Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Crescendo series

September 29, 2014

At times this blog functions as an echo chamber for cognitive distortions winding through a maze of quotations that are only interrelated in the most abstract sense, metaphors for introverted moods coasting on a melodramatic soundtrack for self-talk. I get wrapped up in an emotional state disguised as an observational essay, and what comes out is an awkward fusion of prose poetry and verbal collage.

I love the way digital libraries give us aesthetic control of a virtual environment, enriched by rhythms that can co-opt background noise and blur its relationship with the imagination, non-uttered but verbal and complex, interpretive, evaluative and improvised.

The production value a digital library represents vastly extends the personal agency and voice of a consumer whose moods and tastes are validated by the market. There are few pleasures that can compare with turning up the volume on a favorite song.

And I love using quotes, exploiting a deep stack of library notes taken over the 2012-2013 school year. I love the challenge synthesizing and interpreting that wealth of intellectual production represents.

Where I feel like I’ve fallen short of synthesizing or interpreting the quotes and fan art I’ve used, I’m facing complex reintegrative challenges related to psychosocial compartmentalizing. I suppose false starts like this work the way “venting” does, partially processing and expressing feelings that are still fairly incoherent but which couldn’t wait for clearer prose to come to mind.

Sometimes the impatience to hit “publish” feels as simple-minded as the inclination to push “play” on a video or music track. There are similarities between “internet addiction” and gambling as an addictive behavior that are worth noting here. Much of the trick to making a slot machine successful (addictive) involves imposing uncertainty about what will happen if you push “play” again, so that the player can’t tell whether they have a winning hand unless there are bells and whistles.


Allowing your imagination to play with the puzzle of how to win reinforces an illusory sense of self-efficacy even when the frequent small payouts (each announced with bright lights and fanfare) fail to add up to what you put into the machine. The internet is packed with bells and whistles and puzzles too, anarchic but limitless in its apparent potential.

Resisting being sucked in has something to do with reading “ambiguity” as ambiguity, rather than delving for hypothesis confirmation in all directions at once; awareness of the cognitive biases comes into play.

Bridge players are probably more attuned to this than bingo players. But ambiguity is prominent in bridge bidding too; no matter how much you know about body language, it would be hard to read someone whose affective center of attention was elsewhere, and distractions are everywhere in social life. Attributing your partner’s “tells” to the game at hand could often be a mistake. For me much of the trouble with reading social cues is the importance of not reading too much between the lines.

I’m trying to pay more attention to the role of sentence length and syntax in expressed ambiguity as a way of learning to express myself in ways that don’t reinforce an overly objective-assertive attitude towards passing observations that are inflected by emotions and proximate, situational attitudes. I want to reduce my habitual use of sweeping statements both to make the blog more concrete and engaging, and to improve its positive role for self-signaling in emotional life.


I also want to become more self-aware when it comes to my affinity for action-adventure movies and soundtracks with big crescendos. One of my playlists is called “crescendo series” and another one is called “melodrama”, but fully half of my playlists could fit under either of those titles.

I like the adrenaline rush of getting wound up in an argument and indulging heavily in cognitive biases to advance confident, far-reaching conclusions, but when the rush is over what’s left is a dubious thesis so difficult to follow that it’s a non-starter, conversation wise. When I listen to a playlist full of melodramatic pop songs and big crescendos, I often pace rapidly to better follow the emotional arc of the music internally, and a lot of my writing lately has had that same “aimless but agitated” path of movement, recursive without being reflective.

I like what Eckhart Tolle says about this sort of idle restlessness:

“The mind exists in a state of ‘not enough’ and so is always greedy for more. When you are identified with mind, you get bored and restless very easily. .. observe what it feels like to be bored and restless. As you bring awareness to the feeling, there is suddenly some space and stillness around it, as it were. A little at first, but as the sense of inner space grows, the feeling of boredom will begin to diminish in intensity and significance. .. You discover that a ‘bored person’ is not who you are. Boredom is simply a conditioned energy movement within you. Neither are you an angry, sad, or fearful person. Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not ‘yours,’ not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go.

Nothing that comes and goes is you.

‘I am bored.’ Who knows this?

‘I am angry, sad, afraid.’ Who knows this?

You are the knowing, not the condition that is known.”

Stillness Speaks

I also like the tips on mindfulness in Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum (I’m just on the first chapter now). PTSD has greatly exacerbated sensory issues that weren’t as prominent for me before last fall, and where I work filtering out background noise is a constant challenge. I’m hoping meditation will help me relinquish some of the “addiction to stress” I wrote about earlier, so that I don’t associate stress with escapism and dissociative states of mind and instead feel competent responding to stressful life events with composure.

“Those that love with irony, last.”

September 23, 2014

I’ve used this space to explore trauma at length lately, and I’m starting to want to move away from that topic again and back into “aspie anthropologist” mode. But I do have a few things left to say about PTSD and trauma services, so I’ll try and develop a segue from trauma topics back into my usual musings on the arts and sciences.

Trauma is central to relationships in Freudian theory, a catalyst to the maturation of primary relationships in childhood and a subliminal impulse operating under the surface of erotic love relations. To possess love is to annihilate the competition for one’s love, and to be loved is to be consumed by another to the destruction of one’s integrity as an individual.

In my experience, love is intimately related to fear. To be loved is to hold fear of abandonment over someone, and to assert oneself within a love relationship is to inspire fear and resist being taken for granted with physical force. There is no respect for autonomy that isn’t backed up by the power to inspire awe, either through threat displays or through competitive accomplishments and prestigious appointments, socioeconomic importance.

Love dwells in the deep shadows of adventure, more present in adversity than its reward.

Patronage politics holds sway in my family. Might is right and authority is charismatic, in the sense that only the person in charge talks about themselves and sets themselves up to be admired. Escapism is dissociative and dysfunctional, submission is taken for granted and punished as a dependency-parasitism. Ritual reenactments of violence through empty threats and rote accusations maintain the pecking order in spite of a one-sided distribution of resources.

That was the dyadic relationship style I left behind after my mother was arrested. You could say that I was always trying to usurp my mother’s control over her own earnings because I felt at home in her house and wanted to enjoy autonomy there as if I owned the place. Like an Oedipal conflict between same-sex parent and child, or an Elektra complex complete with absent father and unmarried daughter.

Trauma wasn’t just a catalyst in our relationship, it was a currency. I was preoccupied with whether or not my mother had broken any of my bones in a long series of beatings with heavy objects like a hammer or a cast iron skillet, and she was preoccupied with the likelihood that she could get away with murdering me if she ever got worked up enough to actually do it. She was impatient with me for skulking in her house like an anonymous stranger and bringing no friends home to meet her, and she was disgusted with me for being the sort of person who would not be missed if I disappeared.

The mistake we make is to attribute to religions the errors and fanaticism of human beings. —Tahar Ben Jelloun

Disgust is a way of enforcing fidelity to the values we hold true, and of someone who never gets disgusted we might ask, “don’t you discriminate at all?” Out of the furnace of my mother’s tantrums I secretly became very particular in my likes and dislikes, obscurantist in my cultural affiliations and self-indulgent in my tastes. Superficially passive and ready to go along with anything, I developed an inner life defined by convoluted ideas and idiosyncratic pursuits.

Inequalities are reconciled by compensating strengths and specialization of labor, and I cultivated skills that were specialist to a fault. I cultivated weaknesses too, zones of dependency that gratified my mother’s appetite for power and left me ill-prepared for living independently.

In The Quest for Christa T., Christa Wolf writes of her ghost, “She didn’t trust these names, oh no. She didn’t trust herself. She was doubtful, amid our toxic swirl of new name-giving; what she doubted was the reality of the names, though seldom accurate and that, even if it is accurate, name and thing coincide only for a short time. She shrank from stamping any name on herself [..] What are you going to be Krischan? A human being? Well, you know…”

That tenuousness to belonging is very familiar to me, that listlessness about what to say in a social situation, the tendency to second guess every possibility and offer no satisfying alternative, that inquisitive shrug that is neither indifferent nor convinced of anything yet, a life of examination that falls short of drawing any conclusions worth speaking up about, disapproving of conventionality but inhabiting it, too.

I like what Walter Bagehot wrote about the disincentives to openly discussing one’s aims or reasoning: “‘Democracy’, it has been said in modern times, ‘is like the grave: it takes, but it does not give’. The same is true of ‘discussion’. Once effectually submit a subject to that ordeal and you can never withdraw it again; you can never again clothe it with mystery, or fence it by consecration; it remains for ever open to free choice, and exposed to profane deliberation.”

Obscurantisms restore a little mystery to conversation, like a word borrowed from another language. Obscure fan references protest the inadequacy of names for things by invoking whole works of art with the stubborn enthusiasms of someone who thinks the reader’s understanding will never be complete until they’ve seen the movie or read the book.

These overelaborate metaphors and allusions exploit the vague depths of incongruous comparisons and celebrate an overextended feeling of affinity central to fandom. To not put it into one’s own words instead is to insist that art is present in everyday experience as a constellation of reference points suspended above the mundane in the imagination.


If you love what you see of yourself in someone else, you would theoretically expect to find something of your self that you love in others as well; but there is a reflex for snapping back onto the particular person as beloved, because you have a sound instinct for insisting there’s a there there, even if each person’s individual experience and identity is in another sense a confluence of external forces in the grand scheme of things.

Contingency is the rational power to explain away love, and it puts the fear into awe when nothing else does. Need compels love, but pity corrupts love. To receive love is to be reminded of how rare it is. What is mundane about love is animal in its ferocity and fecundity, and what is imaginative about love is trivial in its narcissism and illusory quality. All this is very dull because it’s so abstract, where a fan reference would be vivid and vehement, and at least still vehement if it were inscrutable.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Wallace Stevens

“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.”

Blogging for me is both an overture to friendship and a practice in isolation, both sharing and journaling, both conversation and monologue. I’ve probably been making too many allusions for good conversation lately, but disclosing about trauma is a very isolating experience for me, alienating and unsatisfying. It feels needful but unpleasant. I’m impatient to move on.

As a writer, I think wanting to be seen for who you really are comes to mean settling for the distant hope that some people will get to know you well enough to notice the truth about things you couldn’t tell them persuasively yourself, because so much of experience is idiosyncratic yet one must form preconceptions about what is believable out of the commonalities.


Reducing burdens of enforced privacy comes at an exact price: you must make the grounds of validation mutual even in your own mind, and reduce your sense of conviction that your personal authority as a knower differs qualitatively from theirs. You must make deciding what to say for yourself more like listening for what they have to say.

Complaining about trauma is all about distinguishing a private experience of fear and pain from the common lot, claiming to be different in what you have seen and felt, asserting a kind of secrecy about what you have to say – that it can be described but not understood. To get out of this loop of introspection “for display only” I’ll have to acknowledge that traumas are a universal experience, and build a common vocabulary for how I feel from there.

Negotiating the ironies of attachment and disillusionment is part of the project of understanding love and detachment, belonging and alienation. I’ve been meaning to pursue a more formal approach to film criticism here, too, something less subjective and more transparent than the way I usually write about film.

I think the best place to begin that transition is to take an ironic look at fandom as a way of relating to art, self-situating as an implicated participant. Escapism and the dissociative side of trauma experience are strongly related to fandom for me, so I’ll try to work them into this multi-part segue out of the territory of extended monologue.

About this blog

August 10, 2012

I’m going for the fake FAQ format here and answering questions I assume readers might wonder about other than the autobiographical. Like all other post-dated entries here that disappear and reappear, this one was retrieved from the waste bin for revision.

What about the quotation under the blog title?

It’s from a poem by Robert Browning called Fifine at the Fair.

Why ravens4rooks?

One obscure King Arthur legend, transcribed from a Welsh oral tradition by a monk or aristocrat long before The Once and Future King became a standard, includes a battle in which King Arthur and one of his enemies marshaled their armies, but chose to do battle on a chessboard between themselves instead, to decide the day without sacrificing their men. Magically, their game board moves were acted out above by armies of crows.

Also, Charlemagne is in the best punchline of the Indiana Jones franchise. Umbrella on the beach beats chase sequence by cheating at the chase sequence and ending it.


Why “Many fandoms, one love?”

You don’t choose the fandom, the fandom chooses you. And while it’s commonplace to obsess more over one than the others at any given time, you don’t really leave a fandom behind once you’ve figured out how to think in fan references. My most recent fandom is The Legend of the Seeker, known for the One True Pairing with the epithet: “To know Richard, is to know Kahlan.”

What are your writing goals?

Prose instead of poetry is a relief, from several years of practicing film commentary in meter and rhyme and trying to use the characters played by some of my favorite screen actors as narrators to experiment with perspective taking in the imagination. It’s just easier, even if some of the pressures of description on one’s sense of integrity still apply.

Writing in the realm of observation seems more dangerous than it probably is when you’ve had encouragement at it.

On the kitchen table under the harsh light
.. as if it still wished
To hide beneath soft down that gross entrance which
Your pellets made, the stiff wing lies folded.

.. I must try in words to catch
That something .. missed
As wild and shy, the squawking mallard rose
Abruptly up from the shore grass – to a grand, majestic
Flapping into twilight, its graceful neck outstretched
Its webbed feet flush with ..

Tom O’Malley’s poem comparing himself to a hunter talking up the proof of experience where a “wild-duck lies, a green sheen on its stiff neck” reveals how strangely self-conscious writers get looking over their own accomplishments, using the metaphor of a mallard on a table top.

And the science and public health curios?

Information handling theory and health research practice are still interesting to me, but I’m getting far more tentative about the contributions I can consider myself qualified to make.

Quality of health services research is even more daunting, coming out of a wild goose chase for signs of embarrassment or eagerness for explicit attempts at problem-solving within the health professions, when it comes to injection safety lapses and HIV in Africa.

I should not have looked so far from home for disappointments. A hospital poem like “In the Land of Wince and Whinny” lands one credible moment in “a vanilla slice” encountered between shifts nearer “a copier on speed” making “computed-tomography-scan snaps poems I have written” feel subjective in attitude but not committed, more like “poems I have yet to write.”

The intellectual privilege and self-absorption attributed to research professionals by those who haven’t ruled out joining their ranks someday by going back to school likewise seems a foolhardy level of social tolerance for the retreat of the otherwise unemployable into intellectual nooks and crannies where errata production can escape oversight more easily.

On writing

July 27, 2012

An alternate title for this blog entry would be, “Why not write autobiographically?”

If you’re a writer, take this advice. Stop trying to be understood. People like your style, and will therefore tolerate your writing when you write about yourself. Otherwise they aren’t actually interested and will take the lines they like best in your writing out of context and twist some of them around to mean something else closer to the way they see things themselves. Or pat you on the head and say “I refute your position, but congratulate you on phrasing it in a pretty way.”

If they tell you to focus on writing what you know from first-hand experience, they’re saying for an ignoramus you have too many pretensions about having relevant social commentary to share, and they want you to scale down the claims to having anything important to say by sticking to misunderstanding your own personal shit since no one really cares whether you understand your own life correctly, as long as your writing style is entertaining.

Hint from

If you intend to refuse to listen, just put on airs of thinking your own opinions are idiosyncratic and biased but give them anyways, and again, make sure they sound clever enough to be quotable. Otherwise you risk being treated as a pompous fool, like most more-qualified expert commentators are anyways whenever they tell people things they don’t want to hear. Nobody cares whether it was Hunter S. Thompson, Journalist or his hard-drinking alter ego in The Rum Diaries who said the only good news story is a call to arms. He said it in a pithy, memorable way and it was close enough to the truth to be worth remembering.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you get anything out of bending over backwards to be clever or self-effacing. You’ll end up with your foot in your mouth wondering who you resent for the situation you’re in after all.

For your sanity, keep at least one balls-out rehearsed insult on file for the public figure of your choice, without fear of whether or not it would be tactful to say under whatever circumstances, should an opportunity for delivery arise. If you get that chance, next time you might actually know better. However, if you write with the intent to express affiliation with the underdogs of a social injustice and not strictly to show up their oppressors as unjust, know your enemies among those equally bored but less sympathetic.

Cynics sometimes convey unconvincing allegories about the self-defeating nature of acts of generosity, and this can work even if they rely on repetition as a conditioning strategy, having bullied you into a suggestible state by insisting they are condescending to you for your own good.


This is not difficult to figure out: crazy cat ladies aren’t Good Samaritans come to bad ends, they’re hoarders who will abduct the neighbor’s cat to add to their malnourished collection. There are many straw men like them in our popular mythos, and many arguments propping them up regress into a utilitarian attempt at invoking triage when you bother to argue with the cynic at hand.

Matched tautologies about social justice that contradict each other neatly are excellent ploys for witticisms. A writer can enjoy great flexibility navigating the circular logic these matched pairs describe, or achieve discouraging completeness in a paradox by using them to excess to frighten his audience. Having learned the use of them can make it seem rather easy to sound knowledgeable on short notice, when addressing a topical writing assignment. But that is a misuse of conversational skills that can have questionable effects even in conversation.

But unless the deadline is nigh, don’t assume first impressions are adequate.

Sometimes trying to negotiate a middle ground in correspondence with your editor, between sincere and politically correct, will force you to recognize weaknesses in your original position. It’s easy to learn that if you’re too quick to modify your stated position to suit the audience, you won’t be able to feel like you’re presenting your own point of view honestly, and that attitude can poison whatever you were trying to accomplish by communicating at all. But you can’t reject critical feedback reflexively either just because you see your editor as The Man and the flatterer of “the mob” depending on what he told you to change last.

If your early attempts to explain an evil action start to feel like rationalizing, persist and see if you can break through to more salient explanations with sustained attention to the mystery.


This can seem so indifferent as to attract hostility from casual acquaintances on short notice. It is not considered good conversation off stage.

But for writers, it is not necessarily catastrophic to take a step back and entertain an abstract perspective on the particulars, so don’t look within the events for a reason. Events are coincidences among attempts at acting on reasons, and sympathy with the people holding those reasons doesn’t magically produce an understanding of what in fact has just happened.

And sympathy with the human condition and all its propensities for honest errors doesn’t make rationalizing for everyone you have serious conversations with a good idea. After all, sometimes a villain is in fact trying to be the bad guy.