Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Along for the Ride

It's turning into a busy little week, in spite of itself.

I've been upping the bike workouts-- to some extent, deliberately.  Here's the thing: last weekend, I looked at the map and figured out a way to add "a few miles" to my typical ride.  I got up bright and early Saturday morning and did the new route, and yes, it was more of a workout.

Yesterday morning, I woke up bright and early again, so I said, "Let me do that bike ride again!"  So I did, and I was pleased that it was a bit less strenuous than the last time around, but still a workout.

When I got home, I thought, "Let me go online and see how many miles I actually added.  I think it's probably about 5 or 6, but let me check, in case it's a bit shorter than that.  Maybe I need to ADD a few!"

Turns out, I had already added 11 miles to my workout.  Clearly, I'm not good when it comes to gauging distances.  (You may not want to walk or ride with me.)

I've decided to keep what would no doubt seem to many to be a pretty major error in perspective and simply point out that the fact that I thought that 11 miles was "only 5-6 miles" must mean I'm getting in shape.  (Or that I'm just not very bright.  I'm opting for the former.)

I finished the first two books of Amitav Ghosh's Ibis' Trilogy, and I had originally planned to blog about both, but now, quite honestly, I don't feel like it.  Sea of Poppies was quite good, although I kind of got sick of the main character, Paulette, mixing French words into English, but treating them as if they were still French.

If that doesn't make any sense to you, that's what I'm saying.  It doesn't make sense and it's kind of annoying.  Bilingual people don't really do that, in my experience.  They say the word in the original language, knowing that they don't really know the English equivalent--they don't assume the French is the English. 

But Ghosh's novel does play a lot with language and with the ways in which languages mix and mingle, so I was willing to put up with it.  But that said, I was kind of relieved when Paulette didn't play much of a role in the second book of the trilogy, River of Smoke, particularly since I was afraid that Ghosh was going to spend yet another novel having one of the only female characters in the novel dress up as a man.

It seems to me that Ghosh is kind of at a bit of a loss for what to do with female characters in the context of his novel-- Calcutta and Canton in the months leading up to the First Opium War--so he kind of shelves the issue a bit in the second novel of the trilogy.

And this was the other odd aspect of the trilogy: it's called the Ibis trilogy, because the characters in the first volume are transported on the Ibis, a former slave schooner that now serves to transport girmitiyas (indentured workers) from Bengal to Mauritius. 

But in the second volume of the Ibis trilogy, most of the characters from the first novel disappear entirely, with one notable exception, and several new characters are introduced. 

While I kind of liked this, in a way, it also made it a bit harder to get into the second novel.  Once I realized (about 100 pages in) that no, the characters I had liked best from the first novel weren't going to figure in this second novel at all, it was a bit... distressing--particularly when I realized that I still had 400 pages to go.

I know this will sound weird, given that I finished War and Peace--and in a way, maybe it's the aftermath of the reading of War and Peace talking here--but I thought River of Smoke was way too long. 

I won't give away the ending, but suffice to say that when I turned off the Kindle yesterday after having (finally) finished, my first thought was, "Why did I have to spend 500 pages with those characters?  Are we ever going back to the whole Ibis-thing?"

The third volume is due out in August, and I must say, I'm less excited about it now than I was several months ago.  But we'll see.

What I am excited about, however, are a couple of new recipes I discovered (they're on my Pinterest, under "Foodstuffs," if you're interested).

On Saturday night, I went to dinner with a friend at this cool little vegan/vegetarian place that I went to long, long ago, and that I always remembered as being "really good." 

And I was right: it is.  Still.

I know that to many, "vegan" and "vegetarian" and "good" and "restaurant" are words that simply don't go together, and if you fall in that category, I'm not sure that there's anything this restaurant could do to change your mind, really, except maybe serve you the gluten-free brownie we had for dessert.

Because here's the thing: if you take the flour out of brownies, you basically have... well, fudge, kinda-sorta.  At least, that's been my experience of it.

But that's not the recipe I want to mention right now (although that one is also on my Pinterest).  The recipe that I found kinda cool was for a sweet-potato and quinoa burger.

I'll pause for a second while that sinks in, Dear Reader.

Now, let me offer this Very Important Disclaimer: there are people out there who feel very strongly about hamburgers.  Very.  Strongly.  

I'm not one of those people, obviously.  But to those people out there, I say, "Yes, I know."  Because yes, I know, you "can't" make a burger out of quinoa and sweet potato.  I know.  I know.

Except that you can, and they did at this restaurant, and I really liked it. 

So that always sparks the quest to make it for myself, and that's what I'm doing today.  If it all works out, I may live on these for a large part of the summer, particularly if I can cook them on the grill (and honestly, I don't see why I can't).

But all that said, I would also caution that, if you have a true hamburger aficionado in your life, you probably don't want to go down the quinoa and sweet potato burger route with them.  I suspect they won't tolerate it.

So keeping that in mind, I would also say that, if you have a true hamburger aficionado in your life and you're tired of their... nonsense (only you can decide whether what they're doing is nonsense or not), then I would suggest using the quinoa and sweet potato burger as the way to drive them (and their nonsense) out of your life once and for all. 

If nothing else is working, this might be the path for you.  An enormous orange burger, plated up.

To ensure that it will work, though, you might want to take them on a bike ride, add 11 miles to it (with the claim that it's "only 5 or 6") and then feed them the quinoa-sweet potato burger when they get home, on the pretext that you're making them "a really great meal" to make up for "what happened" with the bike ride. 

If they're just along for the ride, they won't be back.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Wasted on the Way"

This is one of my favorite Crosby, Stills and Nash songs.

I love their claim that it's a song about buddies who "didn't know how to talk to one another for years, wasted a lot of time ...  and then finally made friends... And it was good."

"So much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away..."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Again

Well, it's officially here: summer.

I celebrated yesterday by going to see "Jaws" in the theater--it was the 40th anniversary of its release.

It really was kind of nice to see a movie in which people aren't all beautiful and botoxed and they're all just wearing normal clothes and as a result, they have to, you know, ACT.  Because the "standing there and looking good" thing isn't really an option for them.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it.  I knit a good 7 inches on a sock.  That's not unusual for me with a two-hour movie that involves a lot of tension and suspense.  (If it's a comedy, I tend to knit far less because I'm busy laughing, and I lose my place.  If it's sad, I have to set the knitting down and just cry.)

The theater was already full when I arrived, even though I was a half-hour early.  So I ended up sitting 3 rows from the front.  The woman who sat next to me said, "This is how I saw it the first time around.  Right up in the front.  It scared the CRAP outta me."

I didn't see "Jaws" when it was first released, actually, because in 1975, I was 6 years old.

I do remember that I DID try to convince my mom and dad to take us to see it, using the two-pronged argument that "everyone was seeing it" and that technically, I was "almost 7." 

Probably a good call that they didn't cave to that logic.  Because I also remember that by the end of the summer I was asking my mom odd little questions about the possibility of sharks somehow getting into the deep end of our swimming pool and lurking there, unseen. 

I remember lengthy conversations with my mom about the difference between "the ocean" and "a swimming pool," that I found not at all convincing.

And this was simply the result of the 30-second clips of the film's trailer that they showed on TV.

A child's imagination is not always the great asset that it's cracked up to be.  I suspect this is what my mom was thinking by late August of 1975, actually.

In later years, I did see the film, of course, when it was on cable, with my dad and my brother.

So "Jaws" carries an odd bit of nostalgia for me, because it reminds me of spending time with my dad, and yesterday was Father's Day.  That was also why I decided to go, when I saw that it was playing nearby.

In later years, I used to joke with my dad and my brother that, when I was working with them for my dad's business, I always felt like Sheriff Brody on board the Orca with Hooper and Quint.

I was riding along on a delivery truck with two guys who were constantly cussing and arguing about who got to drive and how fast. 

Meanwhile, I'd be slipping and sliding just trying to get around and stay upright. 

I'd knock something over and nearly break my leg or do something that could potentially blow the place up, and my dad and my brother would just yell at me and then laugh.  I'd get stuck with messy jobs that were the equivalent of throwing chum into the water, and I'd spend most of the time desperately trying to figure out how to do something that was perfectly easy for both of them. 

In short, working with my dad and my brother could be a bit of an exercise in survival, sometimes.

But I do think that everyone should do a stint of serious manual labor under... potentially adverse... conditions, at some point in their lives.  It builds character.  (And it makes being a professor seem like a really GREAT job, even on the worst of days.)

In an odd twist of fate, I always smile and laugh now when I see "Jaws," because it reminds me of summers from days gone by.

Here's to the start of another summer of memory-making. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hearing Voices

I watched a really interesting video yesterday, about Dan Harris' book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self Help that Actually Works--A True Story (2014).

Harris acknowledges that, instead of this unwieldy title, he had wanted to call the book, "The Voice in My Head Is An Asshole."

In 2004, Harris had a panic attack on national TV.  He was doing a brief news segment for Good Morning America, when he was suddenly, inexplicably, overwhelmed and unable to finish.

His video--and his book--discuss what was at the heart of that (in effect, recreational drug use in the wake of traumatic experiences as a war correspondent, coupled with a lifetime of self-doubt and negative internal monologues).

I highly recommend both the video (if you're short on time, know that the first 30 minutes is Harris, and the last 20 minutes is a Q&A with the audience) and the book.

Harris is an advocate of meditation, something he really never thought he'd advocate.  As he points out, meditation has been surrounded with a lot of wifty wording and vague claims of nirvana, and he--like many a skeptic--found that fact extremely off-putting at first.

In 10% Happier, Harris traces his investigation of various self-help gurus--most notably, Eckert Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the individuals behind the promulgation of The Secret.

While Harris finds one of Tolle's claims quite fascinating, he is quick to point out that it wasn't Tolle who actually came up with it.  Tolle essentially repackages a key concept of Buddhism by putting it in wifty (and often downright incomprehensible) language that (for some reason) seems appealing to celebrities like Oprah and the mass-market audience.

As far as The Secret and the "power of positive thinking" goes, Harris points out in the Q&A session at the end of his talk that "there's a scientific term for it"-- namely, "Bullshit."

If wishing could make it so, the world would obviously be a better place.  Harris has nothing but contempt for the self-help con artists behind The Secret who seek to make million-dollar profits by promising a better life with little or no effort beyond simply thinking "positively" about what you want.

In the case of Tolle and and Chopra, Harris felt that they weren't really proposing realistic solutions.  They offered little or no practical advice for dealing with the stresses of day-to-day reality, and my guess is, this isn't surprising: if they did, no one would need to buy their books anymore.  Just the one best-seller would have taken care of it.

As he points out in his video, when he asked Tolle how he managed to "not get pissed off" when someone cuts him off in traffic (for example), Tolle says, "I just take one conscious breath."

As Harris observes when viewing the tape in retrospect, "Yeah.  What the fuck is that?"

I think it's a point we can all relate to.  When it comes to the self-help movement, people are reluctant to say when the emperor has no clothes.

Harris finds help from the work of Mark Epstein (more about him in a later blog post).  Epstein is a psychotherapist who is interested in the intersections of psychology and Buddhism.

Unlike many, Epstein (ironically) seems to suggest that therapy may not be the solution for everyone, if it simply consists of making people feel that they need to "move past" their problems.

Life is a problem--a series of problems, in fact--and Epstein's point is that we need to find ways to integrate who we are and what has happened to us into our lives in ways that work for us--and not simply suggest that things need to be "put behind" us.

(For a quick glimpse into Epstein's perspective, I recommend his August 3, 2013 article in The New York Times, "The Trauma of Being Alive.")

It is Epstein who encourages Harris to consider meditation--specifically, he advocates what is known as "mindfulness" meditation.

Briefly, when you mindfully mediate, you 1) sit upright, with your back straight,  2) focus on your breath, and 3) whenever your mind begins to wander to thinking about anything and everything, you bring your attention back to focusing on your breath.

That's it.  That's all there is to it.  Harris suggests doing that for 5 minutes a day.

What was particularly convincing for Harris is the fact that, in recent years, scientific studies have proven that meditation has clear neurological benefits--the effects of meditation can actually be picked up on an MRI scan.

As Harvard neuroscientist Susan Lazar points out in this May 26th Washington Post interview,  when people who have never meditated before are scanned both prior to and after an 8-week meditation course, there is evidence of significant "differences in brain volume ... in five different regions" of the brain.

Specifically, the changes appear in the regions of the brain associated with cognition, focus, stress and empathy.

Questions remain as to how often a person needs to meditate daily to achieve results.  As Lazar points out, studies about the neurological benefits of meditation are still in the early stages:
...just like exercise, it can’t cure everything. So the idea is, it’s useful as an adjunct therapy. It’s not a standalone. It’s been tried with many, many other disorders, and the results vary tremendously – it impacts some symptoms, but not all. The results are sometimes modest. And it doesn’t work for everybody. ... It’s still early days for trying to figure out what it can or can’t do.
Lazar has actually posted a list of FAQ about meditation on her research website

Like Lazar, Harris is quick to caution that meditation won't "fix your life" or "solve your problems."
But, he insists, it will help you deal with stress and maybe even become a better person along the way.

In his own case, Harris feels that mindful meditation has helped him to focus and to manage the stresses caused by his high-pressure job in broadcast news and his own internal monologue--the voice in his head that has been such an asshole for so many years.

I think many people have that same asshole in their heads (in a manner of speaking) and, as Harris points out, the basics of mindful meditation are freely available.  There's no need to purchase expensive clothing or equipment or memberships or apps, if you're simply interested in giving it a try.  (After all, Buddhists who take vows of poverty have been doing it for years.)

While the results will obviously vary, Harris points to the title of his book as a "wildly non-scientific" indicator of what he thinks is a conservative estimate: over time, daily meditation can make you "about 10% happier."

And while that may not seem like much, as Harris ultimately points out, "It's a good return on an investment."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"A Dangerous, Thorny, Devious, Ragged Road"

I finished reading Diane Jacobs' Dear Abigail (2014), about Abigail Adams' relationship with her two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary.

The title for my post is taken from a letter that Elizabeth wrote to her son in 1798, after the death of her daughter.

As always, what stands out to me when I read biographies of early American colonists is their capacity to suffer and endure and, in many cases--eventually--thrive.

It seems hard to predict "who will make it" and who won't.  There's a measure of luck involved, as well as some crucial choices.

Two of Abigail's sons (Charles and Thomas), her brother Billy, and Elizabeth's first husband, all died of alcoholism when they were in their 30's or 40s.   Abigail's daughter Nabby died of breast cancer when she was 48.  Elizabeth's daughter, known as "Betsy Q," died of tuberculosis when she was in her early 20's.  Mary's daughter, Betsy, also died of tuberculosis, after years of poor health--the result of being left to single-handedly raise her eight children.

As Jacobs points out, "American women bore approximately nine children and continued procreating well into their forties" (316).  Abigail herself gave birth 6 times--4 of her children survived into adulthood, one daughter was stillborn, and one daughter died when she was less than 2 years old.

Abigail and her sisters each nearly died on more than one occasion, from serious illnesses.  Elizabeth, like several of her nieces and nephews, was prone to bouts of serious depression that rendered her incapable of functioning.

And yet, throughout their lives, Abigail and her sisters seemed to have a nearly limitless ability to wrestle with the circumstances of their lives and make a living for themselves.  For instance, in the summer of 1797, a hail storm hit Quincy, Massachusetts.  According to Mary, the storm
lasted about an hour ... [and] was attended with Thunder, lightening and a torrent of Rain with a violent wind.  The hailstones were gigantic, three and four inches round [and] Thresh'd the Barley, broke the corn, pick'd the vines and laye the cabbages ... all to pieces. (367)
The hail also apparently blasted the feathers off of a few chickens and "broke every window" on the west side of Mary's home.

What did Mary do?  She gathered up hailstones by the "pailsful" and used them to make punch.

My favorite story in Jacobs' book is the story of Elizabeth's second marriage.  Elizabeth's first husband was a minister and also, unfortunately, an alcoholic.  From oblique references in her letters, it appears that, over the years, he was both verbally and perhaps physically abusive. 

Although she mourned him formally and according to social custom when he died, in a candid letter to her sisters, Elizabeth made it very clear that the loss of her first husband was hard to mourn, really: "what I should consider under happy circumstances as my greatest affliction [was] the greatest Blessing that could befall me" (356).

Ironically, 10 days before Elizabeth's first husband died, a neighboring minister came calling to ask Elizabeth's advice about finding a new wife.  He and Elizabeth had known each other when they were in their late teens; his own wife had just died after a long illness.

When Elizabeth asked him what kind of woman he was looking for, he said, "One just like yourself" (355).

10 days later, Elizabeth's abusive, alcoholic husband went to bed.  When she tried to wake him in the morning, she discovered that he was unresponsive.   He died later that morning, of liver failure.

A year later, Elizabeth married the neighbor who had said that he wanted to marry a woman just like herself.

On her wedding day, most of the parish was already extremely ill (according to Elizabeth, quite a few were "dead, others dying") from the typical seasonal illnesses that swept through late-eighteenth-century New Hampshire villages in December.

That morning, there was also a major snowstorm.  Elizabeth apparently thought that would be enough to postpone the wedding, but the groom's reaction was, "What if it does storm, is it not often a prelude to a calm sunshine?"

Now there's a guy who really wants to marry a girl.  Ain't nothin' gonna get him down or change his mind.  So, they struggled through the howling wind and snow to get married in front of the few half-frozen townspeople who weren't already at death's door.

Shortly after Elizabeth said, "I do," someone yelled, "Fire!"

Her house was on fire.  (Seriously.)  They had to take a brief break and go put it out.

In the end, though, as Elizabeth told her sisters, her new husband turned out to be "supremely blest in the power of making others happy."  As Jacobs points out, this sentence ultimately "sounds the triumph of the human spirit" (358).

Sunday, June 7, 2015

War and Peace (Second Half)

I had two goals this weekend: to take a longer (25-mile) bike ride and finish War and Peace.  

While to many, this might seem to be the recipe for a weekend from hell, to me, this all made good sense.  Case in point: yesterday, when I began to think, "I'm kinda sick of reading this novel..." I quickly thought, "Tomorrow, when you're on the bike, you'll wish you were back reading this novel."

And today, as I was biking, I found myself thinking, "I can't wait to get home and just sit and read."

Now that the bike has been adjusted to fit me, I'm actually beginning to enjoy my rides.  But the thing with me is, left to my own devices, I would happily ride a sensible distance and never really push myself.  So in a way, this was my "Push Myself Weekend."

I had actually made good progress through War and Peace last fall and on break in January, but then I got bogged down somewhere around page 1000 or so (lol).  The Battle of Borodino had happened, Moscow was to be abandoned, Napoleon was just about to enter the city... any minute now... he's on his way... getting there... a few more pages and he'll be there...

In all seriousness, I'm not sure why Tolstoy chose to spend so much time on that particular moment.  Because, for me, that's where it really dragged.  My reaction to the narrative quickly became, okay, I get it, he's taking the city, it's bad, let's go.

By contrast, Tolstoy has Napoleon spend the narrative equivalent of an afternoon in Moscow (not very long), and then the retreat from Russia begins.   I will say, though, that there is something about Tolstoy's writing that is infectious: as I read about the French retreat from Moscow, I frequently found myself on the verge of shouting things like "Hurrah!" and "Drive the bastards out!  How DARE they try to take Moscow from us?!"

And I like France and the French.  Just as much as I like Russia and the Russians.  So it had to be something that Tolstoy was doing there in the writing style.

As I reflect on it, I think Tolstoy was clever in that it is precisely at this point in the novel that he shifts to representing the peasants in a (somewhat) more positive light and simultaneously develops the characterization of the Russian general Kutuzov as the military "voice" of the Russian people in the war against Napoleon.

Prior to this point in the novel, all of the "peace" sections have been devoted to the aristocracy and their frivolous, gossipy life-squandering "activities."  Would anyone be too upset if someone destroyed Helene Bezukhova's "I-have-large-breasts-and-I'm-a-sneaky-little-skank" lifestyle?  Probably not.

And while we're on the subject of Helene Bezuhkhova, I need to say a bit about Tolstoy's female characters.   I would say that they're one-dimensional, but it's more accurate to say that, for the most part, they're... half-dimensional.

I suspect this is largely because, when he depicts female characters, Tolstoy depicts the women of the upper class, who never work and who never have much of a purpose in life that isn't largely (if not exclusively) ornamental.

I get that Natasha and Sonya are teenagers (really I do), but if I had to endure any more brainless, man-obsessed behavior followed by bizarre emotional outbursts that seem to be very clear signs of premenstrual dysphoric disorder... oy.

It's particularly disappointing to me, I think, because the characterizations of Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei and Platon Karataev (among others) show what Tolstoy is capable of when it comes to creating interesting characters.  His depiction of these male characters always organizes itself around the question of, "Why am I here?  What is my life's purpose?" 

Not surprisingly, when the characterizations of Natasha and Princess Mary do take on some (temporary) depth, it is in conjunction with their experience of the war and their role as witnesses to death and suffering.   In essence, Pierre Bezukhov seems to sum up the role of "real women" in Tolstoy's world:
Now that [Pierre] was telling it all to Natasha he experienced that pleasure which a man has when women listen to him--not clever women who when listening either try to remember what they hear to enrich their minds and when opportunity offers to retell it, or who wish to adapt it to some thought of their own and promptly contribute their own clever comments prepared in their own little mental workshop--but the pleasure given by real women gifted with a capacity to select and absorb the very best a man shows of himself. (1241)
The fact that Tolstoy seems to believe that female empathy and female intelligence are mutually exclusive: that's disappointing to me.

Because they're not mutually exclusive.  Not at all, actually.

So what does  Tolstoy do well in War and Peace?  For me, the most enjoyable moments in Tolstoy's prose occur when he elaborates on clever and apposite analogy or comparison and when he indulges in a descriptive vignette that works to engage the reader's emotional interest in the topic at hand.

The best example of the latter, in my opinion, is the chapter detailing the death of Petya.  In narrating this sequence of events, Tolstoy once more puts the character of Denisov--one of the more amusing and sympathetic characters from the first half of the novel--center stage, in order to reflect upon the senselessness of the war and the heroic ideals it inspires in its young soldiers.

There are many wonderful examples of Tolstoy's use of clever comparisons as a way of making his (historic and therefore rather epic) subject matter more down-to-earth.  I'll conclude with one of my favorite, which describes the disintegration of the French army in the aftermath of the occupation of Moscow:
The aim of each man when he left Moscow was no longer, as it had been, to conquer, but merely to keep what he had acquired.  Like a monkey which puts its paw into the narrow neck of a jug, and having seized a handful of nuts will not open its fist for fear of losing what it holds, and therefore perishes, the French when they left Moscow had inevitably to perish because they carried their loot with them, yet to abandon what they had stolen was as impossible for them as it is for the monkey to open its paw... (998)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Headhunting Grief

I read an interesting essay last night by anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, "Grief and a Headhunter's Rage" (1984).

Rosaldo begins the essay by relating an Ilongot man's response to the question of "why he cuts off human heads":
He says that rage, born of grief, impels him to kill his fellow human beings. He claims that he needs a place ‘‘to carry his anger.’’ The act of severing and tossing away the victim’s head enables him, he says, to vent and, he hopes, throw away the anger of his bereavement. (167)
Not surprisingly, Rosaldo is baffled by this answer.  "To him, grief, rage, and headhunting go together in a self-evident manner. Either you understand it or you don’t. And, in fact, for the longest time I simply did not" (167).

Initially Rosaldo tries to make sense of the man's explanation by considering the possibility that headhunting enacts a kind of existential exchange:
One day in 1974, I explained the anthropologist’s exchange model to an older Ilongot man named Insan. What did he think, I asked, of the idea that headhunting resulted from the way that one death (the beheaded victim’s) canceled another (the next of kin). He looked puzzled, so I went on to say that the victim of a beheading was exchanged for the death of one’s own kin, thereby balancing the books, so to speak. Insan reflected a moment and replied that he imagined somebody could think such a thing (a safe bet, since I just had), but that he and other Ilongots did not think any such thing. (168)
Rosaldo is therefore left to wonder what exactly the connection between grief, rage and headhunting is, until the sudden, accidental death of his own wife in 1981.

While Rosaldo is careful to note that a complicated emotional state like "bereavement should not be reduced to anger," he also believes that "[a]lthough grief therapists routinely encourage awareness of anger among the bereaved, upper-middle-class Anglo-American culture tends to ignore the rage devastating losses can bring" (171).

This creates a paradoxical tension for anyone experiencing grief: while therapists note the presence of anger in a state of bereavement,  the "conventional wisdom" of Anglo-American culture at large simultaneously denies its existence.

While Rosaldo's essay looks specifically at the function of ritual headhunting in Ilongot culture from an anthropological point of view, I want to think a bit more about this denial (or suppression) of the role of rage in grief.  

In my own experience, I remember that, on the few occasions when I tried to broach the subject of my feelings of anger (rage, actually) at my various losses (my parents, my godson), the people I spoke to would typically invoke Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "stages of grief," remind me that "anger" was one of the stages, and then point out, "next comes bargaining."

To me, this seemed to imply that I should spend my pointless "angry-time" considering what I'd  be willing to trade to have the person back, all the while knowing in advance that bargaining was also pointless, and that, in the end, I would simply have to reach a state of "acceptance."

Looking back on it all now, I think that there is a tendency to hurry people through the stages of grief--perhaps because of an overwhelming discomfort with the presence of the grief itself.

In short, I would agree that, as Rosaldo argues, "Anglo-American culture tends to ignore the rage devastating losses can bring."

Ignore, I would say, or perhaps even dismiss as somehow a bit inappropriate.  I think the bereaved are often forced to try to hide their rage.

But in the end, the rage is always there, and eventually, it emerges in other, thinly-disguised ways.

Several years ago, I remember talking to a newfound friend who had experienced similar losses: both of her parents died and her home was destroyed in a fire at precisely the same time that my own losses had occurred.  (She said, "Sounds like you and I have been leading parallel lives for a while here.")  

Needless to say, she understood the connection between rage and grief.

When I commented to her that I felt I had "very little patience, sometimes" with "other people's petty and stupid problems and their bullshit, really" (see what I mean about the rage coming out in other ways?), she told the story of how, one evening, she was forced to read a "never-ending" series of heated email exchanges in which her co-workers debated the decision to switch to a new brand of ground coffee in the office break-room.

She said that as she read the emails, she began to type a response of her own.

She said, "I was about to hit 'send' when my husband happened to walk into the room.  I said, 'Can you believe this?  They're so ridiculous--they have NO CLUE.  COFFEE?  Are you kidding me?  Well, I'm not going to sit here and read this all night--they need to WAKE. UP.   It's time someone reminded them of just how effing GOOD they have it."

Her husband simply said, "Log off and shut down the computer.  Tell me what you want to say instead.  They won't understand.   They'll think you're the one who's being ridiculous, because they're only thinking about coffee."

I think my friend has a very wise husband.

The rage of the bereaved is often inexplicable to those who haven't experienced it.  It comes from a place all its own.  The words come pouring out in ways that they don't when you're simply "angry."

It's unstoppable.  At times, it feels like what is coming out it isn't even the product of your own brain.  It feels like a freight train of unstoppable verbiage accompanied by one, overwhelming thought:


Except that, ironically, the onslaught and the tirade comes from a place of deep, terrible caring.  In the end, if you were an animal, you would simply howl and be done with it.   

The end of July will mark the 9th anniversary of my dad's death, an event that I tend to see as the inaugural event in what would (unfortunately) become a span of my life marked by the illness and death of several people I cared about.

I have only recently come to recognize the extent to which rage--not anger, not "bitterness," but sheer, unadulterated rage--marked a significant part of my bereavement process during this time.

At the time, I simply thought that I was angry about events that had occurred in my day-to-day life.  Because yes, life goes on, and yes, people get annoying and things get frustrating, and yes, problems will arise and when they do, we feel how we feel.

I've come to realize that the cultural denial of rage in grief led me to misperceive a great deal of my experience over the course of those years.

When I look back now, I'm often ashamed of how angry I was and how explosively I reacted, time and time again.  I look at the things that occurred at the time and wonder, "Why couldn't I just say 'Screw it' and walk away?  It definitely wasn't worth all the energy and the venom...".  

Looking back, I'm very aware of the extent to which I was unable to step away from it all and just... breathe.

When the life-events of the time offered a pretext for the rage of grief, I went headhunting.

I needed a place to carry my anger, so I carried it into my day-to-day life and (metaphorically, of course) decapitated a victim, whenever one presented itself.  And then I flung the head away, hoping to throw away the anger of my own bereavement with it.

Lately, I've come to realize that I have to make my peace with the sense of shame that I feel about some of those expressions of rage because, in the end, what's done is done.  I've decided that, rather than victimizing myself for things that are in the past, I need to see this as an opportunity to move forward with a better understanding of the many complexities of grief.

Oddly enough, it was only when I came to see the true source of my rage--my ongoing grief--that I was truly able to throw away the anger of bereavement.  (I seem to have ended up skipping the "bargaining" stage entirely, by the way.  I suspect I was busy yelling at someone instead.)

My awareness has not been without its humorous moments.  The other day, I decided to try to repair  a portion of my lawn, so I decided to aerate it first.

I hadn't used my two-pronged soil aerator in several years.  Not since I was smack dab in the midst of my grief, in fact.

So I got it out of the basement and went to work.  After aerating a patch of lawn that was about 3 feet long by 3 feet wide, I thought, "Wow, talk about boring.  I'm not doing this again anytime soon."

As I looked up, it suddenly dawned on me that, in 2011, I had aerated the entire lawn.  By hand.  Two prongs at a time.  I did the front yard, and then I did the back yard.

In effect, I had spent an entire weekend... stabbing the lawn.

At the time, I remember feeling a deep sense of satisfaction as I plunged the aerator into the ground and watched perfectly shaped cores of soil emerge.  I would dump them on the ground, move a step, and then do it again.  And again and again.  For hours at a time.

Grief-stricken, I was headhunting my way across the earth.