the finals illusion

grown-ups
everywhere
speaking and acting as if
they were still
in that classroom
in those schools they were put-in as children
as if their school teachers were still standing next to them
grading them
teaching them their place
in·ex·tri·ca·bly
stuck in the endless illusion
of upcoming final exams

A taste of freedom – Trauma healing in Somatic Education

Bessel van der Kolks’s book The Body Keeps the Score, #1 New York Times bestseller for 27 weeks, long time Amazon bestseller in nonfiction, published in 36 languages, has 124 mentions of the word “school.” Throughout his book Bessel van der Kolk writes of rape and violence happening in schools—and of domestic rape and violence, obviously performed by people who went through compulsory schooling themselves. Yet, he fails to critique compulsory schooling, the bureaucratic system. Quite to the contrary, his book concludes, “The greatest hope for traumatized, abused, and neglected children is to receive a good education in schools.”

The next famous trauma-expert celebrity on main stream media, Peter A. Levine, seems to ignore the trauma-causing system design in compulsory schooling all together. I couldn’t find anything much about it in the following books of his: In An Unspoken Voice, Waking the Tiger, Trauma and Memory, Healing Trauma. In almost all schools children are subject to coercion and indoctrination, by design. On top of that, some schools are so rotten that the danger of actual rape and physical violence is real and ever present. 12 years in such an environment do nothing to a child? Really? And not a single chapter on that by one of the most acknowledged trauma experts in the world?

So much for the work of the famous and much praised psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and psychotherapist Peter A. Levine. And how many do follow their lead?

However, psycholinguist Frank Smith is not afraid to look at the origins of trauma in compulsory schooling. Psycho-linguist, not psycho-therapist. In his book Understanding Reading he writes, “A final point. It is not necessary for any readers, and especially not for beginners, to understand the meaning of everything they attempt to read [..] children are rarely given credit for their ability to ignore what they can’t understand and to attend only to that from which they will learn. Unfortunately, the right of children to ignore what they can’t understand may be the first of their freedoms to be taken away when they enter school.

Credit where credit is due. How come a psycholinguist can write what the most famous of the trauma-therapy bunch can’t even hint at? But then, of course, Frank Smith’s work has been discredited, debunked, factchecked. Of course. Speak against the machine and see your life’s work being pulled off the shelves. Bad luck for the people who are kept in the dark, by the best of the best of trauma therapy? Or their own fault, for trusting the top selling experts of mainstream medicine?

On top of all that, I don’t even think that “The right to ignore” is the first freedom taken away from children upon entering school. The list of freedoms taken away immediately upon entering school is a long one.

“Each day, schools reinforce how absolute and arbitrary power really is by granting and denying access to fundamental needs for toilets, water, privacy, and movement. In this way, basic human rights which usually require only individual volition, are transformed into privileges not to be taken for granted.” John Taylor-Gatto wrote about it truthfully and without a muzzle in his books, for example in The Underground History of American Education, Weapons of Mass Instructions, Dumbing Us Down. That is after he has quit his job as a school teacher, he wouldn’t have been able to speak up like this and hold his position in the system.

And all this is not mentioned by the great trauma-expert celebrities?

Classes and the environment for Somatic Education must be set-up very differently than classes in compulsory schooling, if humans ought to grow and heal.

For example, when you come to my classes of Somatic Education, be it in person or on video, your freedoms are not taken away from you. This is the first thing that confuses new clients. Where should they lie down? Should they lie down? Or should they sit? Stand? Do they need to participate or can they just watch? Why don’t I stop them from talking, or being silent? Why don’t I tell them which books they have to read? Why don’t I give instructions with a voice of superior authority, why don’t I correct and adjust clients, but make mere suggestions instead? And why don’t I get upset when they fall asleep?

When you come to my class, you may even keep your freedom to ignore me. “You don’t need to see me, but if you would like to participate, I’d suggest you chose a place from where you can hear me well,” I often begin. You don’t have to look into my eyes when I talk to you. “Look at me,” is a command you will never hear in my classes.

And so healing begins. Your freedoms are built into my teachings. The movements are the vehicle, the work is the work, your freedoms are the teaching; for you to remember.

The man ate the fish

“The sentences The man ate the fish and The fish ate the man comprise exactly the same words, yet they have quite different meanings.” — Excerpt from the book, Frank Smith, Understanding Reading

Frank Smith makes an argument about reading and grasping meaning. He says knowing the words and grammar is by far not sufficient to learn the meaning of a sentence. The entire book goes on about this, and it proofs from a scientific point of view what I have been always cross about: in Chinese language classes they give you rather dull and totally made-up texts to read, with a list of vocabulary and grammar. “Here you go, swim or sink” was the attitude of all 3 dozen or so Chinese language teachers I’ve had the pleasure to sink with.

“It is quite clear that sentences aren’t understood by trying to put together meanings of individual words,” writes Frank Smith, the Canadian psycholinguist. “A computer is befuddled by the different possible meanings of a simple expression like time flies. Is time a noun, or a verb (as in time the race horses), or an adjective (like the word fruit in fruit flies)? Is flies a noun or a verb?”

He then goes on to dissect the argument of grammar: “The onions are planted by the farmer is a passive sentence, because it contains the three grammatical markers of the passive form—the auxiliary are, the participle ending -ed, and the preposition by. But the sentence The onions are planted by the tree is not a passive sentence, although its surface structure would appear to contain the appropriate three grammatical markers.” “She was seated by the minister; the grammar depends on the meaning,” argues Frank Smith. And I couldn’t agree more.

A wonderful read for those who love language and are interested in how language [insert verb here] meaning.

The man ate the fish … The fish ate the man. What can be said of the written word can also be said about movement. For example, “The ear moves to the shoulder” and “The shoulder moves to the ear” sound like the same movements, yet they are quite different! Why is that?

In the first way the shoulder is held in place, and the spine bends and twists to bring the ear closer to the shoulder. A dozen or so vertebrae moving in relation to each other. The hundreds of tiny muscles that attach to the facet joints on the right of these vertebrae shorten, whereas the same amount of tiny muscles on the other side need to let go and lengthen, in an equally controlled fashion. All the while the main body mass needs to be shifted to the left of the pelvis, in order to hold the body in balance and not fall over to the right. A marvellous feat of the nervous system.

In the second way the spine must be stiffened, the muscles around the vertebrae of the neck equally stiffened to stabilise the spine, so the shoulder can be pulled up towards the ear. Two very different methods of movement, the differentiation of these two… years in the making. No less a marvel than the highest praised literature, yet almost completely un-praised, underrated. Valued only when it is lost, due to (for example) a stroke or a birth defect.

Or maybe, maybe we’re the curiosity here, you, the reader, and I, the writer. Maybe we are the rare folks who’re interested in language, learning, movement, meaning, in peeks behind the great veil and spirited conversations?

“Be that as it may,” to quote J. R. R. Tolkien, the English writer, poet and philologist, and let’s enjoy the day. Let’s be grateful and cheerful for having a healthy, well grown and well groomed nervous system, let’s cherish the fact that these two distinct movements, The ear lowers to the shoulder and The shoulder lifts to the ear, work well in us, and we are able to distinguish the meanings of The man ate the fish and The fish ate the man just as well.

Where’s the magic gone?

“My road to Sunk Creek lay in no straight line. By rail I diverged northwest to Fort Meade, and thence, after some stay with the kind military people, I made my way on a horse. Up here in the Black Hills it sluiced rain most intolerably. The horse and I enjoyed the country and ourselves but little; and when finally I changed from the saddle into a stagecoach, I caught a thankful expression upon the animal’s face, and returned the same.” – Excerpt From, The Virginian, Owen Wister

Reading the book The Virginian; one of the things that strike me most is how people interacted and viewed animals, back in 1902. If I may take Owen Wister’s sentiment of the world as the general one. As if an animal, a dog, a steer, a chicken, had a life on its own. As if they had their own thinking, feelings, their own realm of being, imagine that!

I flip through my ebook collection, stop at a book by Arno Gruen. “These young people have been trained not to respond to experience with feeling, but by distancing themselves,” the randomly opened page reads, giving account of Arno Gruen’s thinking. Arno Gruen, the famous Swiss-German psychoanalyst, as he wrote in the early 1960ties in New York. He wasn’t talking about animals though, he was reading rather disturbing texts by Henry Miller to his clients, who found these texts not disturbing at all; thus making his students aware of the alienating power of abstract thinking.

I myself, I mostly try to write and think in relation to movement, movement learning, and the physical representation of ourselves. I try to have one foot in the physical body. Through this I try to have an anchor in the real world. I believe this is one of the distinguishing features, distinctive characteristics of my writing.

Are you standing right now? Sitting? Where do you lean the bulk of your weight against this Earth—on your behind? Your thighs? Your feet? Your back? Are you leaning more on your left or right… sit-bone? Arm? Leg? In your holding right now, is your chest bent more to the left or to the right, slouched over maybe? Into which compartment do your lungs fill easiest right now? Are you breathing more through your left or through your right nostril? Or through your mouth, maybe? I would reason that the mouth is for speaking, eating and drinking, and kissing maybe, but for breathing? Only in life threatening situations of emergency.

On the other hand… yesterday a strange sadness did overcome me. A sadness I’ve encountered many a times in the most recent months. I was thinking, “Is there really no magic in this world?” Or did the magic die with the old forests? With the animals of the wild? Humans are on the verge of turning even the last spot on this planet into a landfill, and uprooting even the last free animal and putting it onto a plate. At the very least, shouldn’t Earth have become the kingdom of some dark lord, like Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor? Is there no all-seeing dark master who seeks to enslave just about everyone?

I took the elevator down to get me a bottle of sparkling water. Those face masks, why do we still have to wear them? On the way back up there was this cute Korean-American dad with his small son. I’ve seen them before, in the elevator, a week ago. At that time the father was carrying his boy in his arms, and they were jesting and joking and it was lovely to hear… lovely to hear the absence of child rearing for once.

This time the small boy was standing next to his father, at the back of the elevator. With big eyes gazed the boy up upon the many buttons and numbers of the panel. “One Five,” said the boy, looking at the numbers illuminated in bright red color. The elevator came to a halt, one person got out, the doors closed, and the elevator continued its ascent. “Two Two,” the boy called my floor, “Two Two You-tiu-ber,” the boy said. “Youtuber,” he repeated. I turned to look at him in surprise. He slid behind his father. How could this small boy possibly know that I’m a Youtuber? I said “Good evening,” to them both on leaving. While walking down the hallway to my apartment I took off my face mask and was thinking, “Maybe there is a little bit of magic in this world after all.”

hips be free

lift one knee
a little bit
let
your hip joint roll
around its leg

Free voluntary reading and brain health

Somewhen around the end of 2020, I decided to make 2021 my year of daily reading. I was aiming for (at least) 40 minutes of Free-Voluntary-Reading per day, reading fiction and such… texts written by people who care about how their sentences turn out, like David Sedaris, Wolf Haas, Raymond Carver, George RR Martin, Friedrich Torberg, Billy Collins, Thomas Bernhard, etc.

In hindsight I can’t say whether I’ve reached that daily goal of reading…, but I guess I got some reading done, at least more than in the previous two decades.

On the other hand, in fact just yesterday, I was wondering if it was worth it, the time investment. When in fact I could have bought a Playstation 5 instead, and played apocalyptic Zombie survival games, instead. I mean, here in Vietnam I could have actually bought a PS5. SONY’s gaming console is hopelessly sold out in most other countries.

So I was thinking, with my iPad resting in my lap, the book still alit. I glanced down at the page again. “Actually, that last page went quite well,” said I to myself, in my head; however that works. “Actually, my reading out loud became a lot smoother, compared to when I started out over a year ago” And then I read another 5 or 10 pages or so, finishing Chapter 2 of Wolf Haas’s book, “Das ewige Leben.”

I recalled this table from the book “The Power Of Reading”, by neurolinguist Stephan Krashen. The book says: “The table summarizes the impact of in-school free reading programs. In each case, free readers were compared to students in traditional programs (assigned reading, grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling.)

Two findings clearly emerge from this table: First, in-school free reading programs are consistently effective. In 51 out of 54 comparisons (94 percent), readers do as well as or better than students who were engaged in traditional programs. Note that a finding of ‘No Difference’ suggests that free reading is just as good as traditional instruction.

There is also strong evidence that free reading is extremely pleasant and results in superior general knowledge. Even if free reading were equivalent to direct instruction in terms of literacy development, it should therefore be the preferred option.”

Oh, and there’s something else I’ve noticed. All this reading of fiction for more than a year, it seems to have the same effects as Crop Rotation on what I think is my brain. Sort of. “Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure,” says Wikipedia.

Somehow, it seems like, Free Voluntary Reading makes it more pleasant for me to read more. Even studying Chinese language—or low and behold—Vietnamese language, becomes thinkable again; Now that I’ve completely abandoned vocabulary learning and burned (deleted that is) all traditional language learning text books from my iPad. It was about time that “they” burned, instead of us. I don’t need no pesky grammar-drill books and graded readers when I’ve got J. R. R. Tolkien and Stephen Krashen on my shelves.

Also, as an afterthought, I guess I’ll hold off buying a Playstation 5 as long as there’s no diversity Zombie survival games where I can play the Zombie. Hear Me Roar.

The world, the page. The people, the writing.

“Researchers in early reading development have concluded that we ‘learn to read by reading,’ that we learn to read by attempting to make sense of what we see on the page (Goodman 1982; see also Flurkey and Xu 2003; Smith 1994b)” – Excerpt From The Power of Reading, by Stephen Krashen

“We learn to read by attempting to make sense of what we see on the page,” what a glorious expression, I said to myself while I was sitting in a coffee shop and glanced around me: “How would this translate to movement?”

I observed a guy who was turning around in sitting, a girl who was sitting cross-legged on a chair while typing on her laptop, and the barista washing a dishcloth. The world, the page. The people, the writing. Do we learn to read the world in the same way we learn to read a page in a book? Or is it the other way round? What is this city? What is the story? What am I doing here, what am I doing with my life?