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Weekly Review Issue No. 21
On this season of loss, the things you are allowed to do that you thought you couldn’t, the benefit of birdsong and how death drives the Anthropocene
Hello and welcome back to another Review. I hope you’ll at least one thing you find interesting, useful or enjoyable. If something particularly resonated, I’d love to know about it.
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What’s alive for me
The image I have in my mind this week is that of a knot. A tightly packed, dense knot that is really hard to un-pick and get it. But with some care and attention, it starts to give slowly, giving you just a little purchase before you can relax the threads and start to find some way to play with it, loosen it, pull it apart from many directions.
My inner experience, psyche, mental state can often feel like that.. a tightly bound knot that isn’t giving me very much to play with. But this week has felt like a real loosening. It feels good.
I’m also aware this being a season of illness, decline and maybe even death for someone. It seems around me - friends, family - are dealing with some anticipation of a loss. It’s not so much the death that is the worst thing. It’s the slow, painful, uncertain fall into further, terminal sickness, facing the loss of the person, and that anticipation that one will have to continue without them. It’s a sad, painful time, even in the brightening season of Spring.
Hold your loved ones close, tell them you love them. Hold nothing back. What have you got to lose?
Research on the edges
A bit different from the usual links: This is a list of things you’re allowed to do that you thought you couldn’t, or didn’t even know you could. I kind of love the naked transparency of all the little things I think we worry about, or just what may have become second nature to other generations needs to be made very explicit for us.
Say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have an opinion” when you don’t
Not tell white lies
You can be nice and tell the truth at the same time.
Especially to kids when they annoy you.
Don’t drink (alcohol), even when you’re expected to
Buy goods/services from your friends
It’s not weird unless you make it weird
Everyone knows some starving artists and needs to buy holiday gifts
Doesn’t apply to every service obviously: don’t take out loans from your friends
A sort of twist on stating-the-obvious kind of ‘does a bear shit in the woods?’ is ‘do people enjoy birdsong’? It seems obvious but this kind of research just helps a lot to reduce any confusion or doubt as to the effect of the natural world on our wellbeing. I can’t help but notice that this Spring I’ve heard a lot of birdsong in London. Maybe its more than usual, or they are singing louder than usual… but they are there, and they are wonderful.
The beneficial effects of birdsongs in particular concerning mood and attention restoration have been previously observed. Mood recovery (e.g., after a stressor) or beneficial mood effects have repeatedly been reported for exposure with natural sounds. The present study thus confirms prior findings. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, beneficial effects of natural soundscapes on state paranoia are shown for the very first time. This finding might be explained in several ways. Birdsongs might be implicitly associated with a vital natural environment, divert attention away from (internal and external) stressors, or could signal the absence of acute threat. Urban soundscapes on the other hand might trigger socio-evaluative concerns, involuntarily direct attention resulting in perceived loss of control and hence alter vigilance to potential threats which are processes proposed to elicit paranoia.
This is the big one. Another big gulp of reality, but if you choose to listen to this, know that you’ll be in the hands of one of the most wonderful people who knows a lot about death, and death anxiety. Sheldon Solomon is a big hero of mine, and in his relaxed Hawaiian shirts and breezy talking style, you don’t quite feel the heeby-jeebies in the normal way. Recommended.
Here we are at a crossroads of human history. There's never been this historical confluence of war, political instability, economic vulnerability, on top of the impending ecological apocalypse.
Here we are, just marinated in death reminders. And what we know from our research is that that turns us into depressed, demoralized, proto fascists plundering the planet in our insatiable desire for dollars and dross in an alcohol-oxycodone-TikTok-twittering stupor.
This is not a great position to be in.
Look, I’m unashamedly biased that anything that comes out of Scotland usually gets my stamp of approval, but this objectively is a good thing: we are not getting anywhere fast enough to radically change and improve the way end of life care is delivered. The hospice-as-a-building paradigm needs to change, and it is… but these signals are indicators of what the change looks and sounds like.
Over the past three years, NHS Fife has adapted its service by closing more than half its hospice beds to try to reach more patients at home.
The move has caused local controversy, with many calling for hospice beds in Dunfermline to be reinstated, but specialist teams say they are now able to respond more quickly and flexibly to people in pain and distress.
Much like Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Sister Irene O’Connor is one of the rare things: a musical genius nun. I learned of this amazing track and album via the Economist and the Why is this interesting? substack. As per the Economist:
It starts with an incantatory, haunting voice: “Fire, fire, burning, warming cold hearts…” The words are distant and echoing, as if they are coming from inside a dark cave or a cathedral. The vocalist is soon joined by a gently pulsing rhythm. The song, called “Fire”, is an enchanting piece of music. It sounds vaguely like some electronic pop that was made in the 1980s, yet it is actually the work of Sister Irene O’Connor, an Australian nun.