Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Help me Help NAMI-Huntsville

On December 8, I will be running in the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL. After serious mental breakdown in the fall of 2010 and many painful months for my family, my friends, and myself while I battled severe depression, marathon training has been essential in recovery. This is a celebration of mental stability regained. I don't believe it's possible to separate psychological and emotional health from physical health. They are not different issues to be treated by different branches of medicine or isolated specialists. Psychological and physical health work best when they work in tandem towards complete, overall well-being. Get your mind working well and your body naturally tries to follow along. Get your body firing healthy and your mind begins to fire with it (that's a chiasmus for my rhetoriquer buddies out there).

So who’s Pheidippides? Besides a guy with a name that’s really fun to say out loud, he was the accidental inventor of the marathon. In 490 BC, Greek armies defeated an invading Persian force at the Battle of Marathon. After the fighting, Pheidippides was dispatched as a messenger to relay the good news to Athens. He ran all the way there without stopping and dropped dead on arrival. We modern runners are out to prove that with proper preparation, both physical and mental, you can run this distance and survive to celebrate with your community.

Like Pheidippides, I run with good news. The Huntsville chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has provided me immeasurably valuable information and support on my trek back from the mouth of hell. They’ve done the same for many others in our area. I’m dedicating my race to them and to my family and friends who little by little reminded me that life is very much worth living. At NAMI-Huntsville, I learned you can live well and even thrive after the onset of a mental illness. And I’m asking for your support so they can continue doing their good work in our area. If you can, please consider contributing $26, a dollar for every mile of the marathon, to help ease some of the pain for people living with a mental illness and their loved ones. If you are feeling really generous or if you just really love the metric system, you might consider this equation: 26.2 miles=42.195 kilometers. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Simply sharing this link with others would help us and the people in need of our services. You can donate online through this link.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Triptych Series: Glossary

And again Montaigne provides a lead in. He said everything first but only because he was ripping a lot of it off from Ovid and Seneca. Glosses are the individual entries that are often, though not always, collected in a glossary at the end of a book. I say not always because historically book makers have used other formats for presenting the commentaries that explain in various ways what the words in the central text mean. The image below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website shows a different layout from a medieval manuscript.


These glosses have surrounded and started to choke out the original text. Montaigne described this over-glossing problem and the interpretive difficulty it can cause in his essay "On Experience." Paradoxically, efforts to make the original matter clearer do exactly the opposite when commentators crowd out the author's words with their own: "Who wouldn't say that glosses compound doubt and ignorance since we never see any book that the world has taken interest in, whether human or divine, where interpretation has dried up the difficulty. The hundredth commentary only leads into the next, more thorny and choppier than the first had found the matter...We spend more time interpreting interpretations than interpreting things; and there are more books about books than any other subject: all we do is inter-gloss each other."

With Montaigne's grumpy wisdom in mind (I've always found footnotes kind of annoying too), I'd like to build a moderate set of commentaries on some of the terms in my triptych posts. I'm having vague inklings of thoughts on book history, the way we know things, spatial arrangement of written text and hyperlinks. Perhaps, these ideas will develop more fully as I gloss. Maybe for instance the tipping point where glosses cease to clarify and start to confuse will become more evident. This post will be a work in progress that I will add to from time to time.  

Call bullshit on yourself (Triptych Series 3)-I've adopted this from a beloved literature professor who was discussing psychotherapy and how it can be beneficial in class one day. Freudian and other analytic approaches seek insight into past trauma by having people talk about the past. The general idea is that these traumatic moments continue to trouble people subconsciously without them being aware of it. Finding the source and becoming explicitly aware of what the trouble is/was relieves tension according to analytic thinking. My prof. saw things a little differently though. He told us that you really never get to the bottom of things because there's always something else a little deeper or further back underlying whatever old source of tension you reveal. He told us, and this is a paraphrase, that while talking about the past you slowly realize what your own bullshit ("conneries") sounds like. Ex. "I absolutely have to get this essay written by the end of the day or all is lost." When you learn to hear yourself in this way, you move on to other things.

I contradict myself (Triptych Series 1)-Friends from the literati will doubtless have recognized the nod to Whitman's Song of Myself :

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Coming back to that line to gloss it, I wonder how well or if Whitman knew Montaigne, the godfather of singing oneself. I know Emerson read him. I slip little snippets from the masters like this into my posts frequently. Some I will explain here, but I probably won't ever get to them all. If you hear an echo of something else you read before and wonder if it is intentional, it probably is. Does that make me a thief?

I'm cool with cliche (Triptych Series 2)-In Tommy Boy--rip Chris Farley--Tommy makes his first sale by using a colorful explanation about his competitors' packaging policies. The owner of an auto-parts store tells Tommy that his customers want to see the word "guaranteed" marked on the box:

"I could take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed."
"What's your point?"
"You'd be buying a guaranteed piece of shit."

After years in academics chasing after the topic that other scholars "have ignored for far too long," my attitude about originality is very much in line with Tommy's thinking on guarantees. I could fling a pile of elephant dung at a canvass and mark it original... But the fact that no one's ever done it does not necessarily mean that someone needs to. I'm not against good, original artistic projects. Being original though is not synonymous with being good. My friend Emily has mentioned David Foster Wallace--rip the infinite jester and glosser extraordinaire--in a comment on this running post. In Infinite Jest, Wallace does miraculous things finding meaning in the cliched, non-original language of a Boston AA group.     

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Triptych Series 4: Plans for the Day

Many of my ideas in this post grew out of a wonderful conversation I had last Thursday during a mid-distance run. In August, I joined the Marathon training program at Fleet Feet here in Huntsville, and over the last two months running with them I've learned that a lot of the things I thought I understood about myself as a runner weren't actually true. I do, in fact, enjoy running with other people, and it's much more likely that I'll over-train and injure myself than it is for me to slack off and not work enough.

Last Thursday, I talked with another runner about unrealistic expectations and how they can wreck our perspective on ourselves, our success, and our failures. A three-pronged perspective on time, particularly on the time of a single day, can illustrate this destructive potential of our own expectations. I'm not a big fan of making written schedules or keeping a calender of the things I need to get done. If I did keep such an agenda, a single day might look like this.
  • I'll work on ads for 3 hours.
  • I'll write the rest of the article that's due tomorrow.
  • I'll revise the article I just got back with editor and reviewer comments.    
Instead of planning things out clearly like this, I usually wake up in the morning with vague and scattered pieces here and there of a still vaguer idea of everything I think I should accomplish in the coming 24 hours. I need to finish this article. Breakfast. Coffee. Oh yeah and I want to work towards my weekly quota of hours for my other job. Ice shins. Coffee. When am I going to squeeze my run in? Facebook. Read email. Shit there a lot of corrections to make on that last piece. More coffee. Heart rate and breathing rise in response to the not entirely articulated hunch that there is a lot to do and maybe not enough time to finish it today. A productive morning of writing. Frustration around 1:45 when I realize that I'll probably need to stop and eat if I want to continue doing productive work (In my more intense days of furiously studying the urgent questions of modern and Renaissance French literature, I would habitually skip breakfast and later look up in the library and realize the sun was setting and I hadn't stopped for lunch either). 

Like many of our faulty mental faculties, our ability to plan for the day tends to go haywire and get wildly mis-calibrated. We say to ourselves offhandedly "I want to do this, this, that, this, and the other today." But we don't spend very much time evaluating how much time all those things actually take. We demand of ourselves that they get done before we sleep, and if for some reason they don't--like for instance we were grossly overestimating how fast we can work--we go to bed feeling like we whiffed on the day.

I've developed a way of defending myself against the disappointment that creeps on me when I realize that today I won't get any further than step one. My protective mantra: I cannot do everything. Some days will not be a triptych of success. Sometimes, we guess wrong and revisions take all morning and part of the early afternoon too. And really unless I'm performing hands only CPR or an emergency tracheotomy, there's not much reason to ever get in such a goddamn hurry to finish anyway.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Triptych Series 3: Time and Anxiety

I've wobbled back and forth between writing about running and writing more generally about mental health. Today, I swing back towards a more general post to try to describe in pictures and in words the relationship between how we think about time and anxiety. It wouldn't take much doing though to apply this post more specifically to marathon training as well.

This post is probably the easiest one I've put together. Anxiety is linked so very often to dysfunctional attitudes about time. In states of high anxiety, we lose the ability to think rationally and we create all sorts of baseless unsupported interpretations of the world that we assume are true. Worse, we generalize these beliefs ( "nothing is going right") so that they apply to our past ("nothing has ever gone right") and future ("nothing will ever go right"). Anxiety extends a single unpleasant jar on the nerves so that it becomes the encompassing be all truth of all days.

Nothing is going right
Nothing has ever gone right

Nothing will ever go right

Good therapy teaches you how to call bullshit on yourself. It teaches you how to move into a more realistic understanding of the ugly sensation and keep it from overtaking every single thing you do, say, and think.