I’ve always liked Jackson Pollock’s work, but it wasn’t until I saw one of his pieces in person at MOMA a few years ago that I realized how electrically alive his paintings really are. It was, I thought, like looking into a human brain and seeing the crazy branched lightning of synapses firing.
The image below, created by the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), is a flattened representation of a 3D map showing 650 cubic billion light years, just a quarter of the known universe. Each speck isn’t a single star but an entire galaxy. Peering into it, I now realize that Pollock was painting more than just the mind. He was painting reality itself, the myriad blaze of infinite suns, as well as the swirling quantum dance deep within.
Recently, Jesus gave Zeus the finger. Or, rather, Zeus took it.
There was a huge lightning storm over Rio de Janeiro and a bolt blasted the statue of Christ which looks over the city, knocking off one of His fingers. While you’d think that Jesus could protect Himself from such an attack, it’s probably not our place as mere mortals to adjudicate the MMA matches of the gods.
Lightning is a scary thing, electricity in its most feral state. Crackling death from above. Surprisingly, though, only about 10% of people who have intimate encounters with it don’t survive. Some that do are scarred with fractal maps in their skin, branching networks of sizzling branchwork like tattoos of evergreen fronds or ivy.
I’ve had a special relationship with lightning for years, starting, I guess, when I was struck by lightning when I was a teenager. I survived. I had no visible scars. I wasn’t even hurt, as far as anyone could tell.
It happened one stormy day. A friend and I were cavorting in the rain, chasing each other, jumping at the crashes of thunder, laughing our asses off. Ultimately, soaked and getting cold, we headed for his house. We splashed in, drenched, and his mother informed us that there was a tornado warning. Later, we found out one had touched down less than a mile away. She insisted we dry off, so we headed to the bathroom, and as we entered, a bolt of lightning crashed through the window (open, as his mother had forgotten to close it for the rain, so I think the lightning was riding the breeze as lightning can do). It went through my friend and me, knocking us off our feet, and scorched the floor under our feet.
We were incredibly lucky. Neither of us was hurt, though we were scared shitless and our ears were ringing. This amount of luck in a lightning strike is rare but not unheard of; most burn damage resulting from a strike is from superheated objects (like change in someone’s pocket, for example), and most deaths result from cardiac arrest. We were both young and fit, so if our hearts were spooked by the blast, we didn’t know it. We didn’t even go to the ER.
Of course, not all damage is visible. Brain damage is a common effect of lightning strikes and can lead to memory impairment, irritability, terrible headaches, even personality change. And, unsurprisingly, depression. And, as regular readers of this blog know, I have depression big time.
Through therapy, I’ve learned that much of my struggle is attributable to loss of my mother as a baby and familial abuse throughout my formative years. But it’s possible the strike contributed.
But electricity in the brain has also proven helpful in my fight. I’ve had two rounds of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, aka shock treatment) in the past few years, the second as recently as last November and December. My depression is a stubborn, mean mother fucker and was highly resistant to everything we were throwing at it until we decided to sing the brain electric. Afterward, my short term memory is sort of crap (though it already was, as depression itself is hell on the memory), but my focus and motivation are remarkably improved. This strategic use of electricity blasted straight into my brain has been literally life-changing. The fact that you’re reading this now, and that I’m blogging again in general, is directly attributable to it.
So, thank you, Zeus, thank you Thor, thank you spirits of thunder and lightning. Thank you for not killing me years ago, and thank you for saving my life now.
I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter F. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.
The monster. The dangerous thing, stalking, creeping, hunting in the silence of the night. Hairy, clawed, savage. Less than human…or is it?
For me, and many others who grew up with Universal monster movies, the word creature evokes the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Who, when you get down to it, is clawed and savage, but not so hairy. The Creature stalks and kidnaps the gorgeous Julie Adams, mesmerized by her preternatural beauty, no doubt with thoughts of ichthyological rape and scaly little spawn cavorting in the lagoon’s dark waters. The movie he’s in is undeniably a “monster movie,” but is he a monster? No. But he is, obviously, a beast, an animal, an inhuman thing. A creature. He operates on instinct more than thought, and in his case, because he comes into conflict with anti-instinctual man, it proves his undoing. Had he stayed hidden, not tried to woo, in his way, the beauty (a common failing among beasts), he would never have been harpooned, brought to man’s world, had his gills sliced off (a clumsy attempt to make a man of him), and ultimately killed.
Stories often warn us that this is what will happen if we let our creature side out. Our instinct. Our wild. Our Id. We aren’t animals, right? Never mind the blood and bile, our often maddening emotional lives, our wonderfully messy means of procreation. The fangs in our mouths, the hair on our pelts.
I’ve always been fascinated with werewolves, and themes of transformation often manifest in my writing. Often the transfiguration is into a wilder state, like the werewolf, rather than an “ascended” state. But is it therefore a devolution? Or is it an imperfect call toward wholeness? I believe we are at our best when we are comfortable with both sides of our nature, the primal and the thoughtful, the rational and the passionate. Be a creature and be a man. Be a creature and be a woman. Be complete.
Evolution isn’t a paved road away from the creature, it’s a forest path toward a better creature.
I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter D. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.
Everyone is all abuzz about the asteroid flyby and the meteorite strike in Russia this week, and it was quite spectacular, and scary. Some of the video footage from Russia is amazing; watching the fireball appear in the sky through someone’s windshield, burning closer and closer, I couldn’t help but think what a pants-shitting moment that had to be.
It also made me remember my own close encounter with a meteor, many years ago. I survived, just as I survived the time I was struck by lightning, though the meteor was both a lot less dramatic and a lot cooler.
I was a teenager, visiting my maternal grandparents in a backward crack in the world called Valle Mines, Missouri. They lived in a farmhouse off a rural highway with a fair chunk of land, much of it thickly forested. The forest, of course, was the good part, especially to a kid who’d retreated to the woods most of his life as an escape from a horrible life at home. The bad part was the isolation from culture, and the lack of things to do. Nowadays, they probably have a big Teabagger dance or something to pass the time.
Anyway, late one dark country night, I was out back, and for some reason I was standing on my grandparents’ picnic table. The only light was from the windows of the house, and the sky was clear. Suddenly, I saw a thin streak of fire lancing toward me. It passed about ten feet over my head, sputtering into sparks as it fully disintegrated about twenty feet away, just short of the woods. A shard of space rock crumbling to fairy dust before my eyes.
Another cosmic encounter also comes to mind. Back in 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp streaked slowly cross earth’s skies, incredibly bright and visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months. Living in town, it was tough to see because of the light pollution, but I had a wonderful visit with it one cold spring night.
We took my son, Nathaniel, who was just under a year old, on his first camping trip, to Lake Conasauga, the highest lake in Georgia, on Grassy Mountain in the Chattahoochee Forest. It was chilly, but he enjoyed the woods and the lakeshore. Our late great akita, Travis, played with us, and charged through the woods like a white rocket. Towards dusk, we retreated to our tent and snuggled in, and Nathaniel was happy. Happy until night fell, that is, and with it, the temperature.
It was like a switch was thrown. The sun disappeared and suddenly it was below freezing. And Nathaniel started crying. We bundled him in several layers of clothing, including a pair of my thick wool socks and my Polartec jacket, and nestled together deep into the sleeping bags. The crying stopped, and he was content.
He fell asleep, as did his mom. I lay there, listening to the night sounds. We had planned to hike to the top of the mountain at night to see the comet, but it was so comfortable in the sleeping bags, and so damned cold outside them. But, knowing this was my best chance, I mustered the strength. I woke my son’s mom to give her the chance to do likewise, but that wasn’t happening. She, and Nathaniel, were too content where they were.
So I pulled on my cold boots and crawled out of the tent. I let Travis off his leash and the two of us headed up the trail.
When we reached the summit, the world was spectacular. Dark ridges of forest stretched away in every direction, and the sky above was utterly cloudless and perfectly black but for its trillions of bright stars, so many stars, up high, without city lights, without smog. Just that sky, alone, would have been reason enough to clamber up that trail that night.
Hale-Bopp burned out there, a streak of star fire, huge and otherworldly, stark against that dark sky, a titan among the glittering pinpricks that were the stars. I stood there staring at it, the cold forgotten, my dog pacing and hunting night critters, for a long cosmic moment.
I’m usually annoyed when someone pulls out the “male gaze” concept in a discussion of art and culture. While the idea has undeniable merit, it is often wielded as a bludgeon of ABSOLUTE TRUTH. In other words, men like looking at sexy women and it ruins the world, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.
I happen to think that much of this sort of thing has its roots in the innate differences in men’s and women’s cognitive wiring. That doesn’t mean we should just accept the baseline set by our neurology as the sole standard to consider, but it does mean that there’s probably nothing wrong with men liking to look at sexy women, or vice versa, or even having art that caters to such desire.
Still, just as we aspire to more than simple orgasm in our relationships, we should aspire to higher levels of cultural relationship as well. At the very least, we should think about these things, and consider how the ways that we think and create impact the way we relate to each other.
Author Kate Elliott has written a very balanced, thoughtful post considering the male gaze (and other gazes) in fiction, and I recommend it for everyone, but particularly for writers. She avoids the fanatic’s tendency to use the concept as a blanket condemnation of men and their wicked staring eyes, which I appreciate as a man with a finely tuned male gaze of my own, and shares some insights I’ve never considered. I’m a better person, and likely a better writer, for having read it.
“Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”
That’s the takeaway from a great column in the New York Times which summarizes current neuroscience research into the effects of reading, and fiction, on the brain. It’s fascinating stuff, going into how the brain actually seems to experience sensations and actions that are read in much the same way that it experiences actual sensations and actions. This means, within your mind, as you read fiction you are not simply imagining what’s happening on the page, you are literally experiencing it on a deep level. And it can help you develop more fully as a person.
None of this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who already appreciates the power of story, or its essential place in our psyches, nor to anyone familiar with the effects of visualization exercises on physical activities like sports, in which a certain technique can be practiced in the mind with measurable improvement in the actual activity. But it certainly is a reinforcement of our need for narrative as a tool for not only adding enjoyment to our lives, but for deepening them.
There’s are reasons that people who read tend to be the people most worth knowing, and it’s not just that they’re better educated (though that is overwhelmingly true).
Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.
Fascinating stuff, and that’s just a taste. You can (and should; I’m always amazed at how few people actually click through to see a recommended piece) read the rest here.
And if you haven’t seen it yet, and would like some Oscar-winning, funny, moving, bookish whimsy, check out the marvelous video I link to here.
See that picture up there? That’s representative of the good that the organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) does in the world. When it comes to providing cleverly staged fap-material of celebrities, they’re very good.
Know what they’re also good at? Picking ridiculous battles, like trumpeting that Fishkill, New York should change the name of its town because the name was mean to fish. They are extremists, raging at humans for killing animals, eating animals, using animal products, training animals, exhibiting animals, even keeping animals for pets. They make a hell of a lot of money from people who contribute to their coffers because they simply equate PETA with, well, ethical treatment of animals. You know, kindness. Saving animal lives. That sort of thing.
But PETA are huge fucking hypocrites.
And they’re responsible for the cold-blooded slaughter of thousands of animals entrusted to them by people who don’t know any better.
A few weeks ago, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom reported that PETA slaughtered 96%of the stray dogs and cats it, ahem, rescued last year. Since 2005, PETA has killed over 90% of the animals delivered into its care. Since 1998, PETA has killed nearly 28,000 animals. As reported in the New York Post:
In 2010, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services discovered that fully 84 percent of the strays taken in by PETA were killedwithin 24 hours.
No wonder: The report concluded that PETA’s headquarters “does not contain sufficient animal enclosures to routinely house the number of animals annually reported as taken into custody.”
Need a little perspective today? Want to get a sense of where you really are in the fullness of reality? Interested in learning all kinds of cool things?
The app I link to below, which allows you to zoom in to the teeny tiniest bit of quantum foam or out to the fullness of the entire universe is one of the most astonishingly elegant scientific gizmos I’ve ever seen. It’s worth spending some time with.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson offers his “most astounding fact” about us and the universe. In it are the roots of a true spirituality, a spirituality that isn’t blind to the sheer scope and wonder of life and nature and the universe itself, a spirituality that recognizes the importance of all things and a true understanding of their interconnections: science.
Yeah, I know. Electroshock therapy? A good memory?
I’ve struggled greatly, for years, with chronic, terrible depression, and I’ve done therapy and all sorts of self help and multifarious concoctions of antidepressant meds, but nothing actually worked to any significant degree. I finally got desperate and started looking into electroshock, or as it’s known these days, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Continue reading →
In my last post, I wrote about how I’ve started “barefoot” or minimalist running, using shoes designed with very little support or cushioning to allow the feet, and the whole body, to perform as they are evolutionarily designed to do. I included a video of barefoot running guru Christopher McDougall giving a TED Talk, but upon rewatching that video I realized he didn’t say much directly about the actual biomechanics of barefoot running and why it’s apparently vastly better for us than running with high-tech running shoes.
So here are three more short videos on the subject, if you’re curious.
Everyone is all abuzz aboutGo The Fuck To Sleep, which is pretty funny, especially as read by Nick Fury of SHIELD.
But over on his blog, Dennis Detwiller offers up an even better “alternative children’s book,” Spiders Are Wonderful by Toby Vok. As Dennis rightly puts it, “If I had to describe it, I would perhaps call it a children’s book of existential horror. Toby Vok is a twisted, wonderful man.”
You can read it in its entirety by clicking the image below. Toward the bottom of the page, Vok also graciously offers it up for free in both PDF and epub formats.
When I first discovered that depression was pretty much the source of most of my troubles, the reason I hadn’t been able to build the life I wanted, and sought professional help, my MD referred me to a beautiful lady shrink at Emory (let’s call her Susan Silverman, for those in the know, because she would have been perfect). I met with her a couple of times, and she explored my history then referred me to another shrink in the program she thought would work well with me.
One thing she told me before I started working with the other doctor has always stuck with me. Continue reading →
you run for deer life
blood shoots through veins of flesh
horns rattling branches as
hooves sink in dark autumn mulch
and rifleshot cracks the cold air
shatters your ribs blood exploding spraying
you stagger pain and run on pain
world reels in your eyes
your head jerks odd angle
bony point on right antler splinters
in near miss pain in side inside
but then eyes clear as lovewarmthstrength
fills you pain washes away spindly legs become
muscled springs launching through forest faster than
before ever before and in mind mixed
of personal moment and species past is sudden
recognition of GODHOOD in you but
also utter terrifying aloneness
other deer in forest but you the last of herd
of line from out you heaved bloody sticky awkward
cold air run no pain run hunter far behind
you reach sweet drinking creek slow blood flow from
side of mouth hot sweet stagger fold
to earth painless grace vision rolls breathe
breathe breathe not
two spirits die in you
your herd your line
are no more.
If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (heaven forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else; if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.
I am sitting uncomfortably, strapped with my back to a pine, thirty-odd feet off the ground. It’s dark and cold, not yet five a.m. A periodic wind pushes the branchless length of trunk this way and that and cuts through the layers of clothing I wear. The worst part is my feet feel like ice sculptures in my boots. I can’t feel my toes.
I’m on a deer hunt, this autumn of ’91, but just as an observer. It’s bow season and I am unarmed. The men I’ve come with are spaced in hopeful stillness across several miles of night-dark Georgia forest, participants in a ritual much older than recorded time. Hunters. Predators. There is camaraderie, even when everyone is alone, frozen, quiet. Camaraderie building to beers to be shared, observations spoken, well-meant insults inflicted. But now there’s just stillness and darkness and cold.
Uncomfortable as I am, I have a thrilling sense of connectedness, an awareness of how alive I am, and how alive the woods are around me. This place, this rural, undeveloped parcel of land, still dreams the deep dreams of wilderness, and I, not back in my bed partitioned from the earth’s breath by walls with their own vented, heated breath, am a part of those dreams. Continue reading →
My first “grown up” romantic relationship was with a lovely German girl I met the day I arrived at my Army post in the village of Treysa, West Germany. She was smart and funny and sexy, and we were together for something like four years. She was a good girl friend.
I was a good boyfriend too. Mostly.
I’ve been remembering certain things the past few days, as I’ve dealt with the after-effects of my electroshock therapy, tossed around like a cork on a sea of emotion churning, chaotic, and deep.
Then, I was young and passionate and immature. I had some anger issues. I lacked a certain measure of self control. I know this sounds like I’m about to launch into some darkly revelatory reminiscence, but the truth is (mostly) a lot goofier than that. Continue reading →