Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 2010 | Chapitre Onze

I’m working on a piece of art. Approximately 4’ x 2.5’ – a collage painting. I’m using newspaper, paint, patterned paper, markers, and magazine clippings to create a colorful grid of alternating shapes, colors, and thoughts. But it is not really turning into what I had originally envisioned. Of its own volition it is morphing into something else. Something more colorful and bold than I really feel comfortable with. And this piece is making me wonder - is my life turning out the same way?

We all have a hodge podge of experiences and goals that come together to form who we are. And many of us have a dream of the person this clutter will begin to resemble. So what happens when the collage of our lives does not look like what we expected? We can’t get rid of anything. We must layer new things on top of the old things to create a new us. To make our accumulated accomplishments resemble our original dream.

For me, the patchwork of my life is not turning out at all as I envisioned. Much like the visual collection on my canvas. I keep adding to it and it seems to get further and further away from the original impression I had. I leave it alone and it stagnates. I try too hard and it becomes more confused than I want. All like life. So how can I solve the problems of my current existence? Maybe the answer lies in the completion of this piece of artwork.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

March 2010 | Chapitre Dix

Impulsivity versus Planning

Which is better: following a prepared path or letting whim grab you by the throat and shake you about like a dead mouse?

I have always arranged every moment and every minute event of my life path in excruciating detail. My day, my week, and every year of my life are my own personal cosmic to do list. I plan vacations years in advance. I plan home remodeling projects decades in advance. And I practice how to behave in any situation. What image of myself shall I present at a party? At work? To my mother? To my friends? I rehearse and analyze every damn conversation I have or have yet to have. It is a neverending tilt-a-whirl of a brain blitz, but it’s mine and I have grown accustomed to my self oppressive ways.

However, every now and again, I do these crazy impulsive things. I have gotten tattooed, I have pierced my ears myriad times, I have shorn my head, I have quit jobs and I have moved across the country. These are all unexpected and unstrategized events that throw my whole existence into redesign. Control is lost and I have to figure out the “what now” after I have done the “what the fuck?”
Now, there are many people who are able to lead a productive life of nothing but spontaneous decisions. I could not live blind like that, but I have great admiration for those who do not have to be control freaks as I am. I find that I fear being myself when I lose control, but I fear losing myself unless I am impulsive. The blade, I daresay, is not only double edged, but also serrated.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 2010 | Chapitre Neuf

I have a good friend who is making it her quest to blog her way through reading the Guardian’s list of the 1000 best novels that everyone should read. Time Magazine also created the lazy American’s version of this list with their 100 best novels that everyone should read. I surveyed the two lists and saw that I have read almost exactly 20% of each list. Not great, but probably better than the average person. The thing that intrigued me is which books fell into both lists. And the following lists emerged:

The first is the list of all the books I have read that appear on both the 1000 and the 100.
1) 1984 by George Orwell
2) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
3) Animal Farm by George Orwell
4) Atonement by Ian McEwan
5) Beloved by Toni Morrison
6) Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
7) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
8) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
9) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
10) Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
11) The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
12) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
13) The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
14) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
15) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The second, more important, list is the one that both the 1000 and the 100 recommend I read.
1) A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
2) A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
3) A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
4) American Pastoral by Philip Roth
5) An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
6) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
7) Call It Sleep by Henry Roth
8) Deliverance by James Dickey
9) Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
10) Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
11) Herzog by Saul Bellow
12) Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
13) Lolita, or the Confessions of a White Widowed Male by Vladimir Nabokov
14) Lord of the Flies by William Golding
15) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
16) Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
17) Money by Martin Amis
18) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
19) Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
20) Native Son by Richard Wright
21) Neuromancer by William Gibson
22) Nineteen Seventy Four by David Peace
23) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
24) Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
25) Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
26) Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
27) Possession by AS Byatt
28) Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
29) Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
30) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
31) The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
32) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
33) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
34) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
35) The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
36) The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
37) The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
38) The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
39) The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
40) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
41) The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
42) The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
43) The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
44) The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
45) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
46) The Recognitions by William Gaddis
47) The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
48) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
49) The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
50) The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre
51) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
52) To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
53) Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
54) Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
55) Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
56) White Teeth by Zadie Smith
57) Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I imagine it’s an honor to get one’s novel listed on any list of this sort. But to get two must mean something about the author is quite extraordinary. Imitation is the finest flattery, and so, inspired by my literary fellow, I shall begin my own quest with reading the following extraordinary writers who have been so honored.

Saul Bellow:
The Adventures of Augie March

Lolita, or the Confessions of a White Widowed Male
Pale Fire

Thomas Pynchon:
Gravity's Rainbow
The Crying of Lot 49

Philip Roth:
American Pastoral
Portnoy's Complaint

Virginia Woolf:
Mrs. Dalloway
To the Lighthouse

If interested in doing some reading, please visit the original lists:
Time 100 novels:
Guardian 1000 novels:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 2010 | Chapitre Huit

A friend told me tonight that I don’t really see the positive. A few weeks ago he told me I tend to veer toward the negative. Both are ridiculously hyperbolic understatements, of course, but there we are. This did manage to get me thinking about what my positive traits are. And after an eternally long millisecond of thought, this is the comprehensive list I have compiled:

* In my humble opinion, I can write like the devil. That may not get me a job any time soon, but it doesn’t matter. I love doing it and I do it well.

* I am a rock for my friends and family, co-workers, and clients. This does not mean I am a rock for myself, but at least I am there for everyone else.

* I am intelligent. I have respect for those who are stupid, but not for those who rejoice in stagnating in their own ignorance.

* And not that it really matters, but I have great hair. There. Someone had to say it.

In the interest of remaining positive I will not regale you with my negative traits, of which there are myriad. Instead, I will simply ponder why more traits do not leap to the tip of my brain. And does it matter? There are many others who have far fewer talents and I sense this is a list of which to feel proud. I may spend a lot of my days sinking in the quicksand of my mind, but at least I have one list to remind myself why I should reach out for the grapevine back to dry land. And for this, I have my friend to thank. Another positive. Whadaya know.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Psychology of Carolyn Burnham - Perfectionism and Self Hatred in American Beauty

In the film American Beauty Carolyn Burnham creates an outward image of perfection to conceal what she feels is the repulsive person at the core of her being.

In the film American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, a man realizes how sedate his life has become, how useless he is to his daughter, and how controlled he is by his wife. He decides to take a closer look at how he got there and how he can get back to the man he used to be - a man who loved life and used to take pleasure in simple luxuries. Lester Burnham, performed by the always engaging Kevin Spacey, is that man, that father, and that husband.

Alan Ball, the brilliant screenplay writer, saved the most complex character for Lester’s wife, Carolyn, played with startling honesty by Annette Bening. She puts forth the air of effortless success when she is covertly loathing her own imperfections. This loathing elicits a violent condemnation of herself at many points in the film, and this psychoanalysis of her character examines the impetus for her behavior.

Buddy Kane’s Version of Success
In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times. So says Buddy Kane, the Real Estate King, played with amusing hubris by Peter Gallagher. Carolyn is attracted to him because she recognizes an aspect of herself in what he says. Carolyn’s image of success is built on details. Her spade and shoes match exactly, she meticulously wipes away an almost unnoticeable smudge on the mirror at the show house, and she prevents her husband Lester from spilling beer on her perfect imported silk couch. The small stuff is easy, and frames the structure of her self-created appearance. The rest is filled in with the bigger details – having a perfect rose garden, selling a house, or keeping a pristine home. The more dense her persona becomes with her accumulated perfections, then the easier it is for her to conceal and forget who she thinks she really is on the inside.

Carolyn Burnham’s Hostility
Carolyn’s self hatred is displayed most obviously when she admonishes herself in the show house. She carefully closes the blinds before she allows herself to have a cry. But after only a moment of release she becomes furious and slaps herself while screaming, “Stop it! Shut up! You’re weak! You baby! Shut up!” Bening’s performance in this scene is frightening and shocking in her ability to so thoroughly register this character’s hatred of herself. Carolyn seems to feel she not only needs but deserves this violent treatment and masochistically administers just enough to pull herself together and march out of the house with head held high. And yet she had to have this experience in a darkened room where nobody could witness what she considers to be her shameful behavior.

Similarly, when her imperfect affair is discovered and Buddy leaves her alone in her car, the stress of it manifests itself as the thunderous howl of a soul ripping apart at the seams, creating a sort of endorphin rush that allows her to regain control when she feels her grasp slipping. One wonders how many takes were required to get the scream just right – and how that may have affected Bening’s poor vocal cords.

Jane Burnham’s Grandparents
But why does Carolyn hate herself so much? “You cannot count on anyone except yourself,” she tells her daughter, Jane, performed by the tepid Thora Birch, Carolyn has clearly been disappointed by people all her life. Perhaps, in later years, it is due to her strict demands not being met. Though, she has probably created those impossibly high goals to hide her own resemblances to the disappointments she encountered growing up. She has learned to rely on herself to get things done. But when she lets herself down, she looses it because if she cannot count on anyone except herself, then she is truly all alone with nobody on her side at all. And that fear of loneliness is what drives Carolyn to self abuse. She is both judge and executioner to her own perceived crimes – such as they are.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 2010 | Chapitre Sept

Good morning friends. I’ve been away a while and I may not owe an explanation, but it is forthcoming nonetheless. I’ve began getting rid of things toward the end of last year. I took things to Goodwill. I stopped my TV, land line phone, and internet. And I had to stop paying for my website. Sad that. But I now have this free one on which to natter. And it looks almost as nice.

I’m going to use this site as a place to post my blog, and as a place to post my suite101 articles. I’m hoping that by doing so I can try to contain a lot of my thoughts in one location. Perhaps I’ll even get my brain organized. The blog posts will be listed in “Chapitre” form, as always, and the articles will be listed by their published titles.

So the question today is what’s on my mind, and I have to admit that there is nothing on my mind. Nothing at all. I’m doing lots of things: painting the living room (again), writing new articles, having catch up lunch with professors, organizing stacks of neglected papers, and hanging clothes in color coordinated sections in my new closet. But am I thinking about anything? No. I’m not. I’m doing. Because I’m empty. I’m moving at top speed, getting lots of things done but I’m thinking and feeling naught but that still fresh pain in my hand.

Pain has become a friend of sorts in my life. Getting reprimanded, getting scratched or hair pulled, being taunted, being shamed, being humiliated. This was my childhood. And now I welcome pain the way one might greet a familiar friend. It even offers a bit of amusement. And the only real sting I feel is when I cause someone I love any milligram of ache. Is this straight up masochism? Probably. Is it deviant? Hmmm…

Perhaps Emily Dickinson and I have more in common than I had previously imagined.

Understanding the Experience of Depression – Dealing with Your Friend’s or Family Member’s Misery

Friends and family of clinically depressed people should understand what their loved one is experiencing so an environment of safety and comfort can be established.

The Experience
The experience of depression is like swirling down into a black hole of nothingness where nobody and nothing matters. It is empty and dark. And, above all, depression is lonely because no two people experience depression in exactly the same way, and therefore, can never commiserate with anyone else – not that they would want to anyway.

Depression is not a feeling, like sadness. It is the opposite of feeling and the opposite of motivation. It sucks the sufferers in deeper with every breath they take, and leeches energy with every passing moment of the day. And when a person is mired in it, it can feel endless.

Situational or Clinical Depression?
If people experience a terrible incident in their lives, they may become depressed for a limited time. Eventually this feeling can fade with time and acceptance of the event. This is not a confusing situation for others because there is a definite event that preceded the downturn. Alternately, an attention seeker may exhibit similar symptoms to the clinically depressed, but when focused interest is bestowed upon them, they appreciate it and their mood is elevated.

Clinical depression is caused by nothing more concrete than a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is devoid of reason and therefore a very confusing state for everyone involved because it does not appear to be related to anything and so some feel sufferers should be able to snap themselves out of it as easily as they seemed to trip into it. Unfortunately, this is not how it works.

All Alone
Many depressed people try to hide themselves away from the world; or at least their symptoms, if they are marginally functional. During all this alone time, there are a portion of sufferers who might attempt to harm themselves. The continuum of self harm can include:

1. suicidal thoughts
2. reckless behavior
3. intentional self harm
4. suicide

Suicidal thoughts can be a coping mechanism – “I’d rather be dead than deal with the task before me.” Reckless behavior is passive action and can be as simple as not wearing a seatbelt. Intentional self harm is actively harming the body in such a way as to create physical pain as a stand in for the mental pain. And finally, suicide is the often unforeseen act. If someone is truly determined, they may not give warning signs; if they give warning signs, loved ones may not be prepared to put the pieces together because the pieces may not be obvious enough.

How to Help
Enduring depression is terrible. But not knowing how to help as you watch your friend or your family member suffer is a whole other kind of misery. First, people must understand there is no proper way to react to depression. However, there are some Donts and Dos:

* Ignore the fact they are depressed
* Treat them like they’re breakable
* Tell them to get over it
* Judge them for not being able to get over it
* Worry about saying the wrong thing

* Tell them you’re there for them

It may feel like a meaningless gesture, and they may never take you up on a long chat or a shoulder upon which to cry. But knowing you know and are comfortable with waiting for them to work through it is often enough of a light at the end of the tunnel to get them through.