Hanging Stones – Rock Art on Ilkley Moor

I went on an expedition to Ilkley Moor yesterday in search of rock art. Ilkley Moor is well known for its rock art, so I’m kind of lucky to live nearby. My map reading skills aren’t great, and the Moor was snowy, icy, and boggy, so I only found the Hanging Stones yesterday. But they were well worth it. They were the first site I looked for, and I found them pretty much straight away and in perfect light conditions for photography – the rocks were wet, and the low winter sun created great contrast (light and shadow) on the surface of the stone:

from 2224Like a lot of the Ilkley rock art, the Hanging Stones came to popular attention in the late Nineteenth Century. J. Romilly Allen noted them in a 1879 journal article, The Prehistoric Rock Sculptures of Ilkley. I haven’t read the article, but I gather from various blogs (and another blog – critical of vandalism) and websites that this rock art site was found in the 1860s when mining work was taking place. The rock, it seems, was literally uncovered when turf was being removed. The turf would have protected the rock from the weather, people, and animals, which perhaps explains why the artwork is in such good condition.

But anyway, I’m not an expert on rock art or the history of the Hanging Stones, so I won’t risk writing a great deal about stuff I don’t know much about. If this blog is of use, it will be because I have (at the time of writing – 2015) a good full-frame digital camera, and I managed to photograph the rock art in pretty much ideal lighting conditions. The future of the Hanging Stones is uncertain, because the stones were recently (2012) vandalised, and local groups and English Heritage might well act to protect the stones in the future, by fencing them in or turfing over them. So good quality photographs of these stones might prove to be an important resource in the future, marking as they do a moment in the life of the rock art.

Here’s a shot from a low angle, facing into the sunlight. The view is perhaps approximately a metre wide. The rock is wet and icy, and those poos are, I think, rabbit droppings.

from 2229

Here’s a close up, facing pretty much straight down. The frame here is perhaps approximately 30-50cm wide.

from 2257

I can’t help but wonder what meaning, if any, these shapes had for whoever made them. My immediate impression was that the top shape is penis like. It wouldn’t be the first or last time someone created a piece of penis graffiti!  Or perhaps the shapes are a map. Modern graffiti is often territorial, where people (often young lads) sign their name or make an image that represent them or their gang. Perhaps these patterns mark out a space in that way. Who knows?!

If you would like to view large versions of these images, go to my flickr site, where you can view desktop sized images. Alternatively, feel free to contact me to request full sized images. Having said that though, I’ve just noticed that you can click on the blog images above to view them in full. Lots of detail in there! 6000 pixels wide!

Here’s another image from an angle somewhere between oblique and down-facing:

DSC_2259I interpret of few of these shapes as penises. I can make out 5 of them, as so:

Painty Image editWhat do you think? It might be possible that I am seeing/interpreting these penis shapes, and yet the shapes are not penises at all.

Any thoughts, questions, or comments welcome.

Hopefully, in the future, to be continued…….

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The Arrogance of Scientists

I just tried to listen to a BBC Front Row (nice radio programme about arts stuff, such as films, music etc) podcast on my Ipod. But Itunes or the BBC must have screwed up somewhere, because the 21st of August podcast of Inside Science plays instead of the listed 21st August (2014) podcast of Front Row. So I thought I’d listen to the Inside Science podcast, just in case this accidental mix up might turn out to be serendipitous in some way. It didn’t. Inside Science annoyed me instead. A minute in, and the chirpy science journalist sums up the whole episode as so:

History, epistemology, feminism and culture. It’s almost like a humanities degree on the programme today. But that’s science for you! It’s the language that underwrites everything else!

I’ll combine those last two lines for you, so you get the picture. I’ll SHOUT them too:


Really? What, absolutely everything???

Are you sure about that?

I wouldn’t say so! Maybe science has links with art, history, politics, philosophy etc etc, but I would in no way say that it underwrites them. It seems extremely arrogant to say such a thing. It is, ultimately, to argue that science is more important than philosophy, art, history etc. And, interestingly, I can’t imagine an artist, historian, or philosopher making such a claim about their own subject or area. They just wouldn’t tend to be so bold or arrogant.

Having myself studied for an MA and an MSC, and then going on to gain a PhD (Doctorate in Philosophy in Education), I met many academics from different backgrounds. In my experience, the academics who had backgrounds in the arts or humanities tended to have a breadth of knowledge. They also had humility, patience with students, and were willing to take on or empathise with views or arguments that were not their own. By contrast, I will remember the scientist academics for how they seemed proud or confident within the confines of their own practices or subject area. One senior scientist, for example, told a class of final year PhD students that he often screened out students for jobs if they hadn’t handed their PhD in on time. By late he meant even a week late. He said: ‘I don’t even read their application! I just throw it in the bin!’ Many students in that class were already a few months or a year behind schedule (which is normal for students who are trying to complete – better to do a good job rather than hurry it through), so his comments seemed quite heartless. There was a collective intake of breath, which the tutor didn’t even seem to hear. Another tutor from a science background talked to us students (many of us were from arts or humanities backgrounds) about qualitative and quantitative research methods. She described non-scientific research as ‘wooly minded’. Wow! No shit?! Another intake of breath!

The word ‘belligerent’ seems apt.

I know quite a few scientists. My sense is that it is quite easy for scientists to live inside, be immersed within, a world that emboldens and reinforces their scientific beliefs and values. Ergo, they can very easily come to believe that science is vital, central, even fundamental. Imagine being in a job that pays very good money, being surrounded by other like-minded people, and living a life where science underpins your work. I think that many scientists are characterised by this experience. Many of the scientists I know have been successful as science students from a very early age, and then follow that through into work and even retirement. In many ways, their feet never touch the ground, in the sense that they never experience a world beyond science. They don’t have to. In this sense, they are perhaps akin to priests, in that they can be cocooned within a belief system throughout their whole life.

As an arts/humanities person, I have jumped from job to job, have been unemployed for periods, have taken on diverse and often crap jobs. I think that this (itinerant?) kind of life is characteristic of arts/humanities people. And it breeds a less arrogant mentality.If you jump around from experience to experience, you inevitably experience different lives, take on different ways of thinking. It becomes harder to then believe, or be cocooned with, one reality, one metanarrative, as it were. Maybe.

Perhaps there’s the Aspergers thing with scientists too.

If my post gets read, or receives any feedback, I’m expecting some negativity and maybe even some personal attacks. That’s OK. I brought some negativity into this, so it only makes sense if it comes back to bite me.


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Creativity, Education, and Professionalism – and Bill Hicks

Last year I completed a PhD on discovery writing. For my PhD, I interviewed writers about their writing processes, focusing on the kinds of things they planned before writing, and then the kinds of things (e.g. ideas) they tended to find or create during writing. The interviews were fairly informal – I allowed the writers to describe and explain their writing processes to me.

Having been a Literature student myself, and being a photographer, I drew a lot of inspiration from the arts. I read a lot of the Paris Review Author interviews, for example, and Brewster Ghiselin’s The Creative Process  (he drew together accounts from sculptors, poets, scientists etc about their creative processes).

I think that in both the arts and sciences, there is a widely held understanding that people become more proficient by doing stuff. I agree with this. Photographers learn about photography by taking photographs, for example. Writers learn about writing by actually writing. Planning is fine, and perhaps inevitable (because some thoughts are bound to precede the writing), but planned ideas will then have to be somehow translated into writing. Same with photography or any other form of art or practice. A photographer may have an idea for a shot before working on the shot itself, for example, but that idea may prove awkward to translate, or may simply not be feasible or practicable. But the act of picking up the camera and playing with the idea, might give rise to different options of possibilities. So, the practice of actually working with the medium is somehow essential to what is actually produced, be it learning or an actual product (e.g. ideas or a final photograph).

My experience of formal education, and of professionalism (i.e. the world of work), is that a greater emphasis tends to be placed on the final product, and less attention is placed on the process of creation or production. Student essays, for example, are written and then receive a mark. The finished essay (i.e. the product) is the focus of attention for teachers, examiners, and all the other infrastructure around education. Professional writers, similarly, primarily face the fact that they are in the business of producing something, and preferably producing quickly and to order. With the attendant pressures to produce a quality finished product, both students and professional writers find themselves obliged into processes that facilitate the production of a product, quickly, and to order. Great emphasis thus tends to be placed on such things as having a plan, using a tried and tested structure, managing time effectively, taking notice of constraints (e.g. word counts), etc, etc. But these very same processes, in my opinion, spell a slow death for anyone who actually wants to create something exceptional or original, exactly because such processes constrain or prescribe the processes that a creator actually uses.

While researching for my PhD, I enjoyed reading the arts based stuff, from Ghiselin and Paris Review (noted above), but also lots of other stuff, such as interviews with fiction writers. I came to hate (not too strong a word) a lot of the professional and educational literature that emphasised the importance of such things as planning. I came across lots of things that fascinated me, but which I didn’t have the time or space to conjure with or include.

One thing in particular that dug its claws into me was this video from 1992, where Bill Hicks is interviewed by two BBC producers trying to create a TV programme about the borderline between what comedians can and cannot (should or should not) say. There is an absolute savagery to this interview, because one of the BBC interviewers ends up trying to tell Bill Hicks how to operate, arguing that he should cater his ideas to an audience, and that he should create material that will not offend people. The woman, in particular, begins to shake her head in disbelief when Bill says that he bases his comedy on stuff that interests him, not primarily on stuff that he expects an audience might be interested in. Her response seems very muck akin to a tyrannical teacher trying to dictate their beliefs to an unwilling yet brilliant student. The interview inevitably breaks down.

Here’s a section, towards the end, that provides a good sense of how the communication breaks down:

BBC Man: So you don’t so much give them [the audience] what they want, you give them what you want.

Bill: Sure! You know why? Because I honestly believe that we’re all the same, and I think that to go ‘I’ll give them what they want’ is very condescending. I don’t try to condescend to people. And I guess that’s why I treat them as friends. And I guess that’s a shocking way to behave in this world, for some people (looks over to posh lady)…. I don’t sit there and say ‘you are all a bunch of idiots, so I’ll do stuff I don’t believe in to amuse you!’

Posh BBC woman (irate voice): But they want to be entertained! They don’t wanna think!

Bill: (exasperated) When did thinking not become entertaining? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to tickle them individually? We have to express an idea here?

Posh BBC woman (head in hands, as if Bill has crossed a line).

BBC man: Well, this is why we want to put something on TV that does question … where someone draws the line, what is acceptable and what is….

Bill Hicks: There are no lines. I say ‘erase all the lines…’

Posh woman: Yes, but that’s what our program is all about: where you can draw the line. (with authority). It’s where you can draw the line.

Bill Hicks: Can I recommend some jugglers you might like?!

I think that what amazes me about this interview is that the woman interviewer, in particular, presumes to know better than Bill Hicks, as if she is in a position of authority. This seems particularly out of kilter because Bill, after all, is the brilliant comedian and thus deserves to be listened to and learned from. Rather than trying to learn from him about how he works, how he creates his ideas and routine, she imposes her values upon him, as if he should conform to her sense that lines can be drawn, that some things are more acceptable than others, etc etc.

I have been wanting to write a blog about this painful interview for quite a while, but I don’t think I have come near to breaking down why it grates on me so much. Perhaps it’s to do with how patronising the woman seems to be – the tone of her voice, her dismissive body language. Perhaps it’s because I admire Bill Hicks so much, and I hoped that the interview would get to grips with the intricacies of how he works. Perhaps I feel saddened by the fact that the producers seemed to misunderstand Bill so completely. Perhaps the posh woman producer reminded so much of authoritarian teachers who taught me at school.

I imagine that the way in which the producers misunderstand Bill Hicks is also characteristic of how students can be misunderstood by teachers. Students, like artists or performers, are closer to the process of production than are teachers or producers. Perhaps brilliant students, such as Bill Hicks, are destined to be misunderstood in this way, because they do not feel obliged to conform to a conservative process or agenda.

I’ll post this up even though it is a messy piece of thinking out loud. It’s still something I want to think about and come to terms with in some way…..  I might come back to it…..

… As I watch the interview again (and again, and again), I think I’m seeing a frustration from the interviewers. They perhaps increasingly realize that the whole premise of their TV idea (that comedians contend with lines) is not playing well with Bill. If it’s not playing well with Bill, then they can’t really get Bill onboard with their program. No doubt they are getting slightly drunk and tired too, and maybe jetlagged, and all these factors are coming together in a bad way.



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In Praise of FiveFinger Shoes


We evolved from monkeys. We are designed to use our toes for climbing, walking, and perhaps even for holding things such as tools. Our feet and toes can be dextrous like our hands and fingers, if we give them a chance. And yet virtually all of us cram our feet into a shoe that simply binds the whole foot into one lump. So we train our feet, from an early age, to grow into crushed, sweaty, useless clubs that simply bear our weight.

Shoes just don’t feel right. This becomes obvious when you feel how nice it is to walk in bare feet and feel stuff like sand, earth, or grass under your toes. Feels good doesn’t it! Feels great to take shoes off! No doubt we are designed to sense the earth under our feet, just as we feel and sense objects by holding them in our hands.

A few years ago I starting running in normal trainers. But my knees began to hurt from the pounding they were getting. So I went to a physiotherapist, did knee exercises, and bought a new pair of trainers that would supposedly support my instep better. But then I Googled knee problems and running, and found lots of articles arguing that running is inherently bad for your knees. It basically goes like this:

– We have evolved from monkeys, so we are not designed to run on two legs. Being a biped is a recent adaptation – hence back and knee problems

– We have created hard surfaces everywhere we walk and run. Concrete, tarmac, wood, metal, plastic etc. Unlike earth, grass, or sand, the hard surfaces of our modern world don’t have much ‘give’ or flex.

– Normal shoes and trainers have thick and spongy heels. This design means that you heel-strike as you walk or run, rather than running on your toes – as you would in bare feet. Heel-striking is much harder on your knees than running on your toes, because the heel absorbs far less of the impact.

So after weighing up the benefits of running in bare feet, I did what was probably the next best thing. I bought a pair of Vibram Fivefinger toes shoes, and went running again. I ran a stretch of canal path, my usual 4 mile run. Running in the Fivefingers was hard work, because running on your toes is hard on hamstrings. So my hamstrings got sore. But my knees were OK. And a few days later I ran again, and my hamstrings and calves gradually got used to running on my toes. And my knees were still OK. After a couple of months of running every two or three days, I was fine with running in Fivefingers. It was still harder work than running in normal trainers, perhaps because heel-striking in normal trainers is just a more efficient process. But running in Fivefingers was more fun and natural somehow. Very enjoyable to run on soft surfaces like grass! Lovely to run across fields, through earth and mud, through forests and woodlands! Exciting and natural to turn on my toes and run backwards, or to suddenly sprint – my big toe digging into the grass!

I now lucky to live near a place, Shipley Glen, where there are huge boulders, great for climbing on.

CSC_0545And although I bought my Fivefingers for running, they are great for clambering around on rocks. The soles are very thin (much thinner than normal trainers or shoes), so you can actually feel the shapes and surfaces of the rock under your feet. You can feel the little curves, lumps, and grippy bits on the rock. You can wrap your feet around the holds a little, and feel out potential holds with your toes. And the shoes are so light, small, and thin, that you can fit your feet into small spaces, and it’s just very very easy to place your feet.  Placing your feet is almost intuitive, like it would be to place your bare foot on a rock.

Fivefingers are not great for serious climbing, because unlike climbing shoes they are not extremely grippy. But they are fun and feel lovely, and allow me to place my big toe into little cracks and holds, like so:

CSC_0544I have been meaning to write this blog piece for quite a while. I bought my first Fivefingers four years ago, and felt a bit self conscious about wearing them. They look ‘strange’, so by wearing them you have to expect that people will mention them and ask you questions. People often take offense to anything new and ‘strange’. And after wearing them for a while, when running and at the gym, and having got used to explaining them to people, I came across a WordPress piece that was very critical Fivefingers and their wearers.

It’s a highly confrontational piece (to me, at least), describing Fivefingers as ‘ridiculous footwear’, ‘all the rage with the workout set’, giving the wearer a ‘strange simian appearance’. The writer even describes his confrontation with a Fivefingers wearer that went sour, unsuprisingly, ending with the wearer walking away from him like an ‘ape’:

…they seemed to force him to walk flat-footed and slightly forward with ape-like gait, almost like a waddle. All he needed to do was drag his knuckles on the ground, let his body hair grow out, and pick bugs off himself or someone else and the transformation from man to ape would be nearly complete.

And the comments underneath (e.g. ‘Amen’), pretty much bear out support for this invective, agreeing that there is something essentially ridiculous about Fivefingers wearers, as if we have been duped by marketing.

So rather than engage with this piece on its own terms, by taking issue with all of its points, I just though I’d tell my own story instead, as a counter to all the bad vibes.

(P.S. I’d just like to add that I do not work for Vibram FiveFingers in any way, and I am not being paid to write this piece. I am just someone who likes to run, climb, take photographs, and write blogs.)






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Loving Colour

I know people who dismiss art works out of hand. They say things like ‘but I could do that!’ or ‘it’s just colours’, or ‘why is that any good?’.  I walked with someone through an art shop yesterday, for example. I pointed out some Rothko cards, saying ‘I love these colours!’ And my friend gave me the bemused expression – the ‘are you mad’ look. They didn’t like Rothko’s work, obviously.

I do not consider myself an artist, but I have worked obsessively at photographing soap bubbles. I love the colours and textures. It’s as simple as just looking at bubbles and wanting to swear how rich the colours are. I get so I want to say the names of the colours out loud to someone: ‘look at the GREENS, the PURPLES, the BLUES, the ORANGES!!!!’

Bubble ColoursI love colours. It’s that simple. I love coloured pencils, rainbows, soap bubbles, stained glass windows, flowers, paint samples. I get a kick from the greens in a William Eggleston photograph! I love Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks! I live near to Salts Mill, where there are many beautiful art books laid out on tables. I spend a lot of time looking at the covers of books, absorbing the shapes and colours into my being. One book is particularly lovely – Colour Deconstructed.

And can it be that lots of people are just not interested in colours, or do not like colours?

Or is it that these people just expect more from ‘art’ somehow? Do they expect to be catered to in a complex way? Do they need a bit of realism, need to be sold an idea in some detailed kind of a way? Do they need to be led by the hand, entertained, pampered, influenced, be provided for? Is colour too simple for them? Is it somehow not enough?

Just some thoughts! Perhaps I just know too many people who are just not roused by colour. Perhaps appreciating and absorbing colour is something that takes time. Perhaps I’m developing into a colour connoisseur.

I’ll leave you with another of my bubble photos, Entwined:

Entwined(P.S. I would love to insert images other than my own into my posts, but I am wary of infringing other people’s copyright.)

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F1 – Why Double Points For The Final Race is a Terrible Idea

Formula One is introducing double points for the final race this year, 2014. The idea is that if one driver, such as Sebastian Vettel, dominates the championship, as he has done for the last 4 years, there is now more of a chance that one of the other drivers can overcome their deficit in the final race. Thus livening up the championship, and thereby helping the final few races to draw crowds, viewers, and thereby make money.

The idea of double points for the last race has been dreamed up, so it goes, by the F1 ‘supremo’, or overlord, Bernie Ecclestone. And while everyone else in F1 may think that this double points scheme is a bad idea, they are probably not brave enough to say this directly to Bernie. Why bite the hand that feeds you?!

But I am just a blogger, so I can say what I like….

And I say that DOUBLE POINTS FOR THE FINAL RACE IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.  It could prove disastrous for F1.

The problem, very simply, is that this system makes it possible for the best overall driver to not win the championship. Whoever might normally, by the previous system, have established the most points over the whole season, and thus be deemed, fairly, to be the most successful, could now be usurped by a driver would would normally come second or third overall.

So, for 2014, there is the possibility that there is a nominal championship winner as well as a driver who is understood by all to have essentially won. That is, there could be a driver who can hold the championship dish aloft, and be named 2014 F1 World Champion, and there could be another driver who we all consider to be the real winner. In such a case, the record books would thus say one thing while everyone knows that, in reality, this is not the true or real picture. In such a case, to win the championship would be a sad burden for the driver to carry, because they would know in their hearts that they were not the true champion. That confused and paradoxical state of being is the worst thing that could happen to a sport such as F1. Whilst life may be unfair, conflicted, and wrought with paradoxes, people traditionally look to sport for fairness, simplicity, and meritocracy. Sport and competition are so often a metaphor for how people would like life to be.

It is very likely that the 2014 F1 season unfolds in such a way that this possible pitfall is not a clincher. But there is just the faint possibility that it does not. If the championship is very closely contested for the last few races, as they quite often are, there is the chance that the final race will loom in people’s minds as a travesty; an almost arbitrary joke of a finale to an otherwise competitive season. Reckon on that!

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On Overhearing People Talking About You

I had a very strange experience a few days ago. I was walking along the canal in Saltaire, about a mile from where I live. A man and a woman were walking towards me along the towpath, and as they passed me, the man was saying ‘… what it was, is that he blows bubbles and then photographs them...’ That’s all I heard. Blowing bubbles and photographing them is what I do! I have had some coverage in the national and international press for photographing bubbles, and I had been photographing bubbles in a nearby woodland just a couple of days before.

Open Space crop for WordPressSo I think there’s a really good chance that they were talking about me. They might have been talking about someone else, but I think it all points in my direction. They weren’t looking at me at all, so I think I just heard them mid conversation. It was just, it seems, a strange coincidence that I happened to walk past while they were talking about this.

And why I’m blogging about this is because I want to conjure with it as an experience. It was a weird experience. I am quite a shy person. But I am also vain, in that I like the idea that people are talking about me. Being shy, I like this idea from a distance. I had an email from a photography student, for example, that began ‘… we were discussing your photographs in class a few days ago…’  As a vain person, I love the idea that these students had been talking about me. And as a shy person, I like the fact that I wasn’t there to be embarrassed by the experience of hearing myself being talked about. But the more I conjure with the canal experience, the more I wonder if my shyness is perhaps not the main factor. Perhaps even a confident extrovert would find the experience strange. Because the experience is akin to being invisible somehow, like being present at your own funeral while people are discussing your life. It’s to hear your life being discussed outside of its meaning to you. And outside of you being a party to the conversation or situation. You are on the outside, looking in.

Perhaps another factor of this ‘strangeness’ was that I do not know these people who were talking about me. It’s perhaps more normal/natural to know the people you overhear talking about you. As a child, for example, I overheard my parents talking about me. That’s a strange experience, no doubt because it’s to hear another perception of yourself, and to hear it in the context of them knowing that you are not present. But by knowing your parents (as much as we can ‘know’ anyone), there is at least some reference there, in that you might understand their relationship to you, and thus have some sense of where they are coming from. But if you don’t know anything about the people who are talking about you, you just don’t have any of those usual references. The reference, for these people on the canal, was simply that of me blowing bubbles. The artwork, as it were, and perhaps the act of blowing the bubbles and photographing them, were the references. I think I’m trying to argue that the situation is unnatural in some important way. Or perhaps it’s just new to me, so therefore seems strange, and thus ‘unnatural’.

The experience has given me a tiny appreciation for what it must be like to be famous. People whose faces are famous must surely find the situation extremely difficult, especially if they are shy. I suppose my experience is more like that of a writer who sees someone reading their book, or talking about them, because the people on the canal were perhaps talking about my work as much as they were talking about me. For very famous people, their fame is due to the mass media, to being on TV etc. That’s unnatural, arguably, since it is surely not in our DNA to be known by millions of people.

I suppose one aspect of my experience is that people tend to like my photographs, and like the whole idea of blowing and photographing soap bubbles. I like the whole experience of blowing soap bubbles too. So being known for photographing soap bubbles is OK with me. But imagine being known for something that you hated, or were embarrassed about, or that people were in opposition to. I recently watched Werner Herzog’s documentary about people on death row in the US. Werner interviewed these people in depth, and regularly asked the question: What does it feel like to know that people out there (i.e. the general public) want to kill you? It is a true question, and brilliant, I think, because it captures that sense of what it means to be perceived from the outside, as well as being perceived harshly. The link, for me, with my canal experience, is a sense that other people’s thoughts and words are outside of my control. Being talked about, I found, bordered on being frightening. Perhaps because it felt so much out of my control.

Anyway, I will leave it there. I just needed to write about the experience to get it out of my head a bit.

If any of you know of any psychological (or other) theory that covers my experience here, please let me know. I would love to have some links to follow so that I can appreciate this experience more fully, and see it within the context of other people’s experience.

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