Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the Search for Lost Time

Last week, I had an emotional unraveling. I was going to call it a "meltdown," but then I reconsidered because that sounded a bit too glib, a bit too hip and happening. Not quite up to the task of describing this.
Maybe it was the dishabituation (see last week's post), an after-effect of having the blinders removed for a time. But I was sad, weepy, achy, frayed. "Where has the time gone?" was my lament. "Where have the years gone?" Everything was a mess. I had let everything go. My office was intolerable. My drawers were crammed with clothing and papers and memorabilia. I felt so ashamed.

Every thought brought more tears, tears overbrimming. For years, my MO had been to push through, work, ignore. For some reason, I could no longer do so. "Where have the years gone?" I asked again. "Where has the time gone?" "How have I come to this?"

If I were a chronically and/or clinically depressed person, I imagine that I would have been incapable of coming up with solutions--confiding my feelings to my husband, crying in his arms, cleaning out my drawers and rearranging my office, scaling back with a focus and energy I hadn't felt for a long time (again, the dishabituation?). If I were a chronically and/or clinically depressed person, I imagine that these feelings would not have dispersed so quickly. And I will not say that they have dispersed entirely. The memory hovers, of how difficult those few days were.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"Habituation refers to a gradual reduction in the strength of a response due to repetitive stimulation. Looking, heart rate, and respiration may all decline, indicating a loss of interest. Once this has occurred, a new stimulus--some kind of change in the environment--causes responsiveness to return to a high level. This recovery is called dishabituation."
     This is a quote from one of Laura Berk's many child development books. Laura is a genius of the child development world, and I used to be her editor. Anyway, I've been thinking about her and habituation, but especially dishabituation.And here's why.
     Yesterday, I saw a woman pushing a dog in a wheelchair. No, it was not like the image below.

I have seen this sort of device before, and I do not know why it is referred to as a chair, as a chair seems to be something in which one sits. Maybe there is a technical name for that gizmo above, and I do not know it. When I googled "dog in wheelchair," however, images like the one above came up.
     No, the dog I saw was actually in the kind of wheelchair that humans use, and it was strapped in, with multiple straps, and these straps were truly needed, as the dog did seem to be in a semi-standing position. It was not a very high-quality chair either, so it could not have been particularly easy to push. The woman who was pushing the chair (and the dog) seemed to herself have trouble walking. She moved with a kind of rocking motion, as if she had some disability in the hip region and perhaps also in her ankles or feet. She had another dog on a leash walking beside her.
     Part of me wanted to greet her in some way as we approached each other--at least smile--to acknowledge the interesting sight. I wasn't sure I would actually want to say anything because, what would I say? "Nice dog"? Or "How did you come up with that?" I didn't want her to think I was making fun of her, because I have to confess that part of me felt it was a tad absurd. But just a tad. There was a large amount of devotion about the image as well.
     I did glance at her face, to see if I might see any receptivity there, in case I might decide to deliver at least a smile or a nod. But no. My impression (which I understand is entirely my own) was that she was self-conscious, fully aware that someone might want to make fun of her, and meant to keep to herself.
     Only a few blocks later, passing an apartment building I have passed likely thousands of times, I noticed for the first time that someone, years and years ago when this building was erected, had put some thought into the brickwork. Always before, it had just looked like a wall of bricks to me. Yesterday, however, I noticed a somewhat elaborate design. Not as elaborate or elegant as this.

Nor as marvelously skewed as this.

But still, each brick had a texture--horizontal ridges. And these ridges had been used in interesting ways--both vertically and horizontally to create a pattern in the wall that varied depending on location: around windows and doors, lower and higher.
     So I'm thinking that the woman pushing the dog in the wheelchair dishabituated my habituation, opening my eyes to a new detail in my world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


It's not entirely true that I haven't posted in as long as it appears. I did write a post last week--about the Days of Awe--and when I came back here today to make a new post, I see that the Days of Awe post never made it onto the blog, or disappeared somehow into the ether with the Days of Awe themselves. But no complaining. No cursing technology. It's true my mind has been elsewhere and I have been remiss with the blog. Apologies to the universe and to any individuals within it who have missed my Wednesday posts. So here is a new one.

Today was an ambiguously rainy day. The kind where some people have umbrellas, and others seem to be doing fine without them. Some cars have the windshield wipers going, others have them on intermittent, and still others don't have them going at all. I was out for my usual midday walk, and I had my umbrella open for most of the time. It's true, I think, that the rain did pick up and trail off. During the last few blocks of the walk, the rain did not seem ambiguous, and I was glad to have my umbrella, which by the way, is a black one, but on the underside has a panel with blue sky and white clouds.

I like this umbrella a lot, but speaking of umbrellas reminds me of the wonderful little video I watched the other day about an umbrella and a woman. Please click on that link to have a lovely experience.
     Anyway, the thing that caught my attention on the walk was a man walking his dogs. They were some kind of skinny, leggy variety. I'm not a dog expert, so I can't say, and I don't want to spend a lot of time investigating, so for our purposes, I'll just say that they were greyhounds (even though I don't really think they were).

I'd seen the man walking ahead of me for quite some time (he didn't have an umbrella), but then I thought he got home, because he went up to a house, opened the door, and the dogs went inside. Just as he too was going inside, one of the dogs ran out of the house, and began to run away. The man came out to get it. He sounded very stern: "Ruben," he called, "Stop." Ruben did not stop. The man began to run after the dog. "Ruben," he shouted, "get back here." Ruben, I think, slowed down. Now the dog was "Ruby," and the man was no longer angry. He was sweet and playful, with that dog-caressing sound in his voice (you know what I mean). At this tone-change, Ruben/Ruby, who seemed to be considering the virtues of obedience, rejected the notion and ran away again.
     I was wondering, being a non-dog owner myself, whether the man had erred in switching from stern master to loving friend, because he seemed to make that switch several times, the stern voice getting the dog to stop, the switch, inspiring the dog to rebel. But the other thing I was thinking about was my husband's grandfather, whose name was Ruben and who was also called Ruby for short. Also that Ruben seems to be a very Jewish name, but that the skinny, leggy dog did not look Jewish at all (well it did have a big nose). I don't hear that name Ruben very often. And I thought my husband's grandfather was the only Ruben in the world who was also called Ruby.
     Live and learn, I suppose