Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book People Unite

Check out the story and the pledge. Also, while you are at it, check out the organization behind this video, Reading is Fundamental. From the website:

Reading lovers are coming together to help us get books into the hands of kids who need them the most. Remember visiting Narnia, playing Jumanji, and eating Green Eggs and Ham? Books can have an incredible effect on children's lives, yet there's only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S. So we've brought together some of our most beloved literary characters to help make this film and rally Book People for the cause.

Why am I a book person? I'm a book person because when I was young and opened a book, my life was transformed. It made the world bigger, and it still does. Why are you a book person?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Relationships Lost and Found: Tiger Eyes--A Review

One of the things that I really like about Twitter is the possibility to connect with all sorts of different people. Somewhere along the way I started following my favorite young adult author, Judy Blume. Somewhere along the way she started following me. Look what happened yesterday.

Who gets a personal invitation from Judy Blume to see a movie? Who would turn it down? Certainly not me. Last night I put my party boots on and headed down into Boston from my undisclosed location in the Merrimack Valley to attend the screening of Tiger Eyes at the Boston International Film Festival.

Tiger Eyes, a young adult book written by Judy
Blume in 1981 and the first of her movies to be brought to the big screen, is about a young girl trying to cope with the murder of her father. Her son, Lawrence Blume wrote the screen play and directed the film. Willia Holland stars as Davey and Tatanka Means stars as Wolf, the young man who who helps Davey find strength from loss.

Despite the Boston International Film Festival playing an unfinished version of the film that lacked surround sound and the rich deep and moody color the directer intended, the movie was lushly filmed and used the landscape surrounding Los Almos New Mexico as a silent-yet-powerful character in the film.

What is rendered on the screen is a spare yet moving meditation on the solitude of grief and the redemptive power of connection. The film holds a few masterful moments that telegraph to our hearts and minds the experience of grief. Close to the beginning of the movie we are presented with a character's wish to rise up in a hot air balloon and never come down. Shortly thereafter Davey is alone, cradled by a New Mexico canyon, and calls out for her now dead father. The aloneness an isolation of death and loss are hauntingly personified in these two scenes.

The separation and isolation build in the movie and come to a sharp point before pivoting in a Native American ceremony with Wolf (Tatanka Means) and his father Willie Ortiz (Russell Means, Tatanka's real-life father). The ceremony teaches us that no one is left alone in this universe and that it is vital that we are not alone as we are social beings. Wolf's father says "if a person feels disconnected, he or she might fail." The movie starts to unwind itself and carry us to the ending as relationships move from contraction to expansion toward an emotionally satisfying ending. No one fails.

Blume's books are dense. She packs in many different facets of the young adult experience. The movie adaptation of Tiger Eyes is no different. In 92 minutes we are exposed to death, grief, teen drinking, teen relationships and dating, rebellion, angst, and more. I found myself wishing for a simpler more spare story line. The other issues presented in the movie, while important and well done, distracted me from the elegant beauty of relationships lost and found.

I think, perhaps, my wish of a more spare movie reflects my more adult tastes. I got to thinking about how young adults interact with media--short bits of information. I wonder if that was Lawrence Blume's intention of the movie--to present short bits of information to a young adult audience in their own language. If that's the case, it was pure genius.

In the movie, Davey sings one of my favorite Cole Porter songs at a high school talent show. When I drove home after the movie back to my undisclosed location in the Merrimack Valley I pulled up my very favorite version of the song. Annie Lennox sang it in 1990 for Red Hot + Blue, one of the first projects of the recording industry to raise funds for HIV/AIDS. It's worth listening to while you think of your own experiences or relationships lost and found.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Border of Gender and Sex: Some Images

As a companion to my blog post, It's Just a Word: Transvestite, Transsexual, & Transgender, I thought I'd curate some images that I came of cross of people who found themselves on the borders of gender and sex from different historical eras.

What might we learn thinking about these folks, from the view of their own historical era. What do we learn about sex and gender? How have the ways in which we think about sex and gender changed? How have they stayed the same? What do we learn about ourselves and our own historical context?

Billy Tipton, American jazz musician

Alan J. Hart, American physician
Albert Cashier, civil war soldier 
Albert Cashier

It's Just a Word: Transvestite, Transsexual, & Transgender

My first dissertation chair, Glenda Russell, loved words. She also loved challenging our use of words. It wasn't black ice--as our culture frequently equates black with bad and white with positive--it was invisible ice. We don't skirt around issues either, as making reference to a skirt calls upon society's perceptions of women.  These conversations we had in her office some ten odd years ago came to mind this morning while I was reading my Twitter feed.

This is exactly the nuanced and thoughtful awareness that Glenda taught me to pay attention to in her office. Words matter--our choices in words represent complicated concepts and in turn, create our mutual understandings of the world around us.

Well now that's interesting. Maybe not to the casual reader, but the use of the word transvestite is very interesting to me. I had a great Twitter conversation with Steve Silberman about the use of language.

Magnus Hirschfeld
Transvestite, first coined by Magnus Hirschfeld in the early 1900s, the term was used to describe people who consistently dressed in clothing consistent with what those of the opposite sex wore. Transvestites would be male or female, with same-sex attractions or different-sex attractions, or no interest in sex at all. The word has evolved and now most frequently is associated with a mental illness. The current incarnation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association lists Transvestic Fetishism as a mental illness. The official symptoms are:

over a period of at least six months, in a heterosexual male, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving cross-dressing. The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
So the official word is that straight men who get turned on by wearing women's clothes have a mental illness. Gay men who get turned on by women's clothes are perfectly normal, as are, apparently, women who wear pants. Sound a little ridiculous to you? It does to me.

So let's go back to the Discovery News article that Steve posted. What Chevalier D'Eon, pictured on the left, suffering from transvestic fetishism? Did he have a mental illness?

The answer depends on how you contextualize his experience (and, how Chevalier described his own experience). Chevalier died in 1810. The word transvestite had not yet been created and the DSM hadn't been dreamed up. Could he have been suffering from conditions that were not yet invented? Are mental illnesses--or conditions--timeless? Have they always existed? Do they exist only within the context of our culture and society?

We are prone to making terrible errors when thinking about history. We project our modern understandings of phenomena into the past. Yes, the phenomena of some men being turned on by wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex is likely a phenomena that has existed since we first started wearing clothes that identify differences in sex. This does not, however, mean that the meanings associated with the behavior are consistent through history. Context matters. Context changes--and so does our understandings of the same phenomena when we add the variable of time.

The article went on:
Here's how D'Eon's transvestitism came to pass: He joined King Louis XV's secret service in 1755, had his first major military posting in London in 1763... However, within months, he had a falling-out with the ambassador appointed to replace him in London, accusing the ambassador of trying to murder him. D'Eon also made public secret documents and ended up being sent to prison, which he escaped. Once escaped, D'Eon concealed his identity, reportedly, by dressing as a woman... And after that, apparently D'Eon was forced to adopt female dress, and others accepted him as a female. 
Whoops. Wait a minute. The current understanding of transvestism is that it is a mental illness that occurs in heterosexual men that are sexually turned on by wearing clothes that are considered female. The discovery article makes no mention of any of the relevant criteria for the so-called mental illness. D'Eon's transvestism, as described, is behavior used to avoid being detected by authorities and/or adversaries.

This is a totally different phenomena than is captured by the phrase transvestism.

What was D'Eon really thinking and experiencing? The Wikipedia page offers this tantalizing bit of information:
D'Eon claimed to be physically not a man, but a woman, and demanded recognition by the government as such. King Louis XVI and his court complied, but demanded that d'Eon dress appropriately and wear women's clothing.
This would make it more likely that in modern times, D'Eon would have identified as transgender. As with transvestism, I think it's important to look at how our description of this phenomena developed. Magnus Hirschfeld, who coined the term transvestite, also supervised the first known sex-confirmation surgery. The term transsexual didn't come into use until 1949 when David Oliver Cauldwell first used it. It wasn't until the 1970s and 80s that the terms gender identity disorder and later transgender came into use.

D'Eon would have never considered himself as a transvestite, as transsexual, as someone with gender identity disorder, or transgender. These terms did not exist to describe phenomena. Our shared history and way of viewing the world had not yet evolved and grown to a place where these terms had come into existence. We thought of ourselves very differently in the 1700s--our sense of self--and our ways of know ourselves--was embedded in the language of that time.

So how do with think of D'Eon? Maybe he (or she, as some references suggestion D'Eon referred to self as she) left behind journals or other writings. Maybe their are some historical documents that describe how D'Eon moved through the world, how D'Eon represented his/her self to others. Maybe these documents don't exist.

What I do know is that it makes no sense to transport ourselves back to the 1700s with 2012 ways of knowing and think we can understand how people experienced the world. If we take our current world-view and use it to understand the past, we really are just developing an understanding of the past as we would think of it if we time traveled. It is an ethnocentric way of understanding history, and is a tool that isn't particularly helpful. We cannot judge a culture (or individual experience) from another era by our own standards and ways of knowing.

To understand the past as it was, we need to know how people of the time thought of their experience.

Back to D'Eon and my conversation with Steve.

I had no idea who D'Eon was when I had this conversation with Steve. Now that I know, I think this still wouldn't be the right way to think about D'Eon. It's unclear what D'Eon thought about his/her sex or gender. We can only project into the past (he/she lived and dressed like a woman, so he/she must have thought we was a woman--or female). No matter how we think of D'Eon, our thoughts will be embedded in our modern culture and our modern way of thinking. Absent first person narrative, there isn't a way to represent D'Eon in a way that is grounded in D'Eon's own phenomenology.

That for me is the exciting part of history--learning about my own phenomenology and trying to decode how someone in any particular historical era might have understood something from their own phenomenological viewpoint. What do you think?

Friday, April 20, 2012

What We Learned from 5 Million Books: Hope and Depression

Now why didn't anyone tell me about the Google Ngram Viewer? This is going to take up a lot of my time. Searching an enormous corpus of books for frequency of different terms--and exploring the relationships. Take for example the first two words that came to mind: hope and depression. What ideas are you interested in? What relationships might you find in this date base?

Check out the video and go play with the Ngram Viewer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Downton Sixbey: Episode One

At least I have good parody to watch while I'm waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey. And of course, there are always the Downton Abbey paper dolls...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Patient Suicide: Part Six--Leftovers

This is part of an ongoing story about a patient suicide. Click here for Patient Suicide Part One: The Phone Call, here for Patient Suicide Part Two: 30 Minutes to Think, here for Patient Suicide Part Three: Fully Present, here for Patient Suicide Part Four: What's a Life Worth, here for Patient Suicide Part Five: Treat People Like They Matter, here for Patient Suicide Part Six--Leftovers, here for Patient Suicide: Part Seven--Training Monkeys/Herding Cats, and here for Patient Suicide: Part Eight--On Scarves and Lessons Learned

Suicide Note
by Anne Sexton

a matter of my life" - Artaud

"At this time let me somehow bequeath all the leftovers 
to my daughters and their daughters" - Anonymous

despite the worms talking to
the mare's hoof in the field;
despite the season of young girls
dropping their blood;
better somehow
to drop myself quickly
into an old room.
Better (someone said)
not to be born 
and far better
not to be born twice
at thirteen
where the boardinghouse,
each year a bedroom,
caught fire.

Dear friend,
I will have to sink with hundreds of others
on a dumbwaiter into hell.
I will be a light thin.
I will enter death
like someone's lost optical lens.
life is half enlarged.
The fish and owls are fierce today.
Life tilts backward and forward.
Even the wasps cannot find my eyes.

eyes that were immediate once.
Eyes that have been truly awake,
eyes that told the whole story--
poor dumb animals.
Eyes that were pierced,
little nail heads,
light blue gunshots.

And once with
a mouth like a cup, 
clay colored or blood colored,
open like the breakwater
for the lost ocean
and open like the noose
for the first head.

Once upon a time
my hunger was for Jesus.
O my hunger! My hunger!
Before he grew old
he rode calmly into Jerusalem
in search of death.

This time
I certainly
do not ask for understanding
and yet I hope everyone else
will turn their heads when an unrehearsed fish jumps
on the surface of Echo Lake:
when moonlight,
its bass note turned up loud,
hurts some building in Boston,
when the truly beautiful lie together.
I think of this, surely,
and would think of it far longer
if I were not... if I were not
at that old fire.

could admit 
that I am only a coward
crying me me me
and not mention the little gnats, the moths,
forced by circumstance
to suck on the electric bulb.
But surely you know that everyone has a death,
his own death,
waiting for him.
so I will go now
without old age or disease,
wildly but accurately,
knowing my best route,
carried by that toy donkey I rode all these years,
never asking, "Where are we going?"
We were riding (if I'd only known)
to this.

Dear friend,
please do not think
that I visualize guitars playing 
or my father arching his bone.
I do not even expect my mother's mouth.
I know that I have died before--
once in November, once in June.
How strange to choose June again,
so concrete with its green breasts and bellies.
Of course guitars will not play!
The snakes will certainly  not notice.
New York will not mind.
At night the bats will beat on the trees,
knowing it all,
seeing what they sensed all day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

It is to be broken

It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.

--Wendell Berry
The Collected Poems, 1957-1982

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Safety Town, Spending My White Privilege, and a Cambridge Policeman

The Young Irreverent Psychologist and Officer Sheppard
When I was a little boy my parents signed me up for Safety Town. I met police officers and firemen who helped me learn how to cross the street, how to ask for help, and quizzed  me about my phone number and home address. We learned as kids that policemen and firemen (and at the time, they were all men) were good people. We learned they were there to help us. They encouraged us to wave at police officers when we saw them. I always did. The officers always waved back to me. I remember being sad when I got older and police stopped waving back.

I recognize writing this that these were the lessons taught to little white boys and girls in my suburban neighborhood. Little brown, black, yellow, or red boys and girls learned radically different lessons. I've learned over the years from friends and patients that people of color learned to be afraid of police officers. They couldn't be trusted. They weren't friends.

Yesterday I had an experience that really shook me. Maggie the therapy dog and I were walking across Harvard Yard. In my  pocket was an envelope of banking material that was in a signed, addressed, sealed, and stamped envelope. Somewhere along the way to the post office that letter either fell out of my pocket or was removed from my pocket by someone.

I retraced my steps back through Harvard Yard, down Massachusetts Avenue, and to my office. I realized that the one place I didn't look was in the Old Burial Ground. On our way to the post office we stopped and played with a woman and her young child. That's where I noticed the envelope was missing. I  neglected to look carefully there and if it had fallen out of my pocket that was a good place to look.

Safety Town with Julie and Officer Sheppard
The envelope wasn't there. I headed back toward my office for my next patient. On the way there I noticed a Cambridge police officer sitting in his cruiser. Policemen are our friends, and they are there to help, right? I thought that there was a small chance that someone might have found the envelope and handed it to him -- I recognized that his car was there on my various trips back and forth through the Yard looking for my lost envelope.

A mother and son were asking him for directions to a museum through his car window. I offered the two some additional directions and then approached the officer.

"Officer can I ask you for some help?"

He responded "no" and proceeded to roll up the window of his cruiser and started to read the Kindle that was resting in his lap.

Now I could have needed all sorts of different kinds of help. I could have been assaulted or seen someone assaulted. I could have been robbed. I could have have witnessed all sorts of different crimes. Maybe I was lost and just needed directions. It doesn't really matter what I needed. I approached a public official in an uniform and asked for help. He said no. This is not acceptable under any circumstance, any time.

I was appalled, deeply offended, and beyond angry. More angry than I have been in years.

I shouted through his closed car window "really, you are going to close your window on me?" He didn't look up. He read his Kindle and ignored me. I was even more enraged, but quickly realized that he was a police officer and I was a civilian. Being angry, and banging on his window (which is what I wanted to do) was neither effective or appropriate.

I called the police dispatch line. I told them I had a highly disturbing interaction with one of their officers. In the course of the next 15 minutes I was put into contact with two very professional and responsible Lieutenants who asked me several questions, took me seriously, and apologized for the behavior of the officer that "did not appear consistent with what is acceptable."

My complaint would be taken up with the officer by his commanding officer. I also was given the option to make a formal complaint. I have chosen to make that formal complaint.

I was a middle aged white man, possessing two masters degrees and a doctorate, with a dog, walking through Harvard Yard. In many ways, I was the epitome of white privilege and power. At least I can pass as having that much privilege and power. I got to thinking about what other people might have experienced had they come to this officer asking for help. What might a young black male in a hoodie encounter? How about an immigrant that doesn't speak English? How about some future patient of mine that is psychotic, delusional, or manic? Would this officer  respond, protect, serve, and help? Would he have closed his window on someone with less power or someone who is more disenfranchised?

Safety Town Graduation with the Captian
This wasn't okay. This was reprehensible. This was wrong. How could an officer, in uniform, close their window and ignore a civilian asking for help?

I recognize the enormity of my privilege here. I recognize that I have the power and freedom to speak up, to respond appropriately, and to create change. I recognize that many in this same situation would not be able to make the choices I can  make.

With this in mind I am responding. I'm responding because I can and I'm responding because I know there are others who cannot. I'm responding because if I ask my patients to do the hard thing, I have to demand that I do the hard thing too. Most of all, I'm responding because I don't want to live in a world where requests for help are ignored.

It's not okay for a police officer to close their window on anyone asking for help so they can read their Kindle in peace.

UPDATE 4/25/2012

I had a fantastic conversation earlier this week with a high ranking official in the police department. I was treated with courtesy, respect, and felt like this issue was taken seriously. Presented with a multitude of options to seek address, I chose what I thought was most appropriate for this situation and am satisfied that my actions made a small difference to make the world a little better place.

The proud graduate, ready to look both ways before crossing

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seeking Shambhala in Gallery 280

During a recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I discovered a variety of interesting curiosities. One, which I blogged about previously, is the discovery that I don't ever want to own or wear man pants. The main event of this particular trip, however, was the special exhibition in Gallery 280: Seeking Shambhala. The show is up until October 21 so you have plenty of time to catch it.

Shambhala, according to Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Buddhist traditions, is a mythical kingdom hidden somewhere deep within inner Asia. The land is said to be shaped like a giant lotus flower surrounded by eight petals which, in turn, are surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The inhabitants of Shambhala are protected by both the mountains and supernatural forces which ensure the residents are protected from the rest of the world. Those who live here lead an evolved spiritual life and are free from all forms of suffering and strife. Sounds kind of nice, doesn't it?

Prior to this trip to the MFA, the closest I've gotten to Shambhala was a trip to another museum. I think it was in 1997 that a group of Buddhist monks came to the Cleveland Museum of Art and created a sand mandala that was a physical representation of Shambhala. I also got fairly close to Shambhala when a group of monks were in residence at Northeastern University underneath my office in the counseling center. They also were building a sand mandala.

On both occasions I quietly hung out in the back of the room watching the monks carefully build the mandala--sometimes a grain of sand at a time. I also got to watch the ceremony at the end of the creation of the mandala where the sand was swept up and washed away in a body of water.

Impermanence. It gets you every time.

Among the various pieces in gallery 280 I came across this Buddha by Gonkar Gyatso. It was one of those great moments with art--I got drawn into the piece and all the little adornments placed onto the Buddha. Those few moments seemed like an eternity and when I left I saw everything in a different way. I got to thinking of all the little (and big) experiences of our lives that get imprinted upon us and shape our understandings of what comes next. I also got to thinking about the form of what is beneath this surface of impressions.

What might be like to take water and a scrub brush to this Buddha (I wouldn't actually do this, of course, except within my own mind). Might it be possible to wash away these small adornments on the Buddha--these impressions of life--and reveal the true form of the statute? Might it be possible that we can wash away the impressions of life--like the monks wash away the sand mandala--and be left with something pure?

I frequently tell clients who are working through trauma something similar. Trauma work, as I see it, is much like going to the doctor for wound debridement. Every bit of contaminant needs to be located and scrubbed out. I realize that for as many times as I've told a client this, I've never talked about what is left behind.

I'm not sure what would be left. That's probably why I've not thought to talk about it with a client. It's easy to think about what this Buddha would like like with all these impressions washed away. It's a lot harder to think about what people might look like. Maybe we'll figure it out if we ever get to Shambhala.

In the meantime, it's worth it to make a trip into Boston to spend some time with this Buddha. He has a lot to teach.

Man Pants

Recently I spent a little time in Gallery 276 of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In it is an installation called Figure/Fabric/Fantasy: Selections from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection of Fashion Drawing.

I'm going to have to say no to these pants. I'm very grateful that (a) they are not currently considered fashionable and (b) I was much too young when they were considered fashionable to ever have considered wearing them.

Cleveland: And Then We Ate

Check out the companion piece to this blog entry here. Also check out another video on the blog post How We Shopped: Cleveland Memories.  

How We Shopped: Cleveland Memories

Check out the companion piece to this blog entry here. Also check out another video on the blog post Cleveland: And Then We Ate.

Anxiety Goes to the Movies: The Desk Set

So my TiVo recently decided that I'd be interested in watching classic movies. Over the years it's become quite the prescient device. As usual, it's recent choices have been right on the money in terms of giving me interesting things to think about.

I recently curled up on the couch to watch Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy star in the film "Desk Set"  (directed by Walter Lang). Here is the original film trailer for the movie which was released on May 1, 1957.

The machine that could replace everyone except a woman like Katie (aka Bunny Watson) was what really stood out to me about this movie. Here is a scene where Katherine Hepburn matches wits with Miss Emmy the computer, a modern miracle cloaked under a metal skin.

The movie got me thinking about how films provide us a way to work out some of the cultural anxieties that are embedded within the Zeitgeist of any particular era. Here in the Desk Set, at the dawn of the computing era, office workers fear the oncoming obsolescence of their jobs due to the modern marvel known as Miss Emmy (which was the stylized Hollywood version of the first computer, UNIVAC).

Bunny Watson prevails in the end of the movie, of course, and the computer proved to be no match for the problem solving skills of an actual person. Bunny, however,  has not exactly prevailed across time. The vision set forth in this movie--masses of information being transformed into electronic information and made available to nearly anyone with an internet connection (keeping in mind pay-walls and many scholarly resources kept locked within private university systems).

Have you noticed how much misinformation flies across the internet? Information moving across the world at near instant speeds comes with misinformation moving at the same rapid pace. We still need Bunny Watson to be there (be it a librarian, a journalist, a scholar, or a critical thinker) analyzing information and vetting it for its veracity.

At lot of people like Bunny Watson have gone obsolete. Hidden within this movie, for me at least, was the notion that while some specific jobs become obsolete, people do not. We adapt, we grow, and we discover new ways to create (hopefully assisted with new technologies and devices). We also remain remarkably afraid of change--and resistant to it too.

Before I digress into my own nostalgia, check out this article on using the movie Desk Set to teach computer and society issues.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

History of Math Made Appealing: There's an App for That

Doesn't this make learning about math appealing? This clip, made by the IBMSocialMedia group, sure put together a good product. Here is what they had to say about it:

Inspired by the 1960's-era World's Fair exhibit, IBM today announced an iPad app, Minds of Modern Mathematics, available for free at the App Store. The app is a vintage-meets-digital interactive recreation of a massive 50-foot-long timeline from IBM's World's Fair exhibit -- detailing hundreds of artifacts, milestones and giants of math from 1000 AD to 1960.
The original exhibit, Mathematica: A world of numbers....and beyond, was created for IBM by famed husband--and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames, and the app is being released during the centennial year of Ray Eames' birth. The app includes the "IBM Mathematics Peep Show, " a series of playful two-minute animated lessons by the Eameses on mathematical concepts, from exponents to how ancient Greeks measured the earth.

If you want the app you can download it here.