Custom Search

What writers write when they 1) aren't writing, 2) are avoiding writing or 3) need a word count to convince their spouses they are writing.

Origami n' Stuff 4 Kids

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Physiology of a Broken Heart

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

~William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

A recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed what we, and legions of poets, playwrights and troubadours have known all along—that being dumped hurts. Hurts like your heart is being ripped out. Literally.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studied 19 men and 21 women, all of whom had experienced an unwanted breakup within the past six months. Brain imaging (MRI) scans were used to map each subject's response during two painful tasks. In the Physical Pain Task, participants experienced the application of painful and non-painful heat to their left forearm. In the Social Rejection Task, participants first viewed a photo of a friend while recalling a positive experience. Next, they viewed a headshot of their ex-partner as they recalled being rejected. Through MRI scans, researchers demonstrated that rejection and physical pain stimulated shared regions of the brain.

And how, one might ask, could one volunteer for such a lively experiment?
"Participants were recruited via flyers posted...on Facebook and Craig's List. All participants were right-handed (recall the burning left forearm) and received $175 for their participation."
That must have been a hellova flyer.

All joking aside, the study furthers our understanding of how we process pain in the complex somatosensory cortex, with implications for the management of chronic pain. A. D. "Bud" Craig, principal investigator/director at the Atkinson Pain Research Laboratory, describes how pain is processed when we stub our toe:
"Sensory neurons flash a message to the spinal cord, spinal cord neurons relay the message to the brain, and the brain decides (a) damage has occurred, (b) it has been inflicted on the toe, and (c) something needs to be done (we start hobbling, raise the foot, utter an expletive). It may feel as if our toe is throbbing, but the experience is all contained within a mental projection of the condition of our toe within our brain."
Thus pain, as explained by Dr. Donald A. Ranney, is not a sensation, but a perception:
"This perception is real, whether or not harm has occurred or is occurring. Cognition is involved in the formulation of this perception. There are emotional consequences, and behavioral responses to the cognitive and emotional aspects of pain."

"Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence."

~Henry Louis Mencken
This perception of pain brings me back to love, for what condition is more prone to misperception? From heart to lips and ears to heart, we stumble in love—and this is where my science-loving mind deviates from the U-M study. Something lacks in comparing a scalded forearm to a broken heart. You don't pine for a forearm—your heart won't race, your breath won't quicken—and you don't plan your life and future around it. Certainly, you won't be grieving six months later over the minor discomfort you suffered for answering the university's Craig's List ad.

How does one explain the physical symptoms—the chest pain, palpitations and shortness of breath— of heartbreak? According to Robert Emery and Jim Coan, professors of psychology at the University of Virginia,
"Emotional pain involves the same brain regions as physical pain...the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve—the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea."
This association of physical pain with emotional pain may be related to the survival of our species. Whether on the Pleistocene savannah or in New York City, we thrive in social groups, with friends and family to watch our backs. As Naomi Eisenberger at UCLA explains,
"The social attachment system is piggy-backed onto the physical pain system to make sure we stay connected to close others. Being wrenched from another or rejected by a group is painful, so we avoid it."
The problem arises when emotional pain persists. An inability or unwillingness to move through the stages of bereavement can progress to what neuroscientist Mary Frances O'Connor calls "complex grief":
"They experience a lot of bitterness and anger, that their future is senseless. They don't adapt with time as others do."
Like physical pain, emotional pain can lead to chronic, debilitating heartbreak.

"You say that love is nonsense.... I tell you it is no such thing. For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on one's nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength."

~Henry Brooks Adams

©2011 Tammy Yee

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Southampton Writers Conference

I don't endorse workshops that I haven't personally attended, but I can attest from having participated in SCBWI conferences in LA and Hawaii, the Maui Writer's Conference (where I secured an agent), and the Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop, that these events can be energizing opportunities to learn from professionals and network.

Here's information I received about the upcoming Southampton Writers Conference, focusing on writing, playwriting, screenwriting and writing for children:

Be one of the 240 writers who visit our bucolic campus this summer to study with Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and National Book Award winners in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, novel, personal essay, short story, playwriting, children’s literature, YA novel, screenwriting, and the musical book.  

12 to 1 student-faculty ratio
9 am to 9 pm emersion in workshops, electives, and evening events
5 and 11 day conferences
A thriving community of writers
Graduate credit available

Now in its 36th year, The Southampton Writers Conference is excited to announce its summer lineup:

Southampton Writers Conference - July 13-24, 2011
Creative Nonfiction with Matthew Klam
Fiction with Melissa Bank
Memoir with Roger Rosenblatt
Novel with Meg Wolitzer
Poetry with Billy Collins
Poetry with Mark Doty
Poetry with Julie Sheehan
Personal Essay with David Rakoff
Short Story with TBA

Southampton Playwriting Conference - July 6-10, 2011/ July 13-24 2011
Session I: July 6-10 (5 days) Playwriting with Adam Bock
Session I: July 6-10 (5 days) Playwriting with Leslie Ayvazian
Session II: July 13-24 (11 days) Musical Book with Marsha Norman
Session II: July 13-24 (11 days) Playwriting with Emily Mann
Session II: July 13-24 (11 days) Playwriting with Jon Robin Baitz

Southampton Screenwriting Conference - July 6-10, 2011
How to Write Stronger Scenes with Andrew Bienen
Structuring Your Screenplay with Christina Lazaridi
Finding Your Story with Frank Pugliese
Breaking The Back of Your Story with Paula Brancato
TBA with Stephen Molton

Southampton Children’s Literature Conference - July 6-10, 2011
You Don't Have to Choose: Lessons Learned While Balancing Playful Picture Books with Rigorous Research with Chris Barton
Hearing Voices: Writing YA Fiction with Patricia McCormick
The Write Stuff: Nonfiction and Historical Fiction with Andrea Davis Pinkney
How to Extract a Fable: Writing with Message and Mission with Peter H. Reynolds
All in the Telling: Writing the Middle Grade Novel with Tor Seidler

Visit www.stonybrook.edu/writers for more information, author bios and applications

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami hits Kona Coast, Big Island of Hawaii

This is Ali'i Drive, the waterfront tourist center of Kona. Waves flooded the lobby of the King Kamehameha Hotel. The basement of Hulihe'e Palace is flooded, and damage to the first floor and its many artifacts is not known. Seven houses suffered extensive damage in Napoopoo near Kealakekua Bay, including one house which was washed out to sea.

Mahalo to our excellent Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for evacuating inundation zones.

Unbelievable footage from Ali'i Drive:




Check out triathlon.competitor.com for more photos (by Joel Noa) of Kona Coast damage:

This is the small bay/lagoon near the King Kamehameha hotel...normally there's a wide crescent of white sand curving from the hale (thatched house) to the wall at left. My boys kayaked and built sand castles in the sheltered cove.



Copyright ©2016 Tammy Yee
All rights reserved. No portion of this web site may be reproduced without prior written consent.