For the last seven years or so, I've had an interest in "trauma." It started at a Professional Day workshop at the school where I worked in Agassiz, British Columbia, perhaps in January of 2015. Although I don't remember what the presenter himself said, his comments moved me to do some thinking and reading. At the time, I tried to talk through my feelings in a video that I posted to Twitter and YouTube (now deleted), and over the next few months, I read two Peter A. Levine books, In an Unspoken Voice and Taming the Tiger. Since then, I've tried to pay attention when trauma was mentioned in further professional and personal work.
The concept of trauma came to me at a tumultuous period in my life, within less than a year, my ex-wife and I separated. At this time, the idea that "trauma lives in the body" was an appealing one to me because it felt comfortable: it comforted me to think that these mental roadblocks I felt in myself rested in places that I couldn't really think through. The Levine books described it as a thing you sort of shake off, like you might after an attack from a predator. As somebody who always felt rather disconnected from his body, it was nice to imagine that there was stuff going on that I couldn't quite access, that is was natural and ok, and that there were clinical ways to work through it.
Since then, like I expect many people who've gone through the divorce process have done, I've been in and out of therapy from counsellors and psychologists. Within the two years after the separation, I had two separate psychologists tell me that I had numerous "symptoms of PTSD." I understood that this was not a diagnosis, but an observation they made based on their experiences with me in the therapy room. It wasn't a diagnosis, but it showed that there was important stuff for me to work through.
The comments scared me at first, but as time went on, I identified less and less with those comments. I started to read, in articles in mainstream publications, more and more that "Trauma lives in the body." It seemed like more and more therapists appealed to trauma as a concept and experience. I started to hear teachers and counsellors in schools make references to trauma. I started to hear the word more and more in the news, in relation to the presidency of Donald Trump, for example, or perhaps after the death of George Floyd, and of course through the Covid-19 pandemic.
I don't have references for these observations, but the phrase that most comes to mind is "collective trauma." It seemed like our whole society was experiencing trauma all at the same time. The fact that The Body Keeps the Score stayed near the top of the Amazon best sellers list through most of the pandemic shows that a good portion of the population wanted trauma to be an answer to the questions they were asking through the pandemic. Trauma seemed to be everywhere. Trauma was trending--trendy, even.
Each time I heard the word "trauma" get used outside of clinical settings, it irked me a little. It made me think things like,
It just didn't seem to work. It started to feel like a concept that wouldn't exist without rhetoric, analogous to the "apologetics" that sent me reeling for my teenage years and early 20s as I tried to justify a faith I didn't really believe in, or analogous to education fads that cross the pseudoscience boundary, like Brain Gym or "learning styles." To me, "trauma" got to be too messy. So over the last year, I kinda' let my thoughts about it slide.
But over the last month, the word reappeared in ways that alarmed me. I can't professionally describe those events here, but I can say that these events brought set my skepticism-feelers on high alert. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong about it, but I knew something was wrong about how people around me were treating trauma as a concept.
And then I serendipitously heard this episode of Oh No Ross And Carrie, titled "Carrie Talks Trauma, Pseudoscience, and Social Media: Trauma Trap Edition." (embedded below)
I've listened to "Oh No Ross and Carrie" on and off for over a decade. I love their work. This episode is a talk Carrie Poppy made for the Merseyside Skeptics, and it got my mind rolling with new ideas and perhaps some clarity.
I feel that Carrie's conclusion about "suffering" creates a far more cohesive concept than any of the descriptions of trauma I've heard over the last many years. When I realized this, it was as if a weight slid off my back that I'd carried since those psychologists mentioned the word to me years ago. I can handle suffering, and I can see suffering all around me. But trauma, I just don't think we're using the term in a falsifiable way. I think the word "trauma" complicates things where "suffering" would simplify the conversation.
At the end of the podcast, Carrie suggests a book: The End of Trauma, by George A. Bonanno. I've started listening to it on Audible. My ideas about trauma continue to evolve. I'll write more about my new thoughts another time.
I've recently seen a couple good articles over at The Atlantic.
The first is about social media: "The Age of Social Media is Ending." In the article, Ian Bogost argues that the most recent turmoils at Twitter and Facebook's money-losing tendencies are signs of the end of "social media." Bogost distinguishes "social network" from "social media," comparing a "social network" to a Rolodex and "social media" to a broadcaster. In this argument, the media-creation aspect of "social media" is showing signs of wear.
In the article, Bogost writes, "As I’ve written before on this subject, people just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much. They shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either." I like this because I know I often feel as if I have very little to say, and I feel bad about it. I feel bad that I abandon this blog so often; I feel bad that songwriting is such a chore. But I feel good that I've generally abandoned the content-creation model of social media, except perhaps with sporadic Instagram posts. I don't expect many, if any, "likes" on my posts anymore, and certainly don't expect comments.
The article reminds me of how, when I taught high school English in Agassiz, British Columbia, in order to garner attention and connection with my students, I'd try to make references to social media. However, the students generally didn't care about my references. Those kids had already moved on from the social media model, I felt. Social media, it seemed, was for old people.
I've never understood TikTok, and I likely never will. But I'm glad to not feel beholden to creating media in the search for attention. At this point I think I make all my media just for me.
The second article is titled, "Electric Vehicles are Bringing out the Worst in Us," by David Zipper. In this article, Zipper argues that American auto companies' obsession with SUVs and trucks may cause problems with safety and the environment in the growing electric vehicle market.
Zipper writes, "Even modest- size electric cars are not a climate panacea. A 2020 study by University of Toronto scholars found that electrification of automobiles cannot prevent a global temperature rise of 2degrees Celsius by 2100 without a concurrent shift toward cleaner travel modes such as public transportation and bicycles." This backs up a few of my suspicions: 1. that electric vehicles need very specific non-renewable resources that may not be available to all of us, 2. that the problems in our cities and roads are caused by cars, not by what powers them, and that 3. electric vehicles are a flashy way to maintain the status quo.
I drive an old gasoline-powered vehicle. I don't like the car, but it's my car. It's not powerful or sexy. I'd love to change that, to have a cooler, more fuel efficient vehicle. But I'm not jumping on the EV bandwagon because I think the technology is still in its infancy. I want to see where it goes, and I want it to be cheaper. I feel like all the insecurities I feel about my garbage-excuse-for-a-car would not be replaced by a new, electric vehicle, but would be better replaced by living somewhere walkable, where I have better access to transit, where I don't need a car at all. That would create a far better quality of life, I believe, than jumping on the EV bandwagon before I've driven this car, and a few more, into the ground.
I also don't feel confident that worldwide mining operations will be able to keep up with the requisite EV demand for lithium and cobalt. These materials... there's only so much of them. I'm not sure that the world can produce them enough to make EVs sustainable.
Those are the two articles that drew my attention over the last couple of days.
I often have podcasts and video essays playing in the background while I work or do chores. Here are a few bits of content that I've recently enjoyed.
Zoe Bee's "Grammarly is Garbage, and Here's Why."
I discovered Zoe Bee's videos only a few weeks ago. According to my YouTube history, I'd watched one of her videos before, but now I'm focusing a bit on them. This video, "Grammarly is Garbage, and Here's Why," sympathetically approaches the use of grammar programs to improve one's writing. Her conclusion is fair: using a grammar program is fine, but does "more harm than good."
I've had a difficult relationship with grammar over the years. I've always enjoyed writing and I've always wanted to write effectively. I've taken a lot of pride in the good marks I've received on specific assignments; I take a lot of pride in a couple of my songs that came out particularly well. I've gone through phases where I tried to write exclusively in E-Prime, even to the point of speaking in it. What I mean is, I take my grammar and semantics seriously.
I may be serious, but that doesn't mean I'm skilled or effective. I wouldn't take my successes so seriously if my writing didn't bomb so regularly. When I look at old essays, old blog posts, old journal entries, I feel ashamed. In those old compositions, my language comes off as sloppy and hackneyed; my arguments seem weak and unauthoritative. For someone who wishes he went into journalism, there is plenty of evidence to show a history of bad writing.
Despite this, Grammarly often pisses me off. Sometimes I appreciate its ability to point out sloppy writing, but I rarely change the sentence the way Grammarly suggests. To me, Grammarly usually points out a small solution to a larger semantic problem in the piece.
I've been an English teacher for most of my adult life. However, I still haven't cared to learn many of the technical terms for elements of writing. I've leaned heavily on thinking about what I'm trying to say with clarity and precision; getting fussy about technical terms isn't as effective, to me, as taking the time to just make sure my sentences make sense. I still need to go back and edit my ideas a lot. I know that I will always hate my writing when I return to it in a few months, but Grammarly and grammar programs have never changed that pattern for me.
An example might be my post from 2015 about Bill Tapley. It has six comments right now, so it's by far the most popular post on this blog. I go back to that post, however, and its writing comes off as... weak: my verbs are imprecise; my nouns aren't concrete; my sentences are sloppy. But for the life of me I doubt Grammarly could help me much there. The post, and the thinking behind it, need a complete workover from top to bottom, or, perhaps, more likely, a deletion.
I still battle with my writing. I misplace my modifiers; my passive voice use is inconsistent; my tone is clunky and cumbersome. But Grammarly isn't the way to deal with those problems. Instead, I need to keep practicing and keep trying to empathize with my reader's point of view. And I need to keep finding ways to enjoy myself while I write.
Which is a long way to say, I agree with most of the Zoe Bee video, embedded above.
Space Feather's "On Max Headroom: The Most Misunderstood Joke on TV
Max Headroom is one of my earliest TV memories. He was everywhere in a formative moment in my childhood. And then he was gone. I'd thought about him a bit over the years, but never in a way that led me to do any research. He was just there on the edge of my consciousness, popping up once or twice a year. Until this video appeared in my YouTube feed.
"On Max Headroom: The Most Misunderstood Joke on TV" is an excellent video essay. It provides history, analysis, context, and some synthesis that helped to bring a few of my disparate memories together. I remember a few of the commercials; I think I may have watched a few episodes of the dramatic TV series; I probably saw an interview here and there. But I couldn't cohesively assemble my impressions until I saw this video.
I've always leaned towards ironic comedy that pokes into tropes we don't quite admit to. SNL is usually too on-the-nose for me, and work like Chappelle's is too abrasively self-important. But I like how Max Headroom works in the middle: it weaves between genres and tropes and makes me ask lots of questions. And those questions often lead to smiles and quirky shifts in perspective.
And I like the ephemera of it, that something like Max Headroom couldn't really come out of a different place and time than where it came from. We couldn't re-create it; it wouldn't work. This "On Max Headroom" video is fun because it also describes numerous times when Max Headroom, even in his own space and time, just didn't work. I like the type of nuance that this video exemplifies.
New school year 2022
Summer is over and I'm back at work. I taught summer school to adults in August, the first time I'd ever taught adults, but I'm glad to be back into a regular routine. August was a difficult month, so I'm glad to have a fresh start.
I'm working as an Integration Support Teacher again, this year at one elementary school in Surrey. I'm the only IST at a small school and it's an enormous amount of work. Things appear to be going ok, somewhat, but it's a lot of responsibility and a lot of headwork. I'm finding it very hard to stay motivated with fitness and healthy eating. I need to get my body back into the zone of teaching after a rather inconsistent summer.
I'm coming into the new school year with the hopes to, if I have the self-confidence for it, apply to the administration pool for next year. I'd like to put this Master's in Education that I received back in 2016 to work. Life has been very busy since then, but I'm hoping that I'm in a place where I have the skills and experience to take on some new responsibilities.
Music and photography-wise, I'm feeling a little exhausted. It's difficult to focus on many of the small things that I used to enjoy doing: learning new songs, printing out new songs, writing and practicing, taking a drive to a good photography location. I don't really know what to do there. I've considered selling off a bunch of the portrait photography paraphernalia that I've acquired over the last five years: studio lights, softboxes, backdrops, etc.. All that stuff feels like a weight around my neck of sorts, stuff that says I should be able to use it more often, but I can't seem to get the energy to do it.
Life is generally good, but I'd like something to pep me up. That's all.
"I Wanna' Dance With Somebody"
This weekend, I will be playing music for my girlfriend's sister's wedding. They want me to perform three songs throughout the ceremony: "I Wanna' Dance With Somebody," "I'll Come Running to Tie your Shoes," and "Let's Stay Together."
I've had a devil of a time memorizing these songs. For "I Wanna' Dance With Somebody," the words and sequence kept going out of sync. Last weekend, I had set up some of the studio lights in the livingroom, so I decided to try to make a video, hoping some of the lyrics would sink in.
Here's the raw, muddy result:
This was my first video I've made for a long time. I made a lot of mistakes. I should have made a basic 4/4 drum machine track to play along with, but I settled for a click track; as a result, I went out of time quite a few times.
My uncle, a professional musician, says I should have had less distortion on the rhythm guitar. He's correct, but I do love the sound of those flatwound strings through some light distortion; there's something huge about the sound, something both warm and out of control.
Another friend offered to remix it for me. Perhaps I will take him up on the offer.
Anyhow, there it is. Hopefully I've learned a few lessons for next time.
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