Monthly Archives: August 2009


does this happen to you, too? once in a while you look at an obvious fact for the 1,285th time and all of a sudden, its profound truth hits you like a ton of bricks.

for the last few days, this profound truth was – well, let me say it this way:

humans are 60-70% water and 98-99% emotion.

as you can guess, this post is be mostly about emotion (i’ll leave the water to my good friend raul) although it is interesting to note that in some traditions, water is intimately connected with emotion – in most pagan traditions, for example, as well as in jungian thought.

freud spoke of the thin veneer of civilization, and boy, is it thin. even when we are rational (for example, in science). or maybe even then. how edgy we get when our thoughts/logic/rational arguments/fill-in-the-blanks are challenged! anger and fear arise, the stomach knots up, blood pressure rises, heartbeat increases and wham! we fight back. if we stay “rational”, our arguments will not be physically violent or replete with swearing; they will be well crafted and most likely laced with sarcasm, knowing we are right, an unwillingness (and inability) to hear the other and a frantic scrambling for hitting the other with more facts that prove our superiority.

the funny thing is that a truly rational response would be to reach out, to soften, to be curious. that is, assuming that one has in mind to have a true exchange between equals, which again would be a rational thing to do. we could define rational behaviour according to psychologist albert ellis as

acting, emoting and thinking in ways that are alternative-seeking, realistic, flexible and most importantly self- and social-helping and functional in helping humans in achieving their personal and social goals and desires

and somehow we find this incredibly difficult. currently i’m reading three books (you always have at least five books on the go, too, right?) that show just how deeply important emotion is to us. one is mark goulston’s just listen who keeps driving home the fact that in order to interact with people rationally, we need to make sure that they can actually hear us, without being prey to the “amygdala hijack”. the amygdala is part of our limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain) and initiates the fight or flight response. it compares incoming information (e.g. facial expressions, tone, body language, smells, etc.) with emotional memories. an amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala decides that the information it has just processed threatens survival and hence any reaction needs to be fight, flight or freeze – and not be directed by the frontal cortex, which is the part that helps us act rationally (i.e. the amygdala “hijacks” decision making power from the frontal cortex). the amygdala will react similarly to the threat of being eaten threatened by the woolly mammoth and a perceived emotional attack.

the other book is daniel ariely’s predictably irrational. from the jacket cover:

not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day but we make the same types of mistakes … we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. we fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.

fortunately, ariely proposes that

these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless. they’re systematic and predictable.

that’s good. it has such a – rational sound to it.

finally, a book i have been gnawing on for months now is made to stick – why some ideas survive and others die, by dan and chip heath. i’m “gnawing” not because it is hard to read – it decidedly is a joy to read – but because there is so much useful information in it. the main idea of the book is that in order to get a message through to an audience – students, for example – the last thing we need to do is inundate them with facts (which is something our rational brain likes to do). ideas that stick are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, contain a story, and appeal to our emotions.

they give an example of an appeal to help starving children in malawi, africa. one appeal provided very informative statistical bullet point to show reasons for giving; the other told of a little girl, and what the money would do to help her educate and provide her with medical care. not only did the story-based appeal result in donations over twice as high but also when potential donors were presented with both the story and the statistics, they still gave significantly less.

as i said, many of the points i made are pretty obvious. but do we really act on them? often, way too often, it seems that some irrational part of our brain tells us to keep hitting people over the head with too much rationality.

does that happen to you? how do you deal with it?

bye bye B-line

a tugboat on the fraser river in richmond

a tugboat on the fraser river in richmond

for a while now, i have been working part-time for the mennonite central committee in richmond. i’d get on the 49 bus to granville street, and then take the 98 B-line down granville. granville is one of the older streets of vancouver, and that stretch down to the fraser river is lined by old trees, venerable mansions hidden somewhere between tall hedges, and further down, there’s a friendly little shopping neighbourhood. i’d always try to get a seat on the bus that faced west so that, when we had reached the end of granville and crossed the fraser river, i’d see the wide waters flowing along under the bridge, perhaps with a tug boat schlepping a load of logs; the expanse of the fields leading up to the airport; and the north shore mountains we were drawing away from as we headed closer and closer to the US border, just 30 km further south. then a loop to skirt one of the airport hotels and up over another, smaller bridge crossing another arm of the fraser river, dotted by boats of all stripes, and flowing pastorally off into the distance. two minutes later, the bus would plonk me down right by my place of work.

that bus ride was one of the many perks of working at MCC.


by september 7, i will be forced to trade beauty for efficiency.

the olympics are upon us. in february, we’ll be hosting the winter olympics and in preparation for that, we finally have canada line, a rapid transit system going to the airport. it takes you along cambie street, parallel to the 98 B-line, and so the B-line will be scrapped.

yes, taking the canada line will shorten my commute by about 10 minutes each way. in exchange, i will have to endure 10 minutes of ugliness. the train stations look like they’ve been built by architects who normally design prisons, the trains – admittedly very roomy – have the charm of 99-cent tuna cans, and when they finally exit the tunnel, they emerge into a drab, industrial tangle of concrete, rails and unidentifiable stuff-that’s-lying-about. (a far cry from the nostalgic, semi-abandoned, wild urban nature that used to surround the rickety old rapid train system in east berlin in the 60s, 70s and 80s that inspired one of my first short stories).

oh, and to top it all off, the first stop in richmond conveniently has an exit that goes right into a casino. i’m really, really not a prude when it comes to gambling but, people, IMHO, there’s something incredibly cheap and wrong about a public transit system feeding right into a place where people lose their homes and marriages on a regular basis. (people addicted to gambling, btw, supposedly commit more suicides than people with any other addiction).


i guess i’m what new yorker writer adam gopnik calls a “frivolous aesthete”. my life is going well, i am not pressed for tiny bits of time or money, so i can afford to value beauty more than 10 minutes here and there. it is in an environment of abundance like this, hypothesizes gopnik, that novelty and creativity thrive, contrary to the saying that necessity is the mother of invention.

how many poets have been inspired by a friendly journey along the old maple trees on granville street?

how many will write odes to the cambie street station?

image by stephen rees

alcohol, art, sobriety and escape

the following was a comment on my blog post alcohol and art. i really enjoyed the insights, and with the commenter’s (lew’s) permission, i am sharing the gift of his reflections here.

it’s hard to know what’s real anymore. on the one hand i know that alcohol hinders me, certainly in my social life, but in my writing too. on the other hand, i feel like i’ve learnt a lot over the course of our coupling, and i continue to learn things. it is mostly about myself, but to know about others, it helps to know of yourself. and this has certainly helped my writing in a profound way. but where it has helped my writing in an important way, it has hindered it structurally. in the way that a tidy room can make for a tidy mind, a tidy mind can make for a tidy novel. and a mind, and often a room, is rarely tidy under the extreme conditions of alcoholic relapse. of two novels i’ve completed (unpublished as of yet), one was written in abstinence immediately upon discharge from hospital, and one was written very much in the middle of relapse. the first is very readable, i’m informed, and it seems to have a quality that some people need in a book, the second is not as readable.

without art, i could see abstinence and sobriety as a rich necessity to the comfort of my life, yes. but i am not without art, and this allows for a creative mind. alcoholism is a mind game, and, of course, an addiction. an artist makes a myth as much as a romantic historian, it is embedded somehow. but then perhaps the answer is in this mind game of a problem. perhaps i need to find a creative way to divorce drink.

i should add that i’ve made sweeping generalisations here that i am not qualified to make. and this is only part of my addiction. a part that nevertheless convolutes and contorts my attachment to escapism. for that is what it truly boils down to. escapism. even for an artist whose concern is getting at the truth, and probably uncovering horrors along the way, the work is escapism. perhaps one of the connections between artists and alcohol, is the need to escape. of course, all of us need to escape, but there is a depth achieved in art where we can lose ourselves (perhaps it is the same for anyone who works hard and deeply cares about what they do, creativity exists in most professions). and then to drink can be seen as to escape from escape, but i don’t feel it is. it is a continuation.

there is a contradiction between this and my first comment, but i’ve recognised over the course of this comment that i lied in the first (and using the word ‘truth’ too, but that’s another topic) – to myself as much as anyone. i never drink to wind down. quite the opposite. i drink to wind-up. after writing, i feel it is alright to drink. especially if i’ve had a good session. in fact, it is pretty much the only time i feel it is alright to drink.

i shall stop now, i’ve meandered a little. this is the first day i’ve gone without a drink in while. i can’t visualise a period of abstinence, there is too much ahead in the next two months. but i shall try to break from it for a day or two. lock myself away and ignore the knocking at the door or the phone calls. perhaps october.

sunday inspiration: peace for afghanistan

here is a beautiful prayer, sent by my mennonite friends who work in afghanistan. even though the elections are over, it still very much applies.

for the people of afghanistan

god of love and life,
we pray for the people of afghanistan during this election time.
may your peace descend upon them and upon their nation.
may there be food and safety and schools for children.
may there be dignity and respect for women.
may there be meaningful work for men.
may there be wisdom for leaders.
may there be a laying down of weapons.
may there be reconciliation between enemies.
may there be restoration for the land.
god of life and love,
may your peace descend upon afghanistan.

this is also a shout-out to my friend sojourner’s
sunday inspirations.

image source

blog post #1000: possible dreams

this is my entry for joanna young’s newest mission impossible group writing project where she challenged writers to push their blogging boundaries. i had asked you, my dear readers, to suggest what i should do. all kinds of interesting ideas came up and i’ll definitely try to incorporate as many as possible in my blog in the coming weeks.

a podcast was something that i had wanted to do for a long time but never go around to (that was a suggestion by raj, by the way). i needed to move out of my comfort zone for it – simply in terms of overcoming the procrastination of trying it for the first time; and also because i certainly don’t feel as comfortable speaking as i do writing.

so here we are: my first podcast (see the fancy tingamajig at the end of the post).  not quite sure that the technology works the way i want it to, so just to be on the safe side, here is another link to the audio file.

by the way, this is also my 1000th post.   last year around this time i had my 1000th entry (including all the pages, the archives, etc.).  but this is the 1000th real post.  yay!!!

aaand – here is the text version:

i thought i should also discuss a topic i don’t usually discuss here. quite a while ago, one of my blogging friends, pete quily, who, by the way, is one awesome authority on adult attention deficit disorder (or attention surplus, as he often likes to refer to) – so good ol’ pete asked me what topics i am interested and do NOT write about. that’s a question that’s tumbled around in my mind for a long time now.

so one of those topics is dreams. i am very interested in dreams but for some reason i never blog about them. here’s one i wrote down a little while ago.

biking to haedy’s in the middle of the night. i turn the corner along some row houses and can’t find her house for the life of me. instead, i see a huge starship hovering over vancouver, surrounded by lots of lights.

later it turns out that is a threat. i and a few others from a theatre troupe are spies. we get locked into a barrel-like wheel and spun off somewhere.

later: a basement theatre. it takes a break in the afternoon. it’s hot. i try to close it but enemy type people keep trying to get in. i have a hard time closing the right door and even there: one is just a bamboo screen, the other a very flimsy lock.

in the basement theatre. i need to take a shower. i step into the shower and detect that i can communicate telepathically with the shower. i ask about the threat associated with the starship. something big and apocalyptic will happen. i ask the shower a bunch of questions about it (it’s a bit like pendulum divination). in the end, i ask the shower whether it has good intentions towards me. it doesn’t. i immediately step out.

i know something apocalyptic is going to happen. maybe just one more day to live for everyone. i want to be with loved ones, very much. but they are all difficult to reach. i’d even settle for someone called tony, a questionable actor who at least doesn’t want to kill me.

later, my husband, my youngest daughter and i talk. we now know that there is going to be a massive earthquake. what is the safest place to go? an inland plain, i decide. definitely not by the sea, and not by the mountains. maybe a place like langley? how will we get there?

if a client brought this dream into a session, what would we look at?

first of all, the client might have something come up immediately; i’ll always take the client’s lead.

often, though, a client brings something that she or he doesn’t quite know what to do with. in that case, i might ask a question about the part that had the most energy. when people tell a story, their faces, body language and voices tell a story, too. their eyes might light up at a certain point, or they might cross their legs and look out the window all of a sudden. there might be a long pause somewhere or a feeling of uncertainty.

in this case, the shower scene seemed significant. “interesting,” i might say, “you were communicating with the shower.”

and so we could have a conversation about that. what does it mean to talk to a shower? what’s a shower? is it about rain? cleanliness? oh – there’s a connection to the shower scene in hitchcock’s psycho? yes, right, the shower has evil intentions. and you stepped out of it right away. do you always do that – remove yourself when there is danger? no? that was unusual? in what other ways was that dream unusual?

psychology is still unclear about the cause and function of dreams. one way to look at dreams, though, is to take them as narrative – a way for a person to tell a story about important aspects in their lives. “everything is autobiographical,” says freud, a quote that can be used in so many ways. a dream is autobiographical, the way it is told is autobiographical, and how the person talks about it autobiographical. sometimes a telepathic shower is just weird, and that’s it. but to me – to my biography, my life story – it was meaningful. i don’t need to consult any dream books, though. all i need, and all so many of us need, is just an hour of talking to someone about it.

why we blog and other intelligent waxings on self-expression

i just want to send some kudos to hank for his fabulous blog post want to know what i think?

in that post, hank waxes intelligently and humourously and historically about what makes us blog, or generally express ourselves, like martin luther,

famous for publicly posting his disagreements with catholic dogma (except for the parts dealing with hating the shit out of the jews, he was sweet with that). i shall distill his arguments thusly: “OMFG ppl teh pOpe is GHEY, jezuz dont wan’t u 2 b @church!1! jus spk 2 him IRL! WWJD LOL ^_^”. understandably, the vatican was well shat with such blatant protest-trolling and, once the pope had written “FIRST!” and been flamed for being a nOOb, the ensuing comment thread took off and still rages today

or even earlier, like the

hairy cro-magnon smearing his handprint on the wall of his dining cave with a mixture of blood, faeces & clay as if to say ” … um, so, that’s my wall”.

or never mind humans, how about animals?

natural as laying your eggs into the brain of your host organism and flying away, leaving your offspring to burrow through its cherished memories.

i was going to be real academic about this and link his words to research and psychology and all that brainy stuff. however, every time i came across something that was somehow related, it just didn’t measure up to hank’s incisive analysis. so let’s just let well enough alone, shall we?