cheating at solitaire


You gotta admire John McCain, you really do – he’s willing to throw every single piece of spaghetti at the wall in a desperate hope something might stick. In a way, he’s doing exactly what I was talking about a few days ago, when the (admittedly not-popular) topic was “using a few seconds of chaos in order to achieve goals not usually offered to you”.

His handlers, which have to include Rove and whatever else he could scrape off the pus-encrusted scabs of late-20th-century neo-con think tanks, must think the only way out of their electoral mess is a synthetic game-changer.

You don’t need me to parrot the current talking points of election punditry, but the last time he did this (Palin), he succeeded in scaring the shit out of every person in America who believes in science, as well as energizing all the Repubs camping in their bomb shelters. Like most junk food, Palin gave everyone a Hostess Ding-Dong high for a few hours, but the instant hangover was a bitch. Now she actually lowers his poll numbers among independents, and her net favorability is down 16 points overall (according to… wait for it… Fox News!)

So what do you do? If you can’t change yourself, change the world. At this point, the only way McCain can poke open a window in the darkness is to create chaos where there was none before, and hope against hope something bizarre happens in his favor. It’s actually the smartest thing he could try, given the current immutability of the race, but in this gambit, he has to roll a hard eight, and it’s not looking particularly good. Trying to cancel the debate plays into a lot of problems he has already, and nobody in their right mind actually thinks this is anything but a ploy.


color-treated microscopy of Ritalin

But it does play into something I’m dealing with personally right now. I’ve waxed honorific about my various psychological disorders on these pages, necessitating certain drugz like Celexa and Dexedrine, but lately I’ve had to come to terms with a universally important question: Exactly how much do you need to change in order to fit into the world? Or, more aptly, how much of the world do you need to change in order for it to fit you?

I’ve been in therapy for a while, I’m taking all the drugs I’m willing to take, and still, this summer, I cratered. What I’ve begun to realize is that my peculiar brand of ADD will never be totally fixed, and if that’s the case, I need to alter my environment as much as I can.

Many of the new books on kids with ADD actually de-emphasize drug use, suggesting instead that parents create a schedule and a household that plays to their child’s strengths. Simple stuff: no tasks over 20 minutes, lots of play switching, and takin’ trips. I know this raises the cackles of old-school parents and bootstrap-pullers who think that’s a lot of prissypantin’ fagotry and kids already get too much of what they want, and they should be forced to play ball for their own good.

That’s the kind of thinking that made me the fucking mess I am, thanks. People who don’t have depression and don’t have ADD (which leads inevitably to depression) don’t get it, and they never will. They should be thankful; they should consider it one of their grandest blessings.

Anyway, I’m going try as hard as I can to adapt my mind for the world around me, but I’m also going to have a clean understanding of my limitations. I’m also going to have a fearless grasp of my requirements. I won’t get into specifics, but… coming to grips with who I am – rather than trying to drug it into submission – has been a real burden lifted.

I share nothing with John McCain, I think he’s lost his moral riptide, and I hope he loses by twenty-one percentage points. But we are both trying variations on the same strategy: if you can’t fix yourself, fix the game.

0 thoughts on “cheating at solitaire

  1. Matt

    “given the current immutability of the race”
    Huh? It’s not even October yet. Becareful of indulging in your own sugar highs.

  2. CM

    Debates? Bah. We’re only picking a president. It’s lucky McCain didn’t suggest suspending the end of baseball season or something, because we need all 160 of those games to decide who’s the best.

  3. Neva

    Seems you are a bit conflicted about this as I read your recent post a few days ago as urging folks to just “play along with the game” rather than rewrite the rules. Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of finding the right game for yourself. Luckily there is more than one option of folks in this world. Not everyone is meant for a 9 to 5 office/desk job for instance just as many folks couldn’t be creative every day with words the way that you are. I know I can’t.
    I for one am damn grateful for antidepressants (and many other meds) that have helped folks live a life they otherwise could’ve never had. Where I get a little concerned is when we start Rxing this pill to treat that side effect of that pill then another to help with the side effects of the next until you’ve got a cocktail of substances and as might as well be Johnny Cash.
    I have been struggling with playing along with the game of our medical/insurance system and have finally thrown in the towel and decided to take a state job with benefits and no insurance billing. I’m hoping to finally concentrate on taking care of patients rather than struggling to figure out how to code correctly and fight insurers to get paid. That game I refuse to play any more. I truly believe that medicine should not be a business and I don’t think that either candidate is really addressing this well because they are too busy playing their own game.

  4. Anne

    1) The McCain campaign is trying one “shock and awe” tactic after another. Like the good soldier that he is (I don’t mean that sarcastically), McCain obediently changes course and runs with each crazy new strategy — first Palin, now the “stop the campaign, I’m going to fix the financial crisis” move. In a Machiavellian way, these moves are brilliant, and risky. We’ll see how the latest one pans out. (Palin: not so well, apparently.)
    2) My 16 year old son was diagnosed with ADD (inattentive, not hyperactive) this summer. He is a very smart dude (per standardized tests) but flunked out of school last year. He just started on Concerta and claims in one week he’s already seeing improvement in his attention span. I wish we could change his environment to fit his mind and his learning style, but the world often doesn’t work that way. For now, the goal is to help him succeed for a change, and if that means he takes a med, so be it. (Obviously, the kid has to follow the other adaptive steps too — lists, reminders, nightly checks of the online homework assignments, blah blah.)
    Fascinating topic, Ian — finding your way on that balance beam between adapting to your environment and finding a compatible environment. Please feel free to blog further about this to let us know how it’s going. I’m sorry you had a difficult summer.
    As for antidepressants: 10 years now for me. This past week I inadvertently neglected to take my pill two days in a row. Yesterday afternoon I wondered why the world seemed suddenly gray, why I felt emotionally beaten-down. Then the lightbulb went on. Yes, my brain does need its serotonin receptors tweaked! Back on the med today, back to “myself” … and if “my self” is partially a chemically manipulated construct that has some energy and a positive outlook, I’m good with that.

  5. JStone

    we need just to keep smearing McCain and Palin until election day, it’s the only way to ensure we win
    that Obama TV ad bashing McCain’s war injuries was great, we just need to attack McCain non-stop until November
    breaking into Palin’s email box was great also, we need to find out what the right is hiding in their email boxes, and then we need to keep bashing Palin and her pregnant daughter and bash Palin’s retarded newborn who is really not Palin’s child but her grandchild, she is covering up her daughter’s previous pregnancy
    and then keep bashing the South, the trailer parks, the NASCAR watchers and keep bashing anyone who owns a gun or goes hunting, and we are going to put so much fear out there about global warming and major cities going completely under water in about 5 years time, that pretty much anyone who cares about future will vote for us
    Obama/Biden 08

  6. Piglet

    Dear Debate Commission,
    Please excuse my son Johnny’s absence. He is feeling poorly. We took him to our spin doctor and he says that John has a bad case of sagging poll numbers and needs to stay home in bed for the next six weeks.
    His little sister Sarah has the sagging poll numbers even worse, so please excuse her as well.
    John McCain’s Mom

  7. Rebecca

    First, I agree with Matt!!! This race is nowhere near over.
    Now about ADD. My 9 year old son was diagnosed last year, also inattentive not hyeractive, and is taking Adderall. It has changed his life. After a week of taking the medication, he told me that he only had one or 2 things going on in his brain, rather than 4 or 5. The fact that he recognized and verbalized that at 8 years old amazed me.
    When it was time to decide whether to medicate Ethan or not, I thought of Ian. The fact that you have been so open about the meds you take and how they affect your life was very helpful to me at a difficult time. It’s hard to accept that my child needs drugs to make his brain work correctly, but he’s in good company!

  8. Sean

    I don’t usually do this here, but I just want to support Rebecca for her choice to help her son. The first time I took medication for my ADHD, I was in my mid-twenties, and the clarity with which I saw the world was so breath-taking that I started to cry.
    The only other moment that had happened for me was when I was 11 and I put on glasses for the first time and learned that most people could see the leaves on the trees outside.
    Ian, to respond to your post, the medication will help you figure out how to change the game, and that’s really the most important thing it can do. ADHD meds don’t eliminate all of the crappy habits and behavior that exist after a life-time spent with a spinning mind, but they do calm the mind to the point where you can make your own decisions about how you handle your life. It’s utter liberation.

  9. FreshPaul

    Just curious if anyone knows when the first documented case of AD/HD was reported…
    I don’t, which is why I’m asking
    (also, I don’t trust Wiki-fucking-pedia either)

  10. xuxE

    total support here too.
    i have a close relative with adhd – anyone who thinks it is made up or that they shouldn’t at least explore meds is freaking out of their mind. overdiagnosed maybe, but totally totally a real problem.
    watching my relative’s completely illegible handwriting – from a genius level brilliant kid who should have by that age been able to write somethng down – turn into legible handwriting for the first time once the meds were prescribed was all it took to make me a believer. on meds = physical control, off meds = frustration and isolation.
    that being said, kids grow up and turn into adults and what then? then you take it as it comes.
    my feeling is that we are all too wrapped up in the idea that people need to conform into safe little boxes of safe little personalities in order to become decent members of society.
    how fucking boring.
    if you don’t surround yourself with a variety of personality types then of course you will look and feel like a freak.
    but i mean really, if you have disabled friends or friends with emotional challenges or crazy friends or high drama friends or totally zen friends or friends who are having ups and downs with gender issues or friends who are hella fun but just can’t get it together or who find solace in UFO’s or conspiracy theories and go off the deep end sometimes or friends who can’t function without playing music daily, i mean just a whole cast of characters who are going through their lives in all different ways, everyone just living out loud on their own path,
    then why do you think you are any different and why the fuck would you stress over the idea that your life works better if you have short activities and take a lot of trips or whatever your own path is?
    maybe your plans for a career in investment banking are over.
    but who gives a shit?

  11. Matt

    I don’t remember knowing anyone with ADD or ADHD when I was growing up — I’d never heard of it — but about 6 or 7 years ago I ran into a few old friends who told me they were now taking medication for it. One was on Adderall. I could see a huge difference in him. I worry about over-prescribing and over-diagnosing people, especially kids, but I’m definitely in favor of treating the condition. We are lucky to be living in these modern times, as primitive as they may seem 20 years from now. Pharmaceutical companies perform near miracles, though they fall short sometimes, too.

  12. Anne

    Matt, we’re in agreement. (everyone gasps) :-)
    When my teen son was being tested this summer, I had to fill out lots of forms and tests myself, and be interviewed by the evaluating psychologist. He confirmed what I’d sensed for some time now: I have more than a touch of ADD-inattentive myself. Meanwhile, for the past 40 years I’ve been beating myself up for being “bad”: procrastinating (distracted), disorganized, not always conscientious, not living up to my “great potential” based on IQ and talents, etc. Now I see so many of my son’s symptoms in things I’ve struggled with all my life!
    One way I instinctively helped accommodate my inattentiveness was to ask, beginning about 10 years ago, that I have a super-organized assistant at work to prevent me from spinning off into multiple projects randomly as the impulse struck me, and to keep me aware of overlapping deadlines on projects. This helped quite a bit. Knowing what kind of people to surround oneself with for optimum work performance is priceless.

  13. Ian

    Obviously the race is still fungible over the next 39 days, but the “current immutability” is true – McCain wasn’t getting anywhere doing the things he was doing over the last two weeks. Should have made that clearer in the post.

  14. FreshPaul

    Thanks for the link to that study, Lucas…
    it seems to mostly jive with what my intuitions, experiences, and career have led me to think about the subject.
    This Armstrong fellow cited in the article seems like a good man, and thorough.
    (for what it’s worth, I took the questionnaire at the end and scored an “exceedlingly low” 7)

  15. FreshPaul

    sorry I missed this before:
    “my feeling is that we are all too wrapped up in the idea that people need to conform into safe little boxes of safe little personalities in order to become decent members of society.”
    I presume that includes not medicating (certain) kids into submission so they behave like little adults instead of the children that they are…right?

  16. Rebecca

    ADD, like asthma, has always been around, but it’s only recently that these conditions have been diagnosed and treated. Surely we all remember children from our youth who daydreamed all the time, or could not sit still for more than 3 minutes. They were there, but were simply labeled as either lazy, hyper, or a behavioral problem.
    Of course there are people whose kids are medicated simply to make them act better. Our child was not a behavior problem; he was a daydreamer who scored in the 99th percentile on the gifted class admissions test. Giving him medication has allowed him to work at his potential. Not only that, but he was beating himself up over the fact that he couldn’t focus when he knew he could do the work. He feels better about himself, and that’s important too.
    I appreciate the support. My husband’s family was totally against it, but I really can see the difference 10 mg of Adderall has made in my child’s life.

  17. SMS

    I had to chime in on the ADHD thing. I may get some negative comments for this but we just started our 5 year old son on Concerta. He is very bright for his age yet is unable to function in a group setting at all. Sports…would lie on the field and scream, push people, take the ball and throw it, etc… preschool=nightmare. Holy terror…agressive like you have never seen, emotional outbursts way over the top, etc…. Started 1/2 day kindergarten this year and the same thing. Obviously not this bad at home but still a challenge. Took us over 2 years to accept he had a problem and it wasn’t our parenting. I won’t go into all we did parenting-wise to help him but let’s just say it didn’t work and we did it all. The meds have brought him down to a level where he now has friends, participates in activities, is not agressive at all, and is totally appropriate. He still gets mad sometimes but the difference is he backs off and chooses a different response other than agression or shouting. The difference in him is amazing. It hasn’t altered his wonderful personality at all in fact it has enhanced his creativity I think. He told me on the way to school the other day…”mommy I like having my self control”…priceless.


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