Found in Space

February 14, 2020
The oldest extant map of the world, from Mesopotamia, circa 6th century b.c.e. No, I can’t read it.

A man on the street laughed at me the other day for reading a map. “Hahaha, a map! Didn’t know people still had those.” Now, I can’t afford a GPS right now, and I don’t have a fancy new car with navigation systems, but….Even if I could have this stuff, I like my maps.

I’ve always loved maps. Topographical maps, maps of constellations, maps of neighborhood streets, highway maps. I like seeing a thing in relation to all the other things it shares a space with. Maps can be inaccurate, of course, but then so can satellite navigation, I’m told. I don’t entirely trust any technology. I’ve seen a compass go haywire more than once, and I’ve learned to trust my sense of direction . But I think learning to read a map has helped me develop a good sense of direction.

I like having a picture in my head of where I’m going. I can’t understand people who are content to know how to get to there. “Turn right, go .5 miles, turn left.” Don’t you want a picture in your head of the landscape, to know how the streets are oriented, how the geographical features relate to one another? Don’t you want to view the whole journey at once, not just one turn at a time?

I wonder what it’s like to not have a spatial conception of the world. Like, I used to marvel at how people lived back when they didn’t have reasonably accurate maps. I felt sorry for them. They must have had to go to the highest point in the county, many times, to memorize the landscape. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe they just didn’t care, saying “I know how to get to where I want to go.” Now, with electronic navigational systems, is spatial understanding being lost again? I mean, somebody laughed at me for looking at a map.

Dracula and the Human Brain

February 7, 2020

Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he much gifted—and a woman’s heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good combination.

Thus speaks Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in reference to the heroine in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I recently picked up this wonderful novel which I read as a child. I didn’t remember it at all, except that I recall thinking it rather boring in places. This reading kept me riveted.

I think if I were to get an advanced degree in English literature, I would love to write a dissertation on Dracula. There’s so much in this novel to dissect. But I want to explore here this comment by Dr. Van Helsing, because I didn’t understand it at first.

We are programmed, to the point of brainwashing, to think of the idea of “man’s brain in a woman’s body” in a certain way. This sexed brain idea, mistakenly called postmodernist, is that we must accept, without question or examination, what transgender people tell us about sexed brains and apply this concept. To do otherwise is transphobic and non-intersectional. Accordingly, a “man’s brain in a woman’s body” is a brain that hates the woman’s body inhabited by that brain. The body is experienced as a foreign object that must be changed through hormones, surgery, pronouns, or at least clothing.

Another acceptable view of the man’s brain/woman’s body concept, which doesn’t necessarily negate the body-hating one, is that a man’s brain offers a predilection for experiences and things deemed “masculine” by society: rough sports, trucks, the color blue, etc. In other words, sex stereotypes.

The interpretation of sexed brain as stereotypes can become difficult to apply in any consistent way, because these stereotypes differ across time and culture. The way around this is postmodernism, which posits that we not only can but must superimpose our subjective interpretation, steeped in our own times, onto any event, philosophy, or body of work. This rationale says that I cannot, really, understand what Stoker meant by man’s body/woman’s brain, because I am not a nineteenth century woman, nor am I Stoker. The only correct way to interpret Dracula is by affirming what it means to me.

To me the idea of a man’s brain in a woman’s body is a strange one, at least as it might relate to innate personality. As a psychiatric social worker, my understanding of the brain is that it is plastic, changing as a result of life experience. Learning a new language, taking up a new sport, being in a car accident (even without brain injury), will all change the brain. Thus, any difference in boys’ and girls’ brains at birth, even if it could be measured, cannot help but be overshadowed by life experience. Thus, a woman’s brain is the brain of a woman, reflecting her experiences in her woman’s body, including her experience of fertility and female sexual desire.

A woman’s brain is programmed to regulate a woman’s body, including her fertility, so in that sense it is different from a man’s brain. A woman’s brain recovers faster and more completely from traumatic injury, in general, than a man’s, so there’s another difference. But everything I know about the brain negates the idea that there can be a man’s brain in a woman’s body related to concepts of masculinity or femininity. If you define a man’s brain in a woman’s body as hatred of one’s own female body, that enters the realm of possibility (and also the realm of mental illness).

Not being a narcissist or a doormat, I do have an interest in what other people are saying. I am not a postmodernist. I make an effort to see through and around my preconceptions, and I do not accept unquestioningly the worldview dictated by the self-appointed priests of 21st century justice movements. So I was interested in what Stoker is saying here, once it dawned on me that it wasn’t what I assumed.

This brain that Dr. Van Helsing so admires in the character Mina is not male because it likes boy things. Mina does not appear to dislike feminine things or her woman’s body, and she doesn’t chafe against societal expectations of her. She does foray into activities normally associated with men, but she does so in an unselfconscious way. She most emphatically does not see herself as a man. Her brain is “male” because it is logical, consistent, insightful, and capable of drawing a big picture from a plethora of small data. In other words, Dr. Van Helsing sees her brain as “male” because she is smarter than he is!

Dr. Van Helsing also talks a lot about the “child brain” of the vampire Dracula. This also confused me at first, because of my conceptions of what a child brain is. I think of a child’s brain as being concrete and having limited capacity for abstract thinking. Capacity for abstract thought expands greatly during adolescence. This is empirically documented. A child’s brain is also more limited in its ability to separate fantasy from reality. I found the highly intelligent Dracula to not be hampered in these respects, so I was confused.

Finally, I realized that Dracula has the “child’s brain” in the sense of being self-centered. His personality is primitive and undeveloped. He hasn’t the ability to empathize with others or to understand that other people have different motivations and ways of seeing than himself. This is ultimately his downfall, because Mina and Dr. Van Helsing are able to anticipate Dracula’s movements by guessing at what he wants and what he will do, getting inside his brain so to speak. Dracula, with his “child’s brain,” is unable to anticipate the actions of the people hunting him, so in spite of his numerous special powers, he is at a disadvantage.

The “male” and “child” brains in Dracula illustrates how ideas about the brain are socially constructed. A postmodernist would say that this means the brain doesn’t exist at all, outside of a social or subjective construct. But then, the postmodernist brain has limited inclination to search for understanding outside pre-existing constructs.

I definitely had a child’s brain when I read Dracula as a child, although I don’t think I had a child’s brain in Stoker’s definition. The limitations of my thinking kept me from appreciating this novel when I first read it, despite my childhood fascination with vampires. I enjoyed the rediscovery.

2020 Begins

January 3, 2020

I have now been blogging for eight years. I have posted every week, without exception, usually (but not always) on Fridays.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. When Facebook was at its heyday, I got a lot of traffic from there. Then Facebook changed its algorithms, making it harder to drive interest to a website.

I adjusted, and my traffic moved up again.

Three years ago, a marketing genius at Moon Books suggested my platform needed a single completely integrated website, not a separate blog and main site. It took over six months, since it was a major overhaul, but I did it. Traffic dropped substantially.

But over time, visitors increased again.

This year, mid-September, visits to my blog decreased 75% and stayed there, and I’m trying to figure out what happened. I assumed initially that my recent subjects weren’t as interesting to other people, or that my photos weren’t so good as in the past, or that my posts were too short or too long or not as good. But it’s more than that.

So I’m rethinking this again.

One of the hardest things about blogging, that I’ve found, is that you have to keep promoting your blog. Even many core visitors won’t return automatically, but see on social media that you’ve posted again or are otherwise reminded of your presence. Competition for online attention is fierce and becoming more fierce.

The second hardest thing about blogging is that it doesn’t necessarily drive book sales. People who read a lot of books don’t spend huge amounts of time online. I get the most traffic (here and on Twitter) when I blog about something that has political resonance, and I limit the amount of political writing I do. I’m just not interested in becoming a political blogger. I have that in common with Henry David Thoreau, who only really wanted to write about nature and birds, but got a huge amount of attention (than and now) for a little tract called Civil Disobedience. He didn’t even invent the concept; he only described and defined it well.

So I’m examining why there was a precipitous dropoff that seems to be ongoing. Moon Books stopped promoting my blogposts on Twitter about that time, so that might be the culprit. I could have been getting traffic through a link on another site, and somebody removed the link, maybe when redesigning their site or maybe because I wrote something they disagreed with. A lot of people have voluntarily moved off Twitter in the past year for their censorship policies directed toward feminists, so maybe the answer is to disengage from Twitter in favor of another hangout, just as moving from Facebook to Twitter years ago redirected my audience. I think blogs in general may be less popular than they used to be. There are more online magazines, and they are well promoted, savvy to continually evolving user tastes.

I may also have to consider whether blogging might be a poor use of my time, time better spent writing books and articles for online magazines and anthologies. I may need to choose whether to direct my energies into becoming a better self promoter (not my strong suit) or a better writer. The best self promoters, in my observation, are emotionally insecure people who strive constantly to get people to like them and stroke their egos and give them positive reinforcement. They work at it everyday, from an early age. They love social media and curry favor by pandering whatever opinion is popular. Obviously I can’t change my personality, nor do I want to.

So I’m at a turning point. I may adjust and throw myself into getting my “hits” up again, or I may take a step back and ask myself “Why?” One thing I will continue to do is keep the website. With ever increasing censorship of feminists, for dumber and dumber reasons, I can’t afford to invest too much in social media presence.

I think in 2020 there’s going to be a splintering of social media traffic, moving away from giants like Twitter and Facebook into smaller fee-paid social media groups. The media companies did it to themselves, by profiting from fake news and buying into cancel culture. The Internet as a whole may be at a turning point, not just me.

New Post at Return to Mago

September 13, 2019

I have another post on the Return to Mago website. This is about beer brewing, and an account of a myth of Inanna involving beer.

Drinking beer through straws in Mesopotamia. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Update on Shoulder

February 22, 2019

Recovery from torn rotator cuff is progressing very nicely. Range of motion in all directions is between 92 and 100%. I’m working on regaining strength so I can return to my previous activities.

This has been a singular experience for me. I’m more of a process than a goal oriented person. I do have goals, but they are invariably tied to process, and once I finish a project I lose interest in it. This healing process has had little to recommend it: time consuming, boring, and often painful. So I have had to keep the goal in mind consistently.

Still, this has been, in many ways, one of my sweetest achievements.

Mary Oliver 1935 – 2019

January 18, 2019

Nature poet Mary Oliver died this week. She was known for her poems about emotional survival and the natural world.

Oliver struggled for years with cancer, but continued to produce. Her last volume of new poetry, Felicity, was about love. Her same-sex relationship with Molly Cook lasted over fifty years until Cook’s death in 2005.

Animals featured largely in Oliver’s work. In 2013 she published a book of dog poems followed the next year by another book of animal poems entitled Blue Horses.

Much of Oliver’s poetry, including her nature poetry, celebrated the resilience of the human spirit.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. [continued]

Happy New Year!

January 4, 2019

This blog is 7 years old today.

As many of you are aware, some heavy eclipse energy this month. (Oh no, not again!) Partial solar eclipse January 5th and total lunar eclipse January 21st. Wait til after the 21st to initiate new projects. Spellwork should focus on removing obstacles and clearing energies. Paradoxically, this may be the time to make progress on goals that have been bafflingly stymied.

On a personal note, progress on my physical therapy has been gratifying. That frozen shoulder is starting to thaw. A good example of eclipse energy manifesting in a useful way!

Reflecting on 2018

December 28, 2018

2018 has been a hard year for a lot of people, myself included. Looking back, it’s also been a productive year. In 2018 I:

  1. Tore my rotator cuff in 3 places doing something stupid.
  2. Launched a book.
  3. Finished a novel.
  4. Had surgery and started physical therapy for my shoulder.
  5. Started another novel.

Shoulder is healing nicely. I won’t do that again.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Update on Surgery

December 7, 2018

Chickadee on a fir branch
Photo: Dawn Huczek

My surgery for torn rotator cuff and frozen shoulder went off without a hitch. Too soon to crow about success; fingers crossed. I am out of the sling and driving again, which is a big relief.