Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Everything's amazing

I don't think I'd ever seen Louis C.K.

The last clip was not comedic. Well, this is, and I figured both you, my imaginary friend, and me, who's spent the entire day self reflecting on some serious shit (oh my - three curses in one day! I'm going to hell!). . .well, it's time for some comic relief. This could almost be Andy Rooney oh-that-unappreciative-younger generation material, but I think not:


Instead of describing, I'll simply post this:

Seems I can't get away from certain themes lately. I'd break it down, but it comes to one thing: courage.

I have quoted someone a number of times here on this blog and to people I've written to. I had forgotten who had written this - "Live as if you father was dead" - and, in fact, I had thought it was "write as if your family was dead." Never mind. It's simply about being unafraid; unafraid of consequences, unafraid of yourself, of your feelings, of others' judgments, all of it. You know when you're coming from a place of no fear (at first) because you are, indeed, terrified. Louis C.K. said he "felt it in his balls."

I don't have any balls, but I know what he means.

It's about being authentic. For some, this matters little, but for whatever reason, to me, it seems to be everything. I've heard the expression, "living life on life's terms," and I thought, eh, it's just a cliche, pay it no mind. I quibble with things like this; what inherent meaning does the word "life" have? None, However, this cliche has come to mean a lot to me. It's about meeting life's challenges openly, and not backing down from them.

I've given a lot of thought to the concept of depression, and I think, at heart, depression is the place we habitually go when we're feeling so much pain that we collapse. I also think it's a choice. There. I've said it. It's a choice. It's not about feeling happy or unhappy. It's about feeling painful feelings. Depression is an attempt to feel less. One can be grieving, hurt, sad, angry, filled with shame, in physical pain (just stick your own so-called negative emotion in here) and not be depressed. Depression is the attempt to run away and give up. All the outward appearances of depression show this: sleeping, lethargy, the attempt to stuff one's feelings with food, television, or whatever one's medication of choice is. The depressed doesn't say "I'm sad," but instead, "I feel like a piece of shit." As an aside, those silly multiple choice tests are just plain ridiculous: "Have you felt pervasive sadness for a duration longer than 14 days?" Why not simply ask, "Do you feel like a piece of shit?"

It takes courage not to be depressed if one is prone to it. I do think there's a propensity for it, and maybe (just maybe) the depression piece is the complete opposite of the disease model..I can see a good argument for that. Depression seems like an almost appropriate reaction - a non-maladaptive coping mechanism when one has an accurate understanding of one's complete powerlessness in the face of overwhelming circumstances. When I think of my childhood, it makes total sense to have developed depressive tendencies. Children have no rights, and in essence, their situation is the same as an inmate's. Now, your childhood may have been wonderful, so this analogy may seem absurd, but give it some thought: You are told where to live, who to live with, and you have no choice. You go to a school where everything you do is regimented, and you're tested and measured and analyzed and forced to socialize in groups, whether or not that's the right learning setting for you. There are bullies and cliques and all sorts of crazy power dynamics. You might have an abusive parent or teacher or be tormented by your peers, and you can't do a damned thing about it unless it's so bad that the law has to step in. Isn't this a pretty fair description of prison life?

Some people are fine. In prison, if they are, we call them "institutionalized." Truth is, a child who navigates the American school system with ease is already institutionalized, and if they are not complying, these days they are given drugs. Is this crazy or what?

People who can't conform to institutional setting either become angry or collapse in on themselves with depression, and some people can feel both at the same time.

Bruce Levine writes a lot about how people say they are depressed when, in fact, they are demoralized. He has a good article on Counterpunch in which he says,

"Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them?"

For the answer, go here.  It's a good question. I have always marveled at how there are general strikes in European countries, but when similar circumstances arise in the U.S., no one bats an eye. I think there's other reasons besides demoralization (such as the promise of the American Dream), but as I've just written about that recently, I'll leave it be.

Oh yes. I have written about depression before. It's the gift that keeps on taking.

Ah well. I know I started this post with some other point to make, but digressions get me (almost) every time. Truth is, if I was being terse (most unlike me) I'd simply say this: I feel overwhelmingly sad, and it's a bit harder than usual to stay on topic. This too shall pass.

Cliches are pretty useful.


Some things need practice. Lots of practice, and you get better at it. I've never heard or read anyone say this, but I think serial monogamy is a bad idea. It's not something you get better at by doing over and over again. Think of this: how would you wind up if you thought you could master car accidents by driving yourself over a cliff's edge time and time again? And no, the boxing analogy does not apply, 'cause even though one may get better with practice, you wind with less brain function, and the retirement age is early. Maybe it's the same thing with failing at relationships.

If you don't heal your woundedness before you get into a relationship, it's likely you'll attract someone who will wound you in exactly the same places you've been wounded before, or if you don't, you feel as if something is wrong when it isn't. Does one learn from this? I've got to say, emphatically: No

All that winds up happening is the re-injuring becomes a scar, or an open wound that can not heal, and then everyone feels like a potential injurer. I seriously doubt I could recognize a truly good potential "partner" if they were standing nose-to-nose with me at this point. Everyone reminds me of something or someone terrible (and that includes me).

I didn't get it that I felt this way. I thought I'd gotten over most of this stuff, but all I've done is become numb. Then, something came along and exploded that mistaken notion. As an aside, as much as I love Zen, I think sometimes the at-one-with-the-world-and-everyone-in-it that a person can feel on that black cushion in an empty room is pretty darned empty (but, of course, I'm oversimplifying. . .)

At some point, a person just gives up. I thought I had, and was oh-so cool about it. Yeah. That's fine. I have no more wants, needs, or desires (another black cushion myth and mistake). I thought about living as a monk, thought about it a lot, and have wondered, "Why am I still living in the world?" Well, I don't have a good answer to that one. Or perhaps I do: I know I've used meditation like a drug instead of a tool a good amount of the time. Anything not to feel deeply, please! Yogic practice is another story. Done correctly, the aim is to become more in touch with one's body and emotions, to embrace them. Yes, Zen can do the same thing, but the bulk of the literature and practice was written and designed for men living a monastic existence, so it's pretty easy to fall in love with the coolness of living in no-mind/no-body. 

For the most part, those of us who haven't been brought up in deeply religious households just aren't given any clear map of how to live this emotional relational life. If we're lucky, and we have good role models, stuff pretty much takes care of itself, but sadly, a great many people don't have great or even good role models. Not only do we re-injure ourselves, but we injure others, even if our intentions are good.

If only we treated each other with the tenderness we all deserve. Yes, every person is a precious gift, and yep, I sound soppy and new-agey, but I stand by it. Why I continue to apologize for having nice thoughts is another mystery. Well, maybe not. I've been trained to act that a tough guy, and that doesn't work for the girl who lives inside of me screaming to be allowed to finally have a say in things. 

And no, I haven't yet learned how to live by it, and I'm starting to realize I'm too scarred by this life to do so. Whoever you are, if you're reading this, and you aren't, be kind and gentle with yourself and others. Do it fearlessly and honestly. Life goes by in a flash, and it's worth it. 

Addendum: I wonder sometimes why I over-share in the public sphere. It's one part compulsivity (I just can't help myself), and three parts a desire to yell out warnings to the world, to those who haven't made the mistakes I have in this life. . .it's not so different than yelling, "Hey! Don't walk down that road. There's a huge chasm of venomous snakes down there." Well, yeah, maybe you want to see for yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Image note: Head of Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mental health break

Okay, folks. It's time for a light post. What shall it be? I'm taking a break from watching a film about propaganda, and seeing all those photos of rich people makes me think about stuff I want. Uh oh. I fear a small rant coming on, one I must indulge before moving on to the lighter fare.

The American Dream makes us docile. We think there's a chance we might become rich. After all, it's America, right? Anyone can make it to the top! In the meantime, we can gorge ourselves on an endless array of super sized foods, a dizzying array of consumer goods, and dream about all the stuff we could get our hands on if only we were wealthy. Most of us are wealthy, in the grand scheme of things, but this fact eludes us, which makes total sense in a society where some people have enough money to feed all the starving people in the world, and we have television shows where celebrities give us tours of their clothes closets.

Now, on to the silliness. I'm an American, and I lust after material goods, just like everyone else. What do I want?

I'd like a new car. Right now I have a car with an inspection sticker that'll expire in a few days. It will not pass, and I can't afford to fix it. In the meanwhile, since I can't afford even the lowliest beater, I might as well dream big. . .

This photo doesn't do this car justice. For more, go here. What is it? One of ten 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom 1 Jonckhere Coupes. I think I'd need a new wardrobe and some plastic surgery in order to become the driver of this vehicle. Wait. Anyone who owns this vehicle probably has a chauffeur.

Price? It took a bit of searching to find the answer to this question. The last time one was sold, in 1991, it was for 1.5 million dollars. Oh dear. Better start playing the lottery.

The lottery is a pet peeve of mine. Wouldn't it be nicer if the jackpots were lower and more people were winners? Of course! But, unless one wins millions upon millions of dollars, one can't dream big enough.

I just googled "the most expensive house in Maine," and frankly, I didn't like it. So, let's skip houses, and move on to more useless things, like shoes, which I really like, and would happily spend loads of money on. These days I like my shoes comfortable and funky, so a pair of handmade ones like these would would be fun:

They really don't go with the car, do they? I'd have to have them made in black. Maybe whittle that toe down some. You can get these, plus many other handmade historical and just plain silly shoes over at Nativearth. Now I know where a number of folks around these parts get their sandals.

Thinking of rich hippies brings to mind perfume. There is a perfume company that is called just that, Rich Hippie. I haven't tried any of their scents, nor heard whether they're any good, but we all know I do like expensive scent. . .but never mind that. It'd take a day's worth of writing (at least) to explain just what scents I'm hankering for and why.

I'm getting tired. This nonsense makes me think that I would really like a working vehicle, a vacuum cleaner, a kayak, a new computer, a stack of linen to sew, some new knitting needles that haven't been chewed by a naughty cat, a new pair of prescription eyeglasses, and a gift certificate for a lifetime's worth of yoga classes. Nix the vacuum cleaner. Since I'm dreaming, I'd like a housecleaner.

See? I'm as covetous as any good American (but I'm sure you already could guess that).

Old post 2

First, the usual disclaimer:

Okay, I've been listening and reading altogether too much about psychiatric medication and my brain is starting to fry. I've also been trying to write and respond to everything and it's simply hopeless. It's too big. . .this is a blog. . .I'm not a Real Writer. . .

And then, the attempt at writing:

Here's the thought that's been kicking around in my head for days, the one that I'm trying oh so hard to find a fancy framework in which to set, but can't:

Are doctors really so stupid?

Well, yes and no. Some are smart. Some aren't.

How about the rest of us folks?

Lately, I'm starting to wonder about the answer to that one.

One thing that's got me asking these questions is the ridiculous questionnaires for folks who are wondering if they are depressed. Let me pose the notion that if you are taking a questionnaire about depression, unless you're simply incredibly bored (which might be a sign of depression) you are probably depressed. Do you really need to take a test designed by a drug company to get you to ask your doctor for their drug to give you an answer?

I've been wondering lately what one could possibly do to make an anti-psychiatry blog fun enough for folks to want to read it. I really have no idea how to be snarky, but I can be mean. Maybe I should start writing from my inner nasty person. I do have one, believe me, but I don't care to feed that beast.

Written right now: I keep trying to write about the "are doctors really that stupid?" question, which has been joined by the unsettling second question "are some doctors really that nefarious?"

The awareness of the push towards diagnosing younger and younger children with bipolar disorder is disturbing in the extreme. For a brief moment in time, we were aware of this because of the death of Rebecca Riley, whose parents were convicted of intentionally overdosing their daughter with psychiatric medication. Why wasn't the prescribing psychiatrist ever charged with a crime?

The uneducated parents of this four-year-old child claimed they were just following doctor's orders. I have no idea what the truth is, but it's certainly possible that this is indeed true. Who is the jury to believe? This is one of those cases where "a jury of one's peers" is just a bad idea. The accused needed a jury of experts. Most people believe that a doctor's diagnosis is a scientific fact, and the prescribing of medication is a hard science. Neither is true. So, we have a young child who is diagnosed with an idea, not a disease, and she is prescribed drugs that have not been tested or approved for the use in children. The parents say that the doctor told them to give the child a drug "as needed." That's rather a license to keep the kid sedated, and sedation sometimes results in death.

Most psychiatrists understand that diagnoses are a construct, and they freely admit that prescribing is "hit and miss." Some say they use the "shotgun approach," which means one is given a lot of drugs simply to see if any of them work. There's nothing particularly scientific about that. People who use street drugs take the same approach, don't they? I'll try x, y, and z. . .until I find a drug that makes me feel good.

I once had a long and honest conversation with a psychiatrist about the hypocrisy of the bad drugs/good drugs dichotomy. In this doctor's opinion, the only reason doctors did not prescribe heroin, cocaine, and marijuania to patients (aside from their illegality) is the fact that these drugs are cheap, easy to make, and the raw ingredients for them are generally grown in third world countries. If any of the big pharmaceutical companies had a piece of that pie, there would probably be a bigger push to un-demonize them.

It strikes me that the real drug war in America is the war between legal and illegal drugs. This is no big revelation, neither for me, nor for you (hopefully), but when one looks at some numbers, the truth of this is pretty stark.

Heroin: 2000

Cocaine: 2500

Alcohol: 80,000

Prescription drugs: 32,000

The number of prescription drug related deaths is probably much higher than this, for people who die while under the influence of prescription drugs is not included. This number is "just" people who died as a direct result of a drug. 

There are no statistics for how many people died while taking any of the drugs that have black box warnings. This is crazy. These drugs are considered so risky that there''s a *WARNING* on it, yet most people do not know what a black box label is. When one goes to the drug store and picks up a prescription, pharmacists are not obligated to point out that one is receiving a drug with some major risks. The pharmacist may ask if you want to be "counseled," but that's rare, even though everyone must sign an electronic or paper form that says whether or not they received any advice. We've all signed consent forms, but we do this without a thought. They're pushed through a window before we see a doctor. 

I often ask people if they know anything about the drugs that they or their children are taking. Most people do not know anything about them. Do you? Have you researched any of your prescriptions on sites that are not affiliated with drug companies? If you haven't, do yourself a favor and do so. Yes, the language is hard to understand, but you can go to an online dictionary and look up every unfamiliar word. 

Even if you do, you still might be flummoxed. I sure was after I read an ad for Seroquel while waiting in a physician's office recently; fours pages of sheer nonsense about the possible risks of taking an antidepressant drug. Seroquel is not an antidepressant. It is, officially, an "atypical antipsychotic." It is now being used as "adjunct therapy for treatment resistant depression and bipolar disorder." This is what is called "off label prescribing." Why this is legal is beyond me. Drugs are approved (rightly or wrongly) for specific purposes. If they are not tested for other purposes, we are the guinea pigs, pure and simple. 

Okay, I'll stop beating this poor horse. . .for now.

Image note: Jacopo Da Ponte (aka Jacopo Bassano), "The Good Thief on the Cross," Pastel over charcoal, later half of 16th century.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old post 1

I wrote this: "I've been having trouble writing. Too many thoughts, and neither my mind nor my thoughts are well organized. Never have been, and never will be. . ." as a preface (more or less) to nearly two dozen blog entries that are languishing in my drafts folder. I'll be posting them and calling it good, whether they're "good" or not.

Two people I did not know personally died this week of overdose and suicide. One you've heard of, and the other you probably didn't.

For each, there has been much discussion. I am surprised (yes, surprised) at how little intelligent discussion there has been about both suicide and drug addiction.

Every time someone dies in these manners, it's an opportunity to reach out to those who are suffering, but that opportunity seems to come and go, come and go, and poof! Gone. Until the next time. I find myself offended by so much commentary, reading things such as "suicide is stupid," by someone who's had many a book published and is supposedly smarter than I am. Is that all you can say?

Suicide is neither smart nor stupid. The same with taking drugs.

When I think about Amy Winehouse, and look back over some interviews with her written by an old friend of mine, I see something of myself when I was young, and I feel terribly sad.

I am so tired of hearing about the "diseases" of depression and drug addiction. I just don't buy it. Dis-ease, yes, but "disease?" Nope. If these conditions were illnesses, there'd be a cure, and the only cure I know of is usually too painfully slow for most people to engage in.

Please find me someone who hates themselves enough to destroy themselves who has not been abused in some fashion when they were children. Introduce me to that person and then perhaps I'll believe that any of these conditions are diseases.

Last night I thought, briefly, of some of the lives of kids I knew:

Raped by father, repeatedly. Moved from town to town so father wouldn't get caught.

Thrown down the stairs by father. Broken leg, arm, ribs.

15-year-old girl thrown out of the house because mother thinks she's "a bad seed." Begged for forgiveness. Made to live in hall closet.

Daughter thrown out glass window because father learns she's pregnant.

Father hung himself. Mother had sex with daughters.

Thrown out of house at 12 for "bad attitude." "Go prostitute yourself for money!" Did.

I could go on, but it's only depressing. One thinks, "Well, at least they weren't forced to carry guns and kill." We can tell ourselves all sorts of stories to make it seem not so bad. These kids lived in America, and they didn't starve to death. . .

Many of the young people I once knew are dead. Those that are alive, most of them have come to terms with their past. Most of them have forgiven those who trespassed against them.

Is that really okay? I've always thought forgiveness was the best strategy, but I'm starting to change my mind some. Is it really possible to forgive and forget without losing a part of one's humanity?

Every bit of minimizing we do allows kids to continue to be abused. Abuse, even one incident of it, creates lasting scars.

Image note: If you're trying to figure out what this has to do with the post, the answer is "nothing." I figured I'd use some of the images I have as desktop pics, all of which have been painted by little known painters.

Juan van der Hamen  "Still Life with Artichokes, Figs, Peaches, and Apples," 1629.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scents and nonsense

One fights against the status quo at one's peril, at risk of sounding like a nutcase, and having to fight off the feeling of tilting at windmills. I could not stop myself (and am glad I did not) from leaving a comment about this statement:

"Editors note: These statement and treatments are anecdotal, and not "medically" based. If you have been diagnosed or suspect you suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress, depression or other mental health disorders please consult your doctor."

This was at the bottom of a lovely post about the healing properties of scent. 

How brainwashed we all are! If one is feeling down, reaching for a bottle of good perfume will probably do you more good (and certainly less harm) than a bottle of most anything else. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches people how to self sooth, something that a good many of us don't know how to do. It's a testament to how out of touch with simple reality we are as a culture that it takes some fancy sounding therapy to teach us to pay attention to our senses. Nonetheless, it's all good advice. From the site Truer Recovery, the following bit of advice about self soothing with scent:

"Do you have a perfume or cologne that you enjoy? Wear it, spray it in the air and let yourself enjoy the scent. Try to keep a small vial of it with you in your purse, car or pocket, and take it out when you could use a boost. . .Find a scent that works for you, and try to keep it close."

No disclaimer at the bottom of that page.

There's no doubt in my mind that what we take in with our senses can have a profound effect on our psyches. How could we think otherwise?

I write this as I sit in a messy apartment that truly bothers me. I wouldn't want anyone to come visit and see the way my place looks (though I am telling the world about it). This gets me down, and right now I'm trapped in an altogether too familiar vicious cycle of feeling bad about it, not doing anything about it, feeling worse, doing less. . .at least I'm wearing a scent that cheers me! I may be dressed so badly that I wouldn't go out on the street without a change of clothes, but, thanks to Bulgari Black and the privilege of having running water (yes, some people do not have that) I do smell good.

Image note: Bergamot Overused, perhaps. Uplifting? Indeed.

Addendum: It appears that I needn't worry about offending anyone at that lovely blog. The comment I left is going either unnoticed or ignored. Either way, I would have preferred a fight to that. This needs to be discussed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"The great thing about capitalism is it makes conspiracy theories unnecessary." - Bruce Greenberg

From his 2007 interview on Madness Radio.


Approximately 100,000 people are subjected to electroconvulsive "therapy" each year in the United States. . .

Years ago, I shared a room in a psychiatric ward with a woman who was there in body, but her mind seemed gone. I figured this was her "problem," but no, it was the supposed cure. She had electroconvulsive "therapy" for her depression.

She had many visitors, who all tried to have conversations with her, but there was no one home, and no conversations were had. These visitors held her hand, and she could still smile. Looking back on it, the little smile that she had, which I had interpreted to be "warm and gentle" was the same expression my cat has when I pet her. Animals have a response to touch; we anthropomorphize it and call it happiness.

This woman had been reduced to this level by repeatedly injuring her brain. The doctors considered her a success, for she no longer had any complaints.

We've banned lobotomy, but shock therapy and drugging people to the point of catatonia and brain damage are still okay. A doctor might say, "Oh, this patient is at risk of suicide" as a good reason to resort to such drastic measures, but is this really an improvement? Ask yourself if you'd prefer losing your memories and being in a nearly vegetative state or being suicidally depressed. Can't decide or think this is no-win set of questions?

Well, then you've bumped up against the ridiculous notion of informed consent for ECT.

There is no proof that this barbaric "procedure" is a a treatment. Putting aside any questions about whether or not the illnesses that ECT supposedly treat are actually real diseases, there's the scantest of evidence that ECT has any effectiveness besides providing relief through amnesia. If consent forms wrote this clearly: "ECT may be effective for your depression by erasing your memory of your mental state" people might be cautious. I stress the word might because people will do nearly anything to extricate themselves from their suffering.

Head banging is considered a bad activity. Truth is, if you bang your head enough times, you'll achieve the same exact outcome as electroconvulsive "therapy."

If doctors were hitting patients in the heads with hammers, people would be outraged.


"ECT has been demonstrated to be an effective and safe treatment for many psychiatric disorders."


Two sentences later, one reads, "One review concluded that ECT is only marginally more effective than placebo."

The Mayo Clinic:

"Electroconvulsive therapy seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses."

What does this sentence mean? This is the kind of useless and misleading language that so-called consent forms use.

The Mayo Clinic website goes on to say, "Much of the stigma attached to electroconvulsive therapy is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones, and other serious side effects."

This is an example of a Big Lie. Yes, in the past, patients came away from ECT with broken bones and teeth and the entire procedure looked barbaric. Nowadays, few patients looks so bad afterwards, but essentially that is the only difference. If you care to read more about the evolution of ECT, go here.

Here's more from the Mayo Clinic:

"ECT is much safer today. Although electroconvulsive therapy still causes some side effects, it now uses electrical currents given in a controlled setting to achieve the most benefit with the fewest risks."

Again, this means nothing except we've cleaned up both the procedure and our language about it. We could have done the same thing with lobotomy, but it's gotten too bad a reputation.

It saddens me knowing that it is true that people will do anything to relieve their pain, and that informed consent means nothing. People would consent to lobotomy given the right (or wrong) circumstances.

What saddens me more is that those of us who speak up about this and similar issues in psychiatry are considered "fringe." If one expresses sadness or anger, that immediately disqualifies one's opinion. Shouldn't we be angry or sad about this stuff?

The biggest lie out there is that human beings can be completely objective and rational, and that, indeed, objectivity and rationality are an ideal state. I do not believe this to be so. In fact, I believe the myths of objective rationality are ones that lead to some of the most dangerous thinking and behaviors imaginable.

Image Note: William Hogarth, "In the Madhouse," 1735. Was the treatment of the Mentally Ill really so bad in the past? At least one could play the violin while incarcerated back in the 18th century.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

These people are awfully quiet.

My blog post entitled "Why You Should Not Get a Tattoo" is in Google's top ten hits. About three hundred people a day read this post, or at least look at it. There is one comment under that post, and that was left in 2008, by someone I know. 

I just re-read it, and the truth is, though I wrote it partially in jest, it contains some good advice. 

I do wonder why no one ever leaves a comment. 

Image note: Not a tattoo, but it would be clever (and not recommended).

Recently I noted that a number of tattooed people have posted comments on Facebook criticizing plastic surgery because the people who had it done weren't happy with themselves as they were "naturally." Tattooing and plastic surgery aren't so different. If people simply wanted to "wear art," they'd don interesting clothes and hang pictures from their necks. People want to change the way they look in drastic, permanent ways, and though not many think of tattoos as doing that, that is indeed what they do. 

When I first started tattooing, I met a tattoo artist who had inked his left calf entirely black. A year later, the person he had apprenticed with had done the same thing to his left forearm. They both had the same goal, which was simply to see how evenly they could do black work with a four flat needle. I have always wanted to do an entire "body part" one color, but I never had any takers. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thirteen drafts later. . .

. . .you get this:

I spent the afternoon knitting while listening to various people discussing personal growth. Personal growth  seems like a silly term to me. I think, "How can there not be personal growth? Is there impersonal growth?"

Okay. I'm being silly. Of course there are plenty of people who don't want to "grow." People will, in fact, do a helluva lot to not grow. They will kick and scream and kill instead of changing or challenging themselves. Besides, the very concept of "personal growth" seems absurd these days. Everything is a disease. You have a disease? Well, then. There's a pill for that, and if there isn't, it's incurable.

I felt motivated to cut through my hazy thinking because I felt angry. Listening to  this  trailer for the documentary film "Healing Homes" made me want to cry. The cure for psychosis? Love.

That's right. Love. No pills. No therapy. Just love.

Instead of crying, I got angry. I thought about when I met my new G.P. recently, and she asked me why I wasn't seeing a psychiatrist. I told her I've been tapering off the medication I've been on, very slowly, and had no interest in seeing a psychiatrist, for prescribing medication is the only thing that they do. She was concerned. "Have you ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia?" I wonder what would have happened if I had answered yes to that question. Would I have been forcibly put into a psychiatric hospital, even though I had no signs or symptoms of the "disease?" Perhaps. 

Even though I was off the hook, since this doctor is an osteopath, and I figure she's at least a little bit open minded, I felt obligated to stick up for people who are indeed schizophrenic. There is no evidence whatsoever that medication is helpful for psychosis in the long term. None. There is no evidence that schizophrenia is a brain disease, as most people believe, and as I once did. How is it that doctors, too, believe that it is a disease when there is no proof anywhere of any such thing? I did say something, and, of course, she looked at me as if I was crazy. I don't generally notice that kind of thing, as I've tried hard (yes, changed) to stop trying to discern what others are thinking about me. I can not read minds, but there's that certain look of incredulity, along with a raising of the eyebrows, an intake of breath. . .well. . .Suffice it to say, the doc has a Ph.D., and I do not, so what on earth was I thinking? I must be mad.

What about proof that programs that do not rely on medication have better outcomes? There's proof of that.

This is what makes me so angry. I generally do not use the word "evil," for it has connotations that I'm not sure I believe in, but I am damned sure that there are some things (and people) who are very, very bad. Treating people with kindness is not a money making endeavor, and as such, in this so-called society, it simply doesn't pay. So what do we do with the damning evidence that love and kindness (or a lack thereof) actually matters? We hide it.

Yes, this is a rant. 

Capitalism destroys everything it touches. Do you seriously think the profit motive can do anything positive for this world? We can congratulate ourselves for having a green company or a small carbon footprint, but at core, the whole system is rotten. These little fixes can make our consciences feel better, but they, perhaps, might make matters worse. A clean conscience has been proven to cause people to do people more harm than good.  Most of us know it. Those of us who know it well are, well, crazy. 

Of course the crazy people aren't going to be treated with love in America. Drugs aren't working? Electroconvulsive "therapy" for you! 

You think I'm kidding? Hey, it's on the rise for those who are "treatment resistant." That's pretty interesting considering the treatment has never been proven to work on any known illness. 

This is the stuff of science fiction dystopian novels.

Sadly, it is not a fiction. It may sound insane, but that makes sense, for it is.

Image note: I really like Jan van Eyck, but I do not believe in angels. This is a minority point of view in America. 55% of Americans do literally believe in angels. I guess it's only if you think they're out to get you, instead of benignly looking over your shoulder, that'll get you into trouble.

Friday, July 8, 2011

To taste a rose

When I was a child, I tried to eat flowers. I don't remember doing it, but it was captured on film more than once, so I know it's true.

It was rather a family joke, "the kid who ate flowers," but I was told by my somewhat sophisticated mother, that eating flowers was perfectly okay (as long as it was the right flower). One should not eat foxgloves. That would kill you. Violets? Fine. Especially candied violets. Nasturtiums were also fine, and looked very nice in a salad.

My mother taught me that food was not just about the taste buds. She taught me that beautiful food was usually good food, and a "square meal" was rich in colors and should always smell good.

On top of that, she encouraged everyone to dispense with table manners. On many occasions, while eating meat, she'd say "Oh, just pick it up with your fingers! It's meat!" We'd sit at the table gnawing on bones, practically growling. Napkins (sometimes piles of them) would be in our laps, but otherwise, we ate lamb shanks and bloody steak like a bunch of drunken pirates.

No, I don't do this in public, I don't eat much meat nowadays, and I'm not the hedonistic I used to be or my mother was. I live a simple quiet life without much excitement or growling.

This is all a big preface to my wanting to express exactly why I'm so intoxicated by Kathi Langelier's Wild Rose and Honey Elixir. Kathi hand picks wild rose petals to make this stuff. A crazy amount of work and heart go into each little bottle of all her Herbal Revolution "products." Ah, the word product seems altogether too cold and impersonal to use here, but I digress. . .

A few weeks ago, tired, hot, and ready to go home, I stumbled on to Kathi's booth at the Belfast Farmer's Market. I didn't have my glasses on, and I thought she was selling cold drinks. Maybe it was simply my wish. I told her this, and she said something like, "Well, I do have something you can taste." She handed me a little bottle and I heard the word "rose." Then, I smelled a rose, a perfect rose, a wild rugosa rose.

Someone said to me earlier today, "I don't like the smell of roses. Too sweet." Sorry, but I just don't get that. First off, there isn't just One Rose. There's infinite roses. Roses on a wet day. Roses on a hot day. Roses at their peak, their decline, their first bloom. There's roses that barely smell, and ones that are heady and thick with scent. There are roses that smell pink and there's ones that do indeed smell like white roses and then there's the bitter smell of a yellow rose that makes one think "Is that indeed a rose?" My writing can not do justice to the smell of a rose.

This little bottle had it, the perfect smell of a perfect rose on a perfect summer day on the coast of Maine. Oh. My.

But that wasn't all.

She said, "Taste it."

And I did.

You can find Wild Rose and Honey Elixir on Etsy. You can also read Maria Browning's more coherent musings on this over at her blog. My post was really only meant to be a response to hers, as leaving a comment was too small a venue for my intoxicated with rose rambling.

Image Note: John William Waterhouse "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May" 1908

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Out of touch

Yesterday, when someone told me "Casey Anthony was found not guilty!" I asked, "Who's that?"

That's right, folks. I knew nothing about this story. I did listen to the radio on my way to and from the dentist today, and here's my opinion:

Murders go unpunished every day. Innocent people get convicted every day. That's the American justice system.

I have to admit that the case against Anthony wasn't very good. One can convict someone of murder simply because they're a "no-good lying slut," if the lawyer for the prosecution is very good or the defense lawyer is particularly bad, but in this case, that did not happen. It's certainly possible that Anthony did indeed kill her child, and though that's more than terrible, we shouldn't convict people of crimes simply because they are awful human beings.

You may accuse me of sloppy thinking. I've given this subject (and Casey Anthony) about 20 minutes of thought. Why I'm bothering to write about it is up for discussion.

I have a Really Bad Toothache. This excuse is now officially legitimate for "a month or so," according to the dentist.

What concerns me most today, selfishly, is why a person who has a swollen face and has driven an hour and ten minutes to see a dentist is simply told to "take a few more aspirin." My toothache has gotten so bad that I took a spectacular fall on the street on Sunday and had a small accident at work yesterday. I am now covered with bruises and am thanking the universe for still having strong bones.

I am glad I don't have a small child to take care of this afternoon and evening. I am wondering, not for the first time, why we need to take a test and get a license to drive a car, but having children requires no special skills except knowing how to get laid.

I am, on principle, against any laws that involve personal choices, but really, why do we need to take a driver's test and not a having kids test? It's not a stupid comparison. If one wants to drive, one must do a certain amount of studying and practice. If one passes a written (or verbal) test and a road test, one gets a license. If you break enough laws, your license is taken away. In the case of having children, which is infinitely more important, one simply has them, and if you do a spectacularly bad job, they're taken away from you. If you do something to your children that's criminal, you may (or may not) be put in jail.

Image note: Ms. Anthony got this tattoo after telling the tattooist that her child was missing. So many people are shocked by this. I'm not. People get tattooed when they are in shock. Whether it was the shock of what she said happened, or whether she was trying to pretend that whatever happened didn't happen, getting a tattoo is a sure fire way to avert one's attention.

This reminds me of the large amounts of crap parents who get their kids' names tattooed on them; mothers who say, "They can take my kids away but they can't take away my tattoo," fathers who refuse to pay child support, or ones whose wives and girlfriends wanted to get their children as far away from them as possible. This kind of thing helped burn me out as a tattooist. I started to think caring for children was in inverse proportion to having their names tattooed on a person (and, yes, there are exceptions, so don't get too angry at me). What could I say to a mother who had kids at home who were wanting for food, and I knew was spending her last fifty bucks on a tattoo? "Please go away?" Yes, I did do that on occasion, but she'd just go elsewhere. Ah, la bella vita. . .

Saturday, July 2, 2011


There's bad design by accident and there's bad design by design. The former is sometimes wonderful. A tattoo shop I once worked at had a poorly painted sign that said simply Tattoo? over the front door. When the owner relocated his shop, he proudly removed that sign and tried to throw it away. To him, it reeked of poverty, a time when he couldn't afford to get a real sign painter to paint him something, or the funds for a shiny new neon sign. A friend of mine was there to help him move (a painter), and he argued for bringing that funky old sign to the new shop. The argument was lost. I don't know what happened to that sign.

For at least twenty years, there's been a little sign hanging on Route 7 that simply says SWEATERS. Underneath it is a crude painting of a sweater shape that could have been painted by a literal minded young child. I love that sign. I have never stopped to see what kinds of sweaters are for sale, for I've always imagined they'd be hideous things made of Red Heart yarn. The fact that this property also has some similar signs that say Sinners, Burn, and In Hell have also kept me from visiting.

When I had my own tattoo shop, I didn't have a sign. The reason? Signs were not allowed for second floor businesses. I asked a lawyer friend if I should fight the city, and he said I shouldn't bother. Instead, he suggested I put a painting in the window with a depiction of a sign in it. 

Since few people looked up, at some point I put a sandwich board out on the street. I didn't want to pay for signage, so I used the same strategy. I painted a bizarro tattooed pin-up girl pointing upwards. I had some fun with this and added some flying saucers with tattooed aliens waving hello. I didn't think much of it until the tourist season rolled along. Suddenly, I had well heeled people coming up the stairs inquiring "Who painted that sign?" Every single one of these people seemed to be dying to meet someone other than me. "Where did you grow up?" "Did you go to art school?" The answers, "New York," and "Yes" were deal killers.  No, they hadn't found a witless outsider artist who had been painting in a locked closet, born to a brother and sister duo, on a defunct chicken farm in the hinterlands of Belfast, Maine. And no, I'm not enough of an actor to play one on TV or anywhere else. 

This sign is a classic in Maine, though I'm a bit dismayed to see that they're actually quite proud of it:

I originally thought I'd write about fonts, but, as usual, other thoughts got in my way. 

The day started with my continued reading about what fonts people hate and why. Papyrus seems to be the #1 most hated font on the Web. There's an I Hate Papyrus Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. 

I had to hang a sign up today (one that I did not design), and after reading all that Papyrus hate, I felt quite uncomfortable with the fact that the sign used this Abominable Type. I also felt uncomfortable with the fact that I felt uncomfortable. Even after what I'd written yesterday, it seemed a bit ridiculous to suddenly be judgmental about something I hadn't given a thought to the day before. 

Still, the judgments on Papyrus are sound (to a point). It's not inherently ugly, no, but it certainly is overused, and once one sees that, it becomes altogether too clear. Papyrus is everywhere! Anything that's natural, nature-related, important but not stuffy, new-agey, and religious but not too serious uses Papyrus. My advice from yesterday still stands. Google your font before you use it! 

The problem with the lovely idea of design-for-everyone is that everyone is not a designer. Just because one has templates galore to guide you doesn't mean it going to turn out okay. The signs and advertising I like because it's bad is very bad indeed. It's kitsch or completely unselfconscious. Hussey's sign (above) used to fall into that category, but if you go check out their website, now it's simply self-consciously bad, the kind of thing that falls into the We Hired a Designer and He Okayed Our Being Rubes category.

Sorry, but once you're big enough to have a website as big as theirs, using the slogan "If we ain't got it, you don't need it," no longer sounds cute, nor does "Guns, wedding gowns, and cold beer." 

Don't get me wrong. I don't think having a degree in graphic design means one automatically does have better graphic design skills. There's plenty of stupid, talentless, tasteless people with degrees. However, if you're doing type design, knowing what kerning is isn't a bad idea.

The folks who designed the Stop and Shop logo did a great job with the red and green dots, but the type "design" is simply awful:

What's that say? Stop and Sltop?

It has been redesigned. Now, the graphics have nothing to do with the name of the store. . .

. . .thus proving that lots of money will not always buy you any sense and that maybe whomever owns this corporation should have gotten someone's 12-year-old to use a MSWord template and pay them with whatever would tempt a kid nowadays to spend their time developing a grocery store logo. 

My point?


Friday, July 1, 2011


Anyone familiar with this blog knows I have a thing about conformity. I loathe the way non-conformists have a need to conform to each other. Yes, we all need community, but there can be community without us all having to wear the same clothes.

On the other hand, there's something fantastic about wearing the same clothes. I have always loved uniforms (and I don't mean "I love a man in uniform.")

I grew up in a nouveau riche community where what one wore was terribly important. That town was in the forefront of what came to be true all over America. A twelve-year-old must wear certain clothes and brands and own certain things or that kid is going to be picked on. I know many a poor parent who forgoes a lot of important things in order to make sure their child is not harangued in this way. One hundred and fifty dollar sneakers? They've become a necessity to protect their kids from being tortured in school. Anti-bullying lectures and classes will do no good until issues like this are addressed.

For this reason, I like school uniforms. Some see them as ways to force children to conform, but they instead do the very opposite. When wearing a uniform, no one can judge who your family is from your looks. No one can discern your socioeconomic status. It's wonderful.

I loved going to boarding school, for the Very Rich Kids did not flaunt their wealth. I looked shabby, but so did everyone else. It amazed me. Some of these kids' fathers owned the largest corporations in the world. At this level of wealth, one wants to be fairly quiet about it. On visiting days, I learned to figure out who came from the wealthiest families by how beat up the cars were. The worse the car, the wealthier the family. So much for the town I grew up in. Those folks were small potatoes!

Now, the people who drove these beat-up cars often wore hand made shoes and cashmere sweaters, but to the undiscerning eye these didn't look all that different than other shoes and sweaters (but true discerners can tell).

This leads me to this, what I came here to write about: fitting in by stealth. People ask me why I cover up my tattoos. There's more than one answer, but the important one here is this: Why on earth would I want to stigmatize myself? If I cover my tattoos up, a person meeting me for the first time will be less likely to judge me. I can look quite conservative, and I'd prefer to do so. What better why to, ahem, infiltrate?

Seriously, if you want to provoke, to change, to threaten, to do anything vaguely "revolutionary," fitting in seamlessly is the best strategy.  'Tis a childish stance to scream "Accept me the way I am, tantrums and all!" Throwing a cross into vat of piss is not the best way to change anyone's mind about anything (except public funding for the arts).

"Piss Christ" has become an icon of the in-your-face and huh? world of modern art, and Serrano succeeded beautifully in creating a buzz about himself, but ultimately, even though he claimed no inherent meaning to Piss Christ besides "ambiguity," it only offended. Offense is altogether to easy a thing to do.

William Burroughs, though offensive in his own way, by wearing a gray suit, was far more subversive. He could pass well in any business setting. This obit, entitled "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit," tells his story fairly well in few words. The author says Burroughs "passed." Yes, he looked like traveling salesman or a CIA agent, but neither of these people is supposed to be either homosexual or an unrepentant drug addict.

Of course, we all seem to think that under the quiet exterior of Everyman is someone harboring a secret life. In this age of wanting everyone to know what our dirty secrets are, isn't it altogether more fun to keep 'em guessing?

I have no idea what my original point or intent was. I have a toothache.

That's today's excuse. What will be tomorrow's?

Image note: William S. Burroughs favored Brooks Brothers.

Ways to shoot oneself in the foot

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about marketing and PR lately. I've come to the conclusion that many of us undermine ourselves in ways that we think are vaguely noble.  Some of us do it subconsciously, and others do it with full intent. Do these intentions make sense?

On this blog, I write generally, and I write long posts. I know full well that both things are Verboten on the web unless one already has a devoted following. I've thought about this one a lot, and decided I don't care (much). This blog is my personal not-for-profit time wasting activity (oh, a hobby!), and though I question it repeatedly, I have decided not to change. I'll accept the consequences. 

If I was giving advice to someone else about how to promote their blog, I'd most assuredly tell them to pick one topic and stay on it. 

Yes, I'm being a contrarian. I like long books, long articles, and people who think too much. The web and reality television is causing all of us to brand our person-hood, and that is best done in small bites. I suppose my brand is wordy, self-defeating, and not at all self promoting. I am, in effect, saying, "I do not care if I succeed." Indeed, this is true. I am not a writer. For whatever reason, I decided to share my daily thoughts with whomever feels moved to read them, and that's about it for my motives. End of story.

If I was trying to sell myself or a product in the world and on the web, I would try (I hope) to look at what I'm doing without the lens of attachment. Yes, attachment. People become so attached to their ideas and products that they do not accept good advice. 

For instance, there are countless articles about What Fonts Not To Use.  I've heard many a person who has picked one of these fonts for their product say something like, "I'll not be bullied by design Nazis! I'm using it!" They think this is some sort of rebellious act (but secretly are simply hurt by finding out their choice was so poor). It is not a rebellious act to use a font that screams I Am An Amateur or I Have Lousy Taste. Thinking it might be a good joke to say I Know I Picked Something That Is Common and A Sign of Amateurism But I'm Using It Anyway Because I'm a Rebel and Am Against Marketing is altogether stupid.

Oh, don't get me started. This reminds me of the subject of getting a tattoo or a Harley Davidson to show one is Different. Millions of People Who Are Different have tattoos, ride Harleys, and wear the same clothes. 

If you believe your product will sell or you will succeed simply because you make something that is better than the rest is simply naive. We all know this. Vague notions about the evil-ness of marketing and PR do nothing to help you. Do you want to fail? The answer might be "yes." Think about it.

Failing financially has always been seen as a sign of artistic purity. Do you want to be a Starving Artist? Folks who are may not be exactly starving, but I know I'm rather sick of driving a beater car and not being able to afford new eyeglasses. My eyes are tired and I'm anxious about August, when my car is due to be inspected. I know it will fail, and if I continue to be attached to being poor, I'll be doing a heck of a lot of walking (which is fine), but my world will instantly become smaller, for I'll no longer be able to get out of my small town without a ride from someone else.

Is there really something artistically noble about this? I think not. 

One doesn't like bragging about oneself. My grandmother called those with too high an opinion of themselves "swelled heads." Funny thing is that we brag about others and other peoples' products all the time. Ever have a really good meal at a restaurant, see a great film, listen to an amazing new band? Of course you did!

I've had no problems with gushing about everyone else's stuff. "You've got to listen/watch/buy/try/read. . ."

When I first started out an a commercial illustrator, I thought if I simply showed up and presented my portfolio, it would "speak for itself." When I was a weaver, I knew my blankets were made of the highest quality yarn and woven as well as they could be. Couldn't people see that?

I had always wondered why I didn't sell one blanket at the Blue Hill Fair oh so many years ago while another company, who made "obviously" inferior blankets took in more orders than they could handle in a year. It baffled me. I wondered if I had been unfriendly. Nope. I wondered if my display was inferior. No again. I wondered if I was missing something with my product. Nah. It was lovely. 

What I completely missed was the reasons why people buy things they do not need.

People buy dreams, not products. If it's face cream, it's the idea of youth and beauty. If it's a hand woven blanket, it could be many things. Here in Maine, it's the dream of living near the water with the scent of the sea in one's hair, lazy days with a book, "The Way Life Should Be," mowing one's lawn with a push mower, and cracking lobsters open with friends. . .

If I want to sell a blanket, it has to mean something, not just be good. It doesn't even matter if it's good. 

I've known that, but it has pissed me off. What has being pissed off done for me? Not a thing. 

I mostly wove tartan blankets, and loved telling people about the myth of the tartan. It's a fascinating story, and one I'll leave for another time. I had the idea that people like the truth. I know that's not only not true, but the furthest thing from the truth. People prefer myths. The more untruth you surround your product with, the better. Besides that, if a person likes tartans, telling them that the whole history of the tartan is a sham is simply saying "You are an idiot for believing what you do and I want to burst your bubble." 

I had no idea that that was what I was doing. No wonder I didn't sell anything! My blankets and promotional materials were beautiful, but I killing people's fantasies, the last thing anyone should be indulging when trying to sell something. 

If you are selling a product and have a propensity for Speaking Truth To Power, I recommend one leave that activity for your spare time (or become an investigative journalist).

I will now abruptly end this entry.

Image note: Yes, this is a real t-shirt design. Please, before you publish your website, print your business card, or whatever else you "designed" if you're not a designer (and even if you are), google the name of the font and see if people make fun of it. Sure, you don't want to be ruled by Font Snobs, but saying "I'll do it anyway!" doesn't say anything noble about you. Really. If you had the words "Fuck You" tattooed on your knuckles, do you think you have earned the right to complain you didn't get the job? Some people do. . .

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I fear I'm turning into Andy Rooney

Yesterday I was in a bookstore and I heard a sound I hadn't heard in a long time. It was the sound of a manual typewriter. The elderly man who was typing was perched on a stool, and wore a pair of small round metal rimmed spectacles. The sight and sound could only be described as elegant, and for a brief moment I mourned the inevitable loss of him and his entire generation.

I'm not as old as this man, nor am I young. Yes, I am most definitely middle-aged (though that moniker feels nearly vile). My relationship towards what's "new" is right in the middle of things, too, though I'm worrying (lightly) that my propensity towards a curmudgeonly attitude (though I've always had one) is nudging me into Andy Rooney territory, that of the older generation who looks down on the young and says "Idiots!"


I don't watch television, so I have no idea if Andy Rooney is still on Sixty Minutes. I don't even know if Sixty Minutes is still on TV, nor do I know what station it airs on. For all I know, Mr. Rooney is dead. Yes, I could google this information, but it's beside the point.

For those of you too young or too uninterested to know, Andy Rooney has been the resident curmudgeon on Sixty Minutes for, well, forever. He's been whining about the silliness of modern culture and life since I can remember, and since I can remember I've found him terribly annoying. I clearly remember talking back (out loud) to the television set many a time, saying, "Oh, please, shut up!" Then I'd remember I had a remote control unit and I could indeed shut Mr. Rooney up quite easily.

He's complained about the little plastic windows on mail (yes, snail mail. Do you get any still?) He's whined repeatedly about the stupid gifts his viewers send him. Mr. Rooney seems an old-fashioned fellow. I'm surprised he doesn't carp about people not saying a gracious "thank you" for gifts received.

Every time there's a new twist on anything, Mr. Rooney has been there to bemoan it.

So, here I am, in this middle age, giving more and more thought to how our culture is making us all into idiots, or how "we" seem to demand more idiocy in everything. Yes, I'm now squarely in Mr. Rooney's camp, though if you send me gifts, I will say "thank you."

I hate how emotions have turned into emoticons (even if some of them are clever, which this one is not). :-(
I hate the way we're communicating with txt msg pre-packaged feelings such as OMG and LOL.
I hate how we're confined to low character counts on Twitter and Facebook and how there's site after site of advice for the would be web savvy individual demanding that we learn to be terse. "People want to read status updates, not books!"
I hate how I want to say, "Go read a book, preferably something terribly long!"
I hate how the latest book I read, one of Picador's BIG IDEAS/small books series, was sloppy, stupid, and sounded as if it was a few month's worth of status updates.
I hate how every site on the Web now has the LIKE button. If someone dies, folks will hit that thumbs up LIKE button to give their condolences.*
I hate how Amazon has the LIKE button, but one can answer the question, "Was this review helpful?" with a yes or no answer, and it appears that people do not understand the question. The question is not whether one agrees or disagrees with the review.

I could go on, but I hate how the phrase "I hate" looks repeated so many times. I doubt I've used the word "hate" much on this blog, and the truth is that I really do not hate any of this. I find it worrisome, annoying, and infuriating.

Really. Though I disliked (no - hated) the movie Wall-E, I fear we will eventually become what's pictured above.

*There is no fan page for Death on Facebook. I checked.**
**Nor is there one for Life.

Why did I google "Did Gandhi use a typewriter?" No answer to that question; instead was directed to this photograph. I can imagine Andy Rooney asking, "What ever happened to the good ol' fountain pen?" I hate writing with a pen and paper. I love the rhythmic sound of a keyboard. Besides, I can't even read my own handwriting, though, if I slowed down, I have beautiful penmanship. That is quickly becoming a lost art.

"Just think. Less than a month ago. . .

. . .Santa Mira was just like any other town. People with nothing but problems! Now, you're reborn, into an untroubled world."

"Where everyone is the same?"

"That's right."

"But I don't want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty! I'd rather be dead!"

Watch the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers here.

They say this movie was not supposed to be a metaphor for anything. That's fine. It's doesn't take away from the fact that it is.

"We" perhaps were paranoid about the wrong things back in 1956. Later, the hippies protested, but I contend that the baby boom generation were about as conformist as any, if not more.

Of course, I am wildly oversimplifying here, but the truth is, we've mostly gone to sleep, happily. . .

As Dr. Bennett says in the movie, "In my practice, I've seen how people allow their humanity to drain away. It happens slowly instead of all at once. They don't seem to mind."

No, they don't. Now they ask for it. They ask their doctors.

We've brought back the once considered barbaric electroconvulsive "therapy" for folks who are "treatment resistant" to drugs. Perhaps we should look forward to a renaissance of lobotomy, or maybe we'll learn to grow pods of perfectly happy people.

I'm kidding, of course, but then again. . .

We have all been assimilated.

Image note: Before torching the pod he found planted in his car's trunk, Miles (Dr. Bennett) pokes it a bit.

Smitten or obsessed?

What's the difference?

Watch some of Adam Curtis' documentaries. Very interesting, to say the least.

As I've now watched them all (but they deserve multiple viewings), I'm scrounging the Web for his shorter works. Just watched "Oh Dearism," and "Paranoia," from Charlie Brooker's Newswipe.

Something about these comments amuses me greatly:

". . .political conflicts around the world are now portrayed to us as simple illustrations of the mindless cruelty of the human race. . .It's like living in the mind of a depressed hippie."

"Richard Nixon told his psychiatrist that when he looked in the mirror, no one was there. When we look in the mirror, we think we're too fat."

Image note: Elvis meets Nixon. There's a movie based on this event. Go read the description, both of the movie and the real event. Do you think you're crazy? Sorry, folks, but most of us are garden variety crazy compared to these two.

The more I learn about the past, the more sane I realize I am. Watching Adam Curtis' documentaries helps.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What if. . .

. . .instead of feeling sorry or scared for young people who experience "depression," we instead said to them "Congratulations! Welcome to being human."

I perused MedHelp's Teen Depression Forum, and couldn't find much evidence of a disease called depression. I read much of sadness, confusion, and downright grief.

One young woman wrote that her mother died, she's struggling with realizing she's bisexual, and that she just moved to a new town. She took the depression tests on every website she could find and now wonders whether she should seek help (read: get a prescription).

Another said she felt that the world was in a depression. Could it be that she's right?

One girl says she's always been depressed. This one sounds suspiciously like "real depression," but no, at the end of her list of symptoms of feeling bad for no reason she blithely mentions her father was 16 when she was born and she's always sore and bruised from his giving her nuggies and other things of that sort. I don't recall nuggies and "things of that sort" leaving bruises, do you?

One boy says he's tired all the time and wonders if he needs medication. Maybe he's just tired.

Many kids say they have no friends because they're shy or feel different, their grades have gotten worse, they aren't as social as they think they ought to be, like to be alone (horrors!), or have no clue what they want to Be When They Grow Up. Here's an interesting thing: not liking to text message or get on Facebook is seen a personal weakness or  character flaw. Perhaps it's a 21st century form of shyness. Is this something teens need medication for?

I'm sorry (sort of) for beating a dead horse, but I've simply had enough.

There is a cure for all of these ills, though it won't make the growing pains of adolescence go away:

Kindness, community, and acknowledgment of reality.

Image note: Corot The Letter 1865 Art historians say Corot found the "melancholic woman" to be his ideal.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Everything is extraordinary

Yes, everything.

Someone referenced this three-year-old post. Perhaps I should engage more in popular culture so I have more accessible things to write about?



I dunno.

No energy for writing (or, obviously, thinking) now. Just got back from a retreat, which, contrary to popular notions, is decidedly not relaxing.

"I could sleep for a thousand years.  . ."

Why on earth am I posting these thought fragments?

One last thing: Blogger is "asking" me if I want to enable readers to leave "reactions."  Gee. You can click a button that'll say things like "cool," "interesting," or "funny." I think I'll take silence over that. I'm sure, by the end of the year, I'll be able to add the wretched "Like" button. Ah, Facebook. .  .you're turning us all into pre-schoolers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm so glad I'm not jaded.

I was sitting in my living room and thinking about something. Okay, I was thinking about the few people I knew when I was young who had been victims of Dr. Mengele's experiments.

Huh? What's a photo of a rainbow to do with that?

Well, nothing.

Although, it says something about the state of my mind (and a mind), for one can go to thoughts of torture and genocide to standing in the rain with a grin on one's face, marveling at the beauty of nature.

As the topic line says, I'm so glad I'm not jaded.

I was sitting on my sofa, watching a documentary, when I noticed the light had changed. The rain was beating down hard. I thought, "There's got to be a rainbow somewhere."

As I stood up to go get my camera, a rainbow started to form. Then there were two, though one was too subtle for my point and shoot.

I went outside, knocked on my neighbor's door, and the two of us walked over to a spot where we could practically see it from beginning to end. We were both smiling like children, and I felt absurdly happy. I realized I have forgotten exactly why rainbows form, and thought I should look it up. That idea made me even happier, for I was filled with gratitude that I'm an adult who still is thrilled by seeing things I've seen many a time before, and still asks questions like "why is the sky blue?"

Is this saccharine? Maybe some of you think so.

There is something about this that relates to thoughts of genocide and torture. I had been thinking about why I wasn't angry and bitter (at least most of the time). Those feelings do me no good. I prefer, when I can, to focus on that which brings me joy.

I can do this and not shut my mind to the realities of this wretched world, for the activities of human beings surely can be wretched. But, that won't prevent me from enjoying the birds, the rainbows, and simply being alive.

Don't know what causes rainbows? Find out here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What happened to philosophy?

As you may have noticed, I've been nearly obsessed with the topic of psychiatric drugs lately. You can breath a sigh of relief because I doubt that there will be another post about this topic, though I might touch on it once in a while.

Now, I can say this (putting it in most nonintellectual terms). Though the drug companies may be dishonest and manipulative, I was picking on them. I had put it out there that I didn't believe there was a conspiracy, but that the "conspiracy" was nothing more than capitalism. This is true. Pharmaceutical companies do nothing different than sellers of breakfast cereal. All companies use manipulative tactics for profit. Unfortunately, in the case of drugs, the consequences of believing one must have the product are more marked (to say the least) than having decided that Special K cereal is "good for you."

In analyzing the way in which we come to believe we must have the product called drugs, I discovered just how much we place our faith in science. I am going to make no attempt to discredit science. I do have faith in science, but my faith (for lack of a better word) is in hard science. Hard science is science we can prove.

Let me illustrate my point with this story: Some years ago, I met a woman who believed she was going to hell because she was a lesbian. She had given up trying to change her predilections, which she wished she could do. She had also tried, unsuccessfully, to dislodge the thinking she had been brought up with, brought to her by born again Christian parents. In the end, she was simply resigned to her terrible fate.

Her belief in the bible as the truth and the law was solid. I pointed out to her that the bible could be interpreted in multiple ways, but that did not help. She believed the fundamentalist view that the bible was the word of God. End of story.

I tried to argue with this assumption by pointing out that there were non-canonical religious writings that seemed to have been intentionally left out of the bible. I thought this might shake her certainty in the infallibility of that good book. I knew, if one truly believed man's actions were always guided by the unseen hand of God, that this argument was fallible. Her counter to my suggestion, however, was a surprising one. She questioned the certainty that the non-canonical writings were actually written in the past. When I brought up carbon dating, she countered, "I do not believe in science. It is all theoretical."

I explained how the scientific method works, and how hard science is provable. This was fruitless, for it all hinged on believing that the observations of human beings were always fallible, and furthermore, would always be influenced by the unknown and unseen hands of both God and the devil.

I gave up, of course. It is not possible to win arguments of this kind. I must admit that I thought her arguments were wrong, and more than a little bit sad. What is sad, of course, is this woman's belief that she was damned to hell.

However, at this point in my thinking, I believe there is some truth to her assertions, though I do not think any gods or devils play a part.

I do think, as I wrote, that there is hard science, and that science is true. We have learned what things are made of. Their names may be a human invention. Organic and inorganic chemistry, for instance, is eminently provable. The fact that the names of things is irrelevant and man-made makes the truth of both these sciences even more irrefutable. You can call water any name, or even say water does not exist, but water will always be composed of two atoms of hydrogen bonded with one oxygen atom. If there are two atoms of water bonded with two atoms of hydrogen, you will no longer have water (or 水的, ilma, dwr, tubig. . .)  No matter what one's belief system or language is, H2O2 will always be hydrogen peroxide. Water has certain predictable, provable, and re-producable properties. Belief has nothing to do with it. You can click your heels, hold your breath, pray to any God of your choosing, or believe in nothing at all, and water will continue to have the same properties. You may perceive water differently than someone else. You will certainly perceive water differently than a fish, for to whom water is like air to us, but still, water has laws unto itself that are irrefutable, no matter how much one refutes them.

This is the nature of hard science.

The problem that arises is our desire to find the nature of all things, including human behavior. It is alluring to believe that such a thing is possible. There is, indeed, a theory that explains it all, and that is called religion.

For those of us who do not believe that everything is created by God, there must be something, right? I've come to believe that the answer is "no, " and that, furthermore, our quest to find this any answer had lead to some seriously poor consequences. More on that another time.

What I've come here to write about today is the idea that there is, simply, no such thing as a "social science." We once had ideas of philosophy to counter religious world views. But philosophy is known to be inherently arguable. That is one of the delights of philosophy to the philosopher. The words philosophy and debate go hand in hand.

This poses a difficult problem for philosophy. People distrust it, as they know, on a gut level, that all philosophies are open to discussion.

Philosophy, in the universities, is it's own study. However, (according to Wikipedia), the "social sciences," in the university and research setting include "anthropology, archaeology, business administration, criminology, economics, education, geography, linguistics, political science, government, sociology, international relations, communication, and in some contexts, history, law, and psychology."

The use of the words "social" and "science" tied together, and now forever embedded in people's minds as one (unless a person is particularly prone to skepticism) has been one heck of an unhappy marriage.

The idea of the "study," using the scientific method to prove how something(s) works, and what it is composed of, is a fallacy in the context of the "social sciences." Time and again, studies contradict each other. Time and again, we come to believe in the absolute truth of a theory (backed by so-called scientific studies), and come to find out it is indeed simply wrong.

What the guilt-ridden lesbian believed due to her religion is, in essence, true, though her example may not have been. We do have hard science ways of understanding the age of things, but her questioning the very premise of modern society's faith in the understanding of and interpretation of hard science is something we all should examine.

Unfortunately, this idea has been hijacked by people wishing to disprove scientific ideas (most notably, global climate change), and those with hidden agendas for doing so.

But, that's a whole 'nother story. . .

Our collective belief in the social sciences, even amongst those who are religious, has left us vulnerable to the whims and follies of others. Is it any wonder that we believe we are "mentally ill," for instance, when science says there is, in fact, a disease called mental illness? Of course not. Most of us do not question the idea of illness.

Cancer is provable. It can be observed under a microscope, imaged with x-rays or by the naked eye, and oftentimes, can be removed by the simplest of tools, a knife. This is not to say cancer is simple, but, in a way, it is.

Other diseases are similar. Diabetes (which mental illness is compared to more times than I'd care to cite), is fairly straightforward. It can be reliably diagnosed and treated. It's mechanism in the body is identifiable and quantifiable.

Not so any of the social sciences, though we have come to believe this to be true. The fact that one uses the scientific method and studies in the social science fields does not make them sciences. The scientific method, I argue, can not be used in the social sciences. The very idea that it is possible is a dream. It is an attempt to legitimize that which can not be. It is an attempt to make philosophy a provable fact, which it can not be.

Think about it. If Descartes was not a philosopher, but a sociologist today, his idea, "I think therefore I am," would be studied. This is not an absurd notion. Many a sociologist has studied what constitutes the idea of self, in order to quantify it, and, supposedly, find a cure for what ails this self of ours, or cure the ills that plague society. But studies of philosophical ideas are always going to be self-fulfilling prophecies, or exercises in futility. Social scientists have repeatedly scratched their heads in bewilderment when a study has failed to prove the ideas that they should have, and concluded they had not designed the study well enough. People have spent entire lifetimes engaging in this futile effort to "scientifically" prove this or that essentially philosophical idea.

This may have been lots of fun for those with an intellectual bent. It may have provided a lifetime of interesting work for those in the social studies. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it has proved to be a disaster of grand proportions for the individual, who, in essence, has been enslaved to notions that our characters are shaped by unseen and little understood scientific forces. We have lost a great deal of autonomy because of this.

Once it was religion that played this role in the life of an individual. Seems we need, desperately need, to find grand unifying theories, and ultimately, this quest has again and again lead to what appears to be epidemics of thought that change the essential way a person views their experience of the world and of themselves.

I have painted these topics with a broad brush. More on this, I'm sure, in the very near future!