Certainty is the cage that keeps us safe from curiosity. I've been released from the cage. I am the songbird and I am flying for the window. I know it's closed but I plan on breaking through. – Charlie Coté, Jr. (1987-2005)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why chimes with anxiety, or let's put the fun back in dysfunctional

We want explanations for the inherent chaos of life, to be certain, for reassurance. Don't we? I need you to agree with me here, being the fragile person that I am in such a hard world.

So why do we act, think, or feel a certain way? Why do certain things happen? Why are we here, for that matter? We all want to know.  Why does this yen for certainty makes us anxious? Well, because...

... see, I look for a story to fit the facts (as I perceive them), and it makes sense, to me. There's a logic, and that's what I want, sense in a senseless world, or so it seems. I need a reason.

Read any newspaper and you'll get them, reasons, but are they reasonable? Maybe they're the essential fictions that keep us going, that get us out of bed each day. But maybe we're just kidding ourselves. Call me Cleopatra, the Queen of De Nile.

None of this seems particularly alarming, unless of course your reasons clash with mine. Then it's time for battle, because (there I go again), if you're right, then maybe I'm wrong. That makes me anxious. So I'll argue, attack, erect a defense, react, withdraw, and judge.  

That's good. 
                        No, that's bad. 

That's right. 

                       No. Wrong.

Again, I'm telling you my story, maybe it's yours as well, a story that makes the world work, or better yet, play, whichever you prefer (the former if you're part WASP* like me). Maybe this story upsets you, conflicts with your view of the world. Maybe you think I'm wrong.

But listen. Please, listen. Why can't you listen? Why can't you understand?

Now there's a visceral word: under-stand. Support me. Hold me up. Carry me. Hold this. (I can't tell you all the times I've asked my wife to do this. Honey, hold this. Picture her eyes rolling.)

What is required for you to understand me, and me you?


Rather than give a more detailed answer for you (more story), let's have a discussion. Wow, that word sounds serious. Dis and cuss. Maybe converse is better. Wait, con and verse, as in versus. All that sounds so contentious (con and tense). How about dialogue? Oops. Die and log. Let's just talk.

Your turn. Go.

*White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Think Protestant Work Ethic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Facebook is Huge - Empathy

This is a terrific video about how humans are soft-wired for sociability and a need to belong. Indeed, Time Magazine chose Mark Zuckerman as its person of the year for 2010 and explains how Facebook's success is in large part due to our sociability. So empathy is the killer app, ironically speaking. By the way, I found the Time Magazine article much more sympathetic toward Zuckerman than a piece The New Yorker ran back in September.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two Reviews of Flying for the Window

Available here
Two reviews that I've always appreciated, ones I hadn't posted before:

Flying for the Window by Charles Coté
ISBN 978-1-59924-354-2
Finishing Line Press, 2008
The elegy is an old form; it dates back at least as far as Archilochus, a Greek poet born on the island of Paros over two thousand years ago. Although it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that the style found favor with English-speaking audiences in the form of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, its history in English, it might be argued, is just as complex as that of its Greek antecedent. Charles Coté’s first collection, Flying for the Window, comprises poems that build on, respond to, and complicate the elegy as it is found in contemporary American poetry.
Much as in a collection I have previously reviewed, Taylor Altman’s Swimming Back, and in Claudia Emerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Late Wife, Coté’s Flying for the Window is an extended apostrophe, an address to and concerning someone who has died. This lacuna of sorts—this vanished presence—permits Coté to explore emotional terrain that would be inaccessible were he speaking of or to his son while still alive; there are simply modes of expression we do not discover until after the person or persons with whom we wish to talk are no longer here. This lends a certain kind of honesty to the collection, and when combined with Coté’s starkness of language and expression makes for a powerful début collection.
Readers familiar with John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud, Though Some Have Called Thee” (Divine Sonnet X) and John Gunther’s memoir of the same title will be hard pressed not to bring both to bear in reading Flying for the Window; Gunther’s son, who died at approximately the same age as Coté’s, also succumbed to cancer, and both Gunther’s and Donne’s treatment of death and humility likely informed Coté as both a father and a poet.
I mention Emerson above, and I think it appropriate to close with part of her description of Coté’s collection. She writes: “Darkly beautiful, the volume itself is a finely made window on loss and its aftermath, the complexities of survival.” I could not have said it better myself.

Visit Finishing Line Press on the web at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/

Prick of the Spindle Poetry Editor Eric Weinstein recently graduated magna cum laude from Duke University with an AB in English and Philosophy. His writing has previously appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including The Archive,Wheelhouse Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Rainy Day. His poetry hasbeen nominated for inclusion in Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the SmallPresses (2009). A native of New Hampshire, he currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To Charlie Coté, RE: "Flying for the Window"

I really admire the stance your book takes, Charlie; how it asserts the known in the face of grief, a.k.a. the unknown. In your son's absence, you've examined other things more closely--crabapples, oak trees, birds--and let them be as they are, rather than investing them with more meaning than they're capable of handling. I learned much more about you than about Charlie, Jr., and that's a major component of the sadness of the book--that there was much about your son that was a mystery to you, too, a fact which the poems communicate with heart-aching precision. All of us are mysteries even to the people who love us and know us best, I think, and especially the young, who often seem to possess some kind of wisdom we've forgotten, even while they're in a state of major flux, the people they'll become waiting in the future. The sheer admiration you have for your son's gifts, so completely absent of jealousy or anger, breathes into the poems a voluminous warmth. Some grief poems rage, threatening to take the house with them; others, like yours, crackle in place, last longer.

True to your title, there is a sense of freedom in the poems, a sense of release and openness:

The world above worlds is a prairie
of clouds and sun glare.
Below, the smoldering hearths
shed smoke like irradiated hair.

I admire how unwilling this poem is (there's more of it, to those of you reading who aren't Charlie) to assert an afterlife. The speaker wants to, but cannot. He can only assert the things he sees, hence why heaven in the lines above sounds like a description from an airplane window. He is mortal, specific, subject to time and space, and by pointing out his mortality, he renders his son's mortality much more tangible. And the poem ends not with a question, but with a simple assertion of fact: "I play his red guitar." These are not philosophical musings, theories, conjectures, polemical argumentations, aesthetic stances, experiments--they are records of a man's experience, and if there is questioning, the questioning itself is part of that record, one person flummoxed/awed/disappointed/saddened by life--something he can't possibly hope to weave into a cogent answer, so he does the next best thing, he copies down the few things he can account for.

In other words, these are poems.

The book is available at amazon.com.

The Paradox of Choice, Part II

This video says the same thing as Barry Schwartz, and is very well done. Only 3 minutes too.

Another Reason Not to Cut Music and Art Education

Susanne Langer once wrote that "[e]very artistic form reflects the dynamism that is constantly building up the life of feeling." Music, she said, was neither the cause nor the cure of feeling, but a form of logical expression, or language, of emotions which could enable listeners to experience moods and passions they had never known before.

In other words, art teaches us something about human empathy, to identify with all human experience, and therefore, live more decently with one another. 

In a new study (link) using brain imaging, researchers have identified how key aspects of musical performance cause emotion-related brain activity. 

So please don't cut the music or art program at your school. 

The Paradox of Choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz tells us why too much choice does not provide more freedom but actually leads to paralysis in decision-making and dissatisfaction, because if the choice is not perfect, then it's easy to imagine that we made the wrong one. He actually assigns 20% less homework to his students now, not because they're less intelligent than students he's had in the past, but because they're so consumed with all the choices they must make. This video is about 20 minutes long.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Confirmation Bias Experiment

You may ask me yes or no questions to come up with the rule on how I generated the following numbers: 2, 4, 6. The correct answer will receive my undying respect. Note: chess grand masters are most likely to figure this out.

This experiment was conceived by psychologist P. C. Wason and I read about it in The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, not to be confused with the movie by the same name.

If you want more of a hint, e-mail me at ccote@rochester.rr.com.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

If all blogs are glogs, then are all glogs blogs?

Let's see how good you are at logic. Discuss.

I love modern technology.

I can post once here and have it simultaneously post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I know, that's so 2008 and I'm a Philistine.

I Can't Remember Why I'm Posting This.

I must be relaxed because I can't remember anything. Check out this brief article:

Stress Enhances Memory