Posts Tagged ‘Thought’

From the Editor’s Perch…

December 23, 2013

Dad1

DAD

(1917 – 2013)

 

There are a lot of things which come to mind when I think about dad.  I remember way back to farm days.  He taught me how to milk a cow.  He let me ride on the seeder during planting.  He gave me a little plot of land to farm which was a triangle-shaped area created by the bifurcation of one dirt tractor path into another.  I planted cantaloupes.  I didn’t think there were enough cantaloupes in the world.  I loved them.   I can remember only reaping one or two quite small ones.  But they tasted great.

Dad also taught me how to ‘set a siphon’.   As memory serves, he was reaching through an electric fence to do so while milking the cow.  Inadvertently touching the fence with the metal siphon while demonstrating, the shocked cow bellowed loudly and sprang, leaving my dad tumbling.  I also remember the huge tumbleweeds that used to roll across the sage land.  Getting anywhere when the wind blew could be like a punt return.  We built a huge kite out of newspapers and glue and thin strips of wood which dad created with his table saw.  We needed a rope to hold the kite in the wind, and then it carried me off the ground.

Dad also let us use fence posts to make rafts with which we fought ‘wars’ in the waste water pond.  And he let us build forts in the baled hay.  This followed our digging a fort which dad inadvertently drove his tractor into.  When we first arrived, I can remember dad building our farmhouse with hand tools and eating cherry pie from a lunch packed in the trunk of the car.  I used to step out the back of the house when we were first there and listen to the coyotes howl.  To my small ears it seemed like there was a million of them.  Dad explained that one coyote could sound like a dozen.  So… maybe only a hundred thousand.

After we moved to Spokane, dad left with mom each day, to where he worked in the downtown Federal Building.  I visited once and saw his fellow workers.  There were lots of metal filing cabinets, rolled drawings, and drawing tables where a lot of his work was done.  He used interesting plastic rulers and triangles.  And he always carried a pen or mechanical pencil in his pocket.  Whenever I asked him for help with a homework problem, out would come his pencil.  Then he would find a piece of paper to use, before he began to speak.  I never asked him about Tolstoy or Hemingway or Shakespeare, but if I had, no doubt the pencil would have come out again.

Dad always wore leather dress shoes, even when he was doing carpentry or shoveling the drive – and very thin socks, it seemed to me.  It made me cold just to look at them.  He also wore khakis, which I guessed he started wearing during the war, and just continued.  And, as I’ve said, he always had a shirt pocket with a pen in it.  And he always kept track of the gas he put into the car or truck, the price, and the mileage at the time.  I continued to do this long after I left home, diligently scribbling down each item as I gassed up, until one day I asked myself.  ‘Why am I doing this?’  I didn’t know.  But it was hard to stop.   And he always wore pajama bottoms, but a jersey top.  Where did all the tops go?  I guess they stayed in the drawer, starchy new.

These memories start to go on and on.  Dad was mostly a nice guy.  I wouldn’t say that dad was an especially empathetic person, but he was basically mild and so endured a lot of arrogance and foolishness.  Dad had a fine smile and a pleasant demeanor.  In a conversation dad would always encourage me to be optimistic.  But I can’t say this was because dad was an optimist himself.  I think much of Dad’s good humor and agreeableness stemmed from the fact that he didn’t expect too much.   It’s been said that one of the reasons lots of people have trouble with marriage is that they try to get more out of it than there is in it.  Dad didn’t try to get more out of life than was there.  This used to bother mother.  She would complain that he never had a “great time”, it just went “fairly well”.  He never “loved” a meal.  He felt it was usually “pretty good” though.  I can’t remember him ever turning up his nose, or criticizing anything mom cooked.  He used to wake us in the morning by shouting, “Daylight in the swamp!”   He told me once that the way he got through flying all those missions in World War II was by figuring he was already dead.  Some people are offended by dark humor.  I love it.  I probably get that from dad.

Dad used to say that he let mom handle all of the little decisions, and he just handled the big ones.  After I had some experience, one day I argued, that usually after all the ‘little’ decisions had been made, there weren’t any big ones left!  He acknowledged that that was often true.  But then, being dad, I doubt he had ever expected it to be otherwise.

Dad was a pretty good racquetball player.  His forte was to place a shot right into the corner where it would roll out.  He had great placement.  He got me running all over, and I can’t recall ever beating him.  Now and then he would play this loud, hefty, gum snapping, arrogant, ‘phallus-head’ down at the club who I just wanted to smack.  That guy loved to really put himself into it, and would rocket the ball around several walls.  You could hear the impact way down the courts.  Then Dad would place those shots into the corners where the ball would roll out down the floor until it bumped a shoe.

Dad’s very acute sense of humor never left him.  Even when he couldn’t remember his last bite of food, he could follow a sophisticated turn of thought – and it would bring him a smile.  It seemed odd that dad’s recall got so addled while his humor remained.  I think it was because humor was dad thinking.  Some people might say that dad would joke too much, or was temperamentally a bit contrary, but to my mind, mostly he was just thinking.  And the best thinking often curls back on itself.  Every idea intends to produce “that which is seen”, to quote the French economic essayist Frederic Bastiat , but also produces “that which is unseen”.  Dad’s thinking would curl around to anticipate “that which is unseen”.  A few might recognize his comment’s wisdom.  But, “what is unseen” when expressed is often likely to be taken as ‘inappropriate’, ‘impertinent’, ‘contrary’, or just ‘off the point’ to downright ‘puzzling’.  So dad tended to stress the humorous nature of the unanticipated – or he chose category ‘G’: “Keep your mouth shut.”   Dad was fairly silent on many matters, and left Mom to hold forth.  Mom had a pretty big grip on “what was seen.”

Dad’s favorite portion of the newspaper was the funnies.  He would collect e mails full of funny stories and events.  But I can’t remember him telling a joke.  He did with his humor, what he did with his racquetball placement.  He worked the corners.  Someone would fire a verbal shot that blistered past, and dad’s funny would reduce it to something which rolled out and gently bumped their shoe.  It’s a peculiar form of power, but it’s the kind dad was given.

I don’t have to go very far to remember dad.  All I have to do is to be me.  We were very alike.  And I don’t think he was very pleased with his nature, and so he wasn’t very pleased to see me reproduce it.  But as he was apt to say, “That’s the way it goes.”  And, “Don’t make more of things than they are.”  And we got along fine once I learned that relations with dad were like a marriage: don’t try to get more out of it, than there is in it.  “Don’t make more of things than they are.”  It’s good, hard advice.  We’ll miss him.

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 19, 2013

Japanese Gardener1

Want a Better Character? / Find a Good Japanese Gardener

 

            I’m not a big fan of “If it bleeds, it leads,” psychology.

Perhaps it’s lazy thinking.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of information.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of imagination.  But it seems to me, people often rush to grasp at the largest, most traumatic historical event for explanations of the creating force behind, for an example, something like character.

To my thinking, people grow much too slowly to be influenced largely by extreme events.  We are more like trees.  A storm might break us, or topple us, or shear off a few branches – but short of that, it hasn’t changed the trees nature much.  What changes and creates our natures are slow, consistent events over a long period of time.  Perhaps this is because I’ve never witnessed a person’s character changed radically by one event – though I’ve heard stories of such.  We’ve all heard every sort of story!  But I have witnessed a bonsai, and studied somewhat their creation by the patient Japanese gardener.  And I’ve observed people.

Japanese Gardener5

What I have witnessed – as far as people are concerned – is the power of Operant Conditioning, (as I remember them calling it in my day.)   (Perhaps they still do.)  Behavioral Modification was quite the rage when I was in school.  And while it may not be in the forefront of thought today – just because something isn’t in the news, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Little by little and bit by bit, it seems to me, is how our character is formed and grown.

Japanese Gardener3

One of my favorite stories of my student days was of the students in a psychology lecture who would look down every time the psychology professor turned from the blackboard to address them – eventually causing the professor to avoid looking towards his audience altogether.  Of course the lecture subject was Operant Conditioning.

Which brings to mind a most fascinating fact regarding Behavioral Modification:  It doesn’t matter whether the subject knows that their behavior is being ‘modified’.

            A favorite story when I was on the medical wards was of the doctors doing their rounds for the Pain Clinic.  Studies had shown that when the patient spoke about his discomfort, it actually increased the level of the patient’s perceived pain.  So these doctors and interns, when visiting their patients on rounds, after asking the patient how they were doing that day – would turn to look away whenever the patient spoke about their pain.  This went on a couple days with one patient, until he finally broke off in mid-complaint to shout, “I know what you sonofabitches are doing.  Whenever I talk about how much I hurt, you all turn to look out the goddamned window!”

 

Being a dad is a fascinating business.  One of the oddest things I’ve witnessed, after a couple years of being in the job – is that your child will begin to act and do as you do.  (Sometimes bringing you up a little short, for example, as when they lick their fingers at the table.)  And even teenagers, I’ve noticed, will modify their own behavior – even if it’s in a way they wouldn’t particularly choose.  I’ve come to think that most parenting books could be greatly truncated, if they only advised the parents to ‘become’ whatever they want their child to ‘be’.  Apparently a powerful figure, (like a parent), thrives within a powerful aura of behavioral mandates, to which those around are minute by minute bent into submission.

 

Which brings me to the takeaway of this essay.  There are a lot of books out there explaining how to become something we currently are not; how to change ourselves.  But, it would seem that one of the best ways of ‘improving ourselves’ would be to place ourselves in a situation which bends us to be as we would like to become – especially if our own ‘will’ and ‘discipline’ is not the strongest, or if we are just lazy.  Find a good Japanese gardener.

Japanese Gardener4

 

I can’t think of a simpler way of creating who we would wish to be, than clustering around people who we admire.

Isn’t this just what kids do?

Photos pulled from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch

August 9, 2013
Naked Editor Floating in Isolation Tank

Naked Editor Floating in Isolation Tank

Your Editor Becomes a ‘Psychonaut’

Both my son and wife, and a couple friends thought this was nuts, but there’s a couple things I’ve wanted to try out.  One is wearing a Ghillie suit.

Ghillie suit.  Isn't it cool!

Ghillie suit. Isn’t it cool!

The other is trying an isolation tank.  So when the wife and son left for Ohio this week, I got my chance to visit the float/sensory deprivation chamber experience outlet in the Greenlake area.  http://floatseattle.com/    Their website says, “overcome: stress” “conquer: fear” “achieve: theta state”.  I wasn’t looking to accomplish any of these.  But, hey!  They all seem like good things.

What concerned me most going into this was first, whether I could get back out.  I wanted to be sure this ‘isolation tank’ had an internal latch.  My second worry was whether I’d be slipping into some greasy slurry formerly inhabited by lots of other sweaty, hairy, poorly bathed isolationists.  My third worry was if I’d have to do this naked?  A fourth worry was that if I fell asleep, would I drown?

Well, “Float Seattle”, is a new, modern, well designed facility.  The tanks are flushed after each use and the Epsom salt plus Bromine in water solution is filtered and then reused.  The door has no latch.  And everyone gets a private, fairly spacious room with a shower.  The ‘tank’ was tall enough to stand up in and had a blue interior light which could be turned on and off.  They give you earplugs to dampen any conducted sound and also to keep the solution out.  And a slightly synthetic Jamaican/African bongo/percussion beat, which comes and goes and starts softly, reminds you when your time is up.  Yeah, and you immerse naked.

Judging from the half dozen, or more, customers which I saw, Float Seattle attracts fairly attractive, younger to middle aged introverted sorts who ‘dwell in their body’ more than others.  Not the extroverted competitive types nor the hairy wilderness trekkers, but more the urban yoga types who watch their diets and  weight and are proud of their posture and flexibility.  I stuck out a bit as I was much taller, much older, had a paunch, and am about as flexible as a rusted gate – though I am introverted.

I’d imagined the tank solution coming up to my knees, but in fact it was only around 10 inches deep.  The temperature is controlled so that you neither sweat nor chill while immersed, which for my temperament makes it a little warm for inducing sleep.  The most interesting part of my time in the tank was the experience of buoyancy.   The solution makes you so buoyant that you needn’t a headrest; your head floats naturally and comfortably.  And you needn’t fight to stay afloat.  The feeling is of lying on a soft slippery neoprene surface (or ‘hand’) which ‘lifts’, exerting the same pressure everywhere.  We all know the ‘feel’ of water when we are being the active force.  But when the water holds us up – ‘pushes back’ – the feel is quite different, very slick, very alien.  It feels like 100 percent humidity with the body fluids pushing in instead of leaking out.  It was a very odd feeling, but enjoyable.  And my one regret is that I didn’t spend more time trying different postures and playing in the solution.

Instead I rested entirely motionless.  I wanted to find out if an absolute lack of sensory information would tend me towards psychosis or even nudge me a couple psychocentimeters towards an internal chaos.  Nope.  Instead, the only mental sensation I had which I seemed pretty sure of was boredom.  My thoughts did not race.  Repressed emotions and past memories did not overwhelm me.  In fact, I found it very tedious to think at all.  If I had indeed achieved a theta state and was truly ‘inhabiting’ my body, then mentally it felt a lot like waiting in my car.

And here I can’t say if my reaction is normal, or if my particular nature is so off the charts as to completely invalidate the experience.  But frankly, being in my body is not something I particularly relish.  And probably many others do.  I generally think of my body as I think of my car.  I want my body to take me where I want to go, be reliable, be low maintenance, and not embarrass me in front of others.  But I enjoy ‘being in my body’ about as much as I would enjoy sitting in my car.  This isn’t a cry for help, or to say I would rather like someone to help me “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  But what I really enjoy doing is to ‘think’.

My big take away from this experience was a little insight into how my mind works.  In the tank, rather than having a mind brimming with competing ideas, I had just the opposite: no ideas.  No thought at all came to me, though some interior consciousness was there monitoring the whole situation.  But to think took a lot of effort and I had to figure out how to do it, as if I had been cast adrift on some deserted island.  Finally I lowered a memory  bucket in an effort to find something to think about.  Nothing came of that.  So I mentally clicked down a list of my relations and brought up one of them to consider.  But that’s all I got: an image of them which went no further.  Nothing I dredged up had any life to it.  Nothing further was generated.  No further thought came of it.  And pulling the information up was an effort.

Frankly, I’ve had a much better experience lying on my back on the bed while waiting to fall asleep with the bedroom fan blowing over me.  Thoughts of the day come and go.  An idea flares up.  A great elaboration of this idea begins, and then is put aside by another entering notion.  And I fall off to sleep.

I had always thought of the mind as a very generative thing, in a Jungian way, with all sorts of metaphors and symbols and narratives and stories struggling to reach the surface to become expressed as things and light – as if the world were a re-creation of our minds.  But as it appears, the mind is more aptly described as a little silent, smoothly running machine which produces no thoughts at all – until it is fed.  It seems that the mind is more like a little machine which works on the information of the world which we bring to it, churning out the emotions, thoughts and expressions we’re perhaps too apt to believe we generated ourselves.

So perhaps this old adage of ‘finding oneself’ needs to be replaced by a newer adage of ‘using oneself’.

I’d always thought the expression “it makes you think” quite presumptive – as if to say that I’d had no thoughts at all until someone’s particular point of view was pressed on me.  But now, I wonder.  If we want to know what we think, or to become productive and successful at what we do, or to even find out what we do – isn’t it best to feed ourselves experiences rather than to take it on faith that some answer to our questions will miraculously appear to us from within a sealed room?  I mean, I just tried this – if only for an hour.

Photo of Ghillie suit from Google Images


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