I’m back from a wonderful vacation with Reanna and my family in Joshua Tree and hunkering down for my winter term. I’ve heard that my last term had the most intense workload of the program, but now that I’ve compiled the list of reading and assignments, I wonder if that’s true, especially considering that we have our comp exams the first week of spring term, which includes writing four 6-8 page papers from memory. I’m thinking of ways to take it easier on myself this term because I lost some of my near-focus vision during fall term and I’m not cool with that. (Yes, I was taking breaks, looking up frequently etc. Reading 30 hours a week is reading 30 hours a week.) Anyway, here’s my reading and writing list for the next 10 weeks. The number codes are for the classes: 610 is my second Family Models class, 620 is my Psychopathology (read DSM and deconstruction of such) class, 621 is Professional and Ethical Issues in Family Therapy, and 632 is Medical Family Therapy. I’m excited about all of them.

620 “Remembering Masturbatory Insanity” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “Mental Disorders are Not Diseases” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “The Myth of the Reliability of DSM” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “On Being Sane in Insane Places” (Blackboard) 1/6/2010

620 “Patient Autobiographies” (Blackboard) 1/6/2010

621 Corey ch 1 1/11/2010

621 Corey ch 2 1/11/2010

621 Woody ch 1 1/11/2010

621 reflection paper 1 1/11/2010

610 Nichols ch 6 1/13/2010

610 Nichols ch 9 1/13/2010

610 BB Bobrow & Ray 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Look at Visuals section. 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Read: Introduction, 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 3 (for overview), 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 4 (focus on structure of multiaxial system). 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Skim Ch. 21 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Skim Ch. 23 1/13/2010

620 DSM: Introduction, Use of the Manual, Multiaxial Assessment (through p. 37) 1/13/2010

620 Skim “APA Guidelines for Providers…” 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Read Foreword 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Preface 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Appendix 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: look at index. 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Look up people of your ethnic heritage, country(s) of origin, or with whose culture you are familiar in order to evaluate strengths and limitations of this resource 1/13/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 1 1/15/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 12 1/15/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 16 1/15/2010

632 Medical Family Therapy ch 3 1/15/2010

632 Medical Family Therapy ch 6 1/15/2010

610 BB Shields & McDaniel 1/20/2010

610 Tomm part 2 1/20/2010

610 reflection paper 1 1/20/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 19, 11 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Adjustment DOs (p. 679-683), Anxiety DOs (p. 429-484) 1/20/2010

620 Kessler 1/20/2010

620 Barrett 1/20/2010

620 Ung 1/20/2010

620 Burroughs 1/20/2010

620 Munson 14 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Dissociative DOs (p. 519-33), 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Eating DOs (p. 583-595) 1/20/2010

620 Schreiber 1/20/2010

620 Knapp 1/20/2010

632 Rolland part I 1/22/2010

632 Rolland part II 1/22/2010

621 Corey ch 3 1/25/2010

621 Corey ch 4 1/25/2010

621 Woody ch 8 1/25/2010

621 reflection paper 2 1/25/2010

621 reflection paper 3 1/25/2010

610 BB Tomm part 1 1/27/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 10 1/27/2010

620 DSM Bipolar DOs (p. 382-401) 1/27/2010

620 DSM: Mood DOs (p. 345-382 1/27/2010

620 Styron 1/27/2010

620 Jamison 1/27/2010

632 Rolland part III 1/29/2010

621 Corey ch 5 2/1/2010

610 Nichols ch 13 2/3/2010

610 BB carr 1998 2/3/2010

620 reading to be assigned 2/3/2010

620 quiz 2/3/2010

620 summary of small group discussion 2/3/2010

632 Gawande 2/5/2010

632 Patients from different cultures ch 2 2/5/2010

632 Patients from Different cultures ch 4 2/5/2010

621 Corey ch 6 2/8/2010

621 Woody ch 7 2/8/2010

621 reflection paper 4 2/8/2010

621 professional disclosure statement 2/8/2010

610 BB Gergen 1985 2/10/2010

610 quiz 1 2/10/2010

620 Munson 9 2/10/2010

620 Munson 16 2/10/2010

620 DSM: Schizophrenic spectrum DOs (p. 297-338) 2/10/2010

620 Alda mother 2/10/2010

620 Love mother 2/10/2010

620 Steele 2/10/2010

620 Hunt 2/10/2010

620 “lobotomies” coleman 2/10/2010

620 Dully and Fleming 2/10/2010

620 El-Hai 2/10/2010

620 Grand Rounds 2/10/2010

632 Shared experience ch 1 2/12/2010

632 Shared experience ch 14 2/12/2010

632 Shared experience ch 15 2/12/2010

632 Medical family therapy ch 4 2/12/2010

632 Medical family therapy ch 11 2/12/2010

632 Sherret 2/12/2010

632 health genogram due 2/12/2010

621Corey ch 7 2/15/2010

621 Woody ch 3 2/15/2010

621 reflection paper 5 2/15/2010

610 Nichols 12 2/17/2010

610 BB Molnar & DeShazer 1987 2/17/2010

620 Munson 20 2/17/2010

620 Munson 16 2/17/2010

620 DSM: Personality DOs (p. 685-729) 2/17/2010

620 Wurtzel 2/17/2010

620 Levine 2/17/2010

620 Miller 2/17/2010

620 Crimmins 2/17/2010

620 DSM: Alzheimer’s (p. 147-158) 2/17/2010

632 psychotherapist’s guide to psychoparmacology 2/19/2010

621 Corey ch 8 2/22/2010

621 Corey ch 9 2/22/2010

621 Woody ch 4 2/22/2010

621 reflection paper 6 2/22/2010

610 reflection 2 2/24/2010

620 review readings 2/24/2010

620 Exam 2/25/2010

632 LBL chapter 1 2/26/2010

632 LBL chapter 3 2/26/2010

632 LBL chapter 7 2/26/2010

632 Candib 2/26/2010

621 Corey ch 11 3/1/2010

621 Corey ch 12 3/1/2010

621 reflection paper 7 3/1/2010

621 legal statutes and rules summary 3/1/2010

610 Nichols 11 3/3/2010

610 BB Goldner 1992 or so 3/3/2010

610 OSCR reflection 3/3/2010

620 trans readings TBA 3/3/2010

632 LBL chapter 8 3/5/2010

632 LBL chapter 9 3/5/2010

632 Becvar 3/5/2010

621 Corey ch 10 3/8/2010

621 Corey ch 13 3/8/2010

621 reflection paper 8 3/8/2010

621 Take home final due 3/8/2010

610 Nichols 14 3/10/2010

610 quiz 2 3/10/2010

632 interview project due 3/12/2010

610 final paper due 10 am 3/15/2010

I have a bunch of papers due in the next couple weeks. About 50 pages worth, give or take a page or two.

Tonight I spent a little time with my friend Grace, watching Alseny Yansane drum and dance on campus, and catching up with each other on the drive there and back. I told her about the paper I’m working on right now, a critique of a journal article on some quantitative research. I said I was expecting some  late nights coming up. “I think I could get with a passing grade by turning in some crappy writing…”

She said, “That’s just not the Nathen Lester way,” and we laughed for a while. No, it isn’t. I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m reading a lot of scholarly writing these days. Unfortunately that means that I’m reading a lot of bad writing these days. I have some sympathy with these writers–they are writing about complex topics in a discipline (psychology) which has a long tradition of bad writing. I worked many, many, many hours on my honors thesis and only managed to get it out of the “bad writing” category, not into the “good writing” category, except perhaps here and there. However, there are two very easy things we can all do to make scholarly writing better: Stop using the words “utilize” and “extant.”

“Utilize” means no more or less than “use,” and “use” is a better word because it’s simpler and everyone knows what it means.

“Extant” means no more or less than “existing.” Scholarly writers love to refer to “the extant literature” on a topic. It’s not just bad because most people don’t know what “extant” means, it’s bad because if you do know what it means, you know it’s completely superfluous in the phrase “the extant literature.” That is, unless you are really making the distinction between the literature that exists and the literature that does not exist. And you are not.

It may be that folks who are using these words just can’t help it, in the way that a guitarist who has just learned a bunch of flashy licks can’t help playing them all the time. The thing is, you are a writer. You get to edit. Please edit out these words.

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 just posted a research paper I wrote a couple years ago about vegetarianism, its history, philosophy, and demographics. It’s pretty good. If you’re interested in vegetarianism, abstinance diets, or just food, check it out by clicking here. It’s called “Vegetarianism and Reason: A Personal Evolution.” The title is the worst part, I think.

I write commas after every item in a list of three or more. I start sentences with conjunctions. I like writing that way, but when I do, I imagine all of my old English teachers shaking their heads in disappointment. And not just them, but everyone out there who paid attention in their high school English classes. I’ve been thinking for several days about a short entry here, early on in my blog, to justify my choices. As I highly doubt any of my high school teachers will happen across this blog, I’m probably writing more for the latter group, but thinking about my old teachers has inspired me to address them, as part of this post. The letter is the stronger part, so I’m going to start with my justifications. If you are not interested in grammar or punctuation, I suggest you skip the next two paragraphs, to “Dear Mr. James….”

I’m studying psychology, so everything I turn in has to be “in APA style,” and the American Psychological Association has strong opinions about commas in lists. When I make a list separated by commas, I must put a comma after the second-to-last item, before the “and.” For example, here is a list of some colors I can see from where I’m writing: white, cream, brown, turquoise, and blue. I feel a little embarrassment every time I do it, but I’ve grown to like it. It seemed unnatural at first, but I think that’s because it was unfamiliar; as I say that list out loud, I do pause before “and blue,” as if there was a comma there, whether I’ve written one or not. The convention clarifies word pairings, too. “Turquoise and blue” in a list indicates a pairing of those colors, where “…turquoise, and blue” means that those two colors are the last in a list of three or more.

Starting sentences with conjunctions is not APA style. In fact, I would never turn in a formal paper with a sentence that started with a conjunction. I was delighted to read, however, several years ago, in Fowler’s Modern English Usage (and later in some other fairly respectable books), that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. I like starting some sentences with “and,” and sometimes “but.” It feels like talking. The only thing I don’t like about it is imagining someone reading what I’ve written and judging me ignorant. As Tom Sawyer said, I know all what I’m talking about.

That said, I’m also interested in improving my writing. If you think I’ve posted bad writing accidentally, please let me know. I’ve been known, for example, to write sentences like, “I want to know whether or not you think my writing is bad or not.” That is not a stylistic choice. It’s just plain embarrassing.

This letter came to me in a moment of retrospective embarrassment, while doing some peer editing in a class last term.

Dear Mr. James, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Hoagland, Mrs. Cheraz, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson:

I am so sorry about all the boring, boring, boring crap of mine you had to read. Wow. That must have been a heroic effort, grading those terrible papers, pointing out all of those indefinite references and two sentence paragraphs, but most of all just reading that weak, uninspired junk. It is ironic that you, who probably appreciated good writing more than any of the adults in my life at the time, read my writing for a living. I hope the other kids in my class made your life easier than I did, but based on the grades you gave me, I doubt it.

In my defense, the writing assignments you gave me were mostly awful (with the exception of my sixth grade paper on Millard Fillmore, when Mr. James encouraged me to write about how he was our most boring president, and the story I wrote for Mrs. Taylor about the dog who had terrorized me when I was eight), and I never got the sense that you wanted me to write about my real experiences or what I was actually interested in. Huckleberry Finn, for example, was one of my favorite books. I loved it. I listened to dramatizations of it for fun. I had read it several times before I was assigned to read it in school. I just never cared about the symbolism in it. I could have written a moderately engaging paper about how hilarious it was, or how I related to Huck, but I was never going to write you anything interesting about the symbolism of the Mississippi River. Sure, there is symbolism in that book, but you have to admit that symbolism is not what makes it great, especially not to a fifteen year old.

On the other hand, I sure didn’t try very hard. I wrote just about everything I gave you the night before it was due, revising only slightly as I typed the final drafts. I could tell just how much effort it took to get a B+ on a paper, so that my test and homework scores could keep me floating in A territory. And I wasn’t embarrassed. It was almost a point of pride to me, how little I worked on that writing. Let’s just call all of it a joint effort—a collaboration between you and my teenaged self, all of that weak, last-minute, uninspired writing.

You did inspire me, too, just not about writing. The books that you had me read really were great—a heck of a lot better, in retrospect, than the fantasy novels I was into at the time. I also appreciate the ways that you (especially Mr. James, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson) modeled open-minded, deep, critical, and flexible thinking. Thanks, too, for the way you seemed to like me. I think if I was to meet most of you today, I would want to be friends with you.


Nathen Lester

11 years worth

11 years worth

I have started this blog inspired by my friend of just over a decade, Jeannie Lee. I’ve been waving her away about it for years because of the time commitment: learning curves and then continuing to post. I’d already stopped writing in my precious journals in favor of a voice recorder because of how much time it took. I already have plenty of ways to keep myself a little too busy: university, learning to dance, making money, reading, writing music, keeping up with friends and family…. Jeannie’s rebuttal was that I could put as little time as I felt like into the project, which is true, of course, but not usually how I operate.

I think two things tipped me. One is that I’ve been thinking a lot about how difficult it is for me to write well, and that it’s because of how difficult it is for me to think clearly. But good, clear thinking is important to me. I decided I could stand to nudge my daily activities in that direction. Another push was from my new friend, Reanna, who told me she liked the little rants I’d put up on my (feeble) myspace page. She’s smart and a writer and I have a crush on her, so that convinced me to make better friends with the part of myself that says things. Plus, the few writings and images she has up online give a sense of her personality and life that mine do not. I’m jealous.

NME 32, 33 & 34

NME 32, 33 & 34

So here it is, starting September 29, 2008, the first day of my 38th year. I’m calling it Nathen’s Miraculous Escape after a zine that I made for a while about my year, each year, for Christmas presents. (I stole the name from the title my dad gave to the film of my brother Ely’s birth: Ely’s Miraculous Escape.) I hope this blog will serve the same purpose as the zine—make it easier for you to stay connected with me during the times (most of the time, actually) that I’m working on projects and neglecting the loved ones in my life who I don’t see every day.

I’m excited about this project. I always get a creative rush around this time because I always spend a lot of time brainstorming about my new year, clarifying my goals and visions. This year’s creative rush has been bigger than usual, though. The last several days I’ve woken up after only a few hours of sleep and lain awake until morning, thinking about how to organize this page, how I can include all of my inspirations. Normally I’m not a big fan of insomnia, but this has been fun. I hope you enjoy it.



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