Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Shostakovich riffs Mahler

In essence, I hear and feel the Allegretto second movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony as Shostakovich doing a scherzo-like parody of a Mahlerian Austrian Ländler slow movement. If you listen to a good interpretation of this symphony, in this movement, you'll soon grasp this.

You should feel a more emphasized version of the rhythm of the Ländler, along with the speed of the Allegretto underscoring this more; that’s where the scherzo part of the interpretation comes in. Beware of overly romanticizing conductors, especially of the “old school,” who take this movement, or Shostakovich in general, too slow.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More philosophical reflections from my national parks vacation

This is another philosophical/personal development poem whose ideas were generated during my recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest, and specifically to Olympic and Redwood national parks.


Beaches have many sounds.
First, like different snowfalls,
No two beaches sound the same
Under the deadfall of human feet.
At one, the sand screams;
At another, it scrunches.
And that’s just the beach sand,
To say nothing of the different roars
Of breakers and surf on sand and sea stacks.
Dover Beach’s sea of faith
Sounds much different at Olympic or Redwood.
It looks much different, too,
As the gleam of moonset on marine mirrors,
The ocean surge constrained by lurking volcanic headlands,
Brackets questions of ebbing faith within a particular context.
Faith in what? About what? For what? To what end?
The faith of Olympic and Redwood
Is not in, for, or to some transcendentally dead deity.
Rather, it is in a nonmetaphysically eternal recurrence,
That this world, this nature,
Simply IS,
And will be,
But like Heraclitus’ river,
Never will recur the same.
In that, I have faith indeed,
A faith as constant as the ebbing tides’ returning surge,
An Olympian faith for today.

Photography, memory and photographic memory

Ever since the first daguerreotype, analogies have been drawn to people whose memory seems to be photographic in nature and exactitude.

Ignoring the fact that memory doesn’t work that way in general, that both still and video photographers are editors and not passive recorders, and that still and video film, or digital sensors, are less light-sensitive than the human eye — plus the eye’s own extensive editor in the brain — the analogy does still have some thought-priming spinoff value, I believe.

Here’s one part of that.

I take many pictures on a vacation, but less than one-fifth of them make it into my hardcopy photo albums.

In some cases, that’s because I’m shooting 10, 15 or 20 different versions of the same shot, varying shutter speed, depth of field, exposure level, use and amount of fill flash and so forth.

But in other cases, I’m shooting things that I know are “snapshot” level. (I don’t mean that to sound denigrating, but I consider myself a good enough photographer to know I normally shoot better than that.)

Why? Especially when there’s at least some degree of conscious intent in the shot?

I believe it’s a way of using the act of photography — and the time invested — in helping incorporate those particular times of my vacations into long-term memory.

Some thoughts on child abuse recovery counseling, AA, PTSD and related matters

One prescriptive tool a number of these counselors recommend is writing with one’s alternative, non-dominant hand in order to recover one’s “inner child.”

But, does this actually have any benefits?

First, Ph.D. psychologist counselors, as compared to M.D. psychiatrists, let alone Ph.D. neuroscientists and cognitive scientists, aren’t renowned for their attachment to empirical research rather than feel-good theorizing. That’s why I have “inner child,” whether advocated by such counselors, Alcoholics Anonymous members talking about their recovery ideas, or others, in scare quotes.

Personally, and having done moderate or more left-handed writing off an on over the past few years, I doubt it.

First, I think the idea of an “inner child” is a construct. That’s not to say the idea isn’t still useful. Nor is it to say that we don’t have some subself that is more childlike (regular readers have read my numerous posts on the idea of subselves), and that, in at least some persons among people who have had childhood traumas, this subself isn’t larger and more active than in the general populace. But that’s all.

Anyway, to the degree alternate-hand writing accesses a child self construct, even then, it is probably not accessing a lot of unconscious or subconscious thought from this subself. The idea probably works in one of two ways.

Some people may be malleable or pliable enough in personality to un/subconsciously incorporate this idea wholesale from their counselors. In that case, what nondominant writing is accessing is most likely what the people subconsciously thinks their counselors want to hear about their clients’ inner children. In other words, outside of affirmation and “strokes” from a therapist, in these cases, nondominant writing is pretty valueless.

In other cases, though, where people who recognize, whether more subconsciously or consciously, the nature of a “child self” as a construct are involved, they may be able to go with the flow and project this constructed child self into the nondominant hand. That’s likely more valuable, but in this case, then what we are getting is an acted role which our own “daily show” consciousness believes is what this “inner child” is like.

A couple of caveats here, too. First, if one is too conscious about this, any insights will be forced. Second, the insights, as noted, may well be from one’s daily consciousness, and not any interior source.

Now, back to the idea of a “child self” and the idea, promoted in drug and alcohol recovery as well as developmental psychology, that this “child self” gets “frozen” by childhood trauma and never develops. (This leads to some AAers, and possibly some counselors, saying that one must “start again at age 13” or whatever, and then one “recovers at one year per year,” implying the whole person (if there actually is such a thing) is ultimately all behind the age-development curve because of the “frozenness” of this “child self.”

Well, first, I simply don’t believe human development happens that way. Even if a child trauma is great enough to produce some sort of actual, “split” or “partially split” child self, that subself is going to continue to develop, whether up, down or sideways. The deeper it appears to remain “frozen,” it seems more likely this is a subconsciously willed (yes, the subconscious has will) decision than an artifact of the original trauma.

Now, someone else might claim that subconscious willing is itself an artifact of the trauma. I say no.

Rather, it reflects differences in personality types — differences with a fair-sized genetic component, as illustrated by differences in post-traumatic stress disorder susceptibility in adults, to adult traumas.

Neuroscience and cognitive science have demonstrated such differences being reflected in differences in brain architecture in the amygdala and elsewhere. And the genetic research, while still somewhat weak evidentiarily, is coming along.

Hence, treatment such as anti-PTSD drugs, along with new directions in PTSD talk therapy, are important.

Counselors, even especially those leaning heavily on warm fuzzies, need to become cognizant of the research in this area and modify their treatment accordingly. And, armchair psychiatrists in AA and elsewhere need to take a page from Wittgenstein and stop dispensing advice that is not only clueless but potentially harmful, or at least detrimental, if they don’t know, and don’t try to know, what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reflections on Redwoods beaches and fog

On of the places I camped while on vacation was in Redwoods National Park’s Nickel Creek primitive campground, less than 100 yards from the ocean, the night of Aug. 3. The glow of a late-night moon seen on that beach, along with a foggy sunrise the next morning, prompted the following extended haiku poem.


Redwood coastal beach
Is serene in moonlight glow
Peaceful, quiet night.

People sleep above
Lulled by crashing breaker roar
Sea-sound lullaby.

Morning comes anew
World wakens as sun rises
Reveals diff’rent beach.

The creamy breakers
Salmon-glow in early morn
With foggy sunlight.

Last-look lingering,
Loath to leave, a parting glance,
I hike up the hill.

Stop and shoulder-glance,
A last trinket of mem’ry
Turn back, trudge once more.

With mem’ry secured,
Painted, not photographic
The essence remains.

— August 8, 2006

Redwoods — trees of living history

The analogy with which I start this poem struck me in the face when I saw a downed redwood in Muir Woods National Monument Sunday.


Like a phonograph
Awaiting a needle for playback,
The trunks of fallen redwoods
Have music to play.

Of course, the needle is already there,
Attached to the living tree
The playback only has live stereo sound
When played live, or alive.

Please don’t cut the redwoods.
Living history is more than just a figure of speech.

— August 8, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two observations on religion from the national parks

I saw two conspicuous examples of religion in national parks while on vacation, both disconcerting, but for different reasons.

Both were in California’s redwoods country.

The first, in a coastal section of Redwoods National Park, was a cross about 6 feet high, made out of two pieces of steel I-beam. The cross appears to have no historical significance itself, nor does it commemorate a historically significant site; no marker, plaque or other object is at the site.

The second, at the adjacent Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, was a string of Tibetan prayer flags wrapped around a redwood fern. New Ageism (assuming an Ager and not a Tibetan lama left the string of flags) no more should be commemorated in national parks than orthodox Christianity. Plus, leaving prayer flags like that is, by legal definition, littering.

New Agers have been angering American Indians by doing this at places like Sedona for years. Stop it.

Besides, it’s metaphysically illogical. If you’re really into “detachment” as a metaphysical principal, it’s illogical to consider one place “sacred” over another; in so doing, you “attach” to that place.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Thoughts from Olympus

Written while hiking in Olympic National Park:

Mount Olympus stands enshrouded,
Wrapped in a wreath of cloud.
Pull back the cumuli, and what do you see?

No throne, no thunderbolt, no Zeus.
The gods have fled Olympus,
And Sinai and Sagarmatha,
Because we have pulled back the veils,
Exposed the Most Holy Places
And revealed what was never there.

Look closely at the peak, in the glacial ice.
See how it mirrors yourself,
As it always did.

I'm baackkk

From a jam-packed 11-day trip to the Pacific Northwest. I'll post some comments in the next 48 hours or so, after I get caught up to speed on knocking out this week's issue of the old newspaper.

Got one poem completed during the trip, one in the hopper and ideas for two others. Look for at least some of them here within a week.