Dementia


I was listening to a CBC broadcast today.
This CBC broadcast.

The most interesting part was a segment on personal narratives, our perceptions of ourselves and our identities as a story that we construct and tell to others. That has specifically weighty implications for the person suffering from dementia.
That condition runs in my family, so I find it especially terrifying.
Imagine your knowledge of your own story slowly disappearing, and with it the construct of your identity.
Like I said. Terrifying.

In any case, that’s a problem for Future-Alex. In the meantime, I wrote a poem about it. Here’s “Dementia.”
I hope you enjoy it!
(the poem, not dementia)

***
so much has been lost

my story
is being untold
drifting away
like so much ash
book’s paper burning
darkening crumbling aloft
page after page

so much has been lost
***

That’s definitely a bit of a downer. So for a partial pick-me-up, have a bunch of bored-looking hipsters singing a really pretty song that treats some of the same themes!

Seascape, Significance


Every so often when I’m reading scholarship, something meaningful comes my way. Peter F. Fisher’s articulation of the maritimer’s relationship to the sea is outstanding.

"To the imagination of a seafaring people, the power of the sea would be connected with a power not under human control, yet interwoven completely with the pattern of their lives."

Beautiful.
It’s not just that I recently returned from the East coast of Newfoundland and I’m still hung up on that magnificent seabound landscape.
I like what this passage says about our relationship with the larger patterns at work in the world, these concepts we minimally understand and dimly perceive. But understanding and perception aren’t prerequisites to our existence.
They’re just attempts to engage with it.

Landscape, love, city, society, cosmos, creation.
We can’t escape them. We can’t control them. All we can do is feel their modulations, give them respect, and appreciate their beauty.
I think that’s lovely.

I’ve Always Had this Weird Thing, and It Turns Out It’s Actually Kind of a Thing, and It’s Called ASMR, and That Blows my Mind.


I have a funny story for you.
I’ve been responsible for a lot of tedious internet duties lately and craving some stimulation while I work, so I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I happened on an episode of This American Life that totally blew my mind. You should give it a listen when you can.

The speaker discusses an experience she’s had ever since she was a child. It’s the feeling of entering a trancelike state, phasing out, and what she describes as “scalp-tingles” whenever she hears someone speaking softly.
The boring librarian at her school, Bob Ross encouraging amateur painters on PBS, the ladies lovingly fondling tacky jewelry on the Shopping Network; she would zone in and enter a state of sublime relaxation whenever she heard them speak.
As I was listening, my jaw dropped open. I’ve had the same experience my whole life!

Now I had always just written it off as something that everyone has and is so commonplace that nobody talks about it. Either that, or I just had a strange fetish for soft voices and that was that. So I was mostly just thrilled that someone shared my experience.
But here’s where things really got interesting.
The speaker goes on to recount her experiences seeking out soft-spoken videos on YouTube so she could trance out to them, and she discovers that this phenomenon has attained a pop-psychological diagnosis. It’s called ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
What’s more significant for me is that there’s a huge subculture of internet videos, some of which have quite a following.

These videos are admittedly kind of ridiculous. Mostly it’s soft-spoken girls who take you through creative napkin-folding or tell you how to spruce up your bathroom for guests. Sometimes they just talk about their grandmothers’ jewelry.
Real Martha Stewart stuff. Not my thing. I’d really rather hear about hiking up a mountain.
But I took a few of the suggestions from the podcast and found some channels. In no time, I was sitting in a coffee shop, listening in rapt attention to gift-basket advice with my jaw relaxed and my eyes slightly unfocused. In fact, as I write this I’m listening to equineqt describe her favourite beauty products.
Amazing. Ludicrous, but amazing.

So there are a couple of reasons I wanted to write about this.
(aside from the fact that it’s kind of hilarious)
Obviously this kind of thing is a neat testament to the connectivity that’s possible these days, and everyone loves to learn that their experience is shared by a number of different people.
But there’s also a significant personal upshot to this discovery. Anyone who knows me would be flabbergasted to learn that I function this way. I’m one loud, goofy guy, energetic almost to the point of being frenetic.
I also avoid silence like the plague. I’m always listening to music; I sleep with old TV shows and films on repeat on my computer. Otherwise my brain scatters off in a million directions. That’s part of the reason meditation has always been troublesome for me. I try to centre myself but I can’t coerce my inquiries, anxieties, and distractions into silence. Even hiking, my most blissful activity, is about being highly engaged, just happily so.
That lack is a significant personal liability. People I know who do Yoga or meditate seem to have a rich experience and I don’t like missing out on that. As strange as it is, these oddball videos of girls discussing housewares are the only things I’ve ever come across that let me lose my thoughts and just rest.
I’ve been missing out on that.
So if ASMR videos can help me quiet my mind and meditate, I’m definitely going to pursue them. I want to be able to attain that serene state and profit from centred silence. I look forward to the benefits of a relaxed mind.

It will also mean my dinner-guests will be able to expect some pretty badass napkin-folds, so that’s cool too.

I’ve waited and waited for a fitting tribute to Edward Gorey’s macabradorabrilliant Gashlycrumb TiniesHere it is at last, helvetically sleek and with a clever bubble-pop soundtrack.
I laughed all the way from “use your private parts as piranha-bait” to “sell both your kidneys on the internet,” then right up to and straight on through “I wonder, what’s this red button do?”

Poem: “All or Nothing”


I was reading about medieval heresies tonight and came across Bogomilism and its more famous cousin Catharism.
There’s some pretty interesting stuff there. 

I’m no expert on mysticism and theology, but from what I can tell these heresies seem to be related to Gnosticism, a much older belief system. Gnosticism was dependent on ideas about the purity of spiritual beings and an evil consciousness that entombed those spirits in prisons of flesh.
So all of life is a struggle against the fleshier aspects of our nature like eating meat and having sex and all those lovely embellishments of earthly existence.

It’s troublesome to make too simplistic a narrative out of complicated historical events, but it’s interesting that these medieval heresies seem to have flourished in periods when the church was exacting greater and greater control over the lives of European Christians. It’s almost as though these systems of thought were a kind of theological allegory expressing anxiety about the constraint of an increasingly influential church and then locating that struggle in the spiritual realm. The tragedy, then, is that free spirits trapped in bodies become fleshly people moving about in another layer of constraint, an oppressive society.
So if these beliefs were true, we’d be at the mercy both of social constraint and its allegory, the spirit’s prison, the flesh.
That’s kind of a sad thought.

In any case, all of that is just the process that led to this little poem called “All or Nothing.”
I hope you like it!

Spirits into bodies,
     bodies, spirits structured,
          bound, disjoined from nothing,
               All and nothing.

Twitter Makes Life Better, Pt. 2


So aside from its obvious awesomeness in comparison with other forms of social media, my favourite thing about Twitter is the way it makes us play with language, manipulate it, and craft it.

When I write a poem, I start with an idea or an image, express it as fully as possible in my mind, assign words to my thoughts, then pare it down to a convenient packet of meaning. Twitter is an exercise in that same process.
I generally write a tweet that tends to be too long. Then I choose words more carefully to fit the simple restrictions of the medium. It’s just like the times I feel a certain metrical pattern might suggest an idea more fully, and I need to select words that run with that metre.

Aside from the process of whittling and reduction, Twitter also forces us to examine patterns of language. For example, if I’m riding the bus, I can tweet “I’m riding the bus,” or “riding the bus,” or even more simply, “on the bus…”
Does the first tweet seem more straightforward, maybe a little more chipper? Does the last suggest some kind of fatigue or annoyance, perhaps a little frustrated ennui? I get to choose one, and that free play with connotation can be a productive challenge.
It also tells us something about language. The latter two tweets aren’t even complete sentences, but they’re clear enough. That says something about how we communicate, what words we need or can leave aside.
That’s some interesting cognitive maneuvering.

Lately I’ve been telling my students they should start tweeting if they don’t already. The ultimate value is it makes people think about language and clarity.
(Not to mention the fact that it cuts down those giant, paragraph-long sentences I hate to read)

It’s poesis and cognition, expression and play.
Twitter isn’t undermining language; it’s an exciting part of its progression.

Poem “Tantalus”


Here’s a poem that occurred to me the other night. I’ve been paring it down since then.
It’s more an image than a complete thought, but I quite like the premise: indifference to suffering endlessly prolonged. That’s the most captivating thing about notions of eternal punishment as expressed through legends like Tantalus’. What do they do with boredom and acclimatization? Is getting used to eternal punishment a form of torture in itself?
In any case, I hope you like it!

"Tantalus"

A listless hand
bobs up toward the fruit
and down toward the pool.

A flick of the fingers,
careless,
resigns him
to waiting another forever
until he tries again.

Twitter Makes Life Better (Pt. 1)


A friend of mine shared a Thought Catalog post that traces our appropriations of people’s personae through brief glances at their Twitter feeds.
It was pretty good.

One line stuck out. With respect to Twitter…
"It’s better than Facebook. Because at least you don’t have to see photo albums of fat people from your high school getting married."

That struck me as particularly insightful. In fact, I feel like there’s now a common cultural experience related to obsolete Facebook friends who erupt into your current life based on your news-feed, perfectly characterized by the Thought Catalogue statement.
When I receive one of the offending updates, my own thoughts almost universally run as follows:
1. Why the hell do I have you on Facebook.
2. Wow, you’ve really put on weight.
3. Holy shit… I can’t believe you’re getting married.
4. Holy Shit! I can’t believe you’re marrying that person.
5. No, I don’t want to go to your “Stag and Doe” (whatever that is), and inviting someone who hasn’t seen you in ten years just makes you look pathetic.

Am I alone in this thought, or has Facebook and the new development of oversaturation in obsolete and meaningless friendships created a fresh phenomenon, specific to one situation? How many of these can we identify?

Hot and Bold


So I’m walking down the hall, enjoying my coffee, and reflecting on what I’d reply were someone to ask what my preferences in a cup of joe were.

"Hot and bold" was my response to this hypothetical query, to which I was immediately compelled to add "…just like I like my ladies".
This crassness isn’t my fault. I am, after all, a product of the “that’s what she said” era. I’m conditioned to it.

Realizing right away that I couldn’t actually say that or I’d look like a reprehensible, post-frat man-boy, I automatically insulated myself from this accusation by encasing my joke in a level of irony.
The resultant quip would therefore be “I like my coffee hot and bold… insert ‘just like I like my ladies’ joke here”.

Two thoughts:
1. It’s interesting to observe how our brains work in light of cultural norms and different levels of conditioning.
2. I’m alarmed at the number of hypothetical dialogues in my head.

Today I made a mental list of every relationship or serious romantic prospect I’ve ever had and why it failed.

Upon close inspection, nine tenths of the reason most of them foundered was my own immaturity and its outgrowths.

My question: to have a real, functioning, permanent relationship, do I have to become more mature or does the strength of connection overcome that consideration?