The battleground of names

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 12 of 52.

The image shows simple computer code that asks the user to input their name and age, then stores this data as a name dollar sign variable and an age dollar sign variable, and finally prints the information back out.
Screenshot of a tutorial for QBasic, a Microsoft programming language from the early nineties

In 2004, I began asking others to call me by my first name, Douglas. Before that, I’d been called a variant of my middle name (which I won’t share here for mundane privacy purposes). I wanted a fresh start, because I was just entering my first semester at a university, and also, I was annoyed by the various paperwork hassles seemingly everywhere when your legal name and the name you go by differ. For example, class rosters not specifying how you’re actually called encourage teachers to address you by what appears on the roster. Since many teachers labor under the unfair requirement that they educate very large class sizes, and thus face far too many students to always memorize the preferences of each successfully, try as they might, you as a student can go through months and months of unpleasantly trying to correct a teacher about your name, something that’s supposed to intimately characterize you. The indignity of being called wrongly is even more profound for those whose name changes signal giant shifts in their personhood, such as those who switch names as part of gender or religious transitions. Me, I just thought a fresh start and an end to the paperwork hassles would be nice.

The image shows Jim Carrey as Truman in the movie. He's standing atop steps and before a door. He has his arms and hands spread wide, and he's looking up, smiling.
Image from The Truman Show

It’s strange how names characterize us, isn’t it? Consider the eponymous name of the protagonist in the 1998 movie The Truman Show: unlike those around him pretending to be his neighbors, Truman is a true man. But names, at least when initially given, actually characterize the parents/caregivers, their aspirations for the infant who’s receiving some particular name in the first place. A sense of this reality is frequently missing from fiction, when authors pick a name to symbolize or allude to something about a character, rather than about that character’s parents or environment (including economic class). In other fiction, such disparities between a character’s true self and their name are portrayed, especially if the story involves a name change. While authors spend lots of time thinking over the given names characters go by among their peers, I think surnames in fiction don’t receive much scrutiny, particularly in terms of migration. If an author is writing a story set in 2030 in Nebraska, and currently in 2021 nearly all people alive with surname X live only in France, should the author provide backstory for why someone with surname X is living in Nebraska just nine years into the future? Or are surnames freebies for authors and readers alike? As long as it sounds good and plausible enough, maybe no bulletproof backstory is required. You could reduce such realism problems to absurdity by requiring an author depicting a coffeepot in a story to know how it got there, tracing it all the way back to the specific particles emerging from the Big Bang. On the other hand, books too often expect readers to assume narrators are white and show WASP-y names as the norm, presenting anything else as exceptions in need of explanations.

Since 2004, there’s been a certain discomfort with my first name, for many of those using it and me alike. I’m regularly asked the same question when meeting people: “Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?” The question stumped me for a very long time. Whenever I looked within, I discovered I legitimately don’t have a preference. Either is cool with me! So I couldn’t advise the question-askers, who as far as I could make out, wanted to be caring and accommodating. Just about every time I replied that I have no preference, the question-asker became frustrated. They said I should have a preference. But I didn’t. Maybe I hurt their feelings, as though they were going out of their way in offering to remember my preference, and my not having one stung like a rebuke, in some transactional world they exist in. Only this past month have I finally figured out something more about the question. I’ve been doing core strengthening in physical therapy to help with one of my legs (two surgeries on it in my life so far), and the physical therapist is extremely knowledgeable and competent. I like him, and I’m really grateful to have his excellent help. He told me he has a thing for trying to remember the best names to call people by. We were both a bit flummoxed by my lack of a preference between Doug or Douglas. I thought it over. I think the fact I get along well with this superb physical therapist enabled me to see something more about the question and my lack of a preference.

Here’s the answer, what’s been the answer all along: Doug and Douglas are the same name — just at different diction levels. Doug is informal; Douglas is formal. Compare “What’s up, Doug?” with “Listen, Douglas, we need to have a talk.” They’re the same name in two different forms. I don’t want to micromanage which level of formality my interlocutor picks for any particular conversation. I trust the appropriate diction level can just emerge naturally, simply from both parties’ interactions and the environment at large. Because I realized all this just a few weeks ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out in real life yet. But the next time someone asks me, Do you prefer Doug or Douglas?, I’m going to tell them one’s for informal, the other’s for formal, and that they can select between the two as they think proper. I wonder what will happen. As long as they don’t call me Doogie.

The image shows a black book cover, with the title More Than Human at top, and at bottom, the author's name plus "The provocative novel of six people who became--together--a new form of humanity" and in reference to the author, "whose work is increasingly being called a classic of its kind"
Original hardback cover of Sturgeon’s best-known novel

A common thread in the above — asking others to use my first name (revealingly, sometimes frenemies from the past still don’t, pointedly refusing to honor my request); trying to justify to readers a surname’s presence in a geographic location and time period; attempting to explain to strangers that the two forms of a single name are for different diction levels — is a sense of individuals having to legitimize their names, and perhaps themselves, to others. Names are usually social, bestowed upon us and by us as we pass life down through generations. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, each character on an anarchist moon has but one name, handed out by a central computer registry to keep things organized. In contrast to this socially-focused system, in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human, there’s a gripping moment when the first character we encounter, a lonely outsider, finally names himself. Initially, “Men turned away from him, women would not look”; however, after roughly five years living and working with the Prodd farming family, he learns to speak, though “always he preferred not to.” Eventually the farmer Mr Prodd asks him for his name (get it? Prodd as in prodding him). Because he has come to trust Mr Prodd, he’s able to fulfill this request. He thinks that a name “is the single thing which is me and what I have done and been and learned.” Despite his growing connection with the Prodds, he picks the name Alone, which he can manage to pronounce merely as a single syllable, Lone. That seems very individualist, but he chooses a name only when someone else asks him for it, so it’s an event both personal and social. (The book later follows Lone gathering what Sturgeon calls a gestalt, kind of a chosen family, from other outlier outsiders.) Does a person living on a desert island like a castaway need a name at all? Might they forget their own name? Finally, look at the concept of true names in Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction. Characters and objects in that univese have two names, a common one that’s safely shareable, and a second, secret, true name that empowers them and gives others power over them if it’s discovered. In neither case, however, are the names chosen.

The image shows an Internet Relay Chat window, with the user having typed "Hello to all you good people!" with a smiley emoticon. To the right of the image is a vertical list of various handles for users, such as Jolo and herbie and sat.
Internet Relay Chat, what I was doing in the nineties

Online, as in certain types of radio communication, users choose handles, also known as pseudonyms or simply nyms. These lessen tendencies in conversation/debate toward the logical fallacies of personal attacks and arguments from authority, where interlocuters waste time saying “You only believe that because you are [insert identity attribute here]”, as in, because you’re tall/short/rich/poor/white/of color, etc. With nyms, individuals can choose personally meaningful ways to describe themselves, and the handles can become so meaningful that among those heavily involved in computers (or perhaps simply involved in online chatting), it’s common to go by the handles even in face-to-face conversation, rather than by legal names. Some users, in contrast, choose random characters (for example: ang) to identify themselves, not wanting to give their personal story away to strangers. And some change nyms frequently, rebooting their name over and over, trying to prevent others from assuming things based on what might have been past interactions with the person. When I play around with it, this aspect of computing (akin to writing under a psuedonym) can feel very liberating.

At top, the image has text saying "If I was the teacher, i'd give this kid an A." Below that, the image shows a schoolwork assignment, which reads: Defend your answer. Rather than follow the assignment (for whatever it was, perhaps math or English Language Arts), the student has drawn a fort around the word answer, and drawn a solider with a machine gun saying "Sarge, I don't know how much longer we can hold them!"
Must everything be so stressful?

It seems names should be a touching aspect of life, and fun to ponder, but they’re commonly just another battleground. Picking a name can feel empowering (because how could an unchosen name really represent/express who you are?), while keeping a name bestowed by others can offer connection linking the past, present, and future together. Maybe, like successful accounts of trauma that provide healing, names need to be simultaneously personally meaningful, and effective and connecting in social contexts. Really thinking names through, as opposed to dissociation from life (“it’s all a blur”), as well as good relationships for experimenting with names, seem very helpful for individuals trying to determine what might be their own best path.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, The battleground of names, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/26/battleground-names/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week. Here’s entry 11 of 52.

Image shows a small gray notebook. On its front, the notebook says "notes" and "Cambridge edition."
The journal I use for logging my day. Available at that bastion of high culture, Tarjay, at least here in Seattle.

I used to not believe in trauma anniversaries, the distress a person can experience when a calendar date lines up with a past violation of their well-being. To my perspective back then, steeped unawares in the default corporate values, trauma anniversaries seemed too fantastical: how could a person’s nervous system remember all that, and how could it be tipped off that the fateful date was approaching? More importantly, multiple well-paid psychiatrists for decades, their corner offices fancy with diplomas and oak desks, never mentioned trauma anniversaries to me a single time, and consistently portrayed the mania I sometimes experienced as a meaningless, causeless brain fart. But during every April and May for seven straight years, indeed usually on the very date of May 31, I’d experience severe, hospitalizing mania. Despite the timing being as dependable as the Old Faithful geyser, the psychiatrists displayed zero curiosity about it, whereas friends would sometimes ask natural questions (“Why do you think it happens then?”). Unanimously, the psychiatrists told me (not so forthrightly of course): Just take these tranquilizers (“medicine”), these dopamine antagonists, pay up, and you might be able to have some sort of meager life over there in the corner, if you’re lucky. They didn’t say, while the psych pills shrink brains and tardive dyskensia looms at your door.

The image shows a black-and-white page from an academic catalog. It's a full page photo of six old white men in garb that is religious or academic or both: black robes, large crosses on necklaces, and so on. They are walking in a line, most of them smiling.
Page from UD catalog back then. Pies Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Also.

It wasn’t fun. The stigma has been perhaps worse than the mania. I’ll give two examples of hundreds. In 2000-2001, I attended the University of Dallas on a full scholarship to study philosophy and classics (Latin and ancient Greek). It was a small Catholic school, and I was an atheist fish in the wrong, small pond. U.D., as it was called for short, made it a selling point of their school that students would all take a trip to Rome together sophomore year, and I was really excited about it. After mania prevented me from participating in classes for roughly three weeks — this was two decades ago, before psychiatric diagnoses were so common that universities created more explicit policies for mental health emergencies — U.D. informed me I wasn’t going to Rome with everyone else. (Not long after, I dropped out.) Their decision made some sense: what the hell would you do practically with a student suffering manic psychosis, in the hotel, in the airport, etc.? In some cases, it makes sense to give a manic person a tiny bit of benzodiazepine, to help them sleep, and once they wake up, everyone together figure out what’s going on using a process like Open Dialogue; but, colleges weren’t and aren’t prepared to intervene that substantially (although you can imagine it someday, what with K-12s employing special staff to attend to some students’ medical needs, and now campuses outfitting themselves for the horrible idea of in-person classes during coronavirus). Undergraduates in their twenties, with private school backgrounds, haven’t lately been expected to be adults capable of handling themselves. The whole setup was paternalistic to begin with: the U.D. authorities were to watch out for our well-being in these scary foreign lands filled with terrorists or whatever. Bottom line, they looked at me and said No. Just as my K-12 considered kicking me out for the same reason (manic episodes), in a dramatic meeting with my family. The unfortunate “help” I was given for the whole dilemma, the answer from Texas in general was, go to psychiatrists, who will say there are no causes you can do anything about, and take your piece off our game board, get out of everyone else’s way. A very few years later, one of my best friends was going to Japan to teach English (and then went to India for six months); I was going in and out of psych hospitals. It was really discouraging, and I routinely used an imaginative, puffed-up, hypomanic grandiosity to sustain myself, to not think about (to dissociate from) my problems and keep writing music/words and pursuing all my other interests in rude opposition to “having a good work ethic” since I didn’t want to go along with seemingly everyone else’s philosophy of Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job.

Example number two. Here in Seattle, I went to a party for Clarion West Writers Workshop (which I completed in 2008), sometime between 2016 and 2019, honoring an author whose name I can’t remember (she was writing fiction about presidential assassinations, if anyone recalls…to be clear, that is people assassinating presidents, not presidents assassinating people). A random party guest was an employee at Navos, a greater Seattle mental health clinic, as a therapist or some related occupation. I happened to be standing in the small group to whom she was talking, merely happenstance party conversation, people holding drinks and the like. She asked if anyone was familiar with her workplace, this entity called Navos. I said yes. She blinked and said, “Wait, you volunteer there?” And I said, “No, as a patient.” She then literally raised up her nose in disgust and turned away from me. The other surrounding partygoers followed suit, showing disgust and turning away from me also. The look of disgust is a common expression made at someone slotted into a negative image role. Before the pandemic, once patients were called up the stairs from the waiting room at brick-and-mortar Navos, where the security guard watches them from his desk, the therapists would use key cards to let them through locked doors, under the rarely correct assumption that these medicalized humans might act out dangerously. It felt like being a zoo animal. A zoo animal in the social services, mind-twisting, smiley face version of a prison.

Reasons for admission to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1864-1889. (Source)

It’s taken several years, but I’ve made a deep study of the extensive decades of literature disputing the genetic theory of manic-depression, how the twin studies are used, the chemical imbalance theory, and other falsehoods, plus participating in a Hearing Voices Network chapter and devouring multiple books, podcasts, and documentaries detailing the success stories of psychiatric survivors (the secret that people have made full recoveries from repeated bouts of psychosis and tapered off their drugs is slowly becoming more widely known). I’m still studying this material and related helpful information, much of it published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not that practicing psychiatrists read those (they’re busy going on ski trips with the money, possibly bringing their manipulated patients along for sex, too). But for those who might be unfamiliar with this vast literature, let’s just take the chemical imbalance theory briefly, a widely advertised theory which lately mainstream psychiatrists have had to start backpedaling. Millions upon millions of people in the United States today swallow psychopharmaceuticals daily, often antidepressants or sleeping pills; taking “meds” for the psych diagnoses considered less severe has become ordinary, a recommended way to survive the impossibilities of paid-work, while those with the harsher labels (schizophrenia, psychosis, etc.) are considered an abnormal, bad underclass. These millions and millions of people, whether with the “normal” labels of depression etc. or the more severe ones, are commonly told they “have” chemical imbalances. Which I suppose is like “having” a pet rock, only it’s invisible. The mystique of the doctor in the white coat can take over, preventing patients from asking obvious questions. How often do we hear, in place of evidence and logic, about a doctor, politician, or other idealized figure: I trust him; he’s a good guy? Yet we don’t need to feel an affinity with a prescriber; we need to ask the prescriber questions obvious to an impartial observer and verify what’s going on. Which chemical is imbalanced? How much of that chemical per microliter is too much? How much of that chemical per microliter is too little? What’s the safe range, per microliter, for that chemical, whichever one it might be? Who invented the chemical imbalance theory? When was it invented? Was it initially published in a scientific journal, and if so, what’s the citation for that article (and obtain a copy)? These very basic who what when where why and how questions are too often not asked, among other reasons because patients sometimes outright fear their doctors, their legal powers, and their way of snapping back at questions they dislike. The patients’ brains are being dramatically altered without enough questioning from the patients, as if psychopharmaceutical treatment is simply taking clocks to repair shops, to use sociologist Erving Goffman’s analogy in his 1961 book Asylums. With no time or motivation for curiosity, customers taking broken clocks to repair shops do not ask the repair-workers, Who invented clocks? Why do clocks need springs? The customers simply expect the gadgets to be fixed, then they pay the fee and bring the clocks home. People treat their own brains just like that. The error is supposed to be from birth — but sorry, there are no blood tests to prove it (no answers to the microliters questions), and all the vaunted genetics has persisted at a research level for a very long time, scrutinizing without holism people crammed into pidgeonholes, nothing definitive found — and you are to take the pills to remediate your inherent wrongness and then get back to the miserable paid-work for evil corporations and their ancillaries. Mental health suffering is increasing, understandably because humanity, in big picture terms, is seconds from self-caused extinction; watching humanity kill itself and many other species, psychiatrists do not have much to offer for explanation or success stories, but their industry does have criminal convictions at Nuremberg for enabling genocide, and see also the American Psychological Association’s more recent participation in CIA torture. Trusting these people to make dramatic alterations to your brain without asking questions isn’t a good idea. It isn’t mental health.

The image is a popular meme of Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It shows him in his captain's chair, hand on forehand, exasperated. The image has text at the bottom reading: So much fail.
Shy? Correct that chemical imbalance, too little alcohol, by drinking daily!

The chemical imbalance theory came about because scientists began noticing that when people were given certain pharmaceuticals for unrelated physical conditions, they would also act in different ways, so if it was considered good for them to act in those new ways, then they must, the scientists thought, lack enough of that chemical supplied by the pharmaceutical, and therefore they need to swallow some of it regularly to act right. In other words, if you aren’t doing such-and-such, but this other thing makes you do such-and-such when you swallow it, you must have a deficiency of that other thing. This is very bad reasoning. It’s like saying, imagine a shy person. The shy person is at a bar, they’re nervous about their clothes and hair, and they don’t know what to say to the other patrons, to the bartender, etc. But when at the bar we give them alcohol, they suddenly start talking more! Therefore they must need alcohol supplementation, a bit of booze each day, to correct their alcohol imbalance and act with the proper gregariousness. This specious reasoning — X makes you do Y so not doing Y must be caused by a lack of X — fits multiple types of causal logical fallacies. Imagine a psychiatrist in a critical reasoning class! You’re not lying on the floor currently, however when I punch you in the face, you fall to the ground; so, if you need to lie down, the obvious solution to your postural imbalance is to have me regularly punch you in the face a little bit each day for ongoing maintenance against your being-punched deficiency!

The trauma anniversary I was experiencing was combined with dissociation. Dissociation is tuning out in the face of overwhelming emotion. For instance, families in hospital rooms of a dying family member will too often largely, or almost completely, ignore the dying person, and stare at their phones to distract themselves and prevent themselves from experiencing the intense emotions and meanings regarding the impending death. After all, why say goodbye to grandpa when you can scroll instead? Anyway, I did many things to help overcome dissociation to some extent, mainly noticing when I was doing it and then slowly testing out feeling and expressing the emotions instead, which by the way, has physical analogues: feeling and expressing emotion isn’t just rearranging your internal world (like most of psychoanalysis is), but action-y, doing things outwardly, like cursing and kicking a trash can across the room if you’re really, really upset. This took me several years to get comfortable with; I still have a lot more to go. Further, the mania was dissociative in itself: escaping from overwhelm into delusional, grandiose fantasy. Sometimes it seems many people do not even know when they’re overwhelmed, since psychological education is insufficient or nonexistent, not to mention people understandably have blocks against considering what these terrifying topics mean for them. Even though for years and years, April and May meant mania for me, especially May 31, the calendar date of May 31 would roll around and I wouldn’t even know it was May 31. You would think, this most consequential date in my life, that sent me to in-patient lock-up over and over, would register on my radar as it neared. But it was too overwhelming, so I by habit didn’t even realize when it was coming. Among PTSD there are two types (I didn’t learn this from any psychiatrist): the popularly known one where you can’t stop thinking about the trauma, and the other type there’s less awareness about, mine, where you don’t think about the trauma at all. Not being able to find what was causing the trauma anniversary was as habitual as putting one foot in front of the other while walking: something I later was able to focus on starting a little at a time (baby steps), but for decades was more comfortable just going about on the autopilot approach, not thinking about it. Even if I tried to think about it, I could never pin down any specific trauma that happened to me during any long-ago April or May. My mind wouldn’t surface images or facts about any long-ago events in connection with the April/May period. Plus, it somehow didn’t seem “scientific” that something might have happened during those months in my past, a specific example of corporate propaganda (corporate portrayals of science) obscuring a person’s life from him. To top it all off, psychiatrists repeatedly found nothing about any of this worth talking about, same as the instance when an orderly physically assaulted me in a hospital, knocking me to the floor violently just for making a sarcastic comment, and multiple psychiatrists (attending and out-patient alike) said not a damn thing when I mentioned it. In fact, they used what educators call extinguishing. This is the classroom management technique where you ignore a student’s minor misbehavior, not reinforcing it, hoping it’ll disappear on its own, as it usually does (if indeed it is misbehavior; why should students be compelled to sit in cramped desks all day and penalized for “misbehavior” if they refuse?). Whenever I brought these reasonable topics up to psychiatrists, they used extinguishing. They’d just be silent. And then they’d change the subject to something comfortably medical in vibe, like dosages or the side/adverse effect of hives I got from neuroleptic. The psychiatrists felt far more comfortable talking about little checkbox algorithms for physical symptoms. Like eliminative materialists in academic philosophy departments insisting that minds don’t even exist, the psychiatrists kept diligently away from topics such as dissociation, which are actually decently understood by trauma experts. But again, practicing clinicians don’t read that material; that’s why they bully you instead if you ask too many questions, a trick they probably pick up from grand rounds questioning in medical school among other sources. In Fort Worth around 2002 or so, I once saw an orthopod with a sign in his waiting room that said something to the effect of, Any material patients talk about from the Internet will be ignored. Before the widespread adoption of the Internet and especially social media, medical professionals could easily tell each other at conferences how much their patients loved them (perhaps mistaking fear for respect or love), but now I think they’re slowly seeing the pitchforks approaching their insular world. Though some of them still talk blithely on youtube’d recordings of their conventions, making fun of their patients (accustomed to what they are doing, the psychiatrists might consider it merely analyzing their patients for their colleagues’ benefit), maybe unaware that those outside their myopic cult hear them and disagree. If you show your psychiatrist recent articles like this one from earlier this year — “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants & other psychotropic medications” by Adele Framer/Altostrata, the founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, published in the peer-reviewed Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology journal — it’s not like the psychiatrist is going to say Thank you, and I think we all know that. Maybe it’s time for people to stop identifying so dogmatically with psychiatric labels (voted into existence by psychiatrists at conferences) and obsessing over the band-aid commodities sold for those labels (marketing categories), as if it’s the patients’ fault rather than corporations’ for wage-slavery, widespread pollution, and the rest.

The image shows a page from my logbook. The page shows my writing as described in the post, and the month and date circled. A portion of the page is redacted for privacy.
Captain’s log, stardate March 8, 2021.

Trying to figure this stuff out, I went to a Seattle psychologist who was very knowledgeable about alternative views, and understood that emotional distress is a human problem, not a chemistry set or test tube problem. I gained some very good information from him, although I wasn’t really ready for it until later in my life. One thing he did with me was called brainspotting, an offshoot of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I’ve heard the psychologist Daniel Mackler (different person) describe EMDR as a way to helpfully shortcut someone toward discovering what might be causing a traumatic reaction, though not something that heals the psychic injury on its own. A discovery tool, not the cure. So this other, Seattle psychologist pointed a red light at my eyes in accordance with the brainspotting procedure. It caused me to blurt out a single word. I won’t specify it here for the privacy of myself and others, but it was a proper noun, let’s call it R. A few years went by before I recognized the significance of it.

In the meantime, I decided the best way to engage with this mysterious trauma anniversary was to always know the calendar date, so I’d be prepared to use grounding techniques and anything else I needed when April, May, or May 31 arrived. I found a very helpful type of journal, pictured above left and at the start of this post, that lets you circle the date and month. That physical action (as opposed to, say, the endless musings of psychoanalysis) of finding the month and the day on the horizontal lists and circling them helps me always know the current calendar date. Before the logbook, when I was picking out a box of fresh spinach at the grocery, I’d have to check its expiration date against the date on my wristwatch. But now I always know the date and no longer need to do that. Whereas previously, the April/May, and/or May 31, time period would stay in my subconscious, below awareness, too scary to be confronted, I was now bringing this feared problem into my awareness every single day, and I still do this daily. (Makes me think of Jung’s shadow concept or Le Guin’s novel A Wizard of Earthsea.)

I also use the logbook for other purposes too, most importantly to center my life on my calling of writing, which I’ll get to in a moment. I use the logbook to record my dreams each morning, if I remember them, and each night I use it for two exercises psychologist Terry Lynch recommends (his psychology courses are the most helpful material, bar none, that I’ve come across for understanding mental health issues). The exercises are writing down three things I did well that day and three things I’m grateful for from that day. The did-well exercise definitely makes me less susceptible to angry thoughts about how I’m supposedly no good at anything and the like; the exercise encourages me to have my own back, to defend myself from occasional automatic thoughts that are really internalized oppressions, not truths. The gratitude exercise makes me more optimistic in general. However, the benefit from both exercises has started to wear off somewhat, because over time I’ve reached the point that, seeking to go to bed quickly, I just scribble down the six things quickly like rushing through a crap homework assignment. I’ve started reading the six things aloud to combat the unthinking, rushed behavior. Finally, I use the logbook to check off certain foods I try to eat each day for nutritional purposes (a large navel orange for myo-inositol, pumpkin seeds for zinc, and so on), plus certain tasks, a.k.a. areas, I attempt to work on daily: writing fiction (it’s set in 2036), nonfiction (a book about hacktivism), and self (journaling and reading psychology stuff or books that teach practical skills). In years past, when I tried to keep a record of what I was up to, I’d give up after a day or three. But now I’ve been using the logbook consistently for months and months (and I always know the date!).

Two principles have helped me stay consistent with using the logbook daily. One I call “focusing.” I looked at myself and thought, what do I really want to focus on with my life? Do I really, truly want to be investing free time in playing Dungeons & Dragons with online friends, or rehearsing Spanish vocabulary flashcards? Those would be nice to do, but I’m actually here to accomplish various specific writing work. Thus I made a powerful commitment to spend my time actually doing that, not distracting myself with secondary goals that might be nice someday (such as more Spanish skill). Implementing that helps with mental health, too, because I’m not hiding from the challenges of writing by doing something I deep down know is less important to me. I vigilantly circumscribe who I spend (very limited) time with, because all sorts of friends and frenemies habitually criticize me and how I spend my time, or tease me at length as to why I should be playing Dungeons & Dragons with them or coming to this or that offline event, maybe because what kind of weirdo writes longform blog posts anyway, who does that? But I have to protect my availability, especially since writing is exceptionally time-consuming work, particularly when I prefer a thorough and research-intensive style. Second, I jettisoned the idea of deadlines or pressuring myself to write however many words daily. Instead of trying to fit those perfectionist demands, I decided to follow my own curiosity and work on the projects however that curiosity leads me. I still task myself with, besides my day job, spending at least an hour a day on three writing areas — fiction, nonfiction, self — plus doing some form of exercise, so four or five hours total, but since all that is frequently not possible every day (yet), I came up with a simple solution, a way to look at the situation with compassionate objectivity (to borrow Hillary Rettig’s phrase). My real task every day is just to to write on different lines in my logbook Exercise: Fiction: Nonfiction: Self: in case I complete any of the areas and can check it off. That simple chore, which takes perhaps 15 seconds, means that I’m still focusing on these three/four primary areas of work. I’m still caring about and trying to do them, even if it’s just writing down those four words in my logbook. If I don’t work on, say, fiction some particular day, well, life is life, just do the best you can. So I jettisoned all the crazy stress about deadlines and words-per-day, which really came from other people’s expectations, like a lady who once randomly lectured me for not writing as fast at a writing workshop as she thought I should, even though she wasn’t even part of the writing workshop! (She was there hunting for business intelligence for her company, I think.) When you really look for it, and aim to stick up for yourselves and others consistently, you realize there are many people circling around the world, prodding for weaknesses that they can mock you for if you’re vulnerable like a sitting duck, not skilled with firing back counter-insults or leaving the situation. I’ve learned to try not to ask others for their thoughts on these provocative topics too much offline, because bringing up a trouble or curiosity or passion I have all too often gives them an opening to mock or assert superiority without providing any sort of expertise to justify it. So over hanging out, I much prefer writing down the four areas in my logbook, working on them if I can (longhand feels so much more connected and channeling than typing!), and then checking them off one by one. If you’re thinking about trying this logbook technique, it might help to recall that you don’t have to do it the exact same way as I do. Over time, you can learn to trust yourself and your judgement, if you don’t already (many people with mental health problems don’t, though they might not admit it, not even to themselves, like political radicals asking their psychiatrists for permission, or oh excuse me, if the psychiatrist would think it’d be a good idea, before becoming a water protector or the like). You can vary the logbook as you see fit.

Back to the trauma anniversary and R. The idea for the self area — for journaling every day for some 30-90 minutes — came largely from Daniel Mackler’s thought-provoking youtube videos and Terry Lynch’s amazing book Selfhood. I won’t here describe how precisely I do my journaling, as that’s enough to fill a whole separate blog post. The point is, when I first purchased my blue journal (pictured below to end this blog entry), I immediately had the thought come to mind that I should use the journal to write about R. A powerful felt sense told me that doing so was going to be extremely helpful, and I no longer needed anyone else to confirm this for me or debate it. As Lynch says in this hour-long video on recovery from bipolar disorder (where he also mentions how important it is to take baby steps out of comfort zones; and, how important it is for people with manic-depressive tendencies to notice when, in a precursor to psychosis/delusion, they start using grandiose fantasy, such as daydreams of being a superhero, as a coping strategy for avoidance anxiety / putting off addressing problems), when people have severe mental health diagnoses, a crucial piece of their trauma history might not be the big trauma everyone’s looking for, the really obvious horrible thing that happened to them that everybody knows about and talks about. It could be some event that seems small in comparison, or even mundane from a very macroscopic perspective, something that commonly occurs in most people’s lives. But that “small” traumatic event could still be very meaningful yet unresolved for the particular person; usually, it’s events in childhood or adolescence, through which later life can be filtered. That’s how it was for me with R. Over the next several months, working diligently and just about daily, I filled up the entire blue journal with my thoughts and feelings and notes, almost completely about R, sometimes using investigative journalism techniques, researching public records and maps and so on to ensure accuracy (it needs to be a story with personal meaning, but also a story with factual currency in the social world).

Guess what I discovered! The boiling point of the R situation happened in April 1997, and just days later, I exhibited strange emotional distress, something I’d never done before. (I obsessed over packing and unpacking a bookbag and couldn’t respond in conversation with my family, as if I couldn’t even hear them, when they were asking me from across the bedroom what was wrong.) I was that exact month sent for the very first time to a mental health provider. Putting together these pieces wouldn’t be challenging for an impartial, outside observer with skill; in fact, they could probably do it in just a few minutes if presented with enough raw material about a client. But because I had/have the form of PTSD where I tended not to think in any detail about the trauma (except perhaps to haughtily dismiss its relevance), and because psychiatry was of no help (and in fact, with their extinguishing and their dodging subjects like dissociation and abuse by orderlies, psychiatry made matters worse), solving this has taken me decades. It’s no longer difficult for me to acknowledge that people remember, even if only subconsciously or somatically, what happened to them long ago (see savants’ feats of memory for instance, or the fascinating book The Woman Who Can’t Forget by Jill Price), and that something like glancing at the clock at the corner of a laptop screen might inform the subconscious that the date is May 31, even while the conscious mind is running madly away from the trauma anniversary. There’s actually another trauma anniversary for me in August, of lesser strength; on August 24th, 1998 came my second incident of psychosis. It was August 24th 1998 that got me put on psychopharmaceuticals. Second only to the April and May months, August has statistically been the next most common time period for the mania episodes. Tomorrow I’ll start filling up my new, second journal about that August trauma anniversary, and that August 24th 1998 event, whatever it was: I currently and for the last decades have had only a single image of it accessible in my memory. So I’ll have to piece it together, with investigative journalism-type research, looking at archived computer files, finding old school yearbooks in libraries, and so on, as well as by describing and narrating that one single accessible memory-image in such immense detail that additional memories begin surfacing. I’m glad I filled up the blue journal about R; now I no longer fear the April and May time frame, and indeed, I’ve made it through April and May unscathed recently, with the seven year nightmare stretch receding into the past.

Rather than psychosis, we should actually say extreme emotional distress. Whereas the word “psychosis” makes a person seem different, nonhuman, a deserving target of stigma and shunning, extreme emotional distress can happen to anyone, and it does. The handwaving about genetics and chemical imbalances, from which no conclusive evidence or tests have ever been provided, papers over the reality that millions upon millions of people are diagnosed with psychiatric labels and put on mind-altering brain-shrinking drugs, some of which already went into shortage during the pandemic and might go into shortage again (there will come a day when these pills are no longer readily available in this or that region, and patients are left to dangerously cold turkey off them), that elders are being force-drugged with neuroleptic in nursing homes (to make them easier for staff to manage), and that any calamity, from another coup attempt in the United States to a hurricane or an earthquake to the loss of a beloved pet, can be the last straw that causes your mind to snap if you don’t know how to address the psychic violation, and sometimes even if you do. You’re not immune from humanity, and along with so many other psychiatrized people, I am not excluded from it, try as some might.

I hope this post helps someone else suffering from trauma anniversaries and/or the PTSD where you don’t or can’t think about, where you dissociate from, can’t even remember, the specifics of the trauma.

The image shows a blue hardback journal. The cover has impressionist-style art flowers, a tree, and a bay of sea.

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This blog post, How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/20/trauma-anniversary-curiosity/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net

Views of happiness: Journey versus destination, part one of two

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week. Here’s entry 10 of 52.

Photo of Alki Beach in West Seattle by Laurel Mercury. (Source)

The Western philosophy I was taught in high school and undergrad, or from books sitting on the shelves of my family’s house, typically presented happiness as something a person achieves once they laboriously bring multi-step efforts to a successful conclusion. This viewpoint is commonly expressed in average conversations about goals. If a person wants to become happy, for example, they might hear that they should take up exercise. The concept is presented as if they need to add something to their usual routines. With the flavor of the stress-inducing Protestant work ethic, exercise and happiness are made to seem a struggle: happiness-seekers should whip themselves into shape, and if they fail, the lack of joy is their fault. But what if being happy is instead about removing, about subtracting, the multitudinous problems that have piled up onto a person across the decades, the various vampiric leeches sucking away energy from adults who otherwise would be automatically — in their default or natural state — going about completing worthwhile, thrilling tasks on the regular, enthusiastically and with curiosity, like a toddler exploring a beach, running around saying, “What’s that? What’s that?” and eager to make a sandcastle.

I associate the It’s the destination, not the journey position with the ancient philosopher Aristotle. He, and much of subsequent Western philosophy, argues in ethics tracts that people ultimately seek the summum bonum of happiness (or flourishing, or thriving, if you prefer those words and perhaps some no true Scotsman). Summum bonum is a Latin phrase meaning “the greatest/highest good.”

In the Nicomachean Ethics, written around 340 BC, Aristotle argues for the destination over the journey. He writes:

Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim. […] there are numerous pursuits and arts and sciences, it follows that their ends are correspondingly numerous: for instance, the end of the science of medicine is health, that of the art of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of domestic economy wealth […] If therefore among the ends at which our actions aim there be one which we will for its own sake, while we will the others only for the sake of this, and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (which would obviously result in a process ad infinitum, so that all desire would be futile and vain), it is clear that this one ultimate End must be the Good, and indeed the Supreme Good. Will not then a knowledge of this Supreme Good be also of great practical importance for the conduct of life? Will it not better enable us to attain our proper object, like archers having a target to aim at?

A Roman bust of Aristotle. Has this one been smashed yet?

For Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, happiness is the the target humanity aims at. For instance, people might affix a mast to wood, for the sake of something else: making a finished vessel. Affixing the mast to wood is just a lesser bonum, relative to the greater bonum (happiness) that the vessel-builders are marching their way toward. Vessel done, they’ll use their finished ship for some third purpose, say sailing to another country. At the new country, it’s time for a fourth purpose, then a fifth, then a sixth, and so on. The only thing they don’t seek for some subsequent purpose is happiness itself, and thus for Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, that shows happiness is each individual’s ultimate goal. Ultimate as in last in a sequence: the concluding object that a series of sweaty, hardworking steps gets you. All this is undergrad philosophy 101, which itself has the same project management, assembly line structure as Aristotle’s vision. Students don’t like smushing themselves into the too small, infantilizing desks, at the universities forcing them to install apps that vacuum up their personal information and surveil their body language for unapproved behavior, but they do it for the sake of something else: a credential (or the approval of Boomer parents, who lived during a different economic situation, when college degrees were scarce). That credential is valued for a third purpose, namely permission to serve in the trade economy of corporations and their ancillaries (or in the parents’ firms). That service leads to wages; the wages lead to television sets and Netflix subscriptions. Now they have the means to blot out the pain of having the happiness of the child on the beach stolen.

In the passage quoted above, Aristotle reveals himself when he says “all desire would be futile and vain” if “we do not choose everything for the sake of something else.” Of course people do labor to meet the needs of themselves and their networks, and rational, multi-step processes sometimes make sense in that regard as a practical matter or because people like the challenge and benefits of organizing their work. Yet exuberant people (or better put, people when they are exuberant) don’t experience life as a maze of action-steps and milestones sorted on clunky Microsoft Outlook calendars. Multiple youtube videos providing profiles of the various construction trades make it quite clear that one of the biggest reasons people go into that industry is for the simple reason that they want to be outside. They just want to be outside. That’s it. Feel the sun, feel strong hammering something, feel powerful running giant machines. But who does lack exuberance and get trapped in thought-conundrums of why do anything, when mortality / global warming / whatever will just kill us all? Depressed people do. They ask, “What’s the point?” As in, what’s the point of undertaking some particular action? Which is actually what, unfortunately, Aristotle recommends the world ask: all desire is futile and vain, he says, if whichever action in question doesn’t make sense in terms of something else. Well, guess what. Life doesn’t make sense in terms of other things. You’re here, you’re going to die, might as well enjoy it. Why? Because that’s a person’s default, automatic state. Makes as much sense to ask why a fish swims. That’s just what it does; if it doesn’t do that, it’s somehow broken. If things are going well, people are happy and want to go around doing cool stuff. It’s the sedentary, depressed, crushed-by-others, sickened by corporate pollution and other problems, condition that needs to be understood and subtracted away, removed, so that the underlying euphoria of being alive can resume.

If Aristotle truly authored another text, the Magna Moralia (written around the same period as the Nicomachean Ethics; authorship is uncertain), then he does recognize that some activities don’t fit his blueprint of do this because it leads to that, which then leads to another thing, which finally gets you happiness. In the Magna Moralia, he says at 1211b:

to the flute-player the activity and end are the same (for to play the flute is both his end and activity); but not to the art of housebuilding (for it has a different end beyond the activity)

In other words, according to Aristotle, for the flute-player and presumably other artists, just performing and creating is where it’s at, a union of activity (playing the instrument) and goal (happiness); meanwhile, building houses has as its aim some other thing (obtaining shelter, let’s say). Yet it’s quite arbitrary to divide flute-playing from housebuilding. There’s no real reason to assume a flute-player has no additional ends in mind, such as seducing someone with the flute music as a higher (more important) goal later on, or busking to gain donations the next morning (might even resent having to practice the flute to do that), or any other number of destinations the flute-playing could lead to. As for Aristotle’s portrayal of housebuilding as a utilitarian task that is justified because of some further purpose (shelter), well, consider that Winston Churchill enjoyed bricklaying as a hobby. The prime minister didn’t lay bricks as a Plan B because he was worried about suddenly being out of a job and needing a backup skill that could also escort him toward happiness. He did bricklaying for fun, same as Aristotle’s flute player (with photo-ops added). So, if flute-playing can be part of a laborious, step-by-step schema to achieve happiness, and housebuilding can be a pleasant hobby on the side — both counterexamples to the Magna Moralia presentation of the two labors — then it seems none of Aristotle’s arguments about this are particularly clear or insightful. I think what’s actually going on is that Aristotle (assuming he authored the Magna Moralia) has doubts or perhaps conflicts about his own schema. But judging from my philosophy classes and readings over the years, it’s the do this because then it’ll lead to that which then leads to this other thing and finally you get happiness, portion of Aristotle that’s really stuck with people over the centuries, regrettably. I myself tutored this Aristotle stuff approvingly for the university athletic department, teaching it to undergraduate players of women’s volleyball. Oops. They got what I was saying, but understandably couldn’t make sense of why Aristotle took the position he did.

Fast forward two and a half millennia to the noxious reactionary Ayn Rand, who endorsed much of Aristotle (“Whatever intellectual progress men have achieved rests on his achievements,” she wrote in her review of philosopher J.H. Randall’s book Aristotle). The laissez faire capitalist Rand took the Aristotle vibe that conveys a sense of having to complete task sequences — like laboring under a project manager, or an oppressed nation suffering the “rationalizing” forced economies of colonizer bureaucrats — in order to be happy, and put a somewhat simplified version of it on steroids. Her fiction, spreading her viewpoint on happiness, later flooded schools across the United States year in and year out as a result of the Ayn Rand Institute’s scholarship program, which rewards kids with money if they write winning essays on her work.

The cover of the 1964 paperback edition of The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand. It shows her standing on a New York City street.
She doesn’t look happy…

Two quotations from Rand on happiness give a concise snapshot of her stance. Both are from a 1961 essay reprinted in her 1964 nonfiction book The Virtue of Selfishness (the cover of the tattered paperback copy I read as a teen, pictured right, shows her standing in New York City with an austere expression, wearing a dollar sign brooch).

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.

Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness.

Rand, in the above sentences, states that happiness is a reward following from the achievement of your values. She doesn’t present it as a default, automatic state that exists in the absence of problems. She’s pointing a finger at you, warning that you better do enough such-and-such, sweating from your brow like her character Howard Roark in a quarry, or your chances at happiness will slip away. When I was a teenager in Texas, I was reading such garbage, and it had a very negative impact on me, because I believed it, and didn’t realize how miserable I actually was, and didn’t have good roadmaps to clearing up my situation. If I were a teen and a follower of Rand’s Objectivism philosophy, and I were reading this post, I would probably complain that dispensing with assembly line sequences of rigidly planned tasks to yield, only at the end, happiness leaves people with nothing to follow but their emotions, or what Rand called “whim-worship.” I’ll respond to that argument in part two.

In escaping the Ayn Rand position, I didn’t, and still don’t, adopt the tack most take. As far as I can make out from my perspective, most people who are into this stuff, eventually reject the Rand view, and rightfully so. They grow exhausted of its unnecessary, stress-inducing hectoring about completing tasks (expressed in her fiction and newsletters and elsewhere). But sadly it seems a lot of people then settle on hiding from challenges. Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job, which seems to be about — in the face of overwhelming pressures and problems on all sides — staying in comfort zones, a permanent dissociation from life in general, all its mysteries and challenges and fascinations. There’s nothing wrong with ambitious goals and putting forth a lot of effort to achieve them (which sometimes makes bystanders uncomfortable, causing them to give the unsolicited advice, You know, there really is a lot of good TV lately). Rand can fuel people’s grandiosity, grandiosity that’s ultimately unhealthy, but Rand did seem, a little bit, to help me for a while as a young person to avoid the common view that all my goals should just go into the trash because vegging out is so much safer. There’s no conflict between valuing the journey and the ambition to achieve. It’s the journey not the destination, despite its poorly stated form (in which it seems to dismiss the destination altogether), helpfully provides the insight that, the day whatever accomplishment is finally achieved, the achiever will still have to do the dishes, brush their teeth, and take care of other “mundane” tasks — so if the person centers everything around their far-off goals, they’re sure to be disappointed and unhappy, but it’s possible to do both: to have big goals and enjoy the little things too. It can be both the journey and the destination.

The cover of Ursula K. Le Guin's translation of the Tao Te Ching.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s version of the Tao Te Ching. (More here)

My early twenties thankfully saw me emerging, very slowly, from these severe, perfectionist views of complicated, multi-step requirements to someday become happy (or so I hoped). The undergraduate philosophy department at TCU (where I earned my bachelor’s degree) had on faculty Spencer Wertz who just stopped by the intro 101 class for a small segment each year to introduce the very uninterested Texan students to the Tao Te Ching and its Taoist concept of wu wei. The idea of wu wei, which has various translations into English, means something like non-doing, or effortless action, or not-forcing. It’s a belief in refraining from needless effort, which still allows goals to be achieved and needs to be met. For instance, in the United States, protestors will too often form rigid, stationary lines to square off with cops and other “security” forces. The conflict is very stark: a visible separation demarcates who are the activists and who are the authorities, as they form up against each other like offensive and defensive lines in U.S. football (except standing). The protestors aim to occupy or hold their particular position. Hong Kong activists, in contrast, encourage a principle evocatively called Be Water. The Be Water idea has protestors flowing through the streets like guerrilla parkour, never staying in any single place too long, surrounding the authorities or disappearing altogether or re-emerging even, an unpredictable but dedicated river of people swirling around. (The HK-19 manual, an in-progress Google Doc in Burmese and English, promises to discuss Be Water in more detail eventually; I learned of the document from a twitter account you might consider following.)

A Hong Konger holds up a sign that reads: "Be Water! We are formless. We are shapeless. We can flow. We can crash. We are like water. We are Hong Kongers!"
Photo credit Mary Hui. (Source)

The contrast in protest methods beautifully illustrates the difference between rigid requirements of arduous, assembly line task sequences (say, the chain of steps to get an academic degree, with the bureaucratic numbering systems that catalog different courses like points on some vaunted grid of geometry meeting economic efficiency) and wu wei. As professor Wertz talked to our classes, some students whispered to one another, mocking the elderly man and his strange Chinese phrase. The rest of the philosophy faculty participated in various off-campus events together and with students — music shows and parties, both of which featured alcohol and people bragging of their alcohol consumption, human repetition compulsions of those angry intellectual male literary writers from the first half of the 20th century, spotlighted on stages boasting of their misery. These other philosophy professors, who had more Western orientations, were all thought of highly by the majority of the students, who were eager to be picked from above for grad school. Meanwhile, as far as I could make out, Wertz kept mostly to himself. Yet here I am, more than a decade later, painting a picture of the Taoist idea he encouraged. Very wu wei of him! His teachings didn’t address happiness directly (as far as I recall), but they did contribute to my thoughts on the matter later becoming un-stuck from the Eurocentric colonizer theories of academia with its assembly line vibe that to procure happiness you need to add box-checking struggles to your life. Like gentle water, Wertz’s explanations of wu wei didn’t have an immediate impact on me, but what he said was definitely a raindrop in the storm of different ideas that would eventually help me shift from the It’s the destination, not the journey position to a perspective that values both. No longer did happiness necessarily have to be about straining toward a far-off destination; all that needless effort could be subtracted away, removed, as wu wei suggests. Happiness could be a gentler, daily experience.

In part two, I’ll describe how the writings of F.M. Alexander, Ursula K. Le Guin, Heather Marsh, and others further changed my view on happiness.

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This blog post, Views of happiness: Journey versus destination, part one of two, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/13/happiness-views-journey-destination-1of2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net

RIP Chick Corea, fusion jazz keyboardist

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week, ideally on Wednesdays. Here’s entry 6 of 52.

Note: I received a few comments on previous blog posts. Just yesterday I found them in my moderation queue and approved them. Thanks for your patience! Later this month, another post on Biden and a post about some Seattle graffiti. Also, I revised the Gamestop post from earlier this month a little, and fixed the aspect ratio on the snow pictures in my preceding entry.

Today the official Chick Corea website announced the fusion jazz keyboardist, who won 23 Grammys and recorded with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, died Tuesday at age 79, due to a rare form of cancer. His official website currently shows the announcement on its front page. Here’s the unfairly meager New York Times obituary. For the uninitiated, the fusion genre means something like rock + jazz, often with electric rather than acoustic instruments. It was huge in the seventies.

A page from a Chick Corea album booklet. It shows a standing Corea holding a small electronic keboard as if ready to play it, dressing in something that resembles a bath robe, along with red slippers. The rest of the image consists of a track listing, personnel information, and other data for the album.
Amusing photo of Corea, in red slippers, from his 1986 album

In my teens, I took lessons for several years on the electric bass guitar from an amazing jazz player. Before the lessons, this teacher would sit in the music store’s basement practice room, rehearsing alone. One thing he would play in these solo moments was the speedy intro to Chick Corea’s song “Got a Match?” with all the excellent articulation in his right hand that you hear from longtime Chick Corea bandmate John Patitucci. I’d stand outside in the hallway, not wanting to enter and start the lesson just yet, so that I could hold my breath and simply listen.

Learning to play parts of such songs myself, with the help of the instructor, taught me to really appreciate a lot of jazz, including Chick Corea. It was his self-titled 1986 album The Chick Corea Elektric Band that really stuck with me. (I still haven’t put in enough effort to get into his other work; my bad.) The song “No Zone” was nicely otherworldly, speaking of mood states and possible meanings far away from the familiar world of corporate radio and conformist peers. “No Zone” leads into “King Cockroach,” an epic tune with a deservedly grandiose ending. I must have listened to that album at least a thousand times in my life so far.

When I played the 1986 compact disc for others, they too often said, as if pronouncing a verdict of no worth, “This sounds like video game music” or “This sounds like porn music” or “This sounds like weird Miami Vice drug/coke music.” I’ve never been much for group affiliation, so saying A is bad because it resembles B is an argument I quickly reject. Why not just evaluate A on its own merits? Being in a hurry is one legit reason I can think of, and I’ve heard it said that ethics requires analogous reasoning: the only way to rationally show that an act is unjust is if it’s shown to be sufficiently similar to another act already agreed to be unjust. I don’t know what to make of that and its infinite regress. I do think it’s bizarre to listen to music and quickly dislike it merely because it bears similarities to some other music/thing.

Maybe give this 1986 live performance of many of the songs from The Chick Corea Elektric Band a chance on its own merits. The video was recorded at the Bern jazz festival in Switzerland. If you like it, you might also enjoy (uh oh, things similar to each other) Jaco Pastorius’s band live in Montreal in 1982, plus Tower of Power playing “What is Hip?” in Chicago in 1977. Until next week!

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This blog post, RIP Chick Corea, fusion jazz keyboardist by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/02/11/rip-chick-corea-fusion-jazz-keyboardist/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Bullet points: High quality, somewhat under the radar coronavirus readings, including history, global, and mutual aid

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…like this one, which is out on, er, Tuesday! This is Week 14. I’m back on schedule. :)

“It is not your fault, I know, but of those who put it in your head that you are exaggerating and even this testimony may seem just an exaggeration for those who are far from the epidemic, but please, listen to us” — intensive care physician Dr. Daniele Macchini, in translation from Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, Italy, Friday 6th of March 2020. (Additional attribution information.)

Same day as Dr. Daniele Macchini’s testimony from Italy, “Q: Mr. President, you were shaking a lot of hands today, taking a lot of posed pictures. Are you protecting yourself at all? How are you — how are you staying away from germs? THE PRESIDENT: Not at all. No, not at all. Not at all. […] Q: Have you considered not having campaign rallies? THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven’t. […] Q: Isn’t it a risk if there’s that many people close together? THE PRESIDENT: It doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t bother them at all.” Transcript provided by White House of Friday 6th of March 2020 remarks by Donald Trump after tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia.

A week prior at a rally, Trump said: “[T]he Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs [… The Democrats] have no clue, they don’t have any clue. […] this [disagreeing with him regarding coronavirus] is their new hoax.” Transcript of Trump rally Friday 28 February 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Analysis using the Flesch-Kincaid scale, developed in 1975 for the US Navy to assess the relative difficulty of understanding training manuals, finds US president and self-proclaimed “very stable genius” Donald Trump speaks at the reading level of a fourth grader, which explains his huge popularity among certain segments. The above image superimposes a picture of Trump yelling “Have you seen my ratings?” upon a photo taken by a nurse, showing the inside of a bodybag-laden truck at an ambulance bay outside a New York City hospital, Sunday 29 March 2020, shared with Buzzfeed by the nurse.

This post provides 10 bullet points that suggest and summarize various readings regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, plus a bonus eleventh section at the end filled with uplifting material. I recommend further study of any or all of these linked materials, which have flown across my radar in the past few weeks. Whereas on Monday 23 March 2020 I wrote a guide for getting caught up on the pandemic if you’ve been living under a rock or enslaved (imagine someone just getting off a lengthy hiking trip in the middle of this or out of a psych ward), this entry is more a grab bag of important COVID-19 items that are a bit off the beaten track of typical US news readers. In the near future I’d like to write a guide helping US news readers develop a 60-90 minute routine for staying up to date on the pandemic daily by plugging into sources such as local and state public health officials, the World Health Organization, and a steady supply of high quality information from self-governance radicals. Hopefully soon I’ll return to writing more narrative-y blog entries, but as the globe is a bit of a bullet point place these days, I hope you find value in the below and if so, consider sharing this post, supporting me via donation, and/or replacing GovCorps around the world with prosocial ideas and actions. Without further ado:

  • A Monday 23 March 2020 article by Jim Geraghty at the (rightwing but literate) National Review titled “The Comprehensive Timeline of China’s COVID-19 Lies” documents the day-by-day, month-by-month, blow-by-blow of the Chinese government cover-up of the capability of novel coronavirus to transmit from human to human. As best understood to date, the disease jumped from animal to human in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

  • You should know the story of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, whistleblower in this pandemic, or “awakener” as some in China call him as a compliment. The Lancet, one of the longest running and most prestigious medical journals in the world, published an obituary (1-page PDF version) for Li Wenliang by freelance journalist Andrew Green on Tuesday 18 February 2020 (corrected Tuesday 25 February 2020). On Friday 7 February 2020, the New York Times interviewed Li days before he died. Briefly: Li worked at Wuhan Central Hospital, where in late 2019 he saw laboratory result reports, being circulated within medical circles, that led him to tell his fellow medical student classmates in a private chat group that “it has been confirmed that they are coronavirus infections, but the exact virus is being subtyped […] tell your family and loved ones to take caution.” He knew that patients were already being treated under quarantine, so he suspected human-to-human transmission was possible and urged caution, though at first he did not want his messages spread further. (Speculation: I’d guess because of the risk from various Chinese authorities, and I’d guess also because at that point Li might have wanted rock solid scientific confirmation of human-to-human transmission, before wider circulation.) The conversation among his fellow doctors was that SARS (i.e. SARS or a SARS-like disease) might come back and that they needed to be careful. Against his wishes, his messages spread more widely on social media, leading Wuhan cops to force him at their station to admit a “misdemeanor” and to promise not to commit further “unlawful acts” like this “spreading rumors.” Seven others also were arrested, but as of a Thursday 23 January 2020 article at Poynter by Cristina Tardáguila and Summer Chen, their identities and fates are unknown (will update if I hear back). Li felt wronged by the cops and as time passed, he came to appreciate, despite the punishment, the value of his warning messages having spread, telling the New York Times later that he “felt very sad seeing so many people losing their loved ones.” He returned from the police station to the Wuhan hospital and, while treating a glaucoma patient, contracted the very virus he had warned of. While he was hospitalized in an intensive care unit, Li spoke out about his experience at the police station, including releasing the document he was made to sign, telling Beijing-based media group Caixin that “I think a healthy society should not have just one voice,” and the New York Times: “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.” At the time of his death, he was survived by his four-year-old son and wife, who was five months pregnant with their second child.

    Image of Li Wenliang by Anthony Kwan for Getty Images, 2020

    Social media users in China wrote in loud favor of Li Wenliang and against the Chinese authorities, saying on Weibo that, among other things, according to the New York Times, they wrote out of shame and guilt for not standing up to an authoritarian government. Others shared variations of a quote by Chinese writer Murong Xuecun, “He who holds the firewood for the masses is the one who freezes to death in wind and snow,” which the NYT has to explain “was written as a reminder to people that it was in their interest to support those who dared to stand up to authority. Many of those people had frozen to death, figuratively speaking, as fewer people were willing to publicly support these dissenting figures.” Additional sources regarding Li Wenliang: Friday 7 February 2020 article by Zhuang Pinghui in the South China Morning Post; Friday 20 March 2020 article by Helen Davidson at the Guardian; Friday 7 February 2020 article in the New York Times.

  • And regarding the importance of whistleblowers in general, check out this February 2018 panel on whistleblowing at the Oxford Union, which included Heather Marsh, CIA senior management David Shedd, and a Guardian journalist who though employed by one of the world’s biggest newspapers did not write about the Oxford Union censorsing the panel he was on (you read that right, about whistleblowing), although I sure as hell did at Buffalo’s The Public and by contributing to BoingBoing. You can read the panel transcript by Heather who had to whistleblow her own whistleblowing panel, or listen to her 22-minute audio of it below. BTW, the Guardian journadoodle who did not mention, via his salaried job at one of the world’s most important newspapers, the Oxford censorship, then got immediately bribed/rewarded with a paid lecture series at Oxford… a paid lecture series about… yes, about whistleblowing … while I, a devout anti-careerist, essentially have lost 100% of my day job hours due to covid-19 and, while restraining myself from retweeting silly Star Trek photoshops, am writing to you on my blog right here right meow and all these other people with really cool ideas and deeds and artworks and cats are also… okay you get the point, but the tough part might be, not forgetting the point/truth and also following it to all the places where it leads.

    Transcript; Heather’s analysis of the censorship

    And regarding the Chinese and British empires, these 2012-2013 tweets from the orange menace:

    A failing state in debt to Beijing, Russia does much of China’s dirty work. May 2018 at OpenDemocracy.Net: “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”: anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov on torture at the hands of Russian cops. April 2018 at The Russian Reader: Stay Human, How Russia is hunting down anarchists & anti-fascists and torturing them. Coronavirus, shit is getting real.

  • On Monday 30 March 2020, Europe-based journalist Balazs Csekö tweeted the Hungarian parliament had that day passed a bill giving Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán unlimited power and proclaiming: – State of emergency without time limit – No elections – Parliament suspended – Rule by decree – Spreading fake news and rumors: up to 5 years in prison – Leaving quarantine: up to 8 years in prison. On Tuesday 7 April 2020, Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted “One week ago, the European Union ceased being a bloc of democracies, as Hungary’s ruler seized unlimited power in his country. Since then, the other EU member states and the European Commission have done nothing about it.” And the same day he tweeted: “There’s an outright dictatorship within the [European Union]. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has seized unlimited power for an indefinite period of time. That the rest of the EU doesn’t care enough to act is a threat to the very EU itself.”

  • Regarding federal legislators flying around and thus spreading the virus or exposing themselves to it, as the Wall Street Journal published an article partially about on Friday 27 March 2020, see this from Heather Marsh in 2012: “We no longer live in a world where one individual has to make a long arduous journey to appear in person to represent their town or region, we need to work to ensure there is no reason why individuals cannot represent themselves in any circumstance” and “There are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for representative democracy to function: groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups. These two ideas are fundamentally unsound.” If you want more after that, see her 2017 talk (video and transcript) “The evolution of democracy.” For those asking, due to the pandemic, what we should do regarding governance, and demanding short, more practical/pragmatic readings on the topic rather than books, I highly recommend her 2014 “Installing new governance” and you might also read her 2017 “A societal singularity.” Life’s not really about whatever stupid shit Trump said lately, or whether Nancy Pelosi is going to do this or that. Instead look at the more ludicrous things, the federal legislators jumping on planes instead of picking up phones because people are mentally enslaved by these bizarre memes about Ancient Greece city-states or whatever, or the third rail topic of voting elections integrity or even whether voting for faraway celebullies to represent you and the neighbor who completely disagrees with you, and neither of you have or ever will meet the legislator anyway, makes any lick of sense at all (see my post this year on that and Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner), and maybe then also realize, in order to uproot all of those echoes of long ago thoughts spellbinding billions of humans for millenia, might take more than a two sentence explanation of “well what should we do instead” and you might need to read and experiment and do different things to work toward replacing entrenched broken systems (i.e., us, we all are the broken system!).

  • From the 1936 sci-fi movie Things To Come, based on HG Wells’ writings. This is a demagogue leader from the film yelling at a fourth grade reading level except for “muddle”, which is advanced vocabulary I suppose
  • The 2019-2020 novel coronavirus is deadlier than the 2002-2003 coronavirus SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but this 2003 unclassified paper on that earlier and related virus, produced by the CIA’s Strategic Assessments Group, may still be of interest for autodidacts and others studying public health systems responding to epidemics/pandemics. The paper is subtitled Lessons From the First Epidemic of the 21st Century: A Collaborative Analysis With Outside Experts. It’s a 17-page PDF: click here for the PDF at the Homeland Security Digital Library (sponsored by US Homeland Security, FEMA, and the US military’s Naval Postgraduate School).

    The unclassified paper describes its scope as follows:

    In June 2003, the CIA’s Strategic Assessments Group (SAG) sponsored an unclassified workshop with experts from various health-related disciplines titled “SARS: Lessons Learned,” held at the National Science Foundation. The group included leading virologists, epidemiologists, public health experts from academia and government, senior officials from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and authorities in global public health, health communications, and economics. The meeting’s objective was to extract valuable lessons learned to help prepare for future epidemics of new and reemergent infectious diseases. The group reviewed the SARS experience from its medical-scientific, public health, psychosocial and risk communications, economic, and political dimensions. This report conveys the lessons participants found most important for the containment of SARS and for dealing with future epidemics.

    Before going to other bullet points recommending other texts, I excerpt below many of the lessons noted by this 2003 report:

    * SARS has served as a sobering warning about the serious worldwide consequences that can occur at every level—public health, economic, and political—when unanticipated epidemics arise in a highly connected, fast-paced world.

    * The ability to contain the next pandemic or to achieve global eradication of SARS remains uncertain. The disease could reemerge in fall or winter or move from its animal hosts to humans again at any time.

    * Honesty and openness from governments and public health officials is especially important. Without understating the risks or dismissing people’s fears, officials with relevant expert knowledge should advise the public on what measures to follow.

    * Official announcements will need to be bolstered by ongoing public education programs to avoid panic and help motivate first responders to take reasonable risks in treating the sick.

    * [T]he panel warned that the economic impact of an epidemic involving more deaths, plant closures, and population dislocations could be more significant than the modest SARS-related losses

    * Psychological intangibles — fear, risk avoidance, and resilience — are not currently represented in economic models use[d] to gauge the impact of epidemics.

    * The panelists stressed that the US defenses against infectious disease outbreaks depended on the expertise and competence of local public health officials worldwide. [Note by Doug: last chance for smug US intelligentsia to stop rolling eyes whenever anyone brings up international law, universal human rights, the importance of global telecommunications and planetwide collaboration, etc.]

    * The effective application and efficacy of quarantine and isolation proved a pleasant surprise to the public health community. Equally unexpected was the widespread acceptance of the need for these measures by the general public, panelists observed.

    * [P]eople were more prone to comply with quarantine rules when there was no familial or financial hardship involved

    * Continued efforts by local health-care workers in a high-risk environment were facilitated when the workers were reassured their families would be cared for and when the press portrayed them to the public as heroes. Conversely, when these measures were not taken, workers were much less willing to put in the long hours and expose themselves to SARS.

    * While participants lauded the overall rapid and effective mobilization of the international public health community, they did note that [the World Health Organization] was quickly overstretched in early phases of the epidemic, despite supplemental aid by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations. One participant declared that [the World Health Organization] probably could not cope with a second public health-care crisis [simultaneously] on top of SARS [i.e., SARS plus another crisis at the same time]

    * A fearful and confused public, surrounded by speculation, rumor, and exaggerated media reports can lead to genuine panic — facilitating disease transmission and hindering quarantine efforts

    * Participants cited the following reasons for lack of transparency in the case of China […] Fear of upsetting foreign investors and incurring sizable economic losses […] Cultural reticence to reveal information that could be perceived as a weakness.

    * The panelists also affirmed that the experience with SARS had enabled the Chinese Government to gain valuable crisis management experience in areas such as effective inter-governmental actions when forced to shut down parts of Beijing. They commented that with outside support, China could begin addressing some of its major public health problems such as inadequate rural health care, rapidly increasing rates of HIV infection, hazardous animal husbandry and trade practices, and live animal markets which could easily lead to another pandemic

  • 2016 opinion piece in the Washington Post by Ronald A. Klain, Ebola czar at the White House from 2014 to 2015. The title is “Zika is coming, but we’re far from ready” and here are the key passages in my opinion:

    The man who led the effort to wipe out smallpox, Larry Brilliant, often says that the seemingly complex challenge of successful epidemic control can be summarized in one phrase: “early detection, early response.” […] If it seems like the world is being threatened by new infectious diseases with increasing frequency — H1N1 in 2009-2010, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016, yellow fever on the horizon for 2017 — that’s because it is. These are not random lightning strikes or a string of global bad luck. This growing threat is a result of human activity: human populations encroaching on, and having greater interaction with, habitats where animals spread these viruses; humans living more densely in cities where sickness spreads rapidly; humans traveling globally with increasing reach and speed; humans changing our climate and bringing disease-spreading insects to places where they have not lived previously. From now on, dangerous epidemics are going to be a regular fact of life. We can no longer accept surprise as an excuse for a response that is slow out of the gate.

  • Improve your food storage techniques with the following resources. SaveTheFood.com, derived from Dana Gunders’ work; Seattle Public Utilities 2-page PDF guide on food storage techniques, 9-page PDF on freezer storage, and website section on reducing food waste in general; World Healthiest Foods, where you type a food item into the search box, then check out the “How to select and store” section on the resulting webpage.

  • A Wednesday 25 March 2020 article by David Kaplan at the WTAE ABC affliate in Pittsburgh reports that a public school district in the greater Pittsburgh region has been using AM radio to provide lessons to students.

    Elementary and secondary school teachers record lessons the night before and send them in. Then, 680 AM WISR in Butler broadcasts the lessons. Secondary students get their lessons at 9 a.m. and elementary students at 9:30 a.m.

    “I thought the idea was great. It kind of takes you back in a way to think about the days of fireside chats,” said Hope Hull, the principal at Connoquenessing Elementary School.

    Hull says she thinks this exercise improves listening skills for students. She added that her teachers are excited to put these lessons together.

    Somehow makes me think of this April 30, 1981 Bloom County cartoon by Berkeley Breathed (my favorite cartoonist from newspaper days).

  • The University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine maintains a digital repository/encyclopedia with documents from and texts about the US flu epidemic of 1918-1919. I believe that encyclopedia was the source for some of the images in the Thursday 26 March article in the California Sun by Mike McPhate titled “Photos of the 1918 flu pandemic in California,” which begins: “We’ve been through shutdowns like this before.” Below follows some of the images McPhate’s piece republished. I’m unfortunately just going to copy his descriptions and sourcing information for each image without doublechecking them all myself as I would usually do, since by this hour I’m half falling asleep as I’m standing here typing this very sentence.

    A group in Mill Valley in November, 2018.
    Raymond Coyne/Mill Valley Public Library
    The Oakland Municipal Auditorium is being used as a temporary hospital with volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending the sick there during the influenza pandemic of 1918, Oakland, California, 1918. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
    People lined up for masks in San Francisco, which made their use mandatory.
    California State Library
    Physicians vaccinated each other in San Francisco.
    California State Library
    American Red Cross volunteers prepared masks in Oakland.
    Oakland Public Library

    The University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine’s digital repository/encyclopedia also has city essays that tell the stories of 50 US cities and how each responded to the 1918-1919 flu epidemic. Here’s the Dallas essay, timeline, and gallery. Here’s the Seattle essay, timeline, and gallery. As the saying goes, Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • This last of the ten bullet points (before the bonus eleventh), perhaps the most important, consists of mutual aid resources recently compiled/tweeted by @YourAnonCentral, whom you all should be following on Twitter. First, a five-and-a-half minute video by subMedia.tv explaining what mutual aid is:

    Required viewing

    Now, some resources. US-based COVID-19 Mutual Aid and Advocacy Resources, a shared Google Doc. Here’s how to organize a neighborhood pod, for you and your neighbors to help each other. It’s a 4-page shared Google Doc and it includes flyer templates for getting to know your neighbors, and more. This 9-page PDF is a small zine of compiled resources on safety practices for mutual aid food supply and distribution, such as safe delivery and collection protocols, quite useful if, say, you are in the habit, as I am lately in the habit, of delivering boxes containing food and supplies to the grassy outskirts of an apartment complex in view of a particular young woman standing up high on a balcony peering down and observing with untraversable and seemingly infinite physical distance your discombobulated attempts to erect the structure of a normal conversation, like a (Thomas Otway remix of a) Shakespeare scene. Here’s a United States progressive group (yes I know), The Center for Popular Democracy, gathering data for a week of action to demand coronavirus tests if you want to fill that out. Here’s a mutual aid hub map primarily for the United States, linking for instance to the North Texas Democratic Socialists of America’s COVID-19 Mutual Aid Coalition website listing resources and offering a form to fill out to request and/or volunteer help. Also check out MasksForDocs.com. They have one goal: Get personal protective equipment (not just masks, despite their name) into the hands of healthcare workers as quickly as possible. Open, healthy, inclusive, grassroots, free. They’re accepting volunteers, donations, and requests. Bellevue’s nonprofit hospital Overlake, in the Seattle metropolitan area, just received 262 face shields from MasksForDocs.

Okay, we made it! Note please that the above is a shotgun approach (when is the twitter-news not a shotgun approach?), so please read carefully, think for yourself, your mileage may vary, at least one person on those eight million shotgun approach mutual aid resources is probably going to be unfun to hang out with at best (ten-point checklist by CrimethInc for spotting snitches, infiltrators, etc.), and so on. So, the eleventh bonus bullet point is some heartwarming examples of mutual aid, big and small, mostly via @YourAnonCentral on Twitter recently, ending this post. See below, and see you next week!

https://twitter.com/BecHanley1/status/1243864095859838979
https://twitter.com/NCLMutualAid/status/1247218939853246464
https://twitter.com/leytonstone_aid/status/1245405271230500865
https://twitter.com/seattlesymphony/status/1245735238719942657

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Bullet points: High quality, somewhat under the radar coronavirus readings, including history, global, and mutual aid, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/04/07/coronavirus-readings-history-global-mutualaid/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Oops I missed week 8

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…except when I’m not: I missed week 8!

Sorry! I missed last week’s post! Here’s something of a placeholder post for week 8, to apologize and self-flagellate in sackcloth!

Carlo Crivelli’s painting, late 15th century, likely of St. Augustine (Source; More)

Years ago, when I read primary source excerpts of St. Augustine, contextualized by WT Jones, I always liked reading them, for whatever reasons…

Woe be upon me for missing last week’s post!

At least I didn’t fling stolen pears at hogs—as in his Confessions, written in Latin around 400 a.d., St. Augustine described doing in his youth (or, well, he flung stolen pears to hogs):

A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them. And this, but to do what we liked only, because it was misliked. Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it

Purify my soul! Etc etc ad nauseam! What is there that can bring back faith in my blog? Perhaps this a cappella choral composition by one of my favorite classical composers (vies only with JS Bach for first place in my pantheon), the All-Night Vigil (sometimes incorrectly called the Vespers) by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It premiered during this month, 95 years ago, in Moscow…

Then there’s the Pussy Riot take, part of which incorporates a motif from the Rachmaninoff. In February 2012, Pussy Riot performed their song in a cathedral and got arrested and later convicted of “hooliganism based on religious hatred,” but they also made an ethics landmark in Russia, spread their effective message, and won fans around the world. I’ll be seeing the band here in Seattle later this month (update 7 March 2020: well, coronavirus). An edited video for their song, “Mother of God, Chase Putin Away,” subtitled in English and drawing upon the February 2012 performance, below (more info):

Wow, now I really feel better (no more unnecessary, stupid patriarchal/perfectionist guilt/shame/etc), and hopefully you do too. Happy first day of meteorological spring to those like me in the northern hemisphere, and happy first day of meteorological autumn to those in the southern hemisphere!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Oops I missed week 8, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/03/01/oops-i-missed-week-8/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 2

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays — or two days late when I’m busy talking into a microphone at federal Congresspeople and switching from cooking with Pacific Foods coconut milk to cooking with Aroy-D coconut milk, each of those matters more complex than they might initially seem. Anyway, here’s today’s post, the one for Week 5.

Note: My first two blog posts this year, and last week’s, have all been updated a tiny bit. You might want to check out particularly the updates to my post about Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner’s clemency petition.

Note: This post obviously belongs, as Part 2, to a series of posts about my trip from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia in Summer 2019. Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

You-ess-eee-in. U-S-i-a-n. You-ess-eee-in. USian. Got it.

After leaving the border station and entering Victoria, I was amazed at how calm everyone was around me, at the immediate drop in ambient anxiety relative to the United States. I wondered if this was perhaps due to my current location in a touristy area, right by the border station and downtown attractions such as the British Columbia parliament buildings and the surrounding fancy statues. Or if the presence of universal health insurance coverage, next to no mass shootings, and a pervasive metric system might deserve the credit. Before leaving in earnest the area just around the border station — much like putting your shoes back on once through the TSA pornoscope — I took some time to fiddle with my backpack and figure out my OpenStreetMap.

The first Mapsco, uploader unknown. Company seems to still exist

Yeah, my time in Canada began with tinkering with OpenStreetMap, a significantly helpful component of this adventure. Directions without Google is a thing. OpenStreetMap somehow reminded me of science fiction and fantasy maps. If you originally hail from Texas, as I gloriously do, you might remember those old Mapsco books allowing travelers to find streets on a printed grid to explore their hometowns. Maybe we’ve been mapping ever since we first figured out how, real and fictional worlds alike.

And if you are from VARN-4, you might remember this…
OpenStreetMap: Clipper terminal, Victoria BC
Here be no dragons

Backpack secured, map in hand, I headed for the hostel. Along the way, drivers moved their cars with infinitesimal slowness, stopping for anyone within kilometers who might be pondering crossing a street someday in their lives. I kept looking around, bewildered. Where was, where was… was… something? Something was missing. No edginess anywhere. I was looking around for the absent anxiety like it might have been an overshadowed tree or lost ballcap, as some think God or envy should be objects, and if you can’t spot them in a (tele/micro)scope, they can’t exist. All this made me smile. I continued forward. Along the way, I saw an officialdom building for tourists and went in. I asked to convert some of my US dollars to Canadian dollars and stared at the result in my palm. What, exactly, is a loonie, what is a toonie, why are prices typically rounded to .05 increments, what coins will the hostel laundry machines expect, and why aren’t there any cops anywhere?

Little details differed constantly from the United States, keeping me wide awake and very alive. Canadian bills are super thin, and all week, I thought I was going to accidentally tear one removing it from my wallet. During World War II, creeping toward a full century ago, my grandfather, a highly capable man who ‘did a thing’ (or ten), like operate a bulldozer and repair septic tanks and run a gas station and supervise a school, wrote to his local print newspaper in East Texas explaining in terms possibly considered offensive today what people on the other side of the planet looked like. Makes sense, right, what else were they going to do eighty-odd years ago in that Deep South pocket of Texas to determine how tall or short these mysterious faraway strangers were, besides communicate with traveling human beings about it, including those travelers who might at times use words considered in some lonely ZIP code to be noncompliant, or even worse, unfamiliar? Heck, maybe (hopefully?) things I’m saying in this post will strike knowledgeable others in the far future as backward.

Time marches on, and new challenges keep humans constantly adapting and growing stronger — plenty of people don’t want that. We USians proudly know we can ask corporate Alexa/Siri about, say, Canadian bills and come across information regarding their thinness and maintain the superiority complex we USians all seem trained to have about being very stable geniuses (as most of us hide under our beds afflicted with chronic helplessness). And yet that mild fear, all week, of accidentally ripping the Canadian bills made me, perhaps like Mary the Color Scientist, amazed at how much there is in this gigantic world, 190-odd countries and seven billion non-USians, that most of my offline acquaintances and I do not know, in any meaningful sense, sometimes not even at the googling, pixels-on-screens level, since to learn about something unfamiliar usually requires first hearing about something unfamiliar, and then not snarling: “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.” If you have friends who will ask for the definition of an unfamiliar word when you use it, hang on to them…

Entering the hostel, I was met with a hilarious employee behind the desk, who was blasting Al Jazeera. In 2001 two US bombs destroyed an Al Jazeera office in Kabul, in 2003 a US missile attack hit an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad and killed a reporter, plus a leaked memo from a 2004 Blair-Bush II discussion, re: how about doing some more of that, was subjected to media gagging in the UK that looks to still be ongoing (source, source). Besides the moneychanger and the border g̶o̶d̶ guard, this was pretty much the first Canadian I would speak with at any length on this trip. And my country had bombed his favorite news network repeatedly. He was from another country originally and was eventually headed for yet another — migration that, while rarely spoken of or even imagined by hordes of USians (tons of exceptions), seemed a common feature of many I spoke with in British Columbia — and he’d passed through Los Angeles a while back. After I made my appreciation for Al Jazeera known, he passed on to me his conclusion from L.A.: “The United States has two types of people: the terrifying, and the terrified.” Nodding, I said, “And neither knows it.”

The hostel was really cool. I hadn’t quite known what to expect from online reviews and threads, as I’d never stayed in a hostel before, but everything went straightforwardly.

Nice place ya got there / we got here

A desktop computer offered easy Internet access, a lending library supplied books for half-asleep travelers to rest on their bellies while dozing on the couches, the few laundry machines were constantly in use by everyone, the kitchen had ample refrigerator space, cooking gear, and conversation, and there was a television room — I basically never watch TV, except maybe some downloaded Star Trek or Twilight Zone now and then, but I thought briefly watching Canadian news might be interesting. It was. The hosts discussed their differences with excessive politeness and grammatically correct, syntactically complex sentences. Changing channels at random, I finally understood why my decades-long Internet friend in the Canadian Prairies region had an email address ending in @shaw.ca. I mean, I knew Shaw Communications was a giant Canadian telecommunications company, but there it was, right there, a few y̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶s̶ metres in front of me on an everyday Canadian television screen. While stereotypes of the dumb USian might come to mind, and I’m writing a bit like that for humor, during none of this trip did I actually feel stupid, not because of a superiority complex, but because everything seemed really fun and exciting to experience, to learn about.

My bed for a week

One practical tip regarding sleeping. At night, my backpack was locked up in a locker, right? With a padlock and key. So where would I put the key while sleeping? I didn’t want to give it to anyone or hide it. My only remaining option, seemingly, was putting it in my shorts pocket — which had no zipper. As I rolled around in my sleep, the key came out of my pocket a few nights, and once or twice almost slipped down into the crack between my bed and the wall. Tip? From now on, shorts with zipper pockets.

Vegan food from Green Cuisine

Early on, I checked out Green Cuisine Vegetarian Restaurant, where I finally experienced one of the most common observations about the United Status versus other countries, an observation that does actually penetrate the USian hive mind somewhat. Yes, I’m talking about portion sizes. At the Green Cuisine buffet restaurant and everywhere else in Victoria, the plates, the bowls, the booths, the bar stool cushions, and the derrières atop those bar stool cushions, were smaller than their USian counterparts. I think the degree to which I had packed my bowls (see photo) drew some startled looks from the polite staff! And it wasn’t just restaurants and derrières. Victoria’s office buildings were shorter, the bus stop benches were narrower, and the tiny lots of the very few car dealerships I walked past were rather apologetic for existing at all. Whereas North Texas is one sprawling mass of enormous strip malls and totalitarian car dealerships. Prices (adjusting for conversion) were smaller too. In Seattle, the equivalent of the pictured meal might run you up toward $20 USD or above, easy. In Victoria, around $10 USD. (Tack on an .05 for Canadian dollars…kidding.) And of course, I grew up where this $21 USD meal is normal (from Allen Texas, 2019):

I hasten to add that while definitely preferring Seattle to Texas, after moving to the US Pacific Northwest, I’ve come to appreciate many things about Texas that I didn’t appreciate while living there — but that’s a whole ‘nother k̶e̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶f̶i̶s̶h̶ blog post, I reckon, y’hear?

Think about migrating, or just traveling, like algebra, where your geographic location is the term outside the parentheses, and it distributes to each term inside the parentheses, affecting each one. Since we’re living our best lives already, and we aren’t just daily growing stupider as we age confined in cubicles and helplessly hiding under our beds all day watching Frasier in the same ZIP code we were born in, certainly we all remember the distributive property in algebra:

5(a + b + c + d) = 5a + 5b + 5c + 5d

Similarly, geographic locations, starting with Fort Worth Texas:

Ft. Worth(a + b + c + d) = Ft. Worth(a) + Ft. Worth(b) + Ft. Worth(c) + Ft. Worth(d)

Seattle(a + b + c + d) = Seattle(a) + Seattle(b) + Seattle(c) + Seattle(d)

Victoria(a + b + c + d) = Victoria(a) + Victoria(b) + Victoria(c) + Victoria(d)

Now replace the variables a, b, c, and d with various conditions affecting your life, day to day and throughout your life span:

a: safety of air (lack of air pollution)
b: savings on cost of living (lower prices and so on)
c: rarity of mass shootings
d: education level of the public, of professionals, etc.
And whichever additional variables.

Which of course gives us:

Ft. Worth(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Ft. Worth(air safety) + Ft. Worth(savings on cost of living) + Ft. Worth(rarity of mass shootings) + Ft. Worth(education) + etc.

Seattle(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Seattle(air safety) + Seattle(savings on cost of living) + Seattle(rarity of mass shootings) + Seattle(education) + etc.

Victoria(air safety + savings on cost of living + rarity of mass shootings + education) = Victoria(air safety) + Victoria(savings on cost of living) + Victoria(rarity of mass shootings) + Victoria(education) + etc.

Surely you get the idea: while it’s great, in truth mandatory, to improve yourself in this or that regard as an individual, it can upgrade multiple factors impacting your life a lot faster by just picking up and migrating to a better place. As opposed to, say, the individualization of social problems or what’s sometimes called the fundamental attribution error. More simply, from the originator herself of a recent but already well-known quotation:

Obviously, life and locations can be a lot more complicated, and even those with a lot of say in the matter choose to live in certain places only for all kinds of reasons. Some of the most amazing people I’ve met so far have lived in the same house their entire life. Still, I think the above is very worth considering, with far more seriousness than it generally is given.

However, often it’s not logic, like that above, that moves us to make huge leaps in our lives. Instead, it’s our hearts, our dreams, our art… So to conclude this installment, I’ll leave you with the song “I’m Not From Here” from fellow Texan (I’ll always be one) James McMurtry. An excerpt of his lyrics for the song follows. Until next week.

We can’t help it
We just keep moving
It’s been that way since long ago
Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds
We mostly go where we have to go


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This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 2, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/02/05/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s today’s, the fourth of 52.

Note: Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

Last summer I took a trip alone from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia. That was my first trip by myself to another country. Gauging by the stress that multiple acquaintances say they experience when considering just looking at the passport application form, I am not the only USian for whom exiting the bubble of THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO THE ONLY COUNTRY ON THE PLANET feels overwhelming. Thus, instead of immediately plunging into an overnight quest to visit all 190-odd countries in the world and get to know all seven billion non-USian human souls, I decided to start small: merely ride a Clipper boat northward and sleep in a Victoria hostel for a week, then voyage homeward via same ferry southbound.

Yeah, um, how do we pronounce USian, y’all?

Propaganda against leaving the States is everywhere, and conversation about doing so is nearly never heard, so the overwhelm among us peons is understandable. Stuffing my single backpack for the trip with shirts and books and cotton swabs, I feared the metric system itself might attack me: tape measures extending murderous meters, test tubes spilling lethal liters, and the foreign atmosphere itself pressing down on my skull with the weight of killer kilograms. After all, just watch this stunning FOX News revelation of “the global tyranny of the metric system.” I demand the United States give up the huge portion of its military using the metric system, its fully metric Big Pharma dosages, and its fully metric dollar amounts!
James Panero trying to keep from laughing at 0:27 ?

If scientific units of measurement weren’t going to undo me, maybe I’d get frozen to death by the National Igloo that Mike Huckabee as Arkansas governor sincerely congratulated Canada on preserving:

However, I was ready to resist such fictional terrors. If dastardly, freezing decameters came at me hard, malevolently enlarging into subzero deca-space, I could defend myself, sweating wildly, swinging swords of middle school math, the unit converter app on my phone, or the Metric Act of 1866, which legalized the use of the metric system for weights and measures in the U.S. when President Johnson signed it, probably drunk and well on his way to becoming the first impeached very stable genius presiding over the world’s most sacred, most beautiful coun… Okay, I’ll stop shooting fish in a barrel saving fish in a peril and move on to the next crushing calamity faced by all USians who dare dream of, say, searching for paid-jobs north of Seattle by oh about 241 kilometers ⁠— I’m sorry! I’m sorry! 150 miles! 150 miles! I’ll be good! Stop threatening bodily harm to metric system advocates, fellow residents of the only intelligent country that has ever existed, the only intelligent country that will ever, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin…William Whipple? Uh yeah, also William Whipple, whoever he was…the founders, the Founders!

A slightly more highbrow fear came from the Hollywood-esque stories of beefy border agents versus millionaire heartthrob journadoodles — here’s the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 documentation of dozens of cases of U.S. border dudes’ suspicionless searching and interrogating of journalists who color outside the (map) lines, most not wielding Oscars — but I took whatever precautions I could implement in the time frame I had, because an even worse fate would be hiding under the bed for the rest of my life. Further, beyond the glare of edutainment re: suffering journadoodles — JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET ACCORDING TO JOURNALISTS, THE ONLY VICTIMS ON THE PLANET — there are the almost 20,000 people since 2014 trying to cross borders who died in the Mediterranean Sea, to take one sole region recently, so cowardice would have been unjust to all of them. Think about it. Out of those twenty thousand people, imagine one who had really amazing sketch art to share, a fantastic decade-long relationship with an awesome cat to tell you about, hopes of walking around France, and that’s just .00005% of the individuals who died without a Committee To Protect People With Awesome Cat Stories Amazing Sketch Art and Hopes of Walking around France. Obviously the churnalism fan club will primly retort “First they came for the journalists, and after that, we don’t know what happened” which is as laughable as Huckabee’s Canadian National Igloo because once you turn off the roar of corporate media and the USian ‘anarchists’ who amplify corporations all day every day, you can hear your friends who are already trying to tell you what happened, to have a conversation about what’s happening you don’t need professional trade association membership or a New York Times subscription (to defeat their paywall, use your public library’s website, or simply turn off javascript). God, next, people are probably going to tell each other it’s unrealistic to go back to the days before individuals had to buy a credential for permission to tell someone Hi. Solutions should solve problems not for a guild but for everyone, and we can all already stop waiting around for a ZuckerBernie messiah, and just go right ahead, write teach speak learn sing cry laugh help heal hug. POINT BEING, in light of the much more serious injustices done to many more border-crossers around the globe, I made up my mind to just deal with any awful border shit that might happen and stop obsessing over encrypting my socks. [Note added 4 February 2020: This paragraph is a bit muddled, so just to clarify what I’m saying. Considering both the US-Mexico and the US-Canada borders, and both inbound and outbound crossings, there are definitely more than a million border-crossings per day. Yet from informal conversations, USians are scared to cross the borders because of news reports of border agent searches, seizures, and interrogations. Both the fear of crossing borders and the agent behaviors are getting worse. That strongly implies the news reports are not solving the problem, though they might be slowing down its worsening, which is about as exciting as the ‘healthcare cost climb slow down.’ With a million border crossings per day, why not just go, fade into the huge numbers? Life is short. The authorities wrongfully seizing good journalists’ encrypted laptops, and the celebully journalists blaring about how awful it was they got asked some questions at an airport, plus the pathetic fan clubs reflecting both sides in perpetuo, drowning out others’ far worse border-crossing problems including death are just causing audiences to hide under their beds. Regarding solutions solving things for everyone, obviously regional variations are required; I just want to point out that journalists must not be gods with special border blockbuster movies or special snuggly beds to hide under. Free speech for everyone. Might lose my FOIA fee waivers for saying that someday, but the docs should be leaked and hacked out and otherwise publicized anyway.]

Hidden by mental walls, but clear as day, near downtown Seattle, the Clipper awaits

My alarm blasted me off early one Thursday morning in July, and after a giant breakfast, I walked to a bus stop, then rode the bus to the terminal. There the Clipper staff made sure I and everyone else had our passports. At the destination waited the real border security. The vessel was pretty empty, just a few folks on it, including me. Seated, I stored my backpack in front of my legs. It’s startling how central your backpack becomes to you (or at least me) on a trip like this: suddenly, it’s your mobile house, and everything about it quickly takes on outsized significance for creature comfort and safety. After a while, we were off into the Salish Sea, headed toward Canada.

Finally getting underway, for real, felt thrilling. I’d just walked a ways, got on a bus, walked a bit more, and all of a sudden I’m in the middle of the fucking ocean sailing to another country. Stuck-minds of a species that once migrated thousands of miles on foot insist invisible borders are absolutely real and natural and necessary, not just partitions for economic markets, then go escape into video games where they fly across mountain ranges in airships, then at night asleep, they dream of rocketing into outer space. Perhaps for many people, the biggest mental reference point for the concept of going on an adventure is video games. My trip certainly felt like one at times.

Departing the U.S. via the Clipper, July ’19

Scene from Final Fantasy 6 (Japan) aka Final Fantasy 3 (US)

One of the first super intriguing sights I saw: beyond, in what I think were international waters, container ships sat anchored out, waiting their turns to dock at ports. Usually you imagine some commodity, maybe a jar of pickles or a pile of steel, just magically existing wherever sold, no backstory to it at all, but now with my own eyes I was seeing these gigantic cargo ships floating in the middle of the ocean circulating commodities in containers around the world. A former U.S. Navy sailor told me later that years ago, newspapers printed shipping timetables for people on shore to find out when boats would arrive or leave (whatever newspapers were).

Approaching Victoria BC, via the Clipper, July ’19

Crew tied Clipper off so it stays put

Docking fascinated me. It took a sturdy crewmember two or three tries to throw the pictured cable to the sturdy guy on land so they could tie off the boat. That way it’d stop moving and we could disembark. The voyage of this high tech vessel weighing hundreds of tons that just sailed nearly three hours crossing m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ kilometers and kilometers and kilometers, still came down to a burly guy tossing a cable to his burly counterpart standing nearby. Once they finished, we headed into the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) checkpoint.

Crossing a border checkpoint alone for the first time in my life, I stood wearing my backpack in a very white room with humans sorted into lines, cameras staring at us, and a handful of y̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ meters forward, several CBSA border agents sitting up high on a dais-like structure, separated into little booths so they could interview us aspiring incomers individually. Behind me, a father tried to quiet his talkative children: “Shh! This is very serious!” I waited in line, doing my best to appear casual and calm. With all the earnest seriousness everywhere, a rogue thought suddenly impinged on my mind. What if — what if I yelled, “There’s a b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon!” Everyone would break out into a panic as the b̶o̶m̶b̶ balloon e̶x̶p̶l̶o̶d̶e̶d̶ expanded through the very white walls, turning all into f̶i̶r̶e̶ fun! I started to giggle. I started to giggle some more. I kept giggling, and then I saw my hero, my savior. Along the very white wall to my right hung a clear plastic box from which brochures advertised to tourists. Immediately I grabbed one and began reading it with scholarly focus. Did you know the Butchart Gardens began in 1904? My giggles subsided. Did you know its Rose Garden has 280 different varieties of roses? I was breathing again. Did you know that for the safety and enjoyment of all visitors to the Butchart Gardens, selfie sticks are NOT permitted? Now it was time for the CBSA guard to interview me.

I walk forward.

I peer upward at the uniformed g̶o̶d̶ guard staring down at me. In a gruff voice, he asks me routine questions. Occupation, destination, duration of trip, how do I plan to leave Canada? Everything goes straightforwardly until I mention I plan to stay a week in Victoria and then return home the same way I got here, via the Clipper. Why, he wants to know, am I just visiting Victoria? Why not go elsewhere also? YEAH, DOUG, WHY NOT? Bewildered, I stand there. What even is the appropriate answer? My mind flashes to Aristotle’s four causes, four different ways to answer a Why question according to the long-ago Greek philosopher who traveled across countries himself, thousands of years ago:

  • Material cause: Indeed, my legs could transport me elsewhere, to another place outside Victoria, maybe even to the National Igloo

  • Efficient cause: His question was stimulating me to consider journeying to Vancouver also

  • Formal cause: I was trying to take things one step at a time, and wasn’t in any particular hurry to see each and every place

  • Final cause: The objective was a successful trip; would leaving Victoria and encountering scary road signs with kilometers on them impede or facilitate that?

I said something, quite truthfully, about how I was also considering checking out Vancouver BC. He stamped my passport and granted me entry.

Another gub’ment! With Anglophilic buildings

I exited the border station into another country. But what was this? Something was decidedly different in Canada, or at least Victoria. Evident instantly. Not just me; something radiating from the people around me as well. Everyone, so calm. Everything, so chill. The people were even walking more slowly. This immediate drop in ambient anxiety, relative to the United States. Was I in some strange dream world? Were Canadians or Victorians all on Valium or Ativan and not telling outsiders? Or is tranquility just what universal health insurance, next to no mass shootings, and the metric system result in? What on Earth was going on here?

I’ll continue the story with Part 2 next Monday. But in the meantime, you might enjoy the excellent talk below, just under an hour and a half, by punk singer Henry Rollins encouraging people to experience life in other countries. The video would be a fantastic one to show students or really anyone interested in this subject. Until next week!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 1, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/01/27/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-1/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How To Reduce the Need for Affection

What do you want?

Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!

In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.

A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
  • Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
  • Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.

And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”

In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!

You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)

Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.

Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).

A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:

Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.

But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.

Not so fast, the psychiatrists are here. They describe “the self-effacing solution” of wanting too much affection, and the resignation solution of (among others) schizotypals wherein you want too little. Oh, good, the psychiatrists left. Continuing on.

Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.

So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?

INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.

* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!

Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.

They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?

Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.

Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can’t take any more of this either.]

END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.

I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)

Creative Commons License

How to Reduce the Need for Affection by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

I Hate Game Theory

I have yet to read this book

A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if […] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”

Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.

Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?

One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.

I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed

“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”

After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”

“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”

“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [… Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”

The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)

Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?

Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.

Read this book

You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (see these to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.

When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.

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I Hate Game Theory by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.