Underestimate the Negative

seattletrafficSeattle is a beautiful city, or it was when I lived there back in the 1990s. So when I moved there, I was determined to enjoy Seattle’s glory by getting an apartment with a fantastic view.  The problem was, views cost money. But with some compromise, a good view was possible. My compromise was that my apartment was very close to a major road. 

I was sure I could get use to the traffic noise in exchange for the scenic window panoramas and the convenience of shopping and parks. But within a year, that traffic noise appeared to get louder and louder and my nerves were really on edge.  I underestimated the downsides of my compromise. I overestimate my ability to overlook things that irritated me from the beginning.  So within 3 months of realizing my mistake, I moved.

Unfortunately not all mistakes are as easy to cut and leave.  Readers, do you have any to share?  I have several others – obviously.


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God: Latent Variable vs Network Illusion


Does a thing called “depression” cause the various symptoms of change in sleep, fatigue, guilt, diminished concentration, irritability and or sadness?  In one school of psychiatry, the answer is “Yes”.  “Depression” is called the “latent variable” — the cause behind all the symptoms.  In a different view in Psychiatry, one getting more press, the answer is “No, depression is a network illusion.”  In that view, it is the complex interaction of concrete problems themselves, such a lack of sleep or poor self-view (from loss of job, loss of partner etc) feed on each other to make a presentation we label as “depression”.

This second view has been with us for a while, but with the application of the branch of mathematics called network analysis to psychological data, the latter view seems to be showing itself to be true.  Network analysis has also allowed us improved understanding of various fields including internet vulnerabilities, defense issues and now biological issues.

These two fine articles are what inspired today’s post:

Those articles have great diagrams to help illustrate how network analysis works.

But how will the network analysis perspective change our approach to depression?  Well, the old view is that a condition called “depression” (a word we created) causes all its symptoms and further, they think “depression” is simply due to a decrease in certain neurotransmitters.  So by this view, all we need to do is give an antidepressant or anti-anxiety pill (or both) to supplement the patients neurotransmitter deficiency and bang!, their depression is cured.  But data to support this approach is very poorly.  Why?  Because there is no such thing as “depression” as a cause.  Depression is a network illusion.

I have long been sympathetic to the network view, valuing the therapist that address the causes: poor social connections, exercise, sleep hygiene, cognitive habits etc, rather the psychiatrist view of giving a pill to fix the problem (though at times helpful).  But even understanding the cause does not make the cure any more easier.  The problem is, the real cure is very difficult — changing ourselves, yet alone others, is not easy.  Changing our social habits, our movement habits, our thinking habits and such is tough.  So a pill seems to offer much greater hope.


“God” offers us great hope too. Even though “God” is a network illusion, the view of a single causative agent is often much easier view than the complex network view.  In this post I discuss “God” as a modular network phenomena and an abstraction as result of packaging complex interactions.  It shows “God” as a network illusion and not an actual “latent variable“.  Above I illustrate two different gods.  Imagine the two Protestants, both talking to each other about “God”, but looking behind the word reveals two very different gods with two different functions

When speaking to people about their “God” or their “Patriotism” or their “Depression”, we can reach a much deeper understand of that person by looking for the deep networks of complex concrete connections that generate their abstractions, rather than falling for their network illusion. Does “God” as a thing exist, certainly not, but it is the word people use to describe the complex network of real important things in their lives.

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Opaque & Obscure Poetry

People have a wide variety of taste in poetry, but the common person’s taste in poetry is usually very different from the taste of self-declared poets and people who love poetry. The common person generally does not like most poetry — and for good reasons.  Much of poetry is opaque and obscure. In this way, when it comes to poetry, I am very much a common person.

As Ted Kooser states, “[Good poetry] keep obstacles between [the poet] and [the reader] to a minimum.”

Here are just some ways many poets build obstacles to make their poetry opaque, obscure:

1. Elusive Allusions: The poet alludes to private experiences or emotions without given the reader enough to understand. Or they may allude to literature, events or such which the average reader knows nothing about.

2. Intellectual Pretense: The writers who use complex vocabulary or very flowery uncommon language.

3. Post-Modern Nonsense: where the poet eschews meaning. Intentionally flooding the poem with incoherent images and vocabulary as if trying to make an aloof philosophical statement.

Testing for Obscurity:
If a reader needs to read the poem more than twice before they feel that they essentially understand the poem, then you can be almost certain you have found an obscure or opaque poem.

Other importance criticism for poetry being unappealing:

  1. Intense Moribund Romanticism: a style popular at one time, but lost on most readers today. (see Gioia, 1991).

Question to reader: Tell us your thoughts about poetry you don’t like, or about obscurity.


  • Can Poetry Matter? — by Dana Gioia, 1991 (a classic essay on the decline of the influence of poetry).

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Poetry: Hostovsky

Hegemony — by Paul Hostovsky

Three of my cousins are deaf.
But I have lots of cousins,
so the deaf ones
were always in the minority
at family gatherings
where they’d commandeer a couch
or the kitchen table and juggle
their hands. It was a language
the rest of us didn’t understand
because we never bothered to learn it.
Their conversations and our conversations
sailed along contiguously
like ships passing in the night
or like an English frigate passing
over a Deaf submarine during
detente. One by one they got married
to three deaf spouses. So then there were six.
And one of them ended up having
two deaf children. So then there were eight.
Eventually they all divorced
and remarried other deaf people
with deaf stepchildren and deaf exes
and deaf in-laws and deaf
cousins. And before we knew it
we were totally outnumbered
at the family gatherings
and consigned to a corner
of the sectional, whispering
and ducking the flying hands,
feeling rather small
and blind, like moles or voles
trembling in the shadows
of the raptors.


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Paul Hostovsky: This is the second poem I am posting by Hostovsky.  See his info here.

My Impressions: Again, an example of the sort of poetry I enjoy: it is not aloof, flowery and most of all, it is not obscure — it is not trying to be poetry.  My lady’s mother is deaf and I have learned a little of this world from times with them.  This poem is funny, but at a deep level, very serious about the title of the poem — something each country should fear. To tuck in such a deep message like this, is a real art!

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Poetry: Ted Kooser

Tattoo — by Ted Kooser

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

Source: www.tedkooser.net


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Ted Kooser (1939 – ):  TedKooser.net, The Poetry Foundation, Wiki

My Impressions:

I really enjoy body art and especially tattos, but unfortunately most tattoos are more impulsive and not done with a great deal of thought or depth.  But each tattoo is a gold mine of feelings and experiences waiting to be told.  Starting here I wrote three posts about asking people about their tattoos.

Ted Kooser is the first poet I found who I could enjoy without reservation and who then allowed me to read other types of poets more easily. Today I was surprised to find that I had yet to include him in my anthology.

Here is a quote of Ted’s which expresses one of my deepest appreciations for his poetry:  “I favor poems that keep the obstacles between you and [the reader] to a minimum. “  –Ted Kooser (The Poetry Home Repair Manual)


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Angel over the Church


I love the light of the early morning which can bring out colors that you can’t see the rest of the day. Making that time more precious, those special colors only last about 20 minutes. So, last week I decided to try and capture those colors with a series of photos out my kitchen window, each separated by 15 minutes.

The colors I am talking about are those in the first photo. But when I saw the third photo, I saw a wispy figure above the church roof. On further inspection, I saw the same figure first flying over the church and finally descending from the sky. That wispy image actually looks like an angel flying sideways.

Question for readers: Do you see the angel? What are your thoughts on the angel?

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Poetry: Stephen Dobyns

Prague — by Stephen Dobyns

The day I learned my wife was dying
I told myself if anyone said, Well, she had
a good life, I’d punch him in the nose.
How much life represents a good life?

Maybe a hundred years, which would
give us nearly forty more to visit Oslo
and take the train to Vladivostok,
learn German to read Thomas Mann

in the original. Even more baseball games,
more days at the beach and the baking
of more walnut cakes for family birthdays.
How much time is enough time? How much

is needed for all those unspent kisses,
those slow walks along cobbled streets?

“Prague” by Stephen Dobyns


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Stephen Dobyns (1941 – )Wikipedia,  The Poetry FoundationThe New Yorker , Cortland Review Interview

My Impressions:

(1) Real Love: I think that finding such a love, as depicted in this poem, is less common than literature and movies try to tell us. But if I ever lose my lover, I too may punch someone in the face who tried to assuage my grief with pablum.

(2) Fact or Fiction: I prefer poems born from real experiences, not fiction composed by the author. Thus my last post on the Judith Slaying Holfernes. The artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, fills a mythic picture with her hatred from her horrific experience. But as I explored more poems by the author of this poem, Dobyns, I found three that began with the same line of “The day I learned my wife was dying…” The others are Never and Niagara Falls.

And as I read a few little biography notes on Dobyns, I found nothing about a wife that passed away. And so I was disappointed that though I enjoyed the poem, that it too may have been fiction to him.  Do any readers know more on this issue?

(3) Obscure Poetry:

I detest obscure poetry. Dobyns’ poems seem anything but obscure. In a Poetry-of-the-Week interview we have these quotes from Dobyns on the subject of obscurity in poetry:

There are different kinds of obscure poetry. One kind exists because the poet has an idea of his poem in his mind, and then he puts it on the page, and it’s obscure because it’s referencing material the poet knows that’s not accessible to the reader. …

And then there’s the kind of obscurity that’s created by a writer who wants to set himself off as intelligent, so his poetry has a lot of thunder and lightning, and you expect some substance behind it, but it’s not there. It’s just thunder and lightning. ….

In other obscure poems, the complexity of the idea is just difficult to work out. You can see this, say, in Wallace Stevens, who has poems that are extremely difficult, but if you know how to read Wallace Stevens, I mean if you develop a context by reading his other work, you can come to some understanding of Stevens, and some of the poems, even the difficult ones, become very clear….

Another kind of obscure poetry which is either language poetry or post-modern poetry—it goes under a number of idiotic terms—says that meaning is not possible or is based on the premise that meaning is not possible, that human beings cannot communicate with one another, or that meaning itself is simply passé. They’d say that even the idea that you can communicate the idea of yourself as a human being is impossible, and so poets writing out of that philosophy actually work to thwart meaning; they work consciously to make sure there’s no connection in meaning from line 1 to line 2 to line 3, etc.

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