Evil DeAddiction


JC Schildbach, LMHC

I finally watched the ‘reboot’ or ‘re-imagining’ of The Evil Dead ‘. It’s only four years old at this point, proving that this blog is up-to-the-minute timely if nothing else.

I’m sure to some this will sound like an old-man horror-fan rant. And certainly I could probably create an entire blog called “Old Man Horror Fan Rant”, easily generating a post at least every other week based on how often I watch horror films, read horror novels (at least recently and in my teens), and my horror-centered habit, which stretches back to my childhood.

Speaking of habits, that is the big problem at the center of the Evil Dead remake.

I couldn’t care less whether film-makers change the gender or ethnicity of film characters…provided those alterations aren’t playing into stereotypes or other lazy writing/film-making practices, although I have no idea why the main character in the Evil Dead reboot didn’t retain the gender-neutral-tilting-toward-female name Ashley (opting for Mia instead).

That said, I do have issues with current ideas of how to remake horror movies to fit a more “modern” sensibility, with an appeal to audience “sophistication.” For instance, the bland Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, starring Jackie Earle Haley, tried to play up the whole child-molestation angle of Freddy Krueger—essentially draining the original film’s humor, and making it difficult to really get behind Freddy’s imaginative, dream-based murders. Yes, I said “get behind…murders.” Somehow, Freddy ended up being much less entertaining, and much less scary at the same time, by attempting to ground his evil in explicitly exposited child molestation—perhaps because, prior to Nightmare, Haley played a more disturbing and scary child molester in the more real-world movie, Little Children.

Now, as much as I appreciate the inclusion of the original version of The Evil Dead in the pantheon of horror movies, and enjoy the low-budget craftiness and concept of the film, I’ve only ever been a casual fan, largely due to the last third of the film devolving into non-stop witchy cackling, spewing blood, melting faces, and various other forms of jetting viscera and cracking, crumbling bones.

Old Evil Dead

Old-school, drug-free evil.

The simple premise of the original film could be characterized as, ‘whoops, our group of five friends tried to have a fun weekend getaway at a rustic rental cabin, but by messing with a book and tapes we found in the basement, accidentally awakened an ancient evil that has trapped us here and is now infesting/killing us all.’

The crafters of the remake decided to add layers of ‘sophistication’, to make the story much more drab and burdensome, so that the premise becomes, ‘our group of five friends, including a brother-sister pair and the brother’s nurse girlfriend have to go to the brother-sister pair’s family cabin where everyone can pitch in to help the sister kick her heroin habit (again), following the brother-sister pair’s mother’s death, and after discovering that somebody set fire to the basement and hung numerous dead cats there, and, whoops, the biggest nerd among us found a book wrapped in barbed wire, that he cut open and started messing with/reading/reciting from, accidentally awakening an ancient evil that trapped us here and is now infesting/killing us all.’

Like with the child-rape angle of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, the family-cabin/addiction/nurse angle of The Evil Dead remake drains the fun out of the original movie, trying to make cackling, possessed, trap-door-pounding twenty-somethings serious, just-say-no business.

To get back to the habits I mentioned being at the center of the problems with the reboot of The Evil Dead

The reboot tries to make heroin addiction a central plot device. Of course, addiction of any sort can certainly be horrific. But the writers/filmmakers here don’t actually commit to the drug abuse as something that is frightening. Rather, they use addiction as part of a hokey empowerment narrative that can best be described as ‘an addict becomes infected with evil because of her idiotic nerd friend and finds the kind of inner strength none of her sober friends/family members have, not only to expel the evil from her own body, but to just plain kick its ass’.

New Evil Dead

New and improved evil!  Now with addiction!

Early on, I thought the addiction might become some kind of clever metaphor for making the kinds of errors in judgment that lead to evil infesting one’s body, that there might be some wild, conceptual departure from the original film. But that hope was quickly shattered. The addiction of one among them just becomes an excuse for everybody else in the party to dismiss whatever the addict says/feels, and to engage in all manner of their own irrational behavior and stupid decisions.

Beyond the already-mentioned foolishness of the nerd cutting barbed wire so he can peruse the contents of a book bound in flesh that he found in the basement of the addict’s family cabin, along with numerous hanging dead cats, and evidence of a deliberately set fire—things that everyone in the group, with essentially no discussion, decides are not as concerning as the heroin habit of one of their party—we also have a nurse among the group who apparently stole equipment and medications from her job in order to treat someone in withdrawal. Either that, or we are supposed to believe that the use of these tools/substances, ”the same treatment she would get in a hospital”, was approved by her bosses.

‘Sure, Olivia, we always encourage our staff to treat withdrawal in their off hours.  Take whatever you need. Just make sure to dispose of the hypodermic needles properly!’

And did I mention that this group of friends apparently isn’t all that alarmed at finding hanging dead cats in a basement where a fire was set? Is that the kind of thing anybody sees without being concerned about who may have been there, and who might come back anytime—especially given that they left a flesh-bound, barbed-wire-wrapped book full of disturbing illustrations and ancient incantations down there? And why on earth would those people have left the book there? At least in the original, we recognize that the people who left the book and the recordings were already taken by the evil.

It’s also confounding that in the midst of all this modernizing and sophisticating, the film-makers didn’t think to remove or alter the tree-rape scene to where it was, maybe, not a rape scene. Certainly, childish fan-boys would have been upset at such an omission, but they were probably already upset at having a female protagonist anyway–a protagonist who is both an addict, and the victim of rape by tree roots.

In the end, the remake is most disappointing not just because it doesn’t improve on the original in any identifiable way, aside from maybe its special effects, and, well, better acting. It is most disappointing because it treats addiction as a pointless plot device. As much as addiction is treated as a central element of the movie’s set-up, the writers have nothing original to say about addiction, or even anything unoriginal that might lend some weight or authenticity to the story, except maybe that the family members and friends of addicts get completely stupid when trying to get the addicts to ‘kick’. But I’m guessing that’s not the intended message.

The central character could have just as easily come down with a vicious case of the flu, or been dealing with a bad breakup, or, really, since it is already there, been having a particularly hard time dealing with the loss of her mother; or, since it is already there, been dealing with the trauma of a sexual assault by a tree (not that I would recommend that as a similarly pointless plot device).

Horror movies tend to be most effective when they are simplest (dead return to life and begin eating the living, giant shark terrorizes coastal town, teens stumble upon the isolated home of a murderous family, young people visit a cabin where they accidentally awaken an ancient evil); or when there are clever concepts or twists on expectations (a puzzle box releases evil beings from hell, murdered child murderer invades the dreams of his killer’s children, the therapist is really dead, time-travelling jet engine fails to kill teen who kills teen in a rabbit costume…ok, maybe I shouldn’t try to explain that one here).

But when horror movies (or any movies) try to introduce “real world” problems as nothing more than a plot device, they risk ruining fantastical or otherwise functional concepts with movie-of-the-week blandness and clichés, which is exactly what the reboot of The Evil Dead does—shoves weak “recovery” and “intervention” ideas in the middle of an otherwise simple, effective, and scary idea, making addiction just some dumb excuse for other dumb things that happen, and happen more pointlessly than they would have if the addiction angle had been left out.

And, if you want to get right down to it, the movie blames the addiction problem of one character for killing all of her friends by making them commit to staying in a cabin infused with evil…even though it’s really the nerd toying with a book that kills everybody. And that’s a burden the nerd should bear…but he’s dead, and the addict is alive. How do you think that’s gonna work out?


Nebraska Never Lets You Come Back Home

JC Schildbach, LMHC

September 13th marks the anniversary of the death of my father. September 13th, 2017 marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

A rural Nebraska town. A young man running a stop sign. A wife and six kids left without a husband/dad. A small congregation left without a Pastor.

The subtitle of this blog used to be “Missives from an Insecurely Attached Therapist”. But I changed that when I moved away from doing therapy proper, and moved away from trying to focus all of these posts on mental health issues (as much as anything can ever be divorced from mental health issues).

Still, my attachment issues have remained, although awareness of those issues has helped me manage them.

It’s odd to have almost no conscious sense of loss when a subconscious sense of loss pervades your entire existence and informs far too much of your behavior…forcing you to rein in your immediate reactions in favor of more rational approaches to, well, most silly little situations that are often no more than the day-in-day-out ins and outs of life.

It’s like having to constantly remind yourself that bumper cars are fun, and not an affront to your personhood.

It’s like forever being on alert that your friends might not really be your friends, that everyone is potentially just messing with you…that any positive is about to be clobbered by a ‘however’.

Or, to be even less mature, it’s feeling that any time you’re feeling a bit of joy, a big ‘but’ is gonna get shoved in your face.

It’s wishing you had lashed out and punched a LOT of people in the face when that was an option, and realizing you didn’t, because living with confusion rather than violence was more your style…and maybe something that Jesus demanded of you.

Or did He?

Did I mention I stabbed a classmate in the back with a pencil once?


Circa 1970, when I was still the big-headed baby of the family.

It’s being angry with Jesus for not equipping you with the appropriate skills and permission to beat the piss out of your enemies, because that was what was ultimately right and good…right?

It’s recognizing that everyone is always looking out for everyoneself.

It’s measuring whether or not any of those everyones are capable of/interested in looking out for anyone else, and knowing that’s always a risky calculation.

It’s knowing that figuring intent and motive is forever a frightening measure…one that assumes a skewed calculator…and a bullshit answer, regardless of what you punch in.

So you move on in your own tightly-wound world, having faith where you see fit, often recognizing that faith falls where you wouldn’t expect.

It’s knowing that faith is stupid.

It’s knowing that faith isn’t making the appropriate calculations to provide you a safe path.

It’s knowing that a safe path isn’t really that interesting.

It’s knowing that “faith” is a loaded word, a word in which you lack faith.

Sorry if I’m not on your same page, faith-wise, dad.

Now to get back to my Bowlby reading.

Happy death day, Pops.

I Can See the Stars Again


JC Schildbach, LMHC

The original writing I did on this post was under the title “I Can’t See the Stars at Night” roughly two weeks ago–writing that took a hard turn, and escaped me, putting me off track completely.

But things can shift rather suddenly.

When I got home from work tonight, more than an hour-and-a-half late, I took the dogs for a walk. As I was heading out across the front lawn, I heard what I initially mistook for some sort of chorale. It turned out to be the yipping of my neighbor’s Chihuahua, on the far side of her property, a distance that, on this magical night, transformed the aggravating noise into a brief delusion of angelic harmony.

How are such mistakes made?

I was also stopped by police on the way home for speeding. “Going over 40 in a 35 zone,” said the cop, who was rather quick with the whole process and let me off with a warning…without even calling it a warning.

At any rate, my abandoned piece on not seeing the stars started off as an idea about “self care”—those things we do to avoid burning out at work, or charring the circuits in other facets of our lives—as well as the need to have self-care back-up plans.

One of my main self care strategies…at least during the warmer months, although I will do it throughout the year so long as it’s dry enough…is to sit out on the deck, drink in hand, staring up at the stars. I usually listen to music on my headphones, as much to drown out the noise of passing cars and other neighborly cacophony as to help focus on the experience. Just simply listening to music, while disengaging from everything else is also a big self care piece for me…although much harder without something magnificent upon which to gaze.  Plain darkness, or the light of a few candles can work in a pinch.

I’m not good at plain meditation.

red moon blog

The moon at night through the smoke…bloody enough for you?

This summer, though, the stars in this part of the world have been blocked out more than once by, to steal a line from the Sanford Townsend band, smoke from a distant fire.

These blockages went on for days upon days, reaching into weeks. The only way they lift is with heavy winds, or a bout of rain…neither of which has been in abundance in the stretch since May.

Of course, even if you get a bit of rain, the clouds also block out the stars.

To now steal a line from Bananarama, it’s been a cruel, cruel summer. Despite a fun trip to Southern California, and an abundance of warm, sunny weather here at home, there’s been a perpetual fog hanging around my head. A sense that things had tanked, and were not going to improve. I was fighting to keep away from teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair.

The unusually hot, dry weather meant I had to fill my rain barrels repeatedly with a garden hose, just to keep the plants on my deck from burning up. I stopped counting how many times, although in the past I can’t recall having to do it more than twice without the rain intervening.

sunflower sun

Stare into the sun…it won’t hurt your eyes…the smoke is protection.

But it wasn’t the weather—the heat and the lack of precipitation—that was at the core of my despair, so much as it was a personal situation…or, hey, let’s call it a work situation.

I got word today that the situation has changed, that my teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair was unnecessarily dire.

So I’ll revert back to happy head-banging, with my world suddenly, and perhaps ridiculously optimistically, changed.

Changed to the point where being pulled over by the cops barely registered as a thing that happened.

Changed to the point where the yipping of a Chihuahua could be mistaken for a choir.

Changed to the point where I wish you similar good news and good happenings in your life, and I wish for myself that I won’t get too convinced that this news is some kind of actual solution, and that I won’t revel too much in anyone else’s misfortune.

And I look forward to a few more nights this year where I can actually stare up at the stars, music filling my ears (Chihuahua-based or otherwise), and sipping on, say, a mineral water.

Enjoy your last week-and-a-half of summer.


Caddyshack Fan Fiction


JC Schildbach, LMHC

So, I was at a family dinner over my niece’s wedding weekend—not a specifically wedding-related event-meal, but that’s why we were all there—when I overheard (parts of) a conversation between my daughter, and my nephew’s significant other, about artist Patrick Nagel—he of Duran Duran Rio fame…or, as my daughter put it, “Hair Salon Art”. I might refer to it as Playboy Advisor art, but I wouldn’t want to have to explain why I would know such a thing.  Hey…it was the 80s, alright?

Nagel rio

And when she shines…or some such…

At any rate, the random combination of a pre-wedding get-together and artist Patrick Nagel kicked me in the head with a bad memory…or rather, a personal embarrassment barely shared with anyone outside of my own head…until now. Okay, I shared the story with at least two people…my closest friend of 30+ years (now—10+ but almost 20 years then), and a writing professor I admired.

Neither turned out to be all that impressed by the…er… competency of the writing, or the craft of the story.

To clarify, back when I was (playing at) writing short fiction—not counting the fugues I occasionally yield to on this particular platform—I completed an exercise in dialog-based storytelling, which, along with most of my other efforts in that particular arena, belie a certain lack of ability to capture how real-live people speak…or at least how real-live people might speak in totally contrived situations. (I still have a frightening recall of actual conversations…except when I deliberately try to forget…but those often seem unlikely and bland when written out as fiction).

The Nagel-involved story I wrote, or rather, dribbled out onto the page, involved a frustrated-artist-turned-housepainter, on the eve of his ex-girlfriend’s wedding to another man, trying to express his love for ‘the one that got away’—on a golf course, in the rain—or some such. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics.

Or, rather, I’ve tried to forget a lot of the specifics.  I can safely say I have no idea how the golf course came into play.

And, fortunately or unfortunately, a Microsoft update on a Dell computer shunted the file containing that story out into some undiscoverable place. I don’t dare dig through my ‘hard copy’ files to see if that embarrassment still exists, for fear I might feel obligated to share it here…or revisit the personal nightmare by reading said hard copy. Although, if it does exist, I know exactly where it would be.

But we’ll leave that to a day when I am feeling more up to facing my personal demons.

In the sound and fury of the particular tale under consideration, our angry, young, male protagonist laments how the public ignores his latest works—an attempt to utilize the style of Patrick Nagel’s work while capturing “real women’s” bodies, in all their perfect imperfection. So, he was basically using a style of highly-defined lines and an art-deco sensibility to show something that didn’t fit into clean lines and an art-deco sensibility…or some stupid crap along those lines. Thank the maker I didn’t try to do any illustrations or samples of the alleged works, or get into any more detailed explanations of them than I did.

As I write this, I realize I still remember too many of the specifics, even if the golf course piece doesn’t make any sense to me.

The idea behind the art aspect of the story was that our protagonist was trying to make a statement, to convey his understanding of women and how women are objectified, and—well, I suppose the idea was about men who are passionate and supportive of women who are then left by women who move on to men who aren’t so passionate and supportive. It was, to my thinking at the time, some kind of feminist statement—in spite of the clearly patronizing message.

Ultimately, it was just a dramatized version of the “nice guy’s” lament, (‘why are women always choosing bad guys, and not nice guys like me when I’m so much more understanding?’) but with a ridiculous art-criticism angle to it.  Or, to put it another way, it was pretentious in the dumbest of ways.

Did I mention that I was working through some of my own crap at the time, involving a failing relationship? And that I was maybe 20 years old, and knew exactly nothing about relationships? (Which is not to say I know that much more now, but…)

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been to have a female character that wasn’t just a vague object of the angry young man’s affection—having a character that was more fleshed out than just a guy’s desired woman. But even that wouldn’t have saved the story, since, at base, it was just a story about a guy whining to his ex-girlfriend about how he can’t understand why she wants somebody else instead of him…all while continuing to pretend to be just a nice guy.

What might have made the story marginally more functional in its intent would have been if I understood, or even tried to understand, the person who the female character was based on.  But it was a selfish, self-indulgent complaint of a story.  Self-reflection?  No, I’m a writer–arrogance is my birth-right!

Looking back, though, I realize that I had set the bulk of the story on a golf course, in stormy weather—just like the scene in Caddyshack, where Bill Murray’s character, Carl Spackler, caddies for “The Bishop” in a nighttime thunderstorm, until the Bishop is struck by lightning, and Spackler sneaks off, leaving him for dead.

caddyshack lightning

If only the wrath of God took out embarrassing memories.

My protagonist was essentially Spackler—clueless and self-centered—living in a fantasy-world where he is the center of attention—just a Cinderella story of flower-decimating, golf-club-swinging, muttering foolishness.

But played for drama, rather than comedy.

caddyshack runa away

It’s funny to run away from a lightning-struck priest. Whining to an ex-girlfriend on a rain-soaked golf course?  Less funny.

In the course of all of this kicking myself in the head, I realized I could maybe go back and re-tool the story, to actually make it Caddyshack fan fiction—turn it from pathetic to hilarious—Carl Spackler’s back-story…the crisis that pushes him out into the world where he makes contact with the Dalai Lama, who promises Spackler he will achieve “total consciousness” upon reaching his deathbed.

But then, the Nagel element began causing problems. Would Spackler, in 1980, have been aware of Nagel’s art? In the short time between Nagel’s rise to prominence, and Nagel’s death in 1984, would Spackler have tried to connect with the Dalai Lama about consciousness, and women’s issues, and art, and all that?  As a back story, the timeline wouldn’t work out?

Could I substitute a different artist for Nagel?  Leroy Neiman, perhaps?  (Sorry, just thinking, of Playboy-affiliated artists for no reason in particular.)

Of course, when I think of the effort and the potential embarrassment involved–no matter how private–I’m not gonna go back and write any Caddyshack fan fiction—not after spending a few decades trying to forget about the story that would form the basis of that fan fiction.

But, hey…anybody else out there itching to create some Caddyshack fan fiction?

If so, feel free to submit here in the comments section.

Happy fan-fictioning, y’all.


Slow with Liquor


JC Schildbach, LMHC

Nelsan Ellis, known to most as the character Lafayette Reynolds, a gay, V-dealing short-order cook, medium, cousin to Tara Thornton, and friend to Sookie Stackhouse on the series True Blood, died July 8th, 2017 of a heart attack. More specifically, Ellis died of complications following heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Ellis, who, in real life, had a wife and two young children, was only 39 years old when his attempt to put down the bottle killed him.

I can’t claim to know the full extent of Ellis’ alcohol abuse, or whatever other factors might have contributed to his untimely death. But the thought that his efforts to end an addiction to alcohol was what ultimately killed him should give us all pause.

Lafayette with a drink

Ciao, bitches!  Ellis has left the building.

The good ol’ U.S. of A. still has a massive alcohol problem, in terms of use, perception of use, and understanding of impacts. Sure, we’ve gotten all M.A.D.D. and managed to sharply decrease drunk driving—or, rather, to at least make drunk driving illegal and unacceptable—for the most part. Still, almost a third of all deaths in automobile accidents involve alcohol.

President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis raised a big stink about declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, citing a 142-deaths-per-day figure for deaths by drug overdose (which includes all unintentional drug overdoses, not just OD by opioids, which sits at 91 per day for 2015).

And while opioid abuse has been climbing towards alarming, our nonchalance about alcohol abuse is still confounding.

If you look at deaths in the United States directly attributed to alcohol, they are at about the same level annually as deaths by gun (including both homicides and suicides), or annual deaths in automobile accidents–or right around 80 deaths per day.

But when you factor in all the deaths involving alcohol…those primarily attributed to alcohol (diseases, alcohol poisoning, and such), and those deaths where alcohol was a significant factor (car crashes, suicides, homicides, all other forms of accidents involving alcohol) then the total number of alcohol-related deaths rises to over 230 per day (albeit, intruding on other categories of death).

But how many of us, in our puritanical, cold-turkey, I-can-quit-anytime-I-want culture of addiction-denial and personal responsibility even realize that heart failure from alcohol withdrawal is a thing?

Sure, we’ve seen movies, TV shows, and even documentaries depicting the horrific sickness and potential death that comes from withdrawing from opiates–“kicking” heroin being a dramatic staple of drug addiction stories. But how often do we see any depictions of the danger of alcohol withdrawal, or any kind of realistic portrayal of the dangers of alcohol use and abuse?

As a culture we celebrate drunkenness and binge-drinking…until we don’t.

Think of a recent comedy you’ve seen, or at least a recent R-rated comedy. If it had scenes involving alcohol, what happened in those scenes, and what messages were conveyed? I’d venture a guess that the messages included the idea that binge drinking is, at its least problematic, an awesome escape from life stressors, just a way to cut loose and have fun; and that at increased levels, binge drinking is still pretty hilarious—leading to some wildly comedic pratfalls and other scenarios involving what would probably be fatal, or at least permanently-disabling, head injuries—all played for laughs.

Moving beyond such comedic depictions, chronic, excessive drinking might become marginally less comical over the course of a film. But, ultimately, movies tend to show us that people who chronically drink are able to get it together and turn their lives around in the space of a montage, or perhaps following a heart-felt speech from a loved one. Think Trainwreck, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, How to be Single, or maybe as far back as Knocked Up—I could go on and on, and back through decades of movies. But at least I now realize that I spend a ridiculous amount of time watching comedies on DirecTV.

Such messages of hilarity are typically upended in more ‘serious’ fare, like Flight, starring Denzel Washington, or Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. Or, at least they’re sort of upended.

In Flight, Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker, saves (most of) an airplane full of people by flying while wasted, then tries to quit, but relapses, then corrects the alcohol relapse with cocaine, in order to become jury-pleasing honest and speak beautiful truths.

In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, realizes what a disappointment he’s become, and we flash forward from Blake staggering off stage to throw up massive quantities of Jack Daniels between alleyway dumpsters and nearly losing a friend’s child in a mall, to several months later when he is clean and sober, and everything is hunky dory—except that he doesn’t get the ‘girl’ who is about half his age.

Beyond just Hollywood portrayals, think of how you, and other people you know–friends, family, co-workers, online acquaintances–talk about alcohol. A stray comment about the urgency of a drink to take the edge off some negative experience. Expressing a desire to wash away the workday with a bottle. An impending vacation where one intends to aggressively day-drink, evening drink, and late-night drink.  Drinking memes suggesting alcohol is just a comically enjoyable part of life.

I don’t mean to get all holier-than-thou. I’m more-than-guilty myself…of the drinking, of the denial, of the comments and laughter about, at, and around drunkenness. I’ve got no end of irresponsible drinking stories to spin—going back decades. As a matter of fact, I’m currently nursing a vicious bacon-grease burn that was birthed into this world by the midwifery of a bottle of Kirkland brand vodka.

And I don’t want to suggest we all drop our sense of humor.  Just maybe stop and think about it awhile.  When drinking is played for laughs, or treated as just something we all do, how much longer does it take anybody to get serious about problem drinking? How much easier is it to stave off the idea that maybe we should tone down the booze intake?

I also don’t want to imply that Hollywood is responsible for anybody’s personal decisions and habits. However, we as a culture endorse a lot of pro-booze, and pro-binge-drinking messages, while slapping a little “drink responsibly” disclaimer in tiny letters and hushed tones, after our big, bold cries of, “Hold my drink! Woooooooo!”

On the other hand, we portray opioid abuse as a disturbing descent into hell, and a national emergency.

Perhaps that’s because, except when alcohol abuse results in a sudden, accidental death, or the relatively rare withdrawal-based-heart attack like that suffered by Ellis, death by alcohol is often a long, slow process, while opioid OD seems much more shocking, short-term, and immediate. We’re allowed to see alcohol abuse as amusing…something people might grow out of after a few (or a few years of) wild exploits, whereas opioid abuse seems like a wholly disturbing, sudden collapse into hopelessness.

But we need to look at whether those perceived differences are real, or just a matter of cultural acceptance versus cultural rejection, normalization versus novelty, and indifference versus shock. We, as good ol’ Americans, enjoy our drugs, and, like all things American, X-treme is where it’s at!  Be that a quick-and-painless death by extreme, or a decades-to-death extreme.

So, I’ll just bring this all to a close with a quote from Ellis’ character, Lafeyette…

“All the shit I done in my life – the drugs… the sex… the web site. I did it so my life wouldn’t be a dead-end, and this is where I end up. Now what kind of punchline is that?”

Or perhaps just…

“Ciao, bitches.”

(Drink responsibly, and all that…there are plenty of ways to find help, like via your insurance company, or https://www.aa.org , where you can find local meetings…not that I’m endorsing any particular source of help or another…call 211 or a local crisis line if you want to look for some other options…crisis line locator at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-network/ or perhaps https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help –the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, where “find help” is even in the name of the link).


LGBTChaos in the Military: Another Trump Distraction?


JC Schildbach, LMHC

It must have come as a surprise to many in the military community to learn that major DoD policy decisions are now being made under advisement of “generals and military experts” who provide secret counsel to a demented old man tapping away at his tiny phone keyboard with his tiny thumbs, as he sits atop his porcelain throne in a 3 a.m. constipation rage.

(Note to President Trump: Steve Bannon staggering drunkenly around the oval office in a Napoleon hat is not a “general”, and your son-in-law Jared is not a “military expert” in spite of your need to believe he is super-human in both physical and mental capacities as a justification for why your favorite daughter chose him over you as a breeding partner.)

Trump trans tweet turd

The fuzzy turd of Donald’s logic.

There is actual evidence, Twitter- and otherwise-based, that Trump supported the rights of the entire LGBTQ community, and advocated for everybody just calming the f*ck down about bathroom laws, and all that other genital-fixated nonsense as recently as last year.

Trump lgbt flag

Hey–look at my totally-not-staged prop-flag!!  I’m so progressive!  Psych!!

But that was before he had the neo-Nazis…er, I mean the Brown shirts…er, I mean the alt-Breit folks whispering in his ear about the threat non-masculine men and masculine women pose to the good ol’ US of A in general, and the U.S. Military in particular.

When President Trump wasn’t trying to play shapeshifter to fit the desires of his loyal, yet indiscriminate, yet hyper-discriminatory base, he shouted out his support for “The Gays” and anybody else who fell anywhere near that camp. President Trump was cool with anybody who wouldn’t get too upset about him grabbing their pussies, or anything else they might potentially bleed out of if the grabbing got a bit too intense. Or so he said.

But now that he knows the terrible expense of gender reassignment surgery, and how that money could be much better spent on his weekend trips to his own resorts, he needs to protect the American taxpayers from such wastefulness, so that he might funnel those funds to himself.

So, f*ck transgender people who would put themselves in harm’s way to serve in the U.S. military! We can safely say they are doing nothing more than risking their lives just to finance their elective surgery, and maybe pass on state secrets to people who shouldn’t have them…like maybe their friends in the Soviet Union…wait…that’s not what we call it anymore…is it?  Anyway, they’re clearly in it for themselves…right?

Given Trump’s history of valiant service to this country, we can trust that he has the best interests of the military community at heart…and the LGBTQ community as well…just like he has always come out in favor of all Americans at all times, and has never used divisiveness and distraction for his own benefit.

Russia what?!?  Russia who?!?

God bless our Commander in Chief…for what it’s worth.


A Searchlight Soul


JC Schildbach, LMHC

Chester Bennington completed suicide by hanging on Chris Cornell’s birthday, just over a month after Chris Cornell completed suicide by hanging on the 37th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide by hanging.

For those unfamiliar, Bennington was best known as the lead singer of Linkin Park; Chris Cornell was best known as the lead singer of Soundgarden; and Ian Curtis was best known as lead singer of Joy Division.

Now, Linkin Park’s music makes me want to grind my teeth, spit, and curse—and not in a good way. And I never got into Joy Division beyond owning a ‘greatest hits’ collection for a few years as an undergrad. I am, however, a big fan of Soundgarden, as well as another of Cornell’s bands, Audioslave—not such a big fan that I ever made it to a concert. But, living in Seattle, I would see members of the band at other bands’ shows around town in the way back of the early 90s.

cornell dark

How would I know?  Cornell from ‘Fell on Black Days.’

I have no idea if Cornell’s suicide was related to Curtis’ beyond coincidence. But Bennington’s was directly connected to Cornell’s. They were friends, and, from what I understand, Bennington took Cornell’s death particularly hard. Both Cornell and Bennington had struggled with addiction and mental health issues during their lives.

But the takeaway shouldn’t only be that a life marbled with addiction and mental health issues leads to suicide. That makes it too easy for people to distance themselves from suicide, its causes, and our potential susceptibility to its draw.

In the wake of a loved one’s death, thoughts of suicide can arise or increase, and suicide attempts climb.

In the wake of a loved one’s death from suicide, those thoughts and those attempts climb significantly higher.

There are those who have criticized Curtis’, Cornell’s, and Bennington’s suicides by pointing out that they had achieved success, or had spouses, friends, children…all of which should have somehow prevented them from committing suicide, much less having thoughts of such.

That’s a natural impulse—to want to point out why we never would have killed ourselves in similar circumstances. But it’s also false comfort.

Just try to imagine finding yourself in a space where money, success, and a loving family can be discounted as not providing enough impetus to go on living. Imagine finding yourself in a space where you actually feel the people who care about you most will be better off without you. Imagine being so deep into that thought process that you can’t find your way out—that it seems completely logical—that suicide actually seems like the only rational decision.

I could get into explanations of survivor guilt, or what grief can do to people, or the impact of knowing that a friend reached the conclusion that suicide was an appropriate response to the world around them–a world that you were part of.

But I’d rather you think on how declaring yourself immune to something, insisting you are completely separate from some problem, is the first step to blocking your understanding of that problem…or worse, blocking your compassion toward others affected by that problem. You can feel for the families and friends of those who complete suicide without feeling the need to condemn the dead. That condemnation does nothing to help the grieving, or anybody else, least of all you.




Bumblebees Don’t Care About Your Stupid Photos


JC Schildbach, LMHC

Okay, when I say bumblebees don’t care about your stupid photos, what I really mean is that the bumblebees I know don’t care about my stupid photos.  Maybe the bumblebees you know are willing to pose, and your photos aren’t as stupid as mine.

But the bumblebees I know got sh*t to do.  No time for them to worry about my composition or framing or the light, or even sitting still for just a second or two.

With a seven-grillion megapixel camera built into every phone these days, I suppose I’ve gotten impatient with the whole photography process.  I see something that looks kind of cool, I snap 4,000 pictures in the space of a minute, from a variety of angles, then look through the shots on my computer, and see if anything is good, or at least good enough to be cropped and otherwise manipulated.  If it doesn’t work out, oh well.  Digital trash bin.

Not like the days of Fotomat, or dropping your film roles, carefully tucked into an envelope marked with sensitive personal information, into a department store box only marginally different than a garbage can, just to have those carefully-crafted, preciously staged moments returned to you, developed into blurry 3 x 5 mementos or grainy 4 x 6 keepsakes–suitable for framing or shoebox storage–all at a cost of about $12 a pic (adjusted for inflation).

Regardless, I wanted to get some cool pictures of this bumblebee on my tomatillo plants…because I thought of it one morning on an impulse while I was out watering whatever plants needed it.  Perhaps predictably, most of my shots turned out like this (yes, cropped and otherwise manipulated) one.

Second Best Bee

Yeah, that’s a bee in there…a bumblebee.

I’ve been overjoyed that there is apparently a local hive of these guys who have discovered the container garden on my deck–because there are plenty of them visiting every day, and they are getting at it.  I don’t know that I’d call them peaceful, because they are working so hard, but they seem content in their busy-ness, focused on the task at hand, and not worried about anything that’s not directly interfering.  I really wanted a good shot of one with the full ‘saddlebags’ on its legs.

But, this was the best shot of the bunch, in terms of actually being able to tell it might be some kind of a bee.

Best Bee

Totally a bumblebee. Upside down, with its wings looking like legs or something, but a bumblebee.  You see why this is so great…right?

Since the results of my impromptu bumblebee shoot didn’t convey anything of what I was hoping to capture, I’ll leave you with this.  On the day I took these photos, my brain started singing “Bumblebees on my Tomatillos make me happy”…to the tune of John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, of course.  So, maybe the syllable count is off, but you can try it yourself.  I’ll leave this here for anyone so unfortunate as to not know the song being referenced.

And maybe that doesn’t really speak to you anymore than my rushed photos.  Maybe I should shoot some video next time.

At any rate, happy gardening–with wishes that you are staying contentedly busy, or able to enjoy watching the world work its magic around you.

Good Will Hunting, Dumb Hollywood Therapy


JC Schildbach, LMHC

I still enjoy Good Will Hunting. Along with a fun romantic comedy, it involves an entertaining dramatic representation of therapy—emphasis on dramatic. I mean, therapist Sean Maguire chokes client Will Hunting in their first ever session, FFS. Despite what the filmmakers would have us believe, this is not a valid technique for establishing rapport or ensuring appropriate transference with clients who have suffered abuse–even when therapist and client are both from south Boston and the client just shit-talked the therapist’s dead wife.

Choking one’s client out is, perhaps, an overly dramatic example of countertransference, Will standing in for anyone who ever questioned Sean’s path in life. But in this instance, it’s used to contrast Sean with the other stereotypically bland, wimpy therapists Will is introduced to—George Plimpton as a self-aggrandizing stuffed shirt of a psychologist/author, who readily succumbs to Will’s mock-flattery, and then is horribly offended when Will calls him out as being gay and closeted; and a hypnotist, who is similarly offended when Will, pretending to be under the throes of hypnosis, begins describing sexual abuse as if suppressed memories are rising to the surface, only to begin reciting the lyrics to, then singing, Afternoon Delight.

Good Will Choking

Good will choking.

Sean is a different kind of therapist, though. Sean is a manly therapist. Sean lifts weights. Sean is a Vietnam Veteran. Sean is a hard drinker. Sean jabs back at Will’s, snidely well-read comments with a mix of self-deprecation and equally snide rejoinders. That is, until Will crosses the line, and Sean throws Will up against the wall of his office and threatens to “end” him. Getting through to Will is going to take a tough guy therapist. Someone Will can identify with. Someone who has no qualms about using physical violence to break the ice with a client who has suffered a childhood of abuse at the hands of, from what little we hear about it, hard-drinking tough guys.

It’s somewhat odd that nobody thinks to see how Will might respond to a female therapist, given that women greatly outnumber men in the therapy field. Gerry Lambeau, Sean’s college roommate, now math professor intent on harnessing Will’s genius, says he approached five therapists with Will before settling on Sean as a last resort. But if there were women among them, we don’t see them. In fact, we don’t really see any women in this film, aside from Skylar, Will’s love interest. Beyond Skylar, the only other woman in the movie is in the form of Sean’s memories of his sleep-farting wife.

Even more odd is that we don’t learn anything much about Will during the therapy sessions. We hear a great deal about Sean’s wife, how he met her, how that connects to a super-important baseball game, her “imperfections”, and how she died. We learn about Sean watching a friend die in combat. We learn about places Sean has traveled.

Until the second-to-last therapy session, Will doesn’t do much, except tell a joke, crack wise, and listen as Sean accuses will of being a chickensh*t little boy who doesn’t know anything about the world, or love. We hear more about Will’s past in one serious conversation he has with Skylar than in all his therapy sessions.

On top of that, Skylar is the only real thing Will ever talks about—but only in one therapy session—or two, if you count the one where he mentions that he broke up with her. Also, Will admits to having been abused in that second-to-last therapy session, but saves most of those details for his serious talk with Skylar.

I suppose much of the impetus behind Robin Williams’ portrayal of a monologuing therapist is some bland idea about the therapy with Will being therapeutic for the therapist, who has checked out of his previously brilliant professional life to teach psych to barely engaged students at Bunker Hill Community College. But the idea that’s conveyed about therapy is that the therapist can drone on about her/his personal life, then challenge the client to change behaviors and attitudes, and that will inspire the client to heal her/his own (similar) conflicts. This is not how therapy works. In fact, I would guess that most people would get more than a little annoyed at a therapist telling personal stories in order to point out how much more s/he’s experienced in life than the client.

Of course, it would make sense that Will would be content to let a therapist run his mouth while Will sits in silence, since Will doesn’t feel he needs therapy, and is only meeting with Sean to satisfy a legal arrangement Lambeau put in place to get Will out of jail. Having dealt with plenty of people in court-mandated therapy, I can say Will’s resistance to engaging in therapy was probably the most realistic aspect of the film.

Still, despite his almost complete lack of engagement with the therapeutic process, Will achieves a “breakthrough” near the end of therapy, all in the space of one session where Sean speaks of his own history of abuse, tells Will repeatedly, “It’s not your fault”, then initiates a hug with Will. Of course, Will then becomes a sobbing mess.  A sobbing mess who is, after all these years, healed.

Good Will Hugging

Good Will Hugging…or, rather, Good Will on the Verge of Hugging.

Sean spells out the idea of such breakthroughs in a lecture he gives to his disinterested community college students in his introductory scene, stating that breakthroughs come from trust built between therapist and client. But because of the way the story plays out, we are presented with the idea that the key to the therapeutic process is therapists sharing their own personal histories, opening up to clients in an astounding absence of professional boundaries. Through such sharing by counselors, along with presenting a few (largely unanswered) challenges to clients, the film suggests that clients will come to a point where everything becomes clear, emotions spill out, the client can go get a high-paying job as a corporate mathematician, and then run off to win back the potential love of said client’s life.

All this because if there’s one thing Hollywood likes to tell us about therapy, it’s that everything falls into place once a person has a moment of emotional catharsis.

Yes, Will’s attachment disorder and fear of abandonment, which Will diagnoses himself (or perhaps, repeats from earlier encounters with therapists in the Foster Care system?) is magically overcome by being a wiseass for several sessions, listening to Sean tell deeply personal stories, and then engaging in a hug with his therapist.

In a sort of defense of the lack of realism in the depiction of the therapy, Will does point out to Sean that, “You f*ckin’ talk more than any other shrink I seen in my life.” To which, Sean replies, “I teach this sh*t, I didn’t say I know how to do it.” Unfortunately, as a defense it is pretty weak. The movie still shows that even poorly-executed therapy gets impressive results, that therapists just have to be a friend to their clients—Will even tells Sean “I thought we were friends” in a scene where Sean kicks him out of his office for resorting to sarcasm in the face of Sean’s questions about what Will wants to do with his life—the only instance of Sean setting any kind of boundaries with Will.

In short, Sean mirrors a lot of the bad behaviors of other adults in Will’s past—aggression, threats, a lack of boundaries, mixed messages, and frequent insults—and it works to heal what those same behaviors, and a heap of violence and abandonment, broke in Will.

Ah, the magic of Hollywood therapy.

And now…one final note about Good Will Hunting–Elliott Smith’s song “Miss Misery” is infinitely better than that terrible, overblown Celine Dion cliché-fest “My Heart Will Go On”—which beat out “Miss Misery” for the Oscar all those years ago, and continues to torture all of us in grocery stores and waiting rooms on a near-daily basis.

Don’t believe me?  Then listen to this…

Gardening Tips for Chaotic Containering


JC Schildbach, LMHC

Who doesn’t love a good gardening metaphor? Okay, I don’t either. That is, I mean I don’t love them, not that I don’t doesn’t love them. They tend to the obvious. Now I guess I’ve got gardening puns in there, too. Tend. Gardens. Get it? Bit of a stretch? Fine.

Actually, I should say this is more about a container-gardening metaphor, since that’s what’s really involved here. Except for the pumpkins, they’re in a small, cleared patch in the front yard, the only place we could put them where they get enough sun and space. Or where they get enough sun until near the end of the growing season, when the towering, menacing evergreens on my neighbor’s property cast shade even to that one, small, usually sunshiny patch. There’s perhaps another metaphor in there about not letting your neighbor’s shade keep you from growing your biggest pumpkins, except that my neighbor’s shade actually does tend to cause problems with the pumpkins getting enough light just when they need it most. So, maybe just stick with the idea that your neighbor’s shade can keep your pumpkins from growing. No solution offered. Of course, maybe I’m just exaggerating the problems my neighbor’s trees are causing me, and I’m just not that good at raising pumpkins.

But I digress.

At the beginning of the (container) gardening season, my (container) garden looked like this.

Deck Garden

Everything all neatly ordered, in nice straight lines.

Except the process of getting to that point was haphazard, more so than usual. Typically, I’ll do a count of the pots, from the previous year, minus any that aren’t going to make it through another season, and make a run to buy soil and enough starts to fill the pots that I’m not going to plant with seeds, along with any replacement pots. I have a general idea of how many of each type of plant I want to grow (mostly tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers).

There are always a few things that throw off the equation—pepper starts that are only sold in four-packs or six-packs, finding a new (to me) breed of tomato that fits into the Northwest growing season. So I make adjustments.

This year, though, I didn’t take the usual steps. I bought plants from five different stores, across several different trips made primarily for groceries, not matching the collection of starts amassing on the dining room table and in the garden window to the number of pots waiting out on the deck.

By the time I finally stopped myself, I was a good ten pots short of what I needed to handle the starts I bought, plus the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and sunflowers I was planning to plant from seeds.

So, I went out and bought more pots, along with some soil, and then some more soil. I didn’t realize until later that the last batch of soil I bought was marked “not recommended for containers.” Since I’d already made it home, and hauled it up onto the deck, I took the warning in the same way I take those frozen food “not recommended for microwave use” warnings that are followed by instructions for microwaving, when I probably should have taken it more like the warnings on dishes that say “not safe for microwave use.” One can hope the end result will be nothing worse than the kind of disappointment one feels on biting into chewy, soggy, unevenly-heated taquitos, rather than the violent arcing and flames of a metal-rimmed dish. At any rate, if I die later this summer from gastrointestinal distress and renal failure brought on by fertilizer-based toxins ingested in a jalapeno pepper, you’ll know what happened.

A few months down the road, the garden now looks like this.

Garden Deck Expanded

The straight lines gone, as the containers had to be staggered, shifted, and spaced further apart to accommodate the garden that once fit onto one end of the dining room table. They’ve encroached further into the territory where the table and chairs are. If I’m going to barbecue, it’s going to get tight.

So, now, to get that metaphor going…we’ve got elements of planning and preparation vs. just getting stuff, orderliness vs. disorganization, efforts to contain and control vs. the expansive power of life requiring us to change and adapt.

Or, we could just abandon the need for a metaphor, and I could just leave you with this profound thought:

That’s the funny thing about growth…things get bigger; they need more space; your deck’s gonna get messed up.