“There are two great mysteries that overshadow all other mysteries in science. One is the origin of the universe. That’s my day job. However, there is also the other great mystery of inner space. And that is what sits on your shoulders, which believe it or not, is the most complex object in the known universe. But the brain only uses 20 watts of power. It would require a nuclear power plant to energise a computer the size of a city block to mimic your brain, and your brain does it with just 20 watts. So if someone calls you a dim bulb, that’s a compliment.”—Michio Kaku (via buttswana)
Uh, one night my dog leaned against a wall because his back legs decided that they were done. And those kinds of stories never end well and this one wasn’t going to be different. We put him down the next day.
I’m a writer and that is the first and easiest trick we all have. Uh, it’s true, so it’s not cheap. It happened. Lying is kind of the cheapest trick of all, but still to come out here and lead off with my dog died is uhm, about as courageous as taking a stand against child abuse. But I did it because I want you on my side and I only have 4 minutes.
His name was Captain Applejack because he spent for year in the dog navy and would not be called mister. And anytime a dog owner says, “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” The answer is always Captain Applejack.
I was actually on a deadline so I did what writers do and I compartmentalized. I stuffed it into a box and put it next to the other boxes marked, like, dad issues, and high school crushes and then I got on with my day. Uhm. I write comic books and my career was ending so I wanted to meet my deadlines. My worm had turned in the way that the worm turns for people in popular entertainment. There’s no retirement plan where I come from. There’s just one day people stop calling and the work stops coming. You don’t get hired anymore.
I was launching a book called Hawkeye and if you saw the Avengers movie he was the guy… he was the first archer in the history of cinema to run out of arrows. Which is a very kind of true moment for him. He’s the regular dude in the avengers. And as a kid I always liked him because he was the regular guy. He came from Iowa. I lived in Iowa for God’s sake! It just seemed to make so much sense. He was a bad guy who made good. And he would like, drop his g’s when he spoke and he’d get so wrapped up in his thinking he’d get lost in like their super mansion and stuff. He was very human and he got to be an Avenger and that’s what I liked about him and now it was my chance to write him. This is before the avengers movie come out and they were looking for opportunities to make that cast of heroes a little more visible.
When you work for someone like Marvel it’s a shared universe where everyone is playing with the same toys in this strange imaginative game all at once. And because of the movie and because of a couple of other things, Hawkeye was everywhere as I was supposed to launch my book. And I could sense that there were people that wanted him here and wanted him there: “Well I’ve got him on the moon on Tuesday, and you’ve got him underwater on Wednesday, what is he doing on Thursday?” And that I decided would be my take. My book is what he does on Thursdays when he’s not an Avenger. It’s where he goes… my book was going to be about where he goes to change his pants. It was going to be very slice of life, small ball kind of stories.
It was supposed to last 6 issues and it’d be done. And nobody thought it would do better than that because it has never as a character ever done better than that. It was… and then I’m putting him, you know, in pants in an apartment building it was commercial suicide. But as my career was ending I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by writing books that I would want to read.
But my dog was dead and my first issue wasn’t happening and I wanted to cry and be alone and be sad and grieve and mourn but I had this stupid comic book that I had to write. And I had the ‘what happens’ but I didn’t have what it’s about. I knew in this Hawkeye story we were going to meet him on Thursday afternoon when he’s not an avenger and there’s a neighbor in his building who’s getting kicked out and what Hawkeye is going to do is he’s going to buy the building so she doesn’t get kicked out. Cause he had a bunch of… yeah I know, right? Dynamite, dynamite stuff!
And I came up with these kind of tricks, if I’m going to do this small ball stuff, like, there’s an issue where he just wants to buy tape. There’s an issue where he just wants to hook up his DVR and people keep bugging him. And he’s… so… Like, small things and I came up these different things I was going to do, we’ll tell the stories all out of order, and we’ll do this and that and in a way to kinda keep it compelling… and try to keep it compelling and keep it interesting a little more than just: “This issue Hawkeye buys tape.”
The honest truth was I didn’t care about the building or Hawkeye or the neighbor getting kicked out ‘cause of my dog. And then I pulled out my first trick. And I gave him a dog.
Yeah. So when Captain Applejack was a puppy I found him under a car. And he was so sick and so little and uh… so mangy I didn’t know if he was very young and very sick or very old and about to die. He was wrinkly. So I gave him to Hawkeye. I gave him this beat up mutt who was neglected and ignored. And as I started to kind of write and give him this kind of emotional thing he was connected to, like, the character’s anima appeared. That was it, it wasn’t a hawk it was a dog. And then I got the book. I understood what the book was. I knew what happens. I knew what it was about. And if I couldn’t save Captain Applejack, Hawkeye could save Lucky.
Spoilers, the dog lives.
So I wrote it in a single day. I wrote it… it was a very bad, very sad day, but I wrote it in a day. And it comes out, and the response is impossible to ignore. And I do my very, very best to ignore response at all, at all costs. But a fandom roared, or barked as the case may be, and like we started to immediately get fan art and crafts. While Hawkeye might not have the best sales in the world I’ve met literally everyone reading the book and they were dressed. Uh, but it’s he’s just wearing pants so it’s super easy, it’s pants and bandages. My editor said “People love the dog” so it’s the dog. And this entire corner in my career was turned.
If I said ‘miraculous’ it would actually insult real miracles but I don’t know what else to say. I was on my way out the door but it turned out the door was revolving and I was right back in and my entire life turned around. And everything in my career exploded off of this book. I tried to save my dog, and he saved me.
“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflict than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.”—Maya Angelou
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”—Maya Angelou
Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.
…In Head Start Trauma Smart, safety comes first. The first thing you have to do is make them feel safe. And if you’re not making them feel safe, they are not going to learn or improve. So, most of how we teach starts with complete social-emotional. I am here. I will keep you safe. Help me keep it that way.
In training programs held year-round, Head Start Trauma Smart teachers learn to validate extreme emotions using calm and quiet voices. They are also armed with practical and cognitive tools to help kids soothe themselves. In our room, the safe spot is in a really quiet corner, and it’s filled with kind of pillows and blankets. And then we have a calm down box. There are several sensory things that they can play with. We have squishy balls. We have sunglasses. All of the methods are aimed at quieting a tidal wave of emotions that often overwhelms these kids…and it’s not just teachers and therapists who practice these techniques. Bus drivers, cooks, everyone who is in the life of that child.
Some of the Head Start Trauma Smart results are harder to measure. But to those who care for these children, they are impossible to miss.
The first hint that the worlds of child welfare and neuroscience could be unified was a 2005 study by Moshe Szyf and his colleagues at McGill University, which showed that rat pups raised by abusive mothers had epigenetic changes in a gene that helps rats—and humans—manage stress. This gene, called NR3C1, had a few extra methyl groups stuck to it: tiny quartets of carbon and hydrogen atoms that stick to DNA and derail the cellular machinery that translates genes into proteins. A methylated gene is still there, but it’s muted.
Scientists knew that things like drugs or radiation could turn genes off in this way, but Szyf’s experiment, Pollak says, “was the first demonstration that something like parenting, parental care, was flipping the switch.” A few studies in humans also hinted that trauma might be turning this stress-management gene off, but there wasn’t any direct evidence in children. That’s what Pollak was determined to find.
So Pollak’s staff recruited those kids and their parents and walked the kids from the lab to a local hospital to get their blood drawn. When they checked each kid’s DNA, they saw that, in the children with a history of abuse, NR3C1 was methylated, just as it had been in the rats—in fact, at the very same sites. That, Pollak thought, was remarkable. “It gives us a real window into understanding why people that are abused as children sort of have these lifelong problems.”
NR3C1 codes for a receptor that senses a hormone called cortisol. “Cortisol is something that we produce in an emergency,” Pollak explains. That’s because it prepares you to respond to a threat: when cortisol from the adrenal gland is sent flowing into the bloodstream, it ramps up blood sugar for a quick burst of energy, dials down energy-draining processes like digestion, growth, and immune function, and can reduce bleeding and inflammation if you’re injured. Gunnar points out that, for children in abusive homes, who are in threatening situations every day, having more cortisol floating around isn’t necessarily bad—at first. “You may need to remain vigilant more often. You may need to flip into vigilant state more easily. That’s keeping you alive under harsh conditions, but it’s also making it really hard for you to function.”
Normally, cortisol molecules dock in receptors that are coded for by NR3C1 in the brain and white blood cells, which signals the body to calm down and return to its normal operating mode, and revives the immune system. But if NR3C1 is methylated, the body won’t be able to produce enough receptors, hobbling its ability to regulate stress. The body can still produce cortisol, but without enough receptors, Pollak says, there’s nothing to reign in the heightened state. “It’s the brake that’s not working.”
When the body can’t signal itself to calm down, the short term results are kids who, Pollak says, are “on alert all the time.” They often misinterpret innocent behavior as threatening; they can be aggressive, and they struggle with change. The long-term results are the chronic psychological problems like anxiety and depression and chronic physical problems like heart disease and type II diabetes, which often surface years later in victims of childhood abuse.
I’d bet dollars to donuts that my NR3C1 genes are methylated.
The reason Canadians are so nice is easily explained. Once a year, on the sixth full moon all Canadian’s gather beneath the stars and perform a ritual that sucks all their meanness and cruelty and places it in Canadian Geese.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”—David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (via wordsnquotes)