Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Discovering Lawrence Krauss

This morning on Facebook I found this less-than-a-minute-long video, posted by DJ Grothe:

Best video of the last week of the first decade of the twenty-first century I have ever encountered.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nucleus Accumbens

There is not very much written about this particular brain region, nucleus accumbens, in any of the four volumes of the massive Encyclopedia of the Human Brain.

It seems to be a bit of brain involved, importantly, in staving off depression, or as Heller notes, in the PNAS open access paper (6-page pdf), Reduced capacity to sustain positive emotion in major depression reflects diminished maintenance of fronto-striatal brain activation,
"While up-regulating positive affect, depressed individuals failed to sustain nucleus accumbens activity over time compared with controls."

Any structure that can help stave off "Major Depressive Disorder" is one I want to know more about. There was a look taken at "the fronto-striatal network in anhedonia" also.
"These findings support the hypothesis that anhedonia in depressed patients reflects the inability to sustain engagement of structures involved in positive affect and reward."

"Our study examines the ability of depressed patients to sustain engagement of the NAcc while enhancing positive affect in response to positive images embedded within a stream of stimuli that included both positive and negative images."

Sounds like depressed people can kind of fake it for a little while, but their/our nucleus accumbens tuckers out easily, can't continuously rejoice over life's simple pleasures. From the paper:
" everyday life, individuals do not generally encounter uninterrupted positive stimuli. Negative experiences often intermix with positive ones, and the ability of individuals to heighten and maintain positive affect in the face of negative stimuli is vitally important for health and well-being."

Sheesh, you can say that again. Mine feels as though it is perking up fairly well with the help of increased photons in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Still a fairly long way to go however.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Boxing day 2009 - I think I've finally achieved this elusive state. In order to get here, I had to spend nearly 30 years in the dark cave of Vancouver, going with low photon levels in exchange for useful tools and skill sets that are coming in very handy as I navigate life with mom, life in a small city where boundaries are very different than what I became used to, yet eerily familiar at the same time. Who said you can't go back home? I did, and feel much better for it.

Yesterday, I went to my mother's condo at her invitation for a Christmas dinner and present exchange. I gave her, she who loves Christmas bling, a Christmas floral arrangement, professionally produced and delivered locally, way last Monday, on Solstice day. This was my way of spreading the festivity out a bit more so that something important to me (solstice, photons etc.) would be symbolically included in a gift extended by me to her; so that the connection, the buried verb lying within my reach outward to her through a present, could be meaningful to both of us. It was a low montage of cedar and other coniferous greenery, red and white carnations, with a tall red candle sticking up out of the center. She thought it was beautiful and was glad to have it come a few days before Christmas so that she could enjoy it as part of her anticipation of the whole event. Win win.

We ate turkey breast cooked in the oven in a casserole dish, nestled in a bed of stove-top stuffing, to which she had added mushrooms (real, not from a can, she pointed out), onions, butter (not margarine like they put in the stuffing at the Wheatland, she pointed out); it was tasty for sure. Baked potato, half an acorn squash. Ice cream and apple-pear crisp for dessert. Some chokecherry wine. A lovely meal. Over the meal she reminisced about trips she had taken, funerals she had attended, music she liked, a cremation ceremony she'd been to recently. I noticed something in my brain not just nodding along dutifully, politely, but actually listening for subtext from her. "Do you want to be cremated?" I asked. "Yes," she said unhesitatingly, and laughed. "The church lets people do that now. None of this cold six-feet-deep needed if you're just ashes. At the graveyard the undertaker and the daughter together lowered a little square box into a shallow hole in the ground and put a piece of turf over the top." This led into a long side-topic about how dad used to tease her about how she parked. "He used to say, "You always like to leave a way out for yourself, don't you?"" And then she laughed again at the memory. Her way of parking is to leave a huge space beside her and whatever big four-by-four she has to park beside, even if her car sticks out a foot into a laneway, over-riding, or even parked squarely on top of, do-not-obstruct yellow hatch marks in the parking lot. She simply ignores yellow hatch. When it comes to parking, she appears to be yellow-hatch blind. And ticket-proof! The woman takes her space. Always has. I think she feels a touch claustrophobic at the thought of being in a coffin, buried...

Her boundaries have always been thick and tough. My experience as her only child (for the first 3.5 years at least), with her as my mom, was that approaching her was like approaching a large invisible deflector shield, one I bounced off almost every single time I ever tried to get close. After awhile I didn't bother trying anymore. She was never as approachable as she tried to portray herself as being. She wanted contact only whenever she wanted contact, and I was forced to accommodate myself to her. I was treated as her project, part of her bling collection, something she could dress up and curl the hair of and take out and show off. The rest of the time I was to be quiet and unobtrusive. I learned nothing of how to be a truly social human from her, not really. Anyone reading this will be relieved to learn that I did my therapy time and that this is all "water under the bridge," a phrase she likes to use, and that I won't bore readers with too many details.... long ago I asked for, and received in writing, an apology for her physical abuse dished during my childhood, but to try to explain any maternal emotional dearth she might have also dished is something she would find totally incomprehensible. She is confident that she did just fine, thank you very much. I turned out OK, didn't I? Is that not proof? So we go on.

What can I say, except that I need photons, especially in winter? I did not really need to be around my mother. At least huge parts of me did not. However, that having been said, I'm not one to pass up any last chance to understand, maybe, in retrospect, how life came to feel so pointy and sharp my whole way through it. While I'm here enjoying the feeling of having my personal brain photon tank slowly filling up again, I am cautiously exploring this old, painful, resurrected relationship with the one person in the world to whom I owe everything and nothing, depending upon which side of myself perceives her.

Anyway, so far, so good. Exercising psychic integration could feel worse. Whether my mind frames it as dragon-slaying or merely as sedate familial adjustment, I'm sure it will all be of personal benefit at some point. Something in there is feeling successful about something, and just now that's all that matters.

I opened up a gift from her, a huge box, inside which was packed a slow-cooker. Perfect, because I usually get distracted and burn things when I cook, which is irregularly. Thanks mom. Also, she gave me a set of 24 Sharpies with fine tips. She had seen me admiring them in Walmart. I make a lot of doodle drawings. I go through a lot of Sharpies. So this was a great present.

I gave her a big shiny green gift bag full of edible things - a Christmas pudding, a box of Christmas cake, some candied ginger, some halva (which I remember her enjoying from when I was a child), some boxed truffles, and a set of one-handed salt and pepper grinders I have had for absolute ages, complete with little bags of extra salt chunks and pepper corns for refill. She thought this was all too much. Maybe it was. I've given her nothing but a card for years and years and years, and for a long time before that, nothing, not even a card. So it didn't seem extravagant to me, not for a first Christmas spent together in decades, and just her and me to boot. But I may have over-compensated. Maybe there is still a pocket or two of buried, unearthed guilt to deal with. I'll find and deal with it consciously, rather than continue to buy her too many Christmas presents after buying her nothing for decades.

She was anxious to open a large box from my sister that had arrived addressed to both of us. We opened it up, and it contained a necklace for her, a framed photo for her of my sister and her husband, and for me a large plastic recycle bin and some home-made chutney. On the card attached to the recycle bin, she had written my name and that it was one of the "plunge buckets" she had used to help her foot feel better, after fracturing a few bones in it last summer, at my urging to do contrast foot soaks. Mom called her, and we each talked to her for awhile. It had a nice connecty family feel to it.

About 9:30PM, the evening wound down, and I packed up my things for the walk home just up the block.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Light-hearted on Dec 25th

This was posted over a year ago, but it's new to me, and I like it a lot, so here goes:

This afternoon I'll be going to my mom's house, where we will have a day together, eat (she's cooking) and exchange presents. She plans to go kneel for awhile at her Catholic church this morning, whereas I sit here typing and adding a topical, a-religious video to my blog. Hey, we each have our own way to mark the day, and we still get along. That's what's great about having clear boundaries. Forward Hohoho.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Learned this new word today: Zeitgeber. My definition: a recurring clue from one's environment around which one's brain can develop synchronized optimized neuroplasticity.

So, this week is solstice, a week marked by collective yearning for more light expressed in many ways by many cultures, and often religiously.

I must say, I feel pretty good this year. I've failed to note any of the usual drag on me and my mood, function, no urge to hibernate, no letdown, no dread, no anxiety... Nothing. I feel "normal". Back in Saskatchewan where my brain matured in bright sunshine year round. How it is enjoying its revel in photonic bliss, even while the rest of me still looks for ways to adapt to new surroundings and people and wonders what it will do with the rest of my life.

One thing I know is that the long rest and exposure to real light "cure" will help the rest of me figure it all out as time goes along. So I'm not particularly stressed about any of it. I'm content to just wait and see what reveals itself during the cold time fast approaching. Yeah, it will be shockingly cold, but I'm pretty sure I can adapt to it swiftly. I have marvelously thermo-efficient outerwear and a new pair of those wire rigs that provide increased traction to help people walk on ice - when it gets windy I expect they will help a lot.

Further reading:
Sensorimotor modulation of mood and depression: An integrative review.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Tis the season?

In a blog connected to an Australian osteopath I know of, appeared this post from almost a year ago. There was always something about pain and religion. It discusses a study in which a specific example of religious imagery was found to help the brains of those who had been imbued with those particular images to downregulate pain. The post is clear on the point that an entrenched belief system is at work, that the picture itself has no "power" over pain.

It seems an appropriate time of the year to consider the information contained therein. Personally I've always found religion to be more rather than less of a pain, but maybe that's just how I happen to be wired. That having been said, it makes more sense to me now why people are so "devoted" to acquiring, harbouring, growing, and propagating the memeplexes involved - it looks like they operate on the human population as a convenient drug-free pharmaceutical.

It's perhaps less of a mystery to me now why people can be so angsty when someone comes along to challenge said belief system, or maybe any belief system - how is this reaction not like that of a junkie threatened by separation from the next fix? I am reminded of Robert Burton's book, On Being Certain. Dopamine pathways are involved in the generation of the feeling of being certain.

I get an image in my head that's hard to shake - billions of human minds born free of nonsense, reaching up and waving like vine tendrils, hoping to find something to cling to, finding nothing, so inventing something (anything) to latch onto to help haul self through life as painlessly as possible. It fits with why religion seems to be so ubiquitous, still.

My own mind somehow ended up not needing to acquire this particular adaptation. I am definitely not free of belief, but I examine things I believe in to make sure they have foundation in fact, not fiction. Oh well. And about pain? I deal with pain in myself and others the old-fashioned way, one by one, by handling nervous systems and trying hard to not create more pain for the people embedded inside them in the process. I haven't bumped adversely into very many belief systems in other people along the way, in 40 years. However, I think I'm at a stage where all this personal life trajectory, how I balance my own against others', where my personal values stand now vis a vis my cultural context/current-entirely-changed social context, is up for retrieval and update. I expect the values are sturdy - I tried to build my "self" that way, but I have often observed there are surprises too - life is full of those. So we shall see.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

May your days be merry and bright

This has to be the most stressful time of the year for social and symbolically afflicted animals like us, when we are trying to change our way along. But I am pleased to be able to say that this year the stress is much less.

I went to a party last night, 16 people, a catered turkey dinner at the senior drop-in center where I go and volunteer, peel potatoes etc., the local good churchwoman (best friend of my mom) said grace, there was a party afterward in my mother's living room, most of the people there in their 80's, some corny games, some Christmas carols accompanied by one of the 80-somethings on a portable piano, a present exchange, three people (women) wearing identical red vests (- I was one - guess I'm blending in well around here, the kid of the bunch at not quite 60 yet). It all feels a weird combination of surreal (this is not my life, surely) combined with acceptance (really, it's not so bad, a bunch of older folk all living independently, manufacturing for themselves and apparently enjoying simple social pleasures, keeping each other going and cheered up in a safe, humble little prairie community). There were four men and a lot of widows. My own father checked out 9 years ago.

It's a nice gentle way to be passing time, hanging out with advanced seniors. Which is odd, because at younger ages I would have been bored out of my mind by this sort of repetitive socializing for the sake of socializing. I would have felt myself trying to burst out of invisible cages.

Instead I feel very welcome and nurtured by this group. Its members find lots of little ways to let me know that they like and appreciate my being there with them. I find myself open to accepting this without feeling uncomfortably vulnerable at the same time.

I have what I consider to be my "normal life," which to them is strange since none of them use computers, lived virtually, being online, studying, thinking, conversing by email/writing. The inner world of me.

I have this weird (to me) and yet oddly comfortable outer life now, my only peer group at the moment comprised of people my mother's age or close. Preferable IMO to living in an increasingly nasty urban jungle, full of darkness, lack of sun, fighting every day just to make myself stay there. I seem to have created a symbolic "child" world again, and my own mother is actually still physically present in it, part of it. I can feel long-lost parts of me lapping up this nurturing environment like thirsty camels lap up oasis water.

It slowly is dawning on me that it barely matters anyway, what I am or what I make or don't make of myself in the world. I never thought I'd see the day when personal existential angst would appear to comfortably recede or dissolve. Maybe it has to do increased light levels. Maybe with having managed to revisit "child" mode once again for a little while. Maybe a combination. Whatever. I remain acutely aware that one day I'll just slide right out of existence, but I feel detached about this in yet another new way for now, even as I anticipate attending many funerals in the coming years. Which won't involve fun probably. So for now it seems important to just relax, support these people and their gentle socializing for all the camaraderie and fun it seems to bring them, all I can, just for now. It's what is right under my nose at the moment. I can always go back to paid physical human primate social grooming, later.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wheatland jigsaw puzzle mountain

In case anyone does not believe me...
Many of them not here - they're out, spread out on someone's dining table, being put together. Some people knit, I do these..

Winter blue and white in Weyburn

Here is why I moved back. So beautiful, what clear dry cold air does to moisture on trees. Taken today.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Winter, Neurevolution, and Nicolas Wade

This morning there was a definite cloak of white spread out on the street below, and resting upon branches and twigs. The day is Dec. 1/09, and the light level is fabulous - beautiful blue sky. So refreshing to be back in the land where winter colors are blue and white instead of dark grey and dark green.

I found two tweets today to bring here. The first one is from Neurevolution blog, Cingulate Cortex and the Evolution of Human Uniqueness. Apparently there is a small region in the human ACC not present in oft-studied monkey brains. The author, while refraining from making any direct claim, and acknowledging the difficulties inherent in directly studying human brains, suggests that neuroscience in general might want to not gloss over this issue. My interest in ACC stems from the idea that it's an area of the brain that come to be known as part of the "pain matrix" as it it usually lit up in people with persisting pain. It seems, metaphorically speaking, to be the zone in the brain that has trouble making up its "mind", the brain's worrier.

Deciding what I have to do is not something I ever found particularly hard - rather, determining the shape of the problem to be solved is something I've always found much harder. This requires a lot of time and examination, and is a very difficult thing to do when there is nothing actually concrete to handle or measure or weigh or consider or interact with, just vague feelings to deal with and try to sort, like the recent long climb back up out of a depressed state. I feel like my ACC has had a real workout in the last few years.

The other piece is an NYT story, We May be Born With an Urge to Help, by Nicolas Wade.

I really appreciate Nicolas Wade. Had he not written his excellent NYT article on Seth Grant's work, I wouldn't probably have picked up on it at all, and would not have become excited enough about Mo's interest in the topic and concurrent blogpost about it to have been able to interest Ginger Campbell of the excellent Brain Science Podcast into doing an interview with Seth Grant, and wouldn't know the first thing about synapse evolution. I feel I might have gained an IQ point just following along, attempting to grasp the enormity of what it might mean, as a real breakthrough...

But that is all history now - this new article by Nicolas Wade is about a topic also important to me but at a much different level - intrinsic helpfulness in babies and small children, practical suggestions on how to cultivate it instead of snuffing it through inadvertently bad parenting. Looks like we're here to help each other, helping shows up early, and frankly, I think we'll go on doing this as long as we continue to be a species. Personally, I do not like cultures or societal or religious institutions that have stifled this urge, have distorted or perverted it to meet more selfish interests or objectives - i.e., their own, but that is a whole other topic for some other time or place.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The "verbiness" of terms for describing pain

From a discussion thread on Somasimple, the difference between kinds of pain:
"I tend to think in terms of "persisting" and "resolving". - Sebastian Asselbergs PT

"Aha. I'm starting to get it. Conceiving of pain as a condition like alcoholism where the diagnosis of it being a "problem" can only come from the person experiencing it makes sense.

This is helpful to me. Assisting a patient towards resolution will be more effective if I have an appreciation of how their pain may be working for them. Only when they admit that the pain's not working, and become willing to change whatever behaviors are contributing to its persistence can they start towards resolution. This sounds like the movement from a pre-contemplative to contemplative stage of behavioral change.

Cognitive behavioral therapy principles come in to play here because patients may think their pain is working, but they are often mistaken. They don't see the whole picture, or are not reasoning effectively...because of the pain. Obviously, pain clouds jugdment(sic) and reasoning abilities. It also robs one of options- and the ability to imagine other possibilities.

I like the "verbiness" of "persisting" and "resolving." Conceptually, this supports a more interactional as opposed to operational mode of providing therapy.

I don't want to be a hero for my patients." - John Ware PT

Perfect. Pain as verb, not noun. Pain as a natural process (i.e., something that moves along) for which adverbs might be helpful, not as some static something requiring scads of ever more clashing and diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive adjectives, like "normal" and "abnormal."

Thank you John.

1. a word that modifies something other than a noun
2. the word class that qualifies verbs or clauses

Adverbial: a word or group of words function as an adverb

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Canadian Pain Physio Directory

I'm pleased to announce the launch of the Canadian Pain Physio Directory, an initiative of the Pain Science Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. A permanent link has been added to this blog, at the top.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Light, let there be.

I need to rave on a bit about how much I am enjoying the light levels here in Saskatchewan. My own particular very bossy suprachiasmatic nucleus loves being "home" again. Let me try to explain. This first picture is my view of the sky, looking west, about 5:15 PM. We don't change the clock in Sask. That's just point 1.

Where I live is situated 1850 feet above sea level. It's like living at the top of a very very large hill. When the sun comes up, or goes down, the light changes ever so gradually. There is nothing abrupt about this process the way it is at sea level. The sky takes a good half hour or longer to brighten or dim, both before and after the sun has come or gone. I think this gradated dimming/brightening, the slowness of it, the gentleness of it, the non-abruptness of it, is crucial - at least to me. I think it might be why the big fake sun-lamp stopped working for me. My particular suprachiasmatic nucleus took all this for granted the first 33 years of its existence. Then for the next 26 years or so, it had to put up with sudden light changes. They really are more abrupt when there are mountains and sea level blocking light as my brain had become accustomed to it, a brain used to a sky that faded or brightened slowly, so slowly, from very dark to very, very bright. And big. Huge. Dome. Sky. Sky that actually dips down on all sides below the horizon line, letting the sun smoothly illuminate it even when it isn't directly visible. How cool is that? This second picture was take at around 6 PM! There is still enough light in the sky to take a picture without any fancy equipment, just a handheld camera. Not much, but just enough.

Halfway through November, and no SAD. Not one bit of it. Just greater and greater decompression noted each passing week.

More about flu

I wrote a bit about this just yesterday. A number of years ago, while researching what life was like in the early part of the last century, trying to feel the context of the birth of physiotherapy as a profession in the world, I read all about the flu pandemic of 1918, and I must confess, it scared the bejeebers out of me. I don't scare easily - it's just that this thing killed such a huge percentage of the population of the day, and there was no stopping it then like there is now. Like most everything in nature that moves, it came in waves.

There were no flu shots available way back then. It was AFTER, and likely BECAUSE of the 1918 pandemic, which scared the bejeebers out of the entire world, that Centers for Disease Control developed, and vaccines were developed, to try to keep something like this from ever slowing us human primates in our various troops, down, ever again.

I want to grab Bill Maher (and others like him) (gently) and shake him, ask him to wake up, and go to, look at, read the following links. Try to understand the deal here. Ask him to set an example of the right sort.

1. Images

2. Wikipedia link
"The 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world. It was caused by an unusually virulent and deadly influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1."
(H1N1 - did you see that?)

3. Modern strain similar news story

4. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic from Stanford, somewhat scholarly treatment of the issue

5. Mother of all Pandemics

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Conversation re: flu

So, this morning I arrived at the Wheatland bright and early to help peel spuds for a catered dinner later today. There were the two main caterers, Ruby and Helen, and Helen's husband John. John already had the potatoes in the sink, had quite a few peeled, so I donned an apron and joined him, with a peeler I brought with me from home, originally purchased at IKEA in Vancouver. It's a great peeler, sharper than most of the ones I've tested at the Wheatland.

Anyway, I asked Ruby how things were going for her. "I'm not going to get that flu shot," she announced, which made me think that she had been thinking about it that very moment. Which one? I asked. "H1N1" she replied. Oh. How come? I asked. "Because I don't think I need it. By the time we get the vaccine here, the flu will have come and gone anyway," she replied. "I'll get the seasonal flu shot though," she added. She continued ripping up several heads of iceberg lettuce for the large salad she was building in an enormous clear plastic rectangular tub, enough to feed 60.

"That's interesting," I remarked as I fished a gigantic potato, a good three pounds, up out of muddy sink water, a potato that still had half a farmer's field stuck to its side, which I set out to remove before trying to peel it. "I came to exactly the opposite strategy after thinking about the whole business. I'm willing to become part of 'herd immunity' for H1N1, because, well, while seasonal flu does kill people, it's usually the really weak and sick that die from it, whereas H1N1 is picking off healthy people, kids. I'm more interested in not being a breeding ground for something that kills healthy people than I am in not being a breeding ground for something that is mostly not dangerous for healthy people." I managed to chop up the three-pounder into about 6 large chunks, each of which I could peel more easily with my small hands and wicked sharp peeler from IKEA.

Ruby replied, "But those people who die from H1N1 must have a weak immune system."

"Actually... my understanding is that they don't, that the virus actually provokes their immune system into over-reacting, and it's their own immune system response that does them in."

Silence. Then, "How are those potatoes coming along?"

"Good. How many pots-full will we need?"

"We'll need about two and a half small pots full, but we'll cook them all in just the big pot. There are only 60 people coming to this. It's not like a regular supper with a hundred and 20 where we need the big pot full and two small pots as well."

"OK then, I think we'll have enough with these four big potatoes we have left to peel here."

Long pause.

Then Ruby said, "I don't know.. I think I'll just go with what the doctor said. He said he thought that by the time the vaccine got here, the flu would have already come and gone anyway.."

I waited an appropriate length of time, then said, "Well... I was thinking about that 1918 flu. I think it arrived in waves. I think it can go away for a bit then come back again... I wouldn't want to be someone who worked for the Center for Disease Control, tracking viruses and whatnot, trying to figure out how to advise as I tried to understand what was happening around the country.. That 1918 flu took out a huge chunk of the population. In those days there were only 2 billion people on the planet, and the flu took out 50 million, something like that.. that's a big percent of the population, and there were no shots for it, no Center for Disease Control, nothing. People died like flies in those days from all sorts of things, but for sure that flu made a big impression..... Do we have enough potatoes peeled now, do you think?"

"Yup. That should do it. Let's go have coffee."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Red Albatross

Finally, the red Persian rug is gone. I took one last picture of it today, lying in a semi-rolled up heap in the middle of my living room, just prior to the arrival of two men who carted it away, off to the Wheatland Center, where it will either live on the floor of the puzzle room, or else be raffled off as a fund-raiser, a more recent idea Helen, the administrator, hatched. Either way, I'm glad it's gone from my life where it had become a burden, and will have a new life with someone (or someones) else, who will give it a nice home and enjoy it. Plus, if the Wheatland makes a goodly sum of $ out of it, all the better.

Sure is nice to have it gone. A weight feels as though it has lifted. Bye-bye rug, hello more simplicity.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Mo at Neurophilosophy Twittered a link to a blog called Inside Higher Education: Career Advice, about writing a dissertation, by Peg Boyle Single. It seems she has a book out.

The column is also full of good advice about writing in general. Part 1, A Regular Writing Routine, is a layout of the mechanics. Write whenever you have a chance.
"Motivation in writing comes from prewriting, prewriting, prewriting. Motivation occurs when you have done the necessary planning steps so that when you sit down to write prose, you have had time to subconsciously play around with the ideas and you only have to retrieve and type down the ideas, not to think them up. Motivation occurs when you have a very detailed long outline, filled in with citeable notes, by your desk that guides your writing."

Part 2 is What the Research Says. The first item recommended is to develop "deliberate practice."
"So what is deliberate practice? It is not inherently fun nor is it intrinsically rewarding. It is work. Deliberate practice is effortful practice with full concentration and includes a mechanism by which the results of the practice can be evaluated and improved upon in future sessions. Often a coach or master teacher oversees the deliberate practice, chooses individualized training tasks, and evaluates the results of the training. Experts more often engage in deliberate practice during the morning; research has supported that we have the greatest capacity for sustained, engaged and demanding cognitive activity during the morning. Research has also supported the many anecdotal accounts that four hours is the length of time that deliberate practice can be sustained."

It sounds like training for anything sounds. Start with twenty minutes a day and build up to 4 hours/day. Neuroplasticity will develop the brain. Pattern recognition is enhanced, etc.
"Novice writers tend to focus on the word or the sentence as the unit of creation or as the unit of analysis. Expert writers focus on the whole and on the paragraph as the smallest unit of creation or analysis."

Please, if you want to be a writer, read the entire posts carefully, especially if you have to write something academic. I can attest to how hard it is and how easily one can be chewed and spat out. My first and only (academic) paper so far was a disaster, swiftly rejected by the one and only journal I sent it to. I could not figure out what it was reviewers wanted - if it was a failure merely of style, or if I was simply inept at delivering written content, or if they hated the content itself. I'm still baffled. I could definitely have used this advice a year ago.

I can hardly wait for the next two columns in the 4-part series. Thank you Peg. Thank you Mo.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Selves and selves and selves

By happy fluke a friend, Jon Newman, posted a thread on SomaSimple about Sandeep Gautman's blog, The Mouse Trap, and links to several posts about the many selves we each carry around. I was delighted to learn that someone has bothered to study their existence, hypothesize their functions - I don't have to do it all by myself (haha, lame joke).

Listed below are the particular posts Jon found, and thought were compelling enough to bring onto a physical therapy board. They are compelling, because even when we are tootling along in a well-integrated, functioning state, working for a living providing services to health consumers, etc etc., we are dealing with psyches which might seem glued together on the outside but which might feel shattered to pieces on the inside. I've preferred to see this shatteredness as merely kaleidoscopic, interesting and even lovely, but I can appreciate that a sudden plunge into the depths of self/selves might feel shattering to people at first exposure to it. It was that way for me at first, too.

Anyway, for those interested:
1. Development of Infant Consciousness
2. Splitting of the self: "me" and "I"
3. Five kinds of self/self/knowledge

I had no idea there was a field called Philosophical Psychology, with its own journal, but there is. Someone named Ulric Neisser wrote a paper way back in 1988 and delineated Five kinds of Self-Knowledge. In his blog, Gautman has outlined them:

The ecological self is the self as perceived with respect to the physical environment: I am the person here in this place, engaged in this particular activity.
The interpersonal self, which appears from earliest infancy just as the ecological self does, is specified by species-specific signals of emotional rapport and communication: I am the person who is engaged, here, in this particular human interchange.
The extended self is based primarily on our personal memories and anticipations: I am the person who had certain specific experiences, who regularly engages in certain specific and familiar routines.
The private self appears when children first notice that some of their experiences are not directly shared with other people: I am, in principle, the only person who can feel this unique and particular pain.
The conceptual self or ’self-concept’ draws its meaning from the network of assumptions and theories in which it is embedded, just as all other concepts do. Some of those theories concern social roles (husband, professor, American), some postulate more or less hypothetical internal entities (the soul, the unconscious mind, mental energy, the brain, the liver), and some establish socially significant dimensions of difference (intelligence, attractiveness, wealth). There is a remarkable variety in what people believe about themselves, and not all of it is true.

No mention in there of the over-extended self.. which women end up becoming a lot of the time.. I think (with my private self) the over-extended self may house a bunch of the subselves which can cause trouble. Perhaps it depends on the sort of "specific and familiar routines" in which one engages. I think it's the one our "role" is housed within. Of all of them, it's the one that changed itself right under my nose, and seems like is busy plotting a coup with my conceptual self these days.

Also, no mention that I can find of how each of the discretely labelled selves experiences time passing. I have a hunch that a key to re-integrating them is to get them all back on the same clock again somehow.

As an aside, recently neuroscientists found brain cells that keep track of time with extreme precision in macaque monkeys. Everything gets a time stamp. See MIT news story, A Head of Time.

If the brain is an oscillator, predictor and simulator, I can see how easily one's sense of self/selves can develop a few timing problems and need "tune-ups" on occasion.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Looking after me

Once in awhile, a little, formerly struggling part of myself surfaces and breathes, then disappears again for ever-lengthening periods of time. It surfaced this morning, and we took a look at our life together. I found I could understand and look at life from its perspective better than I could before.

It is the anxious part. It's the part of me I fought to stay married to, the part I turned my whole physical existence upside down and inside out to accommodate. I didn't blame it when it threatened to explode - I listened, stayed connected, tried to understand, then analyzed, and then acted. I thought things through while in Hawaii. I related to this part of me.

I do happen to view my "self" as a committee comprised of different characters, a choir of different voices, a community of selves apart from the one I normally inhabit as "me." I'm not sure this is pathological, although it might seem a bit odd. I have always seen my"self" this way, as a group of individual proclivities and interests, some of which can interfere with others at times. I've always seen my "self" as a collective comprised of "selves" of different ages and capacities and likes and dislikes and abilities and inclinations. I do feel like I have to actively integrate all of it ongoingly, most of the time, and need a lot of alone time to deal with it. I do sometimes resent the disproportionate amount of time this seems to take me, compared to how easily others seem to hold them "selves" together, but usually don't allow it to particularly bother me.. I just plug along with whatever I've got going on at the time. I do wonder about aging, how this process will be affected. Will it get easier or harder? Maybe every person feels like a whole tribe on the inside. Maybe others have brains that do this integrating effortlessly and non-consciously (it seems that way from the outside, at least..). Maybe this is way more information than anyone else needs to know about what goes on in my particular head.

Whatever the case, back to the anxiety "self":
It poked itself into my conscious awareness today, to announce that it feels better now, thank you. It noted that it is Hallowe'en today, which means that it's nearly November, a time when life would normally be dark and rainy and foggy, that it would ordinarily be fixated on the weathercaster's daily announcement of time of sunrise and sunset, would be poking me frequently, as daylight shortened and darktime lengthened. It noted that here, in the new place, in the 'land of living skies', the land of planetary hemisphere-size sky, it could care less, pointing out that it has paid almost no attention whatsoever to weather reports. It doesn't care anymore. It has more light and that's all it ever wanted, so thanks. It doesn't feel it needs to intrude on me anymore about light level issues. I agreed. The thank you was mutual. Both of us love the fact that we do not have to re-set the clock, now or forever more, if we don't want to. Saskatchewan very sensibly did away with this noxious stress-producing, imposed from without, jet-lag producing practice many decades ago. Such a relief.

Meanwhile, there are other internal fires to fight... The part I normally regard as the working part of me is still healing from the rippage away of what was once ordinary existence, and sets of daily habits. It has yet to find a new rhythm in life that is as productive as life used to be, but slowly it feels better and better. It knows that the only way to get through the rest of this year will be to get through the rest of this year, doing little more than attending to each moment as a suspended entity, experiencing life as a crawl by.

The part that had been longing for a sabbatical now has one, but experiences time as whipping by too fast to be enjoyed. It's the part which, if I allow, thinks it needs markers, things to weigh time down, to slow it down. Material objects and bought items, "stuff", money-wasting burdensome symbols of ownership, permanence. I've put a stop to most of that. It will have to find some other way to express itself. I cannot even buy a book right now - the wounds of having had to scuttle almost my whole library are still too fresh. I am firmly convinced that, on the whole, simplicity is preferable, but the acquisitive "self" is having a few issues with me over that. So, I might take it out today to purchase some winter boots, get it a flu shot, buy a bottle of aspirin to feed it, one per day, so it feels provided for and I will have simultaneously reduced the statistical probability of this "self" giving us both/all of "us" a stroke.

What I once felt was a somewhat budding and growing intellect is dormant for the time being. I'm still tending it, but it is ignoring "me" at the moment - it seems to need to compost for now. I hope it springs back to life someday. I see no reason why it won't. It's time for engine maintenance, is all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Addicted to information?

Scientific American has this little item: The Chemistry of Information Addiction: A new experiment reveals why we always want to know the answer

Dopamine reward pathways appear to be involved. This ties in with Robert Burton's ideas in his book, On Being Certain. Certainty becomes a rewarded cognitive behaviour, and voilá, becomes an end in itself.

"It has long been thought that there are two levels of decision-making: a conscious level taking place in the cerebral cortex and an unconscious level in the basal ganglia. The story is not so simple, he says, because these two systems are connected via the midbrain dopamine neurons. Perhaps future work will reveal how our conscious and unconscious decisions are influencing one another, all due to this very busy population of dopamine neurons.

It’s often remarked that “ignorance is bliss.” However, when you look at ignorance from the perspective of the brain a very different picture emerges. Our brains, and the brains of other animals, have evolved to find information rewarding. In fact, not knowing is stressful, which is why we strive to decrease that uncertainty whenever possible. We want the information and we want it now!"

So here's a thought, based on something else I read today, Scientists Locate Literacy In The Brain With The Help of Former Colombian Guerrillas, which I think ties in.

(Why they kept referring to the subjects as Guerrillas, instead of referring to them as formerly-illiterate subjects learning to read, I'll never know. Of that I am quite certain.)

Anyway, language is intrinsic. Children left to themselves soon figure out some sort of "language" in which they will be able to communicate. Even deaf children. Such made-up languages will have grammar, structure, meaning, etc.

Reading, on the other hand, is tuition-intensive learned behaviour. It changes the brain. Excerpt:
"Previously, it was thought that the angular gyrus recognised the shapes of words prior to finding their sounds and meanings. In fact, the researchers showed that the angular gyrus is not directly involved in translating visual words into their sounds and meanings. Instead, it supports this process by providing predictions of what the brain is expecting to see."

In lots of other posts here I've taken a close look at this idea, that the brain is a simulator, plays a predictive role based on previous experience. It is the standard science-based working model of the brain.

My thought is, "making stuff up" to satisfy information hungry and addicted pathways, would likely represent the default human capacity.

Science and learning to think scientifically, like acquiring literacy, requires much more input and effort, initially.

However, the acquired skill is self-rewarding, in the same way as reading is.

Reading has become the norm. Like reading, science must be taught, conveyed, and ultimately learned. It's a transmission of "information" between two people, a teacher and a learner, like any sort of information exchange is but more formal - the people are in roles. Effort expended to either learn or teach is considerable.

Something is wrong with how science is taught these days. Perhaps teaching science as a "tool" seems boring and laborious to a child or teen. Perhaps the teachers themselves find it boring to teach science, or can't quite see the point of trying to pound science into what seem like thick heads.

Does anyone else think science could or should be reframed as an exciting, cognitive, future self-rewarding behaviour?

I will lay odds that if teachers took on their task of teaching science as enthusiastically as they take on teaching basic reading, fueled by the same motive, soon there would be a leap forward in percent of population able to steadily access their own information-seeking/gathering reward pathways. New habits of thinking would emerge. Culture would change. There would be no more need in life to support institutions that "make stuff up" just so they can feel they can help people get by - everyone would be interested in investigating the truth as closely as scientifically possible.

Additional Reading:
1. Harriet Hall's review of On Being Certain
2. Ginger Campbell's BrainScience Podcast and shownotes about the book, Episode 42
3. Ginger Campbell's BrainScience Podcast and shownotes, interview with the author, Episode 43.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's excellent novel stimuli to this brain that houses me.
Brain food.
Today, outside my window, a blizzard! a real, honest-to-goodness prairie blizzard! ...rages.
Maybe it's the exciting descriptors that pull me so much into this situation, back to living in a little prairie city that has nothing much to distinguish itself.. where any architecture the least bit interesting dates back to the 40's, or 30's.. 20's..

No matter - the weather is wild, the weather is fresh, the weather is waking my brain back up. I do not fully understand why I feel like a coma survivor - I just know that I feel something waking up in here. I'm going to go walk around a little bit out there.

Friday, October 09, 2009

First snow

I feel like a kid again. Just for this feeling, it was worth moving back to Sask. Snow fell last night and this morning, not much - just a skiff, but it feels good. I can feel my sympathetic system stirring after a long long time of not having been stimulated kinesthetically in this way, expecting to have to struggle just a bit. The light levels are strong. So the accommodation reflex of the parasympathetic system of the pupils is back in charge, telling the sympathetic system to not dilate pupils. What a kick this is, light-wise. My brain likes this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Life and jigsaw puzzles

What the heck.
I am back to add my thoughts on this after all.


How life is like a jigsaw puzzle

1. You are born without knowing how to do one.

2. Your job is to complete your puzzle before you die.


Every piece represents another person in your life. Each piece is equally precious, uses equal space, and will be important in some way to the final result. Keep this in mind. Always.


Your job will be to figure out all the relationships appropriately, guide the pieces to their spots. To do this it will be necessary to develop your powers of discernment and perception. You must learn to see things from different focal lengths.

Practical tips

1. Be sure you have adequate lighting. Sufficient table space. Take care to not drop pieces on the floor where they could become lost or dragged off by the cat.

2. Build the boundary first. It will save you loads of time and angst, and possibly regret.

3. Be gentle with the pieces. They will have to be handled many many times by you, and by others who do the puzzle. Don't create unnecessary wear and tear on anything.

4. Always work from easiest to hardest. You'll gain confidence and experience that way.

5. Go ahead and group your pieces by color, by shape, by orientation. This is not equivalent to political or economic discrimination, this is just you sorting things out for yourself privately in your own personal life. You ARE allowed to have a personal opinion on your own life. On your own puzzle pieces. From your own perspective. On absolutely every issue/aspect. In fact it's a requirement if you are to become a thinking person.

6. Keep the boundary between a) your own discernment and b) unfair social discrimination, clear, clean and separate, and refuse to tolerate any unfair institutionalized structured discriminatory practices in outer life. (See "Symbolism," above.)

7. Take your time grouping the pieces, laying them out carefully. You can do this any way you want. It will save you time in the long run. And you've got lots of time. A life time.

Along the way

1. You'll naturally be drawn to some pieces more than other pieces. Don't worry about it. Just remember that you'll need every piece eventually. Consult the 'big picture' frequently.

2. When you get stuck, you'll finally start to widen your visual field, and will notice some little humble piece that you had totally overlooked because it just never stood out for you. This is natural. Don't worry about it. It will be exactly the right piece for that spot where you tried some other piece umpteen times already and it just wouldn't fit.

3. You'll get a nice burst of pleasure out of each tiny victory. Savour the pleasure.

4. When you get frustrated, work on a different part of the puzzle, or else just go do something else for awhile and come back later. Your refreshed retinal receptors will see details they couldn't when your eyes were tired.

5. Invite others to help you if you wish. If you'd rather do it all by yourself, that's OK too. Your choice.

6. You will have a chance to enjoy, sense, experience and integrate all the instinctive emotions that came for free when we were born. You'll experience everything from the slog of repetitive drudgery and continuous frustration to the thrill of the hunt and the sense of triumph. The glue that holds all this together and keeps everything moving along on track is hope. Hope is really all we have for motivational fuel. Nurture hope. One day your puzzle will be complete.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Down a long grey road

Here is a picture of what I've been working on lately.
It took a weekend. One thousand pieces. As I worked I thought about all the ways jigsaw pieces are like people and putting jigsaws together is like life, but then I googled "life is like a jigsaw puzzle" and found that since jillions of others have arrived at similar conclusions, I would refrain from boring anyone with same-old.

Let me just say that the puzzle matched my mood - a long grey road to nowhere except into the future in a grey world which, although it had beauty, was cold. It was a hard puzzle for being
a) monochromatic
b) no straight lines anywhere

I got it done. I got my mood externalized, defined.

I felt more in control after, but still felt pretty monochromatic, bleak, difficult, etc. on the inside. Current blahness stems from the fact that the organizational part of me is very burnt out from the prep for the move, the move itself, and is finally taking a break from life. Also, I recognize how depressed I've been, and have suppressed, for years, thanks to low light levels. (At least that's what I choose to pin blame onto. It's all Vancouver's fault.)

My self-therapy job right now is to stop being concerned about the fact that I can't seem to make much of a plan, or study, or work on my projects, or be social, and just let large chunks of my brain take their time coming back to normal. Meanwhile I occupy myself these days going to the gym, Lu's Train Station. It has the vibe my brain seems to need right now - life is material, so push against it. Very physical. Nothing to distract.

However! .....
Yesterday I cheered up pretty good and I want to share why - someone posted links to Hans Rosling TED talks. I got into them and found myself entranced. This guy, a Swede, a medical doctor, statistician, professor of global health at the university which has a committee which peruses the annual candidates for Nobel prizes in medical physiology, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, has managed to create the means by which anyone who cares to can look at data collected painstakingly over decades by the UN, on the economic and health of many many countries, and compare them visually. His system is called Gapminder. He designed the visuals to be colorful, fully manipulable bubbles with size comparable to population, which rise to the left when health improves and which rise to the right when economics improve. It's the most lovely way I've ever seen, to look at statistical data.

In a number of TED talks, he explains his system and uses statistics to show how the world has improved in the last couple centuries. His enthusiasm for this adventure and his optimism based on his datasets is completely infectious. I felt oddly buoyed up by all this. It's good that someone out there, so clearly brilliant and beyond kidding anyone, sees the world in this way. It just plain makes me feel better about the planet and about the people on it and about my own being here. It's not like there aren't still lots of problems out there but I can see how breaking them up into little bits gives a better overall picture.

Here are all his TED talks I could find. Each are about 20 minutes.
1. 2006: Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen
2. 2007: Hans Rosling's new insights on poverty
3. 2009: Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

If your outlook on life happens to be underwater and you need to breath some life back into yourself, the hour it takes to watch all three is well worth it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Valuing the inner life

I'm in one of those periods when everything feels like swimming through peanut butter. There is no motivation and no energy to do anything even when there is some motivation. I'm truly in the swamp of myself at the moment.

On the outside things are settled safely - still in visual upheaval, with a dresser half made all over the living room floor, and the red rug I brought from Vancouver (now a rolled-up red albatross also lying on the floor of the living room, because only too late did I realize it really is too large for the room and doesn't suit it anyway). But I don't care right now. I sit on the roll while I build the dresser from a kit. I step over it to open the balcony door. I am careful not to lose screws or screwdriver or hammer in its folds. I don't care how long it lies there because I'm sucked down into the muck at the moment. I'm the engineer, off my own train, having to build more track out front before I can get life moving again. My attention has been sucked down into someplace I can barely apprehend. For now.

I don't care about any of this actually. It feels fine, or perhaps I'm just kidding myself about that.. I don't know. All I know is that I'm in the nadir place again. I've been here before, at least three times in my life. I recognize the territory. I recognize that I'm depressed. I saw this coming and arranged outer life to accommodate it, rather than let it crash me into a ditch. I've acquired a useful illusion of control. I can anticipate my own crashes and prepare appropriate landing places.

Furthermore I know what I have to do. I went out yesterday and found a gym about 6 blocks away, right beside a beautiful indoor swimming pool. I plan to join it. I have absolutely nothing else I have to do with my body, because I'm not working at the moment. I can work with it, as opposed to using it to work. It is now about 35 pounds lighter than it used to be, and I want it to feel stronger; I want it to sustain me better. I want to work with what's left of it. I do want to feel "better." Physically. I don't feel bad, physically. But I also know I can feel "better," physically. Regular exercise is a mood-enhancer. I've used it on and off over the years like other people use drugs. It works for me.

I have never wanted to do exercise in anything more than bouts, a few weeks or months at a time, and only when necessary. I've always been afraid of dependency. Worse, I've seen how exercise addicts tend to ruin their own bodies through excessive dependence on strenuous behaviour to feel "good." They turn exercise into a religion, feeling guilty when they don't do it, instead of using it carefully as a medicine, and only when necessary, to feel "better."

On the way back, I dropped in at the Wheatland Center, for the first time under my own steam. I headed immediately for the jigsaw puzzle room. Instantly my brain wove this room into a self-construct for therapy. My jigsaw therapy room.

I worked for a little while on the puzzle that was out yesterday - a snow scene with deer, lots of deep blue colours. While I puttered finding pieces with bits of antlers on them, I chatted with a few of the seniors there. A woman named Helen works there everyday, is the caterer as well as the main administrator/treasurer. She rents the place out for events, and takes care of organizing the monthly dinners. I agreed to help out with the one at the end of this month, a turkey dinner. I am to arrive at 9 AM and help with potato-peeling, etc., leave for awhile, come back in the afternoon and set out desserts. After she left to go do some banking, I met her husband, whose health has declined. He walked in heavily, and we introduced ourselves to each other. He went to sit by the window, told me about his experience having to let go of one of his favorite past times, bridge. He has acquired a speech difficulty which creates pauses that are too long to be able to feel comfortable holding his own in a bridge game. He's had some surgeries which he didn't tell me about but which his wife had mentioned before he came into the room, and about which I didn't ask for detail. He chatted randomly about himself, how he feels his life closing in around him, how he was going along just fine, then suddenly his health seemed to collapse on him all at once. He said to me, "When you have your health and everything is going along fine, like how you are now, you just don't know what it's like when it's gone." I found exactly the piece that I needed to finish both a blue hill in the distance and a chunk of deer butt, put in in its spot in the jigsaw. "Well.. I guess sooner or later we all get to find out what that feels like." I replied cautiously. He seemed satisfied with that.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles a few years ago because I find them soothing, relaxing, refreshing on some deep brain level or other. They help me disperse inner fog. They help me re-establish, at least temporarily, some illusory sense of control, or order. Moving here to Weyburn and being able to access this jigsaw puzzle room freely will be perfect. There is no system (I don't know where I got that idea from - maybe my brain just made that up). You can borrow as many puzzles as you want, take them home, do them, bring them back. No one asks you to sign them in or out. Marvelous. All social interaction here, with the seniors, is a sea of personal and interpersonal trust. I love that.

I've changed my whole outside context, quit work, moved home, moved away from the outer fog - now I can start tackling this inner fog. Jigsaws will help me kill time while my brain gets itself back up on the track.

I plan to pick up this book, the Red Book, by Carl Jung, as soon as it makes it onto the shelves. Here is an article about it in NYT. The Holy Grail of the Unconscious, by Sara Corbett. Caution - it's a really long article.

I am going to read about Jung's adventures while inside his nadirs. Maybe it will be full of useful travel tips.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Silvery bright skies

New pictures.

The large clouds topped with light look like big soft boats, viewed from below, sailing along in some sort of sky flotilla. Living on the prairie is quite a lot like living on the floor of a sea of air in continuous motion.

Even on a cloudy steel-grey day, the sky is bright and silvery, with movement and form and edges and brightness.

I really appreciate how even when the sky is cloudy here, it's still exciting, different all the time, never in the same mood twice. And no matter what the day has been, the sunset is always beautiful.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Whole new take

So, here it is, Labour Day 2009, and I live in Weyburn, Sask. instead of Vancouver BC.
I can't get groceries today, as the main food store is closed on a holiday, and on Sundays is open only between noon and 5PM. But I don't care about minor inconveniences, because I feel new stirrings. New old stirrings, rather. Old sensations but with new brain cells.

In Vancouver, it would likely rain or be cloudy. Here, it rained in the night and is cloudy today. So, what is the difference? The difference is, I can feel crispiness in the air, here, that I could never have felt living in soggy water-logged Vancouver. I feel anticipatory autumnal crispiness in my blood, in my brain. It feels good.

I wouldn't feel this good, physically, emotionally, if I were living in Vancouver. There, I would feel a sense of doom, of winter descending, a sapping away of vitality. Here, I feel as though I have energy. Of course, not having to go out to work to support a life that feels like it erodes faster than it can be shored up, is helping - I can't discount the side effects of having the luxury to laze around, relatively guilt-free. Also the expectation pathways are heavily primed with the serious intention that moving has pumped them full of, so one cannot discount placebo response either.

As a response to being here, now, and liking it, and in anticipation of feeling more alive this coming winter instead of more dead, I am taking on learning about the consciousness system of the brain. I will post about this here and in the Neurotonics blog as time goes by. So far I've closely studied Chapter 10 from Mayo Clinic Medical Neurosciences 5th Ed., one of the best organized texts I've ever had the pleasure of learning from. I made extensive notes and will be layering in information from other books and texts.

I will luxuriously wallow in the information, enjoy the feel of my brain sponging it all into itself. Then I will try to make sense of it - my sense of it. Then I will try to write about it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My new writing room

I made my dream come true. I moved, have a new, uncluttered, more zen-like existence. Here is a picture of my little writing room.

Here is a picture of the view out the window, from where I sit. The light comes in from my left. There's nothing beautiful or captivating about the view. It's a humble view, a humble house below, an alley.. but the big green tree is nice, and I especially love that I can see over it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Does depression have an upside?

Maybe it does!

Check out Depression's Evolutionary Roots, a SciAm article.

Maybe depression and introversion are connected somehow. I'm quite "happy" to be introverted if it will help me avoid being or becoming depressed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Settling in

Weyburn has been "home" for over a month now, and I've been in my own place for two weeks. Yesterday a desk I ordered finally arrived, a $149.00 special from the Brick, made in China, espresso in color, with a keyboard drawer. This morning I managed to put it together, working entirely from pictures that gave me no clue as to which way the boards should face, the way Ikea does.. but somehow I got it all together, with only once having to take apart the box which holds the drawers, as I had screwed it together entirely wrong first time round. Whatever. At least I have a desk again, one that I do not hate too much; it lacks a hole for cords to slide through/hide in, and the keyboard drawer doesn't slide particularly easily, but getting it together and functional makes me feel like finally I can relax out of moving mode and get busy again.

Slowly I'm getting used to this place that is so leisurely and devoid of stressful excitement that I'm reminded of swimming through molasses. At other (younger) ages, this would have made me scream with boredom and a sense of life passing me by, me not able to participate in it. Now, I feel it's the perfect speed for me to regather my wits and soften up around the edges once again.

Last night was the monthly dinner at the Wheatland Centre, Weyburn's drop-in centre for seniors. At the age of 58, I'm a kid there, but I was invited to join ($20 for a year's membership) so that I can participate in all the exciting events that go one there, like the monthly dinner. If you are not a member it costs $10. If you have a membership, it costs $8. I guess saving $2 each month will pay for the membership before the year is out.

It's a fairly large building, for Weyburn, one story but with several large rooms that can accomodate many people - one hundred twelve people sat at three long tables last night with some room to spare. Nice efficient systems are in place so that lines for food are orderly and swiftly flowing. The food itself is in another room on 3 more long tables, with room for 6 lines of hungry seniors to pile their plates. Last night's menu included roast beef with horse radish, mashed potatoes and gravy, some slightly overcooked vegetables, salad, and saskatoon crisp with a dollop of dream whip. I'm looking forward to the turkey feast at the end of next month. Now that I'm a member I was warned that I may be called upon to help the ladies with various food catering events. Okeydokey. I guess I'll get to know more people that way.

Why I finally joined, really, is because there is an entire room devoted to jigsaw puzzles. A whole room. With a big table and good lighting. And in the corner, stacks and stacks of 1000- piece jigsaw puzzles, hundreds of puzzles I've not yet put together. My aunt and I turn out to both be jigsaw puzzle lovers. She and I snuck away from the table as soon as we dared last night, after the meal, and headed off to the puzzle room to work on the puzzle that happened to be out. We got some pieces together before the meal started, too. The puzzles can be signed out by members, three at once. I can see myself busy writing all morning, then puzzling away in the afternoons while listening to CBC radio.

There are other rooms there - one huge pool room with four large tables. Apparently there are card sharks who attend the Wheatland regularly, and games are scheduled several times a week. Several people have mentioned this to me. Seems it's the "single ladies" who are the most dedicated card players. I'm clearly a "single lady" so I suppose it's out of kindness they are pointing me toward the peer group they most see me fitting into. However, I have never been attracted to card playing.

At least once weekly, a bus picks up seniors either at the Wheatland or else in the mall parking lot, to whisk people off to casinos dotting the prairies. My mother usually goes on these junkets and often wins some money. Mostly she gets her free lunch (included in the excursion) and has fun.

Now that I have a new nest to settle into, I'll be looking out the window lots of evenings and seeing lots of sky scenes, like the one I have added to this post. I confess to having photo-shopped the moon to make it look bigger in the picture, more the size it seems in real life to vision centers in the brain. Otherwise, the color and everything else is the way the camera saw it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Controversy in British Pain Society: PT president ousted

BPS = British Pain Society
BMJ= British Medical Journal
NICE = National Institute for Clinical Excellence

Here is NICE outraged by ousting of BPS President in the BMJ, dated July 23.

"We write to express our outrage at the British Pain Society’s vote to force their President, Professor Paul Watson, out of office because some members disagreed with a recommendation in NICE’s recent guideline on low back pain which he helped develop.

The BPS’s sustained campaign against this highly respected pain management and rehabilitation expert is professional victimisation of the very worst kind. That it has now culminated in the BPS forcing an exemplary expert out of office, is shameful.

All NICE guidelines are developed by independent clinical and patient experts who give up their time and expertise, over a two year period, to produce robust, evidence-based guidance. It is totally unacceptable for guideline developers to be singled out in this way and have their professional integrity called into question, simply because some groups don’t like a robust, evidence-based recommendation that has been developed by a group of independent experts.

The guideline developers’ only aim is to help improve the care and treatment of people with specific conditions by highlighting gold standard approaches based on the available evidence. The BPS is clearly admitting that they do not accept evidence-based medicine. Moreover, the Society’s actions fly in the face of the comment made in a recent High Court judgement. At a judicial review of NICE’s chronic fatigue syndrome guideline in March this year, at which the judge dismissed the claims in their entirety, he particularly highlighted the importance of health experts to be able to express their opinions without fear of retribution.

The BPS has acted dishonourably in making their own President a scapegoat for the fact that some of its members refuse to accept that there is not the scientific evidence to support their interventions. It is a sad day for freedom of experts to express views, for evidence-based medicine, and for the ideals of the medical profession.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Michael Rawlins, Professor Peter Littlejohns"

It's worth reading through all the letters in the BMJ link. Rarely are PTs involved in public politics and turf battles at levels such as this. The story involves a PT and it involves pain, so I find it all very interesting. There appears to have been somewhat of a coup by an organized group of doctors concerned over supposedly evidence-based guidelines which might have affected their own livelihoods, or at least what they consider to be their turf...

I find it all a bit bewildering at the moment, as I only learned about it this morning. But I'm curious and plan to read through it all again.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Weyburn Skyscape

This was the view from my new 4th floor balcony this morning, at dawn. This is what I came back here for. This is what I was homesick for.  

I confess, I'm not getting a lot done these days. I feel lazy. All I want to do is drink in views like this, enjoy the infinite focal length out all my windows here. 

If not now, when? 

The rooftop in the bottom right corner is the condo building where my mother lives. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Home at last

I'm sitting in my new living room, on a new couch, looking out a new patio door at a new scene.
From this fourth floor level, the scene is a cloudless blue morning sky above rooftops. The rooftops come up to the top of the railing, and above that... endless infinite blueblueblue.

My view is west, so I get reflected light in the morning. In the afternoon/evening I get lots of direct sun, then a sunset. Every day. So pleased about it.

Looking around there is still a lot to be done to make the place more livable, but it's coming together quite well - slowlyish, putteringly, the way I like to do householdy stuff. Contemplatively. It's my zen, and there's no rush. It's a process. Do I mind the mess and clutter? Yes I do. Am I making progress? Yes I am. At exactly the right speed for me.

And I take lots of rests and breaks and do plenty of out-the-window gazing. This is why I moved, so I could have a focal length that goes all the way to infinity. It will take a little while to get there, so I have lots and lots of time.

I'm liking this whole living in utter silence thing I've got here, too. I can't hear any of my neighbours, as the building is concrete. I don't have to actively filter out my mom's country and western music, or her soap operas, or her football games, or chatter about whatever. I can think here. At least I hope I'll be able to think here. That's the plan.

Blogger is acting weird

I can't blog from my iMac at the moment, because everything I type turns to squares as soon as I type a period. None of the other places I visit or post at seem to be affected. This MacAir laptop seems to be working OK for blogging, so I'll have to blog with it.

Update: It must be Firefox - I'm using Safari now, and it's fine. No boxes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A welcome time-out

My mother climbed on a bus today, with her cousin (the one whose garage is currently holding my stuff in storage), to go off on one of her regular casino excursions. Earlier this morning she got up and showered and dressed. When she goes out, she always looks well put together. Anything she puts on always matches, and she always puts on a watch from her vast collection of watches to match her clothing. My mom and Joan Rivers, two watch queens. Before she left, she pulled my attention away from my computer to comment on how great she looked, how summery her shirt was, and seek my confirmation of her visual congruence. "Uh huh. Looks nice" I said.

Such a relief to have her be out for the whole day. My inner space can expand outward once more to envelop its surrounds. Mostly it doesn't care what those surrounds are, as long as they are unpopulated by other humans. The only thing still noisy and interruptive around here at the moment is the clock my Uncle Peter built and gave to her as a gift. A Dutch immigrant to Canada long ago, my Uncle Peter is now gone but managed to live a long and healthy life. He married my dad's sister, the youngest in a family of nine living siblings, the second-youngest of which was my own dad. My dad and aunt were from a dirtfarm family, born between world wars, the tail end of a succession of children made to toe stiff lines by parents who were sternly religious in a Calvinistic sort of way. Dour. No fun allowed. Lots of work. So many older siblings. No particular personal attention. Lots of physical punishment. Lots of churchy activity.

My dad rebelled by learning to play music on a violin. He would sneak away and go for music lessons from his high school teacher who lived a few miles away. If he came home after 10 PM he could expect a good thrashing from the stern patriarch of the family, my grandpa Carl, who brooked not even a slight hint of disobedience. From anyone. My dad grew up stunted in many ways from this lovely upbringing he had. I think he was likely chronically depressed from birth, but faked his way through life, mostly adequately. He got away with being stoic and quiet, because when he lived, that is what men were supposed to be anyway.

My Aunt Ella, the one who married Uncle Peter the Dutchman (so handy with tools and able to build anything out of anything), was the closest to my dad in age and close observer of his treatment by his father. On the day of my dad's funeral, when I asked her how she had felt when her own father had died, she disclosed that she had felt quite fine, was glad to see him gone, that he had been a real tyrant. It was then I found out, for the first time, that all my dad's life, pretty much, as a child, he'd been especially singled out to be physically abused by his father.

The things you don't learn about your own family by attending funerals, when everyone's guard has been lowered, or else breached, by grief.

My Aunt Ella, unlike my dad, has been an endlessly cheery person, extroverted enough to keep up with my mother. In fact they are quite good friends, these two old women. Aunt Ella's rebellion was to cut her hair and wear a bit of make-up. Both of which were taboo in her family of origin, and both of which were adopted by only one other female sibling out of five.

Anyway, Uncle Peter came along and managed to charm the old patriarch, Carl, with an old-fashioned approach - asking for Ella's hand in marriage from her father, maybe even before he asked her. Uncle Peter cracked, then translated into English, coded messages during the war for the Allied forces. He was highly mechanical, understanding heavy equipment well enough to be able to maintain a whole isolated prairie power station, himself, for decades, employed by the province. In his spare time he built things, useful items, from scratch and from kits.

The clock he gave my mom is one of his many constructed contributions to the world. It doesn't run on time anymore, as he is no longer around to maintain it periodically, but it still sounds nice, chimes out the hours abut 10 minutes before the actual hour. A clock like that is nothing I'd ever have in my own place, as I would find it too intrusive, but my mom likes it because she liked Uncle Peter a lot, and because she likes noise. She's extroverted. Noise feeds her brain. Her brain organizes itself around externalities whereas mine organizes itself around the still place in dead center of its own quiet world, inside its own inner space. Which, when I live alone, I can easily find and orient to. Living with my mom, not so much.

Temperamentally I am more like my dad was, although outwardly I'm like a carbon copy of my mother. She is a "field-marshall" type, in the Myers-Briggs sense. Me, I'm more an INFJ. What I find irritating is her need, compulsion really, to organize every breath I draw, in advance, as though I was still 3 years old. She always has. It has taken me a very long time and a lot of space between her and me for me to find a good boundary to erect between my life and her version of it. Staying in her spare room for three weeks has been quite a test for that boundary - it's still holding but I can hardly wait to move into that place of my own on Saturday, and I'm so happy to have this day - this precious day, to myself. Well almost, except for the clock sounding, reminding me every 15 minutes that this is not my space.