Monthly Archives: December 2008

poetry, meaning and ‘arse dribble’

today, i’d like to serve you up – arse dribble! that’s what stephen fry calls experimental poetry.

don’t worry, there’s more on the menu.

jim murdoch over at the truth about lies has a good post on poetry and meaning, where he lays out two styles of experimental poetry – ‘decoder ring’ and ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. i’ve picked a few words off his post, and will give you examples of my poetry – i have one from each category he discusses.

jim: ‘decoder ring’ poems are fine up to a point. my wife writes them all the time, usually about me and i never get them. of course, when she tells me what the poem is about it’s obvious but no one else would have a clue to the poem’s ‘true’ meaning. that does not mean the poem is necessarily meaningless to them. they will impose their own meaning on it.

my poem:

ha’aha’a: humility.
beyond this and that,
above servitude,
below arrogance
not higher not lower –
just that:
here i am.
naked.
let the winds blow …
ha’aha’a.

here’s the decoder ring (i’ve written a whole book of decoder rings here, by the way)

these are words of aspiration. i aspire for them to be words of description, i aspire for this to be the truth: that i am indeed humble, equal, in no need for clothes that hide who i am, meeting the winds of what-is as they come.

i don’t know if i’ll ever get there – but i can reach for it. as i am reaching, i leave a trace, i leave crumbs like hansel and gretel, and together, these crumbs are a poem.

or: the poem is part of the path that leads to

ha’aha’a: humility

footnote: ha’aha’a is hawaiian for humility. when the spirit of aloha is explained, ha’aha’a has a place: A – akahi (tenderness); L – lokahi (unity, harmony, oneness); O – olu’olu (kindness, being pleasant and agreeable); H – ha’aha’a (humility); A – ahonui (patience and perseverance)

back to jim.

now, an ’emperor’s new clothes’ poem is another thing entirely. it is where you are presented with an arrangement of words on a page and are told, “this is a poem – make of it what you will,” whereupon you are left to your own devices. now, you can look stupid and say, “i don’t get this,” or you can hold you hands up and go, “this is simply wonderful!” to cover your embarrassment. i think too many of us are unwilling to play the role of the wee boy who shouts out, “hey, the emperor’s got no clothes on,” for fear of ridicule. we assume that the poem has a solution.

here’s one i dug up from sometime in 2005, and i have to tell you i don’t really know whether there even is an emperor

it’s all still better when
the crap stops
or the crab stops
running sideways
rouge
baton rouge
roller coaster baton
crab rouge stop
when all the crabs
stop over in baton
rouge when it’s over
it’ll better be over

and jim:

which brings me to the term ‘experimental poetry’ a one-size-fits-all expression which can be used to excuse the author no matter what, if i might quote stephen fry here, “arse dribble” is served up to us in the name of poetry. i have no problem with poets experimenting. i encourage it. i do it myself. i think it is essential. in the best scientific tradition that is how we learn; we have a crack at it and see what happens.

so here’s an example of arse dribble. i had completely forgotten about it. i rather like it:

i have a candle on my left of hand.
i have a candle on my left of amber-on-black that
beshadows itself from light –
candle not reach it for angle will not allow.

candlefire tip so light and bright and white on also-white
waxcandle. transluces many things. though
a-many questions beg: reaches it me, my inner
brainlight?

my inner brainlight as it lies these latter days
under a clog cloud of furry, heavy fog
drogged by itselves and other shrumpy co-oms and panions.

no-ony-bod will ever stand under the tree of this beminion.
no tressy croog will sot beneath or over shullden hexmons.

berwong sut yoot.

i have a candle on my hand that’s left of me.
that screen that sits bestaring me in yellow-black
can see not candle while it angles wrong.

bright fire stares at me, my eyes, my cheeks, my brows and lips
bright candle cuddle fire.
in midnight. while that brain of mine unsure is whether
it long have wait until it drinketh light.

(okay, i have to decode one thing for those of you who haven’t used computers before the internet: first monitor screens came only in green-on-black; the next great evolution was amber-on-black!)

jim: as far as i can tell, there are two kinds of poets: those who want to tell stories and sing songs, and those who want to work out the chemical equation for language and pass on their experiments as poetry.

here’s a poem that’s a song

take the braces off your legs
come sister, take the braces off your legs
tear the rags off your skin, sister, tear the rags off your skin
take them off and dance

take the shackles off your hands
come sister, take the shackles off your hands
tear the black glasses off your eyes, sister, tear the black glasses off your eyes
take them off and sing

take the irons off your feet
come sister, take the irons off your feet
tear the noose off from your neck, sister, tear the noose off from your neck
take them off and dance and sing

dance, sister, dance, be the wind
sing, sister, sing, be the moon and sun
let those chains and shackles be the instruments
that celebrate your freedom

dance, sister, dance, sing, dance

let me stand by and see you
dance, sister, dance, sing, dance
let me see you celebrate your freedom

and one final word from jim:

why can’t you just say what you mean?” is another good question. sometimes i do, sometimes however it’s easier to write about one thing when you’re really talking about something else. that’s nothing unique to poetry. i had a girlfriend once who used to let me know she was menstruating by using the colourful euphemism: “the painter’s arrived.” we use picturesque language all the time. we very rarely call a spade a spade.

here i call a spade a spade. or a tomcat a tomcat. it’s all pretty straightforward. or is it?

wet camelia leaves
glitter under the street lamps.
a tomcat runs home.

buddhist carnival – december 2008 edition, part 1

zen calligraphy of the rinzai school; kyoto, japanmerry christmas!

you know what’s funny? by 1992, i had pretty much foresworn elaborate christmas celebrations, and was quite happy with it. that’s the year i met my husband. now he grew up in a buddhist household. “yay, a bonus!” i thought. and yes, definitely, i’m very lucky to have married into that family. but – they go crazy around christmas! it’s one celebration after the other. it’s one of the amusing ironies of life that this old chick, who grew up surrounded by lutheran theologians, would marry into a buddhist family to experience in-your-face christmas. my in-laws celebrating christmas with such abandon is also a sign of their generous religious tolerance, fostered, for sure, by their buddhist background.

so once again – merry christmas to all my buddhist friends!

it’s the 15th of the month and buddhist carnival time again. loden jinpa was going to host it but something came up, so it’s here again. enjoy a smorgasbord of buddhist posts, completely free of eggnog, shortbread and yule logs!

“who prattles of illusion or nirvana?”
you know i always like to start with a poem. this one is from a post at buddhist torrents, about a book of zen poems by lucien stryk.

this anthology, jointly translated by a japanese scholar and an american poet, is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind to appear in english. their collaboration has rendered translations both precise and sublime, and their selection, which span 1,500 years, from the early t’ang dynasty to the present day, includes many poems that have never before been translated into english. stryk and ikemoto offer us zen poetry in all its diversity: chinese poems of enlightenment and death, poems of the japanese masters, many haiku ” the quintessential zen art ” and an impressive selection of poems by shinkichi takahashi, japan’s greatest contemporary zen poet.

here is an example, by ryokan

without a jot of ambition left
i let my nature flow where it will.
there are ten days of rice in my bag
and by the hearth, a bundle of firewood.
who prattles of “illusion” or “nirvana?”
forgetting the equal dusts of fame and fortune,
listening to the night rain on the roof of my hut,
i sit at ease, both legs stretched out.

biography of a ch’an master
while we’re talking about books: brian schell, one of my buddhist twitter friends who patiently withstood my pestering to get him to submit something here, rewarded us well with a book review of footprints in the snow, by chan master sheng yen. one of his books, zen wisdom, is one of my buddhist book mainstays. brian makes my mouth water with his review; i think i’ll go and order it and the zen poetry book after i’m done writing this post. here’s what brian has to say:

i found this book hard to put down …his easygoing writing style and obvious love of what he does makes every page enjoyable. along with the story, the author explains a bit of buddhist philosophy in a comfortable, jargon-free style ….

my favorite parts of the book, however, are his interactions with the monks and abbots of the various monasteries. far from being the altruistic teachers and devoted worshippers we usually envision, he shows us the real picture. many of the chinese monks sell their services for money, they get into trouble with alcohol and women, there is “office politics” in the hierarchies, and so forth …

he goes from poor farm boy to a monk, to a soldier, to an abbott, to a monk again, eventually becoming homeless and rising back to the top. all the way, he refines his teaching style and is attached to nothing. it’s a dramatic story, and there are some good educational bits on buddhism scattered throughout. if you ever wanted to know about monastery life, this is a must-read.

the law of attraction – all about stuff? more prattling?
wayne c allen presents 6 ideas for zen mind, where he talks about the power of attraction (“POA”), which is also known as the law of attraction (LOA), saying

the irony here is that POA and karma pretty much say the same thing. in other words, karma is all about reaping what you sow”if you “put out” fear and insecurity, you’ll get more of it from others, and the world. if you act as zorba the buddha, (an osho idea-that one could be both fully engaged in the world, and fully spiritual) then the world is both a playground and a classroom.

the problem i see with people getting hooked on poa is that it tends to use “stuff” as a marker-get your thinking straight, and you’ll make money, attract houses and cars, and you’ll “be happy.”

as we endlessly say, having such markers is actually the problem. as soon as i measure my “success” by the height of the pile of crap i surround myself with, i get caught in the addiction to stuff.

and this post here is on the other end of “stuff” – axel talks about simplicity.

***

this is it for part 1 of the last buddhist carnival for december.  i’ll post part 2 some time within the week.

in the meantime, if you have a buddhist blog post you’d like to contribute, please send it to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.

image by jpellgen

disfigured: anorexia, obesity and a friendship

reviews seem to be the theme these days. here’s a video i was sent – disfigured. i wonder who shouldn’t watch it. one-track-mind rambo fans, perhaps. people who can’t stand delving into other people’s psyches. those who don’t like sex scenes on screen, no matter how elegantly presented. and if you don’t like watching people who are overweight, it’s not for you, either.

if you don’t count yourself among any of these, watch it. it’s well done, it’s interesting, you’ll learn something.

disfigured is about a friendship between two women – one anorexic (darcy), one overweight (lydia), neither of them extremely so. which makes me like the movie right off the bat – it’s good to remember that most of “those” people are actually quite normal (whatever that means, but that’s material for another blog post).

here are some tidbits:

on using anorexia to deal with conflicts:

someone pisses you off, you count how many calories you can cut the next day – YOU’re the one in control … now it becomes a blood sport

both, overweight and underweight, get the “we-have-to-talk-about-your-health talk” from well-meaning people, or people who can’t resist the temptation to stick their noses into other people’s business:

they let me know that i am fat … they always have some great system or plan … “you have such a pretty face if you only – ” (ate more; ate less; exercised more; exercised less – pick appropriate advice)

part of the plot is a half-hearted relationship between lydia and bob. bob weighs a bit too much, as well and – shoot, i’d love to tell you about that but i’d spoil it for you.

on the secrecy of overeating: “you eat at home, alone, when no one’s looking.”

which again, isn’t so much different from being anorexic. when you’re anorexic, you pretend to eat to distract people who are watching you.

on the addictive quality of overeating when lydia, after trying to “learn how to be anorexic” in order to lose weight, caves in an brings home bags full of goodies:

i just want to really get it over with? what – life? i already feel crappy but i have to eat what i bought, i just want to get it over with

then the tables are turned – well, maybe, that’s for you to find out if (when!) you watch the movie:

bingeing: you should try it … it’s better than sex … cross over to the dark side

many psychologists and therapists would say that part of the reason for eating disorders are disjointed feelings around what it means to be cared for and about. this meets with flippancy (“you hate me? no, i’m fine”), eating (“this is me taking care of myself. at least somebody is. – who takes care of you?”), and isolation (“you don’t understand!” “i do understand!” “i won’t let you!”). finally “if anyone is going to try and care me into getting healthy, i’ll scream.” and then … well, as i said, see for yourself.

the film ends with a moving, inspiring monologue by lydia.

these bodies – they’re us. how can we live in them every day and find them so strange? how can we hate them? they’re beautiful, and miraculous and sad – everything we experience, we experience through them. sooner or later we’ll just have to find a way to love them for what they are.

i’m not a big movie buff, actually more of a movie scrooge. if there were more movies like disfigured, though, i’d watch way more.

hurry down sunshine – a father’s story of mental illness

hurry down sunshine is the supremely well-told, literally mind-boggling tale of a father, michael greenberg, who suffers through and survives the experience of watching his teenage daughter go through her first extreme manic episode. it is an iridescent story, shimmering with many facets in the hot new york summer that provides the backdrop of this memoir.

let me shed some light on one aspect, the family’s wrangling with stigma of mental illness.

here, greenberg suffers through a visit by eric, his landlord and acquaintance, shortly after “the crack-up”:

i feel as if i’m impersonating the person i was before sally’s crack-up. if sally had been in an accident or come down with some overtly physical disease, i would not hesitate to tell him about it, confident that his sympathies would flow in my direction as a matter of course. but psychosis defies empathy; few people who have not experienced it up close buy the idea of a behavioural disease. it has the ring of an excuse, a license for self-absorption on the most extreme scale. it suggests that one chooses madness and not the other way round.

sally and her family tumble into her madness head-on, seemingly from one moment to the next. it is a family that knows of mental illness – greenberg’s brother, in a strangely parallel reality, has struggled with it since childhood – but, like so many others, had not yet found the courage to look it straight in the eye. perhaps an illness-that-dares-not-know-its-name, its precursory blush and rumble could not be seen or heard; and then it breaks in on them like a tidal wave. sally suddenly sees and lives in a different world, a world from which she transmits communication – demanding, disdainfully regal and bitingly sarcastic – but with which she does not engage.  her father is a helpless bystander, looking at her as if through thick, opaque glass. in the beginning, he can only connect with her in short bursts.

she demands control because, in some interstice of her psyche, she knows she is hurtling out of control. this realization brings me closer to her. i can’t witness her disintegrations without somehow taking part in them, and, closing my eyes, i feel myself racing, too, as if her flutter has lodged inside me.

once the reality has set in that sally will spend some time at a psychiatric ward, the wrestling with the stigma begins:

about eric:

“i don’t want him to know about her. it’s not that i’m ashamed of what’s happened. but he wouldn’t understand.”

“no one understands. we don’t understand.”

“he’d tell our friends. it would make life more difficult for her. people would start thinking of her as weird. stained.”

later, when sally leaves the ward:

i’m glad she’s getting out of that place. she doesn’t belong with those people.

and her brother’s concern and fear:

sally is a mental patient, pops. there are people who if they find this out will see her as an eternal mental patient and nothing more. they’ll trust her less. i know how they talk, especially about girls. there’s no mercy. they’ll snicker about her and crack jokes. we have to keep this from getting out.

thus is the strength of stigma. greenberg and his family are well-educated, open-minded, loving, artistic people. they are no rednecks filled with superstition, afraid of mental monsters and supernatural demons of the soul. and yet they tremble before the opinion of those-who-don’t-know. which may be exactly those who do know and who may be just as afraid of greenberg and his family, who THEY in turn may suspect of being uncomprehending of THEIR secrets.

sally does not stay manic forever. one day,

something about her tone has caught my attention: the modulation of her voice, its unpressured directness – measured, and with a warmth that i have not heard in her in months. her eyes have softened. i caution myself not to be fooled. yet the change in her is unmistakable.

i am grateful for michael greenberg’s courage to finally write about this experience and thus beat the stigma.  he comes out, tells his story, uses his own name, even his daughter’s real name (with her permission). today, many years later, sally is still faced with the difficulties of mental illness; and it looks like she has found a bit of a place for herself.

this is an extraordinary book, important particularly because quite a bit has been written about mental illness from the point of view of the person afflicted by it (greenberg mentions a few, such as girl interrupted and robert lowell’s work) but little is recorded about how life-changing such events are for parents. and yet, it is parents and family who, more often than not, are deeply affected by a person’s severe mental illness.

please read this book. it is heart-breaking, beautiful and unforgettable.

(go here for a short, touching video of michael greenberg talking about the book).

thoughts, blogs, and not much to say

another paid review! haven’t done one of them for a while. let’s just make this a bit of a wild, woolly and completely inconsequential romp.

so i’m supposed to review thoughts.com. this is what they say about themselves:

thoughts.com is a unique site with interesting conversations and sometimes heated debates. membership is 100% free and the most popular features are the free blogs and active discussion forums. all free blogs accounts come with unlimited bandwidth for posting blogs, uploading photos, videos and creating polls. thoughts.com is a community site so you are able to meet new people and make likeminded friends. there is a very supportive group of people blogging on thoughts and the community has a strong and intimate bond not seen in most areas of the web.

maybe something like myspace? no? ning? no? bebo? no? well, you can check it out for yourself if you want to. i looked around a bit and ended up watching a video about a magazine for plus size women (like me), and that led me to this runway diva blog by sharon quinn which has some nice pictures of good looking chicks in expensive clothes – but never mind that because then i came across this yummy looking guy here, katt williams – but you know how it goes? first i thought wellwellWELL!!! but the more often i looked at him the less interesting he seemed. is that because i’m getting old?

katt williams, by the way, is nowhere to be seen on thoughts.com. back to the runway diva then. ol’ katt, unfortunately, keeps on looking less and less appealing. darn.

our friend the runway diva has another blog where she dishes out advice and, in preparation for my next career, i checked out 7 deadly sins for plus-sized models. bad posture and low self esteem go together in her advice bag and are to be avoided. hm. i like to slump. i LOVE to slump, actually. you can often find me draped semi-horizontally in a chair. does that mean i have bad self esteem? i dunno – maybe what happened is that when they did the class on “body language for good girls” i was sick, or busy reading a detective novel, or something. i have all kinds of unladylike behaviours like a way-too-strong handshake, a penchant for trench coats, and a habit of taking up space like a guy. and i used to walk extremely fast with a huge stride, preferably wearing riding boots. (and yes, i HAVE smoked cigars).

now i feel self-conscious for talking so much about myself. hah! that’s feminine, finally, isn’t it? but does it also mean bad self esteem? maybe i won’t make it as a model …

okay, one last try at finding something at thoughts.com. there must be some thoughts there! i have already demonstrated in this post that i have none to speak of myself, so come on, thoughts.com, you gotta help me out here!

here, after quite a while of looking about, is something that’s kinda nice

for thirty-five years i have fought the pain in my back. for many of those years i was on pain killers, but not for a couple of years now. and it is excruciating. don’t feel bad for me. i am confessing how incredibly stupid i am. my daughter inherited my back condition. and after thirty-five years, because of HER pain, i have tracked down some pain specialists for US. a friend asked me about five years ago why i wasn’t in a more aggressive program for this pain that increases year-by-year. i said, “probably because i am not married. i just don’t do that stuff for myself.” but i was wrong. i just needed for someone i loved to need help and i tracked it down in a snap. “but, john, don’t you love yourself?” um … not to where i hold my own hand or feel all special about myself. “well, why not?” um … i dunno. maybe i’m not my type. anyway, my angel and i will be in specialized help soon.

and that, ladies and gentlepeople, is my review of thoughts.com.

inability to regulate feelings at the root of fear of flying?

a guest post by captain tom, on the topic of fear of flying that we’ve discussed on and off here on this blog.

first, by way of introduction, i’m both an airline captain and a licensed therapist. working with people who have trouble with flying has been my specialty for twenty-eight years.

i am fully trained in hypnotherapy and in NLP (neurolinguistic programming). i studied both years ago in my search for things that would help me treat fear of flying clients. i found hypnotherapy to be very “hit or miss”, too unreliable. NLP works with mild cases of flight anxiety.

over the years, my work has been focused on work with people unable to find help any place else. thus, we give away ” free ” the help that some other sites charge for. for free help, see the SOAR library and other free help is available at the fear of flying web site

we also offer free group phone sessions every wednesday night.

there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the cause of fear of flying. it is not caused by a bad flight; most people on a bad flight don’t develop fear of flying. difficulty with flying is caused by insufficient ability to regulate feelings when facing uncertainty.

research since the advent of the functional MRI just eight years ago has helps us understand how the brain works. we now recognize that the ability to regulate feelings is learned and that the part of the brain that does this regulation requires stimulation of the right kind during the first two years of life. the right kind of stimulation requires a caregiver who is empathically attuned to the infant and responds to the infant’s signals, rather than simply providing for the infant according to an agenda set by the caregiver.

if the child is afraid, the caregiver needs to tune into the child’s fear in a way the child really knows the caregiver feels the same way. thus the child knows he or she is not alone.

then, the magic happens; the caregiver then lets the child know that ” though the child’s fear is 100% shared ” the adult has an additional point of view, which is that it is not the end of the world; it will work out alright.

many of us, obviously, didn’t get such optimal early development. thus, when facing uncertainty, we control our anxiety by being in control of the situation, or by having a way to out of it.

that works fairly well on the ground ” except for annoying those who regard us as control freaks. but when flying, there is uncertainty, of course. and, not being in control and not having a way out, there is no way to regulate the feelings.

therapists try to help with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), but anxiety can develop so rapidly that CBT techniques cannot keep up with the anxiety build-up.

hypnosis is pretty “hit or miss”. if it helps on one flight, it can fail to help on another flight.

medications are not to be recommended ” according to the world health organization ” because when sedated, the passenger doesn’t move around enough to protect against DVT, deep vein thrombosis. if a DVT clot forms, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem.

also, use of medications ” according to research ” is only helpful in very mild cases of fear of flying. in more severe cases, medications make the flight worse!

i have tried to give a good understanding of the cause and cure of fear of flying in a video here and here.