Category Archives: non-linear thinking

"Howl": But Is It Art?


Didn’t see the movie, having met the man in the flesh, in the 1960s at Duke, wolfing down Oreo cookies at a classmate’s off-campus kitchen table. (Allen Ginsberg, not me, eating the Oreos.) Made a nice change from all the narcotics and hallucinogens, I suppose.

I always thought it was a pity Ginsberg was expelled from Columbia [for writing an ironic rude message in the grime of his unwashed dorm window, addressed to his “slatternly” maid, yet], before he read James Joyce. Well, I assume he hadn’t read Joyce, or else he wouldn’t have taken credit for “inventing” stream-of-consciousness prosody. Nar’mean?

Consider the social contract, concerning listening to the non-linear musings of another. If you forked over whatever the admission price was, to see Howl in an art film house, it’d get right up your nose if the projector broke down in the middle of reel 2, and the rest was silence. But if, on the subway ride to the art cinema, a raving loony inflicted his own brand of stream-of-consciousness “performance art” on you and your fellow straphangers, you’d be likely to regard it as a bloody intrusion, and to wish he would shut up, already.

How come? Possibly, because [unless you mistakenly thought the James Franco vehicle was yet another werewolf flick] you were expecting to hear poetry, and therefore perceived it as such. [Poetic speech: the “just kidding; don’t take this literally” speech function.] Whereas, the unknown [if not uncommon] loony on the subway might be spouting Referential [fact-giving] speech (“The aliens are coming!”), or even Conative [orders-giving] speech (“Get on your tinfoil hat!”), either of which could trigger the “Fear!” message in our amygdala, since this guy might not be “just kidding”; and he just might get up in our grille for emphasis.

Same sounds; different attribution, as to what they betoken. Sometime over the holidays, I just bet you were in a public place where you heard the howl of a young child. How did your amygdala process that? Merely intrusion? [Not my kid, not my job, man.] Vicarious pain & suffering? [Ah, the poor wee mite! Or, perhaps, those poor parents!] If you sense that the howl is strategic [a Poetic simulation of distress to manipulate the public], and you initially “fell for it,” you might even feel humiliated at having been schmized.

We pay for, and expect, to be “deceived” by the artistry of professional performers. Not by the artifice of amateurs, whether they be cunning children, subway soliloquists, or even that “difficult” family member, who always seems to tune up for a long, loud howl, just as the entree is taken out of the oven. Nar’mean?

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Filed under attribution theory, limbic system, non-linear thinking, vicarious trauma

Man’s Rage for Chaos


Morse Peckham’s argument, in his 1969 book by this title, is that artists periodically save [their particular] civilization, by introducing chaos into a culture that has become too rule-bound and brittle to survive. To use my current parlance, every now and then, the Kangaroos [with their iconoclastic, outside-the-box, zigging & zagging] save the lock-stepping Clydesdales from collapsing under the burden of their hide-bound rules.

Peckham traces the progression of stylistic changes in music, poetry, painting & architecture; but [for reasons to be revealed in a future post], I’ll just recap his musical musings. Let’s use J.S. Bach as our exemplar of the Baroque era [1600-1750]. Are ya bored yet? Hang on, there are going to be wild dogs later. Mozart will be our guy from the Classical era [1740-1810]; and Beethoven will represent the Romantic era [1810-1910]. So, Peckham opines that each of these guys broke [some of the] the rules of the preceding era [as did their fellow poets, painters & architects], in ways that helped the people of their era(s) to roll with the changes [brought about by scientific discoveries, political unrest, and such like]. Nar’mean? The melodic line of their tunes got progressively smoother, from Bach, to Mozart, to Beethoven; and the rules of society got progressively looser. [To quote Cole Porter, “In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now, heaven knows, anything goes!”]

And now to the subway-riding wild dogs of Moscow. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to look up this story, which appeared in [shock!] the online version of the UK tabloid, The Sun, this week. Under the Soviet system, ownerless dogs sought shelter at factory sites in Moscow, and mooched their food from sentimental Muscovites. After the fall [of the wall, ya know], the factories were relocated to the suburbs; and the dogs trotted after them, for a warm place to sleep. But the food source was still downtown, so the dogs learned to ride the Metro to their old pan-handling spots, like Gorky Park. According to Dr. Andrei Poiarkov, of the Moscow Ecology & Evolution Institute, the dogs travel in packs, and amuse themselves by waiting until the subway doors are just about to close, to jump on. [“Last one in is a sore-tailed mutt.”] Now here is the Peckham part of the story. In the still photos and the video, it is apparent [to me, at least] that the human commuters enjoy their canine fellow travelers. They are standing, smiling indulgently, while the dogs sleep on the seats. In the video an old Russian Wolfhound is walking down the escalator, weaving among the standees on the stairs; and someone whistles to him softly, all on one note. Nothing. Then [as I do, to give Lili the “jump” command], he whistles a 3-note melody; and the dog sits down on the escalator stair. [He gets up again pretty quickly, mind you, and resumes his walking.]

So here’s my point. Many Russians are having a stressful time, post-wall-fall, especially economically. The old rules of “obey & survive” don’t apply anymore, and the new rules are…as yet, unwritten. That’s a source of fear for some. The wild dogs provide comic relief. [That old juxtaposition of an animal in an unexpected venue, gets us every time.] Their presence on the Metro seems random [chaotic], yet they move with the precision of a drill team [order]. In fact, thinking back on all the animals in my past and present, I think what they always bring is the gift of chaos.

Here are our 3 cats, in harmonious repose, not in one of our daughters’ [frequently] disheveled rooms, but in the Master Suite. [Napster, the black cat, is trying to use a dark pillow as camouflage. Don’t be alarmed at his apparent size & shape.] Who cares if it looks like a New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s? It’s not a photo shoot for Architectural Digest. Loosen up, will ya?

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Filed under comic relief, ethology, non-linear thinking, pro bono publico

Costume Dramas & Playing Against Type


Cheer up, hippophobes (or others simply missing Lili). She’ll be back in the next posting. Meanwhile, meet my late Uncle Dick’s Arab gelding, “Burrack.” In 1976, just as I was being measured for my Naval Officer’s uniforms by a skeptical little tailor at the Ft. Hamilton induction center in NYC [“They’re letting you in? With a back like that?”], Burrack and Uncle Dick were suiting up to re-enact battles from the 17th Century English Civil Wars between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads. Alas, although Uncle Dick’s “type” [as in “know it and love it”] was completely Cavalier, The Sealed Knot re-enactors only had an opening for a Roundhead. Not to worry. Before he joined the RAF during WW II, Uncle Dick had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, whose philosophy of acting is anything but Method. “Get your costume and make-up right, and the character will follow,” could be their motto. So, instead of the long, curly locks and frilly collars worn by the followers of King Charles I, Dick donned an early-Beatles-puddingbowl-style wig and the austere, Puritan gear of a Roundhead, and played (very convincingly) against type.

But what about poor little Burrack? Like most Arabs, he is only 15hh high (4″ shorter than Dusk), and Uncle Dick (like my elder daughter) was over 6′ tall. [Just look at my feet dangling below his belly, and imagine how absurdly incongruous Dick might have looked on his trusty steed.] Well, he didn’t. Years before joining “Oliver’s Army,” Dick & Burrack were regular winners at Dressage events all over England, beating out the statuesque Warmbloods and their riders. I was never lucky enough to attend one of their horse shows (although I did see them do a battle re-enactment); but my guess is that once Dick-the-actor put on his Dressage “costume,” he assumed the persona of a Lippizaner rider and “sold it” to the judges and on-lookers, who forgot to notice Burrack’s “sportsmodel” size.

Well, that’s what I did for my 6 years on active duty in the Navy–put on a “costume” and “sold” the Clydesdale persona to my masters. [Incidentally, despite my bespoke tailor’s dismay at my scoliotic back, he made me the most flattering, perfectly-fitting jackets, skirts and slacks that I’ve ever worn. Hence the Cockney joke: “I’ve got a hunch…” “Not to worry. I know a good tailor.”] Fortunately, as a shore-bound member of the Staff Corps, unless I was the Officer of the Watch (about every two weeks), I was allowed to go home at night, take off my uniform, and resume Kangaroo status. In 1970s Annapolis, military personnel were widely despised by the townsfolk; and I had insults [and objects] hurled at me, while wearing my “Blues.” If I returned 15 minutes later in my civvies, with my long curly locks down [no longer up in the regulation bun], the same snide people would greet me cordially, apparently not making the connection between my two personae.

My biggest challenge was to try to maintain my Clydesdale-ness when directing Midshipman plays in the evenings, since often I and they had changed out of uniform for rehearsals. I didn’t always succeed; and my inner ‘Roo would usually emerge in tandem with my Wolf, when I was angry about how the show was coming along. Of course, the Mids were delighted, since many of them were crypto-‘Roos, too, just trying to “maintain” until graduation. My ignoble excuse, when one of my ‘Roo/Wolf outbursts was overheard by a higher-ranking Clydesdale skulking in the back of the auditorium, was “I’m from New York.” [My beloved Masqueraders were quick studies, and soon would say it on my behalf, if they spotted the Clydesdale before me: “She’s from New York, sir.”]

When our younger daughter was called out for ‘Roo-related shenanigans at school [about which we were then called up], we would threaten her [idly]: “If you don’t buckle down, we’re going to send you to a plaid-skirt school!” In Detroit, private schools were too expensive, and parochial schools were too crowded. Ironically, when we moved to Annapolis, she chose to spend most of her high school years “in uniform,” and graduated from a plaid-skirt school. For most of us ‘Roos, putting on the “costume” of a Clydesdale is like strapping on a (safety) harness that we have chosen to wear, which is just restrictive enough to remind us to “keep on the straight & narrow” while it’s on, though we look forward to that moment of liberty, when we can “throw over the traces,” let our hair down, and zig [or zag] again. The better an actor you are, the more convincingly you can play against type; but it’s easier to get into [and maintain] character, when you’re performing in a costume drama.

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Filed under non-linear thinking, semiotics, sharks and jets, understanding shenanigans

"Tie Me Kangaroo Down"


This Rolf Harris song was a big hit in the UK in 1960, as well as my personal anthem [since by then I had figured out that I was a cognitive ‘Roo, who needed to “rein myself in” during school hours]. Can’t resist quoting the timely [and prescient] first verse: “Watch me wallabies feed, mate…they’re a dangerous breed, mate.” Those Tasmanian poppy farmers [well, their parents] had been warned.

This is Dusk, a 16hh QuarterHorse [8″ shorter than Owen]: failed race horse [didn’t like being loaded into the starting gate], successful “A” Circuit Hunter/Jumper [though how they ever got her into a horse-trailer to haul her to all those shows is anybody’s guess], and set in her ways, by the time we owned her. If you’re interested in her pedigree, her sire was “Mr. Clabberdoo” and her dam was…a number. [I mean, literally–no name, just a number.] So claustrophobic was “Miss Clabberdoo” [our barn name for her, when she was being stubborn], that she often refused to come in from turn-out [in a boring, dirt–not gorgeous grass–paddock], to her lovely, warm [in winter] or cool [in summer] stall to eat her delicious food…until dusk. Stable lads galore would humiliate themselves by saying, “Oh, you guys just don’t know how to wrangle a QuarterHorse. I’ll get her in, in no time,” only to spend a fruitless hour coaxing, then chasing, then cursing this otherwise “nice” horse [a term of art that means talented]. Think of the intrusion [total waste of time and Therbligs] her silliness caused everyone at the barn. I finally figured out how to outfox her, based on the common practice of lungeing a feisty horse [having it run in circles, in alternate directions, bucking at will, on a long leash-type thingy called a lungeline] to dissipate all that pent-up recalcitrance. I would walk to the center of Dusk’s paddock and mime the actions of having her on a lungeline, schmizing her into cantering clockwise in a big circle, then counter-clockwise, until she would get tired, walk over to me, nuzzle my neck, and allow me to clip on a short leadline and walk her inside. [This could take up to 15 minutes, but it always worked.]

So, that is how you tie your Kangaroo down, mate. At a physical level, most cognitive ‘Roos are restless creatures, who need to exhaust themselves with a spot of aerobic activity, before they can “buckle down” to the task assigned by The Man. Sometimes [not always] fear and loathing of confined spaces has to do with the loss of liberty to “go walkabout.” If the legs can’t go, at least the mind is free to wander. In my culture, this is called being “away wit’ da Fairies.” It is not (or wasn’t, when I were a lass) pathologized–bemoaned, yes; rebuked, even–but mostly regarded as an inconvenient foible, to be outgrown or outfoxed. In England I was lucky enough to live in a stone-cold house [no central heating], so that a hot, strong cup of tea was a welcome part of breakfast. Then my first class of the day was Physical Training, where we scampered around a cinder track [usually in the fog] until exhausted. What a perfect way for a Kangaroo to get ready to “buckle down” and get schooled. To this day, I begin [almost] every morning with a 50-minute aerobic workout, followed by a strong cup of tea. To quote my younger daughter, it helps me to “linger at the gates” (of the Fairies’ realm), without actually slipping away.

So, are you Clydesdales getting any of this? Like Dusk, cognitive ‘Roos resist time and space constraints. But they can learn to become their own “wranglers,” by putting themselves on a virtual lungeline and getting all the bucking [of the system] out of their system [also known as “doing the Wolf-work” of figuring out what’s likely to get up their nose about acting like a biddable beast of burden], before reining themselves in for long enough to get a productive day’s work done. Robert Frost had a series of exchanges with Carl Sandberg, who wanted Frost to give up the constraints of rhyme and meter, and join their contemporaries in writing verse libre. Frost remarked, famously, that it would be “like playing tennis without a net.” Less famously, he added, “True freedom is moving easily in your harness.”

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Filed under born to run, ethology, gets right up my nose, non-linear thinking, therbligs, understanding shenanigans

Of Clydesdales & Kangaroos


For years I have used this animal metaphor to discuss issues arising from linear vs. non-linear thinking; and we will get there anon, but not before some digressions. [Guess whether my cognitive style is linear or non-linear.] A news item, posted on the BBC on 25 June 09, might have escaped your notice, so I will give you the website [news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/8118257.stm], and the title: “Stoned wallabies make crop circles.” Funny story. True story. “Australian wallabies are eating opium poppies and creating crop circles as they hop around ‘as high as a kite,’ a government official has said.” Turns out Australia is the source of “50% of the world’s legally-grown opium used to make morphine and other painkillers.” It’s a small world, after all.

As you may know, a wallaby is the slightly smaller, “sports model” of a kangaroo. Likewise, one might consider Hanoverian Warmblood horses the “sports models” of draft horses [such as Clydesdales]..except for this 18 hh individual, pictured with my 5’8″ self. “Owen” was his barn name [what we, his owners, called him]. Since his was the grandson of Bolero, and therefore in the “B-line” of German-bred Hanoverians, his birthname had to begin with “B.” Having run out of all the cool International-sounding names, like Brentano and Brentina, his German breeders saddled him with the dorky name, “Be Happy.” [If you want to look him up in the Studbook, his number is 254. But don’t get any ideas. Like this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, he came to us a gelding.]

Before we had Lili the dog, we had Owen the Hanoverian; and before we had him, we had Dusk the QuarterHorse mare [who may feature in a future post]. Just as Owen’s height exceeded his parents’, so our elder daughter’s height exceeded ours; and there came a point where 16hh Dusk was no longer “a good fit” for her. [Later, alas, there came a point where the charismatic, sweet-natured, and talented Owen was no longer a good fit for our family budget, so he is currently inspiring a wealthier owner to Be Happy.]

So, do all these tangential excursions drive you crazy; or do they mirror your own stream-of-consciousness thought patterns? If the former, then you are more of a cognitive Clydesdale. [As tall as Owen, but wider-bodied and with shaggier feet.] Metaphorically, here’s what’s “good” about Clydesdales: they work well under harness with their teammates, obeying the commands of the driver, and get the job done in a timely manner. [They bring the beer.] Most school curricula are made by and for Clydesdales, as are many of society’s regulated activities [such as which side of the road to drive on, and how fast, and where it is permitted to park].

If, however, you routinely fail to “follow the rubric” for a school (or work) assignment [or even know that there is one], if you can always think of alot reasons why the rules of the road should not apply to you, if you prefer to zig & zag through life, rather than follow the arrow, then you–my friend and fellow traveler–are a cognitive Kangaroo [perhaps, even a Wallaby]. It’s not awful, folks–only highly inconvenient. [And you’d better believe that Albert Ellis, who coined that phrase, was a ‘Roo.] Isn’t it obvious what’s “good” about ‘Roos? They’re quick. [Okay, so sometimes they leap to conclusions without being able to “explain how the result was obtained.” It just came to me.] They’re curious [“Ooh…red flowers…down the hatch.”], and are therefore more likely to make off-the-wall discoveries. Their non-linear cognitive style is the basis for all humor; and (as they say on Coronation Street), “You’ve got to laugh, entcha?”

“All very well,” I hear a Clydesdale objecting, “but what has this to do with your so-called blog topic, The Wolf?” Glad you asked, you lovable, predictable beast of burden. Clydesdales who are the parents, teachers, or partners of Kangaroos are often angered by the intrusion of that”Ooh-ooh! Have-to-say-or-do-whatever-pops-into-my-mind, even-if-it-interrupts-others” thing. Particularly, the parents of ‘Roos [even if they are crypto-Roos, themselves], fear the consequences of their offspring’s impulsivity, which might cause pain & suffering for the child, the parents, and the general public. So, the parents, teachers, and partners of ‘Roos say humiliating things to the “Didn’t-d0-it-on-purpose-just-the-way-I-am” creatures, which in turn provokes anger in them [the ‘Roos, in case you’ve lost the thread, through all my zigs & zags].

Ways to improve relations between the two cognitive camps will be taken up in future posts. Meanwhile, a bit of self-disclosure. Although I am a life-long, purebred Kangaroo, I was never a Wallaby (a metaphorical poppy-eater). I figured my take on life was already weird enough, without the addition of mind-altering substances. I discovered the joys of wine and beer when I was 23, though, so I’m not a total Goody-Two-Shoes. (More of a ‘Fraidy-Cat.)

Incidentally, in my brief blog-blurb, I say I learned more about human nature @ acting school than grad school; and here’s an example of what I mean. In a class on “How to Get Hired As an Actor (Without Losing Your Soul),” we were told, “Know your type, and love your type.” So, if the role is for an ingenue, and you look, um, sadder-but-wiser, don’t waste your time at the “cattle call” for a naive heroine. Show up for auditions where they’re looking for “the Auntie Mame type.” If you know you’re a ‘Roo, don’t expect to be hired, when the job ad says “Only Clydesdales Need Apply.” [Unless you are a Very Good Actor, of which more later…]

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Filed under altered states, non-linear thinking, sharks and jets