Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Picture for the Last Posts

Since I jettisoned my old photoblog for a new one and I am editing down the photo albums; I add this image from Miami to go with the writing post which is also on Blogcritics.

Writing as a Way of Healing

Earlier this week I commented on a simple book about controlling stress in a review by Floris Vermeir at Book of Calm.

I was a little harsh in my comment that books like these and Chicken Soup for the Soul did not really help anything. They were merely a salve for tragedy, unhappiness and horror. I had, after all, gotten a copy after a heart attack from a sweet and well-meaning acquaintance.

My wife was recently injured badly and a woman sent her this book: Writing as a Way of Healing. I have been reading it since my wife, a painter, feels she can work out her demons in her pictures. I, on the other hand, have slacked off my photography and am writing. When I was first sick It was strongly suggested that I write out my pain and worries and even begin some stories again or a non-fiction account and overview of a heart attack. That was eleven years ago and I wish I had begun the first day I could lift a pencil. It was good advice. I didn't take it.

On release from the hospital I did what all good blogcritics would do and took everything out of the library on heart disease and read them. A physician's first-person narrative of his attack and subsequent heart failure (sorry, title forgotten) helped save my life 2 months later when flash edema (named because it hits so quickly) began to kill me. Instead of waiting I remembered his description and called the paramedics immediately. Living 20 minutes from their station in the woods meant I kept breathing just long enough for them to get there. Not knowing the symptoms might have meant a different outcome.

The subject of this book subtitled, " How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives"is writing stories, histories, journals (maybe even blogs) in order to deal with the things in life that are almost impossible to deal with. The author, Louise DeSalvo, acts as mother hen and teacher to people who need catharsis for all manner of molestation, injury, abuse, disease and injury; Louise DeSalvo does it well enough to change my mind on this book. It has the value of therapy rather than the self-help pap of many such attempts.--the stuff of gifts when you visit the newly injured or hurt.

On the other hand, there is the art of literature and the fact that merely because some artists are also exorcising demons; does not mean that exorcising demons makes you an artist. DeSalvo writes, for example... "I've learned how, for example, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes,, and Henry Miller wrote their way out of suicidal or homicidal episodes. How they transformed their traumatic past into woorks of art..." Well, maybe. Or maybe they had traumatic pasts that became art written by people who always had been forced to write by their muse.

I do not negate the therapeutic aspect of writing. DeSalvo presents a strong and supportively worded plan for people in emotional and physical need to face their pasts, their painful presents and their often uncertain futures. I spent many years working in a mental hospital (now" Psychiatric Center") and ran successful group sessions based on multi-media ways for long-term psychotic and institutionalized people to face some real demons and delusions and to work toward more self-reliance.

Sure. This kind of plan works. The author merely forgets sometimes that F. Scot Fitzgerald and William Faulkner were artists with demons and tragedies. The tragedies did not make them artistis.

Jackson Pollock was an alcoholic and a great painter but the painter came first. Henry Miller had an upsetting love affair for his times. But the Tropic series of novels were still works of art and merely given impetus by the unhappiness of his love life.

My first story was of my first unhappy love affair and a Kerouac-like trip out of the South to the big city of New York. It was cathartic for a college freshman. It was not great art. Virginia Woolf did, indeed, use books like To The Lighthouse to exorcise childhood insecurity and molestation but hers were books of substance -- those that we call "art".

I do, actually, suggest this book as a possibility for someone who needs the push to open their heart and mind and deal with seemingly insurmountable problems. But I also warn them that Ms. DeSalvo dwells on the therapy and the tragedies a bit too much. There is a limit to the repetitive mention of Holocaust stories, childhood rape (a 5 year old!), writing by the bedside of dying children and mothers. When it is Isabel Allende it is art and catharsis. When it is another example of the horrors that life throws in our faces it can become too much for the reader.

Sadly, DeSalvo seems totally non-visual. For my wife and I the image is as or more powerful than the word but words are still the stuff of therapy; pictures come in dreams. For DeSalvo there is an anecdote that "...In 1997 I attended an exhibit called 'Art that Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia'. (There is) "... an Ethiopian healing scroll, an iconic drawing of geometric shapes and five sets of eyes and written prayers..." She ignores the images and speaks again only of words. It is obvious that the healing power of pictures, icons, photos, and drawings has been lost on her.

For a time Carl Jung's Memories, Reflections and Dreams was a favorite but each reading dredged up so many dreams or such power that I finally stopped re-reading it. That is the power of both the word and of pictures and icons.

Is writing good for the soul? Absolutely. Better than chicken soup. Today after beginning this post I read by Dr Pat ; I realized that there is a real life reason for a program to help people write out their losses and horrors. He lost a friend without being able to say "good bye". But since he is an avid reader and a writer, he wrote out his hurt in a Blogcritics post. He confronted his feelings with words and that is what DeSalvo -- depressing as she can be -- outlines. His post made me feel that this book of suggestions and support for writing about traumas is far more valid than I first thought.

My final thought, which is not mentioned in the book, is the recent growth of blogs. I speak not of the corporate news blogs or blogcritics which is more like a magazine; but of the personal blogs by the millions where people write out their hearts for small audiences and no pay. It belies the need of people to communicate feelings and document their lives.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Guidant Recalls Heart Device

The Guidant Corporation finally alerted physicians that it had nine "older pacemaker models (which) were prone to failing". The company which is already in a controverisal situation over earlier recalls of its units said that some implanted units might need replacing. If you don't have one yet and work at your desktop PC or Mac instead of keeping it in your chest; you have no worries.

Guidant alerted doctors to the failure possibility in the 28,000 made from November, 1997 to October, 2000. That was a bad year to be dying of heart problems, obviously. In a capitalist world you should have had the foresight to get your pacemaker from a different company or at a different time. Shame!

The problem is "...that a component used to seal the pacemakers could degrade...causing the devices to fail. Such failure could cause 'serious health complications' in some patients." This problem follows Guidants recent recall of "tens of thousands of implantable heart defibrillators..."

I love medical euphemisms. I mention it because I have a second "pacing device" implanted and made by Guidant. It is a "bi-ventricular pacing device " and has a built-in defibrillator. (I will shortly give a short course on carrying your palmtop in your chest.) The euphemisms, however, often make me laugh -- or something. In 1994, 2 days after a massive heart attack, my body (or a medical error) caused cardiac arrest. I was about to be transferred from intensive care and was sitting up eating a great looking chef salad when I felt so badly even I knew it was time to ring the bell. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done -- raising my hand high enough to bring it down on the old fashioned bell. Some time later, after some excitement that I was not on this planet to see, I looked up at an expectant team of six people and said "thanks". A joke seemed out of place and letting them know I was happier in the other realm would have negated their pride. I asked my nurse later, "What happened?" The reply: "Oh, we just lost your pulse for a while." Wow! Think of the things that can now be lost and found again.

Recently I described a later angioplasty to a surgeon where the clod cardiologist broke the coronary artery and I had emergency by-pass a few minutes later with a lot of running and shouting "Out of the way! Emergency!" This surgeon said, "That was lucky. It is usually a terminal event." For the busy physician with life and death on his hands, he can stop worrying about patients dying. They merely expepience "terminal events".

The NY Times today reported that...
"...Guidant has been under scrutiny since late May when it was disclosed that the company failed to notify doctors for three years that an electrical defect in one defibrillator model could cause it to short-circuit when needed to save a patient's life. The company continued to sell units with the potential electrical flaw even after it began producing improved versions of the same model in which the problem had been fixed.

The F.D.A. is investigating how Guidant handled reviews of its products' dangers. Since late May, the company has issued alerts or recalled 11 models of defibrillators."

See NY Times.

Another site of importance is by the Medical and Heathcare Devices Regulatory Agency of the UK at: UK Regulatory Agency.

Dr. Bruce Wilkoff at the Cleveland Heart Center responded with a concise description of the types of implanted devices and the statement that...

"...Although under some circumstances all three types of devices can protect a patient’s life, defibrillators most specifically are used for this purpose. Therefore defibrillators are placed to protect patients from sudden cardiac death. Sudden cardiac death happens frequently in patients with heart disease. Although there are no guarantees with defibrillator therapy, it has been shown to be a very good, very effective and very reliable form of treatment. This is also true of pacemakers and biventricular pacing devices.

Nevertheless, occasionally a defibrillator, pacemaker or biventricular model will be identified as being potentially affected by a problem that could cause the device to fail and not protect the patient. Often the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will call the situation a recall. However, each situation is different, and while sometimes the device will need to be removed and replaced, in the vast majority of situations THIS IS NOT THE BEST ANSWER.

Often, like the recent situations, the problem is so rare or so mild, that it is very unlikely to be harmful to most patients. In fact, all manufactured devices have a small failure rate..."

See Dr. Wilkoff's article and description of the major types of implanted machines at Cleveland Heart Center.

For an informative and fun version of pacemakers and their invention - by accident - by Wilson Greatbach in Inventing Modern America by David E. Brown which presents an anthology of fascinating inventions and their stories. Great for non-science types and wonderful for young people with an interest in invention and science. It is availably here and on my photoblog through Amazon and its own website at Inventing America. There is a great article on the World Wide Web and the first Apple, too.

The three implantable machines are a pacemaker which is smaller and "prevents the heart from going to slowly."

"DEFIBRILLATOR (ALSO CALLED AN ICD): This device is a bit larger and includes the activity of the pacemaker but also watches the heart for sudden fast heart rhythms." I had one of these for a time and it kept me alive and, here in the Mexican jungle; was there in case of cardiac arrest where you have a few minutes to get to a defib device and the closest is at least a half hour away, maybe four (if it is working and hasn't been stolen)

And, as I have now which is helping amazingly: a Guidant "BIVENTRICULAR PACING OR CARDIAC RESYNCHRONIZATION DEVICES: These devices treat heart failure, a condition when the heart does not pump enough blood to the body. These devices are either a pacemaker or a defibrillator but also have an extra lead (wire that goes from the metal device to the heart). The extra lead activates another part of the heart (left ventricle) which improves the efficiency of the heart to squeeze out more blood with every heart beat"

Am I worried about the recall? Not really. It is working, I haven't been notified and my mood doesn't include the surgery to change the one I have. Should these devices be watched more and more carefully as they multiply and become progressively more sophisticated? Absolutely!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Imogen Cunningham, Photographer: 1883-1976

Photo by Howard Dratch. Similar to a Cunningham (not as good) but no copyright problems.
A grand old photographer of the feminine persuasion.
Cunningham began and enjoyed a life as a portrait photographer. She was most inlfuenced by Gerturde Kasebier who, I think, she quickly eclipsed. The marriage to a tactile artist, the potter, Roi Partridge, lasted until 1947. Of him she left some wonderful portraits of strong hands at work in the clay.

She worked with her strong determination and will until a ripe age. One of her last books celebrates age in a way it is not usually seen. Beyond Ninety was her study, her series of interview, dead on photos of people who were beyond ninety and, like her, continued to give and think and crae. The photo that always sticks so tenaciously to my mind is the portrait of her father, past ninety, with his long beard from another time, sitting on the huge pile of firewood he had cut and split to prepare for another winter.

"An old lady", you say. OK, she grew to be one because that is what happens to young women who survive to old age. Some do. Few thrive and pulse with creativity and continue to advance with modern pictures presented in new ways until the end. Another picture that always haunts me in Cunningham in a self-portrait in a shop's mirror in the manner of Winogrand or Szarkowski but so much older. The scene seems so familiar a part of the last quarter or the 20th century but the subject is a little old lady holding her well-used Rolleiflex and facing the viewer directly, facing herself, confronting the years that had slipped away and accepted them with some equanimity. It is a great shot.

There are also the flowers. They are another theme of hers that, since I also love to climb into their reproductive organs and look into their intense color and shape. I add one of mine which is decidedly NOT a Cunningham but it gives you the genre and does not infringe on anyone's copyright.

Her body of work, portraits, flowers, some nudes, even street shooting lasted more than 60 years. She used those years to hone her skills and to keep learning to see better and better.
To view or buy copies of her work go to The Imogen Cunningham Trust at Imogen Cunningham

There is a quick, brief but interesting biography at Bio.

For the younger photographers surrounded by digital cameras, memory cards and sticks and flash cards; she may seem from another world. But, the world is only different in media -- film and silver and early color versus Photoshopped, digitally printed images that can be viewed on screens and shown to millions , transferred across the globe in seconds (or is it nanoseconds?), desk-top published and conserved on DVDs and CDs. The technology changed.

The ability to see well has not. Cunningham's pictures are hers, are unique both in vision and time and pass the test --they still please the viewer so many years later.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Father Michael in his parish in Mexico

This is an old picture that somehow reminds me of the Marcel Theroux book although I am not sure why. Black and white perhaps? A Dickensian character. A journey for Fr. Michael from Dublin to Bacalar, Mexico. They seem to want to be together. And who am I to keep a picture from a book; two things I love.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Marcel Theroux: "A Stranger in the Earth"

This Marcel Theroux novel should be ordered from Amazon. Magically it will come to your door. Modern miracles.

My wife and I, when we both enjoyed A Stranger in the Earth were both surprised. We had not thought about it, read reviews, seen it in Blogcritics posts or the NY Times Book Review. Besides, it was published in 1998.

The surprise was that un-modern game I have played all my life of rooting in bargain bins, used bookstores, Salvation Army outlets and library fairs. The game is to find and collect books after tearing apart the bins and straining your eyes along racks of books or sneezing your way through old cardboard boxes of paperbacks. Once in a great while a treasure appears. Slightly more often an enjoyable book pops out . This one I found in the $1 bin in the Target Store after much rooting.

Let's cut to the chase. A country lad raised by an Edwardian grandfather (bumpkin, as it were) leaves for a job on a small newspaper in London that is his uncle's on the death of gramps. Is he ready for London of 1998? Hardly. He was schooled at home and dressed in "sensible" Edwardian wear complete with cape. Dickensian characters pour out of newsrooms, shops and sidestreets. It is London.

Turns out that he can write, he manages to make friends and even girlfriends and function in the metropolis. He changes and the paper changes. Friends change. Characters grow and grow likeable and real.

Where is the mystery? How many chase scenes and shoot outs?. Well, none. Sorry. Let us call this "a slice of life in modern London". As Horace thinks, "... But who understands the daily calvaries of a million unhappy people, and the fairytale reversals that make their wan lives bearable?" The man doesn't solve mysteries except for inklings about the heart and of life.

It is a book of stories, newspaper and otherwise, and of characters that do some breathing on their own and some growing. All this is a lot for a first novel. We liked it. Both of us for once agreeing on contemporary literature. Amazing.

He is the first son of Paul Theroux, a famous writer, and was born in Uganda in '68 . I have always wanter to read Paul Theroux, the master with the interesting sounding books. I never could. His son learned and excelled. Give him a try with this, his first novel, or his later work.

Friday, July 01, 2005

China's Cyber Space Patrol

Chinese websites are now required to register with the national authorities prior to 10 June or the government plans to close them down at least temporarily.

AFP reported that the Ministry of Information Industry was attempting "to control domestic internet information services..."

If they are closed they will still be allowed 10 days to comply with the registration requirements. Then they will be closed for good the government agency promises.

So far the Chinese government has required internet cafes (which are legion in the developing world where every kid and business person has a computer, laptop and, probably, wireless services) to register with the Ministry before being allowed to offer internet access. Websites of size have already been forced to sign a "code of conduct" that would control the content of websites and chatrooms. Blogs are not noted in the article.

Since I often watch Chinese blogs and bloggers out of interest for the culture of both China and the blogosphere; I would expect more stringent rules to emerge very soon that would attempt to control this modern mode of communication that is, perhaps, uncontrollable.

In China the effort to control the content of the net and access to it is called "The Great Firewall of China." Obviously the idea is to keep free lines of communication off the internet -- especially "subversive", anti-government discussions and postings.

According to AFP " ... The Chinese government forecasts the country will have 120 million Internet users by the end of 2005, a figure that would mark a growth of nearly 28 percent from 94 million at the end of 2004."

In the period immediately preceding the breakup of the U.S.S.R. I attended a prophetic lecture by a political scientist. I was the photographer and had time to listen (it had been my undergraduate and grad school majors, after all). I have forgotter (forgive me) his name but the gist of the long talk was that the growth of personal computers, fax machines, photocopiers (cell phones and the net came later) would seriously hamper the efforts of authoritarian governments to control their citizens with Big Brother techniques of mid control and to limit the passage of information.

A few years later came the Tianaman Square massacre and it grew into a threat to the government and then a bloodbath precisely because people were able to reproduce information and transmit it around the world. And this was still before the internet.

What China will do and how well it will succeed remains a fascinating question. Theirs is a growing, strengthening, and dynamic society and economy. They have embraced technology and speak of democracy. Perhaps we will begin to see those limits (or changes) as well as how well the new technologies work in the world to guarantee the free transmission and expression of ideas.

There is a great deal more to this story. Check Yahoo and Google and other search engines under "China and blogs" and you will see an international concern being voiced.

MSNBC is yet another voice heard from on the subject of the Chinese censorship attempt.

I quote Google's synopsis: SHANGHAI, China - "Authorities have ordered all China-based Web sites and blogs to register or be closed down, in the latest effort by the communist government to police the world of cyberspace.

Commercial publishers and advertisers can face fines of up to 1 million yuan ($120,000) for failing to register, according to documents posted on the Web site of the Ministry of Information Industry.

Private, noncommercial bloggers or Web sites must register the complete identity of the person responsible for the site, it said. The ministry, which has set a June 30 deadline for compliance, said 74 percent of all sites had already registered."