Recent Work By Clarissa Olivarez

What is there to tell you when you are away on your trips
And you have five minutes to talk on the embassy phone?

You are in Tokyo–taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto for the day.
You are in Trinidad–watching the women dance to the steelpan drums.
You are in Baghdad. You are in Baghdad.

You are off on important business.
And I am home with the dogs
Watching movies on that ridiculous big-screen TV
You bought last summer.

I should preface this article by stating that fans dead-set on seeing the return of James Iha and D’arcy will have to keep on hoping for an official (original) Smashing Pumpkins reunion as the line-up for Oceania features Jeff Schroeder (who has previously toured with the Pumpkins) on guitar, Mike Byrne on drums, and 2010 addition to the band, Nicole Fiorentino, on bass. With that said, hardcore Pumpkins fans should not despair. With the exception of a few songs, this album is loaded with tracks that are sure to please even the most steadfast purist.

The Skinny on Songbook

The November release of Chris Cornell’s album Songbook, recorded during live performances of his recent tour, is not intended for new fans. This album features tracks that date back to Cornell’s involvement with bands such as Temple of the Dog (a band that featured former members of Mother Love Bone, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, as well as a rising vocalist of the early 1990s, Eddie Vedder). The setlist offers long-time fans something from each Cornell era (from Temple of the Dog, to Soundgarden, to Cornell’s solo career, to Audioslave, and back to his solo career). Don’t be fooled, though — this is by no means a Greatest Hits-type compilation.


By Clarissa Olivarez


There are days worth waking up for –
Days when you remember that you are lucky
To have a home and two dogs
To keep you company while your husband is away.

Outside, you move your porch chair
Into the sunlight and the forest of trees
That is your backyard
Comes to resemble a church with a tall pipe organ –
And you chant softly
As you finger the prayer beads
Your husband bought for you in Tokyo.

There are days when the neighbor’s mutt,
Who is constantly barking
And who has lived in seven states with his owner,
Lies still and silent in the grass.
And you listen as the wind carries the sound of
“Diamonds and Rust” to your side of the fence.

These days you don’t notice
The ten pounds you’ve gained from your dose of Celexa,
Or your lack of libido caused by the Risperdal,
Or how the panic returns, even
A bit, if you forget to take your Klonopin.

There are hot baths at the end of the day,
When you move your arms towards your body
And you feel the small waves
As they gently rock your spine forwards and backwards –
And again forwards and backwards.

In an age where everybody seems to be diagnosed with something, it still surprises me that very few people are educated on the vast array of mental illnesses from which one can suffer.  It happens like clockwork – about once in the span of every six months I inevitably hear someone say, “Oh, [s]he’s extremely OCD.” I’d like to believe that some higher force is pushing these people towards me so that I can be faced with the opportunity to educate them on what actually constitutes OCD; but, I know that in reality, this “test” is merely further evidence of the lack of awareness and education regarding this debilitating disorder.

The DSM IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) primarily characterizes OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) as being comprised of either obsessions or compulsions (or, in some cases, both). The DSM IV defines obsessions as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress” and compulsions as “repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.”

Now that we have the definition out of the way, I would like to take some steps to humanize this disorder. The “efforts” by mainstream media to demystify OCD and bring it into the eyes of the general public (e.g., A&E’s Obsessed, As Good as it Gets, The Aviator) have forced the majority of our population to even further stigmatize OCD. The disorder is something that is either viewed as terribly funny and eccentric or otherwise something that should be shoved underneath a bed to rest amongst the dust bunnies. People don’t want to see other human beings repeatedly checking their locks or washing their hands – although intriguing, this behavior becomes boring and redundant; and, those who do want to see this type of behavior seem to be at least slightly entertained by the strange, all-consuming, mechanical nature of the disease.

Personally, I grew up watching my father exhibit these behaviors on a daily basis. At eight years old I would watch him repeatedly lock and unlock the doors to our house. We would drive away to our destination and then return a few seconds later to check, once again, that the doors were locked. In my still-developing brain, I came to equate the checking of one’s locks with security. Once in college, I was checking the locks to my apartment door 45 times. I would recite a phrase that had fifteen syllables (“The door – it is locked. It is locked now. The door is locked right now”) and I would have to repeat the phrase at least three times for various reasons (e.g., I didn’t lock it right, a siren was going off nearby, someone was watching me, something interrupted me, etc.). All of this occurred only after I was able to make it outside of the house.

While still inside my house I would begin my checking process. First, I would have to check inside my bedroom closet to make sure that I didn’t light a match and throw it on the floor of my closet to start a fire. I would go through this routine knowing full well that 1) I had not, in fact, lit a match that day and 2) I had no matches in the house to light and 3) I would never do such a thing. Still, like a child who checks nervously for monsters under the bed, I would have to open that door and stare (not peek, stare) onto the carpeted floor. After that I would check the bathroom and make sure that I didn’t leave my hot iron on (as you might be able to guess, I would check this even if I hadn’t used the hot iron that day). I would check the wall sockets and repeat, “Off off. Off off. Off off. Off off. Off off.” Sometimes, if I was feeling extra anxious that day, I would add another “Off off off off” for good measure. I would then grab the hot iron and press it onto my hand several times so that I could feel that it was cold (and thus not plugged in). Then I would continue to the kitchen of my apartment and make sure the oven and stove were off. I would check all four dials (and burners) in the same manner as I checked the two sockets upstairs (“Off off / Off off” recitation) and I would, once again, do this knowing full well that I hadn’t touched the oven that day. Still, oftentimes after locking my door, I would have to return to verify that the oven was, in fact, off. You get the point.

Now, I did all of this knowing that it was all completely irrational. I was a smart girl. I made As all throughout college. I knew, that if I simply turned the key in the lock and heard the click, the door was locked. Yet, I still had to check. I felt stupid and frustrated. My OCD continued to progress from fears of burning my apartment down (a surprisingly common OCD fear) to fears that I had killed someone. When I was driving I would suddenly have the feeling that I ran over someone, even if the drive had been smooth throughout. I would circle parking lots and go back to street corners to make sure a body wasn’t lying in the middle of the pavement. This behavior was taking over my life.

Furthermore, I could not stand being alone. I would constantly try to surround myself with people who could verify that I did not, in fact, light a candle in our friend’s house and leave it in their closet or that I had not run someone over. These are questions I would ask people! On a regular basis! And, like the good friends that they were, they would reassure me and calm me down every time. The problems came when there was no one around to verify any action (or lack thereof) and the only mind I could trust was my own shaky head. I sought out a therapist at 18 knowing I needed help. I went to her and opened my first therapy session by confessing that I thought I was losing my mind. She introduced me to a book called Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior, which I think may have saved my life. The people in it were just like me! They had thoughts just like mine! I was not alone! Most importantly, I was not insane.

I still struggle with OCD (and with bouts of panic and depression). Some days, I have to fight just to get up in the morning and face the absurd barrage of fears that surface from within my very own mind (e.g., Did I write “Fuck you” on a bathroom wall? Do I have a tumor growing inside my brain that would explain my constant headaches?, etc.). I still wrestle with face-picking (a former nightly ritual that I would call “Fixing my Face”) and hair-pulling. I’m still anxious. I still blame my father. I am not, however, silent. I am not ashamed of this disorder; however, I wish that others knew more about it and could help those who suffer from it.

In writing this piece, I am, for the first time, exposing my own shortcomings to the world. I am doing this in the hopes that others will come to recognize that there is nothing funny about this disorder. OCD is not a term that can be correctly used as an adjective. Unless a person is actually diagnosed with OCD, that person cannot have varying degrees of OCD-ness. A person cannot judge someone else to be a “little OCD” in the same way that someone cannot describe another as being “just a little post-partem.”  People need to understand this disorder instead of ostracizing others who already go through their days feeling ostracized. And with that, I will step off my soapbox and return to my more-than-tolerable life.

In Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play entitled “Endgame” four characters are placed within a triple-walled, minimalist stage. Although the characters seem to be the last remaining people on earth (with the exception of the young boy who briefly appears outside of the walled interior), they each seem to resist any and all physical, human contact with each other. Each potential touch and interaction between the characters is mediated by a prop, so that each point of contact only takes place when two characters touch the same object (barrier) that lies between them. It is my contention that Beckett deliberately eliminates any bodily contact in order to further emphasize and solidify the sterility present within this environment.

I recently became fascinated with the 2008 short There are Monsters by Jay Dahl. It took me a while to realize what it was that was so compelling about this movie; and, through repeated viewings it became unmistakably clear to me that the “monsters” that exist within the film are comprised simply of women. The unnamed male protagonist faces only one threat to his sexuality and that is the fertility of his wife and the possibility of reproduction.

This month signaled the release of what I would term the Beastie Boys’ “comeback” album. With the exception of “Ch-Check it Out,” To the Five Boroughs managed to fall flat on the ears of even the most devoted Beastie Boys fans. The album was overly-political in nature and seemed to be more of an album rooted in protest than one dedicated to the celebration of music itself. Furthermore, it was just not “fun.” In a BBC review, Stevie Chick reiterates what every Beastie fan already knows: “Beasties albums, at their best, are immense amounts of fun.” Their lyrics are always clever, and often intoxicating; but, one thing the band can never be accused of is taking themselves too seriously. Yet, in To the Five Boroughs, Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA all seemed to be lacking in creative energy and exuberance as their main focus was critiquing our former political leader (which I applaud them for), rather than collaborating to create the innovative and experimental beats that we, as their fans, have come to expect from them. With their first release off of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (“Make Some Noise”), it is clear that the Beastie Boys have returned with full force.

Before there was Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, Allen’s Husbands and Wives, or even Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, there were two films which attempted to expose the reality behind so-called “perfect” marriages: John Cassavetes’ Faces (1968) and Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973).While Bergman’s film is engagingly complex in its analysis of a marital breakdown, Cassavetes’ film is brilliant in its use of camerawork to isolate various “faces” of dissatisfied men and women. In both movies, there is a lingering dissatisfaction between the main couples that causes them to each seek love elsewhere. Throughout this search for a renewal of both happiness and excitement in one’s life, the couples succeed in doing two things: perfecting their façades and simultaneously evading any heightened level of self-discovery.

Historically, I have had consistently delayed emotional responses to Radiohead’s albums. I remember Christmastime eleven years ago, when I asked my grandfather to buy me Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer along with their most recent album at the time, Kid A. And I remember listening to these albums and just “not getting it.” It was like Thom Yorke’s brilliance was too much for my little 16-year-old head to comprehend. But a few years later, in college, I gave the albums another shot and became addicted; but, it took months for all the subtle nuances and hypnotic lyrics of each song to settle in. When Hail to the Thief was released, I waited two years to buy it and for some reason I didn’t download In Rainbows when it was available online on as a pay-as-you-like basis. I eventually caught up, yet, their most recent album, The King of Limbs, seems to have placed me in the same quandary I was in eleven years ago – I’m just as lost as ever. I say this because the album seems like such a musical departure from more recent releases like the aforementioned In Rainbows (2007) and Hail to the Thief (2003). This album is menacing, eerie and vulnerable in its lyrical admissions.

While watching current and former parking lot attendants of The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, VA contemplate mindfulness and order within a closed lot, I couldn’t help but think of the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and place him in dialogue with the self-proclaimed “deviant romantics” of the film. Meghan Eckman’s 2010 documentary film The Parking Lot Movie sets up a clear microcosm of our American standard by forcing its viewers into a compartmentalized space that seems to safely lie outside of the boundaries of any “typical” capitalist system. The parking lot becomes a place where the attendants are allowed to pause and engage in self-reflection while contemplating the “existential implications” of their place within this world. In his famous book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh states that, “Machine thinking is the opposite of mindfulness.” With cars going in and out of this closed area, and pausing for only a brief moment in time, as an audience member, we begin to see how the attendants themselves have temporarily taken this job and how they strive to be the polar opposite of the automatons they believe to inhabit all of corporate America. These men are aware of their daily actions and claim to be fully present in each action; but, while it is obvious that things like detachment and impermanence are being cultivated, it seems that the Buddhist notion of compassion has fallen by the wayside.