2014 in creative review

2014 was unequivocally a better year than 2013. I wouldn’t have guessed that any year that began with a 12:01 rejection for a short-story would go on to be a good writing year, but it was definitely my best yet.

Nature published two of of my flash pieces and Alex Shvarstman worked with me to hone a third piece for his latest Unidentified Funny Objects volume.

If asked, though, I probably would have guessed that this would have been a year of continuing more of the television and film writing that I spent most of 2013 studying. Instead I mostly bailed on my pilot after some well-considered Blacklist criticism pointed out a number of areas for significant re-writes that I haven’t been able to solve.

I am also trying to come to terms with the limits of time and energy and creative output. In late 2013 I was accepted to Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre’s inaugural Ensemble Studio series, a year-long program of long-form improv that has given me a stellar cohort of improvisers to possibly call troupe-mates in some possible future. In addition, I’ve been competing regularly in the Oakville Improv weekly Theatresports bubble tournament, playing monthly shows at Kerr Street’s Moonshine Cafe, and even working the odd workshop or community centre performance.

If time and energy and creativity are finite quantities (and I’m hoping to prove this wrong) then I’ll have to abuse the laws of conservation of such energy to make even greater things happen in the new year. Priorities, damn it!

I’m grateful for a good year, and like the nihilistic, ungrateful, misanthropic pessimist that I am–here’s hoping that 2015 is even better!

Funny stuff

Unidentified Funny Objects 3 launched early–it’s available in e-formats and paperback. It’s now a major fetish object on my bookshelf, and I am very pleased with the reception to date. Check it out!

Also, I am very pleased to report a new sale to Nature: Futures. A Brief History of Human Intelligence will appear in Nature Physics. I’m making my way through their recently released second collection and there’s some great stuff, also worth checking out!

Oh Destro, wherefore art thou?

I just read this paragraph on CNN regarding the despicable beheading of James Foley:

As details of the cold-blooded execution of Foley emerged, British Prime Minister David Cameron interrupted his summer vacation to head a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, in London.

Cobra? Are you kidding me? Is David Cameron the COBRA Commander?

Your search, your future

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) has been around for seventy years. It is one of the best studied psychometric tests and is still frequently used in forensic settings. The intriguing thing about the MMPI is that it is atheoretical, it is simply an extended battery of questions, the answers to which provide windows into one’s personality.

What does this mean? We live in an age of self-report questionnaires and checklists. They generally have questions that are obvious in what they’re looking for:  Are you sad? Do you cry? Do you feel blue? Aha, you must be depressed.

The MMPI might find out the same information differently:  Do you play with dolls? Do you ever break things? The question asked and the answer have no logical relationship to the thing being measured, they have simply shown correlation over vast numbers of people taking the test.

In today’s New York Times, there is a fascinating article that brings to mind a similar exercise only with Google searches. This would seem to me to be the next step in Big Data/government oversight/technoparanoia. In Captain America 2 or Freakonomics, there are logic-based algorithms described to find “bad” people. Realistically, it won’t be too long before arrest records and google searches start to predict things about ourselves we won’t logically be able to guess.

It won’t be “flying lessons” “bomb-making” “Allah” that will trigger some terrorism alert, it will be something as banal as “Adidas shoes” “pineapples” and “Sea Monkeys.” Self-censorship will be useless, which the MMPI solves for as well. Search terms will be transparent to so-called “fake-bad” and “fake-good” subscales–the falsely-rebellious and the guiltily-hidden.

The problem with all of this is that it will be utterly without narrative. There will be no explanation, just a prediction that will be inexplicable other than “the computer said so.” Welcome to Minority Report.

On the topic of suicide…

So Robin Williams killed himself. That is so deeply upsetting, I can barely address it.

I’ve been amazed and shocked by the overall response. As someone who lives daily in the world of people so distraught, dissatisfied, alone, sad, miserable, and/or hate-filled that suicide is the rational solution, I am shocked by the apparent shock/disgust with which the world has responded.

Suicide is outcome of many different types of mental distress combined with many different types of problem solving. I won’t address that kind of simplistic math any further. Needless to say, there are interventions for a wide variety of conditions–pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and just plain, human.

The idea, either that this was a) a purely selfish act, or alternatively b) a failure to reach out for help, is very simplistic. Between a) and b) are many people who reach out for help and don’t find enough relief and many who (mistakenly) believe they are reducing the net suffering of the world by removing their variable from the equation.

There is something definitive that is yet to be written about the nihilism of the intelligent, empathic male. It is a category subsumed in the narratives of Hemingways and Giraldos, or Belushis and Hoffmans, and now Williamses. The man who is insightful and empathic and who struggles with the conflict this engenders.

As a psychiatrist, I think we can talk about the entity of “depression” all we want, but in truth, there are dozens of sub-types; this is one worth exploring further.

For me, Robin Williams will forever be the permissive father. The teacher/therapist who inspired creativity and rebellion, who showed a different path than the rigidity of male aggression or money or dominance.

It breaks my heart that it was only a performance.

Hannibabble

Okay, just finished Hannibal Season One.

My name is Jeremy, these are my Hannibal credentials: I read Red Dragon and Silence before the movie was made. I read Hannibal and Hannibal Rising in hardcover (!), and liked them both for what they were–love story and backstory. I even mostly enjoyed those films.

So last week, when an insect bite laid me out for the week, I queued up Neflix with a Hannibal marathon.

There is some great stuff. It’s beautifully shot–the cooking especially. I like Mads, but Hugh Dancy was really the star of the show–just a believably understated performance in what could have become campy. The arc of the season is nicely plotted, the murderer-of-the-week is moderately interesting.

BUT (and yes, capital but, here) could they not have hired a psychiatric consultant? The show was written as if we should be drinking every time the word psychopath is spoken. The endless prattling on in psychobabble is so tedious and banal, I had to grit my teeth every time Gillian Anderson or poor Caroline Dhavernas were onscreen.

“I haven’t practiced medicine in years,” said the PSYCHIATRIST!
“Dementia is a symptom. What is the disease?!” Huh?
“She’s killing people because she thinks she’s dead.” Wait, what now?

Delirium versus dementia. Sociopath versus psychopath. Cotard’s Syndrome. Anti-NMDA Receptor encephalitis. This is a show that thrives on the intricacies of mental phenomena and yet the ability to make these abstract ideas interesting and nuanced (and worthy of armchair diagnostic fetishism with which they are endowed) is next to nil.

What the Starling-Lecter dialog succeed at was the absence of jargon. Conversation as metaphor as window into psychology. This season went the other direction–metaphor as jargon as power as jargon as plot.

Still, a show like Hannibal gets me jazzed up. It encourages me to find some way to get the real intricacies and challenges of psychiatry onscreen. When psychiatrists get together we don’t talk jargon. We talk stories, the surprises, the predictable surprises, the Gordian knots of helping someone. The dance, the breakthrough, the failure, the risk.

Okay, back to work.