Review: Anthem, by Ayn Rand

3 of 5 stars

“Anthem”, originally titled “Ego”, is the story of Equality 7-2521, a humble but curious member of a primitive dystopian society in which individuals only exist to serve the group, to the extent that no one has a unique name, and personal pronouns have long been removed from society’s vocabulary. It’s a short novelette that I would classify as a fable, although Rand wasn’t trying to be didactic. The reader can’t help look for comparisons and harbingers in today’s society. Fair warning: whether you find any might depend on your political leanings.

I’m a fan of Ayn Rand’s books, if not her personal philosophy, Objectivism. Although I agree with some of Objectivism’s tenets, it’s full of too many absolutes and extremes for me. Regardless, Rand knows how to spin a good yarn with a simple, direct style. I absolutely loved Atlas Shrugged, and I expected to feel the same about Anthem, but found myself slightly detached.

Maybe the reason for my struggle is the difficulty I have in identifying with a society that doesn’t include personal pronouns as part of the lexicon– and that’s where some historical context comes in handy. If I try to picture Rand’s life, growing up in Soviet Russia, the impetus for the development of her personal philosophy becomes much clearer. Most of her works stood as a warning against collectivist structures like communism and socialism. Was her philosophy merely a reaction to her upbringing and her early career in the United State’s infamous Red Decade, or did she intend her works to foretell the dire consequences that would follow if society moved in a collectivist direction? In today’s political climate, it’s easy to see both possibilities.

Anthem, 75th Anniversary Edition

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Charlie

Today, I find myself tearfully saying goodbye to an old friend, Charlie the Chevy. It may be strange to cry over losing a car, and maybe even stranger when one considers Charlie’s age, but I can’t help it. He’s been a reliable, steadying presence in my life for a decade. He’s been a friend.

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In ten years of change, drama, and instability, Charlie was always there– strong, dependable, solid– like a rock. He was in the background as I fell deeply in love and planned an eternity with my ex husband, and he drove me to court to get divorced. Charlie brought my dog child into my life and delivered my Timmycat to his final resting place.

While safely buckled into my little blue truck, I heard of the birth of my K baby and rejoiced. Over the years, he has overheard many sing-a-longs, jokes, and discussions; he could also bear witness of countless spoken prayers and tears during long drives in the country. I have changed Charlie’s oil, pushed him out of snow drifts, and performed major dashboard surgery. I have slept under the stars in his bed and driven him on spontaneous mountain adventures. In short: I have loved him.

When my life fell apart and I left the place where the stars live, it was Charlie who carried me onward. In that moment, he became a symbol of resilience. When I stuffed my hopes into old suitcases and relocated solo across the country, Charlie kept me moving, and along the way he came to represent independence and optimism. He has been there during the most turbulent times of my life, and he has always delivered me safely to the other side of heartache and struggle.

My reasons for retiring Charlie are sound; I love my job and my life, and there will be other great cars in my future– but there will never be another little blue truck quite like Charlie.  He is my friend, and I will miss him. Thanks for the ride, old pal.

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Song of Myself

Talking with my 84 year-old grandmother today reminded me of a poem. She expressed some of the things she’d learned in her life, and the staunchness with which she identifies herself and her beliefs really struck me. She has struggled at times in her life, and she has made mistakes. To this day, she has her flaws. (Ever so minor ones, Gramma dear.) Despite all that, she knows who she is and what she stands for with a certainty that seems etched in granite. Her earnest and simple desire to serve God and her family is impressive and incredibly humbling.

I can’t say the same about myself yet, but I hope to get there someday. I long for that degree of love for and confidence in myself and my choices. I believe everyone is plagued by a measure of self-doubt, but to me, one indication of a life well-lived is the ability to look back and feel equally comfortable with our successes as well as our failures. I want to be able to look back at my life and see that I was enough, that I wasn’t perfect, but that I contributed, played my part, and can rest with peace of mind.

So here, in a picture, a poem, and a song, is my definition of a well-lived life.

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Gramma and Me

From Song of Myself, Stanza 20:

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,

I laugh at what you call dissolution,

And I know the amplitude of time.

–Walt Whitman

My Way, by Paul Anka, covered by Frank Sinatra:

What’s your definition of a life well-lived? What inspires you to be your best self? Share in the comments!

The Damsel Whose Distress Kept Growing: Part 1

This is an extremely difficult (and long) story to tell.  Most of my recent posts have dealt with past trauma, and the benefit of time has allowed me to frame them in a positive light.  This is not that kind of post, but it does begin and end with a story. 


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Once upon a time, a recently divorced and rather distressed damsel met a very handsome man, who we’ll call Glenn.  Glenn, who had always wanted to rescue a damsel in distress, promised her the world.  Not surprisingly, the two fell in love, and Glenn liked to speak of marriage.

Glenn engaged his damsel in planning a life together, and as part of that process, he spoke warmly of his new love to his parents.  Unfortunately, in his excitement, Glenn divulged some information that might have been better left unsaid until the damsel could explain things herself.

“My love,” he told his doting parents, “is practically perfect in every way, and I would like to marry her.  She has just this one frailty, though it doesn’t matter to me.  She has Bipolar Disorder, Type II. (And Anxiety Disorder, and Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder.)  I’m not worried– I know she is an exceptional woman who will not let these demons conquer her spirit.”

“But son,” exclaimed his gossipy mother, “Are you forgetting about second cousin George’s neighbor’s best friend from college?  Don’t you remember?  She has Bipolar Disorder, and she tried to microwave her baby!  You cannot marry this woman– your children will be in mortal peril, and you’ll have to get rid of your microwave!”  

At first, Glenn dismissed his mother’s over-reaching concerns, for he knew his damsel was rational, and he knew she loved his children already and posed no danger.  But doubt crept in that night when he microwaved some leftover soup. Could he really and truly trust his damsel to be around his precious children? 

Slowly, a hypothetical nightmare began to swarm over Glenn’s brain, suffocating the love he felt for his poor, misaligned damsel.  He began to pull back from the relationship slowly, in hopes that she wouldn’t notice and murder him in a fit of rage.

After months of such shameful behavior, their relationship ended and eventually their friendship also was irrevocably destroyed.  But Glenn’s children were safe, and his microwave could stay.  Satisfied that he had done the right thing, Glenn went on his merry way, in search of a younger, saner damsel to rescue.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the damsel’s heart cracked–slowly at first, and after the dam burst, all at once.  She had never felt so rejected, humiliated, and insulted in her life.

Not being the kind of flaky damsel who faints on command, she confrimagesonted her man with logic and evidence of her sanity as well as her fitness to be a wife and stepmother, and thus found herself in the odd position of trying to prove that she was sane enough to be worth loving.

No one should ever have to prove that she deserves to be loved.

Tragically, our damsel failed in her quest, and a little seed of doubt was planted in her formerly strong heart.  Was she too crazy for any good man to love?  Would she ever have the family she so desperately desired?

She was no longer sure, budownloadt decided that this particular man was an idiot anyway, and so our brave damsel reluctantly moved on with her life, despite feeling ever more distressed.


Coming up for our damsel: Recent heartbreak takes her down memory lane, which is full of ugly weeds and tricky potholes.  We’ll bring her back out as quickly as possible, I promise.  Stay tuned!

As I Lay Me Down to Sleep…

The first feeling that registered as I broke the surface of consciousness was irritation. There are few sounds in this world I hate as much as a dog whining, and this was the intense, “the house is on fire and you need to wake up” kind of whine.

The house wasn’t on fire. But my poor dog was whining his head off. I couldn’t figure out why until I woke up just a little bit more and registered a second feeling: pain. The nightmare keeping me under must have been a doozy, because my bottom lip is chewed so raw that it resembles a manhandled package of ground beef. There’s blood all over my pillow, and my neck and chest are a maze of scratches from my perpetually-bitten nails.

I don’t remember any details of the dream that held me prisoner, but it must have been intense. Nightmares go hand in hand with my depressive phases, but as often as I have them, I generally stop short of maiming myself. Thank goodness for my doggy alarm clock. This isn’t the first time he’s gone to extremes to rescue me from dreamed danger.

We took a starry walk to clear our heads, and now we’re cuddled back in bed. And by “cuddled,” I mean that he’s stretched out over 98% of my bed’s surface area, and I’m huddled in a corner. I don’t mind– at least I know I’ll be safe, from threats both real and imagined. I’m not sure how I slept at all before my Woz came along.

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Ozzie, Protector of the Dreaming

An Old Chair and an Unanswered Prayer

The mental replay of a conversation with a struggling friend pulled me out of my bed tonight and settled me beneath the stars. I found myself with no choice but to count them, along with my greatest blessings.

I shifted my weight awkwardly; a person was only meant to kneel for so long, especially on cheap, rough carpeting. As if to compensate for the rug burn on my knees and legs, I buried my head in the worn velvet of my favorite chair and pictured its elegant curves in my mind as I spit my most precious desires into the accomodating embrace of the aging cushion.

“Father,” I pleaded, “tell me what to do. I feel as though I have tried it all, and everything I do is wrong. He won’t budge. I see the love he once had for me draining from his eyes as he wipes out the sleep before trudging to work. I feel the weight he carries on his shoulders as they cover my own, the desperation of his body pressed against mine. I know that he is trying to feel something, anything, to replace the numbness that has invaded our life together…” 

Here I paused to blow my sorrows into a tissue and wipe the hope draining from my eyes. I had been praying for hours, ever since he left for work, pouring out my angst and wishes, alternately railing and begging. “Please, Father. Soften his heart towards me. Help him to see that I’m trying my very best. I know that it’s not good enough, but it’s all I can do. Please lend me peace and help me to save my marriage.”

I could no longer continue. The sobs stormed my vocal chords: speech wouldn’t come; only keening sounds escaped my beseiged throat. My shoulders heaved under the force of this release, my heart straining to push the heartache through my bloodstream until it engulfed my entire body in anxious heaviness.

I fell asleep that night on my knees, my head buried in the forgiving cushion, my hands embracing the cool wooden curves carved so long ago. When I called my feet to action the next morning, I found them dead. My legs were as weak as my battered soul. I was emotionally and physically drained, but I had faith that my prayers would be answered.

They weren’t.

Instead, years passed and life got worse, and I felt powerless– stuck in my own stubborn web. My parents, you see, had divorced when I was young, and my eight year-old self had firmly promised never to follow that path, come what may. My terrible marriage was nonetheless mine, and I gripped it as fiercely as a football: cradled tight against my ribcage, one arm ready to strike at anyone who tried to force it away.

That someone, it turned out, was my teammate– the very subject of my pleas. To this day, I’m not sure he realizes that he was the answer to what had become my nightly ritual of desperate chair prayers. He left me when I was broken, at the lowest point in my life, and then he filed for divorce… and it was the kindest thing he could have done.

Once we had separated, when I realized that I had indeed done my best and had therefore completed my prerequisites, the peace I’d begged for finally arrived. I saw, for what felt like the first time, a life that was mine to shape. I could go anywhere, do anything, sculpt myself into anyone.

Most importantly, I could breathe by myself again. I’ve lived since that moment, instead of merely existing. I’ve made my own mistakes, instead of paying for his. I’ve fully celebrated my own triumphs, no matter how insignificant, knowing that no one would roll eyes and diminish my worth. I’ve stretched out in bed each night, grateful that I can finally take up as much space as I need: I can finally expand to my potential, even alone.

Tonight, I tried to sleep, but instead, after a trip outside to visit my starry friends, I found myself in an oddly familiar place. My faithful chair and I have trekked wearily across the country, but the aged cushion still cradles my head just right as I spill my soul into its stuffing.

“Thank you, Father, for giving me back my life. Thank you for knowing me and loving me well enough to provide just what I never knew I always needed. Thank you for not answering that prayer. Or maybe, thank you for answering instead the prayer I hadn’t yet thought to pray.”

Dog Food: Mission Accomplished

Preface: I swear to you, dear readers who may or may not know me personally: I am an intelligent, sentient being. I am capable of reasoning, of multitasking, of implementing creative solutions to difficult problems. I strive to learn something new every day, I read constantly, and I am educated. It’s important that you keep this all in mind while you read the following, because there are days when I astound even myself.

Background: My senior year of high school, during a group project in my AP U.S. Government class, Mr. Bunck delegated Kelley M. and I to design a functioning government for Iraq (post 9/11, pre unjustified U.S. invasion). We studied the history, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic structure, and current events of the country. We learned all about the gut-level divisions between the Sunnis and the Shias.

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We applied our considerable combined brain-power… and then we sat and stared at each other, open-mouthed, while we realized that we had absolutely no clue. It was an unsolvable problem. As previously mentioned, I’m a pretty smart cookie, and so is Kelley M. This was the first time in my academic career, and possibly my life, where I was completely stumped. The feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming, and I have never forgotten that moment. We simply could not solve that problem. Fourteen years later, it’s clear that we weren’t the only ones.

A Tragic Play, in Two Pathetic Acts: 

8 a.m. in my apartment: The dog asks to be fed. (The nerve!) This is nothing new– he likes to eat twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. sharp, please and thank you. We have our routine. He gets two scoops, twice a day, and he waits until I tell him “okay” before digging in. This isn’t a new routine; he’s five, and he’s been eating habitually since day one. But today, when he asks to be fed, I am stymied. He has just presented me with a problem that I can not solve. 

Intermission: I swear, I’m not exaggerating. There’s this little-known phenomenon that goes along with depression and anxiety where your brain simply lays off all non-essential employees. “Sorry, lads. There’s just not enough happening here to justify all your salaries. We’re going to have to cut back.”

My brain has recently gone through its fourth or fifth round of cuts (the guy in charge of keeping track is long gone), so I am basically, at this point, down to a skeleton staff. All of my remaining brainsters (that’s brain + teamsters; apparently the guy in charge of bad puns snuck through) are working hard to keep me breathing and standing upright, so this morning, when my dog stood beside his bowl and turned those enormous brown eyes on me, I felt terrible, because I didn’t know what to do. The dog was hungry, and I had no idea how to solve this problem. It was Iraq all over again.

To fully comprehend the gravity of the situation, please note the following:

  • The 40 lb. bag of dog food in my pantry is still 3/4 full.
  • The scoop is not lost. Neither is the dish. Nor did the pantry door handle fall off. The food is there and easily accessible.
  • My dog has not suffered a recent illness or accident that would leave me questioning his nutritional needs.
  • I did not recently switch time zones.
  • I did not recently lose my fine motor skills. All of the body parts required to dish out the food remain intact.
  • My dog did not recently change his eating habits.
  • I did not recently rearrange the furniture or relocate his bowl.

None of these was the issue. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around so many steps:

  1. Walk to bowl.
  2. Lift up bowl.
  3. Carry bowl to pantry.
  4. Load bowl with two scoops of food and allergy pills.
  5. Deposit bowl back on top of doggie station.
  6. Tell the dog it’s okay to eat.
  7. Wipe the dog’s mouth when he finishes to avoid coating the kitchen in slobber.dog food

Act Two: It is all just too much. I literally have to talk myself through the process, like I used to do as a toddler learning to dress myself. “First, I’ll walk to the kitchen, then I’ll pick up the bowl…”

Five eternal minutes later, it is finished. The dog will live to eat another day, and I feel like I’ve just accomplished a task of overwhelming difficulty and skill. I sink gratefully into my favorite chair, emptied of any superfluous thought or ambition. I have just successfully fed my dog. Mission accomplished.

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Fin.

In all seriousness, it may be time to rehire some of my brainsters. I am trying so hard not to let depression win. I know it lies. I know all the evils of which it is capable. This may, however, be the first time it has attacked so boldly on my home turf that it has actually murdered brain cells. Before I’m left with a permanent hole in my intellect, I’m going to have to figure out a way to restructure. Will somebody please call Kelley M.?