I Sweat In Your Phone

IMG_0261I know I look fetching with perspiration dripping down my face, eyeglasses sliding down my nose, abdomen puffing in and out like the bellows it is, and a four-foot wooden tube stuck in my mouth, which I lick with abandon to get the proper saliva quotient on a finicky piece of cane held in place by two miniature metal screws.

But as dashing as my fluid fingerwork looks in 1080p HD, the sound is kind of important too.  Between the amplification, the reflective acoustic, the talkative crowd, and the recording quality of your phone . . . well, you get the picture.

Then there’s me.  At 80ºF plus humidity, the lower register of my flute refuses to speak—that is, when it’s not sliding off my chin.  Tuning is a pipe dream (no pun intended).

Have you tried focusing on the feet?  They’re the most musical part of the body, anyway.  Though they might distort your audio quality.

I am alternating between four different instruments, and thus can’t fully warm up any of them; I mean, they’re overly warm, but not warmed up.  My licorice stick is thirty-two years old. That’s 150 in people years. This species of wood is depleted, so I try my best to keep her going with hospice care as long as I can.  Even so, at any moment she could explode in a spasm of uncontrollable asyntactic modernist squeaks. Fasten your seat belts . . . and there she goes! I hope that did not make your ears bleed.  Or break your iMicrophone.

Is there a clarinet doctor in the house?  No?  But there’s an expert leatherworker?  Hmm, an interesting possibility, but I think I’ll wait.

Sinuses.  Arthritis.  Insomnia.  Not enough coffee.  Too much coffee.  PMS.  Plus a run-of-the-mill cluster of neuroses.  And I left the beta blockers in my other case.  Actually, I think they’re in your case.  Are they good?  Should I get some?  I’ve always been afraid to try them.

I’m furious at my duo partner and am glaring at him.  We had a fight on the way to the gig. Not true, but it could be. For some other person, that is.  Not me.  Meantime, I do not want to miss when he winks at me between jigs, or when his eyes widen in surprise at my choice to play Mixolydian when he expects Ionian.  He needs to be undistracted, so he’ll notice when I bounce in my chair to urge him to go twice as fast, or twice as slow, to accommodate the state of my lungs.  (See above about sinuses, coffee, neuroses, etc.)

It’s a gymnasium, festive.  Free-range kids running around screaming with glee. Throngs line up and jostle one another to thrust their tips in our expectant guitar case.  Was that you who left the jalapeño croissant?  (I am not making this up.)

As you see, it takes devotion and complete concentration to deliver the level of performance that passersby will want to keep as a souvenir.  When you aim your phone at me, my performance ceases to be worthy of capture.  Even Benedict Cumberbatch agrees.

Take away my comfort in knowing that these moments are ephemeral, and I fly without a net.

So, while I am honored that you want to carry me off in your pocket,—very honored, believe me—I am not ready yet. I want to look and sound my best before we take that step.

See that stack of business cards over there?  Take one, and come see me next time.  I’d love that!  How my haircut will hold up until then I can’t predict, but I’ll sound much better than I do in that .m4v, I promise.  And maybe a little later, when I’m ready, you can take me home with you.

—Barbara White

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Something You Do Not Like


1. Remember that they may not know what you would like from them, especially if they have not yet had the pleasure of meeting you. (Most people cannot read minds, and if you can’t do so, you will not know who can. Of course, if you can, you’ll recognize each other, and all will be well.)

2. Remember that if someone says something you dislike, abusive language is not the best way to respond. Calling someone an “asshat” does not fall under the tone argument provision.

3. Remember that projection is also a boundary violation.   Especially because you are bossy and intolerant.

4. Remember that attributing nonexistent statements or thoughts to others is also a boundary violation; and yes, I know you think semicolons are pretentious.

5. Avoid presuming to tell the other person what to do.  Take a breath and lighten up.  Be kind.

6. Remember that not everyone has the privilege of being able to learn about complex social interactions; not everyone has the resources to do so to your liking; and some have limitations that make this difficult. And remember that these people just may know something you do not; you would not want them to start correcting your grammar, would you?  (I have not forgotten that you think semicolons are pretentious, you intolerant asshat. Clearly you think I am stupid, and clearly you are intolerant of stupid people.  Lighten up, breathe and be kind.)

7. Take your own inventory: Ask yourself whether you have ever interacted with someone in a way that they disliked. No? Good. Then remember to engage in projection, aggression, escalation, and insult. When the superior ones among us do it, it has an entirely beneficial effect.

8. Make sure you know how to count.  And be kind.
Come Again

All Hail Motherhood!

“Be her motherfucker.  She wants you to be her motherfucker.”
Not quite Anonymous

Norman Rockwell • Saturday Evening Post • 1943

“Girls are fully nurtured by society in their journey to adulthood. Girls understand that when they show leadership, integrity, and self-respect, they are honored as total motherfuckers.”
Not quite George McEncroe

“As we head in opposite directions, he politely inclines his head toward me,  leaving a respectful space between us, and congenially says, ‘Top of the mornin’, fellow motherfucker.’ Humbly, asking nothing in return, he keeps walking, and I stop dead in the middle of the street, hoping someone else just saw two motherfuckers meet in delight.”
Not quite Emily Heist Moss

Consumer choices define the especially iconoclastic figure known as the “Marvs Mofo”: she supports the economy by patronizing Trader Joe’s, Michael Kors, and Starbucks.   There is a complex daily ritual of exercise, support of the arts, self-nourishment, and spiritual practice.  First comes yoga class, making sure to hydrate with tequila (brand of choice) while listening to Ariana Grande (a cult figure, no doubt).  Grounded and energized for the day, our Marvs Mofo changes into elegant jean shorts and moves on to eat artisanal flatbread while sampling craft beer.  This is followed by a dessert of locally sourced organic froyo and a peaty, imported single malt.  Then comes a late-night trip to Chipotle—and, in the morning, brunch.  Due to the highly secretive and selective nature of the Marvs Mofo sisterhood, is not yet known whether the typical—not that there could be such a thing!—Marvs Mofo cultivates friendships, makes a living, or attends church. Howevs, appaz she considers the esoteric, underground art practice known as Instagram totes crazy!
Not quite Kara McGrath

“No one would expect a motherfucker to quell her ambitions for the sake of others’ pettiness and envy.  That would be like asking her to gobble up dung with an incongruous smile, and why would anyone want her to do that?  It’s be as if she were pretending to be small so that  others could feel bigger.  What a fucked-up idea.”
Not quite Jessica Valenti

“Moving At the Speed of Thought”—Or, A Drop of Liquid Sunshine

[dedicated to Alice, with gratitude]
Peter Sellars On Art, Ethics, and Opera*
Department of Music at Princeton
March 30, 2013

[I remember one year ago today: temperature in the 60s, or 70s even, blossoms effortlessly and joyously emerging.  Today, I see a crocus here and there, a mangled snowdrop, and the spring seems elusive still, hard won.  But the birds persevere, beckoning into the next season.]

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Peter Sellars—I first heard tell of his legendary Adams House swimming-pool extravaganza thirty years ago when I was a freshman and years later had something of a fit when I saw his Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez during my first years of graduate school—darts in and begins by honoring his hosts, referring to musicology as a “place to create a zone of integrity,” saying that “the story behind the story is going to save the world.”  He describes the value of many minds, rather than a single authoritative one, and speaks in favor of reciprocity and inclusion.  He acknowledges the physical body that creates the music and describes Bach’s as a “music of questioning,” noting that the texts of Bach’s works are discussed less fully than are their ostensibly abstract principles.  I think of the lecture hours my undergraduates and I have been spending just upstairs considering the norms and questions that inhere, but do not quite cohere, in Bach’s chorales, stripped of their texts and contexts.

[Three hundred sixty-four days and nineteen hours ago, in a theater across campus, I picked up my bass clarinet to sound the first notes of my opera, Weakness.]

Sellars speaks of ritualization, cooperation, reciprocity, inclusion, and the involvement of the “congregation” (audience).

[Weakness concerns trauma and healing, and the entire process of putting the work together was blessed by mutuality and cooperation even as it was bedeviled simultaneously by thoughtlessness and disregard.  The final two weeks of preparation go beyond the expected pre-premiere strain, past the irritating but inevitable underfunctioning and jockeying, to insupportable dysfunction and outlandish aggression.  And, as I warned at the time would happen, the damage is still resounding a year later.  I have spent much of the last twelve months lathering, rinsing and repeating, but despite all my elbow grease and scrubbing, my opera remains grimy.]

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Mr. Sellars—I think it’s time I call him Peter—speaks of the St. Matthew Passion: “Two weeks ago you thought you were going to change the world, and now you are standing around a tomb. What happened in these last two weeks?”

[Indeed.  One year later, I am no longer surprised that a staging of the unspeakable conjured up more of same offstage, but I do still mourn it, and I think how after all this time, I am still recovering from the trauma attendant upon the trauma.  I marvel at my profession’s expectation of constant activity (often confused with productivity, which is not at all the same thing) and the disinterest in addressing what has been damaging in favor of getting the next gig and making another mess.  My naïve youthful belief in the academy as a sanctuary for contemplation, in the arts world as a setting for what Keats called “a vale of soul-making”—

—But here I veer dangerously toward taking others’ inventory, which is never a good idea, so I’ll just leave it at this: In a conversation with a cherished colleague, months after the beauty and horror that was Weakness, I found myself saying, “You say you have not had a moment to reflect in the past few months, and that is all I have been doing; you have reached outward, while I have been looking inward.”]

Peter speaks of the Passion inspiring one to look inward rather than outward.  He speaks of Dorothy Day—I mentioned her to Charles just yesterday, and though I know little of her, she has always intrigued me with her compassionate Catholicism, so different from the one I was indoctrinated into and to which I am now violently allergic—and her growing dissatisfaction, many years ago, with the “emptiness” of the worlds of arts and politics.

There is talk of mutual dependency and of Haydn and Mozart constructing a model of democracy in the configuration of the string quartet, where every voice is essential.  “What would equality look like?  What would it sound like?”

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Later I thank Alice, who invited Peter, for making space for these words and thoughts.  She and I acknowledge, again, the dangers of discussing openly the ubiquitous and pressing topic of trauma.  I say, realizing it for the very first time as the words exit my mouth, that I have encountered more resistance, even retribution, in response to performing trauma onstage than I have when I have addressed the topic in scholarly prose.

Peter has spoken about his staging of Handel’s Hercules  in Chicago—coincidentally, a work I first heard and fell in love with a month or so ago—and how the performance was attended by veterans and complemented by discussions of PTSD; he stresses (no pun intended)  that  the opera was meant to inform the understanding of PTSD rather than the other way around.  One veteran heard a countertenor for the first time—David Daniels, to be precise—and described the sound as “blood coming out of his mouth.”

[Years ago, Tom taught me a Druidic expression: “Wisdom makes a bloody entrance.”  Perhaps its exit is also messy.  I excised the line from my libretto, for it perplexed my collaborators, who, while sensitive and knowing, fortunately came to Weakness from their own experience rather than mine.  I appreciated their input, and I return again and again to that saying as I try to imagine my next work.  I am currently editing and polishing the documentation of Weakness, so that I may share it with others in audio and video format.  Nevertheless, I am leery of mounting it again, of risking that the trauma story may engender yet more trauma.  I have had enough bleeding for now.  Perhaps it is better to leave my four years (and more) of labor aside.]

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Peter says, “Bach is an incredible composer of disappointment” and recognizes what it means to live “with your idealism in such a state of profound despair.”  The first and only performance of his St. Matthew Passion was “ a mess,” and Bach, realizing his work was not meant for the milieu in which he found himself, “put it away for the rest of his life.”  Somehow this bad news is good news to me, much more so than the familiar narratives of dominance, of success, of triumph over adversity.

Peter talks about one’s “moral standing as an artist,” and while that is a difficult notion to explore without seeming righteous or judgmental, without seeming to congratulate oneself, and without denying the real, tangible, practical matters of survival that can be so far removed from the luxury of the proscenium, he manages somehow to inspire rather than to preach.  Likely this is in part because he himself moves between the palaces of culture and glitterless venues in a way that many of us only talk about.  He expresses a desire for all of us to resist the “gossip and infighting in the classical music world,” saying that “we are actually here to do something much bigger.” 

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It’s one of those days when I marvel at the way strands and shards weave together unexpectedly, offering solace and inspiration when they are most desired, in ways that could not possibly be anticipated.  Peter talks of magic and transcendence, but all I am seeking is awareness, good faith, and perhaps a bit of company in cultivating a more equitable and nurturing space for us all.  Afterward I say to Alice that these are the most worthwhile almost-three hours I have spent in this building this year.  I can’t help but feel sad that such conviction, such searching, is the startling exception rather than the norm, that this talk seems so out of the ordinary in our profession, but it’s a glimpse, at least, of something more expansive and generous, more aware and committed, and I am beyond grateful to hear some of my own values reflected and affirmed.

These simultaneous sensations of dark and light, of desolation and hope, remind me of a Hawai’ian expression Riley taught me: “liquid sunshine.”

March 31: the anniversary of the closing of Weakness.  Also, Easter, a holiday I appreciate without really celebrating.  The birds continue to beckon, and I think they might win out at last, for a while.  I think of the volunteer chorus members who contributed so much to Weakness a year ago today, and especially of the family of three with whom I have become friendly.  Yesterday they sent me dozens of candids they shot as we put Weakness together.  I looked at the images as at the record of a dream, tearing up just a bit.  Maybe I’ll give the chorister-alums a ring today and see what they and their new puppies are up to.

Gangplank-225x300“The speed of thought”: the speed of my thought, I see, is slow, its path recursive, its destination hidden.  Sometimes it feels less like a path and more like a gangplank.

March 29: I attended Emi’s show, a musical about gender-neutral parenting. As we began working together, I explained that I do not really care for musical theater’s syntax or aesthetic, but that I was happy to mentor her, and to my surprise, I was pleased to dip my ear in to this world.  Her songs are incisive, thoughtful, brave, and moving—youthful and idealistic to be sure, but also more mature and ethical than what I hear from many middle-aged artists.  It’s this sort of blossoming that keeps me motivated as a teacher.

April 1: a good day to post at face value.  Time to listen to the birds, head out,  and see what sorts of blossoms are popping up.

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*”Moving At the Speed of Thought” is another phrase of Mr. Sellars uttered in this same discussion, exemplifying the content in the form of his improvised paragraphs.  “On Art, Ethics, and Opera” was the title of his talk.

 

All the Way Down

“I object to the hegemonification of the verbed noun.”
“Shouldn’t that be hegemoni—?”
“I love it when you talk sub-altern-dirty.”
“Shall we interrogate the ‘cleanliness’ construct?”
“As long as we problematize the discursive paradigm.”
“No worries, I’ve got my arsenal of non-binary identity-destabilizing implements handy.”
“‘Arsenal?'”
“Would ‘bouquet’ be better?”
“Still too dualistic. Supply?”
“Normative economics.”
“Toys.”
“Age construct. Infantilization and projection.”
“Ah, let’s just watch Fox.”
“Deal.”
“Transactional term supporting the dominance of the market state.”
“OK, ‘Finding Nemo’?”
“I love the turtles.”
“They go all the way down.”

—Posted by IAmNotMakingUp

Space is the Place

My Harvard Facebook group has been discussing an article Ellen Jovin shared: Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period! 

I was blissfully unaware of this seismic shrinkage until a month or two ago, and several months before my fall from grace, I was reading student papers and observing that the use of just one space after a period looked underwhelming (all the more so when there were other infelicities in the writing).  I had no idea that it was the new normal.  Thus, having brought the two-space-embrace with me into the computer era—twenty-five years ago!—I am having a hard time adjusting to my sentence, to this notion that I should halve my space.  And it has thrown me to think that I had failed to notice the new standard.

And, my spacing shows me to be . . . over 40!  Bless me, youngster, for I have sinned.  By surviving four dozen years without dying.  (My shame was eased ever so slightly when I read that I have classmates who, like me, prefer the two-space program.)

A couple of weeks ago, I read another account of the same phenomenon.  When first I heard, I figured it must have been a Twitter repercussion, a capricious notion arising from that character-meter that tells you how many spaces you have left in your microtext.

At last having time to satisfy my curiosity, I just now took a moment to look at some academic journal articles, choosing one by Harvard’s Daniel Albright—and, well, I remained vexed, because academic articles are right/left justified!  (In addition, there is approximately one punctuation event per paragraph, so the data set is unreliably small.)  No wonder I had not noticed the disappearance of the sous-space.  So, am I now to understand that these articles circulating and proselytizing about saving space apply only to texts such as this blog, type[sic]scripts, and the like?  And æther-mail?  It seems odd for dual-spacing to be considered such an offense when people are hyphenating adverbs and using colons after verbs and stuff.  Not to mention all the nouning and verbing that I see every single day.  (It’s a fail-ure, not a fail!)  I just don’t get it.  Why is there suddenly so much attention to decreasing the space between words when the words themselves are so often shabby?

And how is it that being over forty has now become a sign of being a poor writer?  I thought we were the ones always telling the hipsters to shape up.  On the contrary!  This new generation is so judgmental:

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste*. . . .  What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right.
—Farhad Manjoo, “Space Invaders”

*I have yet to receive word of the fate of the four-dot ellipses used at the end of a complete sentence.  Did anyone think about that before they voted to semi-space all sentences?  Does a proportional font—the reason given for the new zoning regulation—obviate the need for a distinction between the end of a sentence and an unfinished sentence?  The marker of omission—the series of three mute dots—has already been brutally smooshed together . . .  as if the mysteriously unstated is merely nonexistent.  Do I understand correctly that it is of urgent importance to save a space after every sentence, while it is acceptable to use three question marks just before???  And what about the poor em dash—which has so often suffered drafts from either side, not to mention getting replaced inexplicably with the inadequate little hyphen?

And how is that the space between sentences is getting all the funding for repair, when there are still so many extra spaces between words within so many sentences?  We seem to be losing sight of the everyday here, focusing on the dramatic, to our detriment.

I cannot help but think that this coup de point arises from broad cultural shifts.  Bad ones, of course.  Do we want to give in to them?  We complain about being busy and rushed—and people write about our complaints with sentences that I now realize are granted only a single space to breathe before the next begins.  Is that really a coincidence?  And more and more people are staying single.  Could they be behind this eschewal of the paired space?  On the other hand, our culture seems to have trouble with boundaries, and we are flirting dangerously with word disindividuation here: how long will it be before we abandon punctuation altogether and every sentence is one breathless portmanteau word with indistinguishable syllables?

Oh.

I get it.

It doesn’t matter whether what I write is intelligible, or meaningful, as long as it looks good.

Now, that makes sense.

There is no penalty for describing oneself as “reticent” to adopt a dog.  As long as the dog gets one space and one only.  Consider this pair of sentences: “Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, is walkable and safe.  Stroll the only walled city North of Mexico and its cobblestone streets.”  I gather no one will be confused about the location of those cobblestone streets as long as they don’t wait too long after the safety announcement before commencing their stroll.

And to make it worse, I look at this absurdly long disquisition and now think there is too much space after my sentences.  I have been tamed.  But, before letting go the second space, I’ll remember these words:

When I write, therefore, I enhance the meaning borne in my sentences—not only in dialogue but in narrative—by imposing on them silences tailored through heavy use of commas, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, and line breaks.  It is something that gives my copyeditors hypertension, yet I encourage students to write this way, and to read their pieces aloud as often as they can, to an audience if possible.  An audience furnishes feedback, tells you by its response how well your scansion’s working.  Thus, I tell my students, silence boosts the import of the words you write.
—George Michelson Foy, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence

Of course, the book where I read this is also fully justified.

—Posted by IAmNotMakingUp

When Live-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression.  Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled.  It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating.  After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

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Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

― Stephen Fry

—Posted by Barbara A. White

Which is Worse: A Dull Knife, or a Sharp One?

“Our brains have evolved to help our bodies find their way around the world on the scale at which those bodies operate.”
—Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

To Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, FRSL:

Following up on your recent Twitter Conference on rape rankings, I wonder whether you might be willing to answer the following questions.  Your reasoning ability is much needed.  One of your conclusions follows:

Dawkins Rape Tweet ScreenshotFollowing up on this, and taking advantage of the copious space afforded off-Tweet, a few questions follow.  I would like to get at some of the subtleties of your point of view—ones you could not have expressed in a mere 140 characters.

Ranking Rape

1.  Which is bad and which is worse: to agree to go on a rape date without being informed that it is to be that sort of date, or to be held at knifepoint and raped by a stranger without being informed ahead of time?

1a.  Which rape date is worse: one with someone you have met in a bar and never have to see again?  Or one with an acquaintance you will see in evo-bio class on Tuesday?  Or one you were introduced to by your best friend?

1b.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be threatened by a dull carving knife, or a sharp serrated knife?  Or to submit to the rape in order not to be cut?  Or to be cut and raped both?  And if so, by which knife?

1c.  Which is bad and which is worse: to dress up, go on a rape date and have a nice dinner first, including fine wine?  Or to dress casually, go on a rape date and get raped before dinner and drinks?  Or, to go on a rape date and later be interrogated about what you drank?  And wore?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by a classmate and receive little or no assistance from campus authorities?  Or to be raped by a stranger and receive little or no support from the legal system?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by several young men in your school, and for them to put pictures and/or videos on the Internet, and, as a result, to take your own life at the age of 15?  Or to be raped and take one’s own life right away?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by your partner?  Or by your mother’s partner?  And does a pregnancy resulting from either experience change the ranking?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually assaulted (without penetration) by one’s father at 6, or to be raped (with penetration) by one’s uncle at 3?  (Those are ages, not times of day.)

1f.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually abused by a distant family member and to keep quiet about it for decades?  Or to be ostracized by the family when you at last choose to speak out?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to witness a man without understanding or compassion opine on grades of rape in 140 characters?  Or for him to publish more than one 140-character statement?  Or more?  Or for these micro-statements to get so much news coverage that you cannot but see him everywhere?

1h.  Which is bad and which is worse: that inhumane acts such as sexualized violence continue to be tolerated, or that a prominent male intellectual, whose speciality lies elsewhere, chooses to focus on degrees of suffering rather than degrees of misdoing?  Or, just to leave the discussion to those who are equipped to undertake it?  (To “go away,” one might say.)  And, if he is taken seriously on the topic of rape, does that mean we should believe what Jenny McCarthy has to say about the link between vaccination and autism?  And should we all be making appointments with homeopaths?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to opine on the significance and degree of others’ suffering without listening to what they have to say themselves?  Or to deny others’ suffering altogether?  Or to consider oneself irreproachable by virtue of one’s (ostensibly) superior intellect?

Dawkins Tweet X Y

1h.  You say that you can reverse the “X and Y”—that is the rape date and the aggravated assault—and retain the same logic.  Might one contend then, that “acupuncture is bad, and that homeopathy is worse?”  And that neither is commendable?  And then reverse the X and the Y?  Could one say that sudden death is bad but slow, agonizing death is worse, and then reverse that?  Or that death by 1000 cuts is bad, but by 1001 is worse, or maybe the opposite?  Could one say that one offensive tweet is bad and two are worse and reverse that too?  That confronting inhumanity before death is bad and that finding it the afterlife too—hypothetically speaking, of course—would be worse?  Or would the afterlife, even in the presence of others who scorn compassion and mutual understanding, have other advantages that make the big picture worth it?

Semantics, Virtuality, God, and Delusion 

Dawkins Rape tweet 2

Richard, please tell us what, in this era of virtuality, “go away” means.  If there is an “away,” must there be a “here”?  Are we to assume that “here” is where you are?  If so, most of us, statistically speaking, are likely “away” already.  And to confuse matters, I have a hard time thinking of the sofa on which I sit as anything but “here,”  though if I expend some effort, I can understand that to you it may be considered “away.”  Where, then, am I to “go”?

Richard, do I understand correctly that your experience of sexual abuse was rendered innocuous because you did not believe in evil (and, presumably, God)?  You mention that your schoolmates suffered (more) at the hands of the same offender while your “mental trauma was soon exorcised.”  Does that mean that God, not the human being who did the “fondling,”  sexually abused these children?  And if God does not exist, who sexually abused these children?  Who is responsible for their suffering?  (Extra credit: can you explain your choice of the word “exorcised”?)

Describing your resilience, you write, “Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.”

So, Richard, why are you speaking out about degrees of sexualized assault?  And why are you comparing the effects of different sorts of rape if you yourself were so unaffected by your childhood experience?  If your trauma was “exorcised,” why do you think rape is “bad” and can be even “worse”?  Can’t those who have experienced rape access your form of “exorcism” too?  Isn’t the real offender, not the sexual predator, but God?  And since there is no God to hold accountable, does that mean that rape does not exist?

And how is it that your brain is helping your body find its way around the world?  Does it help you find your way around Twitter?  Maybe your brain could help me figure out where I should go to learn to think. I would like to think better.  Although, like you, I hold a doctoral degree and a professorship,—albeit without such a public profile—I am not sure that my Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition qualifies me to compare different degrees of rape.  But you appear to know better than I do about applying one’s training in unexpected areas.

Richard, please critique the following statement:  “As an eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has become known as a public intellectual.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual, Richard Dawkins compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual who compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them, Richard Dawkins unwittingly exposes the limitations of logic.”

I like to think that your brain can help my brain help my body find its way around.  I will appreciate any assistance you can offer.

Oh—one more question:  Can you define “syllogism” for me?  Is it something like “solipsism”?

Sincerely,

IAmNotMakingUp