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This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Name" has been published

I forgot to announce this on my blog, even though it's quite a big deal for me--I was asked to write a song to be published on a publicly viewed website!  I'm not sure how big the audience was... I didn't get any new "Likes" or donations or followers since the time it was published (maybe because it's not a good song!!)  But still, I've been published!  Woot!

http://imaginingjesus.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/name-an-advent-song/

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Nutcracker--Invitation to Insanity?

I recently heard a broadcast on "All Things Considered" about a polymath in the Romantic era, E.T.A. Hoffman. He was the writer of the original tale, "The Nutcracker," which was, of course, made famous by Tchaikovsky and is now a venerable Christmas tradition.


Nutcracker1892
 By anonymous Russian 19th century photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hoffman was a staunch proponent of German Romanticism, and the original Nutcracker story was much wilder, scarier, and more rugged than the prettified version we see today.  It was re-written by Alexandre Dumas to be lighter and happier; later Dumas' version was taken up by the Russian ballet company that commissioned Tchaikovsky to write the music.  In the original tale, the young child (originally "Marie," a name with serious religious connotations as well as a very common name, not "Klara," which means "light," as Dumas changed it to) actually leaves this world at the end of the story, and goes to live permanently in the magical world that has come to life before her eyes.  All the other stories have the adventures of the Nutcracker, mice, etc., as being mere daydreams of a darling child, after which she wakes up and joins the delightful Christmas party her family is throwing. But the original story suggests a complete, irreversible giving over of herself to the world of... the world of what? Is is imagination, or is it insanity? (That's the question I ask, anyway.)

This story has made me ponder over the past few days.  During Hoffman's time, the cultural struggle was perceived to be Enlightenment vs. Romanticism, rationality vs. imagination.  It was a war over how to define Beauty.  And it's an important war, because how we define Beauty is largely how we define ourselves.  Is Beauty a set of rules, perfect form, and crisp lines?  Or is it fantastical trains of thought, natural form, and blurry lines?  (I had a professor once tell me that Beauty is a set of scientific formulae, and he had the book that proved it...I can't remember the book, but I was skeptical.)  Is Beauty about the mind controlling nature and shaping it to our will, or is it about letting nature control us?  Is there even a distinction between the two when all is said and done?  (And is it a question of control at all?)

Hoffman, obviously, promoted the Romantic view.  He probably had good reasons to do so. He was living in a specific time, and the cultural landscape he saw was such that he felt prompted to express an artistic ideal that would influence culture away from its imbalance.  I sympathize with him, but I am actually concerned about his ideas.  This battle is one that rages in my psyche, today in the 21st century, even though it was fought long ago in the 19th.

I am terribly afraid of irrationality.

I enjoy dipping my toes into the waters of imagination, and I long to swim, but these waters lead all too easily to the darkness of insanity. I feel its pull whenever I start to go there.  I get lost easily (Pisces Moon) in stories, movies, music, art.  That's why I actually tend to avoid them unless I have a lot of energy, or someone to help, because coming back to reality is difficult for me.  Imagination is bliss, with a bite.

Material grounding and mental rationality save me from that bite.

Most people wouldn't ask this question, as it seems obvious, but I am open and curious enough to ask myself--"What's wrong with going insane?" No really. If it's bliss and pure imagination, why would I want to miss out on that? After some thinking, the thing that feels wrong about it is the undoing of Self, for when I can no longer distinguish between where I stop and the other figures begin, is when there is no more "I" at all.  It's the fear of death, and every creature is programmed to survive.  Well, I actually don't particularly care much anymore about living, (and I mean that in a matter-of-fact way, not a suicidal or depressed way--I'm not afraid of dying, and I have accepted the futility of existence). But I do care about suffering, and I know that without me others will suffer, and that's reason enough to preserve the "I" as long as possible.

By the way, my song "Dancing in Neptune" is partially a joyous celebration of the experience of losing the "I," (it's also a song about "leadership"), but the truth is, it's not a song whose message I really like.  I hate it, actually, but the muses don't always give me a lot of choice in what to write.

I tend to avoid fantasy (I use the word broadly to include anything of imagination, not only to a specific genre of literature), not because I don't understand it, but because I understand it too well. I have strong contempt for people who aren't rational, and you know what they say about strong reactions having roots in one's Shadow.  In my case, it's true.  My strong contempt for irrational people comes from an important figure my Shadow: Imagination.

Imagination wants to make me feel so deeply that I lose my grasp on what little self-determination I actually have; Imagination wants to dissolve my boundaries and bring me into the vast ocean of the universe's oblivion.  Which is all well and good, except the fact that Reality exists, it sucks, and at least two people are depending on me to help it suck a little less. Being undone now would make Reality worse for these two people, and I can't let that happen.  Damn you, Imagination.

This sobering, deep understanding of what the Romantics are calling for makes me wonder if any of them actually fully understood what they were really asking their audience to do. In Consensus Reality, Hoffman lived a successful career  as a lawyer and judge.  Apparently, he didn't have a hard time coming back from the depths, even though he urged his audience not to do so. Maybe his work was an attempt to bring balance to an unbalanced culture, but for me, I'm afraid of being unbalanced the opposite direction.

So give me Dumas' version of "The Nutcracker," where happy and (En)light(enment) "Klara" has a nice little daydream, and then wakes up and has a lovely Christmas with her kind, normal, rational family.  There is plenty there, with masterful writing and lovely imagery, to find beautiful.  I can't afford the trip to Hoffman's real intentions.  (But I'm sure these aren't my last words on the topic, either...)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Comments on the debate "New Religion vs. New Atheism"

Recently Peter Rollins and Lawrence Krauss debated on the topic "New Religion vs. New Atheism."  Actually, calling it a "debate" was a bit of a stretch.  It was more a conversation, a conversation that ended up getting rather confused as it went along, but worth hearing nonetheless.  And since this is a topic I'm really interested in, I wanted to add my opinion on how it went. First, for those who didn't see/hear it, here's the debate:




The first thing that comes to mind is that I wonder why they chose someone to represent New Atheism who doesn't even seem to think that New Atheism is a thing at all. Krauss kept saying things like "it's just atheism. Atheism isn't a thing." It's certainly an opinion I can sympathize with, but "New Atheism" has been observed as a societal phenomenon, and applying a label to a set of tactics is far from invalid. Krauss kept trying to debate about atheism vs. belief, when the debate (as far as I was able to understand) was actually about how the societal phenomena of New Atheism and New Religion were working in culture at large, and which of the approaches used were more effective in their goals. When one side of the debate refuses to admit that there's even something to debate about, the conversation is doomed from the start.  I was rather disgusted by Krauss, actually, on this point.  When he said "I don't understand what New Atheism is," I rolled my eyes and thought, "Why is he here, then?"  and then I thought, "Aha, who's paying for him to be here?"  (Rollins showed a lot of grace at that point; I would have been quite irritated.)  Krauss kept saying "All we atheists do is ask questions" etc., but I kept shouting at him, No you don't! Even in the context of this very conversation, you've already called religion 'silly,' 'ridiculous,' 'a source of problems,' and so on!  The perspective that New Atheism is violent against religion is accurate!  So there was a disconnect, right from the start.

Because of this disconnect, I think it would have been extremely helpful to define terms and limit the debate from the very beginning. What questions, exactly, should the two be discussing?

For example, while New Atheism has been clearly established as a thing, the only resource I could find on "New Religion" was a site written by a guy named Aman who recently got direct inspiration from angels, archangels, and God Almighty, Himself, to write three books that will lead the world into a new era of peace and righteousness!  Yay!  But still... Pretty sure that Dr. Rollins isn't promoting the Three Books of Aman!  So, what is "New Religion" as it's used in this debate? A term invented by the organizers of the conference? By Rollins?  By historians?  Who is included in this movement?  How would we distinguish it from liberal or progressive factions of Christianity (since Rollins states later on that NR is focused on Christianity)? Or is it just the idiosyncratic approach to rhetoric that only Rollins uses?

Clarity, people.  For dummies like me, we need clarity.

Certainly, some of that disconnect is due to Kraus' laziness, in that he didn't prepare adequately for the debate. However, Rollins didn't help with this as much as he could have, either.  Many of his points were so buried in interesting and funny examples, that (for me, at least) they caused the point to be lost altogether.  (Like, really, what's the deal about the sex scene?  I didn't get that at all, even though it was a funny story.)  He did a good job of expressing why he thinks that New Atheism is not an effective combat to Fundamentalism, but I don't think he adequately explained how and why "New Religion" does it better.  This gave Kraus the opportunity to defend New Atheism's tactics (which he largely failed to do), but did not give him anything positively to critique in return.  Thus, the question from the audience member at the end, about whether Rollins was attempting to shield himself from criticism was a valid one, I think.

So here's an outline of how I wish the conversation would have gone:

I.  Rollins makes his three critiques of New Atheism:
  1. By creating new tribal identities, it creates an antithesis to Fundamentalism that only ends up being a shadow of the very thing it tries to attack.  
  2. By engaging with Fundamentalism, New Atheism only ends up legitimizing and strengthening it.  
  3. New Atheism doesn't have the resources needed to decenter people.
II.  Rollins explains what New Religion is and why it's a better approach than New Atheism.  The closest he came to this was saying that it exists to "create spaces" to allow people to come to realize that they actually already know that they don't really believe what they say they believe.  (Myself having read other things by Rollins, and having heard John Caputo speak, and several others who might be associated with Dr. Rollins, I think I have a better idea than Dr. Krauss did about what he's getting at. But I'm not sure, and would like more clarity, myself.)

III. Kraus responds to each of the three criticisms.  For example (I'm not him, so I don't know if he would agree with these things, but the best I can come up with is as follows):
  1. Why is it a bad thing to have a tribal identity around being smart instead of around being stupid? Forming tribes is a very human thing, and people need community and solidarity, so what's the big deal?  Also, New Atheism doesn't only attack Fundamentalism; it attacks any form of religion, liberal groups as well as fundamentalists.
  2. (He actually did respond to this one) Everyone knows that engaging with hard core Fundamentalists is useless, but they do it for the sake of those who are less hard-core, for the audience, who might be persuaded by reason and evidence, and come to realize that their respected leaders might be more ridiculous than they had thought.  Plus, ridiculing something can, actually, be a very effective method of persuasion.
  3. What does "decentered" mean?  (Seriously, I don't know what decentering someone means, and why that's a desired thing.)
IV.  Kraus critiques New Religion.  What he would say would depend on how NR ends up being defined, of course, but based on what Rollins said in this debate, he could make points something like these:
  1. Since New Religion would not exist without a Fundamentalism to try to pull people out of, is it not also a shadow of Fundamentalism?
  2. Since New Religion uses religious symbols to subvert people's beliefs instead of supporting them, could it not also be seen as inherently violent?  At least New Atheism is direct in its aggression.  New Religion's tactics (if I understand them right) seem passive-aggressive.  
  3. On the other hand, for those who won't be fooled by the subversive techniques, couldn't it also be argued that by using Fundamentalism's own religious imagery, New Religion is also legitimizing and strengthening Fundamentalism?
  4. (He actually did say this, and it was a good point that could have been expounded.) Why would you replace a religion that isn't "working" with a worldview based on angst? You say NR is focused on "how" more than "what," but isn't the very assumption that one ought to focus on the "how" a fundamental "what" as well? (It seems one can't escape positivism, no matter how hard one tries.)
V. Rollins responds, etc.

Doesn't that seem better?  I can go to bed now. :)

Well, actually, I can't finish this post without a bit more grief for Dr. Krauss, unfortunately.  I actually agree with him on most of his points (irrelevant though many of them were to how Dr. Rollins tried to frame the discussion), and I admire his work. However, on religion, he is wrong about several things.

For example, one of his earlier points was that religion doesn't change to fit the times, and this couldn't be further from the truth.  There is no religious sect, denomination, or group that doesn't have a cultural identity strongly influenced by the times in which it finds itself. Christianity today looks vastly different from Christianity 4 centuries ago.  This is true for every religion.  However, some groups are more pliable than others, of course.

He also said, "That 'God is dead' is not a loss; it's a gain...  Loss of faith is not a loss of anything; it's a gain."  From his perspective, this may be true, but it can't be denied that those who experience the change of their belief system, especially when that system includes God, do feel a strong sense of loss.  Whether or not God really exists, if someone grows up thinking he does, and bases all their important life decisions around that assumption, finds comfort in that assumption, and finds solidarity with other people who hold the same assumption, then the wrenching away from that fundamental assumption can be quite traumatic.  Someone telling this person, "don't worry, he was never real anyway," feels bittersweet, at best.  The choices you could have made differently, the people you can't talk with anymore, the daily comfort you must find a replacement for-- these things are real, even if God isn't.  Sure, perhaps it's a necessary pain, in order to get to a more rational way of thinking (according to Krauss' perspective), but denying the profound grief of so many people is callous.

There are a lot more nits to pick, as well as some really great points to praise, in this discussion, but that's enough for now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Three lessons about sex

There are some lessons that, it seems, one has to learn for oneself.  In general, I tend to be a cautious person, and I am sensitive to the voices of others, especially those I consider older and wiser than myself.  Even if I disagree with these voices, whether they be individual people sharing their personal lessons learned, or oral tradition within a culture, I try to honor the wisdom and struggle behind them.

And yet, the past few years, I have been in a season of needing to live out some lessons myself. Some lessons in particular that I have needed to explore were related to sex.  Growing up, I bought the conservative Christian message about sex, hook, line, and sinker.  And after being betrayed by that message, it seems I had to learn for myself what was going on. 

I was the ripe old age of 25 years when I had sex for the first time. (Almost in danger of becoming an old maid!!)  Due to my partner being somewhat less than skilled or compassionate, let's just say I didn't have the best experience. For years I didn't have a good experience.  It became a chore during marriage, a source of resentment, irritation, shame, and self-doubt.  I was told I was "frigid," which I never quite believed, but I didn't know what to think, and didn't know how to ask for help.  After the divorce, my mind freshly liberated from the shackles of legalism, and my body and heart freshly liberated from the shackles of an abusive marriage, I set out to learn what the rules of sex were.  OK, well, I didn't actually consciously choose that goal, as I was mostly worried about raw survival, my children, and figuring out what the next step should be. But it was an important tangent that kind of happened along the way.

I definitely wouldn't say I'm a professional sexologist, by any means.  The topic is still a somewhat sensitive point in my psyche.  But here are some life lessons I have picked up so far.

1) It flat out isn't true that all men are sex-maniacs with a one-track mind, as I'd been taught.  I may have verbally acknowledged this before, but I often tended to operate from the ingrained assumption anyway.  But now, after some important experiences, I am beginning really to know it more deeply.  Men are just as complex as women are.  In several of my dating relationships, I was the one who initiated sex.  In the past few years, there have been a few men I wanted and tried to seduce with my body, but they weren't interested and--shockingly-- didn't respond.  (And they didn't act like martyrs either--they weren't religious, even, for me to be able to blame it on that. They were, clearly, just not "clicking" with me at the personal level, and not willing to get involved physically in something that they weren't involved emotionally with.)  And I'm currently dating a guy who is more than willing to wait, while I sort out all my health issues, before we start having sex, because he just straight up likes who I am.  These guys are all aware of me as a person who is more than the sum of just a few of my body parts.  The interaction with these guys, who want a real relationship with a real person, has touched my heart.  I realize I'm lucky, and some women (and men) have had some pretty terrible experiences, but I don't think the one-track-minded male is as common as some would make it out to be.

2) "Virginity" isn't a thing.  I was taught growing up that one's virginity is a precious gift, and it should be saved for the one you'll spend the rest of your life with.  But now, this sounds completely ridiculous.  I understand the cultural history of this kind of language, but now that we are in the 21st century, this is really language we should toss in the trash!  Virginity isn't a "thing" at all, so you can't lose it.  It's just a label that we use to indicate someone who hasn't done a particular thing.  It just means "zero experience."  You can't "give away" zero-experience in sex, any more than you can "give away" zero-experience with using a computer or swimming.  In no other realm of life do we give zero-experience with something a judgemental label and treat it as a commodity.  In what other realm of life is zero-experience with something even considered a good thing? (OK, unless we're talking about, say, crime... fair enough.)  You wouldn't go looking for a mechanic who's "virgin" in the field of car repair. Yet so many people (especially in the religious world) are still saying that they insist on marrying only a virgin.  What retards.  I'll be plain.  Sex with someone who doesn't know what they're doing is kind of annoying.  Well, unless that's your thing, for whatever reason. But if you like to get lost in the pleasure, then a newbie (or someone who's only experienced at being awkward, selfish, and unknowledgeable) is a real kill-joy. 

3) "Sexuality" isn't a thing.  This might sound rather weird, but it's a conclusion I've come to.  People use terms like "exploring your sexuality," and "what you do with your sexuality," and to me, these terms don't make sense.  You can do things with your sex organs, or you can explore why certain people or kinds of people tend to excite or attract you, but what, exactly, is "sexuality," as a personal thing, anyway?  Maybe I'm being a bit pedantic here, but in my book, it's important to distinguish between what we often mean by the term "sexuality" and the specific acts, feelings, thoughts, desires, and attitudes related to sex.  And I don't believe that "sexuality" is really even a useful term.  Many would disagree with me, but I feel it's terribly imprecise, and usually somewhat prescriptive. Using the term also has the effect sometimes of inventing a causal agent in an individual's life, kind of like the devil, "hormones," or anything else people like to blame things on.  People talk about desires they have or choices they make as if they were affected by, springing from, their sexuality, rather than the other way around--their "sexuality" (if it exists, which I think it doesn't) should be defined by the desires they have or the choices they've made.  I don't think "sexuality" exists, because there's no single wellspring from which all sexual desires, choices, impulses, attitudes, and anything else, spring. There's no section of our brain dedicated to "sexuality," as there is for, say vision or emotions.  All of the things that affect sex can be impacted by all kinds of factors, from biological, to psychological, to situational.  I suppose I don't mind occasionally using the word "sexuality" as a label to tie together all these things in a loose, descriptive way, but I typically hear the word being used prescriptively, and it bugs me. 

More lessons to come, someday! :)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Valuing music, part 2

The last post I wrote was a lament about how music is undervalued in American culture.  ("Value" being a term to indicate how we compensate musicians, not how much we "love music.")  We have this idea that artists should starve, I guess.  Or that only the very lucky few who have the right connections in the industry--the rock stars--deserve our support, and the rest should do it for the accolades alone.  I argued that this attitude is harmful not only to musicians but to society.  Since the last post, my opinion about why this attitude is harmful has only strengthened.  I'll share why in a little bit.

This post has a few of my humble ideas on how we could fix this problem.  It's taken me awhile to write it, because I didn't want to offer knee-jerk responses.  I wanted to search and provide some quality answers, or at least, a few fingers pointing in the right directions. 
My first plea is that Music Education needs to be of higher quality and insisted upon at every school, even through high school.  Every American should have a grasp on the basics of how music is built  and what separates quality music from laughably simplistic crap. We should insist upon musical literacy at a very fundamental level -- everyone with a high school degree should be able to read musical notation and analyze basic form (how sections of music are put together) and orchestration (what instruments are used in the music), at very least.  This will require that our music education majors receive better training in college than what they are currently getting, but that's a different story. (There are proven pedagogies and methodologies that would help us get there, but so many Music Ed majors are taught everything in college except what actually works to, well, teach music.  Underqualified teachers is one major reason why we have music classes that just serve as glorified game times in our schools...  Anyway, I shall resist the temptation to follow this tangent any further!)  My point is that a populace who understands what goes into making music will have better respect for those who choose to make music as careers.  This is similar to the fact that someone who cooks at home and understands how tricky it can be to get a meal to pull together will appreciate the efforts of a professional chef; whereas, those who think packaged burritos just magically appear from grocery store shelves may have a harder time with complimenting a chef at a restaurant.
(Image by MattHurst on Flickr.)
We need to subvert our growing cultural expectation that everything should be free.  This involves dealing with both copyright issues and cultural attitudes. 
The internet has grown so rapidly, that copyright and royalty laws haven't really had time to catch up.  (Actually, to be more precise, copyright laws have gone off in a completely ridiculous direction, hijacked by giant corporations, and are quite out of touch with reality. Copyright law has become a corporate mindfuck.)  The original intent of copyright laws were to allow the creator of a work to profit from every copy made of their work, for a reasonable period of time (14-28 years, originally). After that period, the work would be released into the public domain for the benefit of the commons.  It's a complicated subject, but suffice it to say, copyright laws aren't doing much to help the average musician these days.  Corporations take most of the profits from royalties now, rather than creators; thus, of course, with profit being involved, corporations want copyright protection to last forever. The public, however, including ardent supporters of the Open Source and Creative Commons movements, seem to think Public Domain should be instantaneous.  Nobody is looking out for the creators, no, not really.
The basic problem when it comes to music, though, is that a lot of really talented musicians are being trampled by the "everything should be free" expectations of the information age.  Don't get me wrong; I love free stuff.  I'm grateful to be able to search any topic and find quality resources in 0.4 seconds. But this stuff isn't really free; the cost-free-ness is just an illusion.  People all over the world have put countless hours into creating these resources that I glibly skim over on GoodSearch or YouTube.   But it's not just musicians --journalism, graphic design, education, and so many other professions are being eroded by this expectation.  What ever happened to (shock and horror!) paying someone when we appreciate their contribution to our lives?   Sure, not everyone can afford that.  Believe me, I understand poverty's difficulties.  But all of us can afford more than we think we can towards tipping creators of works we consume. Maybe we should buy less stuff and invest in more people.  (For example, a few months ago I found a free template online for an APA formatted paper.  This will save me a lot of time setting up the formatting every time I have to write a paper for school.  This template is very useful to me, so I tracked down the person who created it and sent him a few bucks via PayPal. It wasn't much, but imagine if everyone who used his template paid him a few bucks!  The several hours of work he surely put into it would have been worthwhile.)  Most of us can, and should, reorient our priorities to ensure we are giving back to our society, not just taking from it.  Just because it's easy to get information for free from the internet, doesn't mean it's healthy.  It will benefit all of us in the long run to have a culture of gratitude, rather than a culture of entitlement.
So copyright needs to change, and attitudes need to change. What can help mitigate these two changes?  How about technology? Here's something I'll throw out there as an idea:  Jaron Lanier has written a new book called Who Owns the Future? In it he discusses how this "free information" paradigm will end up destroying the middle class, and he offers suggestions for modifying how the internet is set up.  Basically, if I understand him correctly, we should create a system in which every time something is shared (copied!! copyrights!!), a micropayment is automatically withdrawn from the sharer's bank account and sent to the creator of that work.  Thus, sharing works of art and music online will directly affect the creators' abilities to earn money for their work, (and the need for corporate mediation is drastically reduced), all while enriching the commons.  The more shares, the more money the creator earns.  It seems so straightforward and beautiful.  I hope we can find a way to implement something like this in the near future!
("The Good Samaritan," by François-Léon Sicard. Found on Wikimedia Commons.) 
The last idea I offer for ensuring a future of high quality musical influences is to change the prevailing perception on the function of music from being mostly about entertainment to being a provider of important cultural and personal assistance.  I was delighted to discover a podcast recently in which the author of several books about art and culture, Alain de Botton, was being interviewed.  This very inspiring interview helped cement my approach to art--he spoke for how I have always experienced art and never really expressed so succinctly.  In his interview, he said that art (and I would say all "the arts," music included) serve six functions in society:
  1. A mechanism for remembering things (Humans have a cognitive weakness in the area of memory, and we need assistance in making sure important moments don't fly away.)
  2. Hope.  We humans tend towards despair too easily, and cheerful or pretty art helps us maintain our spirits.
  3. Dignifying suffering and sorrow.  In daily life, suffering can feel very isolating, humiliating, or baffling, but when we find a work of art that expresses exactly how we feel, we find solidarity and dignity in the human condition. Oddly enough, this also offers hope.
  4. Appreciation for mundane humanity.  (He differentiates between glamor and art--one denigrates the mundane, the other exalts it; thus, in art we can see and appreciate our selves.)
  5. Balancing our emotional conditions by calling attention to what is in Shadow.  Often we are attracted to works of art that stimulate areas in our lives that need rebalancing.  Someone whose life is chaotic may be drawn to tightly-controlled, perfectly organized works of art, for example.  Art serves to bring balance. (This prompted me to look around my house. What do I have hanging on my walls?  Lots of black and white drawings of castles, photos of grand, luxurious, sweeping staircases, warrior goddesses and angels, and visions of Hildegaard von Bingen.  I'll psychoanalyze all that later!)
  6.  Art can instruct us in dealing with life's problems.  Several centuries ago, The Church commissioned artists to train the public in morality and Bible stories.  We think of such uses of art as suspicious propaganda today, but if the artistic guidance is coming, not from a centralized institution, but from fellow humans who have walked the path before us, there is no need to fear brainwashing.  Art can be incredibly instructive and a source of wisdom.
De Botton urges the artistic establishment, who too often have snobby elitist attitudes, to regain public support and appeal for art by adopting this psychological and anthropological vision for how art can be used as tools in society.  I would say that musicians, too, could benefit from seeing and promoting their music as tools for the above purposes as well.  Rather than seeing ourselves as mere entertainers, jokers in the court, doilies on the table, we should understand that our work is gravely important.  Catharsis, dignity, balance, memory, all of these things are indescribably valuable for everyone.


While working on this article, I'd hoped to discover an immediately practical business model, or something like that, for altering society and exalting the musical profession.  Instead I have written some rather grand, idealistic prescriptions that seem far from possible.  That's the best my mind can come up with, though. Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Valuing music

As a former music teacher, I have seen many articles like this one from the NYT make the rounds. They describe how so many successful people were musicians, how learning music helps you be smarter, how music makes you a better creative thinker or team player.  Or articles like this one, about how being involved in music improves brain function. How music major undergrads are more likely to get into medical school than biology major undergrads.  There are lots of these kinds of articles flowing around; there are lots of research studies on the value of music.

These are all well and good.  The science is in.  Music is great and good for you. No arguments on that one.

(That's supposed to be music notes mashed up with two brains for noteheads. You know... because music makes you smart... and stuff... Hey, there wasn't a lot of choice on openclipart.org)


The problem, though, is that music teachers have to post these things around desperately, as an effort to prop up their profession. To convince people that their work is valid, because if they didn't, the music program would get cut. To convince parents and "core curriculum" teachers that music class is about education, too, and not just an entertaining little activity that students do so their homeroom teachers can get a break.

How many times did I get emails from parents, irate that I would actually give their students a less-than-A grade based on the work they did in the class, because "my child isn't going to have a career in music" (and... the unspoken but very real question behind the question was: "...therefore, why do you have standards?")

Without getting too much into the politics and practicalities of school funding, I want to address the larger issue here.  Our culture does not value music, and this is getting worse and worse.  Notice, I didn't say we don't "love" music--everyone "loves" music.  The problem is that we don't VALUE music, and by that, I do intentionally bring up that evil word--money.

There's this idea that music should be free.  I mean, heck, we go to the mall, and there's music playing over the speakers, without us even paying anything, so that proves it, right?  (Sarcasm intended.) Music just seems to magically appear around us everywhere we go, so it feels ubiquitous, pervasive, effortless... therefore, it FEELS, de facto, low in value.

I did the math once, trying to figure out what it would take for me to make a middle-class level income as a private piano and voice teacher.  I'd have to charge the highest rate of all the teachers in town (it's a small town, and cost of living is low), and I'd have to find 80 students. Eighty students! --do you know how hard it is to build your studio up to a healthy 20-30 students?  Eighty would be nigh impossible. But that's what it would take, to earn a basic, lower-middle-class income as a full-time private music teacher.

The problem is that a music teacher can't charge what an electrician, a landscaper, a doctor, or a marketing consultant can.  People won't pay it.  Even though the amount of education and experience needed to be a good music teacher is decades longer than any of these professions.  To be a good music teacher, you must, of course, be a good musician yourself.  And to work yourself up from beginner status on an instrument to late intermediate level takes at least several years, for most people.  To get yourself to the point where you can actually teach music, though, is quite a long time, a lot of money invested in lessons and musical equipment, a lot of long hours spent practicing.  All so you can charge $40 per hour as a private teacher, when the tech-college graduate, who spent 2 years (at most) studying air conditioning systems gets to charge $60-80 per hour.

I'm not complaining about the air conditioning guy charging that much per hour.  People should, absolutely, be paid a living wage for what they do.  I'm complaining that our culture sees music as a throwaway commodity, something cheap and easy, and only there for our amusement or entertainment.  And that attitude is reflected in how we compensate our musicians.

We pay $15 for a basic meal that we spend an hour enjoying at a restaurant, and $1.29 for a downloaded song that could potentially give us many hours of enjoyment listening to the rest of our lives.

Take, for another example, the few times that I've been asked to play piano at a wedding.  I tend to be expected to charge $50-100 for my services.  (That's a little better than what I can charge per-hour for private lessons, yes, but wedding gigs are sporadic.) The absolute minimum amount of time I would spend in the service is one hour, in which case, if I make $50-100 for an hour, I'm doing pretty well.  But usually I spend a lot more time than that.  There's the several hours of practicing the music they want for their wedding.  And there are the many many years of practicing, period, to be able to do this at all. When you add up the hours, $50-100 is ridiculously low.  The bride will pay more than that for her bouquet.

Yes, there are incredibly hard-working private music teachers out there who have managed to defeat the odds and create a decent life for themselves as private music teachers. They are rare. They are fighting against a culture that tries to devalue them.

(And let's not even start on trying to make it as a performing musician.)

The only safe way a music teacher can earn a middle class salary is by working in the school system. And even there, her safety is rather tenuous. She faces a constant barrage of attacks on her profession.  The science teacher approaches her and says "We're going to do a chapter on insects this week. Would you do some fun songs about insects during music class to support us?" (I.e., "would you change your plans to suit me, since you're just decoration anyway?")  The sports coach schedules a last-minute game the same night as the concert, and half the students don't show up on stage. Class times get shorter and shorter, the district decides one teacher can serve 5 different schools, and sometimes the music program is cut altogether.

So music teachers try to defend themselves by passing out articles about how music will help students be successful.  But they aren't really listened to, because these articles aren't about how musicians became successful musicians. They are about how musicians got smart enough to get out of music and choose careers where they would be valued, rather than treated like slaves.

What's wrong with a society that doesn't value (compensate) music?  The inevitable result is that fewer and fewer people will choose to pursue music long-term, and the overall quality of music in our society will decline.  It's already been happening.  Today's hit music is largely vapid, from a musical standpoint.  You know those kids you see croaking on YouTube? Someday people will actually think that's the epitome of good musicianship.  Because they don't know better. Because society didn't value music enough to ensure that good musicians, who could provide a higher standard for musical expression, were compensated with a living wage.

OK, that's the end of the rant for today.  What's the answer to this problem?  I'm not sure I know.  I have a few ideas.  I know that my little voice isn't going to make a difference.  But the next post will include a few ideas, nonetheless. Stay tuned...
Valuing Music, Part 2

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Being successful

Two nights ago, I dreamed that I was talking to the Biofeedback counselor I saw last summer, asking her to help my mom with Biofeedback.  She (the counselor) was busy for the evening, but directed me somewhere to find the instructions written down that my mom could follow.  The only way to get to whatever place she was talking about was by boat. It was a rowboat-like vessel on a smooth, beautiful lake.  I wasn't rowing; I'm not really sure how the boat was propelled and steered, but it kind of just did.  So I floated along to the destination, which was a tiny inlet, around which was a group of about 4-5 people having a Bar-be-que by the lake.  Aaron* (the crush whose rejection has caused me so much pain the past 9 months) was in the middle of the group, standing at the apex of the little inlet.  I chatted with him and some others in the group.  Somehow, I'm not sure how, I got the Biofeedback information to pass along to my mom.  I wasn't sure it would work the same way, since I didn't really know what I was doing, and I wasn't sure if the instructions would be adequate.  I felt for some reason that whoever administered the Biofeedback needed to be knowledgeable and have a strong, positive energy, able to move the client's energy the right way, and I didn't think I could do that.  But I thought, "maybe it will work anyway, just because, well, it's something that objectively works. A little will be better than nothing."
Then it was time to float on, so I waved and called out, "Good bye Aaron!"
I got to a dock, and there were alligators in the water that were emerging from the water onto the dock. They were fairly small, only about 2 feet long, but I didn't know if it would be safe to get out of the boat!  I was nervous about them.  Then I wondered if they were really alligators or crocodiles.  I finally decided on alligators because of the shape of their mouths.
* (not his real name)

The strongest point in the dream was waving and calling out good bye to Aaron.  I woke up profoundly touched by that, and hopeful. 
Good bye!  Maybe I will finally be able to move on.  Maybe the dream is telling me that my unconscious mind is finally done processing this.

Oddly enough, though, I felt sadder about him yesterday than I have in awhile.  I cried a lot.  But I tried to let it be, let it flow how it needed to, trying my best (not always succeeding, but doing better) not to judge myself or my feelings.
Today, I woke up with a strong thought in my head all day.  It feels like (another!) deep revelation into why he had such a hold on me.  "If I don't have him, it will be impossible to make my life a success."  Actually, the "thought" wasn't really worded that clearly.  It's more like I became aware of a string of associations that I have somehow managed to build up in myself.

Aaron >  career >  success > security > survival vs. death

This is an illogical string of associations, but it's there.  Somehow, I had managed to pin my hopes for developing my career, for being successful (both inter-personally and economically) onto being with him.  It wasn't an intentional mashup.  The entire time I was with him, I was cautioning myself not to get in too deeply, there are red flags, I'm not ready, he's not ready...  But there was just something about him that triggered this wound in me, despite all my efforts.  I already talked about how he triggered the wound of interpersonal relationships before. But there's also the wound of feeling a deep fear of being a financial and personal failure.  Feeling like I'm not capable of supporting myself, no matter how hard I try, life's just against me. Feeling like I'll never be able to use my talents in the way I think they deserve to be used.  Feeling like one of these days I'll drop one of these balls, and the entire juggling act will come crashing hopelessly down around me, and my kids and I will just drown in a sea of poverty-stricken mundanity, rather than live the life of adventure and abundance I want so much.
I'm not wording this right, I can't find the right words (are these alligators or crocodiles I'm dealing with here?? Ha ha), but I know the feeling I'm dealing with.

That old "familiar spirit."  And oh, Aaron triggered it in me.  It wasn't so much that I felt he had the answers, but I felt he struggled with the same feelings.  How great to find someone who feels the same way I do!  How easy a jump it is, then, to the hope that, therefore, this person will be able to help me find the answers! An easy jump my  heart made without consulting my mind.  An easy jump of doom.

Today I realized that my unconscious mind had built a very irrational schema around Aaron.  Of course, I don't really need him to pursue my dreams of being financially stable and developing my talents.  I can do that. Yes, I can.  Not alone, of course, but my support network doesn't have to include him, as nice as that would actually be.  There are plenty of other supportive, loving people out there I can find.

I'm glad I finally recognized this problem.  Now to face those alligators.

One last word... This revelation made me wonder how much of my experience may apply to other people as well.  So my hypothesis is, whenever we find ourselves (or see someone else) overreacting with deep wild emotions to a situation that doesn't seem to warrant it, it is an indicator that if the train of emotions is followed, the issue will end up being about feeling one's very survival is threatened.  Nothing will trigger wild panic, or depressed resignation, more than the prospect that one may die.  Our strongest biological urges are for survival.

In my case, I finally figured out that the Aaron issue really feels like an issue of survival (life or death!!) at its core, (illogical as that is).  If I can't get a career going, I may very well die from starvation or homelessness or whatever.  Money is pretty necessary for everything these days.  Anyway... I wonder how the emotional rabbit trails of other people's issues may lead to the fear of death as well.  Not that it's my business, I'm just curious if that might be the case more often than not.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Talkback: "Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?"

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  And there are so many times when I wish I could step into the podcast and start asking the speaker all kinds of questions... or presenting my arguments...!  So I decided that this blog will sometimes feature my talkback to my podcasts!

Today's post is a talkback to Freakonomics, one of my absolute favorite podcasts, and a recent episode called "Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?"
In the episode, the ineffable Stephen Dubner interviewed Dr. Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at Berkely, who did a study recently on how the gender of a baby may affect the marriage of its parents.  According to his findings
  • Couples who conceive a child out of wedlock and find out that it will be a boy are more likely to marry before the birth of their baby.
  • Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced.
  • Fathers are significantly less likely to be living with their children if they have daughters versus sons.
  • In any given year, roughly 52,000 first-born daughters younger than 12 years (and all their siblings) would have had a resident father if they had been boys.
  • Divorced fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters.

This raises so many questions!

After looking into this issue, I do have some points to make. The first one is the use of the word "significantly."  Actually, the term is referring to "statistical significance," not necessarily the way we usually think of significance ("a huge, general problem!")  The effect is ~2.5% of the population.  Most people wouldn't consider something that is 2.5% to be generally significant, but it is enough for statistical significance.

Overall, I was disturbed by some of the assumptions raised in this podcast:
  • Unaddressed assumption #1: The divorce/refusal to marry in these cases was the dad's idea.  This is not always the case.  About 66% of divorces in this country are initiated by the woman.  That doesn't necessarily mean the divorce is the woman's "fault" (she might be trying to get away from a real jerkface, for example...), but the chances that the gender of the baby affects the woman's choice is unlikely, since she is usually going to get custody of the children anyway.  The causes for divorce are legion; it is impossible to pin any divorce to just one cause, like the sex of the firstborn baby.
  • Unaddressed assumption #2:  Boys are easier to raise than girls. This is a weird idea.  I've usually heard the opposite, actually, but I don't know which opinion is more prevalent in society.  And how would one go about defining "easy to raise"?  From an objective standpoint, males, statistically, have more behavior problems, are more aggressive, take longer to potty train, take longer to learn to talk, have a harder time sharing, and are more likely to develop autism than females.  This isn't to demean males in any way (I am madly in love with my two boys!!), but my point is that if there is an overarching societal attitude that boys are easier to raise than girls, it is not an attitude based on fact.  (Realize, I'm talking about the middle of the bell curve, here.  Of course, many girls are very difficult, and many boys are easy.  In fact, I know one parent who told me that after having such a hard time with her extremely strong-willed daughter, that she vowed never to have another child.  But statistically, she's probably an outlier.)  Whether these gender differences are caused by biology or cultural expectations, or some of both, doesn't affect my point.
  • Unaddressed assumption #2: These differences explain a gender preference among American parents.  Well, actually, the differences found explain an effect that seems to be linked to gender, but this effect is not necessarily related to preference.  It COULD be linked to gender attitudes and stereotypes, such as "boys need dads more than girls do" (and therefore, this divorce is OK, because I have a daughter not a son.) This possibility wasn't raised in the paper.  The authors of the paper came to the conclusion that these data reflect gender preference, when there could be other gender-related explanations as well.  Actually, their third set of data, about how fathers are more likely to get custody of sons than of daughters, supports my hypothesis, that these effects are linked to stereotypes about what boys vs. girls need, more than preferences.
One question I had was "Why is this study focused on marriage?  Many people have children and choose not to get married.  I understand that this would make the data much more difficult to obtain, because there is no legal paper trail in such arrangements. But I wondered.  So I opened the actual paper.  One of their footnotes said that, according to the Census data they were studying, only 4% of children are living in homes with two unmarried heterosexual adults.  I find that interesting; I'd expect the number to be higher.  I wonder what the data is for how many children are living in homes where the mother never married at all, and how do those statistics relate?

But then I saw something that made me really surprised. The data they used for this study comes from U.S. Censuses from 1960-2000

1960!! 

What!?  Anyone with any knowledge of U.S. history whatsoever knows that a LOT has changed in American culture since 1960!  Why didn't the authors of the study focus on more recent Censuses to get an idea of where we are NOW?  They did say:
For completeness, in Table A1, we report the effects of a first-born daughter broken down by Census year, decade of birth, race, and education. These estimates by subgroup are necessarily less precise because they are based on smaller samples and therefore are not the main focus of our analysis. 
Well, I would think that if you are wanting to try to measure whether America HAS a problem with parental gender preference that is big enough to affect something as important as whether parents stay together based on it, you'd want to look at current numbers.  I did go to Table A1, and there are indeed different numbers from decade to decade, but I am not trained as a statistician, so I don't really know how to interpret the numbers very well. So I won't comment further on that point.

The bottom line:  I'm not trying to disparage Freakonomics, nor the authors of this study, but I don't see anything that is solid enough in this study to really base any kind of alarm on.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

There Is No Cure

I've been getting more and more depressed all week.  The fatigue, nausea, headaches, difficulty moving, and crabby mood have been in full swing.  And of course, there's the low motivation, random bouts of crying, and suicidal thoughts.  I'm really behind on my school work, since my energy and motivation have been so low this week; there were times I just stared blankly at my computer for long periods of time, trying to find it in me to move my hands to type and engage in my homework. When I did work, I had moments of embarrassing forgetfulness.

I thought maybe this was just a phase of the healing process, something I am processing or whatever, on my path to full health.  I'd felt like this most of the summer, but it was getting better until this week, when the bottom seemed to drop out from under me again.  So I hoped that the doctor would help me take the next step on that path to total health when I went in on Thursday to follow up on the light therapy.

I skulked in, mumbled my hellos to her, and stood up to have her check my body via the muscle testing on my arm.  After a few minutes of her pushing on my arm, checking various things, she said, "You're done with the emotional side. The issue is gone.  Now you should go see Dr. Owens (the chiropractor) again, to make sure your spine is adjusted and nutrition levels are right, to address the physical side. You can make an appointment for next week..."

I stared at her, glumly but angrily.  Here I am, depressed as the Grand Canyon, and she's telling me I'm "done" with the emotional piece?  She's saying my body is telling her it's OK, when I'm having thoughts of killing it?  I couldn't word my outrage at the moment, so I just walked out of the office.  And it hit me: She can't help me.  Nobody has been able to, and she can't either.

Since then, I've had to face a sobering thought: I will never get better.  There is no cure for what I have.  I've been depressed since I was 12.  There have been various stages of relative happiness or depression, but every time I think it's over for good, it comes back.  Sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for weeks.  Perhaps this bout with anemia this year has just been a particularly long and particularly deep episode of depression. (I've had more than one friend suggest that to me, actually.)  I am realizing that MUCH of the energy I've exerted the past 19 years has been efforts to cure my depression for good, stave off misery forever.  I've tried:
  • Jesus
  • Faith
  • Positive thinking
  • Nutrition: Vitamins B and D, Omega 3s, Enough high quality proteins, Spicy foods, Magnesium, Chromium, avoiding endocrine disruptors such as processed foods and antibacterial soaps, a gluten- and dairy-free diet
  • Herbs: St. John's Wort, Maca root
  • Exercise (has NEVER worked! I ALWAYS feel more depressed after exercising than before! I know, it's weird.)
  • Medication (SSRI)
  • Dream work
  • Talk therapy (with certified counselors and psychologists)
  • EFT/Faster EFT
  • Emotional Connection (by Cushnir)
  • Biofeedback
And now I can add kinesiology and light therapy to the list. 

Each of these experiences brought me some very positive results.  I'm not saying that they are ineffective.  In fact, who knows? Maybe I'd be hundreds of times worse off if I hadn't worked on myself with all of these things.  But I had higher hopes, I guess.  I wanted to get rid of this problem forever.  Figure out what's causing it, heal it, and move on with a "normal" life. Each of these things have offered their highs, and given me the hope that FINALLY, I am done with depression.  And last Thursday I began to realize--there is no cure.  I will be like this the rest of my life.  I will have good days and bad days, good years and bad years. But I can never expect that that dark cloud won't ever come back.  It must be part of who I am, for reasons beyond anyone's knowledge.

So in coping with this, I imagine that how I feel right now, might be similar to how Beethoven felt when he finally realized his deafness was permanent and incurable.  (We still don't have a cure for deafness, by the way.)  He locked himself in the summer home of one of his friends for months, and emerged with the sonata we now call "The Moonlight Sonata."  It took him a long time, but he eventually made a decision.  He decided to keep composing anyway, even though the heartbreaking truth was that he'd never hear his compositions.

I also think of John Nash, the hero on whom the movie A Beautiful Mind is based.  He dealt with paranoid schizophrenia, and went through multiple therapies trying to control it.  (We still don't have a cure for schizophrenia, by the way, either.) According to the movie, Dr. Nash hallucinated people who weren't there, but the real John Nash didn't have hallucinations--he heard voices and had fearful imaginations and conspiracy theories.  According to the movie, he stopped taking his medications because they interfered with his genius; he just decided to live with it and refuse to recognize his hallucinations as real. He would verify everything he saw via the input of someone else that he DID know actually existed.  In real life, he was never on medications voluntarily in the first place.  He did eventually reach a similar point, though, where he realized that he just had to deal with his disease by accepting only what he knew to be real.  Here's a quote from Dr. Nash:  "Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation."  (emphasis mine)

I am realizing I shall have to do something similar.  We still don't know what causes depression, and we don't have a cure.  (And it is NOT a chemical imbalance in the brain! Science has soundly refuted that hypothesis, despite what the drug pushers say.)  We only have coping strategies. (And drugs may be a temporary part of the coping strategy. But not an option I'm willing to consider yet, for various reasons.)  So that's really all I have available to me--coping strategies.  I'm going to have to accept this, and learn to cope. 
  • I can tell myself when it happens: This is not the real me. This is a disease that flares up from time to time.  
  • I can make myself do what I'm supposed to do, even though everything in my body fights me.  Even if I can't do it as well as I could when I'm not under a depression episode, I can at least do it.  Go on picnics with my kids, finish my homework, go grocery shopping, take walks in the evenings, talk to friends, wash the dishes, record my songs.  And so on.
  • I can make sure I never, ever buy a gun.  
  • I can be kind to myself when I'm having an attack, instead of hating myself for being so weak.
  • I can stay in school and keep working towards my dreams of getting out of poverty.
  • I can keep open to the hope that I'll eventually find a life partner willing to put up with me, my children, and my eccentricities.
  • I can keep composing, journalling, blogging, and talking with friends, as ways of positive self-expression.
So that's it.  I'm done talking about it on this blog.  I'm done wallowing in false hope, jumping from "breakthrough" to "breakthrough," in the fantasy of eventually never having to jump again. There is no cure. Hope for one has only poisoned my life.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Light therapy, sessions 6, 7 8, & 9

Super busy the last few days, so no time to check in and report.  My energy level has been great until yesterday and today.  A different circumstance, unrelated to the one I've been dealing with has come up to dampen my mood. (Or is it perhaps actually unconsciously related after all, hmmmm??)  And my mood seems to be the controller of my energy lately, unfortunately, so I felt depressed, tired, and listless today.  I wish I were more resilient, but that's one reason I'm doing this therapy, to get the big issues out of the way and return to a normal, functioning lifestyle.

I went in for a quick check up with the kinesiologist on Monday, and she tested my body for how I was doing.  Apparently, according to my arm, the anger issue is much better, so she checked on any ancillary or additional emotions that I may need help with processing.  She did this by going through a list of emotions on a piece of paper (again, I couldn't see the list.) As she touched each one, she tested my arm.  It was  "no" answer for several times, and then suddenly, a "yes."
She said, "Your body is saying it's dealing with the emotion of humiliation. Does that make sense?"

Why yes. Yes it does.  I had been musing on a few deeply embarrassing memories only the day before, actually.

The next step was to test which color my body wanted to use with the light therapy.  My arm went strong on the Indigo transparency, so she let me borrow that one. And she tested my arm for how many sessions I'd need.  Apparently the body thinks 3 will be enough to heal the humiliation.

And she told me I had to say to myself "I truly am victorious" while staring into the light.  I had to struggle not to visibly roll my eyes. Really?  Positivism?  OK. Whatever.  I just want to get better, so let's do whatever lame-ass thing she thinks will help.

Oh, and I told her that the horrible shaking thing had come back, just that day.  I had been excited, because I thought it was gone, and I had even started drinking coffee again, but now it's back.  She frowned, grabbed a glass vial from a nearby case, held it against my sternum, and tested my arm. Weak as a rag doll.  She grabbed another vial, did the same thing. Weak.  Another vial--strong.  Another vial--weak.  Then she grabbed the first and last vials.  She put one against my sternum and tapped on my heart area, then grabbed the other one, and tested my arm. Strong.

OK, what the heck? 

She said she was testing my body for a reaction to coffee.  Apparently, she said, my body cannot handle coffee; it makes me weak.  It's probably messing up my adrenals in a bad way.  "Oh no!" I moaned, "I love coffee!"  She said that tea did the same thing to me.  The vial I tested strong on was beer, so thank goodness that's not out...  Still, I was not happy with this news.  Very not happy.  She said the problem was the caffeine. The thing she did with the two vials was "lock in" the caffeine energy, and then just test with just coffee, and that was fine, which means the caffeine is the culprit.  She said maybe it accumulated in the system instead of reacting after the first day of starting coffee again, and after awhile, I got that shaking reaction, since I just had too much in my system. 

I really hate the shaking thing when it happens.  Really hate it a lot.  It's awful, terrible, annoying, embarrassing, irritating, and infuriating.  So as much as I love coffee, I'm going to have to have it only once in awhile.  Meanwhile, decaf if I must, but even that has caffeine in it.  I'm going to have to start looking for a good herbal coffee, because I will really miss that intense bitter taste!

And, OK, anyway, back to the light therapy thing.  I've finished Day Two of the Indigo treatment for humiliation.  It actually feels good to stare into the light.  Yesterday, nothing to report.  Today, I had some tears well up a few minutes after the session was over, and I cried for several minutes.  I wish I could explain why and what happened, but this is all going on under the surface. It's a little maddening that my conscious mind can't be fully involved in the process.  The only thought I'm aware of is the anger and frustration that my gifts are not "out there" and being appreciated like I wish they could be.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Light therapy, session 5

I didn't post anything yesterday, because nothing happened except my feeling of being ticked off kind of swelled, then faded down a bit.  And I was too ticked off to make myself sit down and write something.

Tonight, I did the light therapy as prescribed, and while there wasn't a dramatic emotional release, there was definitely some emotional stirring.  Mostly a feeling of being pissed off, and not really wanting to stop feeling pissed off. That was the surprising thing, the not wanting to feel better part.  It was like there was a voice inside me snarling, "I don't need to feel better. I'm perfectly justified in feeling angry, and goddammit, I'm going to be angry. Forever." Followed by some choice expletives.
Getting in touch with this melodramatic feeling inside myself was difficult to stay with. I believe so strongly in healing, the automatic reaction is to want to tell that voice all the things I know rationally: anger only hurts yourself, getting better will feel a lot better than staying sick, life will be great when you let go of anger.  All that stuff.  Of course. But I also know to honor my feelings and let them have their say.

Very soon the stubborn anger gave way to what was behind it--a stubborn hope. "Aaron" was so great, it would be foolish to let go of him so easily. Maybe someday he'll come back. It would be great to hold out for a miracle. Maybe I can help him somehow. Maybe he'll accept me someday.
Of course, I also know rationally that these things aren't true either. He's not a healthy choice for me. And he won't come back; that's not his nature. He doesn't need or want my help.  And holding on to him prevents me from being ready for the one who really IS a healthy choice for me.  But again, I honored the feeling and sat with it for awhile, all the while staring into that light...

Another feeling arose, back to the anger again, a feeling of being angry and repulsed at all men.  Again, the rational mind had a hard time letting this one out. I know plenty of genuinely good men.  But during the moment, my pissed off feeling extended to any man who might dare come near me. Good thing nobody was around--I'd rip his head off!
Thankfully, that emotion passed fairly quickly as well. I did come close to tears a couple times, but I didn't cry.

The past few days I've been snappier than normal.  Hopefully it's all part of letting this anger go.  I've also had moments of greater peace than I've felt in a long time.  It's all kind of whirled together.  Physically I'm feeling somewhat better, overall.  Some days are harder than others. But I haven't needed quite as many naps as, say, 3 months ago.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Light therapy-session 3

Nothing to report from the light therapy session today. Nada. I was depressed before I started, and I'm only slightly less depressed now.

See, I had a scare today that got my adrenaline pumping. And the crash after the adrenaline rush has left me feeling "off," jumpy, lethargic, depressed. I have been taking lots of deep breaths to help clear the stress out and send the signals to my body that I'm safe. But I'm just kind of blah tonight.

Anyway, what happened was, I went to a work-related meeting today. I was really enjoying it; the topic was interesting, engaging, and relevant for my future career choices.  Then I suddenly looked down at my phone and saw it was 4:10.  Oh no!  The time had flown!  My son had been out of school for 15 minutes now! I'm usually right on time to pick him up.

I didn't know what the school would do about keeping kids whose parents don't show up, so I panicked and ran as fast as I could to my car. As I was driving to the school, it hit me: Today's Wednesday. School gets out early, at 3:00, on Wednesdays! So I'm not going to be 30 minutes late picking him up, but 90 minutes late!  I was really scared. Why had nobody called me? Was he sitting alone outside the school building? Where was he, and with whom?

Heart pounding and brow sweating, I dashed into the school. 

He was fine.

They have an after school care program (that I didn't know about until today). He was having lots of fun with his friends, and eating snacks, and there were responsible adults in charge. He hadn't missed me at all.

While that was a relief, the rest of the day was difficult. Not only did I have a hard time physiologically with the adrenaline rush and subsequent crash-and-burn, I also felt guilty the rest of the day. How could something as important as picking my child up from Kindergarten have managed to just slip my mind???

Then I saw the astrology of the day. The moon is almost full--it will be full in the wee hours of tomorrow morning--at 26º Pisces. My natal moon is 25.55º Pisces, so the moon is pretty much ON my natal moon today.  Of course, transiting moon conjunct my natal moon happens once a month, but it's not usually a full moon conjunction. (Another full moon transit conjuncting my natal moon won't happen for at least 30 more years.)  So when I saw the degree of the full moon, I took note.

 In my chart, my natal moon is in the 10th house, conjunct the MC (career).  Since the moon is only full when it is opposing the Sun, that means that the Sun is in my 4th house (family). Tension between work and family. Hmmm.

And for a wider view-- transiting Pluto is currently conjuncting my natal Sun in Capricorn (career), which opposes my Ascendent in Cancer (family).  Adding to the mix-- transiting Jupiter is ONE DEGREE from my Ascendent, and Uranus, of course, is squaring that merciless Pluto on my Sun. 

Yes, my Cap Sun opposes my Cancer Ascendent, so there's always been a natural tension between work and family built into my nature anyway.  But today's incident brought that tension to the forefront of my mind again.  With the Full Moon triggering my 10th house moon issues, it makes sense that something like this would happen today.  Conspiring with Pluto and Jupiter, the Full moon decided to bring up from the unconscious and partially-conscious depths, my ambiguity about the work - family balance.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Light therapy-session 2

Not much to report today. No emotional outpouring as dramatic as yesterday's. I stared at the light for 15 minutes while saying to myself every few minutes "I truly am grounded." Sure, my mind wandered, some memories of a certain window, a coffee shop, the perplexed feeling I had about his reactions to me the day before I fell in love with him anyway, and a few minor, extremely mild, and fleeting emotions popped up. Nothing major or heart rending this time, though.  It was rather boring.   I sure hope this is doing something.

Today the old exhaustion and brain fog came back.  It was so hard to get even the simplest things done!  It's been over a week since it's been this bad, and I thought--hoped earnestly--maybe the dead tired, can't-get-off-the-couch feeling would be gone for good.  Maybe this is just a last gasp.  I can be optimistic, right?!

Now that I think about it, though, even though I wasn't too great this morning, the exhaustion really set in at the library today where I went for a couple hours before lunch, to study distraction-free. I had just finished a chapter, and I looked up, and felt an imagination overtake me-- "he" was there, sitting in the armchair next to me in the library. He was brittle and world-weary, his legs outstretched and his body reclining into the chair, but he was curious about me and wanted to talk; however, I said nothing to him. There was nothing to say.  I just glared at him.  I wished two contradicting things simultaneously.  I wanted to pummel him with my raging fists, and I wanted to throw my arms around him, telling him passionately how much I loved him. But neither action would be appropriate, even if he were really there in the flesh. So smoldering was all I could do.  I noticed with dismayed amusement that yelling at someone "Love me, dammit!" is almost always going to be counterproductive, and I felt the fragileness and fickleness of love. That one person could love another, and the other doesn't love back seems so impossibly wrong-- like a rock floating on a wave, or lighting getting frozen inside a glacier--Nature should never allow that to happen.

I eventually managed to brush away the phantoms from my mind and finish the next chapter I had to read, but I was physically weakened, oh so weakened, the rest of the day.

On the plus side, I haven't had my blood sugar shakiness since last Monday--8 days ago! The kinesiologist may have messed up my energy that day and made me feel nauseous and achy and scrambled for a few days, but at least I wasn't trembling. (The nauseous achy feeling has gone away, by the way.)  I'm able to drink coffee again, up to my normal small cup, without losing control of my gait and my hands. So I'm seeing progress!

I will say, for anyone who may be bored at this point...
This blog is NOT going to be all about my wishy washy little feelings and play-by-plays on my health. I do plan on opining voraciously on various political, social, and otherwise interesting external topics on this blog as well. It's just that this illness has forced me to focus on the inner topics for awhile. But I plan on getting better, stat, and getting out there and shining like never before.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Light Therapy, session 1

Today the kinesiologist started me on light therapy, as my body requested the first time. Her equipment was returned, so she could lend it to me.  She tested my arm on various colors, and it wanted red. She tested my emotions on various issues, and today's issue came up as "anxiety, fear." So she lent me the light box and a red film.  My instructions were to put the red film over the light box and stare into it for 15 minutes while thinking or saying to myself the anti-anxiety/fear mantra: "I truly am grounded."  (Who makes up this stuff???? But I'm desperate to feel better, and quite curious...)  I'm to do this once a day, with an interval of at least 24 hours between each session.  She mentioned that some emotions may arise; this is a way for the mind/brain/body entity to cleanse itself of stuck emotions.

The first 10 minutes of today's session were uneventful. I was a bit bored.  Then suddenly the thought arose, "I'm not mad at 'Aaron,' I'm mad at God."  This has been a suspicion of mine for a few weeks now.  I allowed the thought (alarming for so many reasons) into my mind and didn't push it down. Then the floodgates opened.

It's not fair. The timing was so unfair. Why did I have to re-meet him when I was at such a low point in my life?  I was still in recovery from the divorce, trying to take care of an infant and a toddler, confused, exhausted, and barely scraping by.  I wasn't at my best or even at a mediocre place. I didn't have the resources of energy or time or anything else to make my best impression, or even a true impression of myself.  Why couldn't I have started dating someone else, some schmoe I'd never met before and who meant nothing to me?  Why couldn't THAT guy, the schmoe, have been the one who betrayed me?  Why did it have to be "Aaron," someone who has been so tremendously important to me? He wasn't at a good point either, and wasn't representing his best self. Why did I have to lose something so valuable, so precious to me before I had a chance to rebuild my life? The timing was terrible. It was cruel. Wrathful. I didn't have a chance to really be the person I know I am, because I had too many other stressors draining me. Now I'm pretty sure "Aaron" hates me, and I can't correct his misconceptions of me. It could have been anyone else. Why him? The fates hate me. And I hate them back.

I'm crying, but I'm determined that this will be a releasing cry, not a wallowing cry.

And I'm continually struck by how the song I wrote a month before I got the bad news really captures an important part the essence of Him, What Happened, How It Affected Me. The fates may hate me, but the muses give me prophecies.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The kinesiology visit last Monday

I should have posted earlier, but I couldn't. So here it is, Wednesday night, and I'm now getting around to journalling what happened with Dr. Thompson on Monday.  As I mentioned, she's a kinesiologist who specializes in healing emotions

I liked her. She was fresh and cheery, with the directness and confidence so typical of doctors, but without the arrogant overtones. We got right to it. She started by showing me how this works.  Apparently, when you say something that you don't really believe, your body loses strength. She tested my arm while asking me to say my name. It was solid and strong. Then she asked me to say "my name is ___" (a different name.) The arm dropped when I did so; I couldn't hold it up!  It was crazy and almost comical! This might be able to be explained by the power of suggestion, right? But, the weird thing was that she could touch a printed statement on a piece of paper that I couldn't read because it was facing away from me, and my arm would be strong or weak, depending on if I believed that statement she was touching was true or not. Even though I never actually read the words on the paper until after seeing the results of how my arm responded to the statement.

Mind. Blown.

Seriously. 

This is crazy!  And if it's really valid, then... holy crikey, there are so many implications!

But I'll wax philosophical on that a different time.  In this post I want to share the results of her test.  Basically, she went through a series of questions, asking me what was bothering me while pressing on my arm.  My arm would either be strong or weak, depending on the answer.
I told her I had started getting really sick after a break up last February. She said,
"We can test to see if that's what's bothering you. What's the name of the guy you think might be causing your problems?" she asked, pushing my arm. 
I said his name.
Boom. Down went the arm.
"Let's test to make sure. Say someone else's name."
I said the name of my brother.  Strong.  My other brother. Strong.  A friend. Strong.  "Aaron*" Boom, weak.

Then she went through a list of emotions. Grief, remorse, shame, fear, blame, and so on.  The only one I reacted to was "Anger."

And here is where I started getting freaked out.  Because consciously, I didn't realize I was angry at "Aaron."  And for the rest of the session, this happened. My body answered a different answer than what my mind would say. She repeated the words: "Are you angry at Aaron?"

I answered, "I didn't think I was."  And it's true. I've mostly been aware of grief and remorse about the Aaron situation; consciously, I haven't been in touch with angry feelings very much at all.  But not only did my arm respond so strongly to the question about anger, but also, my eyes suddenly filled with tears.  I couldn't make myself say "I'm not mad at Aaron," because all of a sudden I was crying.  So... anger it is, I guess.

She assured me that she does this all the time, there's nothing to be ashamed of, and everything will remain confidential.  Still, I felt exposed and vulnerable suddenly.  Like someone had discovered something I was trying to hide. And really, apparently, a deeper part of myself had been trying to hide it from my conscious awareness.  Who knows why the hell it would do this, but hey...

She told me anger is stored in the liver. She touched various points in my body, testing the strength of different organs. They were all strong, except the point that (she said) correlates with the liver. I had no strength there. She asked: "Are you waking up at nights after falling asleep?"

How did she know?  I've been struggling with this off and on lately. I've used 5-HTP to help, and it's gotten a lot better, but still happens sometimes.

"Around 1-3 a.m.?" she continued.  I wasn't sure the times, to be honest. SOmetimes it's probably in that time range, sometimes not. She said that's the time when the liver tends to be active. 

Since Monday, I did a teeny bit of research on the liver.  Since it processes the blood, liver problems actually CAN cause both anemia and blood sugar malregulation! WHOA!

The next part was so woo-woo, I had a hard time concealing my skepticism. She actually asked me a question I had no knowledge of the answers. "Which therapy do you need right now? NET? Psych-K? or Light therapy?" She tested each answer separately.

Well, I only knew a tiny bit about NET, and I had thought that was what I was coming in to do. I'd heard of Psych-K, but didn't know hardly anything about it, and I didn't know what light therapy is at all.  Consciously, I would have chosen NET. But my arm went weak on that choice. And it went weak on Psych-K. Instead, my arm chose light therapy.  (Do you know how weird and mind-blowing it is to think about one's arm "choosing" something independently of the conscious mind?)

She left the room to get the equipment, and came back saying that it had been lent out. We could do light therapy later on, but we'd have to do a different thing today.

She decided on Psych-K. Another freaky, woo-woo experience.  She had several pieces of laminated paper that I couldn't read, because they were facing away from me. She touched each one separately, asking "which area of life needs help?"  My arm went down on one, and she told me, "This is the spirituality paper. Does that make sense?"

I told her I had just written a huge blog post about how Aaron had affected my spiritual life!  So... um, yes, it does make sense!

Then she touched various parts of the spirituality paper. It was a page full of statements, and I could not see what they were. But the idea was, my arm would go down on a statement that I don't truly believe.  My arm went down on two different statements, and she told me what they were:
My higher self loves me.
I am ready for a powerful intimate relationship in my life, now.

She said I needed to believe these statements in order to get better.

And again, in addition to the odd feelings of embarrassment and vulnerability that arose, I became aware of the gap between my conscious and unconscious minds.  Consciously I actually do think that I am ready now for a relationship, and... well, regarding the other statement, terminology is a problem, because I don't know if I believe in a "higher self" or "god" or "the universe" as a sentient entity that can love people. But, at very least, I do consciously believe that I am "loved," both by others and by myself. But apparently, my body doesn't feel loved.

The therapy involved sitting in a cross-legged and cross-handed position while closing my eyes and thinking these statements that I wanted to program into my unconscious mind.  I did this, then my arm tested strong on those statements, so she said I was "done for now."

I felt different. I felt stronger. But I also felt completely disoriented. Like a stranger in my own body. And I got dizzy, brain foggy.  I actually wandered out of the office without paying or saying good bye!  Very strange for me!

And I haven't felt well ever since.  I need to go back and tell her to fix me, because I actually feel like I got worse. My energy had been starting to come back slightly, but the past couple days, it has tanked again. I can barely move or get myself to do anything. My body hurts all over, especially my right hand, throat, sinuses, and shoulders. My glands are swollen, my nose is running, and I've been crying at the drop of a hat.  Apparently, my body isn't used to living with these new beliefs I programmed into myself... or she somehow messed up my aura... or something really deep got stirred up in my psyche...

I really think it's the latter.  I've had some huge psychological insights following this treatment.  I'll explain in the next post, this one is long enough!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Another trigger

I went to the UU church again this morning, and the sermon was a discussion about how to respectfully dialogue with people who hold very different beliefs than oneself.  The speaker described a recent experience he had had, being a representative of UU in a series of discussions with leaders from many different religions and sects.

It was a very interesting talk with a lot of poignant moments. One of the things I found most resonant with me was the injunction to remember that our common humanity must be our first touchpoint of dialogue. Our ideals and beliefs and practices all follow this important reminder. We must learn to set aside our feelings on how we disagree with the Others, and see them first as humans, just as we are, at our core,  humans.  This process of setting aside the disagreements, and all the emotions around them, is a difficult challenge, but important, if we want to treat others and listen to others as we would like to be treated and listened to.

This reminded me of how I, myself, had managed to extricate myself from Fundamentalism. It was a process of meeting people who weren't Fundamentalists, and getting to know them, and learning to love them.  In other words, I had HUMAN encounters with them.  Of course, this caused plenty of cognitive dissonance. (One example: "My faith teaches that these people will go to hell for bearing the wrong belief system, but my heart loves these people." Another example: "My faith teaches that these people are deceived by demons into believing and practicing as they do. But their lives don't seem to be any less loving and fruitful and helpful than most Christians, who aren't deceived. If demons are leading these people, why would the demons not lead them into much worse results?") The cognitive dissonance that arose in me caused enough discomfort that I sought answers.  Evangelism ("if you love them, you will try to change them to save them from hell") didn't prove to be a satisfactory answer, and eventually I abandoned Fundamentalism.

There were many other great points about the sermon I could comment on, but I wanted to focus this blog post on my intense experience following the church service.

As I've said before, I have an ongoing health problem with getting shaky and light headed, in addition to my other health problems. I've assumed it's a blood sugar thing. I've had a mild case of it for at least 3 years, maybe more, I can't really remember when it started.  It usually responds to food, so if I remember to eat every couple hours, especially if I make sure to get a lot of protein, I can usually keep it at bay.  But lately, as my health has declined, this blood sugar problem (not sure if it's blood sugar?) has gotten worse, and there are many days when it doesn't respond as well to food.  As in, I'll get shaky and dizzy and brain-foggy, even if I eat a large meal.  It seems not to get as bad if I eat preemptively, but it still comes, nonetheless.

So after church today, I felt it start to set in, but it felt worse than normal. So instead of driving home (about 75 minutes from the church to my home) to eat lunch, as I had planned, I quickly pulled into a fast food restaurant to get something into my stomach ASAP.  I ate an entire burger and order of onion rings, and my stomach felt full.  But the light headedness seemed to get worse as I drove.  My hands felt pins and needles, my knees ached, and I was dizzy. I was actually a bit scared to drive like this, not sure if it was safe, so I pulled over for a few minutes to put my head down between my knees.  That didn't fly too well with the kids--they didn't like just sitting there in their car seats doing nothing--so I decided just to try to make it home.  I texted a few friends, asking them to pray for me as I drove.

As I drove, I thought back to the sermon, and I thought about the psychic's and the chiropractor-kinesiologist's diagnoses of me, that my health problems are rooted in emotional issues, and my mind put 2 and 2 together.

Back in my undergraduate days is when my ecumenical exposure and the questioning of my faith really began. There were many contributions to the process, but it all intensified when I met "Aaron" (name changed). He was earnest about his faith (a different one than mine), smart, not afraid to discuss controversial subjects, and (did I mention?) oh, so handsome. We were decently close as friends.  Not as close as I wanted! But his presence and our discussions were enough to affect me deeply.  He lent me a book that shook my foundations and brought my cognitive dissonances to the forefront of my awareness.  However, I don't think he knew how much he was affecting me, because not only did I not tell him, but I didn't offer any outward clues about what was happening.  I didn't actually leave my faith, decrease my church attendance, or even remotely change any of my doctrines, until years later.  It was a weird thing that happened, though.  I don't know why, but I got into a weird mental habit of thinking to myself, "I wonder what Aaron would say about this," at every church service or religious meeting I went to.  It was like I started carrying him around with me, allowing his perspective (or my imagination of what his perspective might be) to provide a second commentary to my own running commentary on everything that I experienced, at least religiously.  Usually his disagreed with mine, or at least he stood dumbfounded, skeptical, or quizzical about the things going on, such as the ecstatic Charismatic experiences that I found so normal and valued.  It was an interesting mental state I put myself in every Sunday, as the old Me on one shoulder explained to the inner Aaron on the other shoulder what was happening and why, and the current Me stood in the middle, trying to decide if this was worth it, which side was right, and what was going on here.

It's odd to confess-- even though anyone else could have seen the writing on the wall-- I actually thought at the time that HE would eventually come around to MY beliefs, because I prayed for him so earnestly and regularly. (I've never been much of an evangelist, though, so I didn't ever push it. I just lived my faith openly...)  I was sure that all these inner conversations I was having between myself and the imaginary Aaron, I would eventually have for real, and he would eagerly join my side.  This is what psychologists call "projection," I guess.  I couldn't bear the emotional trauma of facing and owning my own doubts, so I put them onto him. By imagining optimistically that he would eventually come around to my faith perspective, I was really hoping that the wholeness I thought my former worldview held would be restored.

I've come a long way since then, and suffice it to say, I no longer hope that Aaron (or anyone!) will convert to Fundamentalist Christianity! 

Anyway, back to September 8, 2013, as I'm thinking of all of these memories in the car.  I realized that my severe shakiness problem could be related to unconscious stress-- the stress induced because the church service about dialoguing between religious faiths was a trigger for these memories, and, by extension, for the memories of the later tryst with Aaron that ended so catastrophically last February. 

I realized with shock that my experiences with Aaron were probably only 20% about the real Aaron, and 80% about me.  It was mostly about my core wounds, and the trauma of my own doubt.  That falling in love with Aaron was 20% about how great he was (and there was a lot to love, I'm not diminishing him) and 80% about trying to unite my past self with the split off part of myself (the skeptic) that the inner Aaron had come to figuratively embody. 

I realized that although I had had many conversations with the inner version of Aaron, I didn't really know the real Aaron very well at all. (Though it wasn't for lack of trying.)

I don't know what to conclude from all of this, it's so fresh.  It's been there all along, but I'm only now seeing it, as a kind of gestalt.  Apparently, since it's still affecting my health, there's still something to resolve.  Or maybe I've already resolved it, and this is just a residue, a stuck emotion that needs to be simply deactivated.  I'm really hoping I'll find out tomorrow!