease the transition to the NHL, should invest time and energy into mastering the practices of mental imagery and positive self-talk.


The Mental Side of Goaltending

The game of ice hockey may be one of the most challenging sports of all. Ice hockey entails many of the talents required for other sports, but is played on an ice surface with blades one eighth of an inch thick. These components add additional layers of difficulty and make the game entertaining for both players and fans. The most challenging position in the game may be that of the goaltender. Sports psychologist Miller (2003) reported that being a goaltender in the NHL involves more stress and pressure than any other job in professional sports. A major source of this pressure is that a goalie’s performance can impact the team’s overall mindset and confidence (p. 161). A minor mistake in the forward or defensive positions is usually unnoticed to the standard hockey fan. For the goaltending position, that is not the case. Any small error made by a net-minder- results in a goal against, along with thousands of fans yelling at them. This is why the position has such a big impact on the result of the game and the reason for goaltenders being known as the “back-bone” of the team. It is nearly impossible for a team playing at a high level to find success without having the possession of a sound net-minder.

Since the 1980’s, goaltending technique has been continually evolving and improving. It is no longer composed of pure athleticism, but incorporates fundamental positioning as well, resulting in an exponential increase in goaltending efficiency. Today’s goalies largely focus on putting themselves in strategic positions relative to the opposing shooter, adding pressure on the shooter by cutting off angles and forcing them to out maneuver the goalie. Being a goaltender myself, I have always been interested in these new fundamental techniques. After seventeen years of improving on my craft, I have developed enough in my position to earn a scholarship to play hockey for Lake Superior State University. While I am proud of my achievements, I want my career in hockey to progress past the collegiate level, and I am determined to find out what it takes to find success at the professional level.

Goaltenders at the college level, including myself, are having a very hard time playing well on a consistent basis. I’ve witnessed my opposing collegiate counterparts play amazing one night, and then significantly worse the next. The problem goaltenders at any level face, is the pressure to perform. Goaltenders carry such a heavy load of pressure, that it often restricts them from reaching their level of peak performance. Psychologist Harmison (2006), states that when an athlete performs at his absolute best, he has reached his peak performance level (p. 233-243). There are many environmental threats that hinder an athlete from reaching their level of peak performance. The biggest threat to athletes, but especially hockey goalies, may be pre-competition anxiety. Pyschologist Chaube (2013) stated, “Performance anxiety is mainly characterized by an irrational situational anxiety accompanied by unwanted physical symptoms which can lead to dysfunction and/or uncontrolled behavior. It occurs especially in those situations in which a task has to be done that could subject the performer to possible criticism from others” (para. 6). Pre-competition anxiety is a major factor in hindering goal attainment. It is the butterflies in the stomach, the sweaty and clammy palms before the game, and often the negative thoughts on what might happen if things go wrong. Goaltenders often let the fear of failing, and the fear of criticism get in the way of stopping the puck.

According to psychologist Nazam (2014), research shows that athletes competing in individual sports have siginifancly lower levels of self-confidence and higher levels of somantic anxiety compared to those who play in team sports (para. 8). Although netminders belong to a team, they are the only ones on the ice at their position so they relate to individual sports in a lot of ways. Goalies often worry about things that they can’t control, which ends up interfering with what they can control. The one thing every goalie can control, but rarely does, is themselves- especially when pre-competition anxiety enters their minds. Goalies grow up spending thousands of dollars on private coaching and off-ice training, but rarely spend time, energy, and money, on improving the mental side of their game. Many people agree that sports are 90% mental, yet athletes rarely spend time with a sports psychologist. According to sports psychologists Mack and Casstevens (2002), “Sports psychology is the science of success. Studies show that within a group of athletes of equal ability, those who receive mental training outperform those who don’t almost every time. Mental skills, like physical skills, need constant practice” (p.17).

If the mental side of sports is so important, and goalies are clearly struggling with it, then why don’t people invest time, money, and energy improving their mental game? They either don’t believe in it, or are completely unaware of the benefits of improving the mental side of the game. It is very rare for a collegiate team to hire a sport psychologist because they are expensive, but also because many coaches are still old school in their training, and do not know the benefits that a mental coach can provide. On the other hand, teams in the NHL have an abundance of money to invest in their players. Goaltenders in the NHL have regular access to sports psychologists that help them practice many mental techniques that help them overcome pre-competition anxiety to consistently reach their level of peak performance. In a direct interview with Jordan Sigalet, goaltender coach of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, Sigalet shared some valuable information regarding the treatment his goaltenders have access to. Sigalet stated, “Our goaltenders get regular access to sports psychologists if they choose to”. If college goalies want to make the step to the NHL, they will have to master the techniques used by NHL goalies to overcome the barriers of pre-competition anxiety.

Mental Imagery

There are many different strategies goalies can practice to ahieve peak performance on a more consistent basis. One of which is the practice of mental imagery, or mental visualization. The terms mental imagery, visualization, and cognitive rehearsal are all interchangeable. Sport Psychologist Cohn (2013), is an advocate of the practice. He believes that mental imagery is the cognitive rehearsal or creation of a task in the absense of physical movement. Researchers claim that the central nervous system can not distinguish the differance between physical and mental movement. Imagery essentially programs the human mind to respond as programmed when in competition (para. 3-4). Goaltenders often spend time before games visualizeing themeselves performing at a high level. If the visualization is successful, when the goaltender enters the game, their mind already believes that they have been there before, and that they performed extraordinarily well. Theoretically, this then makes the goalie more likely to perform well because their mind already believes they have done it before.  Goaltenders can also use imagery to revisit an old game. If a goaltender wonders why a certain puck went past him or her, they can visualize what happened and go over what they could have done to make the situation different.

The mind is a powerful thing and can often work against us. In order to have success with imagery, a goaltender must be able to control their mind and not allow negative images to affect sport performance, such as imagining letting in a bad goal or getting scored on the first shot of the game. Those fears can become a barrier to improving performance in the net. In order for a goaltender to have success in the practice of mental visualization, they need to recognize barriers that hinder them from goal attainment.  Sports psychologist Cooley (2011) stated, “For the athlete to overcome barriers, he or she has to mentally convince him or herself that it was an image, not a barrier. Until the athlete can convince him or herself, the barrier will remain and could impact the athlete’s competition. The athlete has to find a way to negate the negative visualization and replace it with positive visualization. Once the athlete overcomes a barrier, then and only then will he or she be able to take the necessary steps to improve his or her performance” (p.17).

Many young athletes have a hard time dealing with the pressure of the competition. Pressure acts as a major barrier to young goaltenders because they are not as experienced as the ones of veteran status. Young goaltenders also struggle with fear. Fear of both failure, and success. Cooley (2006) continued: “Fear can be a facinating and powerful emotional response to failure or success. When an athlete recognizes fear of failure as a reason for not attaining his or her goal the fear becomes a barrier to attaining his or her goal. Identifying fear as a (possible) barrier to his or her success is the first step an athlete might take to overcome that barrier (p. 29)”.

In order to overcome these barriers like fear and pressure that hinder goaltenders from reaching their goal, they need to spend time practicing the process of mental imagery. Goalkeepers use imagery for learning new skills, overviewing skills they have already mastered, and preparing to handle both the positive and negative events that take place through a long and rigorous game. Prior to competition, net-minders that perform mental imagery often find a quiet place to mentally prepare for the competition. Noise can often distract a goalie from visualizing succesfuly, so goaltenders might use headphones if they can’t find a quit place. Although every goalie can mentally prepare differently, one might start out by visualizing themselves extremely relaxed during pre-game warm ups and heading into the locker room before the puck drops. One might visualize themselves in the third person to see them self glide across the ice smoothly with confidence. The imagery session is always positive, but not always perfect. They may imagine themselves responding to a bad call or acting calm and collected when the opposing team gets a powerplay. Detail plays a major role in imagery. A goaltender may imagine what the crowd may be like; responding cool and calm while the opposing crowd taunts and belittles them. They might change the speed of the imagery session, picturing a puck moving incredibly slow or extremely fast and they make the save regardless of the scenereo. Or they might imagine acting completely relaxed when facing the opposing team’s best player on a penalty shot. Color is also important in perfecting the detail of an imagery session. Goaltenders visualize the color of the seats in the rink or the color of the opposing team’s jerseys. The more realistic a goaltender can visualize, the more success they are likely to have. Some veteran goaltenders even use scent in their sessions. They can smell the scent of the rink, the concession stand, or maybe just the scent of their own equipment. All of these senses add detail to the images which can lead to greater success in the visualization session as well as greater success on the ice. The length of these sessions all depend on the goaltender. The majority of elite goaltenders perform their session in three to five minutes but some sessions may last a few hours depending on the goaltender’s routine- an aspect that has a major impact on a goaltenders ability to perform imagery successfully.

The building blocks of success in the world of goaltender start with routine. During the interview with Calgary Flame’s goalie coach Sigalet, I asked him, “During your career, what did you do to prepare for games?” Sigalet Responded:

“Visualization and Routine were always my biggest tools throughout my career when I was growing up and playing, especially at the pro-level.  I would always start my visualization days leading up to games, which would start with pre-scout videos of our opposition team.  I would visualize the teams tendencies and players tendencies in my mind so that it was no surprise to me when it came to game time and this always ended up being a huge part of my routine especially at the pro level where access to opposition video was at your fingertips. Routine is what brings consistency and the closer you can stick to your day-to-day routine and schedule the more consistency you will find in your game.”

For goaltenders to find success using mental imagery, they need to take time everyday to practice the skill. University of Windsor psychologist Gelinas (2006) stated that goaltenders should practice “event-day” imagery where the goaltender where the goaltender spends a few minutes the night before the game imagining themselves entering the rink, going through their pre-game routine, and game situations, before they fall asleep (page. 68). Imagery is an underrated technique that goaltenders use at the professional level to overcome any barriers getting in the way of goal attainment.


What goalies think usually influences their actions. Positive self-talk (or positive self-reinforcement) can help goaltenders obtain peak performance on a consistent basis.  Like imagery, the mind is a powerful thing, and if you can’t control it, it may work against you. Controlling thoughts is extremely important in the goaltending position, as there are a number of elements that cause goalies to be discouraged and take them off their game. Opposing fans go through a great deal of work to try and get the goaltender off his or her game, especially at the collegiate level. Choreographed chants in the student sections, and vulgar or degrading signs are just a couple tactics fans use to get the goaltender off of his or her game. It is vital for goaltenders to stay positive and confident throughout the game. The biggest enemy a goaltender faces is themselves. Goalies are often extremely hard on themselves because of the high pressure to perform. It is easy to get down emotionally, and once you are down, it is hard to get back up. An effective way to stay positive is through self-talk. Hardy, professor at the University of Western Ontario (2004), defined self-talk as, “Either overt (out loud) or covert (in your head) related statements that are used for instruction and motivation for athletes” (Cited in Gelinas, page. 68). Self-talk can have a major effect on a goaltender’s focus and motivation.

A goalie can use self-talk in a number of different ways. Goaltenders may use certain key words that help them stay focused on the task at hand. For example, say a goaltender chooses the word “focus” as his key word. When the opposing team is entering the defensive zone on the rush, he may overtly or covertly say “FOCUS!” which triggers his mind and body to be alert and ready for the opposing team’s attack. A goalie could also use a combination of key words to help them perform. A goalie may choose the words “confident, determination, pride” to help them reach maximum performance. They could repeat these words over and over throughout the game to remind themselves to play with confidence, determination, and pride. Robotically repeating key words helps goaltenders keep their emotions in check. Psychologist Gelinas (2006) stated, “Self-talk plays a pivotal role in a goaltenders reaction to situations and directly affects future actions and emotions. The underlying goal is to reduce conscious control and work toward automatic action” (page. 68). When negative thoughts enter one’s mind, it is crucial that they replace those thoughts with positive ones. Positive self-talk is proven to help athletes perform better. At the University of Thessaly, Hatzigeorgiadis and the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (2011), performed a meta-analysis on self-talk and sport performance. A total of thirty-two studies yielding sixty-two effect sizes were included in the final analytical pool. The results of the study showed that interventions including self-talk training were more effective than those not including self-talk training. The results proved self-talk to be effective in enhancing sport performance, and provide new research directions (p. 348-356). Self-talk is proven to improve sport performance if practiced properly. It is easy for goaltenders to get down on themselves, letting self-talk have a negative impact. When 10,000 fans tell a goalie he is a sieve, it isn’t easy to disagree with them, especially after the goaltender had just failed to save the puck. Goaltenders that do not practice positive self-talk often subconsciously experience negative self-talk. It is hard for a goalie to think they are a “beast” if they don’t truly believe they are. Using a key word like “beast,” for example, helps engrave that belief into their brain and helps them overcome any negative energy flowing through the brain. Gelinas (2006) mentioned that it’s very beneficial for goalies to “practice positive self-talk”. Goaltenders should be encouraged to analyze the content of their self-talk and weed out any negative self-talk in their game. “When negative statements enter a goaltender’s mind, they should be replaced with positive ones. Athletes will be rewarded if they invest in improving their self-talk skills” (p. 69).


The goaltending position entails many pressures that have a major impact on a goaltenders performance. One of the biggest barriers young goaltenders struggle with is pre-competition anxiety. There are many tactics goaltenders can use to overcome negative barriers that hinder them from achieving their peak performance level. Two major tactics used by goaltenders in the NHL are mental imagery and self-talk. Self-talk and mental rehearsal techniques have proven to be extremely beneficial to goaltenders. Goaltenders in the NHL spend time before games working on visualization tactics. Psychologist Keating (1995) went into an NHL dressing room before a game to study their game day preparation techniques. Keating reported that many players spent time before the game getting their mind in the right place. Many players said that they spend time before the game visualizing themselves doing good things on the ice and the goaltenders spent time imaging the process of making big saves (para. 48).

Due to the substantial amount of pressure placed on the goaltender, it is very hard for them to stay mentally tough throughout a season. Goaltenders at the collegiate level struggle to stay mentally tough on a consistent basis. Their season is often resembles a roller coaster ride which makes it hard for teams in the NHL to pick a goaltender. Collegiate goaltenders tend have a harder time adapting to the NHL opposed to players of different positions. Goaltenders rarely make their NHL debut before the age of 24, when every year new forwards and defensemen join the league at the age of 18. The pressure of the position of a goaltender opposed to other positions is significantly different. College level goalies have not mastered the mental side of the game yet. In the interview with Flame’s coach, Sigalet continued on to state, “For me it always came down to channeling the nervous energy in positive ways, which I think is something you learn to do over time as you mature as a goalie.” Between goaltenders entering the NHL at an older age, and the inconsistent performance level of college goaltenders, it is evident that young goalies are having a hard time channeling nervous energy in positive ways.

If college goaltenders are struggling so much with mental battle of the position, then why don’t they practice it? Goaltenders at the NHL level spend regular time with sport psychologists that help them fix any mental inaccuracies in their game. Personally, I have put in countless hours in the gym and on the ice and have never met with a sports psychologist or even attempted to log legitimate time and energy into becoming more mentally tough. Colleges often don’t have the funds or knowledge on the importance of the imagery and self-talk to hire personal psychologists to help their goalies find success in these areas. If the game is said to be 90% mental and 10% physical, then goaltenders need to spend more time improving the mental side of the game. Many goaltenders in the NHL have found success by overcoming their psychological pressures through the use of mental imagery and positive self-talk practice. College goalies aspiring succeed in the NHL will need to employ these tactics in order to master the psychological side of the game.



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