Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Daily Report Card

I am in class right now. I'm sorry, Julia, if you ever find this blog somehow, because I think you're great. And I think it's a beautiful, if bitter irony that the topic of today's class is childhood interventions for ADHD.

And I am on my computer blogging not paying attention. That same dimension which, of course, is in deficit in the aforementioned disorder.

It's been some time since I have written in this self-serving and narcissistic blog. But I am trying to be more positive about my own personality traits, so that's why I've stopped staring into pools at my own reflection. Like Narcissus. I realize that this intellectual, Greek myth allusions like this one are also self-serving and byzantine.

I've been writing most of the day already, anyway. I'm in the Master's program in Clinical Psychological Science at the University of Maryland, College Park, and we've got a few papers due this week. These papers were assigned many moons ago, back in June. I began this term with grand and magnanimous plans of "getting everything done way ahead of time, totally." This behavioral goal long ago went out the proverbial window, but I figure having papers more or less finished a few days in advance is not a bad start in terms of reversing eons of criminal levels of procrastination.

I've been trying to make my sentences shorter. Only one comma allowed. But gotdamn, extra clauses are fun as goddamn hell. I've been trying to be more Hemingway, less Styron. More haiku, less Renaissance sonnet. More sniper fire, less machine-gun strafing. More

I think you get it.

But in terms of more existential tropes, it has indeed been a strange season in your boy's life, wandering about amongst the reeds as I do. I have direction, but sometimes the Universe presents amendments to the plan, and sometimes it takes the original idea and makes it come back to right where you expected it to be. Fuck; that sentence has two commas. And that last one had a semicolon.

Eh, Hemingway really actually wasn't that great anyway. Ketchum, Idaho is just not a great skiing destination.

Was that a low blow? Nah, just a little psychopathology black humor. I did like Old Man and the Sea though.

Back to loftier themes of existence: things have been interesting recently. I'm sure I'm not the first twenty-something to stand at the periphery of life and wonder what the hell is going on, and where the hell I am going. The more I ponder it - or rather, don't ponder it - the more I realize that life is just life, and there's only so much you can do to manipulate reality to your own devices. By this I do not mean that we should lilt about helplessly, fuck iting and saying there's nothing we can do about it anyway.

Not at all.

What I is saying is that there is a lot more you can do by watching, being a patient observer, and listening to those people and places and things that have seen and heard a lot more than you have. You're only as smart as you know you are not. Like Socrates said.

Descartes said he thought, therefore he was. I see what he was saying. But I think it's really more to the effect of " ."

Because life is ineffable, it defies words. It is meant to be lived, not decided. Let your life find you, and listen.

Profound nature shot to illustrate one of this post's points.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We have the power to change our heads

Modern neuroscience is showing that with willful, directed attention, you can slowly but surely change your brain chemistry. People have recovered from severe mental health crises using mindfulness and volitional attention. 

This ain't no bullshit.

And some of it is backed up by theories of quantum mechanics and superposition. Schrödinger's cat was crazy as fuck, so to speak.


"...I think the truly important manifestation of will, the one from which our decisions and behaviors flow, is the choice we make about the quality and direction of attentional focus. Mindful or unmindful, wise or unwise - no choice we make is more basic, or important, than this one.


Cerebral conditions may determine the nature of what's thrown into our minds, but we have the power to choose which aspects of that experience to focus on. The brain may determine the content of our experience, but mind chooses which aspect of that experience receives attention."

Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, The Mind and The Brain, 369-370

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Dallas Cowboys and their fans hate America.

CU Boulder Psych HW question: "Describe an attitude that is important to you. Discuss examples of affective, behavioral, and cognitive components of your attitude."

Answer that I actually turned in:

As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, one of my deepest-held attitudes is that the Dallas Cowboys and their fans are terrible people who hate freedom. In terms of affect and emotion, I feel a deep-seated and limbic disgust when I see someone wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey, especially within the boundaries of Washington, D.C. where I live. I feel the blood rushing to my face and I get chills of rage when I see someone wearing a Jason Witten jersey cheering for the Cowboys in a sports bar. These reactions are almost pre-cognitive and visceral – they come before any volitional thoughts or definitive behavior is put into action.
            When I see the aforementioned Cowboys-jersey-wearing individual in, say, a supermarket on Connecticut Ave. near my home in Washington, D.C., especially if they have the trappings of a frat-boy, moved-to-D.C.-to-work-on-Capitol-Hill-for-a-Republican-congressman-type-look, following my affective, visceral reaction, I will actively think sentences like: “Wow, what a jerk that guy must be to like the Cowboys,” and “Yeah, he must work for a Republican Congressman, and probably a corrupt one that thinks atheists are going to hell.” These, interestingly enough, are evidence of innumerable cognitive biases on my part. (However, that does not mean these suppositions are out of the question.) Nonetheless, my own “Cowboys-are-terrible cognition” is fraught with negative biases about the Cowboys and their fans, and I actively seek out examples of why the Dallas Cowboys are so terrible (e.g. signing Terrell Owens, having Tony Romo as a quarterback, being owned by Jerry Jones) so as to “confirm” my own biases about the team. These beliefs “persevere” every time I see a drunken redneck in a Dez Bryant jersey jaywalking, and I conveniently choose to ignore the attractive woman who was kind to me and “just happened” to be wearing a cute, Cowboys tank top. She is the exception according to my cognitive biases, and the inebriated hillbilly is the rule.

            Behaviorally, I will follow up on my emotions and cognitions with out-loud, to-be-overheard-on-purpose statements like, “The Cowboys suck and all their fans are terrible human beings who hate freedom.” I will also shake my head and sigh gutturally when I see a pickup truck on the Beltway inevitably peppered with stupid, little navy blue stars. And when I notice the Washington, Maryland, or D.C. license plates that this Cowboy has on their truck, I will say out loud to myself, “How could anyone be such a traitor?” I also might begin to tailgate them, or cut them off in traffic and drive slower in front of them. And of course, this behavior will elicit an inevitable reaction from said Cowboys fan driver, and this negative reaction will further influence my own ingrained attitude of hatred, intolerance, and active disdain. Though not particularly rational or safe, these behaviors are an excellent example of how cognitive biases can influence human beings to undertake certain chains of behavior, and also subsequently further influence held attitudes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Grand Summation of All Sparks

At this point in our lives, we are the grand summation of all sparks that came before. There were many jobs left irresponsibly unfinished, calls unreturned. But for these iniquities we have not yet been struck from the Earth, despite our shame in leaving all this business unattended to. No one of import has judged us, and those who have done so have had little to no significant impact. We are still on the plane. Somehow, we are still here. Breathing, living, dying, feeling. Funny then, all the worry and regret and frustration and awkward embarrassment that we have felt.

What has it been for?

There have been countless more good things, even for the most supposedly selfish among us. Do you actively remember all the times you held doors open, smiled at strangers, or donated something you cared about? Do you try to conjure up memories daily of the happy, innocent kid you used to be, even if you weren’t that kid every day? Or are you still thinking about adult business unattended to, jobs that remain to be done, and responsibilities you should not have avoided? Weren't we once all smiling kids like the ones we see in parks and strollers and playing with their friends? Ignorance is not an excuse, but innocence is a reason

Well, since the only thing that is real is this precise, present moment, both negativity and optimism are factually incorrect figments of our imagination, whether projected into the past or thrown into the future.

The question we should be asking ourselves the very second we wake up every morning: on which side would you rather err? The hardships and the joys are of life are not our fault, but they are our responsibilities, and every single second we have a choice of how to go about things, regardless of what just happened and what is just about to.

Whichever pill you do take, though, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you like it or not, you are who you are: the grand summation of all sparks of both guile and frailty in your own life and in the lives of everyone that came before you. Whichever tablet you choose to swallow doesn’t really matter, but you are better off trying to do what is vital, trying to do what is right, and being positive about it.

Remember: if you’re probably wrong, and it doesn’t matter anyway, on which side you would rather err in your day to day life? Negative, or positive?

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have a choice in the matter. You are already the result of great things that have happened, atomically, biologically, and socially.

Make the correct mistake, whichever one it may be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The District in the Wee Hours: One Day Is Today.

It is about 15 minutes until two in the morning, and at one point it was Wednesday night, but I think now it's Thursday morning. That's how that kind of thing works.

It was what my parents always called "the wee hours of the morning," and it is in these times that, when still awake, one gets to thinking about a lot of the things that maybe don't occur to us at other times of the day.

It is my roommate's birthday today, and so we sat up talking for a while about the segue from college into "real" adulthood and how difficult that can be at times. For us privileged millenials, it can be one of the hardest epochs of our life. More responsibilities, fewer friends abound - things can get a little lonesome at times. But the reality is that we are never alone.

No matter what thought you have, regardless of how uplifting or despondency-inducing, it is an immutable and undeniable fact of the universe that someone has had that exact thought before. Or, at least, someone out there in the vast ether of existence has experienced that same emotional response that you just had. No question. It is without a doubt, indubitable.

After you graduate from college, or in the period following any period of extended, fostered social engagement, you are going to feel alone. That's a fucking fact. You're going to think that you are the only one, you are going to feel lonely. But this really isn't so. As you sit and reflect upon the uniqueness of your existence and thoughts, someone not too far from you - probably, in reality, less than a mile away - is also staring out their window and meditating on the same shitty, unshakable truths. Or, better said, shitty perceptions. Not truths. There's a difference.

Honestly though, this is what comes out in the wee hours of the morning when you only hear people stirring in other rooms that are not yours, in other apartments. You're by yourself in the fifty-first non-state, reflecting on what could have been, what might be, and what probably - in your so-immaculate opinion - never will come to fruition. And how right you must be, oh grand soothsayer.

Oh, how right you must be, with all the things you have gone through.

A wise person once told me there are two kinds of people in the world: thinkers and existers. One group has a lot more fun than the other, but the other knows why.

They know why, but do they understand? Maybe. It depends.

And ambiguity continues to be a way of life, o, thinker. Will you ever figure it out?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Got carried away.

I was supposed to answer this question on my Social Psych homework:

Illustrate the power of the situation using an example from your own life (e.g., describe a time when others failed to recognize you because the situation was different from usual, or describe a time when a given situation influenced you to act contrary to your beliefs).

My answer:

Despite how deep we think our convictions might be, there are times when the power of the situation makes us turn a blind eye to even our dearest-held tenets. As a resident of Washington, D.C., this is painfully obvious every single day on my commute to work. I consider myself a Buddhist, and the concept of “ahimsa,” or non-violence, is a precept that I cling to at a most fundamental level. To Buddhists, non-violence does not just mean no fighting or punching or stabbing people; it prohibits name-calling, angry yelling, and even aggressive thoughts. However, if you have ever driven in Washington, D.C. during rush hour, you surely know that it is impossible not to get angry at the asinine and homicidal behavior of other Washington motorists. No matter how many mantras I chant or Dalai Lama YouTube videos I sit and meditate to, it did not stop me from extending my middle finger to a guy in a white BMW on Interstate 395 in Arlington, Virginia several days ago. I am pretty sure he was actively trying to end my life.

In an interesting social psychology twist, I also committed the fundamental attribution error: by permanently attributing to him the quality of “huge douchebag in a white BMW,” I ignored the profound effect that the high-intensity, freeway situation had on this other driver’s limbic system, thus causing him to behave aggressively. However, he was not in a stimulating, amygdala-firing environment when he was at the dealership and decided, “I’m going to buy a BMW 7-series. Yes, and make it a white one.”

I kind of want to not change that last part.

Should I turn this in? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wyoming Avenue and Hidden Interns

When you’re in the middle of Rock Creek Park at night, you can’t see lights on either side. You’re in the center of the District of Columbia, the reputed “capital of the free world”, but you can’t tell.

Imagine it's pitch-black night.

A few weeks ago I moved to Northwest Washington, D.C. after living in the Virginia suburbs for six months. This follows  my two year sojourn in Spain and five years in Oregon before that.  I live in a nice, semi-urban neighborhood, one that doesn’t look much like its cosmopolitan counterparts on the other side of town. I’m about three miles uphill from DuPont Circle and downtown D.C. It may not be the hippest of trendiest of hipsterest of coolest D.C.ist villes, but it will do. It is nice to walk to the grocery store. It is pleasant to walk to a hipster coffee shop inside a hipster book store. A hipster book store where Obama buys his Christmas presents. 

It’s nice. I feel younger. I feel vitality. I feel myself spending money on books I cannot finish.
Rock Creek Park is an interesting place, though. A swatch of wild, deciduous jungle in the middle of a more confusing concrete one. A few nights ago I was on my way home from work. I felt restless, and I wanted to break the mold of wake-up-go-to-work-drive-home. I was almost back to my cozy parking garage, when instead of turning right like I always do, I went left. Homeward I was not bound: I decided I was going to find the Maryland border without using my phone’s GPS.

 I cheated and used my phone’s GPS, but I found an amazing street called Western Avenue. You see, adoring readership, Western Avenue is an interesting place. A place where wonder and joy and intrigue thrive. You see, as I drove along Western Avenue, the houses on my right were in Washington, D.C., and the houses on my left were in Bethesda, Maryland. The license plates in the driveways reflected this oddity. They also reflected because they are made out of shit that reflects so you can see them in the dark. Fuck yeah.
I marveled at this geopolitical curiosity, this two state conundrum. If you shot someone from one side of the street and they died on the other, which police would arrest you? Where would you go to court? More apropos to the situation, what traffic cop would pull me over if they caught me Googling these questions as I drove along Western Avenue?

I totally wasn’t doing that.

Semi-urban: we have lightpoles with historical paintings on them.

Eventually, I saw on my right the sign for Oregon Avenue. Y’all know I’m a sucker, so I had to turn right on that shit. ‘Twas destiny. In a super sweet way, on my left was an impenetrable abyss of forest, and on my right were ramshackle, but clearly expensive, homes, some of which had porches with hanging Buddhist prayer flags. Very appropriate for Oregon Avenue.

It was about 10 o’clock at night and I hadn’t seen another car in about five or six minutes, rambling along Oregon Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C. Then, at some point, I took a left and found myself in the middle of Rock Creek Park, pitch-black, and after about three minutes of driving, there were no more cars anywhere and I couldn’t see any lights on either side. It looked like I was in the woods in Wyoming. Or Oregon.

Rock Creek Park. Epic. I’m in The Capital of the Free World (in capital letters this time – whattup, D.C.?) and I could be in a forest in Wyoming for all I know. This city’s parks and recreation department must be real.

And then I thought:

Man, this would be a great place to hide a body.

Yeah, I think I’m going to like this city.