“To anthropomorphize was his genius”

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“He imagined neurons as protagonists in an intense cerebral drama. Their fibers “groped to find another.” Their aching contacts became “protoplasmic kisses”—“the final ecstasy of an epic love story.””

How beautiful is this? And how timely, given how the US government wants to cut all funding to the arts. But literature and new ways of seeing and imagining drives innovation in all kinds of disciplines. How else to untether our thinking and the well-worn tracks and near-brainwashing we get in formal schooling? Drawing from as broad a range as possible engenders new ways of seeing, being and realizing.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, “the father of modern neuroscience”, defied the punishments of his strict, scientific father to devour innumerable works of fiction – all of which eventually informed his work: “Reading novels primed his mind to explore more invisible realms.” Benjamin Ehrlich’s article in The Paris Review opens the door to this remarkable story as a kind of introduction to Ehrlich’s book, The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. (I haven’t read it yet.)

“Though it had emerged decades earlier, cell theory was revolutionizing—or scandalizing—the field then. Reading about it, Cajal encountered literary metaphors that drew him in, such as the famous line from the German pathologist Rudolf Virchow: “The body is a state in which every cell is a citizen.” Cajal’s first look through a microscope confirmed this idea, showing him, in his own words, “captivating scenes from life of the infinitely small.” For twenty continuous hours—or so he claimed—he watched the movement of a leucocyte away from a capillary, akin, in his vivid imagination, to high-stakes escape. He even wrote and illustrated a novel about a miniature man—about the size of a cell—traveling through bodies of gargantuan beings on Jupiter.”

Photo (c) 2011 Anders Sandberg used under Creative Commons license.

Kill switch / Hold on hope

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“Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” -Anne Lamott

Feb 2017; Same old lessons, different day:

  • Be the adult: Don’t sit around and wait just to see what happens. Be the adult; be responsible and just hit the kill switch immediately. Do not give someone else the chance to jerk you around with their indecision and inability to find or voice their feelings. This is difficult if you have fallen in love or have more feelings than the other person. Someone jerks you around, runs hot and cold, shuts you out but gives you mixed signals and words, and behaves in an unhinged way; if they hem and haw, make premature declarations and backtrack or ‘aren’t sure’, you have your answer. Instinct and experience have handed you the hard-won answers: use them, heed them.
  • Acknowledge your own real feelings;  Just walk the fuck away when you know logically and through evidence exactly where you stand and where this goes. Be connected enough with your own feelings to know when you’re trying to convince yourself of what does not exist and are faking it to justify satisfying morbid curiosity.
  • Scrap the three Cs & adopt three other Cs: Don’t stick around out of curiosity, courtesy or compassion… or some rancid mix of all three. Look at context and content to see if someone is being a cunt (or whether you need to be one) and go from there. (And ‘cunt’ here is the strictly English way of using it…)
  • Turn around and run from flashing lights and sirens: You see flashing lights and red flags ahead and choose to ignore. In fact, you run right into the fire. DON’T! You hear the alarms and sirens going off and think maybe it’s just your fear. No: don’t wait; don’t give the benefit of the doubt; don’t make excuses on anyone else’s behalf; don’t ‘be noble’. Just run – fast – in the other direction.
  • Turn off the projector: When you have a whole shitload in common with someone, don’t overlook all the things that don’t connect. Don’t project attributes or feelings you possess (and imagine you share) or wish the other person has onto the him/her, hoping s/he will embody them just because everything else is shared in common. It doesn’t matter that you were led to believe these things were shared at some point: don’t assume that it is real or will stay that way.
  • Tune the fuck in: “Goddamn, girl, you don’t gotta be psychic to know the truth. That boy don’t love you. At all.”
  • Remember that silence speaks volumes: Silence might not be permanent; it might not signal that someone is pseudo-“ghosting”; however, someone who cares is going to talk to you – whatever is going on – even if s/he is not sure quite what is going on or how s/he feels.
  • Kill the curiosity before it kills you: It’s very tempting to watch the whole movie even when you know it’s not gonna be a happy ending. It’s an extension of acknowledging your own true feelings – sticking around because you’re curious is a waste of time. It’s not good enough – that is, you are not being good to yourself – to tell yourself you weren’t doing anything anyway, so it won’t hurt just to watch all of this unfold. It will hurt. And if you’re not careful it could lead to something worse – ending up in a situation you really don’t want. (You know what I’m talking about here: you cannot even figure out why you want to be wrong because if you were to get what you tried to convince yourself you wanted, you would be miserable.)
  • Keep your eyes (and ears) open: It IS clear what is happening – on every level. But you want to believe it is going to turn out differently no matter what harbingers of doom lurk around every corner. It’s clear. Embrace the truth your eyes show you and ears tell you, not the misleading song of the heart. But don’t be so open that you become a sponge absorbing all the misery and anxiety of someone else while getting/feeling/experiencing nothing in return.
  • Refer back: When in doubt, when bending to someone else’s will or charm or even carelessly letting them dictate all the terms and conditions, the way you relate to each other: refer back to this list. In fact, print it out. Laminate it. Carry it around with you everywhere.
  • Identify triggers and patterns: It’s not anyone’s fault: period. But it is also not anyone else’s fault. You have triggers and patterns. Certain kinds of people appeal to you; learn to recognize the ‘signs’ that you have met one of those types. Recognize and put a halt to your own ‘enabling’ and ‘deflecting’ behaviors (similar to ‘absorbing all the misery and anxiety and getting nothing in return’ listed above). You have to be open to taking it to receive it – all this kind of shit takes two to do.
  • Hold on hope: Okay, so you don’t hold onto hope about a hopeless situation. Face reality and embrace it for the often hopeless dead-end it is. Nothing is ever surprising in that way. But it doesn’t mean you should declare hope dead. There are fragments of it floating around everywhere.

“Every street is dark
And folding out mysteriously
Where lies the chance we take to be
Always working
Reaching out for a hand that we
can’t see
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s holding me
Invitation to the last dance
Then it’s time to leave
But that’s the price we pay
when we deceive
One another/animal mother
She opens up for free
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s
holding me
Look at the talkbox in mute
frustration
At the station
There hides the cowboy
His campfire flickering
on the landscape
That nothing grows on
But time still goes on
And through each life of misery
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s holding me”

-Guided by Voices, “Hold On Hope”

drömland

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I recalled a nightmare from a few nights ago. In it, I lived in Paris and worked as an English teacher for three French kids. I got through one 45-minute lesson with them, and I was miserable, counting the seconds until the lesson was over. In my mind, I was feverishly thinking about how I could get out of this huge mistake. How did I end up being in that situation and how could I possibly teach even one more lesson when just one was interminably long and hellish?

It made me wonder how I had spent something like half a year teaching kids. What an eternity ago that was (almost 20 years!), and what a horror show.

I also had a dream in which I married someone I had only met the previous week. And we were happy for one week. But then misery came in massive clusters. I am pretty sure I know what that was all about.

And last night I was dreaming in Russian for the first time since I was actively studying Russian. It was a strange mix of things. I was reading and speaking Russian, but I ended up having a conversation with a guy (American) I had known many years ago about a Russian poem I had (in reality, not in the dream) shared with him back then: “The new blast-furnace in the Kemerovo metallurgical combine” by Bella Akhmadulina. (I can’t find an English version of it to share here right now.) I have not read the poem or talked to the guy in question for at least 15 years. Maybe the guy came to mind both because the poem entered my dreaming mind and also because I had been thinking about how he’d been in thousands of dollars of debt because he was making local long-distance phone calls, which seems ridiculous when considered today with the array of tools we can use to call people anywhere in the world basically for free.

Also wondering whether I should reread The Master and Margarita?

Photo (c) 2013 Boston Public Library used unchanged under Creative Commons license.

Largesse

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“Unconditional acceptance of each other is one of the greatest challenges we humans face. Few of us have experienced it consistently; the addict has never experienced it—least of all from himself. “ -from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr Gabor Maté

While knowing that generosity is not true generosity if there are expectations attached to it, it’s impossible not to attach hope. What I mean here is not so much that I expect something in return for anything I give. I just find my heart filling with an aimless and misguided hope that by offering virtually everything I have, it will somehow finally be the thing that makes everything click into place for someone else. Knowing fully that the problem is in them – it’s their fight, their fire. There is absolutely nothing I can do, or give, that can offer anything but – possibly – a slightly softer place to land when they inevitably come crashing down over and over again – I nevertheless find myself wishing otherwise.

I just finished reading two books that deal in some detail with addiction. Dr Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Dr Carl Hart’s High Price were engrossing and relatively quick to read, even if they touch on some of the chemistry, neuroscience and psychology related to addiction. And it happens that my readings of these books coincide with yet another case of someone close to me relapsing – again – along with wrapping up phase one of a project I am working on in this very field.

Despite all the wisdom in the words and the science explaining addiction, it’s still very hard to grasp. Maté writes:

“the bare truth: people jeopardize their lives for the sake of making the moment livable.”

“Addictions always originate in pain, whether felt openly or hidden in the unconscious. They are emotional anesthetics.”

“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors.”

“Boredom, rooted in a fundamental discomfort with the self, is one of the least tolerable mental states.”

“No human being is empty or deficient at the core, but many live as if they were and experience themselves primarily that way. Attempting to obliterate the sense of deficiency and emptiness that is a core state of any addict is like laboring to fill in a canyon with shovelfuls of dust.”

“Addiction, in this sense, is the lazy pilgrim’s path to transcendence.”

“Addiction is primarily about the self, about the unconscious, insecure self that at every moment considers only its own immediate desires—and believes that it must behave that way.”

“In Canada my book has been praised as “humanizing” the hard-core addicted people I work with. I find that a revealing overstatement—how can human beings be “humanized,” and who says that addicts aren’t human to begin with? At best I show the humanity of drug addicts. In our materialist society, with our attachment to ego gratification, few of us escape the lure of addictive behaviors. Only our blindness and self-flattery stand in the way of seeing that the severely addicted are people who have suffered more than the rest of us but who share a profound commonality with the majority of “respectable” citizens.”

Reading all of this, and all the stories and evidence in between, I try to return to this compassion I’m always harping on and sometimes struggling with. And to remember truths, such as:

“To live with an addict of any kind is frustrating, emotionally painful, and often infuriating. Family, friends, and spouse may feel they are dealing with a double personality: one sane and loveable, the other devious and uncaring. They believe the first is real and hope the second will go away. In truth, the second is the shadow side of the first and will no sooner leave than will a shadow abandon the object whose shape it traces on the ground—not unless the light comes from a different angle.”

“Unconditional acceptance of another person doesn’t mean staying with them under all circumstances, no matter what the cost to oneself.”

No, I really do not have to be the glue – or even try to be. Maybe I can only create softer landing places and shine a light from another angle.

we weary

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“We weary of everything, except understanding.” -Fernando Pessoa

At the beginning of the year I set a goal of reading 26 books. I figured I should ease my way back into reading after literally years without reading more than one book per year. I had been wrapped up in so many other things, and have written before about how reading is not only logistically demanding (it takes time and focus), it is emotionally and intellectually demanding. And I just did not want to feel or think at that level.

Well, it’s not even the end of the first quarter of the year, and I’ve already read my 26. I’ve veered more toward non-fiction, but I will incorporate more fiction with time. I will probably have a word or two to say about the things I have read in the coming days.

I have not yet wearied of this great reading experiment, but there are so many other wearisome things. “Running after a squirrel”, as one colleague put it, in one part of life. Helplessly watching other people’s mighty struggles against losing battles. Even sleep is a bit wearisome.