Author Archives: brettadelman

Addition

In the last couple weeks, I have been in and out of planes, cars, buses, taxis (which I guess technically should count as cars), and boats. Travel in this capacity generally returns me to two understandings that I believe about the world: 1) people are very interesting if you give them a chance and 2) fantastic literature is still being written by marvelous minds around the globe. For the purposes of this short story, I will focus on this second understanding. While at home, my dad handed me Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlife by David Eagleman to read. At barely more than one hundred pages, I initially relished the oportunity for something that seemed a bit… lighter than college coursework. However, what I encountered were fascinating tales of potential afterlife scenarios which each attempted to account for the afterlife in terms of our feelings toward the heaven/hell scenario human beings are thrust into and the realizations of a god about his/her creations. I continually found a smile on my face after the scenarios (generally only two pages each) and my mind was abuzz considering my fate at death.

Despite the beautiful situations and lovely scenes of reflection, I was most intrigued by the afterlife where god had placed Mary Shelley, the author of Young Frankenstein, on a throne in the middle of heaven. Eagleman described the feelings evoked by the book on god as s/he reflected on the relationship between a higher power and the creator. Initially touched by the true joy and love for a creator towards the created, and the (inescapable) dread for the inevitalbe moment when the created becomes something else- and does not look back. This god praised Shelley for acknowledging and understanding this; the sense of pain known to Shelley was that which existed in this god.

In itself, the story can seem somewhat humerous. An author who contributed the story for a somewhat cheezy old film attaining the highest place in heaven. But, the more I considered this scenario, the more it seemed like this was the true occurance in heaven, if and when/where it exists. As a species, believing for a second that we were created, we have revolted against the only being with potential for a truely paternal love in favor of wars amongst ourselves. From Iran to North Korea to Russia to the United States (and oh my we contribute), have we reached the point where we are doing much more harm than good? Is what we’re doing physically disgusting? And if it is, how much of this is tolerable?

Too many serious chats lately I think… more questions than answers in my own head.

But read the book- it’s way good and an easy, quick read.

Time to leave…

I am home. Back in Colorado in the house that used to feel so comfortable. The simple drive to the grocery store brings memories of laughter and frustration as I spent years cruising every inch of this town. Three years ago I couldn’t wait to escape, and I made few attempts to stifle my desire to get away. Even now, I go to school 800 miles away, spend my summers on the farthest coast, and make plans to not be in town during the long winter break. So, hell, I’ve been a bit too nostalgic for my own good in the last couple of days. As I cleaned out my shelves I came across a box of notes and cards from my younger days.

All of the notes from my older high school days are in a box- and glancing at them reminded me of beautiful people that I was lucky enough to spend considerable amounts of time with. As I read old stories of daily woes, I found myself searching for older notes and older interactions. Older insights into an old life. And I couldn’t find many. As I tried my best to think back to what may have happened to them, I remembered the day that I trashed them. My reasoning: It was time to grow up, move on, and buck this note-saving trend. I was going into ninth grade at the time. In retrospect, it did not serve as an attempt to grow up but rather a true extinction of my childhood crushes and romances. I implore you all, save everything that somebody takes the time to truly write to you. Delete your emails and messages- keep letters and notes. There is something truly beautiful in a handwritten piece that can bring joy to your heart and memories to your head.

Now, a twenty year-old, I find myself thinking of the people who I would like to see. If only briefly, who would I truly want to reconnect with. I was lucky enough to know a number of fantastic individuals; they have maintained their friendships with eachother and I have left indefinitely. I hope they all know that I wish them true happiness and success in whatever they pursue. Ya’ll are great people. Don’t forget it.

Thank you for who I have become by knowing you.

Stick to Metric…

Holy hell the world appeals to me. For the last few nights, I have been up at night until ungodly hours just trying to lift my mind out of my head. In the fleeting moments between consciousness and dreams, I can fly through the photos in the newspapers and relive my old adventures. I was lucky enough to live in Mexico for a couple of months- with a family in Cholula (no connection to the hot sauce). Day after day, my Spanish developed as I chatted with bartenders and street vendors, waiters and students. It was in Mexico that I determined my own dream: Escape the American dream. I will not evaluate my success with cars and big screen tv’s. But, if my bank accounts won’t show my worth, then what will?

The New York Times has a video hosted on their site that attempts to espouse the horror of the drug trade/gun trade interaction between the United States and Mexico without showing anything truly disgusting. It’s a rather beautiful piece that attempts to make every person in the U.S. who has ever smoked a joint feel the impact of their actions. Moral of the story, the U.S. is paying to try and halt the drug trade at numerous points (e.g. destroying crops and implementing stronger border support) but, at the same time, we are purchasing the drugs that keep the trade afloat. Oh our conflicted values. It reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Bananas- The United States sends troops into San Marcos, a country in turmoil. Half of the U.S. troops are fighting for the current government while the other half of the troops represent the revolution. When pressed, the soldier responds that “the government isn’t taking any chances this time”. In the drug trade, the U.S. population is foolishly fighting for both sides. And for our own safety, the average Joe should probably just avoid the whole situation anyway. These murders are real.

On the other side of the world, North Korea continues to do what North Korea does. With their new missle capabilities (potentially to Alaska and Hawaii), anxiety levels rise. Soon, the fear is that our lives are in the hands of some crazed leader with his finger on the trigger… although I guess this is truly always the case in politics. Are we really so violent a human race that only the threat of annihilation prevents catastrophic destruction? That sentence reads so ugly in my mind.. but I fear it is valid.

It feels like even minor human successes are construed to be disappointments. In Africa, marine bioligists managed to save more than 20 beached whales. Granted, there were 55 beached whales, so many animals died. The headline: “South Africans Dozens of Beached Whales”. And this was a story that I deemed rather positive as I read through the pages of the paper.

To return to my original idea, how will I measure my success if I don’t use riches? Can a single person even make a dent in the issues that I mentioned? To address the first question, I will assume that the second is necessary. And I answer- yes. Absolutely a single person can make change. Large, grandiose change. But the first step in this change, this answers the first question, is that a person must see, truly see, the problems. Not read about them or listen to some expert. Once I become a part of the problem, I live it, then the next step is making a positive difference. Sometimes, my influence will be null. But the situation is not worthless if I was alive and attempting the betterment of what we call life. The experiences will be my ruler- and I only hope that I can measure enough not to let myself down.

New clothes…

A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago with a couple of friends. We went to the Art Institute and were quite impressed with the wondrous works that we saw. From Van Gogh to Toulouse-Lautrec, the pieces seemed to emote history and power. Standing in the presence of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Seurat’s masterpiece, I was overwhelmed by the enormity. And yet made up of tiny dots. To be close to canvas was to understand the amazing skill and control that was necessary to create such a marvelous work. The idea behind the work manifest in colors, technique, and the brilliance that separates an average artist from a truly iconic one.

As I walked from one room in the institute to another, I continued to stand in the presence of truly authentic pieces that resonated happiness, sadness, desire, and beauty. As my patience began to dwindle, we walked into the modern art section of the art institute and I was struck by __________. Absolutely nothing. Now, you can ridicule my understanding of the art world, and I will gladly accept the criticism. But, as an art nonner, I was still able to appreciate the intricacies and lovely brushstrokes that went into other pieces. In the modern art area, I could only question what separated a brilliant piece from the trash heap. The answer, of course, is subjectivity.

To hide my ignorance as much as possible, I will ignore the pieces featuring multiple lines and come areas that happened to be colored in. I guess it’s not as haphazard as it seems. Nor is it made in Microsoft Paint. The work that caused me to truly detest this… art… was a piece titled Erection. I couldn’t see it initially but heard the woman in front of me whisper, “maybe they put a piece of paper over it…”. When my turn finally came, I witnessed the absolute nothing that was Erection. I can describe it nearly perfectly: 18 inches x 14 inches or so… fringe still on the page… attached at the top… appeared to have been ripped out of a book with metal spiral rings. Nothing else was there. It was in a frame… but I don’t think that the artist had provided that.

As Robert and I ridiculed the painting, Lyndon attempted to explain that it is the ‘idea’ that is essential and not the work. In response to the question of whether or not I could have done the same thing and gotten my piece into the art institute, Lyndon responded that I possibly could.. but did not think of the work. Well, ignoring the fact that not thinking of anything is something that I have done quite a lot of, I can’t argue that I would ever think to submit.. nothing.. to a prestigious institute.

However, this defense of the piece from Lyndon drew an interesting response from Robert. He cited the Emperor’s New Clothes – and what I believe is a completely valid criticism of art, music, fashion, and other circles where correct answers can never be persued. As in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, when somebody with power asserts that something is great or valid, no matter how ridiculous, it is taken as such. These feelings trickle down to the public until everybody is essentially lieing to themselves and the community claiming to see something that is not there. By placing this piece, Erection, on display, some higher, probably artistically brilliant, ‘pioneer’ is claiming the work is great. And every person that walks past it and considers it momentarily and lets it go is a) passively agreeing to it as an artistically valid piece and/or b) deceiving themselves to find something worthwhile in nothing. We are lucky to live in an internet world where any of us can critique and criticize behind a veil of anonymity; and I will agree that these art fields receive a large amount of harsh words because the nature of art is public. We are raised to examine and select what we like in all of the arts- but we are driven by these higher powers selecting and displaying what they consider to be worthwhile. It is time that we attain a more personal attachment with art. Myspace gave us access to bands in a whole new way- anybody could search and listen to hundreds of thousands of bands to determine their tastes. Rather than merely relying on large institutes, perhaps art can be revolutionalized in a similar fashion. Although I am not sure if there is sufficient interest in this.

Our Stories.

With poise, F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “There are no second acts in American lives.” But this cannot be true representation of our lives. We SlimFast. We gain weight again. We Jazzercise. And put on a quick 15 at the holidays.

So maybe the comment extends past body image. But there are instances recreation all around us. As a college student, I am continually terrified that the real world is waiting; I am not sure what I want to be, or where, or how I’ll get there. The only comfort that I find in my situation is the assurance of other adults that the world is not a steadfast place. You can change jobs, remarry, and redefine yourself when you feel that it is necessary.

The wording in Fitzgerald’s quote is quite interesting. Although he denies the possibility of it, he refers to life as existing in ‘acts’. Coincidentally, it is human nature (although contested as such, but I feel it is a rather innate trait in all of us) to tell stories. This process of telling our stories allows us to develop our own personal narrative that we tell. This narrative is rather mealeable and only certain people know all the details — and only you can know how these details impact your life. Regardless, the stories exist and they are an insight into our thoughts and feelings about situations.

Beyond providing a means to re-evaluate our current lives, telling stories permits a type of forward thinking. In our interactions, we harbor love, or contempt, or strong desires that are driven by our stories. In that manner, telling our past stories generates our perception of our future self. This understanding or idea of a future self allows for us to violate the Fitzgerald quote. If I know what I am and what I want to be, I can behave in such a way as to reconcile any differences between the two ‘me’s’. And after I have changed once, I can continue to look forward and adapt more.

As I reconsider it, perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald was correct. There are no second acts in American life because the word ‘act’ implies some distinction. Despite our traumatic events and the beautiful events that occur, we can only continue what we have. Marriage is not a ‘second act’ as much as it is a development- an evolution- into a new narrative. Our stories only become more intricate – but we’re not Shakespeare nor tragedies. Our stories are already marked with a certain death. Yet as we work toward the inevitable, we develop our own narrative and path- and this is the true marker of our identity. Not our personality. We define ourselves with stories- the continual flow of one day to the next. Within this construction, we grow and redefine until we reach the end of our days.

For Love…

The beauty of being a college student is that the real world still seems to be quite far away. When the work seems to be overwhelming, I can pretend that I am seven; I want to be a baseball player or a rock star. I rarely have to look inward and question what’s really there. Yesterday, I listened to Anne St. Martin speak. She works for Human Services Incorporated in Oakdale, Minnesota. HSI is an interesting program because a therapist and a co-therapist go into the homes of the families to work with the people in their environment. Anne was one of these therapists for over 25 years. Interacting with families. Learning from each familial system, she exhibits the tired symptoms that I would expect from a life spent listening to pain and hatred that can only erupt in the home setting.

She sighed, with all earnestness, the known adage, “We always hurt the ones that we love”. And she knew. As Anne drew family trees on the board and told us the stories that underscored the simple circles and squares, the pain of her profession became clear. Her slightly sunken eyes still revealed the optimism needed to engross oneself in the toils of a tiresome labor, but she carried herself in a heavy manner. Each family weighing her down. Without saying it to us, it was clear that every family she worked with placed their world on her shoulders and she carried it until the family was ready to take it back. Not every family took their mountains back. So Anne was left carrying the rocks, the water, the power of each families interactions; she had no way of passing them on or setting them down. And it hurt her.

Painfully, Anne was drawn to borderline personality disorders. People under 18 cannot be diagnosed with personality disorders, so youth are said to have borderline traits. This includes all-or-nothing thinking, uncontrollable anger, suicide thinking, and self mutilation among others. People experiencing these disorders experience strong mood swings. She told us of situations where people expressed their love for her for 4 months of therapy and then, with no distinct reason for change, hated and resented her. She was fired. Families tried other methods. She had to turn her back on, was asked to leave, situations where Anne could have improved the situation. And it hurt her.

Situations varied and some people truly stick out to her. Her eyes lit up a bit as she talked about one young boy, a five-year-old. He was experiencing borderline traits even in his youth and would become incredibly enraged. This would manifest in tantrums and aggression. Apart from this, he was a good child who could articulate it. He was not happy with who he was and asked for new doctors because there was an
“anger monster” in him and he wanted it to be gone. Despite her best efforts, Anne was not having success with the child. He was not improving. And it hurt her.

Anne revealed amazing strength and desire to be where she was. She expressed her unsure future, as the economy problems lead to less money being available for private non-profits such as HSI. Perhaps her job would not exist next year. These thoughts were just another weight for her to put on her back. She took it in stride and continued helping the people who needed her. She said that the interesting part of family therapy is that in a successful instance, the family will feel like they improved their situation themselves, by working together and overcoming their problems. In an unsuccessful instance, the family has a scapegoat — the therapists. It was a thankless job in many ways. She didn’t get cookies at the holidays like clinical therapists, the private-practice types. Anne took away stories and weight. And that was ok with her.

The higher…

I would most likely describe myself as an atheist. My religious views are, to be frank, non-existent. Typically, calling myself an agnostic would seem to be the most accurate, but I have been quite persuaded by Richard Dawkins that a true coming-out of sorts is better than merely sitting on the fringe with my tail between my legs. We can see here that Dawkins truly examines ways to encourage people to come out about their atheism (see the 20th minute). His claims, as well as his connection to Darwin, regarding beliefs in atheism and the intelligencia may only be part of why my claim is not apparent. I do think quite highly of myself and this claim can only bolster that self-image.

Ignoring my beliefs that it seems highly implausible to me that any form of higher being created the world and all of its inhabitants, organized religion is not necessarily flawed as a social mechanism. Nor, for that matter, should it be discounted as a method of encouraging mental health. That is not to say that religion cannot be, also, detrimental to an individual’s well-being; a powerful belief in an all-powerful god does seem to reveal a disposition of an external locus of control which is associated with problems and disorders. However, confessions and ritualistic prayer can both be related to psychological tactics which encourage positive mental health.

Confession seems to be very similar to many forms of talk therapy where the client is encouraged to discuss what is bothering them. The constitutions of sins are typically things that would weigh on the conscious of a person, but a confession allows for those feelings to be expressed, rather than internalized. It is client-centered therapy (as developed by Carl Rogers) in a basic sense. This could realistically be seen as the first therapy and a healthy way for people to express themselves and reveal their inner workings in a safe, protected environment. This also includes the necessary and sufficient characteristics for a positive therapeutic alliance as described by Rogers which include congruence, unconditional postive regard, and empathy. These aspects of therapy are provided by the god during the presentation as confessors are insured that they are still loved and respected in the eyes of these higher beings. These confessions are, thus, a comfortable environment that facilitate the expression of underlying personal beliefs as well as actions.

Ritualistic prayer also offers a therapeutic technique. These schedules and necessities that must be kept allow for people to maintain somewhat of a purpose; people do not simply exist during the day with no tasks required of them. In studies conducted in nursing homes, patients who were given a higher level of control over their environment, including their possible behaviors, were found to be happier- and to live longer.

In current society, is it necessary to confess or pray in a ritualistic manner? Probably not. There are other ways of reaping the benefits without an organized religion. However, for human development, they do appear to have been helpful.