Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celebrity Death

There is an old maxim that one should never speak ill of the dead.

Recently, there have been a number of "celebrity" deaths. The most recent has been Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy, who was involved in Congressional politics for over 40 years, most of them as a senator.

I grew up in a Republican household. Actually, I'm going to amend that statement--I have a father who is a very vocal Republican. My mother is not a Republican, and the dinner-table arguing can get heated in that arena. Nonetheless, I grew up with the image of Ted Kennedy as a drunk, a murderer, and a womanizer. It wasn't until I was able to read history for myself that I realized that Kennedy did contribute quite a bit to this country. Certainly you can't beat his work ethic in the later years of his life--that man showed up for Congress, debated, and voted, regardless of how sick he was physically. Yet it's hard to shake the image of the "immune Kennedys"--not just the Chappaquiddick incident, but the William Kennedy Smith rape case in the 1980s (remember that)?

But the point here is not to speak ill of Kennedy. It is traditional, respectful, to talk about what one has accomplished in death, not their shortcomings. The only time someone really brings up one's shortcomings in death is when the person is a convicted serial killer or rapist. I'm going to be Captain Obvious here for a moment and note that the media likes to hype things. (You don't say???...) So, perhaps I shouldn't wonder at the fact that the majority of non-serial killer celebrities who die suddenly become saints in death. Doesn't matter what they've done--how many arrests they've had, how many crimes they've been suspected of committing, they are suddenly "Jesus" now that they are dead and aren't around to be picked apart anymore. I can't help but think of the ancient idea of sacrifice, particularly in the Aztec culture--you rip a person's living heart out, and venerate them in death like a deity. Is this the modern version of that sacrifice? Private lives are destroyed, scrutinized, torn to pieces--the difference seems to be that we don't really get anything out of their sacrifice. What deity gets appeased by all of this? The Media?

The recent death of Michael Jackson brought this home as well. I've avoided talking about Jackson's death, because I don't consider myself a fan, and Lord knows there are enough people to get into discussions about it without my contribution. I did like his music back in the late Seventies and early Eighties. I grew up seeing the Jackson Five on television, and remember "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" as being decent albums. But I found myself utterly repelled by Jackson and anything he did after that.

I have friends who argue with me that it was Jackson's life, we don't really know if he was happy or not, and if he wanted to do the things to himself that he did--well, that was his business. I agree with all of that. But what freaked me out about Jackson is that he was like watching a real-life horror movie. Ever see the movie Poltergeist? The scene where Martin Casella goes into the bathroom to wash his face, and then rips it off in great chunks? That's what watching Michael Jackson was like for me. Only this wasn't a horror movie, this was real life. If you add his perpetual "childlike" behavior (which may or may not have included molestation of children--officially it didn't)--I found I was watching something more disturbing than most horror story plots I'd read. For me, everything he did after Thriller was as much of a sham as his physical appearance. And I couldn't watch. I still can't look at pictures of Michael Jackson post-1985. It's like he was replaced by some horrible monster. People have gone over his psychology so many times, it's nauseating to repeat. No doubt his upbringing had something to do with behavior. That doesn't make it any easier to watch. I've always thought the "King of Pop" title was a sham after the early Eighties--he didn't dominate anything in terms of record sales after that (at least not until he died and became Saint Michael). But now that I think about the "sacrifice" of celebrities, it seems entirely appropriate. After all, it's the King who is cut down and sacrificed, traditionally. His mutation over the years almost becomes a metaphor for what the music business, and other big Hollywood-esque businesses, do to these people.

In any case, I did my best to avoid all of the hype surrounding his death--skipping over Facebook updates, setting up my mail to bypass the "news" section where his face was always plastered. However, courtesy of, there was one take that I couldn't resist watching--the old "Hitler's downfall" meme mashed up with the death of Michael Jackson. It is truly funny, and that is where I will leave you today, never to speak of this again:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Antipsychotics et al

A friend of mine posted this to Facebook today:

Her comment was “I just cried”. My feeling was similar, but it also made me think about the range of drugs that are used for taming the psyche—everything from Ritalin to Prozac, to higher-powered anti-psychotic drugs. Balancing out the need for such drugs versus their effects is hardly an easy task to say the least.

From what I can tell, genuine mental illness involves an actual chemical imbalance or injury within the brain. But what is imbalanced? The more I read Anthony Peake, the more I think about how those abnormalities might actually be door-openers. Many “mentally ill” patients are perceiving a truer reality than the rest of us. When I was a public service librarian for a short time, we had several schizophrenics who visited us daily, and not all had taken their medication. They would see things that I didn’t see, and argue with people whom I couldn’t see. I usually went along with their perception of things. After all, I told my co-workers, how do I know that they’re not really there?

The thing that makes mental illness an illness is the inability of sufferers to negotiate what we consider “normal”. They don’t follow normal social rules, they see things that we call hallucinations, sometimes they are even violent and disruptive to those around them in a significant way. Psychiatry’s means of handling this is to provide drugs that will dim those perceptions. One of the things Peake mentions in his book is the fact that the brain (interestingly, like organized religion,) is meant to limit our perception of reality, as we can’t “take it all in”. The schizophrenic is taking it all in, and can’t process it. Anti-psychotic drugs are meant to limit these perceptions, to bring the sufferer around to the narrower view of the world that all of us have.

In cases where the person is dangerously out of step and harms others, it is easy to see why this is the preferred solution. But what about other less obvious cases? I mentioned Sylvia Plath yesterday. From what I’ve read about her life and what others have said about her, I can’t help but see someone who fits the classical definition of bipolar. (I’m not a psychiatrist, so you should take that with a grain of salt, but I still think the theory has merit). But let’s assume that Sylvia went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed as such, and medicated as such. Would she have produced the great poetry, exhibited the great genius she had throughout her life? Given the effects of drugs like lithium, I’m not sure the answer would be “yes”.
I imagine psychotics are like alcoholics—there are functioning and non-functioning types. One question I have is whether or not functioning psychotics who are not dangerous need to be on such drugs at all. I also question putting children on drugs meant to alter their brain chemistry. What is the cost of having a child who is totally “under control”? What have you given up to get there?

I’m not suggesting that certain imbalances don’t need to be treated. I’m just not sure that giving someone what amounts to a chemical lobotomy is such a great idea. Can drugs be developed that calm the more dangerous behaviors without totally cutting off all the good stuff that comes with that openness? I don’t know enough about brain chemistry to intelligently discuss alternatives. But I do wonder if it’s been discussed in the psychiatric community, or if they even see a problem with it.

One thing I do have a problem with is the political and insurance issues that often surround what passes for “mental illness”. If you take the case of children—a child who is unruly or distracted in school may be considered to have ADD, or borderline ADD. A doctor will recommend a drug like Ritalin. I think drugs like Ritalin are often over-prescribed—not all children need that kind of medication, just as a lot of us don’t need the high-powered antibiotics prescribed for minor infections. Why prescribe Cipro when Amoxicillin will do the job? Treating depression is another such area—far more people are on drugs like Prozac and Xanax than is probably necessary.

The problem here is an insurance and malpractice problem. If someone goes to a psychologist or psychiatrist with depression symptoms, they will immediately prescribe an anti-depressant, to “cover” themselves in case the person becomes suicidal. If someone in their care becomes suicidal and they didn’t prescribe anything, they leave themselves open to being sued. As if giving a pill is going to solve your depression problems. But that’s how society thinks, and that’s how families of victims think. They need someone to blame when things go awry with their loved ones. There is a perception that we are not getting our money’s worth if we don’t walk away with a piece of paper that gives us some kind of “cure”.

So, it’s hard to blame the doctors for doing it, but I wish that as a society we would place more emphasis on teaching people personal responsibility and life skills rather than just medicating the shit out of them. Borderline Personality Disorder is a good example of such a problem. Borderline patients basically lack an emotional “skin”—they have a hard time negotiating suffering of any kind. The most successful therapy for Borderline patients has proven to be something called “dialectical behavior therapy”. Time Magazine had a good article on this that you can see here. Instead of giving the person drugs, they are basically taught HOW to grow the emotional skin they are lacking. The cure rate (meaning the person is no longer diagnosed as Borderline at all) using this method is 100%. So why isn’t it used more often? “It takes too long.” We all want results right now, don’t want to work for anything. And I’m sure the cost of long-term therapy is high. But it’s another example of preferring a cheap quick-fix that doesn’t really solve the problem over, well, really SOLVING the problem.

As I said earlier, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t live with anyone who has any of these disorders, so I’m sure there are many factors involved in diagnosis and treatment. But knowing the way our society rolls, I still think it’s something to think about.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


When I was an undergraduate, I majored in English literature as well as Religious Studies. I took a number of classes on poetry, particularly on the Victorians and the Moderns. In my class on the Moderns, the professor had us watch a number of videos about some of the modern (or at least relatively contemporary) poets--Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, William Carlos Williams and Sylvia Plath.

The videos we watched were part of a series called "Voices and Visions", and were exceptionally well made. I own three of the videos in these series, which have sadly never made it to DVD. I did notice that some of them have been posted in parts on YouTube.

What is remarkable about these videos is the sensuality that they convey. Poetry is about recreating sensual experiences in images, and the makers of this documentary series do an astonishing job of recreating poetic image on film. There is a tangible quality to everything that happens in the videos, regardless of whether an actual poem is being read or not. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan, I seriously recommend watching the Sylvia Plath documentary, even just a part of it, to see what I mean. You can view Part I on YouTube here.

My former husband wrote poetry, and he did it very well. For a man who wrote excellent poetry, I had never ceased to be confused by his attitude towards the mundane. He railed against having an "ordinary" life, not realizing that there is a magical quality to ordinariness. I never quite managed to convince him of that. You might agree with him--many great poets, like great artists, novelists, or musicians, were not always the most stable of people mentally, and may have lived very erratic lives. I wouldn't say that's the "rule" though--I don't think there is a rule.

But with regard to the mundane--I think of reading Gary Snyder's "The Back Country", and his poems about Zen and Zen meditation. In Zen meditation (as with others), the sadhuk trains to have awareness in action. We spend most of our days going through things by rote, never really paying attention to what we are doing. We get in the car to go to work, and wonder about halfway there if we turned the stove off before leaving. We don't have awareness. We try to cram too many things into a small space of time, and our energies are quickly scattered. In Zen meditations, one cultivates awareness by focusing on a simple task, like sweeping. Sweeping the floor and sweeping the floor with awareness are two very different things. To do the latter well, our minds need to quiet down, and we need to become observers.

I think this is why I prefer doing regular tasks rather than being an administrator in my work. I like feeling the cloth covers of books, opening up the pages, going through map cases and focusing on the careful handling of the documents, both large and small. While I love my computers, that's also the reason I don't care much for systems work. It doesn't seem quite as tangible as describing physical works. I like the feeling of action, regardless of how simple that action may be. There is a profound happiness in pouring a cup of tea, or chopping vegetables, weeding the garden, or washing the dishes. The days I really hate at work are the days when there's not much to do, or when all work has come to a halt because the computers are down, or a meeting is canceled, or whatever. Some people like to be idle, but all I can think is that I'd rather be home getting my hands dirty with some project.

If you disagree, try it some time, especially if you like creative work. I can write more poems, more blog postings, and come up with more chapter ideas while washing the floors, or putting away the laundry, then I do sitting down and staring idly at a computer. There is a sensuality about actually holding objects, about interacting with places and things. All things have their own feeling, as do all experiences--there is a certain "awesomeness" in the fact that we do any of it at all. I prefer this kind of life to an "exciting" life, or one obliterated by drugs, alcohol, or anything else. Anything else isn't really living, or experiencing life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Latest WTF Moments

The world is a strange place. When I read my regular blogs, it's obvious that the media is just hyping things up to make life more of a freak show than it is in reality. Most articles sound like repeats of the same story I've read a hundred times before. Lately though, I've encountered some stories and other things that make me say, "WTF?"

First, the subject of the litigious. America has always been a litigious country. The case of the woman suing McDonald's because she spilled her coffee on herself while holding it between her legs open in the car, and they didn't tell her it was "hot"--and WINNING the lawsuit--is now part of legal mythology, and the "poster child" of idiot lawsuits. Another winner is the burglar who broke into someone's home--and then broke his leg while in the home--and successfully sued the people whose house he burgled. Here are a couple of other recent asinine lawsuits, both courtesy of

Police standoff in Ventura sparks $680,000 damage claim

So, a guy gets into a standoff with police, tries to shoot them--and then sues them for the holes he made in his own window. Ah well, you say--it's Southern California. It's like another planet there, in terms of brain functioning. Now consider this case in New York:

Instructor Saves Skydiver, She Sues Him For 2 Broken Fingers

In a world where we're lamenting the unwillingness of people to help other human beings in need, stories like this are supportive of that unwillingness. Yes, I can see you're in a life threatening situation, and I save your ass--and you thank me by suing me because you had a minor injury. I'm glad this woman not only lost, but that she has to pay all the defendant's court costs.

To be fair to Americans, a lot of lawsuits occur because of insurance companies and insurance law. Insurance companies, whether medical or property/casualty, want to pay out as little as possible. As a child, if I was injured playing in a neighbor's yard, my mother would always say it happened in our yard. Why? Because she might be required to sue the neighbor for my medical bills, per insurance company rules. If I trip and break my leg in my mother's driveway, I'd probably have to sue her, or at least her insurance company, which would jack up her premiums. Countries that provide healthcare to their citizens don't have to worry about such a rash of lawsuits--citizens aren't expected to pay these big-ticket medical bills. But that's a different can of worms...

About 10 years ago I had a co-worker who moved to the United States from India. She told me that when she first arrived here, she went into a grocery store, and saw orange cones and tape around an area that had a spill, and a "caution" sign. She said, "My first thought was, 'Wow, Americans must really care about their people to do such a thing. But later I realized it was only to avoid a lawsuit.'" She learned pretty quickly. It is a similar avoidance of litigation that breeds idiotic warning messages on products. Like buying a chainsaw and having a warning label that says, "do not use on genitals." Or purchasing an iron and being given the warning "do not iron clothes while on body". Or a hairdryer warning that says, "Do not use while sleeping." The list goes on, and the scary part about it is that someone must have done some of these things for the warning to be generated in the first place. Either that or lawyers are weirder than I thought.

Also around 10 years ago--I was on an administrative retreat in Northern England. (Those were the days...). We had been discussing some of the differences between British life and American life. The director of the college noted the lack of litigiousness in Britain. He said, "If you trip on the sidewalk in front of someone's house and break your leg--in America, you would sue the property owner. In Britain, you would be told to be more careful next time."

Well, I think the above comment about healthcare applies here. But the remark also prompts the third posting I've read this week, this time from England:

Pensioner Sues After Pineapple Falls On Her Head

She must know an American lawyer. Moving on to other weirdness, the next two links are commercial--one for a service, one for a product:

Eternal Earthbound Pets

Mercury Retrograde Spray

With regard to the said it best when they called it "one of the best Rapture scams out there". I'm always amazed and amused by religious groups that make definite predictions about the end of the world. These always involve something Book-of-Revelationish (unless we're talking Heaven's Gate), and they always have some bizarre way of calculating an exact date. Naturally, they as true believers will be taken to heaven and the rest of us will rot here in the chaos of earth, and probably Hell. The Jehovah's Witnesses are a good example of a group that is frequently re-calculating end-of-the-world dates on a regular basis. You'd think they'd just drop it from their theology already. In any case--these apocalyptic doomsayers believe that animals cannot go to heaven, so some smart atheists came up with a service that directly challenges them. If the world ends and they are raptured in the next ten years, for a $110 fee, animal-loving atheists will take care of their pets left behind. So cruel, but so smart...

As to the second, if this wasn't a total marketing sham, I'd be all for it. Mercury Retrograde is frequently the bane of my existence, and it would be nice to be able to just spray something and make its effects go away, kind of like spraying yourself with "Off" before a barbeque to keep the mosquitoes away. More than likely it's just some aromatherapy thing made with herbs associated with the Air element. But what a tempting way to market it.

Lastly, for the heck of it, I'm including this link. You can file it under "Things I'd Only Ever Think About if I Was Trapped in My House For a Year":

Does Traffic Noise Ruin the Sex Lives of Frogs?

Poor frogs. Aren't you glad to know this?

Friday, August 21, 2009


I was lying in bed this afternoon during a thunderstorm, and I glanced up at my newest Karborn painting. It's a tremendous painting called "When Science Fails and Stories Become True." As someone who has a great interest in the realm of the imagination, I have a great fondness for the painting and its title. Looking at it,I started to think about the idea of "imagination".

Imagination can be couched as a good or bad thing, to hear others tell it. On the "good" side, imagination leads to creativity. Children are often very creative, and their lack of corruption by education and social influences when they are very young can make them very creative and excited about life. I remember being a very creative child--I read a lot, and watched a lot of TV, and if I liked something enough, I made up my own story about it, sometimes re-enacted it. I'm surprised at how long I held on to that sense of wonder, that innocence. I had teenage siblings, and some of them were quite derisive of my childhood play, to the point that I sometimes felt ashamed or stupid. But I can't entirely blame family--going to school and socializing with other kids sometimes enhanced my imagination, but a lot of the times others were just as derisive as my siblings. By the time I was 10 years old, I had fallen into a depression, as puberty started early in me, and it seemed I was grieving the loss of my imagination. Everything was starkly "real" at that point, and only got worse for many years. Fortunately, I have been recovering a lot of that as an adult, though not all of it.

On the "bad" side, imagination can lead to irrational fear. Think of the child with monsters under the bed. The mother or father will come in, show them that there is no monster, and tell them that "it's all in their imagination", or that they "just dreamed it." Some families take a dim view of imaginative children--there is a sense that after a certain age, having an imagination is "immature" or "childish". Lord knows that countless songs, poems, and bildungsroman (how do you like THAT word, genre fiction catalogers?) have been written about the loss of childhood innocence, the cultivating of a rational adult. There is no arguing the need for adult rationality. Just because someone wants to fly doesn't mean it will happen if they jump off a building. Adulthood requires a lot of demythologization. One believes in Santa Claus for many years, then finds out it's Mom and Dad, but Christmas doesn't have to lose its traditional appeal as a result. Demythologizing is a necessary part of life. But why is the result often a total loss of innocence and imagination?

As I'm writing this, I notice that I use the words "innocence" and "imagination" almost interchangeably. (And how many words started with the letter "i" in that last sentence? But I digress...). I think innocence of a sort is a criterion for having a vivid imagination. There is a need to suspend disbelief, to throw off the limits of what we think is possible. Imagination is what allows us to find ways around difficulties. It also allows for the creation of art and literature that reminds us of our humanity and the human condition. We really can't do without imagination.

When I look at children and young adults today, I worry about what's happening to imagination. Kids are forced to start acquiring "knowledge" at very young ages. When I look at school curricula today, I am shocked at how much kids are expected to learn in their primary education. Some of the things kids need to know by the third grade we didn't even cover until the 7th grade. I'm not sure they're any smarter for it. When I look at kids today, at least in the university classrooms and libraries, there is mostly a sea of bored, distracted, and disinterested faces. They don't read anymore, and modern movie effects leave little room for imagination. I don't want to suggest that there isn't anyone out there doing anything creative, or that imagination is dead. I would just suggest that it doesn't have a healthy environment to flourish.

I add that concern to the one about the Christian right, which still seems to have so much sway in this country. Secular backlash only seems to create more violent retaliation at the opposite end of the spectrum. In addition to trying to make stupid laws about teaching creationism in schools and denying rights to people they don't consider "moral" enough, they are also interested in destroying imagination. Imagination to them is "devilish"--I look at the backlash against the Harry Potter books as a prime recent example. "Kids shouldn't read Harry Potter because it encourages an interest in magic and the occult." As if no one ever wrote a book about magic before J.K. Rowling. Kids should be kids, as long as they stay inside this crate you've put them in. God forbid they consider anything fantastical. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't believe in magic growing up. Come to think of it, I still do believe in it. I just view it differently--it's been "demythologized" for me.

Dr. Michael Kogan, a Jewish theologian at Montclair State University and former Philosophy and Religion chair, once said in a talk that God is "infinite possibility". Evil is that which tries to limit us, to tell us that we can't be any more than what society tells us we can be. So, back to another irony--those claiming to represent Christianity are actually representing the opposite. It is true that organized religion is designed to keep us from having religious experiences. In a positive sense, that could be like entering deep water with a life vest and a raft. But I see this kind of limitation as a negative--it's more about crushing and controlling the person with fear and false morality, and has nothing to do with "God" at all.

Atheists can also contribute to this problem--some have a self-confident sneer of rationality that says you are nothing more than a crackpot if you believe anything that hasn't been proven by "science". Science is indeed a useful tool, and has really opened the doors of knowledge on many things. But some things don't lend themselves to laboratory testing, and that doesn't mean they aren't real, at least in some sense. You notice that there is a strong interest out there in ghosts, psychic phenomena, UFOs, cryptozoology, and a host of other things that deal with what is unknown. Many of these things can be written off as hoaxes or hallucinations, but not everything can be tainted with the same brush. Some things are truly unknown.

And is that a bad thing? Regardless of what we learn about how the universe began and what it is composed of, I think that there is always the mystery underneath, and that mystery fuels our imaginations. But we don't even need to look that deeply--the flow of human life itself is great fodder for the imagination, as long as we don't let others destroy it. It's a fundamental component of the beauty of humanity.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Today I received a thank-you note from my niece. It was for a gift I'd sent her for her 21st birthday. On her Facebook page, she declared how old she felt. I commented by reminding her how old I felt. In the note she said, "Sorry to make you feel old!"

Truthfully, she doesn't make me feel old, though realizing that my one niece and three nephews are adults now does give me pause. My oldest nephew is going to be married for 2 years, owns a house in Southern California, and works for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. And yet I have friends (even had boyfriends) the same age as my nephews. I'm in a rather awkward spot in my life--I'm over 35, which should make me "over the hill" to some. Emotionally, I think I match my age--Lord knows I've had enough life experience at this point. But other things make me feel like I'm much younger--attention from younger men, being ID'ed for age when I go to a pub or bar, going to the college where I teach and being asked if I'm a student.

I will say that my family has remarkable genes. My father is 78 years old, and most people think he's in his 50's, maybe around 60. He has white hair, and some of the characteristic changes around the jawline that come with age. But he has no wrinkles. Similarly, my mother is 72, but looks to be in her 50's as well. So, perhaps it's no surprise that I don't appear to be pushing 40. The thick oily skin that was the bane of my existence at 13 is now a godsend at 37.

But there are clearly differences between myself and the twenty-something crowd. Whenever I spend time with friends in this age group, I can sense an intangible difference. We're functioning in different places. Girls in their twenties are still very insecure, looking for attention, have something to prove, trying to figure themselves out. While I would be lying to say I have no insecurity or that I don't like attention, I do feel like I have a pretty good sense of who I am and where I'm going. I tend to feel that people can take me as I am or leave me. I'm willing to make changes and apologize if I'm wrong, but I don't feel any need to apologize for who I am, or to cover it up. There was a time in my life where I definitely felt limited; now I tend to feel that anything is possible, and I should do what makes me happy, not what others think I should do.

The other noted difference is cultural. Adults in their late teens and early twenties don't remember a time without computers. Historical events that I remember quite well--the Carter presidency, the Iran hostage crisis, the assassination of the Shah, the death of John Lennon, the marriage of Charles and Diana, to name a few--are nothing more than a history book footnote to most of them, assuming there's any awareness at all. I remember almost fainting when my friend's 18-year-old daughter said she'd never heard of the Doors or Led Zeppelin. Whether you like them or not, how could you not have heard of them?

Certainly everything is relative--the older you are, the more you remember that subsequent generations don't. But I think I've not quite grasped where I'm at in life, and I'm not sure I want to. On one of the blogs I read, I saw someone criticizing a 40-year-old woman for going to clubs, saying she's "too old". Says who? Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the club scene, and I'm not looking to "hook up" with anyone when I go out. But I don't like the idea that I somehow don't belong among younger people. I have friends in very diverse age groups.

On the whole, I prefer being in my thirties, and will probably like my forties just as well. I feel like my marriage at 23 was an interruption of my life--I became much older than I am now, because there was so much suffering during those years. I almost feel like I should now get a reprieve from suffering for the rest of my life.

And yet, interestingly, there have been those over the years, and even recently, who don't acknowledge my age at all. I don't necessarily mind that, but I do mind being treated like a 5-year-old who doesn't know anything about anything. That has been the downside of appearing "youthful"--I have some colleagues who have looked down on me in the past as somehow "inexperienced". One of the big mistakes I made when I finished graduate school the first time was continuing to work at the same place I'd worked when I was in high school and university. They remembered me as a teenager and even younger, and the tendency was to continue treating me that way, rather than as a serious professional. Even as I climbed the administrative and political ladder (thanks mainly to those in power who were younger than me), I was still amazed at how colleagues would come into my office and speak to me, and how inexperienced they seemed to think I was in my career. And I could not attend a meeting without someone reminding me that they remembered me when I was 11 years old.

There is a Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as Mrs. Knickerbater that sums it up pretty well. It starts about 1 minutes and 30 seconds into this episode:

So, honestly, I don't mind when I'm thought of as "older". Given the lack of respect that some people seem to have for younger generations, and the memories of how awful my teens and twenties were emotionally, I think it's a worthwhile trade-off. Still, it's important to remember that age is just a number. You don't know what kind of life someone has lived. There are people in their twenties who are more mature and experienced than some people in their fifties. It's all a matter of what life hands to you, and that's not a book you can judge by its cover.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


People who know me well know that I'm something of a hermit. It's not that I'm anti-social, or that I don't get out--I just like to be able to retreat to a quiet place after being in crowds. As much as I like people, I find crowds exhausting. Depending on my state of mind, I can sometimes find interactions with those I see every day exhausting as well. These people are not flawed in any way, or if they are, that's not the reason I stay away from them.

The main reason I prefer to be alone is that it gives me time to think about things. As you may have guessed, I like to think quite deeply about things, unless I'm very tired or ill. When I'm trying to write, especially poetry or fiction, I need to be able to let my mind ramble, to be able to take in experience passively without having to actively participate.

This is why I'm often quiet during conversations, especially conversations with people I don't know that well. The crowd dynamic is something I prefer to watch and take in; it often has an inconsistent rhythm that's hard to pick up, especially if you don't know too many people at the party or other event you're attending. In general, though, I've noticed an interesting thing about conversation. Regardless of how deeply thoughtful the individuals conversing can be, it is very rare to have a deep conversation. Most conversations are superficial. You could have a room full of people who are well traveled, some who may have Ph.D.'s in interesting subjects, others who would have created fine art or literature--and I could almost guarantee you that conversation will turn to the weather, or something that passes for "news", perhaps polite banter about mutual acquaintances. I always find those theoretical questions about the "5 people you'd love to have dinner with" amusing. Unless you've included someone in your list who is socially damaged enough to break out of polite conversational patterns, I would bet money that you wouldn't have a deep conversation with those folks, either.

Why do we do this? Conversations are an important means of sharing thoughts and ideas. Unless we're in a forum specifically designed for such talk, we tend to stay away from meaningful subjects. There is an inherent insecurity about groups, and sometimes about participants. If you feel that the crowd you're with "outranks" you in some way, or that you need to impress them, you may be more reticent to broach risky topics. In a place where people drink beer, crack jokes, and talk about local gossip, it's unlikely that you'll have a sympathetic audience. Even at events like art exhibit openings, literary journal publishing parties, and other such "intellectual" events, you're likely to find more, not less, superficiality. Creative work is much more personal, so sharing ideas at such events is very risky on a personal level. There is a sense of competition, of wanting to appear more erudite than the others in the room.

I think the other thing about social events that reduces them to banality is proximity. George Carlin once made the joke that a person's tendency to be an "asshole" is directly proportional to the distance you are from them at the time you discover this flaw. The farther away they are, the more of an asshole they are. We'd never tell someone that to their face, but we would say it if they weren't in the room. Joking aside, there is truth to this--we are less likely to reveal our true feelings face to face. Meeting someone in person does not necessarily give you a better sense of who they are as people. I believe that this is why social networking online is so popular--you can maintain your friendships without having to be in the same room with the people you're friends with.

Conversations require a give and take. When someone brings up a topic, it is necessary to be interested, or to appear to be interested. Often times, when someone broaches a subject, we try to relate what they're saying to something in our lives. This is one of the basic psychological rules of conversation. Often this can make conversations appear very self-centered--you talk about your experience with "x", and I talk about my own similar experience with "x". The intention isn't to be selfish--it's to try to relate to the other person through your own experience. My ex-husband used to tell me that such conversations were very selfish, but that's hogwash. You can't possibly have any experiences outside of your own--you don't possess other people's bodies and live their lives. I can only interpret the world around me via my own experience. Even in writing or talking about others, it's through my own subjective lens.

The give and take of conversation can be very draining, especially when we have a hard time relating to the subject. You either have to have a very good veneer of polite sociability, or you stick to talking to your close friends (or standing in the corner saying nothing if you don't know anyone) when you're in large social settings. One can develop the former, but it always feels political and insincere. Depending on your position in life, it may be an essential survival skill. One of the reasons I hate administration is that I hate kowtowing to people who supposedly have a higher station in life than me. I don't like to kiss ass with politicians, board members, and other such officials. If I can't talk to you like you're an equal human being, I don't want to talk to you at all. There is an expectation in polite society that one will defer to someone who socially outranks you, but I've never paid any attention to that rule, and it does get me some strange and uncomfortable looks at times. I can usually get out of those situations by telling people I'm an academic. Then they assume I'm quirky and have no social graces, and I'm sort of "let off the hook".

Social events are not really social; our personal boundaries were never more fortified than they are at parties. As a result, we only show our external disguises, not the real people underneath. By the time you leave--unless you managed to find one kindred soul to talk to, the whole experience is draining rather than fun. I think this is the real reason I hate parties.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Halloween and "Horror"

It's the middle of August. I went to the grocery store on Sunday, and noticed that the store was filled with Halloween decorations and such. Halloween is more than 2 months away--about 10 weeks. I also noticed that the back-to-school stuff has been relegated to the "clearance" bins. I guess you had to be thinking about that around the beginning of July.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it just seems like a ridiculous anticipation of a holiday that we're not really ready for--school hasn't started yet, summer's not over, why are we preparing for what is essentially the Celtic beginning of winter? At the same time, I'm pleased to see it. I'm sick of the hot, humid days of New Jersey summer, though summer really only began at the end of July. Mother Nature was late this year. But weather aside, I'm usually ready for the eerie vibes of Halloween at this time of year.

Sadly, for the last 10 years or more (I've lost count), Halloween has turned into a gore-fest. People have become far too scientific-minded to accept ghost stories, so when they're presented, they're either wildly melodramatic or completely overshadowed by skepticism. Look at the television listings for the month of October. I'll guarantee that the majority of shows on TV are scary slasher films of some sort--the "Halloween" movies, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a wide variety of zombie movies...and probably lots of more recent vampire stuff, since that seems to be the rage lately. Most of these things rely purely on shock value--there's nothing that leaves you with a sense of the numinous, of the Unknown. You're just left with a feeling like you want to throw up after seeing so many massacred bodies.

I'd written a blog posting on 1979 a few weeks ago, and I was criticizing a really terrible television program that aired in October of that year, "Once Upon a Midnight Scary", featuring Vincent Price as host. While I still think it's pretty awful, I do have some nostalgia for the days when Halloween programs were like that one--not heavy on special effects, but still supposed to leave you with a creepy feeling. I seem to recall a lot of these from the late Seventies and early Eighties--I just wish I could recall what they are now.

To me, horror should be something more psychological, not so blatant. A good example of this is the movie "The Haunting", featuring Julie Harris and Clare Bloom. Forget the remake--the original movie, based on the Shirley Jackson short story "The Haunting of Hill House", still scares the crap out of me when I watch it. You don't really see what's going on, and you don't know if it's all in Elinor's (Julie Harris's) head. She's clearly not a stable person. Good horror should leave you with more questions than it answers. I had the good fortune to see this movie within the last couple of years at the Forgotten Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, California. Seriously. There is something called Cemetery Screenings, a series of films shown on the side of a mausoleum in the Forgotten Hollywood Cemetery. You pay 10 bucks to get in, bring your picnic basket and lawn chairs, and watch a horror movie. That particular night, a couple thousand people showed up. The objective is to raise money for the cemetery, and it seems like it's an excellent fundraiser.

In my attempts to research some of the older Halloween shows I recall only peripherally, I came across this blog called Halloween Specials. It seems like a very good summary of what was on television in the United States at that time, though I feel certain that there were other specials--if I could only remember what they were.

Overall, Halloween isn't really what it used to be, not where I live anyway. Trick or treaters may not actually go out on October 31--some towns, like mine, designate a different day for trick or treating. Regardless, they don't come by my own house--I live well off the main drag, and parents are so paranoid now, they won't let their kids go anywhere that's not on the main road. Never mind that parents always accompany their kids. Even when I was 6 and 7 years old my parents never accompanied me when I went trick or treating. I can understand doing that with very small children, but once they're in school it seems rather absurd. Unless you live in, I don't know, Paterson, Newark, or Camden, I suppose. But here--I imagine the worst threat to children out here are the squirrels that might try to take their candy from them. The squirrels in my yard get into what appear to be verbal arguments with my cats, so one never knows.

In any case, Halloween has been really watered down and gored up, so I'm not sure why I look forward to it every year. Traditionally, it's a holiday dealing with the dead, when the veil between the "worlds" is supposed to be at its thinnest. Interestingly, the Celts celebrated with men dressing up as women, and vice versa. It involves the blurring of traditional boundaries. That may well be its enduring appeal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ambition Suckers

It’s been relatively quiet these days, and I’m enjoying it. Aside from the good news that at least 1, and possibly 2 of my stories will be published, not much is happening. School starts again in about 3 weeks, which I find a bit staggering. 2009 is almost over.

In the beginning of July, I was brimming over with ambition. I did a tremendous amount of writing, cleaned out my entire house, and re-landscaped much of my yard. Then I went off to London, and since I’ve come back, I’ve had little or no ambition at all. Some days I am downright useless; other days I can muster up enough discipline to do a few things, but I really keep it to a minimum. Even getting up in the morning to meditate is becoming a chore.

Fluctuating levels of ambition can be problematic. When you’re feeling very ambitious, you take on a lot of extra things that you could smack yourself in the head for at a later, less ambitious time. I find that my ambition goes in cycles, but it’s difficult to really pinpoint the ups and downs. The ambition-affecting variables I’ve come up with so far are:

Weather: a cool, breezy sunny Fall-like day does wonders for my ambition. Even if I’m tired, my brain will not let me go to sleep on such perfect days. By contrast—humid and rainy days tend to suck the life out of me. Rain itself isn’t always an ambition killer, but it is if the air feels thick and disgusting.

Hormones: Trying to fight hormonal ups and downs is like throwing sand into the ocean. While I’m not one for wild mood swings, I do get the “nesting” instinct at certain times that makes me want to organize the fuck out of everything. During one of those times I actually spent 4 hours ironing clothes. In July, I cleaned out every closet in my house. In one day.

Allergies : I get allergy shots, and they help tremendously. It’s been over a year since I’ve dealt with chest pain, wheezing, and eyes that are swollen shut. However, the shots don’t get rid of allergic reactions altogether. I may not be sneezing, but my head feels like it weighs about 100 pounds. This is a big problem in the morning, when my allergies are at their worst from the fans going all night. I have to set my alarm two hours in advance of the time I need to wake up, because I can guarantee that an allergy-induced stupor will keep me from responding the alarm the first 6 times it goes off.

Amount of draining human contact: My interactions with people are pretty neutral most days. However, there are those days when you encounter the draining situations. The co-worker who makes mountains out of molehills, the acquaintance who is a dear but you try to avoid conversations with because they can talk for decades without taking a breath, etc., etc. Meditation usually helps me avoid the draining part of human interactions, but it’s not a cure-all. Lately there seem to be a few more of these than usual. While these are by no means fatal, they take a lot more energy to deal with.

Usually it’s not just one of these things, but some combination of elements that makes me give up on the to-do list and go back to bed. But on the positive side, I’ve also realized that I should go with the flow rather than try to fight it. Get as much done as possible during ambitious phases, and expect to be lazing around watching GH reruns and drinking beer during less ambitious phases. If something really needs to be done when ambition is lacking, it should be the only thing on the list. On the East Coast we live in a fast-paced culture that expects us to be doing something productive at all times. If anything, we don’t allow ourselves enough down-time. That’s some self-imposed guilt that needs to be ditched...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care

This afternoon, I went to my doctor's office for my bi-weekly allergy shot, and blood testing. I've put this off because I've been low on funds, and I will have to pay out of pocket. The health insurance that I have through my workplace, to which I contribute about $3,200 a year of my salary, is completely useless. The doctors I really like and trust don't take this insurance. I've estimated that I pay over $1,000 a year out of pocket for my health expenses, besides the salary contribution. And the notion of "applying it to my deductible and then recovering 80%" is a joke. My deductible is $750 a year, and my insurance company was only willing to apply 5 visits of $26 each to my deductible. 5 visits. When I needed them weekly, and now bi-weekly.

Why do I keep this insurance? Because God forbid I end up in a car crash, or some other horrible event occurs, I will need insurance for the hospital. Of course, with a $15,000 lifetime maximum, I might be screwed there too. Insurance companies are greedy, and are willing to forego my health to line their own pockets. Fortunately I am a relatively healthy person (touch wood). I can't imagine how it would be for someone with serious health problems, assuming they could get insured at all--there's all those "pre-existing condition" clauses.

I read in an op-ed piece recently that health care shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right. That sounds like a no-brainer. But the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn't provide health care for its citizens. I MUST work a regular 35-40 hour a week job to have health benefits--I could never pay for them on my own. If I want to break out and work a couple of part time jobs to cover the bills and focus on my writing, I can't do it without foregoing health care. Employers are feeling the pinch, and are increasingly offering jobs with a number of hours just below the required minimum for mandatory health insurance. They need the help, but can't afford to pay the premiums to the insurance companies.

It should be no surprise why I mention all of this, in light of all the controversy surrounding President Obama's universal health care plan. It is agreed that the government can be (OK, is) inefficient, and I'm sure the plan is not without its problems. It's also no surprise that the major insurance companies are pitching a fit about the idea of offering free health care--after all, they stand to lose money. But the mob backlash against lawmakers on this one is at the top of the insanity scale.

Those vocally opposed to Obama's plan call it "socialism", claim the government will set up "death panels" that will decide whether or not the country's citizens, particularly the elderly, will get to live---and imply that we are moving towards the Canadian system of one health plan for all citizens.

With regard to socialism, I'm not sure how it's being defined here. Is any kind of government plan to benefit the lives of citizens "socialism"? I seem to recall reading that FDR had similar issues when he introduced his New Deal. Frankly, I would challenge anyone who considers Obama's plan as "socialist" to give up their Medicare (assuming they're over 65) and their Social Security benefits. After all, those smack of "socialism" too--why "social security" has that word "social" right in it.

With regard to "death panels", we already have those. They're called Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. And they're what most U.S. employers offer, because they're less expensive. Wait til one of these mob protesters with an HMO plan needs a kidney.

But OK--not all of us have catastrophic illnesses. The health care we have now is probably sufficient for most of us, right? Well, a lot of Americans suffer from heart difficulties. Consider this story from a co-worker of mine. Her husband needed heart surgery. She chose a doctor covered by her plan, and made sure everyone slated to assist in the surgery room was covered by her plan. So everything got paid for, right? Wrong. The surgeon called in another doctor to help him during the surgery, who, as it turns out, was not covered by the plan. And guess what? His bill was almost $10,000. It was ruled that the doctor is allowed to call in anyone he chooses to assist him regardless of your health plan--and that the insurance company doesn't have to cover it if they're not "on the list". So, you're screwed for 10 grand unless you can argue your way out of it with the doctor.

I could also tell you the story of dozens of cancer patients who have had to spend countless hours on the phone fighting with insurance companies who refuse to pay huge doctor bills because of some loophole. It's nice to see how profit is more important than the well-being of patients. When I was still married, my ex-husband had developed health issues--I spent hours on the phone for almost 3 YEARS trying to get Cigna to pay all covered costs. It's like psychological torture--they're hoping to just wear you down and make you pay. Many doctors don't want to take health insurance because they don't get paid adequately and are forced to deliver sub-standard care.

However, if you just love our shitty healthcare system, then we need to address the third point--the idea of one American health plan. That's not what's proposed. It would be another alternative. Other health insurance companies would carry on just as before. Obama made a great parallel between that and the U.S. postal service--we now have UPS, FedEx, and DHL. They're all doing just fine. The USPS isn't putting them out of business.

Frankly, as someone who doesn't have a whole lot of expensive health issues, and mainly wants coverage for hospitalization in case of an emergency, I'll take free or low-cost health care. Even if it sucks, it can't be any worse than what I'm paying thousands of dollars for now. And that cost will probably go up, not down.

In reading the accounts of these mobs disrupting senator's "town meetings", I noticed a few things. One is that they all seem to be Republican, which only adds to the image of the 21st century Republican as being like the door-to-door missionary--they don't listen to anything resembling reason, and they just mindlessly reiterate their party line. The geography of these mob scenes is also interesting--mainly the Midwest (places like Missouri) and Western sections of Pennsylvania. If you've been to these places...well, they're not exactly diverse metropolises. Xenophobia is not uncommon. Apparently all they get is Fox News out there.

The ignorant terminology being thrown around is "socialist", even "communist". I thought we were over the Cold War mentality, and that "terrorist" was the new ugly slur against people who differ in opinion, but apparently communist hatred is making a comeback. Not that anyone involved is really a communist, or a terrorist for that matter. The backlash against the unions coming to defend Obama's plan at these meetings, threatening them with physical violence and even death (because we all know unions are really communist, right?) shouldn't even be allowed in a country like ours. Those bashing unions have obviously forgotten that Americans were working 20 hour days for less than 10 cents an hour before unions fought for humane working conditions. Of course, it's doubtful that the protestors are even aware of their own American history--if they are, I haven't seen evidence of it. And I haven't even addressed the racist threats abounding in this whole travesty.

The greatest irony is that those who claim to be standing up for America against "socialism" are doing so by trying to violently oppress opposing points of view, and spreading hateful propaganda about their opponents. That sounds downright totalitarian to me. Whenever I argue with members of my family who espouse heavily Republican views, I remind them that the reason they can espouse their point of view, and I mine, is because we live in America. We're a free country, and have the right to disagree and to be entitled to our beliefs. Do we remember the Bush regime? Anyone who spoke out against the Republicans was accused of being "un-American", and--you guessed it--suspected of being in line with "terrorists".

DeTocqueville said in his work on democracy that the majority has to be eternally vigilant if they don't want to be taken over by a vocal minority. I am not sure why Republicans are so angry or why they feel their "rights" are being trampled. I don't agree with everything Obama does or says, but rebuttals from the Republican corner aren't even remotely related to reality. It's no longer a political party, it's the Jerry Springer Show. I sincerely hope that sensible discussion wins the day over mob lunacy.

I leave you with Jon Stewart's take on the issue:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hudson River and Valley Oddities

I love the Hudson River. The pollution of the New York harbor areas notwithstanding, I enjoy stopping off at various points in New York State, particularly in the Hudson Valley, to sit and look at the river. Sunnyside in Tarrytown is one of my favorite places to do this, from Washington Irving’s portico. You can’t avoid crossing the river if you want to get to New York City from New Jersey, and you either go over the river, or tunnel under it. It serves as a natural boundary between New York and those New Jersey counties that are sometimes referred to as the “sixth and seventh borough” of the city. Life along the river is quite diverse—you have everything from the extreme urban life, to artsy little towns tucked away in various hills and valleys, to the very isolated and rural.

Recently though, in the New York City area, there has been a lot of tragedy or near-tragedy, or general alarm on the Hudson. The first incident was the plane crash I’d mentioned in another posting, when a Canada goose flew into the plane’s engine:

US Airways plane crashes in Hudson River

While it was a scary event, no one died in this crash, so it’s more of a
near-tragedy. In the category of “general alarm”, we have the Air Force One plane taking pictures over the Ellis Island area. This should not be a problem, except no one knew it was going to happen, and seeing a plane come in that close to a huge monument had people panicking about another terrorist attack.

President Obama Calls Air Force One Flyover "A Mistake"

Then, just a few days ago, a helicopter and a small Cessna plane collided over the river, and everyone involved was killed. They are still pulling bodies out of the water:

Mid-Air Collison Over Hudson

Lastly, this is not so much tragic as it is totally weird:

Cab driver being choked crashes into Mount Vernon Church

That doesn’t have to do with the river per se, but it did happen in the Hudson Valley area (Mount Vernon is between New Rochelle and Yonkers for those of you unfamiliar with the geography, north of the George Washington Bridge).
I’m aware that statistical probability suggests that all of this is random and coincidental. And it probably is exactly that. Still, part of me always wonders why events, many of which are similar and out of the ordinary, happen around the same area for a period of time. The events don’t make me wary of heading over the Hudson River; I just think it’s bizarre that every time I open my RSS feeds, there’s something about that area in the news. And it’s something related to aircraft, or to transportation in general.

In any case, I don’t want to start any conspiracy theories, nor do I think there’s anything prophetic about any of it. But I think it’s an example of a “clustering” phenomena, for lack of a better term—similar or related events happening in the same area (or to the same person, in some cases) over a period of time. Does anyone else notice this sort of thing besides me? Or am I just overly enamored with the idea of synchronicity?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Being Watched" and Electricity

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

The sense of "being watched" can be real or imagined, and may be threatening or not. Most of us are uncomfortable with the sensation of being watched. It feels unnatural, like a violation of privacy. The sense of feeling "self-conscious" may occur, as your insecurity is heightened and you feel that you can't just "be yourself". There is a need to be on guard, to discover the source, and hopefully re-gain one's sense of privacy.

There are many occasions where being watched is expected. If you are a performer or public speaker, certainly people will be watching you (and a lot of people get nervous before crowds). The more well-known you are, the more watched you are, which is why celebrity seems like a bad trade-off for loss of privacy. At least it would to me. Some people love attention and thrive on being watched. In other cases, you can't help but to be watched, regardless of who you are. When I walk the streets of London, I know I'm being watched somewhere all the time. CCTV is in operation in most places, so it is likely that someone somewhere is monitoring your movements.

I'm watched in my own house every day--by my cats. When I get up in the morning, they are staring at me. I feed them, and go upstairs to get dressed--a few minutes later I turn around and they are in the bathroom with me, watching me. If I sit down at my computer, they situate themselves nearby. Sometimes they appear to be sleeping, but if I glance over, I see that there's always one eye on "Momma". If I think they're sound asleep and tiptoe upstairs to my own bed, it will take less than 5 minutes for them to come running upstairs and jump onto the bed next to me.

Sometimes being watched is a more sinister thing--the "stalkers" who look up details of your private life, follow you to your car, or to your front door, sometimes they send messages that are threatening or at least disturbing. Stalkers are willful violators of our boundaries, and they usually provoke a more violent resistance--getting police involved, restraining orders, perhaps even carrying a weapon. I have been stalked on a number of occasions, mostly connected with work, when I used to do public service librarianship. I've been told by patrons that I'm very approachable, and a lot of times, even if I couldn't get the information the person wanted, they felt better for having someone listen to them. That can be very rewarding, but in the case of the very isolated or mentally unstable, it can lead to stalking behavior. They misunderstand your general respect for them as people, and assume that now they need to be part of your life, that you care much more deeply about them than you actually do. For women, this can be a problem with men--they interpret your approachability as flirtatious behavior, and think they should act accordingly. It can make defining boundaries very frustrating--you don't want to shut the world out, but sometimes you have to. I think one of the things I like about London is the fact that people can be very polite to you, but then they go on their way. The Londoner's "indifference" can actually be a positive thing. I don't worry about being stalked in London.

In the category of "real" vs. "imagined", there is the sense of "being watched" in houses that are believed to have paranormal activity. A classic example is that of someone who goes into their basement to do their laundry, and is overcome with an uncomfortable sense of dread--they quickly do what they have to do, and run out of the room, refusing to go back unless they are accompanied by someone. No one is actually there, but the feeling is very strong, and one assumes that if they don't have a living person watching, they must have a dead person watching.

In many of these cases, paranormal investigators have discovered an electrical phenomena known as a "fear cage". They walk into such a room as described in the example above, and when they measure electromagnetic frequency (EMF), the meter goes off the charts. Regular EMF should be in the neighborhood of <1, getting a bit closer to 1 around electrical outlets and appliances. In the "fear cages", the EMF can be over 100, and can be traced to an electrical box that isn't properly grounded, faulty wiring, and/or some kind of conducting metal like copper that draws the EMF throughout the entire room. Side effects of high EMF include that sense of being watched, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and sometimes hallucinations. Geomagnetic energy (natural electricity that comes from sources in the Earth) can have the same effect.

When I think about the sense of being watched, real or imagined, I realize it all has to do with electricity. Even my cats staring at me and following me around has to do with electricity. Living beings (and non-living things, such as rocks) are made up of electrically-charged atoms, so sources can be natural or man-made. And, just as certain metals and minerals are better conductors, some people are more sensitive to the effects of electricity. In any case--the sense of discomfort that is interpreted as "being watched" comes from an intense concentration of electricity. The "fear cage" example aside, it is clear that when someone enters your physical space, their own "electricity" interacts with yours. This is actually the best way to get a sense of whether or not someone is interested in you--that "physical attraction" comes from the sense of attraction or repulsion that occurs when you are close to someone. The psyche is also electric in its own way. Consider the way it can interact with the pituitary gland in adolescents, causing poltergeist phenomena--objects that appear to move by themselves, or via "telekinetic" means. Or, less controversially--think about talking to someone who is happy and approaches you in a friendly way, versus someone who is very negative, and attacks you verbally. In the former case, you feel you have more energy; in the latter, you feel drained afterwards. This is true whether or not the person is standing in front of you, or has sent you an e-mail, or is talking to you on the telephone. The very fact that you are aware of the energy of that attention provokes a response.

Many yogic practices, especially those related to kundalini shakti, (which is in fact the electrical center of your being), are designed to condition the body to the electricity of consciousness and being that surround it. If you spend a lot of time physically sitting at the feet of a yogi or a satguru, if you yourself do not engage in regular yogic and meditative practices, you will find that you feel extremely dizzy and nauseous after awhile--similar to the effect of being exposed to high EMF. This has happened to me--if I spend 3 or 4 days around my guru, I usually go home with terrible body aches and a fever of about 105 degrees Farenheit. It's like the body is oversaturated with too much electricity. If you think about magicians and magic, magicians are fancifully portrayed in artwork as having lightning bolts come out from their hands, or some similar imagery. While this never happens literally, it does point to the fact that magicians deal with pure electrical energy--the psychical kind--and with the willful directing of that energy. Many adepts in magical societies practice yoga and Eastern meditative practices for this very reason. Experiences of the "numinous", or mysterium tremendum" (in Otto's terminology) produce similar reactions--there is a sense of dread and awe of something very powerful, more powerful than you by yourself.

So the question is--is the basis of our reality, beliefs, worship, and existence all based on electricity?


I was reading the RSS feed at HTMLGiant this morning, and "pr" posted the image that came up repeatedly when he googled the word "sonnet" using Image search. He then wrote a sonnet about it. Here is the link to that post.

My first thought was about the weirdness and unreliability of Google image search. However, if you were to show this to most men, I imagine they would prefer to get these kinds of results rather than something relevant to their original search. What guy wants to do boring research when he can look at boobs?

You'll have to forgive my constant references to psychoanalysis, as I spent too much time in graduate school immersed in those kinds of writings. But as a woman who isn't particularly moved by the sight of women's breasts, I can't help but think Freudian psychosexual theory, even though a lot of Freud's stuff is bullsh*t. I'm particularly thinking of "infantile regression", a later consequence of the Oedipal complex.

I recalled an episode from about 10 years ago. I was still married then, and my then-husband and I went out to breakfast. The restaurant was rather crowded, as it was a Sunday, and it seems like everyone goes out breakfast on Sundays. We ordered breakfast, and when they brought it to us, my husband suddenly asked the waitress for a glass of milk. I thought it was an odd request. Neither of us hated milk, but it wasn't something we typically drank, either.

He and I conversed about various things, and the waitress came back with the milk. A few moments later, a family with a couple of children that had been sitting across from us got up to leave. One of the children was an infant. After they left, he leaned over and said in a quiet voice, "Did you see what that woman was doing?"

"No. What was she doing?"

"She was breastfeeding her kid at the table."

"No, I hadn't noticed. So is that why you ordered milk?"

He stared at his glass of milk, wide-eyed. "Holy sh*t, I never thought about that."

So, I guess Dr. Freud won that round...

Thursday, August 06, 2009


I was thinking about people I’ve met within the last year, and my impressions of them. First-impressions and gut reactions aside, I realized that I have a tendency to define others in terms of what I see in them that resembles my own experience.

Let me give an example: I have a friend/acquaintance that I met last Fall. This person is very kind, talkative, and seemingly outgoing. Yet, the more I’ve interacted with this friend, the more I realize that this person is really an introvert. They put on a face for the public world, but they really would rather be by themselves, save a few close companions from time to time. We tend to think of introverts as being somewhat anti-social, but this isn’t the case—this said friend is very amiable towards friends and strangers alike. Still, one could call it “friendly but detached”. There is a boundary in those interactions, in spite of warmth displayed.

Now, in my mind, I go a step further, and from what I know about this person’s background, I decide what the underlying reasons are for their boundaries. People have boundaries naturally, but some are stricter about them than others. This person has been badly hurt in the past, and I presume that they have gotten themselves past that incident, but they now proceed with caution in their social interactions. This person is also a deep thinker, and I assume the introversion has to do with the need to live inside one’s own head—it’s like watching a film of yourself watching yourself, if that makes any sense. One’s inner life and outer work are deeply affected by such musings done in solitude.

Truthfully, I have never had a conversation with this person about this. All of my assumptions could be dead wrong. What exactly is the basis for these assumptions? The answering is: mirroring.

Mirroring is a psychological phenomena, also called “projection” by psychoanalysts, and particularly by Jung. Our interpretations of ourselves are always going to be different from the interpretation of those around us. The only context we have for interpreting the world we live in is ourselves and our experiences. So—when we meet someone who shares a perceived characteristic, we go the whole nine yards and assume that they have this characteristic for the same reasons WE have this characteristic. In short—we’re not seeing them at all. We’re seeing a mirror image of ourselves.
So, with my friend, I assume these things because I see qualities also present in myself (apparent extroversion, actual introversion), and I assume the reasons must be the same as my own.

It’s important to have an awareness of mirroring, as it is the basis of most social friction. We frequently get exasperated with people who don’t “get it”, who are afraid of irrational things, or who just have lifestyles or viewpoints that we don’t understand. You’ve probably heard the expression, “What you don’t like about someone else is what you don’t like about yourself.” We see what we perceive as our strengths and weaknesses in others, and are quick to judge them for it—when in fact, it’s about us and not them.

Unrequited love is one of the sufferings of mirroring. The one in love assumes the other must love them in return, because their own feelings are so strong. They look for any sign, any kindness or politeness is blown out of proportion. When the illusion is blown, the rejected lover often accuses the other person of “leading them on”. But that isn’t always the case. We see what we want to see, and if we don’t want to be disappointed, there needs to be some discrimination between your feelings and theirs.

Empathy ought to be a way around the dangers of mirroring, but empathy can only go so far. We are still limited by the fact that we are ourselves and not the other person, and still imagine how “we” would feel. Really, in all my years thinking about this on and off, the only solution that present itself is detachment. By “detachment” I don’t mean not caring about people or events. If you are too attached to your conception of a person and how they should behave, your relationship to them will become a controlling one—they must behave as you expect them to behave. If you detach yourself from that need to control, and to understand your own limitations in understanding that person, you’re more likely to develop healthy relationships.

Of course, I’ve been sitting here today, feeling annoyed at someone who seems to feel they don't have to show anyone respect because of their position. I've always respected everyone regardless of my station versus theirs. So this other person should do the same, right?

Old human habits die hard...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Anthony Peake lecture, Roosevelt Hotel, NYC

On Monday evening, I went into Manhattan to hear a lecture by author Anthony Peake. The daughter of one of my co-workers was organizing the event, and the author was going to discuss a new theory of consciousness based on psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and quantum physics. As this all sounds terribly interesting to me, I decided to go.

Peake’s theory of consciousness is fascinating, and if his concept isn’t entirely unique, his spin on the concept might be unique. Peake talks about the theological idea of “eternal return”, which he distinguishes from theories of reincarnation. What he is suggesting is that we actually never die—at least our consciousness doesn’t— and we live our lives over and over again, and that we already know where our lives were headed, because we’ve lived them before. He refers to a “higher” and “lower” self, citing examples from various cultures. Peake prefers the Gnostic terminology, using “daemon” for the former, and “eidolon” for the latter. Research on the functioning of the temporal lobes of the brain, and studies of certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy give some weight to the idea. The daemon is the part of you that has lived your life before, as it were, and “tells” through a sort of pre-cognitive intuition about what will happen in your future, or how to avoid a problem situation in the future.

Research on the functioning of the temporal lobes suggests that we retain everything about our past, even if we don’t consciously remember doing so. He also ties the idea into multiple worlds theory, which suggests that all possibilities for our lives are happening simultaneously in a multiplicity of universes. One thing he mentioned early on that was of great interest to me was a conversation he had with a particle physicist about multiple worlds theory. The physicist told him that they now believe they have a way to experiment and test the validity of multiple worlds theory. I find this very exciting, because it’s a remarkable theory, but I have never been able to wrap my mind around exactly HOW such a thing could be tested and proven. Peake promises to write a paper on this new development, and I am certainly looking forward to that.

Peake gave a lot of examples of pre-cognition and the apparent presence of a “daemon” in various public figures (politicians and writers in particular). He admits that “personal experience” doesn’t really hold up scientifically, so he is actively working to validate the theory through mathematics, physics, and neuroscience. (One of the banes of psychology and psychological research is that much of the qualitative data obtained doesn’t carry the same weight as many scientific studies and experiments with very tangible results).

The thrust of Peake’s theory is that if we are eternally returning, our lives can be like a kind of “Groundhog’s Day”—at some point we can manipulate negative outcomes and make them positive ones, if we are aware, and have awareness of the guidance of our daemon.

I have yet to read Peake’s book on the Daemon, so what sounds a little strange on the surface may not be so farfetched once I’m able to read the evidence. On a personal level, it doesn’t seem farfetched at all, though I am more of a reincarnationist, and don’t think we live the same life over and over, though we may meet people we’ve known before, and may run into situations we’ve encountered before.

I have no trouble with the idea of a daemon. I’ve always experienced that. He describes it as a “voice”, I’d say it’s more like a loud thought. Maybe that could be considered a voice, but I tend to think of voices as external phenomena, and if it’s internal, it can only be so in a metaphorical way. I can say that I’ve always had some kind of internal guidance about things, even to the point of serious, on-point precognition at times. Now that I meditate regularly, it happens almost all the time. The first time I really remember that extra-loud thought was before I got married. The thought was, “Don’t do this—you’re making a mistake.” Well, I ignored the thought, in spite of it getting to be more and more like an insistent voice, and I regretted it for the next 7 ½ years. Finally, though, I had another loud thought in June 2001—“time to get divorced.” I listened this time, and ended up being very happy as a result.

One thing about the “daemon”, if we accept that this is what’s going on, is that its message is often accompanied by a flurry of synchronicities. I’ll have the thought, and suddenly everywhere I turn, there are external references to that very thing. The more urgent and important the thought, the more synchronicities occur, and I will have precognitive dreams as well. I have dreamed entire conversations with people I’ve never met, and then when I suddenly meet them and have the conversation—well, it’s really weird. A recent example—I dreamt about having a conversation with someone, a relative of someone I know. I’d never met or seen a photo of this relative. Just a couple of weeks ago, I finally saw this person—and they matched the person I saw in the dream. I was a tad freaked out, though I didn’t say anything to anyone about it.

Peake extends the daemon idea to creativity and creative output, and I could see this as well. He cited an example of a (Percy Bysshe)Shelley poem written shortly before he died, that outlined the circumstances of his death. Just yesterday I was reviewing some of the short stories I’d written last summer, and realized that the characters—and their conversations—actually happened within the last month. Not all the stories, nor the whole story in any case, but just certain bits. It was enough to make me feel just a little creepy.

So, I am definitely intrigued by this theory, especially if Peake has found some solid scientific evidence for what seems like a kind of nutty phenomena. I don’t think that this sort of thing is connected with mental illness per se, though a mental illness could break down normal barriers to this kind of experience. In Jungian terminology, the “daemon” could almost be identified with the “unconscious”, maybe even the “collective unconscious”. In one of my graduate courses on Jung, I remember the professor describing schizophrenia as the condition of being totally overwhelmed by the unconscious. Similarly, Peake describes schizophrenia as the condition of seeing reality in all its facets and being totally overwhelmed by it. The brain is designed to keep a lot of stimuli OUT, to regulate what comes in. In the final analysis, I think it’s important to be able to open that door, but also to close it again when necessary.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

London Trip, Day 4

My last day in London was anti-climactic after the DNA opening the night before. I tend to be more of a morning person, but not when I’ve been out late at night. So, it should be no surprise that I wanted to sleep in—difficult to do, given that the hotel cleaning staff apparently begins their rounds at 7:00 in the morning. Why they cannot stay away until a more sane hour, like 10:00, is beyond me. Give everyone a chance to get out for the day, for heaven’s sake!

I spent much of Tuesday doing work in the British Library, which was down the street from my hotel. I’m working on a couple of larger fiction projects, as well as a research project on early Church history, and I hate to get behind on those things. Yes, I know it was technically vacation, but I really don’t like to get out of the groove of working—it’s nearly impossible to get back into the groove, or at least it takes me a lot longer than it should.

London is a city of paradoxes for me. On the one hand, whenever I go there, I feel like I belong there. There’s no sense of being a foreigner or a tourist. On the other hand, when my time is up there, I’m anxious to leave. I have a latent anxiety about the city. I don’t think I will be able to adequately describe it, but I feel like there’s a danger in staying too long. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, because I’m not uncomfortable there, nor do I feel threatened in any way when I am there. One of my conversational threads with John Foxx the previous evening had to do with the perceived danger of the city. “London is really very safe,” he told me. “You can walk around at night with no problem.” I haven’t experienced otherwise, so I do have to agree with him. But the “danger” I feel doesn’t have anything to do with being threatened by anyone—it’s just an undercurrent of anxiety. Perhaps it is part of the “feel” of London, the prospect of losing oneself in the city, being swallowed up. I think I consciously repress that feeling for most of my trips there, but by the end I’m worn out and anxious to get back to business in the States.

On this trip, I learned about the Picadilly line service to Heathrow. 4 pounds to get my tush to the airport in the morning sounded a lot nicer than 20 pounds, between the Tube and the Heathrow Express (more if I’d decided to take a cab to Paddington). Of course, that service takes almost an hour, and you’re basically on a Tube train, so if you have a lot of luggage it can be a tad inconvenient. But I left early Wednesday morning, so it was no problem. When I got to Heathrow, I’d discovered that I had finally achieved Elite status with Continental, which was a bonus. Of course, the rest of the day went downhill from there, as I descended into a chaos of faulty communication, botched gate assignments, delays due to overbooking—and then apocalyptic weather over Newark Airport, which resulted in my arriving back in New Jersey 9 hours late. I didn’t crawl into bed until 2 am—I am sure I drove home, but that drive was a lacunae—I cannot remember it. I then had to face two vengeance-bent cats, irritated that I dared to leave them for a several days once again. I was supposed to drive to Annandale-on-Hudson the following evening for Musty Chiffon’s set at Bard College, but between the flooding in that area and the fact that I still had trouble driving between the lines on the road all those hours later, I decided it would be prudent to stay home, with my sincere apologies to Dini Lamot. Annandale-on-Hudson is two and a half hours away, and I heard that the Metro North trains were shut down due to flooding, so that wasn’t even an alternate option.

On the whole, this recent trip to London was rewarding, but also exhausting. It’s funny how one can be caught up with things prior to a trip, then return to find themselves so far behind in everything once again. One of these days I’ll be fully back on track, but I haven’t really gotten there yet.

Last night I attended Anthony Peake's lecture on his new theory of consciousness. I was very interested, and have many thoughts about it. But tomorrow is another day...

Monday, August 03, 2009

London Trip, 4th Day: John Foxx/DNA Exhibition Opening Party, Horse Hospital

On Monday evening, I headed over to the opening of the DNA exhibition at the Horse Hospital in London. I had been hoping to get a quick nap before the event, but no such luck—there were electricians in my hotel, drilling and making a terrific racket in the hallway. I wasn’t thrilled about feeling exhausted before the event. I think I was quieter than usual as a result.

There is a pub across the street from the Horse Hospital, and I spotted Rob Harris at one of the tables (Rob is the webmaster for the Metamatic and Ultravox sites). When I went inside, I realized that a whole group of Foxx fans and other exhibition attendees were meeting up for a drink, so I joined them, and Rob was kind enough to buy me a drink. I have never signed up with the Metamatic forum, so this was the first time I’d met a lot of the “regulars” on the forum. (I still haven’t signed up for the forum—have to do that one of these days...)

The exhibition opened a little late, about a half an hour later than expected. It ended up being really crowded, which is good for John and the other exhibiting artists, but I’m not much of a big-crowd person, so it was a bit overwhelming at times.

The exhibition had pieces on display and films from a number of artists. John Foxx’s grey suit was on display, the one that inspired the film, music, and writing connected with “The Quiet Man”. Gary Numan’s synthesizer was on display, as well as digital artwork by Nick Rhodes, and a whole section of works by Karborn. Video mixes and films by Karborn and Roger Spy played at the event, though the sound system was a bit overbearing, and the conversation of the crowd tended to drown out the film. I think the exhibition would have been best viewed on a non-opening day, to really get the best experience of it.

Brian D. took some video of this exhibition, which you can see here. (I’m talking to Karborn at about 5:58):

I saw Foxx when he first came into the exhibition, and he came right over to me. We didn’t talk long, because he needed to make the “rounds”, but I did catch up with him a bit later, and after the show. He is always very apologetic about the fact that he can’t spend more time talking with me, but I hardly would have expected that at this kind of an event. Karborn had made some special “VIP” editions of a DVD he was giving away at the event. The DVD has various video mixes/re-mixes made by Karborn; I’ve not had time to sit down and watch it properly (I hope to do that tomorrow), but he told me it was one of only 5 editions that he made, so I was well-chuffed to have received one. Karborn does some amazing video mixing work—you can see examples of it here.

The event was supposed to be over by 9:00, but I don’t think we all left the Horse Hospital until about 10:45, and we went back to the pub to grab a drink before last call. Once John was settled we were able to talk for about 20 minutes over a beer. Karborn was with us, as was Steve Malins (John’s manager), who very kindly bought drinks for everyone who came over.

I finally left the pub around 11:30 as they were closing, and everyone was heading for home. Overall, I was very happy to meet everyone, and I’m always floored by the hospitality that Rob, Steve, John, and Karborn display when I come to see them. Thanks guys, you always make it worth the trip.

I did learn a few things about some John Foxx events that have been ambiguous in their outcome. I should note, as usual, that the official sources are going to have the last word on these, but this is what I learned for what it’s worth:

Battersea Power Station: A huge multimedia event was announced a couple of months ago that was supposed to happen at Battersea Power Station sometime in September. The event is still going to happen, but whether or not it’s September remains to be seen—in fact, Steve and Karborn suggested March 2010 as more likely. John said it was all up in the air, so it might be then, might be sooner. The reason for the delay has been the size of the event, which is precedent-setting, and the interest in doing it right. Funding is an issue, and all of the different components of this rather complicated set have to come together before a date can be established.

The Vincent Gallo/John Foxx Collaboration: I’d wondered about this, since this was the first potential American gig that John mentioned to me last October. I’d heard from another friend that the Gallo thing was “completely off”, but John said it was another project on hold. He and Gallo have recorded either 6 or 8 songs (I can’t remember which number he told me—it’s “enough for an album”), and the collaboration was formed at Gallo’s behest. But not much has happened since; Gallo has moved out West, and Gallo is so busy with his own career that this project seems to be on the back burner. Whether it is permanently or not remains to be seen.

With regard to John’s “parallel career” in education, he’s stopped teaching, as he no longer has time for it, and told me that he really didn’t want that to be a “primary thing” in his career.

With no set date for Battersea, the next firm John Foxx event is at Leeds College of Music on October 29 (which I understand is more for the students there), and then the event at BCB Gallery in Hudson, New York on November 7 and possibly 8. John is also doing a “conversation” with writer and psychogeographer Iain Sinclair on December 5 at the University of Bath. More details on all events can be found here. Leeds is iffy for me—I may want to go, just because John is doing “Tiny Colour Movies”, a film/music set that I haven’t seen. I love the music for TCM, and I’d love to see John perform it, so it’s not out of the question...

One more day of London before my hellish trip home...I’ll save that for tomorrow...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

London Trip, 3rd Day: British Museum, and early Monday excursions

On Sunday I took a long walk from my hotel with the object of 1. locating the Horse Hospital, where the Monday DNA exhibition opening was to be held, and 2. to pay a visit to some other rooms of the British Museum. First objective was easily obtained, as the Horse Hospital was ridiculously close to where I was staying. I then made my way through the maze of London streets to find Montague and finally Great Russell Street.

One characteristic of moving through London is that everyone sort of moves together, but in a self-contained way. No one makes eye contact with anyone else, or really acknowledges anyone else's existence. Everyone, myself included, is in a hurry to get nowhere. Nonetheless, while walking I find myself people-watching. I do it while sitting in the pubs and cafes as well, and I couldn't help but notice the fashions of the twenty-something and younger girls, both the Londoners and the European visitors. There seems to be a resurgence of the baby-doll dress, along with those footless leggings, with or without lace on the bottom. I wore clothes in this style from approximately 1991-1994, though I think it may have been a trend that started in the late 1980s. In any event--I remember the old dictum about fashion repeating itself every twenty years or so. And when I realize it's been almost twenty years since that time, well...I started to feel a bit old. However, the fresh perspective of looking at a younger generation in those clothes make me realize what a dreadful look it was--not as dreadful as the spiral perms, feathered hair, neon-earrings and shoulder-pads of the eighties, but it really doesn't look so good. I'm rather glad that I've stopped caring so much about what is fashionable, at least in terms of my own dress.

Once again, entering the museum, there was a huge throng of tourists. I decided to check out the Greek and Roman collections first. On my last visit I had looked at the artifacts of Roman Britain. I found myself looking at a lot of tombs and monuments to the dead, and starting having deja vu from my Westminster visit the day before. In a room by itself stood the Nereid Monument, an old Greek/Lycian structure. I'm always fascinated to see these kinds of monuments up close. The Metropolitan in New York has quite a bit of Greek and Roman sculpture, but not anything like this, at least not recently.

I worked my way through these rooms, until I came to the huge statues and reliefs of the Assyrian rooms. These were very crowded, as they were right near the Ancient Egypt rooms, which always seem to be the most popular. I made my way over to the Southeast Asian collection, and was pleased to be looking at Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist statuary. Among the statues of Buddhist lamas and bodhisattvas, there were images of Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, and deities of the Devi Mahatmayam, including Chamunda and Mahisasuramardini, the fierce aspects of the Goddess. I thought the Orissan sculptures were the most interesting--the portrayals of the deities are slightly different from the usual images, and somehow they felt more "on the mark" in demonstrating the qualities of those deities. Most of the sculptures dated from between the 15th and 18th centuries.

After leaving the museum, I was pleased to locate a pub that did not have loud music blaring, and wasn't crowded. I spent a lot of the afternoon reading and writing, and was tired out pretty quickly by evening.

The next day was the DNA event at the Horse Hospital. I want to blog about that separately, so I will mention my Monday morning excursions here. Some of them are not worth mentioning--however, I did head down to Berkeley Square to visit Maggs, the rare bookseller at number 50. (This was also the site of "the Horror of Berkeley Square". Which is just so awesome...) I'm a danger to myself in rare bookstores. I'd never seen so much original primary source material on things like the Catholic/Anglican split and the Albigensian Heresy. Of course my current writing area is early Church history, and I didn't dare look at those materials for fear I'd buy them. I'd gone to London pretty much on the broke side, and did not need to be racking up another thousand pounds in debt. I managed to restrain myself, buying only one small item that had been re-bound, and hence less expensive. In any case, Maggs is a wonderful place to check out, you just need an idea of what you're looking for in advance so that staff can guide you appropriately. I actually picked up a few books on this trip in general, which explains the bruise on my shoulder from extra-heavy carry-on luggage.

Tomorrow's posting will be on the DNA exhibition opening...