The Very Thought

I have been making use of this blog lately a) as a way of remembering what I have been trying to read and b) in the pure act of doing it as a way to convince myself, though the production of organized words, that my brain has not been paralyzed by the longueurs of withdrawal, or, as if, adrift in a windless Sargasso Sea. Water! Water! Everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

I think that for me at least the blows of age to my brain will be worse than the limitations it imposes on the body. Well, maybe that’s a toss up, and it’s a toss up too, in any case, as to whether or not the withdrawal has beaten my brain down to nothing (aside from these self imposed moments of making an appointment with it).

Yesterday I was trying to read something and found myself on the verge of tears at not being able to make heads or tails of it. I would look at the chain of words, try to concentrate, and then I would lose it. But I was reading words like this:

To bind education to its own unthought, to make a case for the idea that something within education resists thinking, that there is something about education that one knows nothing about, may seem counter intuitive to the project of education since ostensibly education is a deliberation, a judgment, and oddly a result of itself. Yet as both experience and institution, as training ground and as learning life, and as natality and its repression, people who are undergoing education as they are directing others in their learning rarely think the thought of education. (Britzman, The Very Thought of Education)

Maybe something as prolix as this is reason enough to be on the verge of tears both for what I don’t and do understand of it.


I have been taking Klonopin since 1993 for anxiety. At first I ran 1 milligram a day: .5 in the morning, .5 before bed. But the stuff wore me out so much during the day, I cut the morning dose down to .25. And I have been at that dosage for maybe ten years. Now I am trying to reduce the .25 morning dose.

Unfortunately, Klonopin belongs, along with Valium, to the benzodiazepine family of drugs. These drugs are addictive and not mildly. If a person should make the mistake of going cold turkey, he or she could put him or herself a risk for any number of nasty things up to and including seizures.

I didn’t know any of this when I started taking the stuff and I don’t recollect anybody telling me. I could have paid more attention I suppose, but frankly I was grateful. After ten years or more of insomnia, I was happy to be able to get to sleep. And the Klonopin helped with that. It got me to sleep, though over the years I have experienced quite frequently extended episodes of waking up way to early, like at 3 in the morning. A ghastly time to be awake.

But Klonopin is like alcohol. The longer you take it the more more you need to achieve the same “high” or whatever it is you are aiming for. I am fairly convinced at this point that I suffer tolerance withdrawal. Daily! I mean the dose I take no longer achieves the effect it once did, and the Brain wants More. So I go into withdrawal. Daily. Usually at around 11:30. The energy continues to drop, and after lunch, I am useless and aching.

The usual “cure” for tolerance withdrawal is to up the dose. But I don’t want to up it. I want off it. But given the side-effects of withdrawal, one has to move very, very slowly. I am dissolving my morning tab of .25 in a cup of water. I am slowing removing one tablespoon at a time from that cup. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, and at my current rate, it will take a month for me to get off the .25.

So that will be the core of my summer vacation, my basic project. The pains of withdrawal. I don’t know how people who work nine to five and take drugs of this kind could ever get off. I mean how could one work or do one’s job properly feeling utter exhausted and at the same time ready to jump out of one’s skin from withdrawal.

So I am lucky.

The Pursuit of Happiness, Endlessly

I want to be happy, I guess. Though I would settle, if it is in fact settling, for J.S. Mills definition of that as the absence of pain or suffering. That would do me fine. But I think the great bulk of people who are not me (and that is the great bulk of people) want something more. Not that I would know myself what that might be exactly. I seem to know less and less about that mythical “most people.”

Zygmunt Bauman looks into this business of happiness in his “The Art of Life.” There he argues, pretty definitively, I think, that happiness has little or nothing to do with affluence. Experts have tracked the correlation of the rise in GNP with happiness, and they report, according to Bauman, “that improvements in living standards in such nations as the the United States and Britain are associated with no improvement–indeed a light decline–in subjective well being.” Further: “On the whole, only a few percentage points [on the happiness index] separate countries with an annual income per capita between 20,00 and 35,000 dollars from those below the barrier to 10,000 dollars.” Leading Baumont to assert: “The strategy of making people happier through raising their income does not seem to work.”

Apparently the “advanced” western nations have not only their own physical complaints, like colon cancer, but also their particular spiritual or psychological problems. Along with not being so happy, the people of the “advanced” nations also, according to Baumont suffer from “…an uncomfortable and uneasy sensation of uncertainty, hard to bear, let along live with permanently. Of diffuse and ambient uncertainty, ubiquitous yet seemingly unanchored, unspecified and for that reason all the more vexing and aggravating..”

He’s right about that. Whether or not we are heading to hell in a hand basket, there’s certainly a good deal of uncertainty about where we are heading, and how that direction, whatever it might be, will affect our daily walking around and whether or not we will find what we want in the grocery store or anything there at all. That could be paranoia. But if all the bees die, then more than likely so will we.

Consumer society has sought to salve the wound of this uncertainty by giving us plenty of goods to consume. This, however, has not led, according to Baumont, to happiness but to the endless pursuit of it. Baumont puts it, “One of the most seminal effects of equating happiness with shopping for commodities which are hoped to generate happiness is to stave off the chance that the pursuit of happiness will never end.” As one of my students put it, “I looked in my closet. It was completely full. But I had absolutely nothing to wear.” Her clothes, because of incessant changes in fads, had worn themselves out just hanging there.

Somebody benefits I suppose from this incessant churning of goods. Somebody is making profit, and the endless pursuit itself keeps the wheels of industry world wide churning. If Americans and the members of the other western nations suddenly stopped consuming, the whole damn world economy would collapse.

But we’re not going to find happiness this way, even as the absence of pain. 

Pulse 1 (Kairo) , Pulse 2

Since as part of my teaching, I am always listening for signs of the direction of the consumer society, my ears perked up when I heard mention of the exportation of anti-depressants to Japan. According to this speaker, the sale of anti-depressants in Japan is a billion dollar industry.

This was not the case even ten years ago.

The Japanese knew of something called depression.

The nation [Japan] did have a clinical diagnosis of depression – utsubyo – but it was nothing like the US version: it described an illness as devastating and as stigmatizing as schizophrenia. Worse, at least for the sales prospects of antidepressants in Japan, it was rare.

So they had depression ten years ago, but it was devastating. Further the attitude of the Japanese people towards melancholy states differed from ours:

Most other states of melancholy were not considered illnesses in Japan. Indeed, the experience of prolonged, deep sadness was often considered to be a jibyo, a personal hardship that builds character.

What a novel idea: a personal hardship building character, sadness–not as something to run away from–but something that, if endured, might make one stronger.

Clearly, not an American idea….not anymore anyway.

Which is why the Japanese version of the movie, Pulse (the original version), is better than the American version. Both are about how technology is taking over our lives; things come out of our TV sets and over our phones and drain us of our life force. Slowly people start disappearing or killing themselves for no apparent reason. That’s mostly what was going on in the American film: technophobia. It had a lot of cool special effects; people turning into piles of dust and so forth.

And while technophobia plays a part in the Japanese film, something else was going on, something in a way more horrifying than anything a special effect could convey. The characters actually talked about “death,” what it was, what it meant for human existence, and but most importantly death becomes the ultimate symbol of the isolation or aloneness of the individual. That’s ultimately what the Japanese film was about and stated directly by the characters at different points: We are each of us alone. There is no way we can communicate with each, no way we can know or really understand each other.

The Japanese film was depressing. Yes, the heroine escapes on a ship headed to nowhere. But in the final scene, she says she has found peace sitting with her best friend, who, having been stricken by the ghosts, is now no more than a shadow on the wall. She is staring at emptiness. The American version just doesn’t have that edge. Both hero and heroine escape and are heading to one those places where there is no cell phone reception.


Response to Yoda Yudof interview

Being who I am I was inclined to write off my response to the Yoda Yudof interview as the result of my unresolved Oedipal Complex.

But I do believe it touched a nerve also with others less unresolved.

One colleague reported that reading the interview made her feel as if she were falling into the abyss.

Another friend turned me on to some URLs out of Berkeley that also indicate considerable dissatisfaction with the interview. See especially the attempt of 19 people to provide YY with better responses to the questions.

And another colleague was moved to share a quotation:

To bring an area of life into accord with “rational choice” is to force life into the mold of a specific complex of metaphors for better or worse, all too often for the worse. An example is the trend to conceptualize education metaphorically as a business, or through privatization to make education a business run by considerations of “rational choice.” In this metaphor, students are consumers, their education is a product , and teachers are labor resources. Knowledge then becomes a commodity, a thing with market value that can be passed from teacher to student. Test scores measure the quality of the product. Better schools are the ones with higher overall test scores. Productivity is the measure of test scores per dollar spent. Rational-choice theory imposes a cost-benefit analysis in which productivity is to be maximized. Consumers should be getting the “best education” for their dollar.

This metaphor stresses efficiency and product quality above all else. In doing so, it hides the realities of education. Education is not a thing; it’s an activity. Knowledge is not literally transmitted from teacher to student, and education is not merely the acquisition of particular bits of knowledge. Through education, students who work at it become something different. It is what they become that is important. This metaphor ignores the student’s role, as well as the role of the role of the student’s upbringing and the culture at large. It ignores the nurturing role of educators, which often can be very labor-intensive. And it ignores the overall social necessity for an ongoing, maintained class of education professionals who are appropriately reimbursed for the immense amount they contribute to society.”

–George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), p. 532

Breakfast club

Carol and I went out to breakfast at a little place in Old Town Goleta, as it is called. Crummy Town Goleta might be more apt. But it’s the kind of place only locals would patronize and the food and service isn’t bad.

Though today it was, the service I mean. And as I sat there feeling antsy, two husband and wife teams come and sit–wife facing wife, husband facing husband–catty-corner from us. They are not loud at all but the one whose face and thus mouth flap point in my direction has one of those voices that, though not loud, carries. They have just come from church I understand because the mouth flapper starts in talking about how going to church what with all that kneeling and standing up again aggravates the old vertigo.

That’s how it starts and that’s how it goes for twenty minutes. Perhaps they have not seen each other in a while because they seem to move back and forth in a verbal tennis match from a discussion of one surgery, or procedure or treatment or doctor’s visit involving eyes, ears, bowels, circulation, heart and most especially teeth. It’s like they had a check list.

And then the mouth flap one says, well, so you don’t have any feeling along here–and he moves his finger sort of down the side of his mouth and chin line–and the other guy says yes, and the mouth flap says, "Have you had any trouble eating your lips. Because people with that sometimes eat their lips without knowing it."

Something had apparently gone wrong in a dental procedure. "No," the guy said…he had not eaten his lips and it was easy not to do that because all of the teeth on the side with no feeling had been removed. So he just ate with the other side of his face and so had avoided eating his own lips.

I was pretty damn depressed when I went into that place and went out more depressed. The idea of eating your own lips and not knowing it has stuck with me the whole day.

Oh! The heart-ache and the thousand natural and, one might add, unnatural shocks/ That flesh is heir to…

Fond Memories

A colleague sent out an email to all of us. He was troubled. He had a student who had written an excellent essay/article for him, and he suggested the student submit it to a contest and the student won the contest. So on the basis of that success my colleague suggested the student send out his article to a "real" periodical and, wow!, did the editors of the journal do a hatchet job, saying things like trite, full of cliches, banal, lacking insight, name dropping. Just a bunch of nastiness. The poor student was devastated, and my colleague wanted to know what to tell the kid.

I wrote back about the rejections I received during the 70’s and early 80’s for the short stories I wrote during that time. I think I wrote forty, maybe fifty, if I count the science fiction ones, along with the "serious." And I sent individual stories out repeatedly, some of them a dozen times or better. I became a connoisseur of rejection letters.

Most of these were purely perfunctory; sorry, we have no need for your work at this time. Occasionally, somebody would scribble a few words on the standard rejection, and somebody at Paris Review wrote a couple of paragraphs of encouragement. But I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, so I didn’t follow that up.

The worst I got was from some editor at a "little magazine.l" He wrote two fat paragraphs saying stuff like the characters were unbelievable, not to mention insane, the dialogue was wooden, the thing had no narrative movement, lacked all plot, and so on and so forth. And, oh by the way, he concluded, I had the worst pseudonym he had ever heard.

Well, as you might have guessed, I did not use a pseudonym, but my real name, "Nick Tingle," and I guess that sounded so weird to him that he thought I made it up. Though why he thought anybody in his right mind would make up a pseudonym like "Nick Tingle," I don’t know.

This was long ago in the days before the internet and the so-called personal computer. Today, the guy might have googled to see that in fact some people are named Tingle and a tiny number of those have the first name, Nick. But that guy was so nasty I expect he would have written, and oh, by the way, you have the worst name I have ever heard. You had better come up with a pseudonym especially since you don’t really want anybody to know you have written such awful stories.

Give some people a little power–especially editors–and they will use it to their own sadistic ends.

Topical Cream

Those anti-depressants have all sorts of side effects from nausea to hair loss.  I went on one a few years back, and after a week or two of being on it, started to develop a rash on my arms and part of my chest.  Sure enough one of the side-effects of that med was “possible skin rashes.”  So I went to the dermatologist and he said he didn’t know if it was the anti-depressant or not but I had “the heartbreak of psoriasis.”  And he gave me a topical cream and after a while the stuff went away. 

I went to the dermatologist at the end of the summer for my yearly visit.  I had been struggling with some crud along the side of my nose.  I thought maybe it was dry skin or maybe my new glasses had some stuff in the pads that rest by the sides of the nose that was toxic. I wondered about that because the guy who fitted me for my new glasses had acted pretty suspiciously (though I won’t go into that now).  The dermatologist said, no it was psoriasis and renewed my topical cream.

I applied it for a while and the rash went away.  I don’t know if the cream helped or not.  Psoriasis is a genetic complaint and appears related to stress.  I don’t remember any stress going away.  But maybe it did.  Then the rash came back.  Maybe stress from the world economic situation or something or maybe because I am trying to withdraw from an anti-depressant…I don’t know.

So now we are in this motel because we were kicked out of our condo for plumbing repair.  And yesterday I clean my teeth but it tastes real funny, and I look down and see a tube of the topical cream for my skin rash in my left hand.  I conclude on the basis of that and the funny taste that I just brushed my teeth with a topical cream designed to salve the “heartbreak of psoriasis.”

So now I am pretty sure I have poisoned myself possibly to death.  But I rinse like crazy and spit repeatedly and then clean my teeth over and over with toothpaste and not topical cream and the label of the topical cream does not say poisonous or avoid swallowing or anything.  I wait around to see if I will have stomach spasms.  But nothing happens though one side of my tongue feels a little numb, maybe from the topical cream or maybe from my having brushed it too vigorously.

That’s how things are lately.  I brush my teeth with topical cream and I can’t remember where anything is.  As I was waiting to see if I got stomach spasms, I got a call from my dentist, saying where was I?  Since I was supposed to be at the dentist at 11 but now it was 11:30.  It was for a teeth cleaning.  I said I was sorry and maybe I had missed their message because I was not at home but in a motel.  They said it was OK.  So now I go in tomorrow at 10 if I can remember to do it.  About an hour after I scheduled the new appointment I had to call back because I couldn’t remember if the new appointment was for 11 on the 10th or at 10 on the 11th.  I think you can understand my confusion.

Pre Historic Depression

So the question to my mind is not how depression, which appears maladaptive, proves through secondary gains adaptive for the individual gene carrier.  Rather how does the depression of the individual gene carrier contribute, not to his or her particular survival, but to the survival of the group as a whole?

Since I lack any scientific evidence for what I have to say I must engage in rampant speculation and attempt to imagine circumstances that suggest how depressed gene carriers might have been of benefit to the whole.  And since about the only think I really know is me—and not very well even there—I imagine myself in Pre Historic Times.  I am a very pasty white person and my knowledge of family genealogy suggests my particular genetic make up evolved in quite cold areas, like England, and possibly prior to that Denmark.

So I imagine a time and a world that, for certain periods of time was warm, and then for extended periods extremely cold.  What was one to do on those days but to sit in one’s cave, eat bits of bark and insects possibly, while trying not to freeze to death?  I think such circumstances might have depressed the hell out of anybody.  But this is situational depression, not genetic.  I am talking about the folks who are depressed even when it’s all warm and sunny.

One thing we know about depression today is that depressed people tend to lose their appetites and, in many cases, sleep way too much.  The tendency to not eat and to sleep excessively seems to be in the circumstances as described quite adaptive for the individual gene carrier since in those cold months in the cave there was very little to eat and little to do but sleep. 

Further these depressed people might have functioned for the whole as “role models.”  Even the more active and non-depressed types might have located in the behavior of the depressed a way to endure their terrible circumstances.  If I am not to go completely insane or stir crazy under these horrible circumstances perhaps I should mimic the behavior of my depressed colleagues who while perpetually miserable seem able to endure terrible circumstances.

The non depressed person, one knowing hope, might then have adapted the behavior of the depressed knowing that this too will pass and the sun will shine again.  The depressed persons would lack this consolation—that the sun will one day come out again and there will be plenty of berries and flightless birds to eat—and think, yes, this too will pass…when I die.  That for the depressed would seem to be the only end in sight and death one might say really is maladaptive.

I therefore conclude that the depressed, lying around moaning and groaning, began to try to imagine reasons for their maladaptive selves and so became the first philosophers and religious figures.  Why did this terrible thing happen?  Why did my infant die at birth or my spouse for no apparent reason?  Well, you know…the gods did it.  Thus the depressed became the first ideologues; people desperate to explain and somehow understand the unmitigated horror of their condition. In which case, I believe I can claim, that the depressed contributed mightily to the survival of the whole, and I say this without fear of contradiction because there is no way to prove me wrong, and for that matter to prove—thinking of those pseudo scientists—that individual gene carriers in Pre Historic times were ever depressed.

No More Apnea!

As I noted a while back, I went in for another sleep apnea test, all attached to cords and wires and stuff and had a terrible night’s sleep.  Yesterday finally I had my appointment with the pulmonary guy who specializes in apnea.  My blood pressure was up of course since being within ten feet of a doctor plunges me into an anxiety ridden state.

But hell this time the news was good I suppose. No more apnea, according to the test, so said the doctor.  All gone.  My sleep efficiency is sort of lower at 73%, meaning I had trouble getting to sleep and I may have returned to consciousness a few times during the night of that test, but I am no longer suffocating myself to death with my own tongue, soft palette and uvula attached.





That’s a relief—I can’t describe the hell I went through with those damn sleep apnea masks.  Burping, farting, hissing noises in the mask, lash marks across my face from trying to tighten the things so I wouldn’t hear those hissing noises.  And I would wake up sometimes with the tube attached to the masked wrapped clean around my neck.  But I stuck it out because clearly the apparatus helped to clear up the dark fatigue I was feeling at that time.

Then I began to lose weight.  I am convinced of course that the weight loss is due to some disease eating me up inside and that I am slowly wasting away, due either to that disease or pre-mature aging.  I got up to 202.  I was watching the protein, but not the carbs and I didn’t know the med I was on at the time, Effexor, was a known weight gain promoter.  Then I cut back on the carbs, started eating all kinds of green stuff, and got off the Effexor, and whap! Since spring of last year (2006) I dropped 40 pounds.  At least I was at 162 pounds yesterday (so that would be 40) though I have learned that weight can vary two pounds or better depending on one’s bowel movement cycle.

So the weight loss seems to have cleared the apnea issue. But that still leaves the snoring problem.  I wake Carol up with that snoring, so the doctor gave me a referral to see the ear, noise and throat people to see if they think cutting off some of my soft palette and my uvula would help with that.  I sure don’t like waking Carol up but swear and be damn if I am going to have them hack at my soft palette, which according to the doctor, goes “all the way back” in my case.  Where else is it supposed to go but all the way back I wondered?

Goddamn that soft palette that goes all the way back and that enormous uvula!

If it ain’t one thing it’s another.  And I am still dragging my ass from point A to point B possibly because as the doctor indicated—and I know anyway—depression is associated with fatigue.

So I am back to square one, but, happily, without a sleep apnea mask.  Now when I go through the air port security thing, I won’t have to led off to the side while they check to see if the cpap (that’s the machine that pumps the air into the tube that goes into the mask) is a bomb.


Now does that look like a happy camper?  Or what?