Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nos Mas!

CC Jean Stimmell: 2/22/15
Snowmageddon 2015
–the endless winter –

Arctic air surges back tomorrow.
Average temp this month 11.4 degrees
– 12 degrees below normal –
42.4 “ of snow so far this month alone.

North facing windows covered with snow
ice dams and menacing icicles adorning our roof
Even The Buddha outside my office door is caving:

No Mas! He pleads to Old Man Winter: 
No More.

CC Jean Stimmell: 2/22/15
Old Man Winter:
a smirking genie
released by climate change
from a tree stump

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our Traumatized Nation: A Culture of Fear

The following essay was published in the Concord Monitor 2/18/15
Wire protecting the perimeter:Danang Vietnam 1966
CC Jean Stimmell
Psychological insights into our culture of fear, love affair 
with guns –& a modest proposal toward a way forward

The Monitor recently featured a superb essay by Jonathan Baird on how we as Americans have become enmeshed in a culture of fear, spurred on by a “24/7 media spin cycle that thrives on sensationalism.” He points out how this fear mongering has been toxic to our collective sense of who we are as a people.

Fear in our culture, in its current form, has been gathering strength since President Nixon and Reagan ran for office on “law and order” platforms that exaggerated or, even in some cases, manufactured fearful scenarios, while characterizing their opponents as “weak” on the issue, in order to generate public support.

When the 9/11/01 attacks struck, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy: What did I tell you, the world is a terribly dangerous place!

The Twin Towers collapse also smashed our naïve belief that we are an exceptional people, immune to such tragedy: it was only supposed to happen to other countries – not us! 

Then, rather than being given space to grieve and heal, we were subjected to an endless loop of rewinds  – continuing to this day – of the twin towers exploding and then collapsing with the attendant chaos and counting the dead.

The end result was extremely traumatic and not just to individuals. In fact, one can make a good case that we were traumatized as a nation. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) tells us that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may result from “exposure to actual or threatened death” followed by “experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event.”

Undisputedly, America exhibits symptoms of PTSD post 9/11, as defined in the DSM-5: “recurrent and intrusive memories of the event…persistent and exaggerated negative belief about the world (e.g., “The world is completely dangerous)…persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear horror, anger)…angry outbursts (with little or not provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression…reckless or self-destructive behavior…hypervigilance,” paranoia, and the need to be in control.

Psychologically, as a result of the traumatized state of our nation, we feel an increased need to be in control and protect ourselves; this in turn, has lead to more and more citizens arming themselves with guns.

Baird points out how counter productive this is: Despite the fact that the U.S. “has by far the largest number of privately owned firearms in the developed world, we have more gun-related killings than any other developed country.” He provides scientific evidence that “a substantial number of murders, suicides and unintentional firearm fatalities can be prevented with reasonable gun policies.

This rising epidemic of gun ownership and increasing gun violence, Baird says, should be considers a public health emergency. The problem is that a gun used against another person, is extremely lethal compared to other forms of aggression.

A person can kill another with a gun in a blink of eye. That is more problematic than most people realize because we aren’t the rational beings we think we are.  If placed under sufficient stress – which varies person to person – we will react irrationally, falling prey to primitive, instinctual forces.

If I am triggered by an immediate and obvious threat (like a burglar in my home) or by a perceived threat (an ominous looking dark shadow outside my door at night), my body automatically mobilizes. At this point, my thinking is no longer driven by my rational neocortex but by my primitive midbrain (as in “Me good, you bad!).

When an person’s primal brain is triggered and gains control, it may take up to ten seconds for his conscious self to be aware of what he is doing. For that first ten seconds, his primal self  “may act, usually violently, on his or her impulses to the point that they may attack until they themselves have been incapacitated or the source of their rage has been destroyed.”1

In that ten seconds, in a fit of rage, an individual with a handgun has ample time to kill his beloved partner. However, if he only has his fists or a knife, his rational brain will most likely regain control before the result becomes life threatening.

Therapy with an emphasis on anger management can help prevent future occurrences. Interestingly, people with PTSD can be prone to rage when triggered by a sudden reminder of their original trauma, causing them to relive it through flashbacks or intrusive thoughts.

That brings us back to the argument I made at the beginning of this essay: that it is not only possible for individuals to suffer PTSD but countries as well; and, in fact, we as a nation were traumatized by 9/11. After an individual is traumatized, it is important that calmer heads prevail and treatment started to promote healing. So too it is with nations.

We all remember how our nation responded to 9/11. Certainly, a robust response was justified, but not an endless round of wars which continues to consume an absurd amount of our national treasury, while promoting fevers of panic about terrorism that has the effect of further traumatizing us.

This staggering increase in our security apparatus on a collective level parallels the increase in gun purchases at the individual level. The end result is a frightening loss in our freedom as we become increasingly controlled, surveilled, and militarized.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the seemingly endless wars we have been fighting at astronomical cost, along with the increasing restrictions on our personal freedom at home, but acquiesce because they think we have no choice.  The good news is that we do have a choice.

There is an alternative and it works. We haven’t heard much about it from our mainstream media and politicians who prosper short-term by fear-mongering and crying wolf. The only caveat is having the courage and willpower to carry it out because it flies in the face of business as usual.

The case study I wish to present took place in Norway in 2011: in the worst lone-wolf terrorist act in in modern history, a gunman murdered over 70 people, most of them teenagers attending a youth camp.

Mathew Harwood has written a terrific piece about what happened in the aftermath: Norwegians, individually and en masse, chose not to panic or let their world be altered by…[the gunman’s] horrific acts. They did not build a greater counter-terror security structure; they did not change their laws or create special terror legislation; they did not try…[the perpetrator] in some special way; they did not even close their parliament and ring it with fortifications. They were determined not to let…[terrorism] deprive them of the openness they valued. They exhibited neither hysteria nor bloodlust. It was, in our world, the bravest of collective acts, stunning in its restraint.” 2

On an individual level as well as the collective level, we must stand up in a similar manner for our precious open democracy by confronting the fear mongers who seek to inflame us for their own ends. Standing united, we must all take a deep breath, regain rational control from our primal brain, and let the healing begin.

Tagline: Jean is not against having guns and hunting as the accompanying photo shows. And he is not a pacifist. He spent 1-1/2 years in Vietnam in the navy, on the rivers and along the coast. He is a semi-retired psychotherapist and blogs at:

1 DiGiuseppe & Tafrate., 2006.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Endless Winter: ceaseless blowing, drifting sheets of whiteness

"Leaden skies tested the patience and sanity of winter-weary New Englanders once again over the weekend, unleashing more than two feet of new snow on parts of the region. It was the latest installment in a relentless string of storms that have blended, one into the next, enveloping every car and every home so that nothing has a distinct shape anymore; the landscape is just one seamless blanket of white."

It is hard to remember when the snows began, and even harder to imagine when they might end. There are almost no humans to be seen outdoors, just the blowing, drifting sheets of whiteness

“It reminds me of ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ when Pa walked to the barn from his second-story window,” chirped the anchorwoman.

But for others, the bleak elegy of James Joyce has crept to mind: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Ghostly apparition hovering in our field:
"Oh of what do you foretell:
doom or resurrection?"
CC Jean Stimmell
Quotes are from the New York Times today. Photos are
from our homestead, trying real hard to stay
one step ahead of Raven.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I was visited by Raven yesterday

CC Jean Stimmell*
Visited by Raven

Shoveling out my yard
a sharp squawk
awoke me
to my lot.

Raven was hovering,
searching for
carcasses who
had surrended
to winter’s
icy embrace.

Brother, I said,
I’m not ready yet.
Check on me again
after the next storm.

* Manipulated photos taken on the Cape in April '13

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gaia crying out in agony: Forgive us Mother for we have sinned

CC Jean Stimmell: 2/1/15

Here’s a quote from NPR from 2/1/15 about the sounds glaciers make:

"Oh, they moan and they groan," says Grant Deane, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography…” Deane is one of the authors of a new study that interprets the acoustics of glacial melting.

"Yes, it's like they're speaking to us, but it's a language that we don't yet understand well," he says.

How dense can we be? Has technology turned us into unfeeling robots?  

While modern society is in denial, indigenous people understand this language all too well, feeling it all the way down to their bones. With tears running down their faces, mortified at their impotency, native peoples hear their mother, Gaia, crying out in agony as we rend her limb from limb.

*Photograph is of ice in Portsmouth harbor, broken apart into giant slabs and thrust up on Pierce Island by the tide.