June 2010


In May, this blog got 1,082 “views,” which means that many of its pages showed up on other people’s computer screens for some amount of time in 31 days. That’s my new record, and my first 4-digit month. I got quite excited as the number approached. I was checking my stats page several times a day. It was exciting and uncomfortable. I almost decided that I would not let myself check my stats for all of June. It’s not that I was wasting a lot of time on it, it’s just that I started feeling embarrassed about it.

NME Stats at May 31, 2010

I started this blog as a way of letting my friends and family know what I’m doing and thinking about, as a way of attracting Reanna’s attention (or someone else just like her), as a way of staying connected with friends and family and recording my history as I made it, they way I used to do with a yearly zine of the same name. I knew that writing my ideas publicly made me think more critically about them, and I liked the idea of living out loud, being the same person to everyone.

I’ve accomplished all these things, and this blog has been my most consistent source of inspiration for the last coming-up-on two years. It’s been great. My excitement over breaking 1,000, though, has got me thinking. Am I also trying to be famous?

To be clear, I don’t think I’m getting famous by writing this blog. It’s just making me think and feel about it. Even if I keep this pace up, 1,082 views is only about 34 per day, and I posted almost every day this month. I get a few people I don’t know finding the blog with search engine terms that I’ve written about, like “schizophrenia diagnostic criteria” or “are anti-inflammatories bad for you,” but most of my traffic comes directly here, on purpose. I imagine that means that there are maybe 40 folks who read this fairly regularly, and that’s easily accounted for by family and friends from school and Not Back to School Camp.

Still, 1,000 views means a lot more people are reading my writing  than they were two years ago, and that number could keep going up. My friend Jeannie recently beat 6,000 views and I thought, “Wow, that would be cool!” But there’s no way 6,000 views are all friends and family. A blog with 6,000 views is beginning to hit the public sphere–almost 200 a day. That’s not fame either, of course, but I bet those numbers keep going up, and maybe I could get there too, and I’m feeling a little tension about it.

Part of the tension is aesthetic. My aesthetic ideal of fame is from my music and record production career: I’d like to become just famous enough that fans of my kind of music are waiting for my next project, but not famous enough to get recognized on the street.

I’ve always felt comfortable with that picture, but now I’m becoming a therapist, and it appears that the therapist-fame aesthetic is different. My supervisors tell me that I should be unfindable–no public phone numbers, websites, etc. Clients should not be able to contact me except through the clinic, and they definitely shouldn’t be able to find out about my personal life. I can see the wisdom in that, but I don’t want to do it. I can make my phone, myspace, and facebook private, but I’ve got this blog and my band’s website, plus I show up on other websites that I prefer to be publicly affiliated with, like Not Back To School Camp, my swing dance group ELLA, and my family‘s music sites.

Another part of the aesthetic tension is about transparency. I have to be one person to everyone on this blog. Being the same person to everyone is an ideal for me but makes me uncomfortable. I have psychology-research friends, therapy friends, and co-counseling friends, all of whom would be distressed to some degree to learn how deeply involved I am in each field. My atheist friends can see that when I say I am agnostic, I really mean it. I’m not a hedging-my-bet atheist. I think about God a lot and take the idea seriously. My religious friends will see that I mock fundamentalism pretty regularly. And so on. The more well-known I get, the less I get to show people the parts of me I think they will like and hide the parts I think they won’t like.

And then there is the ethical aspect of fame. In a way, the better known I am, the better off my friends and family are–the more traffic I can drive to our businesses by mentioning them, the bigger audience I’ll have built for books I write or records I make. I can also bring more attention to worthy causes, potential problems, things like my Headlines From Psychology, that people would be better off knowing. The more fame, the more impact. A famous Nathen would be a stronger force for good. If I do say so.

On the other hand, the extent of my fame also forces transparency onto my friends and family, and they don’t all share my aesthetic preference for transparency. I didn’t really get this as an ethical issue until Reanna asked me not to use her last name on the internet. She wants to control what people can find out about her, and who doesn’t? I regularly tell people who video me dancing, “No YouTube!” But it didn’t even occur to me to ask the friends and family I’ve written about whether I could use their full names, or even post their photos. I’ve been considering starting that project soon. I like using full names, talking about real, specific people. So and so said such and such. This, however, a big reason Kerouac died friendless. I guess ethics trumps aesthetics.

[Oh! Here’s my opportunity to make that project easier for myself. If I’ve used your name (or if it seems likely that I will) in NME, please email me your preference: last name or no last name.]

I wrote most of this in early June, not knowing if I my views would continue spiking. It turns out they did not. At the end of June I’m almost exactly where I was at the end of May. I suppose it’s possible that staying level is an achievement, though, since I posted almost every day in May but only every other day in June. I’ve also lost a good deal of my both excitement and tension about my stats, though I still check them every day. Maybe it’s having watched them level off again. I’m tempted to start posting every day again to see if I can get another spike, but I think I’d rather post even less frequently and give myself time for more thoughtful essays. I’ll keep you updated.

One of the many perks of Reanna reading my assignments to me is that I get her editorial critiques of the writing. Academic writing is mostly bad writing, as I’ve been ranting about off and on. Bad writing can be entertaining, though, if it is read to you by a very smart editor like Reanna. Here is one example, Reanna reading Martin Erickson’s critique of the family life cycle theory:

Reanna, reading Erickson: “Perhaps the problems a family is experiencing may have little to do with the family’s deficient ability to negotiate transitions of the FLC but may rather indicate the family’s attempts at creative production and new arrangements that may be a difficult transition into which it may be difficult for a family to adjust. There are many implications of NAT in regard to family therapists. It is hoped that this discussion will spur more in-depth theorizing and research in regard to these issues and provide family therapists with a different way of conceptualizing with which they currently work….”

Reanna, aside: “It is hoped…not by the author necessarily, but, you know, it is hoped.”

Hilarious! Erickson is probably worth reading for any family therapist, but especially so with the added commentary.

The phrase she picked out is a violation of Strunk & White’s Elementary Principle of Composition #14, the most common form of bad writing in academia. For those of you unfamiliar with Strunk & White, get the book The Elements of Style. It’s funny, spot on, and very useful. Here’s the beginning of principle #14:

14. Use the active voice.

The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:

I shall always remember my first trip to Boston.

This is much better than

My first trip to Boston will always be remembered by me.

The latter sentence is less direct, less bold, and less concise. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting “by me,”

My first trip to Boston will always be remembered,

it becomes indefinite: is it the writer or some person undisclosed or the world at large that will always remember this visit?

This is a question I’ve come back to many times in my life, and it’s a tough one. As a kid, there seems such a difference between kids and adults that it appears dichotomous; first you are a kid, then you are an adult. The actual transition is so gradual, though, it’s confusing.

The rituals our culture provides are pathetic and seem more and more pathetic in retrospect as I get older: graduating from high school, registering for the draft, being able to purchase pornography, being able to drink. Even graduating from college is pathetic in terms of an adulthood ritual. I just watched a bunch of people graduate from UO and they sure seemed like kids to me–certainly not children, but still dependent on parents, still at best vaguely aware of what they would do with their life, still without anyone depending on them.

There are biological markers, but no one I know was an adult at sexual maturity, even if they did manage to have sex or even conceive. Physical maturity doesn’t seem to correlate with emotional maturity at all. And brain scientists keep pushing back the age at which our brains are fully mature–lately I’ve been hearing 25 or 26, but fifty years ago it was 7, so in another fifty will we not have mature brains until we’re 45?

We could use financial independence, but what does that really mean? That we only ask our parents for help when we get into really expensive trouble? We could wait to say we’re adults when we are supporting our parents, but that’s tough for us Gen-Xers, whose parents will mostly die richer than us for social and political reasons.

I imagine the “real” answer is a combination of a bunch of factors, not amenable to a simple scheme, but I have come up with two, simple, adult-identifying schemes to offer. They are pretty subjective and fail to provide a distinct moment in which adulthood occurs, but they are my favorite ideas about this so far.

1) Gratitude for parents: We gradually become capable of understanding what our parents have done for us. Perhaps we are adults when we are able to, without idealizing them, fully appreciate our parents. This could be a good indication that we have moved past egocentricity.

2) The ability to distinguish threat from non-threat: A bus bearing down on us is a threat. Someone disagreeing with our opinion is not a threat, even if the disagreement is strongly worded and about religion, politics, or contentious-topic-of-your-choice. Perhaps we are adults when we can easily respond in an appropriate manner to the reality we are presented with–when we can consistently use reality testing.

Here’s a clip of the new choreography I’m learning with Karly, as of last week. I love it–so musical and so relaxed! I would love to be able to move like Dax does in this clip–especially the loose grace in his arms.

Reanna says I might be able to pull off the vest and bow tie, too. What do you think?

Virginia Satir lays out three sets of criteria for terminating treatment with a couple–criteria which, when met show that therapy has been successful. This is my favorite set, from p. 228 of Conjoint Family Therapy. The individuals in the couple can:

Be direct, using the first person “I” and following with statements or questions which:

Criticize

Evaluate

Acknowledge an observation

Find fault

Report annoyance

Identify being puzzled

Be delineated, by using language which clearly shows “I am me” and “You are you.” “I am separate and apart from you and I acknowledge my own attributes as belonging to me. You are you, separate and apart from me, and I acknowledge your attributes as belonging to you.”

Be clear, by using questions and statements which reflect directness and the capacity to get knowledge of someone else’s statements, direction, or intentions, in order to accomplish an outcome.

I find these criteria charming, but I don’t think I will be able to use them overtly, for a couple reasons. First, insurance companies want a DSM diagnosis and a clear resolution of the Mental Disorders indicated. Satir did not speak their language. She didn’t like to label people.

Second, supervisors tend to want behavioral definitions of specific problems, so our treatment plans can say things like “The couple reports arguments have decreased from 4 times a week to 2 times a week, and that the intensity of those arguments have decreased from 7 to 4 on a 10 point scale.” This can be more collaborative and transparent with clients. It can appear to make things measured and therefore authoritative and amenable to research. I will have to write my treatment plans like that during school and probably any time I’m working for someone else. I’ll get good at it. Maybe I’ll come to like it.

Reanna and I watched Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair the other day. He says he was inspired by his young daughter asking him “Why don’t I have good hair?” The movie is hilarious because Chris Rock is hilarious, but mostly it’s creepy.  It’s sickening that the idea that Blacks have bad hair is a 6.9 billion dollar industry, for example, but it’s just creepy that the Black hair industry is almost entirely White owned. Billions of dollars is quite an incentive to encourage/advertise the idea that Black women are not naturally beautiful. (Here is a trailer.)

The movie reminded me of this clip I watched in a sociology class a few years ago:

Eunoia is the shortest English word containing all five vowels. It comes from the Greek for “well mind” or “beautiful thinking.” It is also a rarely used medical term referring to a state of normal mental health.

Reanna sent this to me because Eunoia is also the title of a set of univocalics by Canadian poet Christian Bök. His book consists of chapters written using words limited to a single vowel: “A”, “E”, “I”, “O” and “U”. Read more about it in the new issue of Front Magazine.

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