June 2009


“Hullo, I would like a photo of you in your cap and gown, grinning, please. If such a picture exists, anyway,” wrote Maya.

Yes, Maya, they do, thanks to Gabriel, Maggie, and Rachael Seluga:

In the Lineup, Grinning

In the Lineup, Grinning

Nathen Gets Diploma (Grinning)

Nathen Gets Diploma from Grinning President

Nathen, Graduated, Grinning

Nathen, Graduated, Grinning

Nathen and Gabriel, Grinning

Nathen and Gabriel, Grinning

Nathen and Christine, Grinning

Nathen and Christine, Grinning

Gabriel Takes Grinning Nathen to Dinner

Gabriel Takes Grinning Nathen to Dinner

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I just posted the last two papers of my undergraduate career: my honors thesis, “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and my research project for Psycholinguistics, “The Relationship between Clarity of Enunciation and Idea Density.” They are under ‘writing,’ which is under ‘out’ in my sidebar.

I don’t recommend reading them unless you are a researching these topics (in which case, I do recommend reading them). If you’re not used to scholarly writing, just read the abstracts–the first paragraphs. They tell you everything you need to know. It’s kind of funny that I just worked really hard for over a year on something that almost no one will be interested in reading. It was an astounding amount of work, comparable to making a record, from songwriting and rehearsing to mastering. And a lot more work than some records. This was not a punk record.

Well, since I just said not to read it after I’ve been posting about it for months, I guess I should at least summarize it. Here we go:

Social power is power over other people. Any kind of power. There is a lot of research on what having social power does to you, and it’s mostly bad: more stereotyping, less perspective taking, seeing others as a means to your ends etc. It’s the kind of stuff that might keep powerful people in power. Reading this stuff is pretty alarming for a feminist like me. It’s way more complicated than that, of course, but you’re getting the super short version here.

Personal power is power over yourself. There hasn’t been much research on its effects, just enough to suggest that it’s what people really want when they are struggling for power over each other, the real goal is self-governance.

I tried to test whether personal power has similar or different effects on perspective taking than social power. I was not able to do that, for complicated reasons. I was, however, able to find evidence that people consider personal power a broader category than social power. That is, you can sink to greater depths and rise to higher heights of personal power than you can social power. Second, I found that without a salient reminder of personal power, people did not make a distinction between social and personal power. That’s pretty interesting, because if people are out there trying to claw their way up the hierarchy, it may just be because they haven’t made the distinction between what they probably really want–personal power–and what they are working for–social power.

That may seem intuitive and like “why would you want to spend a year finding evidence for something so obvious?” but for a scientist, coming across something that seems obvious that hasn’t been tested is a gold mine. All kinds of obvious things have turned out to not be true. That’s one cool thing about psychology–it’s a baby science, so those unlooked-at areas are all over the place. There is only one other scientist that I’m aware of that’s looking into this subject too, Marius Van Dijke, in the Netherlands. Luckily, he’s got resources and will likely have much more traction on it than I could as an undergrad with one year to work and a $100 budget.

I stopped eating wheat for a few years in the mid-90s. I had been getting sick a lot and a doctor recommended I give it a try, postulating an allergy. I immediately stopped getting sick. It was great. I was happy. I must have had an allergy, right? The thing is, I didn’t start getting sick again when I started eating wheat again. And, around the time I went back on wheat, I got skin-tested for food allergies and wheat did not show up. Did this mean I never had an allergy? That it had been a coincidence that I had stopped getting sick? That I had an allergy that didn’t show up because my tissues had been clean for so long? That I had an allergy and skin tests are no good? That I used to have an allergy and I had grown out of it? Food sensitivity, I have decided, along with most food-related ideas, is a murky domain, and I’m sorry to say that looking into the opinions of experts has not been helpful.

The idea I developed at the time, and still believe to some degree, is that I do have some kind of sensitivity to wheat that may or may not be an allergy (whenever that term finally gets a good definition), and that surfaces during times of stress, like rocks when the tide goes out. I don’t have much evidence for this. Just that the story I presented above happened during a stressful few years of my life, and that wheat seems to be one of the three foods (along with red meat and sugar) that I get clear “you just overdid it” signs from my body: If I eat a lot of white bread, I can count on getting a little irritated in the back of my throat and feeling a bit…yucky, I guess, is the technical term.

I have some evidence against my idea, too. First, no noticeable reactions to moderate amounts of wheat. A true Celiac, for example, will be extremely uncomfortable for days after eating any wheat, rye, or barley–bloating, diarrea, various symptoms. Also, by far the most stressful period of my life was a few years ago, and I ate wheat through it and barely ever got sick.

Anyway, I have this idea, and I’ve been thinking about this set of symptoms I have. I’m not sick, but not being sick is not good enough, you know? I have these symptoms: 1) I have dandruff. Dandruff is an inflammatory reaction to a kind of yeast that lives in our scalps. 2) I’ve been having some pain in my joints and tendons, mostly in my hands, feet, and low back. Joint pain is often associated with inflammation. 3) I have what a urologist called epididymitis, inflammation of an epididymis, which feels like a slightly achy testicle. 4) I’m itchy. Couldn’t that have something to do with inflammation?

As you may have guessed, I’ve come up with a hypothesis, the Nathen Has Low-Grade Systemic Inflammation Hypothesis. NHLGSIH, for short.

I’ve also come up with a plan that sounds really fun, starting this weekend and going through to my birthday, at the end of September. Part of it is going off gluten (or, strictly, gliadin, the molecule in the protein complex that is called ‘gluten’ and that is in the gluten of wheat, rye, and barley, and that seems to be the problematic element) because of my food sensitivity idea–maybe I’m reacting to it at a low level and I’d be better off without it. Part of it is supplementation: anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric, mostly) and bioflavanoids (picnogenol and grape pips, mostly). I can honestly say that I’ve never felt a clear benefit from a supplement, but what the heck, I’m giving it a try.

I’ll be watching for a clear improvement in any of my easily trackable symptoms (pains, dandruff) by my birthday. It would be nice to experience obvious changes, but I’m skeptical. Inflammation is another murky topic. It’s a very, very complex part of our immune response, involving a bunch of hormones and chemical cascades. No doubt in a hundred years inflammation as we know it will seem very quaint, along with balancing the humors. Anyway, without obvious improvement, I’ll go back to the good, crusty breads and not reading labels.

There are several weaknesses in my methodology. First, no control group. I need a second Nathen to eat gluten all summer but otherwise do exactly what I’m doing. Second, these are not the only diet changes I’m making. I’m also going off sugar and pretty much all other processed foods. I’m also going to be eating 50-70% raw food, by volume. I’m taking glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin. I’m also going to start eating protein three times a day. Third, there are the lifestyle changes. I’m moving. I’m not going to school. I’m not going to be reading/computing/stressing as much. I’m going to be excercising a lot more. And meditating. I’m going to be making music. I’m not going to be dancing as much. I’ll still dance every day, but I’m not planning to do any camps or exchanges until December.

So it’s not even a very good quasi-experiment. But I’m so looking forward to it! I love changing up my diet. I get so much more creative about what I eat. I’m looking forward to my summer, in general. I’m going to stay in Eugene for most of it, which is unusual for me even though it’s my favorite time of year here. I’m going to relax. I’m going to eat some great food.

I’ve lived at the house we call Suntop for six years now, and I’m still living with the remnants of the community I helped start at our first house, Big Bertha, in Eugene, in early 2001. It’s been an amazing eight years and four months. I’ve grown a lot through it. I feel sad about leaving. I love it here, being so close to my dear friends, Tilke, Nick, and Joe, the Willamette River so close, the running trails, the woods, my bike-trail commute to school, the green property, the beautiful house, room for my office, my demo studio, my dance floor. This place and these people were a big part of the reason I applied only to the UO for graduate school. I never expected to live anywhere else in Oregon.

Perhaps I should have. When we moved here, I insisted on an upstairs room. I’m such a light sleeper, I couldn’t imagine being able to get to sleep with people walking on top of me. At that time, there were only two upstairs bedrooms–the sunny front room, that Tilke wanted (and it was she who was buying the house), and the master suite, with it’s own bathroom and everything. It seemed outrageous that I would get that room, and I said so, but there was a strong consensus that we liked the house and that it was acceptable that I lived in the fancy room. We were even splitting the rent evenly at that time. It probably helped that I was going to share the space with my girlfriend-at-the-time, and would for the next three years.

Six years later, the community is mostly dispersed. (Marriages and breakups, mostly, plus a dash of failure of leadership–probably the undoing of most communities.) Tilke is married, and I’m still living in the master suite of her and Nick’s house. What had seemed like extravagent space and privacy when we moved out of Big Bertha is now uncomfortably close quarters for them. Tilke asked me to leave about a month ago. It was super hard at first. I still felt ownership of the house and what is left of the community. I’ve gotten used to the idea now. Some friends have been encouraging me to leave for years, now, some mildly (“Nathen, you are always the one to hang on. You should consider letting go.” -Maya) and some not-so-mildly (“Nathen, get the hell out of there. Get out of Oregon, too. That place is doing nothing but reminding you of hard times.” -Evan).

I’ve found a good place to live. It’s in Eugene, close to downtown, the best health food stores, music venues, and campus. I’ll be closer to a lot of my friends and family–Gabriel, Maggie, Grace, Mo’, Vangie, Miriel, Akira, Jessica. I haven’t seen nearly enough of them, living out here in Springfield. I hope to deepen my connections with all of them in the next couple years. I’ll be living in a studio attached to the house of one of my main dance partners, Emily Aune. I don’t know her well, yet, but I have long suspected that she is great and that we could be close friends. She is easily in my top five of fun people to dance with. She’s thoughtful, smart, creative, and hip. She’s a botanist, native-plant enthusiast, gardener and a co-counseler. I’m looking forward to getting to know her.

I recently attended a lecture by Adam Galinsky where he presented evidence that assimilating into new cultures makes people more creative. Maybe it comes from a widening of the self-image. I left that lecture thinking maybe it was time I live somewhere else. I like moving. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve moved as an adult: Redding, San Francisco Bay Area, Joshua Tree, Maui, Eugene, Springfield. I love coming back into contact with each possession and reconsidering it. I love how being in a new space brings back into focus each thing I do and each way that I am, so I can reconsider. This is going to be great.

Next Friday, sometime after 5 pm, I will have a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Oregon. I’m going to walk and have a cap and gown and everything–I just borrowed the costume from a friend. I was supposed to buy a green braid for $12 too, because I’m graduating with honors, but it seemed like a scam. A lot of what comes up around graduation have seemed like scams. You can spend thousands of dollars on costumes and invitations and rings and memberships in various societies, not to mention airfare, lodging, and party supplies for friends and relatives coming from around the country. I have to admit to being a bit cynical about the whole thing. I only decided a couple weeks ago that I was going to walk. I went to the ceremony for the psych department last year and was not moved by it. Plus, I’m a little disappointed in how little you have to know to graduate from college. You can learn a lot, if you set your mind to it, but you don’t have to. I doubt you could graduate without being able to read, write and do some math, but I know for certain that you don’t have to do any of them well.

But I changed my mind. First, I was nominated to speak at the ceremony. I didn’t get the gig, but it seemed possible for a while, and I thought it would be a great challenge to come up with something good to say, and deliver it effectively. That would make the ceremony meaningful for me, and it would be weird to speak but not walk. And then when I started thinking about it I liked the idea more and more. Doing my honors thesis in the last year I’ve made several friends in my graduating class. We’ve been through the wringer together and supported each other and I feel really warmly towards them. I’ve also gotten to know some of the faculty and grad students in the department. And I have a bunch of good friends in Springfield and Eugene now, from dancing and music and Not Back to School Camp. It would be great to see them all in one place. I sent an email invitation to everyone nearby who I have an address for. I have no idea who will show up, I’m looking forward to seeing whoever does. (If you live in the area but did not get the email, I’m sorry. I may not have your address. Please come!)

Then there’s the importance of graduating itself. That I’m not so sure about. I love going to school. I love learning. I’m chronically curious. My getting a BS is about as momentous as skiing a lot is to someone who loves to ski. A couple of my friends who are graduating with me will be the first people in their families ever to graduate from college, and I can see that that makes a difference. My family has graduate degrees within a few generations on both sides, and everyone I’ve met in my family could easily have gotten a graduate degree if they’d been interested. They just haven’t been interested. Can I feel pride about this? I’m not sure. I think I’m going to give it a try. I have made the most of it. I have truly applied myself, learned a mountain of information, learned how to conduct scientific research, made myself into a much better reader and writer and more rigorous and open-minded thinker. I’ve also gotten myself into a graduate program in which I intend to become a strong and resourceful ally for couples and families. That is stuff to be proud about.