Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Times past

A photo of me age 16 yrs, courtesy of Charles Rice Goff III. That's CRGIII age ~21 yrs, lurking at the bottom. I quite like that girl's engagement of the camera.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Religious Calendar update

Honestly, 2008 is a total mess if you're trying to schedule a secular but multi-ethnic memorial service. Of the Abrahamic faiths and their subdivisions, only Islam is coming out well in this spring's competition, without a competing festival. The non-Abrahamics seem to be cool about flexing dates.

For Western Christians, Easter was last weekend (23rd March), while Pesach (Jewish Passover) will start 20th April, and Orthodox Christian Easter falls on 27th April. Just you just try lining up an organist, a Greek dancing troupe and a klesma band on the same weekend this spring, and see how far into summer you get.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Calendars and religion

So here we are, a (Gregorian) month since we buried dad. If I were Jewish, I'd visit his grave about now and place on it a pebble in remembrance and honour. I'm not Jewish, but did it anyway because I wanted to. The calendars get all screwed up at this time in the cycle, because it's both a Gregorian (solar) and Jewish (lunar) leap year, when an extra day or month (respectively) are fitted in. Note that Easter is this weekend but Pesach next month, in a year when the two cycles are maximally out-of-phase.

I could've researched orthodox Jewish calendars and traditions exhaustively and discovered the exact date and time I should make the ritual, but he wouldn't and doesn't care. Were he here, he'd be perplexed and quite probably amused that I'm carrying out mitzvot* such as this, since I'm quite possibly an atheist and definitely a goy.

Over this month, I've been trying clumsily to sort out my own muddled ideas on religion. On the one hand, I have little interest, engagement or comfort from ideas of an afterlife, and on the other there have been times that having formulae and practices to recognise and process experiences of death in this life have been very helpful.

Reading Daniel Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell; religion as a natural phenomenon' this week, I suspect that I'm one of a class who like to practice without belief. I think that I think that just now I like religion in some of its aspects (a 'word' that I can read but re-interpret at will, while drawing on established community rituals), though I can't sign up to the whole package.

*An act, often ritual, which combines kindness, blessing and duty.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Noise Abatement Society

I wasn't axe-murdered last night by the irate downstairs neighbour (DN). It wasn't the 'totally hedonic' experience I'm still seeking this week, but it was... no bad. I'd made sure the Big Wan was in the flat for the meeting in case DN was a violent mentalist, but he wasn't needed. The exchange of constructive notes over the weekend had already taken the heat out of the issue.

The problem is bare wood floors, and that my PC desk is over his bedroom. While I don't wear stilettos or clogs at 3 am (or any other time), I do sometimes keep odd hours and hadn't appreciated how well wood floors transmit sound/vibration. I took a crash course in the acoustic properties of wood floors over the weekend and developed sympathy for his problem, if not his initial approach to it. At the meeting, he showed the grace and courtesy to apologise for his less-than-perfect handling of the problem, and to compliment my approach. The computer-desk chair now rests on a rug and new house rules are to remove footwear, with an agreement with DN to monitor the effectiveness of this solution and not to sit on unexpressed resentment.

I wonder that he's maybe thought that my computer-chair scraping noises were shagging percussion, and that's why he was reluctant to complain until absolutely apoplectic. The sole previous complaint from him was years ago, when I was indeed enjoying a honeymoon period with a new boyfriend and a poorly-assembled, creaky bedframe. Thus in a parallel universe I may have been recently conducting all-night sessions of tantric porn-star capacity and duration, without my knowledge.

So let's hope that's the end of that. 20 years experience of tenement living teaches that for every stair there will be an outraged resident. Mrs. MacGillivray in Morningside counted and categorised all stair traffic, reporting back on good or bad visitors. Stair meetings with Jessie in Polwarth were kangaroo courts of the student tenants, accused of causing the sewer overflow problem by their flagrant use of condoms and tampons. It's been pure luck that (aside from poor Tollcross Nana, whose phone I apparently tapped) I've avoided being the target till now.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

What a week...

... and one I hope never to repeat.

1. A friend takes the hump with me because I haven't returned calls since my father's funeral.
2. The jobbie send me payslips that indicate a payrise. Since I was indeed promised a pay rise after a year (i.e. now), I'm buoyant and solvent. But after enquiry I'm told it's a mistake and I will have to pay back £1000. Later it turns out I was never paid the payslip amount, so I should be happy. I am not happy. Why?
3. The jobbie expects statistical research while declining to provide proprietary statistical software.
4. The jobbie denied me compassionate leave when dad was dying and dead, and on my suggestion recommended I get a sick note for absence.
5. Someone has grafitti-ed 'Paki' on Smiley Bros' cornershop wall. I find this overwhelming depressing for some reason.
6. Irate phonecall of complaint from downstairs neighbour at 5 am screaming at me "stop your, your... moving about!". I was indeed still half-awake, sitting at my computer researching jobs and locomoting quietly every hour or so for a cup of tea or a pee. I phoned the polis this morning, and they confirm that walking in one's own home after 11 pm does not constitute either unreasonable or anti-social behaviour. If I never post again, you'll know I've been axe-murdered during tomorrow's mediation meeting.

I wish I weren't always complaining. This week I shall be looking for something totally hedonic to communicate.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

The benefits of depression

There's been a lot in the press this week about depression, partially provoked by a new meta-analysis of studies of SSRI drugs for this 'illness'. When unpublished studies were included, the overall benefits of SSRIs were not greater than those conferred by placebo.

A huge proportion of the first world population take SSRIs; perhaps one in ten in the USA, where unhappiness is both a malady and quite possibly unpatriotic. In the UK, 3 million people were prescribed these drugs last year. Some (like me) have taken them for years and some will have thrown the pills in the bin after a few days. Depression is a much greater problem in the first than the third world, partially because we privileged folks have more time to think about our emotional well-being and more money to pay Big Pharma to make us happy. Despite the money spent and the pills popped, psychological inventories continue to show that the poor in the first-world remain happier than their counterparts in Europe and North America.

I can't hope to disentangle the co-factors in this epidemiological finding, so won't even start. Possible significant factors include genetic traits, family ties, religious beliefs, engagement with material reality, etc. I won't even go there.

I first achieved a label of clinical depression at age 16 and the symptoms wax and wane since with 'bad' stress and life events. They've definitely eased with time, but I can't attribute this to the SSRIs, which I've taken for at least 12 years. These pills despite someimes large doses didn't stop me experiencing severe meltdowns, and (thankfully) do not block natural and usually appropriate emotional reactions. At one time I thought them necessary to block my 'malady' of depression, but I'm less sure now. Firstly, because they don't stop sadness, and secondly because it's more than likely that I have a predisposition (inherited and/or acquired) to being prone to emotional sensitivity.

I was intrigued by a discussion on Radio 4's 'Today' program between Lewis Wolpert and Paul Keedmanwell on depression this week. Prof Wolpert, a confessed sufferer, very much saw depression as a defect and an illness, while Dr Keedman implied that depression could be an adaptive evolutionary strategy to deal with unbearable stress. Depression, Dr Keedman implied, can be beneficial when it helps its owner realise that the current environment cannot sustain life and happiness, and that new strategies are necessary.

Workers in the mental health field realise that depression-the-disease can be life-threatening, and clearly depression so severe as to provoke suicide reduces fitness to zero, in evolutionary terms. On the other hand there may be some 'depressives' like me for whom milder yet debilitating symptoms can provoke a beneficial lifestyle change.

Three years ago I jacked in the job that made me miserable. I'm financially poorer since, but have rediscovered the roots of happiness. While unemployed, I reconnected with the happiness in pleasing myself, reading, dog-walks, Botanic Gardens, time with the kiddos. Work-wise, I wouldn't go back for all the tea in China. I'd also reflect that there may be some other benefits from mild expression of the depressive trait, such as empathy, philosophy and cultural pursuits. Certainly the depressives I know in personal life are amongst my favourite people. Its all a question of degree.