Archive for the ‘consciousness/psychology’ Category

Deer Mom

March 8, 2019

Last summer Mom called late one afternoon to tell me that a fawn had fallen into her swimming pool and was doing laps, unable to get out or touch bottom. Mom’s house is in a wood and there is no fence on the property, so ducks that visit come and go as they please, but most other uninvited guests fatigue and drown before being spotted by the lifeguard. Mom noticed the young deer in distress from her kitchen window and when she went out to see what might be done saw Deer Mom but a few paces away.

Deer Mom was the first thing I noticed as I got out of my truck. Her alarm and sense of helplessness were made apparent by the simple fact that she made no move in retreat. Immediately came to mind events of similar circumstance in the life of me. Kid getting clobbered on the tennis court. Kid in a bad business bind. Kid at a loss in a piano recital.

Much has been written about animal emotions and should the concept come as a surprise, well, something is either wrong with your wiring or your experience of life. You need a dog. Appropriate to this bit is a recent tome on the subject: Mama’s Last Hug – Animal Emotions and What they Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal. The titular ‘Mama’ was a chimp who on her death bed pulled a human friend close for a last hug. A recent review of the book ends with a similar anecdote, but with the non human half of the pair having been an octopus. (NYT Book Review 3/3/19)

“By examining emotions in (animals and humans), this book puts these in evolutionary context, revealing how their richness, power and utility stretch across species and back into deep time.”… “Emotions are our body’s way of ensuring we do what is best for us… They focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgement.”

As I approached the pool, my inner big man flashed years back upon a visit to the Seminole Village in Florida were we watched a tribe member swim after an alligator and wrestle it into submission. Deer aren’t carnivores and I thus wasn’t worried about the ripping of flesh, but still wondered about their bite. After herding it into the shallow end, I cornered it and slowly reached for its neck.

Never saw any teeth, but was amazed by the silence of its panic. From time to time I’ve heard the horrific screaming of a rabbit in the claws of an owl and had to guess that evolution has not made deer so enabled – epiphenomenal as the ability might be. I slowly gathered the four legs, lifted the soaking thing to my chest, and made my way to the side of the pool. When I set it upon the deck it was so tired that its feet splayed wide several times plopping it on the sidewalk like a dropped washcloth in a bathtub. Deer Mom took a few steps closer. Finally, firm footing was found, the two rubbed noses, and disappeared in the trees.

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Isn’t that rare?

March 1, 2019

In 1954 Mom took me on a train trip from home in Iowa to visit her aunt in Miami. About the trip she wrote to my father:

“Well I must say the train trip was even better than I anticipated. He was just a gem. Slept most of the first afternoon… Did a funny thing ever happen – You know how sound I sleep. Well, I woke up on the train and there was no Budge. He had crawled over me with his blanket and was sound asleep under the berth. Isn’t that rare?”

Mom always thought that everything I did was wonderful. Who was I to disagree? Jung would have used the term ‘puer aeternus’ to describe my state of mind. ‘…men who have difficulty settling down, are impatient, unrelated, idealistic, given to flights of imagination.’

I have been in food fights. I did swim in beer on the floor of my fraternity in college. I have spent a night in jail. I have told jokes at the expense of everything imaginable. Matter of fact, I usually speak without thinking. Uhm, just a few weeks ago I introduced myself to the attractive young woman in the office across the hall from me.

“I have a lot of neat stuff in my office and I get lonely over there. You should come over and visit sometime.”

Needless to say that when I recounted this recent episode to my wife and kids their eyes rolled. With Mom gone guess I’m going to have to grow up. I’m only sixty-six though. There’s still plenty of time.

THAT’S NO FUN

May 30, 2014


That’s Dean Potter and his best friend Whisper. Here’s what he says to people who for some reason question the way he spends time with his dog: “Dogs don’t live as long as we do. Every day that they’re trapped inside a house is like seven days trapped inside a house for us. Certain people I know will say, ‘Hey, you’re freaking taking your dog BASE jumping you lunatic!’ But my response is that Whisper wants to come with me. My philosophy is take the dog with you. It’s part of the family. Don’t trap it in the car or at the house all the time. That’s no fun.”*
*From an interview in the July 2014 issue of Climbing Magazine

Just DO

May 16, 2014

Sponge Bob

Ok, I resubscribed to the Harvard Business Review in hopes of finding something of value for my entrepreneur son. First issue to arrive was April 2014* and a quick look at the table of contents led me to page 30 and the “Idea Watch – Defend Your Research” section with: “The Challenge – Does touching men’s underwear really make women more likely to indulge in risky, reward-seeking behavior?” The title of the article gave away the findings of this important research: “Women Too Respond to Sexual Cues by Taking More Risks”.

Hmm. Interesting. Oh ya, I remembered an MTV interview with candidate Bill Clinton during which he was asked “Boxers or Briefs?” by a cute young woman and we all know how that ended. Further recollection brought to mind the series of events that led (eventually) to the birth of all three of our children and indeed tactility and boxers had been involved! I’d long wondered what could induce a young woman in the throes of youthful exuberance to risk all for reward of unknowable dimension. It all suddenly seemed so obvious.

Unfortunately though, a complication inflected these cerebrations at the very next visit to my reading room and what else but the Economist**. Recent experiments have conclusively shown that some lab animals are so scared of men (and not women!) that pain producing nerve cells shut down. “Simply put, the animals were being scared painless. A significant increase in faecal pellets suggested they were scared shitless as well.” And, relative to the above, the mere presence of an article of men’s clothing is enough to induce the phenomena.

Hmm. Go figure. That doesn’t seem conducive to you know what. I guess it must have been my good looks and scintillating personality way back when. But maybe I’m over thinking this whole thing. Recently, while reading of correspondence between artists Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt, it occurred to me that once again I should meditate or take a run or something other than cogitate.   Hesse was agonizing about aspects of her life and work to which friend Lewitt advised: “Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbing, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning… Stop it and just DO!***

*No foolin’: HBR April 2014 P 30
**Economist May 3-9, 2014 Sex, writhes and videotape
***WSJ 4 23 14 “Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt
Note: Lewitt’s “just DO! was written fifteen years before Nike took as its slogan a convict’s entreaty to his own firing squad cf April 6, 2012 below

 

Good Lesson

April 4, 2014

Chang 1
A few weeks ago I accompanied my potter wife to the NCECA* convention in Milwaukee. I’m not an artist, but am always interested, sometimes enthralled, listening to experts describe their enterprise -whatever it might be. At the very least it can be invigorating to watch the approach of truth and beauty at the hands of a mere mortal. Occasionally, with attention and luck there will be a flight of transcendence and such was the case with Ching-Yuan Chang who you see on stage above.

Mr. Chang makes his delicate pots by first scoring (like this: /////) several smallish slabs of clay an inch or so thick and then gently throwing the slabs against the floor till they are so thin that the spaces between the lines have become linear protrusions. He then trims them and assembles the pieces into a vessel of one sort or another; a cup, a pot, a vase. It was fascinating to watch him work while slides of his fired and finished pieces flashed on the screen to the right along with photos of the landscape around Taipei.
Chang 4

There were two sessions. The first was from 1:00 to 4:00 PM on a Thursday and the second from 9:00 AM to noon the next day. I was there transfixed for the whole six hours. He made many different vessels, talked about his career path, related his take on the life of an artist, and with a serenity unavailable to me answered many questions, some repeated many times. “I like to keep things simple” was a frequent refrain.

Toward the end of the second session a petite and elderly Asian woman approached the microphone and asked: “Mr. Chang, I would like to know why you choose to make functional pots and not something sculpture or figure.” I’ve listened to enough related conversations between ceramicists to know that the response to that question will range from a polite demure to inane verbosity.

Mr. Chang said “Something happened to me many years ago that I remember to this day. I was staying with friends in Japan and they asked me to walk their young child down the block to kindergarten. I did so and watched in wonder at snack time when each child was given a drink in a small handmade ceramic cup. One was dropped and it shattered. My Japanese is not very good (my friends speak English), but I finally figured out how to ask ‘why not unbreakable?’ ”. Teacher smile and ask if I speak English.

I nod, she answer: “Well, they are each unique individual pieces made especially for us. Very delicate. The children usually develop favorites and return for the same one every day. But also almost every day one or two are dropped and become shards on the floor. Even in kindergarten there is realization that something special is gone forever never to be seen on this earth again. Like friend. Good lesson.” A hush fell over the room and I thought of those small faces looking down and then up. Ya, good lesson.
Chang 5

* (National Council for Education in Ceramic Arts – the acronym is better than the mouthful, isn’t it?)

Thought I’d Know More

December 13, 2013

Galesburg Rail Yard

Few days after Thanksgiving I dropped son off at train station for him to make his way back to work some six hours north.  We’ve had the pleasure of A fair amount of travel by rail and find it much the most enjoyable means by which to get from A to B.  You can move about, see the countryside, converse face to face, and get a neat nights sleep on longer journeys.  No TSA.

Depot is about forty-five minutes from our home and as per usual I used the time to share nuggets of my accumulated wisdom.   I could tell it was well received because son’s eyes were closed in concentration.   We hugged, I watched him board, and the bullet quickly departed on schedule having only stopped for ten or so minutes.

Wife knew of some sort of special repository in the vicinity and asked for me to find it and bring a load of stuff home.  I followed GPS to where I’d asked it to take me, but found that of the two related locations, I’d made the wrong choice.  Called the place and found that I was close and that the crow’s path would take me by the rail yard you see above.  It is huge.

In no hurry I stopped to survey the scene.  While so doing, for some reason, my mind went back to the advice I’d shared with son.  I remember thinking first that, like most of the time I hold forth, I should pay more attention to myself.  And then, while recalling the wizened faces of elders telling me how best to negotiate life’s labyrinth, realized that back then I figured that the nature of my consciousness would be different by this ripe old age than is in fact my experience of it.

Thought I’d know more, feel like a sage.

Woe is me

August 12, 2013

Nina 1

  Jeesh.  Sharpened my pencils, sat down, and just as I was going to put point to paper, something caught my eye.  I forced myself not to look, to not let myself get distracted.  Again.  To no avail.  Couldn’t believe what I thought I’d seen.  Something even older than Col Davenport’s house.  I got up and looked out to see the Nina and Pinta (well full scale replicas…) tying up just down river from my window.  Had to investigate.

  Making my way over I encountered a couple of young geniuses.  Their caps were backwards, pants riding low, and they smelled like burning leaves.  Standing well back they evinced a twinge of fear.   “What’s that, man?”  one said.  “Ya” said the other.  “They’re models of the Nina and Pinta” I said.  I loved helping my kids with their homework years ago and was happy to be of service to the two young fellows.

  “Huh?”  “Ya, huh?”   “Well, you know – two of the three caravels upon which: In fourteen hundred and Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Blank stares.  “They’re boats” I said.  “Ooooooh” they said in unison.  Guess I’ve lost my touch.  I let them marvel as I paid the modest admission fee and walked toward the gang plank.

  The boats are small, the Nina only sixty-five feet in length and eighteen feet wide.  Below deck is storage – only.  The crew spent the whole voyage on deck, virtually unprotected from the elements.  That is really mind-blowing to consider even though they did know that there was major landmass a good deal west of their point of departure.  A body of knowledge that began with the Vikings made that fairly plain.  They were though, of course, wrong with their thoughts of what it was.

  Which brought to mind an interview with alpinist Voytek Kurtyka that I’d just read.  “But hell, I’ve had several great things happen in my life against all reason.  What’s even more interesting is that if you manage to do something is spite of reason, the level of satisfaction is even greater – downright divine….  If something is happening inside us, there can be no boredom, and life is beautiful.  I create therefore I am.”*

   A conflation of recollections of my own past escapades with thoughts of the mindsets of Columbus and crew upon their return home was tough to extinguish.  Who gives a shit about gold?  I needed though, badly, to get some work done and headed back toward my office when I noticed something else making fast to the seawall.  It was huge.  Damn.  “Wonder what that is…”  After I’d figured that out, it was time to take my friend Nellie for a walk in the woods. 

  Sure hope I figure out how to turn plan B into even a modest revenue stream before my little pile of precious metal runs out.  Woe is me.

  *Alpinist 43 Summer 2013 Interview by Zbyszek Skierski 

Nina 2

Nina 3

Stupid Squirrel

June 16, 2013

Father 1

I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you forgot, today is Bloomsday.  You remember, right?  It marks the life and career of James Joyce.  Why the 16th?  Well, Joyce chose the sixteenth of June to be that of the perambulation of the chief protagonist of his groundbreaking novel Ulysses.  Now, mining way down, to the bottom, why  June sixteenth?  If you’ve forgotten, I’m glad you’ve been curious enough to read this far.  That had been the date of his first outing with wife to be Nora Barnacle.

  They had children and Joyce said that children should be raised by love which is convenient because this particular June 16th is also Father’s Day.  Joyce would agree with Swiss child psychologist Alice Miller who looked at child rearing from the opposite perspective.  She wrote that the most pervasive and pernicious crime in modern society is child abuse which is at root of all evil in our world.  Her biographical analysis of Hitler serves her point well.

  I have been fortunate enough to have had both a great dad from whom I solicited advice for the last time the day before he died in 2007 and a great father- in-law (who died just a few months back) to whom I posed a big question nearly thirty six years ago.  The former’s words helped prevent me from electrocuting myself that day and the latter gave his assent to something incredible.  I miss both dearly and think of them every day.   I think they’d agree that men don’t really ‘get’ kids until they have one of their own and know that they would with the Navajo who “think that a baby is fully human when it laughs for the first time*”.

Father to the Man by Tom C Hunley

The OBGYN said babies almost never
arrive right on their due dates, so
the night before my firstborn was due
to make his debut, I went out with the guys
 
until a guilt-twinge convinced me to convince them
to leave the sports bar and watch game six
on my 20-inch rabbit eared, crap TV.  After we
arrived, my wife whispered, “My water broke”
 
as the guys cheered and spilled potato chips
for our little dog to eat up.  I can’t remember
who was playing whom, but someone got called
for a technical, as the crowd made a noise
 
that could have been a quick wind, high-fiving
leaf after leaf after leaf.  I grabbed our suitcase
and told the guys they could stay put, but we
were heading for the hospital and the rest of
 
our lives.  No, we’re out of here, they said.
Part of me wanted to head out with them,
back to the smell of hot wings and microbrews,
then maybe to a night club full of heavy bass
 
and perfume, or just into a beater Ford with a full
ash tray, speeding farther and farther into
the night, into nowhere in particular.  Instead I walked
my wife to our minivan, held her hand as she
 
stepped down from the curb, opened her door,
shut the suitcases into the trunk, and
ran right over that part of me, left it
bleeding and limping like a poor stupid squirrel.
 

*Thanks to Dr Brother for fixing me up with this bit from the 12/20/09 NYT Mag. You would not believe the size of my clippings file.

 
 
 
 

    

Forward

June 10, 2013

Redemption 

On the way to Acadia National Park recently, for another wonderful Artist in Residency, roommate tired of my line of BS and honestly actually told me to go to hell.  Taken somewhat aback, my little black angel Nellie and I went for a walk in search of exercise and relief while my mind drifted (for the umpteenth time) to thoughts of redemption.  And if you follow this space at all you will know that when I saw the sign above thoughts arose related to synchronicity and hope.

  Expecting an assortment of other untethered souls, I soon found that all throughout Maine “Redemption” indicates a venue at which empty bottles can be exchanged for dirty coins.  Oh well, we headed back to the artist supply store where our truck was being laden,  working up our best sorrowful eye routine.  Our artist rolled hers.  Best case scenario.

  Making our way north we stopped at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to see a remarkable show of pictures and sculptures by “Scandinavia’s most famous living artist” Per Kirkeby.  The Dane’s words greatly informed the experience.  “The point at which art is found is the point where what is intriguing is dangerous.”  I totally buy that.  In every regard.  Art, on an easel or in a life, will not be found – or made – very far from the edge.

  “Where is the border between one and the other way to organize matter?  For a brief moment I saw geology as a worldview… A huge stream of energy and materials, which now and then converge in crystalline structures, a mountain, a church, a brief moment, a breath, a morning mist over the ever-flowing river.  The mountain-building energies were no less cultural than the energies of the church-builders”. 

  Brilliant. Consciousness as a force of nature. Tectonic even.  Those scientists in search of a grand unified theory should start with him.   New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote of Kirkeby’s work: it’s like being: “hit by an abrupt , mildly disorienting spell of self-consciousness, a kind of mental stumble: the Kirkeby effect”.  See?   Just like the slap upside the head with which I was graced by my artist as described above.

  Below you see his “Fram”.  It is at once “a poetic rendition of nature with a great force of color” and a demonstration of Kirkeby’s philosophy that: “A picture without intellectual superstructure is nothing”.  He has said that Fram draws from Caspar David Friedrich’s Das Eismeer (The sea of ice) which you see at bottom.  If you’re not familiar with the latter, make sure to notice the shards of a wrecked ship being crushed by the ice.  Fram means forward and was the name of the vessel used by polar explorer  Fridtjof Nansens between 1893 and 1912.

Fram 3

caspardavidfriedrich_theseaofice

*Quotes, photos, and information from the exhibition catalogue: Per Kirkeby Paintings and Sculpture, Kosinski and Ottmann, Yale, 2012.  The show originated at the Phillips Collection and the only other venue was Bowdoin.  There through Bastille Day

“Oh the things you can think up if only you try!”*

December 1, 2012

nkisiwebmed

 

  The object you see above, a late 19th century Nkisi Nkondi power figure from a place now either in Congo or Angola, is one of many objects used in a collaboration between the art museum and medical school of a prominent Ivy League college.  (Hint: it is the only one of them not in a slum)

  The program, “The Art of Clinical Observation”, endeavors to exhort med students to “learn to look”, and employs a five step approach.  First, closely observe.  What is it made of…?  Second, analysis.  Without reading the label, think about what you see.  What are the nails for?

  Third, research.  Read the label.  Does it reinforce or surprise?  Fourth, interpret.  What does it tell you about art and culture?  Fifth, critical assessment and response.  How well do you think it served its purpose and – you’re no more or less human than those for whom it was made, what emotions does it evoke in you?

  Evaluations of the program have been very positive and participants found it to have been very useful in their lives more broadly.  There are many “Learning to Look” efforts in art museums across the country and this was not the first collaboration with a med school, but is apparently one of few.

  A Nkisi is created through a collaboration between a sculptor and a shaman.  The first carves and the second adds the spiritual strength.  Such objects were possessed of considerable force and power and were used for redress and revenge by victims of crimes ranging from theft to adultery.

  A dormant Nikisi would be awakened by verbal harassment and the driving of a nail into its body.  Its spiritual power would obtain from materials contained in medicine packs in the head and abdomen which could include such stuff as dirt from a grave, herbs, and minerals.     

  The victim, with the help of ritual experts, would then be able to direct the Nkisi’s awakened fury to the great dismay of the perp who should expect to have some sort of pestilence visited upon him.  Very interesting.  Brings to mind thoughts of the evolution of consciousness and religion.

  Take away for me though is a reinforced appreciation of the incredible relationship between mind and body.  I have little doubt about a Nkisi’s intercessional efficacy and, uh, Lord help me should roommate get her hands on one of those things.

*Dr Seuss/last clue.

**Lesley Wellman, the Curator of  Education at this museum and person who developed this program, was named the National Art Educator of the Year for 2912 by the  National Art Education Association.