February 11, 2019 in 3,346 words

to set a mood • • •

I SORT OF HAVE A TOPIC TODAY: I’ve been thinking a lot about how we need to quiet the noises in our head to enable us to experience relief from anxiety and stress by forcing our inner narrator to shut the fuck up. The quiet relief we can create will allow us to experience the moment we’re having right this moment in peace and quiet.

Tales of unravelling minds: a neuropsychologist’s darkest days

AK Benjamin has written a funny, truthful and shocking book about his own struggles with drink and drugs as he tried to help his mentally disordered patients

It becomes evident that the person most in danger of losing his mind is the narrator.

Meeting the author and neuropsychologist AK Benjamin is bit like an encounter with a spy or someone in witness protection. First of all, AK Benjamin is not his real name. He doesn’t want to say what that is. Or where he lives. “Asia” is as specific as he gets about his current address. He won’t say where in England he was originally from – his accent suggests it wasn’t too far from Manchester – or which university he went to, or where he has worked. But there are some details he is prepared to divulge. There are hints at his age – mid-to-late 40s. Aside from being a trained neuropsychologist – that is, a psychologist who works with people with neurological conditions or injuries – he has been a scriptwriter in the British film industry, he set up a charity, was a monk in California, has worked with gang members in US prisons and South American sex workers, is a father of two daughters, and for a decade was a self-destructive alcoholic and drug addict.

It sounds like five different lives crashed into one, which is, curiously, very much the impression Benjamin gives in the flesh. Not through anything he says, but just the way he looks, with an aura of intensity that seems to hover over him like an electrical storm.

Despite his close-cropped head, he doesn’t look like a monk. And nowadays he’s not, but he doesn’t look like someone who was ever a monk or, come to that, a neuropsychologist. He bears a passing resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland in his Jack Bauer days – wiry but muscular and tightly wound. He looks, as they say, as if he could look after himself, although looking after himself has in many respects been a struggle for Benjamin, even as he was looking after others. This struggle and the plight of those in his care are the subject of his first book, Let Me Not Be Mad.

It starts out as a series of case studies in which a neuropsychologist holds clinics with various patients. There is, for example, a woman, known only as “You”, who, slipping into premature dementia, pierces the professional’s heart. There’s “Michael”, an all-action businessman who suffers a brain injury while base-jumping that transforms his personality – or does it enable emergence of the one he’d been repressing? There are also other patients who may or may not be versions of the narrator – ie the neuropsychologist – undergoing psychological assessment.

On the surface the stories are told with that precise clinical detachment – jargon and protocols explained – familiar from many medical memoirs. But the style is almost ironic because beneath it there is a great swell of compassion, black comedy and astute personal observation constantly threatening to break through. Slowly we begin to see that the clinician is also suffering. As the encounters grow more uncertain and even surreal, it becomes evident that during episodes of paranoia, insomnia, aggression and delusion, the person most in danger of losing his mind is, in fact, the narrator. So why the pseudonym and surrounding mystery?

How anxiety scrambles your brain and makes it hard to learn

Levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise among students. Juliet Rix has tips to control the panic and thrive academically.

Anxiety causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight, which can interfere with students’ ability to study.

Olivia admits she’s always been a worrier – but when she started university, her anxiety steadily began to build. One day she was simply too frightened to leave the house. For two weeks she was stuck indoors, before she was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and began to get the help she needed.

With support from her GP and university wellbeing service, and courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), she was able to stick with her university course and to start enjoying life again.

But Olivia is far from alone in her anxiety: the number of students declaring a mental health problem has doubled in the last five years, to at least 115,000.

“And that is a very small proportion of the students who are having mental health difficulties,” says Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental wellbeing working group.

A study of UK undergraduates has found that even among students symptom-free before starting university, some 20% are troubled by a clinically significant level of anxiety by the middle of second year.

What does anxiety do to students? It causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight.

The 5 Most Extreme Examples of Lying Your Way To The Top

The job market is tough, and everyone tries to make their resume stand out. But it’s one thing to count that Bavarian folk dance course as “international relationship training.” It’s another thing entirely to say that your ancestors founded Bavaria, and you’ve personally ruled it with an iron fist since 1957. These people took the latter approach, and somehow made it work for way, way too long.

5. Kent Johnson Lived A Triple Life To Get His Poetry Published

Araki Yasusada was a survivor of Hiroshima whose poetry was discovered by his son after his death in 1972. That’s already an Oscar movie all by itself, but the poetry was also deeply personal, describing the experience of seeing his wife and one of his daughters engulfed in flames.

And of course, it was all lies.

When people started digging into Yasusada’s life, they discovered that his work was the invention of an obscure Japanese translator named Tosa Motokiyu. They then discovered this was also a lie, and both men were a white, middle-aged poet named Kent Johnson. More accurately, a middle-aged white Spanish teacher at an Illinois community college who really wanted to be a poet. Every publisher who intended to distribute Yasusada’s work — and there were several — stopped the presses, and Johnson had a lot of explaining to do.

To this day, he’s done very little. He admits that Yastusada never existed, but maintains that he was a creation of Motokiyu, “the pseudonym of an author whose express wish, stated in his will, was that his identity never be revealed.” That’s right, he wanted to be so anonymous that he needed a pseudonym for his pseudonym.

Because society as a whole has the memory of a fetal kitten, the controversy eventually died down, and magazines like The Paris Review once again began to have scholarly discussions of Yasusada’s work. So at least not a single person involved learned any kind of lesson about anything, and we’re all worse for the experience. Huzzah!

How to Quiet the Little Voice in Your Head

Reclaiming your life from your inner narrator.

Did you ever notice the little voice inside your head that’s constantly running the play-by-play of your life — to you, the one who’s actually living it? Did you ever listen in to your inner narrator, the one who’s unceasingly packaging your life, verbally preparing your experience for transmission to another unidentified listener? I just went on an eight-day silent retreat, and apparently my inner narrator didn’t get the memo that it was to remain silent. For the first five days, the little voice in my head didn’t stop talking, not even to catch its imaginary breath. With obsessive precision, it explained to me what I was doing, how I had transformed, and what spiritual lessons I had learned. Over and over, my inner narrator repeated my experience to me, prepared it for sharing, and made sure I had everything wrapped up as clearly and understandably as possible.

It’s an odd thing, really: As we’re having an experience, the little voice in our head is simultaneously describing, explaining, and commentating on it, providing a summary before, during, and after its unfolding.

Often, the narration is so integral to our experience itself, so uninterrupted and merged with it, as to make us wonder if there could even be an experience without the accompanying report. If an experience happens without simultaneous inner acknowledgment, thinking, and commentary, does it actually happen?

It’s also interesting to notice that the little voice is not without its own characteristics. It has a certain language, style, and tone; it does its storytelling and commentary with a thematic and textural consistency. Like a Hollywood screenwriter, the voice tends to write in a particular genre — tragedy, comedy, drama, film noir, etc. Our commentator is a character with an identity of its own.

Did you ever wonder why our mind is telling us what we’re doing while we’re doing it, as if we didn’t already know? Or why our mind is so adamant about getting the story of our life figured out, written, and packaged? And finally, why we need to rehearse the tale of our life before we actually need or want to convey it to another person?

How running cured my anxiety – and a broken heart

When my marriage ended, I realised that a lifetime of anxiety had left me unable to cope. Then I pulled on some old leggings and started jogging…

Bella Mackie: ‘I felt worried I might never feel truly better.’

I once heard a story about a couple in a restaurant who ate in total silence for over an hour. When coffee came, the husband whispered something to the wife, who hissed back: “It’s not the coffee, it’s the last 25 years.” A slow crumbling like that would be pretty appalling. But when you’re given the surprise approach, the moment of impact feels brutally physical. Someone stands across from you, looks directly into your eyes and tells you they are leaving you, they no longer love you, they have found someone else, you are not enough, and you think: “Oh, so this is the moment I am going to die. I can’t possibly get through this.”

As I lay on the floor of my own sitting room, watching my husband’s feet walking quickly towards the door, I knew that the end of my marriage, after less than a year, would bring unbearable sadness, awkward questions, terrible embarrassment. I even knew that, with the right coping skills, it might be OK in the end. But I also knew something else: at 29, unlike most adults, I had no coping skills.

Anxious even as a very small child, I had let my worries fester, take control, and dominate my life. Mental health problems had stunted my own growth, leaving me too scared to take on challenges. I quit things when they got hard. I turned down opportunities that would push me, or give me independence. I preferred being small.

From a young age, I had been agoraphobic, prone to panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, hysteria and depression. By the time my husband walked out on me, I’d had years of this. Often I couldn’t make it to the supermarket on my own (honestly), much less navigate my way through a breakup of this magnitude. I knew I had to get off the floor, but I didn’t know what to do next. Everything was draped in fear.

5 Shady Things Famous Companies Don’t Want You To Know

Corporations provide us with various goods and services, as well as quality banter on social media. But most are ultimately on the side labelled “Make all the money in the world, and actively fuck everyone else.” They don’t want you to think about that, of course … which means it’s time to utterly blow their cover.

5. Disney’s Live-Action Remakes Screw The Original Filmmakers

You’re probably aware that Disney is on a roll remaking many of their classic movies in disgusting real person format. So far we’ve had in-the-flesh versions of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty And The Beast, and Winnie The Pooh. And this year is going to see another four movies added to that list, including Aladdin and The Lion King. We’d make a joke here about how we’re eventually going to get a live-action remake of Toy Story, but we absolutely guarantee you that right now, someone in Anaheim is trying to decide between John Mulaney and a CG Tom Hanks for the role of Woody.

After a trailer for the Aladdin remake was released last year, however, screenwriter Terry Rossio dropped the bombshell that he and everyone else who worked on the original movie were getting shafted by the remake.

In order to understand why, we need to get all “inside baseball” with the animation industry. Under Writers Guild of America rules, whenever a creative work is reused or adapted, its original creator must be compensated — that is, all creative works except for animated movies, which are usually owned outright by their respective studios.

So with regards to Aladdin, Disney owns everything, which means that they can legally get away with paying Rossio basically nothing. Aladdin and The Lion King are two of the most iconic films in the history of animation, and that’s mostly because the filmmakers didn’t phone it in. Here:

This was a labor of love by storyboard artist Jorgen Klubien, for which he was rewarded with a writing credit … a credit the remake is taking away from him, even though it lifts his work verbatim. The Aladdin remake also reuses the rhyme that the Cave of Wonders yells at Jafar, which Rossio wrote.

And that’s probably what made the live-action remakes an attractive prospect to begin with … maybe even moreso than the guaranteed returns they’d see from millennials seeking a nostalgia high.

Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition

What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world.

AMID THE HUMAN CRUSH of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: BIRDS HOSPITAL.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals. A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

In 2014, Fox News, among others, covered a shocking calamity: President Barack Obama saluted two marines while carrying a latte in his raised hand.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

On the first new episode of Patriot Act in 2019, Hasan addresses the government of Saudi Arabia’s legal demand to take down an episode of the show in that country, and turns his focus to another country with restrictive censorship laws: China. But by using the Internet, Chinese activists are making their voices heard and a determined #MeToo movement may be creating lasting change.

THANKS to Netflix and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for making this program available on YouTube.

揺れちゃうまるが止まるまで。Maru finally stops the wobbling.


The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck


Disaster area.

Let’s say the situation at work is not good. The project (or product, or re-org, or whatever) has launched, and the best you can say is that things aren’t going as planned. At all. It’s a disaster, though the best word for it is the one you drop over drinks with your team and when venting at home: it’s a clusterfuck.

Clusterfucks hold a special place in public life, one distinct from the complications, crises, and catastrophes that mar our personal and professional existences. The F-Word, former Oxford English Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower’s comprehensive history of the term, defines a clusterfuck as “a bungled or confused undertaking or situation.” Stanford business professor Bob Sutton goes further, describing clusterfucks as “those debacles and disasters caused by a deadly brew of illusion, impatience, and incompetence that afflicts too many decision-makers, especially those in powerful, confident, and prestigious groups.”

The term dates at least as far back as the Vietnam War, as military slang for doomed decisions resulting from the toxic combination of too many high-ranking officers and too little on-the-ground information. (The “cluster” part of the word allegedly refers to officers’ oak leaf cluster insignia.)

“I have a weird obsession with clusterfucks,” Sutton tells Quartz At Work. He and Stanford Graduate School of Business colleague Huggy Rao took on the topic directly in their 2014 book Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, though publishers demanded that the softer substitute “clusterfug” appear in the final text. (This was not Sutton’s choice: His other books include The No Asshole Rule and The Asshole Survival Guide.)

To appreciate what a clusterfuck is—and to understand how to avoid one—it is first helpful to clarify some of the things a clusterfuck is not

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?