Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Pill to Forget - From 60 Minutes

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Remember to Forget

From the Idaho Mountain Express special summer solstice edition


Tony Evans

Even though I tend to gripe about the past, I'm not sure I would give away any of my memories. I like to assume there is value in overcoming obstacles and learning lessons from experience. Could I be rationalizing miseries, just as I once extolled the virtues of certain novels, merely because I had read them? Without attaching meaning and value to experiences, even the worst of them, I fear I may lose the plot of my life entirely. But what could be the harm in deleting a few scenes?

A new and experimental drug called Propranolol promises to allow the user to eradicate feelings associated with specific traumatic events. Rape victims and war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are targeted groups for Propranolol, which inhibits the effect of adrenaline in certain neural networks associated with traumatic memories. The drug, in effect, allows people to avoid excessively strong emotions attached to horrible events. Of course when this drug is mass marketed, it probably will be used to erase awkward dating moments from the otherwise spotless minds of prom queens, rather than be dispensed by crop dusters over villages in Rwanda where it would do the most good.

I can still remember the revelatory feeling of anti-depressants kicking in after a nauseous two-week period a few years ago following what doctors called my "post-concussion syndrome." A familiar paradigm of gloom and despair lifted from my shoulders like an old tire. I still knew every rut in the tire and could conjure its exact dimensions at will, but why bother? It was no longer wrapped around my neck.

Similarly, Propranolol is said to remove recurring, traumatic feelings, while leaving knowledge of the experience at some safe distance from immediate consciousness.

During my own experiment with anti-depressants, which lasted a year or so, I recall a particular "story" lifting from around my head, one that I had written and re-written for many years. It was based in fact and contained what appeared to be vital emotional truths from my childhood. This story came to explain what I was experiencing and what the psychologist William James once described as "a positive and active anguish," otherwise known as depression. Now I wonder if my "story" served to illuminate repressed feelings, or if its writing exacerbated an already painful situation by reviewing its details. Was feeling good always good enough?

When I look back at those years when I was holed up in uncomfortable and dingy circumstances waiting for my luck to change, it seems clear that anti-depressants might have been of great benefit. I remember pondering that option for many months, knowing that they might help me get back on my feet. Instead, with the help of some wise and compassionate older friends, I took the opportunity to go to pieces for a while and get out of the ring altogether.

I like to think I found ways to reconnect with the world in a better way during that year or two while I dug out from depression; that it was all just a shakedown from a series of youthful ego trips and misadventures. At least this is what I tell myself. This is the "story" now.

Those who suffer from far worse experiences than my own must wonder about the possibility of eliminating adventitious suffering from their memories with Propranolol. The existence of such a drug causes me to consider at what point memories and feelings associated with traumatic events push us into the abyss, rather than keep us out of it.

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Simply Spiraling

s i m p l y space s p i r a l i n g

Tim was mad at Karen. A girl I had not gone out with for very long, but an explorer and one who urged me to cut away that residual umbilical cord, which had been long attaching me to ma and move more than twenty miles away from home. "Take your head west young man!” Karen had urged me several times through late night conversations to move to Idaho, even though we were sort of going steady at the time and she wasn’t planning on shacking west with me. You see Tim and I had long been palsy-walseys, choosing to sit next to each other in the same Nashville Cats religious class ever since we’s babies.

Tim and I became quickly bored with religion class, hardly believed in miracles, and would have rather been outside. We stroked pencils against each other’s forearms, nestling in sensitivity in a seemingly sensible way; when my mother –still not yet fully rebounded from her postpartum depression - broke into the classroom to tug me away by the arm for a long intensive shaming about paying attention to religious miracles.

I connected with Karen through Tim’s sister. Both girls were salt-of-the-earth types. The kind that I usually fall for like a ton of goldbricks. That’s what another insightful friend plainspokenly told me years later, that I fall in love too easily. And that allowing myself to do so can become a very dangerous thing in some ways. Was that advice yet another priceless gift from an ex-lover? Someone particularly special to me, telling me with great embrace that I need to quit being such a Wagon-dazed hayseed and stop being stinking blind to the foul riding right alongside the fairest of maidens?

Was deluding myself, spiraling in love by attaching perfect horse-sense blinders, to overlook a girl’s marvelous errors, actually a kind act on my part? Or was overlooking another persons bloody red flags, cutting essential lifelines off within myself? At least if I was deluding myself, I felt as if I was feeling something. Better than living with the fool knowledge that boundlessly traveling as a planet without any sol is gonna be as good as it gets.

Karen and I used to take stunning nature walks along various eastern trails. Evening twilights, I led her down to the swirling Potomac. If we timed it right, we would intersect with great horned owls synchronisticly singing over waterfalls, with their mysterious haunting flight-songs wafting about in the silver oaks -ascending over rich people’s backyards. Rich people we spied, as saw-whet owls ourselves, ornately glued to TV’s radiating from the interiors of their air-conditioned homes, which separated the ultra-high-frequency watchers from the repressive Virginia heat. I hoped back then that the sheltered interior watchers were at least seeking to feed off nature channels with their monitors, as we cut behind their back fences, past the stately sycamores down to the serenely- dipped waters.

Karen had traveled with me on my grand-loop Goodbye tour before I headed west.

She was a sensible girl and on our romantic Cape Hatteras lighthouse twilight tour in our throws of passion, she once sensed the truth – at least the one I had been trying to convey to her all along. This is; that I really did love her and was not the type to hum behind her back that old blues song, Why did you believe me when I said I love you, when you know I’ve been a liar all my life.

I was pissed off at all the other guys, since time immemorial, who had screwed up my intensive innocent love chances, by gravely mistreating women who I had fallen for. It should be more simple: Pick a glistening girl, drag her lovingly by the hair, frighten off a few wolfs, scare a couple snakes, whack a few pterodactyls and show her what a protective man you are by lucidly dreaming with one eye open out under the stars in front of your recently drilled hot spring cave over Hatteras’es caped aurora.

Karen, after sensing this focused truth, I had been trying to convey, softly reciprocated, saying, “But I really cared about you, too.” Had we known each other for a longer period and allowed the relationship to more fully blossom, chances were that our futures would have been more closely intertwined.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There were several times besides this, that I felt I was truly ‘in love’. With a dust of lust intermingling in the biological, drive somehow. How in the world are we to maintain those elusive wellness feelings resonating in our bodies, when they only come along about as often as Love American Style fireworks, every Fourth of July?

Maybe I am the butterfly poster child for naïve boy. About thirty years ago, I posted a notice up on a bulletin board at George Mason University, asking for parties interested in meeting and talking about God & Love etc, to contact me at my parent’s house. Three evenings later, I received a curious phone call from an anonymous student. In our weird and waspy conversation, he mentioned that he was concerned over the scathing vulnerability he sensed within me.

n a i v e b o y

He was onto something.

Does this same stain curse other cultures as well? Or is it only the American way? Again, I hated those other guys that had used the girls I fell in love with, for their abusive ways.

Andre the Giant says it takes two to tangle.

` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` `

I enjoyed falling for earthy women a couple of times. There was something about Mary.

I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but she was like a breath of fresh air, accentuated with natural vanilla oils. Soonafter meeting her, I discovered a butterfly alphabet poster much like this, hanging in Mary’s office:


When I expressed interest in it, she gave me a copy, which I still have. For several years, I used a similar poster to heal the wall in the unisex bathroom, where the boss punched his fist through the drywall after an ad-sales rep checkmated him in one of the senseless head games perpetually levitating around the office like innutritiously singed pieces of crumbly toast.

After Mary invited me safely into her secret garden, she revealed to me her esoteric knowledge about butterflies. She showed me how monarch butterflies and milkweed plants live together in perfect harmony. I loved this. We traipsed around vacant city lots with our collecting equipment - all within twenty miles of the Pentagon’s ground zero - and accumulated dozens of freshly laid butterfly eggs still attached to the milkweed leaves and cautiously took them back to Mary’s homemade incubator.

After the tiny eggs hatched we would service her terrarium by changing out the milkweed leaves, bringing in carefully selected new ones for the caterpillars to munch on and fashion small twigs for them to climb up to prepare their chrysalis transformation areas.

Before we would drift off to the sweet nectar of dreamy realms, she would whisper the kindest of secrets ever beheld into my dropsy ear. She was deaf too. But even this disability, she transmorgified into an advantage, by acutely focusing on her other sensibilities. Like Helen Keller, she could better peer into the crystal goodnesses inherent within people's hearts and sagaciously suggest what the best energy path to take might be, when chaotic overstimulation distractions went absent.

Once she told me that she was way up yonder in the black Dakota hills on a sultry day and threw her top down to the earth. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her a dozen logging trucks rolled into the clearing, while she quietly surveyed for butterfly evidence. With a festive laugh, she told how when she spun about in the meadowdust, the loggers experienced a new sense of shock and awe that day when they beheld her without a top -appearing as an angelic pixie of the wilds. My heavenly Mary.

Often, I thought about how Mary’s and my relationship growing together was better than any childhood dream to which I had attached myself. The wonderful woman I loved knew every plant we discovered alongside creek beds and what usefulness each served. She knew volumes on every animal we crossed paths with and could even read minute behavioral peculiarities from glancing at a set of tracks.

Now I’m tracking solo. A limping Dilbert O’Sullivan, alone again natural athlete.

What a fool I was to not embrace her as my completing soul mate.

Will I ever meet somebody like her ever again?

Not if I don’t heal myself soon on the molecular level

But, is trying to do that too, just as impossible as praying for miracle in religion class?

Maybe I should turn to Tim and ask his opinion; he’s put himself through much of this same spiraling grinder.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Kennedy Rant

Tales of plunder and woe at Sun Valley Wellness Festival


Robert Kennedy Jr. raised his own call to arms in Idaho, challenging the public to better educate themselves and question the status quo.

Kennedy, a well-known environmentalist, teacher and lawyer, issued his challenge during a speech at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival last month, an address that drew a crowd of more than 800.

"Our Environmental Destiny" was a harsh review of current environmental legislation, which Kennedy said has taken the core out of work started more than 30 years ago with the first Earth Day protest in 1970. That event drew roughly 20 million people. Kennedy drew a grim picture of political collusion with corporate polluters, a media blinded by profits, and religious fundamentalism.

"We are living in a science-fiction nightmare in this country," he said.

Kennedy drew parallels between the environment and some of the world's most prominent spiritual traditions, pointing to tales of Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha and Moses all going into the wilderness to reach religious epiphanies.

"Corporations are extraordinary at creating prosperity," he said. "They are also designed to plunder. But because of this, we would be nuts to let them anywhere near our government. Communism is when you have business controlled by government. Fascism is when you have government controlled by business. It is our duty as a democracy to walk the fine line between the two."

Rather than draw a partisan line through environmentalist ethics, Kennedy pointed out that his cousin—and Sun Valley homeowner—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently enacted the strictest automobile environmental legislation in the country.

Automakers quickly filed a lawsuit against the toughened regulations, a move Kennedy said was backed by the White House.

Kennedy himself is calling for a 40 mpg-standard for U.S.-made automobiles within the next several years. He is also speaking out against the spread of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants in Appalachia and by coal strip-mining.

"According to CDC [Center for Disease Control], one out of six American women now has so much mercury in her womb that her children are at risk for a grim inventory of diseases" he said. "Autism, blindness mental retardation, heart, liver and kidney disease ... About nine weeks ago, the White House announced it was scrapping the Clinton-era rules [classifying mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act and requiring 95 percent to be removed] and substituting instead rules written by utility industry lobbyists that will require the industry to never have to clean up the mercury."

He added that White House insiders like Gail Norton, Steve Griles and Phillip Cooney have been responsible for the rollback of 400 major environmental protections over the last six years, and alternately work for the oil and coal companies they have been charged with regulating.

"We are supposed to be the leaders of the free world, but we don't even know what is going on in the free world," Kennedy said. "We are the best-entertained and the least well-informed people on the planet."

He traces this idea back to Ronald Reagan's 1988 abolition of The Fairness Doctrine, which required "news of public importance," balanced opinion and a diversity of ownership in the media.

He ended his address with a question-and-answer session, in which he called for everyone to get more involved in the political process. "I would rather you threw your trash out the window, as long as you get involved in the political process on some level, even your local library board," he said.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Ghost in the Machine - Part One

The ghost
in the machine

Hailey writer no longer undercover

First in a two-part report

By Tony Evans
For the Mountain Express

Bob Pearson is an anonymous master of the craft of writing. As a "writer for hire" for nearly three-quarters of a century, he has rarely taken credit for his work.

Although he has written numerous books, supplied speeches for two U.S. presidents and has been friends with many of the leading literary figures of his day, only lately has he begun to write his own memoirs from a small basement office on River Street in Hailey.

Bob Pearson works in his office in Hailey. Photo by Tony Evans

Pearson is also the patriarch of a local "writing dynasty," which includes his two sons Brad and Ridley Pearson. Brad has worked alongside his father on two books, and is currently the editor of Heartland magazine. Ridley is a best-selling author of more than 20 novel-thrillers, featuring the exploits of detective Lou Bolt and Daphne Matthews. His work has been translated into 40 languages.

The professional writing career of Robert Greenlees Pearson began in Kansas City when he was approached by students who needed his expertise in completing some assignments at a public high school.

"These were the Depression years and money was scarce. So, I began to ‘ghost-write’ compositions for students who could afford to pay. Well, by the time I got to college, I had a sort of reputation," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "At one point I was writing for students at eight different colleges."

Pearson attributes his writing skills to enrollment in Kansas City Junior College, where a single grammatical error in the weekly 1,500-word compositions could result in failure. His continued ghostwriting activities eventually enabled him, as well as a few others, to graduate with honors in English from the University of Kansas. There he edited the campus Jayhawker magazine. At the end of his senior year he decided to come clean by submitting a story of his exploits to the leading literary journal of the time, Scribner’s Magazine.

"The Ghost Behind The Grade’ was published just before commencement ceremonies, setting off a spark of debate in the national press.

"Associated Press and United Press both carried it," he recalled. "Pretty soon I was called into the chancellor’s office on the issue of ‘intellectual honesty.’ It almost cost me my diploma."

Instead, "The Ghost Behind the Grade" made Pearson a "cause celeb" in the literary circles of New York City, with writers like Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan chiming in on the pros and cons of Pearson’s clandestine services.

"This was before Ed Sullivan got into television," said Pearson, who was soon a member of the Dutch Treat Club in New York City. The club met each Tuesday and was attended by the movers and shakers of the literary world, including George Plimpton, Alfred Knopf Jr. and Isaac Asimov.

"I had lunch every Tuesday for two years with Asimov," Pearson said. "He was brilliant on so many topics. He ended up writing some 400 books, and not all of it was fiction." Pearson wrote a 50-year chronicle of the Dutch Treat Club last year.

In 1941, Pearson was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as a speechwriter. Eventually he would be trained to seek out German U-boats.

"After Pearl Harbor, the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. was completely blockaded. U.S. citizens watched as ships were sunk 200 yards from shore. One thousand merchant ships, freighters and tankers were sunk along the U.S. coast. To make things worse, the Germans had a code machine called "Enigma," which the Allies could not break."

Next week: Pearson’s secret Naval mission, being a speech writer for Presidents Truman and Roosevelt and more anecdotes from his upcoming memoir.

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The Ghost in the Machine - Part two

The Ghost
in the Machine

Ghost writer comes clean

‘I don’t think he realized his words were written by a
sniveley-nosed ensign.’

Second of two parts

For the Express

Hailey resident and writer Robert Pearson, 87, made a name for himself working behind the scenes. But these days he is busy writing his own memoirs.

In last week in the Friday edition of the Idaho Mountain Express, Pearson related his earlier exploits ghost writing for college students and as a part of the Dutch Treat Club in New York. In 1941 following the United States’ entrance into World War II, he was commissioned into the Navy as a speech writer. He also was trained to seek out German U-boats, and that’s where we pick up Pearson’s story today:

Bob and Betsy Pearson. Photo by Tony Evans

During the months leading up to the Allies’ invasion at Normandy, Pearson served in Destroyer Escort 666, aboard the U.S.S Durik. His ship’s mission was to protect the multitude of vessels carrying men and materiel to Europe and the Pacific from a network of German U-boats that had been sinking allied vessels with impunity. The Germans relied upon a code machine known as "Enigma" to communicate with one another. The best hope of cracking the code had been in capturing a U-boat intact.

"Enormous convoys of up to 1,000 ships stretched over the horizon in both directions," he recalled. "And then suddenly we were assigned to escort a Navy tanker at flank speed from Gibraltar to some unnamed spot in the ocean. It was all top secret. When we got to our destination there were a number of Allied boats surrounding a surfaced Nazi U-boat flying a swastika. Above the swastika flew the Stars and Stripes."

The capture of U-boat 505 allowed the Allies to decipher "Enigma" just before the invasion on the beaches of Normandy. "I would not trade my Navy experience at that time for anything in the world," said Pearson. "And I know other veterans who also feel this way."

As a sailor, Bob Pearson wrote speeches for presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, as well as Admiral Lehey of the U.S. Navy and others. Lehey’s speech addressed the debate over how to spend the nation’s military resources following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Some thought we should invest in ships. Others thought we should spend on air power. Lehey read it word for word, dull as dishwater," said Pearson. "I don’t think he realized his words were written by a sniveley nosed ensign."

FDR’s speech commemorated the transfer of six destroyers to the Russian Navy. Harry Truman’s speech disclosed the secrets of radar technology.

"It makes sense that American taxpayers would not allow a president to spend three days writing a speech," said Pearson. "His time is just too important."

During the war, Bob Pearson married artist and illustrator named Betsy Dodge, also from Kansas. They have been together for 59 years, 25 of those years in the Wood River Valley. Betsy wrote and illustrated a syndicated daily column for the New York Herald Tribune for 17 years before Simon and Schuster published her collection of practical advice for young mothers under the title "An ABC for Mothers" in 1958.

"It was a good job," she said. "I could write from home while I was with the kids."

Bob and Betsy would oftentimes lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, within earshot of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and other famous literati of the 1940s New York "Round Table."

All of the Pearsons three children have spent time in the Wood River Valley over the past 25 years. In addition to sons Brad and Ridley, the Pearson’s daughter, Wendy Daverman, resides part-time in Gimlet with her husband, Jim, and their four children.

Bob and Betsy Pearson have a steady stream of visitors at their secluded home west of Bellevue, where Betsy continues to draw and paint. Bob Pearson is currently working on a memoir from his office in Hailey.

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Sunday, June 3, 2007