Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Plasticity & Play

I. ACE of Clubs

[In cartomancy, the Ace of Clubs represents the search for knowledge.]

This afternoon bink & I went to a talk by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, author of the newly published book The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity [link: NYT article]. She talked about the ACE quiz, ten simple questions about basic Adverse Childhood Experiences, and studies that show the long-term impact ACEs have on child brain development ("toxic stress" = not good), and hence on their (our) lifelong health (also not good).

(There are mitigating factors, such as having someone who cares about you, even outside the immediate family, like a grandparent or a neighbor.)

I answered yes to three questions--(not uncommon)--but I also had the important mitigating factor of feeling loved. That was confusing, however, because the parent who loved me most and was a source of inspiration, my mother, was also the cause of the heaviest ACEs, being suicidal as she was.

But this is a very simple test---the complexities are for another time and place.

Grim stuff, but Burke Harris's point is that early intervention helps children, with their highly plastic brains, and it's a matter of public health that we as a society work toward the goal of providing that for all kids.

Burke Harris says:
"All of these work to heal the impacts of an overactive stress response: [mindfulness and] meditation; getting regular sleep and having good sleep hygiene; good nutrition; getting ... exercise every day; good old fashioned mental health care; and healthy relationships."
Furthermore, these same things help grown ups too, even though our brain plasticity is less.

II. Plastic Play

This is not a criticism of her work, (she can't cover everything), but I notice Burke Harris didn't mention play, at least in the talk I heard today.

Just this past week, I've been thinking more about what great therapy play can be. Of course I know my toys are more than just fun objects to me.
(Let's see: picking up run-over stuffed animals off the street and restoring them. . .  Could there possibly be a connection with not being able to save my mother?)

So I know about that, personally. But then I watched the 2010 documentary film Marwencol last week, and--wow!
Do you know it?

It's about a guy, Mark Hogancamp, who five young guys beat, kick, and leave for dead outside a bar in upstate New York in 2000. Hogancamp survived, but his memory didn't, and he had to rebuild his life from scratch.
He also built a miniature made-up WWII town outside his trailer--Marwencol, Belgium--and populated it with 1/6th-scale dolls.

Every day for years, he has photographed his main doll, Hogie, his alter ego. Among other events, five SS dolls attack him, over and over. Over and over, a group of beautiful women partisans rescue and restore him.
Over and over, the SS respawn and hunt down Hogie again, and again he's rescued...

“I needed a way to work things out, for me,” he said. “I feel as though men kicked me out of this world, so I made women my catalyst for revenge.”

ABOVE: Mark Hogancamp at Allouche Gallery in his favored footwear, with photos he took of Marwencol. Credit Robert Wright for The New York Times: "Mark Hogancamp, the Artist as (Imagined) War Hero"

I watched this movie (there's a book too, Welcome to Marwencol), and I thought, I WANT FULLY ARTICULATED TOYS!

Hogancamp says the dolls determine what he does in Marwencol. 

Reading more about it in the above linked article from 2015, this really caught me:
Recently, when Mr. Hogancamp suffered artist’s block — “I didn’t feel like killing Nazis anymore” — he took inspiration from the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, and created the Marwencol Olympics."
Fascinating. It seems the dolls rewrote the script.

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