Sunday, August 30, 2009
From “Happiness: A Buyer’s Guide,” by Drake Bennett, The Boston Globe (August 23, 2009):
The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.
Any attempt to put these findings into practice, however, has to contend with the subtle but powerful ways money itself channels our thinking, and the ways it plays on human attitudes about sharing and scarcity. Recent studies have suggested that merely thinking about money makes us more solitary and selfish, and steers us away from the spending that promises to make us happiest.
"I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives."
Saturday, August 29, 2009
What happens when a whole society of people learns to project an image of success and capability that few members of that society actually possess? Let us create for ourselves an imaginary world—we’ll call it Youtopia—and explore what might happen there…
In a socially mobile society like that of the US, in which individuals craft their own lives for themselves and must regularly recreate their own social worlds as they move from place to place and from one social class to another, the ability to project an image of success and capability can mean the difference between success and failure in almost any endeavor. So let us travel to Youtopia and see what happens when all of us do this?
First of all, it becomes difficult to distinguish who is actually successful and capable on Youtopia. For everyone will appear successful and capable whether or not he or she really is. And while new indicators of success and capability might be discovered, those indicators would be quickly learned by others on YouTopia, for if everyone possessed the ability to project an image of success and capability, whatever the indicators of success and capability were, they would learn them.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Depressed people often have trouble performing everyday activities, they can’t concentrate on their work, they tend to socially isolate themselves, they are lethargic, and they often lose the ability to take pleasure from such activities such as eating and sex. Some can plunge into severe, lengthy, and even life-threatening bouts of depression.
So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.
This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it...Analysis requires a lot of uninterrupted thought, and depression coordinates many changes in the body to help people analyze their problems without getting distracted...
Sometimes people are reluctant to disclose the reason for their depression because it is embarrassing or sensitive, they find it painful, they believe they must soldier on and ignore them, or they have difficulty putting their complex internal struggles into words.
But depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it, and they should focus on trying to help people solve the problems that trigger their bouts of depression. (There are several effective therapies that focus on just this.) It is also essential, in instances where there is resistance to discussing ruminations, that the therapist try to identify and dismantle those barriers.
Andrews, P. W., & Thomson Jr, J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review. 116 (3), 620.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Helping My Daughter Move into Her First Apartment
by Sue Ellen Thompson
This is all I am to her now:
a pair of legs in running shoes,
two arms strung with braided wire.
She heaves a carton sagging with CDs
at me and I accept it gladly, lifting
with my legs, not bending over,
raising each foot high enough
to clear the step. Fortunate to be
of any use to her at all,
I wrestle, stooped and single-handed,
with her mattress in the stairwell,
saying nothing as it pins me,
sweating, to the wall. Vacuum cleaner,
spiny cactus, five-pound sacks
of rice and lentils slumped
against my heart: up one flight
of stairs and then another,
down again with nothing in my arms
Sunday, August 23, 2009
"Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, 'Write what you know.' It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one."
“Only about a dozen people attended [Sammy] Green’s funeral on Thursday afternoon in these fog-wrapped mountains, tucked into the northeast corner of [Georgia]. None were relatives — they are all dead — and most hardly knew Mr. Green, if they knew him at all. The boys who built the coffin never met him. Yet it was the people of the county who made the funeral possible.”
From “A Georgia County Shares a Tale of One Man’s Life and Death,” by Drew Jubera, The New York Times, August 22, 2009.
Friday, August 21, 2009
“The true artist is connected. The true artist studies the past not as a copyist nor as a pasticheur will study the past, those people are interested only in the final product, the art object, signed sealed and delivered to a public drugged on reproduction. The true artist is interested in the art object as an art process, the thing in being, the being of the thing, the struggle, the excitement, the energy, that have found expression in a particular way. The true artist is after the problem. The false artist wants it solved [by somebody else].”
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
“What my grandmother and my mother imbued in me was a love of food. And a sense of the joy of food, a firm conviction that food mattered, and that food was a vehicle for pleasure. In my case, I sometimes drove that vehicle at about a hundred and thirty miles an hour. And sometimes ended up in a ditch on the side of the road. Though I believe that food is a vehicle of pleasure, and a glorious vehicle at that, I felt like every time someone who’s a recognized food writer wrote a memoir, it was madly romantic, gauzy. And the truth of the matter is, one’s love of food can get out of hand. My story is not only about the joy of food, but also about the danger of food. I wanted to write about disordered food behavior, about food demons, but to not demonize food.”
~ Frank Bruni, discussing his memoir Born Round: The Secrect History of a Full-Time Eater on The Book Bench: The New Yorker (August 19, 2009)
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
by Ron Koertge
Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.
So why is this woman with the gray
breath calling out names and pointing
to the little desks we will occupy
for the rest of our lives?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Excerpts from “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” by David Goldhill, The Atlantic (September 2009)
A wasteful insurance system; distorted incentives; a bias toward treatment; moral hazard; hidden costs and a lack of transparency; curbed competition; service to the wrong customer. These are the problems at the foundation of our health-care system, resulting in a slow rot and requiring more and more money just to keep the system from collapsing.
How would the health-care reform that’s now taking shape solve these core problems? The Obama administration and Congress are still working out the details, but it looks like this generation of “comprehensive” reform will not address the underlying issues, any more than previous efforts did. Instead it will put yet more patches on the walls of an edifice that is fundamentally unsound—and then build that edifice higher.
…I hope that whatever reform is finally enacted this fall works—preventing people from slipping through the cracks, raising the quality standard of the health-care industry, and delivering all this at acceptable cost. But looking at the big picture, I fear it won’t. So I think we should at least begin to debate and think about larger reforms, and a different direction—if not for this round of reform, then for the next one. Politics is, of course, the art of the possible. If our health-care crisis does not abate, the possibilities for reform may expand beyond their current, tight limits.
The most important single step we can take toward truly reforming our system is to move away from comprehensive health insurance as the single model for financing care. And a guiding principle of any reform should be to put the consumer, not the insurer or the government, at the center of the system. I believe if the government took on the goal of better supporting consumers—by bringing greater transparency and competition to the health-care industry, and by directly subsidizing those who can’t afford care—we’d find that consumers could buy much more of their care directly than we might initially think, and that over time we’d see better care and better service, at lower cost, as a result.
A more consumer-centered health-care system would not rely on a single form of financing for health-care purchases; it would make use of different sorts of financing for different elements of care—with routine care funded largely out of our incomes; major, predictable expenses (including much end-of-life care) funded by savings and credit; and massive, unpredictable expenses funded by insurance.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
From “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” by Laura A. Munson, The New York Times, July 31, 2009:
“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”
His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.
He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.
So he turned mean. “I don’t like what you’ve become.”
Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.
Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
People who are angry and frustrated and not necessarily well informed in part driven by people who are on the other side of the reform effort. And it's driving into news evocative visuals that are leading the public, I think, to overgeneralize the extent to which there is principal, reasoned dissent from health care reform.
...But when people are shouting at each other, the answer doesn't get through. And when you're impugning the integrity of the person who's answering the questions, the member of Congress, that person's response isn't going to be believed if it is able to be articulated and isn't simply shouted down.
And so it's not creating context in which misinformation on both sides can be corrected. And that's the problem. We don't have a deliberative process here taking place in public to inform public opinion.
Instead, we're potentially distorting it.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I have a theory, he said to me. Everything in life gets replaced. We are our parents’ replacements just as they were replacements of the previous generation. All these herds of bison they are slaughtering out west, you would think that was the end of them, but they won’t all be slaughtered and the herds will fill back in with replacements that will be indistinguishable from the ones slaughtered.
I said, Langley, people aren’t all the same like dumb bison, we are each a person. A genius like Beethoven cannot be replaced.
But, you see, Homer, Beethoven was a genius for his time. We have the notations of his genius but he is not our genius. We will have our geniuses, and if not in music then in science or art, though it may take a while to recognize them because geniuses are usually not recognized right away. Besides, it’s not what any of them achieve but how they stand in relation to the rest of us. Who is your favorite baseballer? he said.
Walter Johnson, I said.
And what is he if not a replacement for Cannonball Titcomb, Langley said. You see? It’s social constructions I’m talking about. One of the constructions is for us to have athletes to admire, to create ourselves as an audience of admirers for baseballers. This seems to be a means of cultural communizing that creates great social satisfaction and possibly ritualizes, what with baseball teams of different towns, our tendency to murder one another. Human beings are not bison, we are a more complex species, living in complicated social constructions, but we replace ourselves just as they do. There will always be in America for as long as baseball is played someone who serves youth still to be born as Walter Johnson serves you. It is a legacy of ours to have baseball heroes and so there will always be one. Well you are saying everything is always the same as if there is no progress, I said.
I’m not saying there’s no progress. There is progress while at the same time nothing changes. People make things like automobiles, discover things like radio waves. Of course they do. There will be better pitchers than your Walter Johnson, as hard as that is to believe. But time is something else than what I’m talking about. It advances through us as we replace ourselves to fill the slots.
- KCRW Bookworm interview (August 13, 2009)
I couldn’t make all the pieces fit,
So I threw one away.
No expectations of success now,
None of that worry.
The remaining pieces seemed
to seek their companions.
A design appeared.
I could see the connection
Between the overgrown path
And the dark castle on the hill.
Something in the middle, though,
It would have been important once.
I wouldn’t have been able to sleep
[Spotted on Jonathan Carroll’s blog 8.13.09]
by Paula Cole
I am not the person who is singing
I am the silent one inside
I am not the one who laughs at people's jokes
I just pacify their egos
I am not my house, my car, my songs
They are only just stops along my way
I am like the winter
I'm a dark cold female
With a golden ring of wisdom in my cave
And it’s me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence
I am carrying my voice
I am carrying my heart
I am carrying my rhythm
I am carrying my prayers
But you can't kill my spirit
It's soaring and it's strong
Like a mountain
I'll go on and on
But when my wings are folded
The brightly colored moth
Blends into the dirt into the ground
And it's me who's too weak
And it's me who's too shy
To ask for the thing I love
And it's me who's too weak
And it's me who's too shy
To ask for the thing I love
That I love
I am walking on the bridge
I am over the water
And I'm scared as hell
But I know there's something better
Yes I know there's something
Yes I know, I know, yes I know
That I love
But it's me
And it's me
But it's me
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Try this little exercise the next time some kind of strong and seemingly useless or unskillful emotion arises. First, stabilize precisely on the sensations that make it up and perhaps even allow these to become stronger if this helps you to examine them more clearly. Find where these are in the body, and see as clearly as possible what sorts of images and story lines are associated with these physical sensations. Be absolutely clear about the full magnitude of the suffering in these, how long each lasts, that these sensations are observed and not particularly in one’s control.
Now, find the compassion in it. Take a minute or two (no more) to reflect on why this particular pattern of sensations seems to be of some use even though it may not seem completely useful in its current form. Is there a wish for yourself or others to be happy in these sensations? Is there a wish for the world to be a better place? Is there a wish for someone to understand something important? Is there a wish for things to be better than they are? Is there a wish to find pleasure, tranquility, or the end of suffering? Sit with these questions, with the sensations that make them up, allowing them to be strong enough for you to see what is going on but not so strong that you become completely overwhelmed by them.
Notice that fear has in it the desire to protect us or those about whom we care. Anger wants the world to be happy and work well or for justice to be done. Frustration comes from the caring sensations of anger being thwarted. Desire is rooted in the wish to be happy. Judgment comes from the wish for things to conform to high standards. Sadness comes from the sense of how good things could be. I could go on like this for a whole book.
Actively reflecting along these lines, sit with this compassionate wish, acknowledge it, and feel the compassionate aspect of it. Allow the actual sensations that seem to be fundamental to wanting to be directly understood as and where they are. Remember that this same quality of compassion is in all beings, in all their unskillful and confused attempts to find happiness and the end of suffering. Sit for a bit with this reflection as it relates directly to your experience.
Then, examine the mental sensations related to the object that you either wish for (attraction), wish to get away from (aversion), or wish would just be able to be ignored (ignorance). Examine realistically if this will fundamentally help yourself and others and if these changes are within your power to bring about. If so, then plan and act with as much compassion and kindness as possible.
Remember then that all the rest of the suffering of that emotional pattern is created by your mind and its confusion, and vow to channel its force into developing morality, concentration, and wisdom.
“There's this being called the thing that made the things for which there is no known maker and that causes and directs the events we can't otherwise explain and that doesn't need to have been made and is the one thing from which to ask for things that no human can give and without whom we can't be fully happy and is unlimited by all the laws of physics and never began and will never finish and is invisible but actually everywhere at once and who is so perfect that even if he killed millions of people, including babies, he'd still would be perfect and who is so powerful and magical that he can even make a virgin pregnant if he wanted to."
Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the Next Days and Weeks
by Mary Oliver, from What Do We Know
What is so utterly invisible
not the wind,
not the inside of stone.
And yet, how often I'm fooled—
I'm wading along
in the sunlight—
and I'm sure I can see the fields and the ponds shining
I can see the light spilling
like a shower of meteors
into next week's trees,
and I plan to be there soon—
and, so far, I am
just that lucky,
my legs splashing
over the edge of darkness,
my heart on fire.
I don't know where
such certainty comes from—
the brave flesh
or the theater of the mind—
but if I had to guess
I would say that only
what the soul is supposed to be
could send us forth
with such cheer
as even the leaf must wear
as it unfurls
its fragrant body, and shines
against the hard possibility of stoppage—
which, day after day,
before such brisk, corpuscular belief,
shudders, and gives way.
Monday, August 10, 2009
“I long for the narrative arc and true storytelling,” Mr. [Alec] Soth said. When he’s on the road he tries to let each picture lead him to the next; taped to his steering wheel is a list of things to watch for while he’s driving. A list composed for his current project included beards, birdwatchers, mushroom hunters, men’s retreats, after the rain, figures from behind, suitcases, tall people (especially skinny), targets, tents, treehouses and tree lines. Thus the photo of the tall bearded monk standing amid a forest of soaring barren tree trunks and the image of a giantlike man with a suitcase walking away on an overgrown path.
~ From “Trolling for Strangers to Befriend,” by Hilarie M. Sheets, New York Times (August 2, 2009)
Alec Soth: Black Line of Woods
High Museum of Art Atlanta
August 8, 2009, through January 3, 2010
"Neuroscientists have discovered that a brain centre involved in sensing emotion and fear called the amygdala kicks into action when volunteers listen to scary music with eyes closed...Shutting your eyes heightens people's emotional responses to the outside world, suggests previous research—not to mention everyday experience."
~ From “Scary Music is Spookier with Eyes Shut," by Ewen Callaway, New Scientist (July 28, 2009)
As human beings we have the potential to disentangle ourselves from old habits, and the potential to love and care about each other. We have the capacity to wake up and live consciously, but, you may have noticed, we also have a strong inclination to stay asleep. It’s as if we are always at a crossroad, continuously choosing which way to go. Moment by moment we can choose to go toward further clarity and happiness or toward confusion and pain.
In order to make this choice skillfully, many of us turn to spiritual practices of various kinds with the wish that our lives will lighten up and that we’ll find the strength to cope with our difficulties. Yet in these times it seems crucial that we also keep in mind the wider context in which we make choices about how to live: this is the context of our beloved earth and the rather rocky condition it’s in.
For many, spiritual practice represents a way to relax and a way to access peace of mind. We want to feel more calm, more focused; and with our frantic and stressful lives, who can blame us? Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to think bigger than that these days. If spiritual practice is relaxing, if it gives us some peace of mind, that’s great—but is this personal satisfaction helping us to address what’s happening in the world? The main question is, are we living in a way that adds further aggression and self-centeredness to the mix, or are we adding some much-needed sanity?
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
[Thanks Elisha Goldstein!]
Thursday, August 06, 2009
"...something that really strikes me if I watch both Battlestar
Galactica and Lost is that you see those characters grow from
victims to survivors. And the interesting thing is, is can we
take this in better as entertainment than as news?
If we read another article in Newsweek about Israeli and
Palestinian children at a summer camp getting along is that
going to make us believe that change is possible? Or maybe you
need that and you need shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost
to show you that change is possible.
I guess that I think we underestimate the power of entertainment narratives to influence the way we look at the
world and I think storytelling, when it's good storytelling,
you know, orients us to possibilities and helps us structure
the way we look at things. So the power of the narrative is
that it takes on a life of its own for folks. But I don't know.
Maybe if Ronald D. Moore took over the UN we'd all be getting
along better. You think?"
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Kings do not touch doors.
They know nothing of this pleasure: pushing before one gently or brusquely one of those large familiar panels, then turning back to replace it—holding a door in one’s arms.
The pleasure of grabbing the midriff of one of these tall obstacles to a room by its porcelain node; that short clinch during which movement stops, the eye widens, and the whole body adjusts to its new surrounding.
With a friendly hand one still holds on to it, before closing it decisively and shutting oneself in—which the click of the tight but well-oiled spring pleasantly confirms.
Monday, August 03, 2009
The Mysterious Human Heart
by Matthew Dickman, from All-American Poem
The produce in New York is really just produce, oranges
and cabbage, celery and beets, pomegranates
with their hundred seeds, carrots and honey,
walnuts and thirteen varieties of apples.
On Monday morning I will walk down
to the market with my heart inside me, mysterious,
something I will never get to hold
in my hands, something I will never understand.
Not like the apricots and potatoes, the albino
asparagus wrapped in damp paper towels, their tips
like the spark of a match, the bunches of daisies, almost more
a weed than a flower, the clementine,
the sausage links and chicken hung
in the window, facing the street where my heart is president
of the Association for Random Desire, a series
of complex yeas and nays,
where I pick up the plantain, the ginger root, the sprig
of cilantro that makes me human, makes me
a citizen with the right to vote, to bear arms, the right
to assemble and fall in love.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
"In the award-winning documentary Children Full of Life, a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates."
[Thanks Jonathan Carroll!]
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Leap Before You Look
by W.H. Auden
The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.
The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.
The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.
Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.
A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
He had two lives: an open one, seen and known by all who needed to know it, full of conventional truth and conventional falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life that went on in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, combination of circumstances, everything that was of interest and importance to him, everything that was essential to him, everything about which he felt sincerely and did not deceive himself, everything that constituted the core of his life, was going on concealed from others; while all that was false, the shell in which he hid to cover the truth—his work at the bank, for instance, his discussions at the club, his references to the "inferior race," his appearances at anniversary celebrations with his wife—all that went on in the open. Judging others by himself, he did not believe what he saw, and always fancied that every man led his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy as under cover of night. The personal life of every individual is based on secrecy, and perhaps it is partly for that reason that civilized man is so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.