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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pleasant Surprises: Confrontation and other things

 I strode to my mailbox expecting the usual mix of bills, junk and death threats when I noticed a fat manilla envelope. Lo and Behold it was the Transformation issue of the journal, Confrontation where my story, "Party Animal: The Strange and Savage Case of a Once Erudite and Eloquent Young Man" appears on page 96. 

Had no idea it was on its way. You should go buy it. The piece starts:

Of all the cases of Reverse Animalism[1] that we’ve either read about or observed firsthand, the case of Louis Smith[2] is the most puzzling, but in many ways, is the clearest, and if we may be bold, it is a case that is often misunderstood due to its mishandling. Smith’s “backwards evolution” and descent into, what can only be described as simian-like behavior could have been avoided if authorities— i.e. school officials, parents, the courts and so on—had been more attentive and aware of the symptoms of Reverse Animalism[3], then perhaps Louis Smith’s mental state could have been saved and he might have been rehabilitated and released back into society. As it stands now, the man who, as a child, long before his problems, was once referred to as “The Erudite Young Louis Smith[4]” is too far gone. Despite advances in treatment of the disorder, the scientific community has dragged its knuckles for too long and as a result, Lou is destined to live out his life as more animal than man.
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[1] This disorder is most often called Reverse Evolution. The authors of this study find that name to be imprecise and, frankly, politically fraught. We propose the less controversial Reverse Animalism as evolution, like “climate change,” is simply a theory and not a unified and complete one. We find it awkward to compare a real condition, albeit one many researchers and psychologists have trouble acknowledging as genuine, to a theory that has hardly been proven. The authors of the study will continue to use the phrase, “backwardly evolved person” or BEP when referring to one who is suffering from the disorder because we currently lack a better term. We find the phrase, “reverse animal” to be condescending and disrespectful as sufferers of  Reverse Animalism are, after all, still human.
One of the frustrating things about researching this disorder is that the scientific community currently lacks an accurate language or vocabulary to properly discuss Reverse Animalism and because of a certain dogmatism and mental ossification among researchers, developing politically neutral and accurate terminology has been difficult. We believe that adopting the term Reverse Animalism is a small, but crucial positive step towards creating a precise language around the disorder. If the reader is more familiar with the condition as Reverse Evolution, please keep in mind that Reverse Animalism and Reverse Evolution are synonymous. Also, it is good to keep in mind that we are discussing a psychological disorder and not the proposed scientific phenomenon that posits a reversal of the so-called “evolutionary timeline” or a reversal of evolutionary biology.

[ 2] The subject’s real name and some identifying details have been changed to protect his identity. He is an African-American male who resided on the Northside of Cross River in the years covered by this study (with the exception of his brief time at River Run Mental Health Facility and his days in the Wildlands of Cross River), which runs, roughly from his 16th year to his 19th year. All other names in this report have either been omitted or changed.

[3] The symptoms of Reverse Animalism can vary, but often include taking excessive pleasure in excretory functions; a lack of interest in traditional basic hygiene, including shaving, bathing and combing of the hair; an abnormal, sometime prurient, interest in domesticated, and later, wild animals, particularly mammals, including, but not limited to: dogs, wolves, bears, horses, monkeys and apes; and a gradual loss of language functions, beginning with a slow shedding of vocabulary and ending with grunts, howls and gestures substituted for speech.

[ 4] Louis Smith earned the moniker “erudite” as a child. He had quite the academic career up until junior high school where he experienced a sudden and shocking decline. We now know that this decline can be attributed to his condition, but at the time, to his family, it was quite puzzling. Louis won awards for his public speaking and for a time studied French and Spanish alongside his native language. Here was a boy who received all A’s and positive reports throughout his elementary school career; a boy who once placed first in the school’s spelling bee and did well in the regional spelling bee. Suddenly he was failing classes and racking up suspensions for fights. These fights, placed in their proper context, were really, to Louis at least, challenges for male dominance over his peers, which to his devolving mind, were really a “herd” or a “pack.”  


Also,  found out on Sunday that my story, "Juba," which was in the Winter 2010 issue of New Madrid was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. (Juba also sent me to Africa, via a honorable mention in a Pan African Literary Forum contest). So if you're counting, that's dos Pushcart noms. But, yeah, Pushcart noms are like Oprah's favorite things. "You get a Pushcart nom! You get a Pushcart nom! Everyone gets a Pushcart nom!" Just about every writer gets nominated.


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