International Masturbation Month

Hello, Dear Reader. And belatedly, Happy Stroke Month. To mark the occasion, the Apoplexy Store has re-opened.

A massively smaller selection of stuff, but much pithier, I think. The bad news is, given what’s been cut, you’ll have to hack my phone if you’re looking for a t-shirt of Stroke Bloke looking lithe in a dress.


Oh, and sign up for alerts, and more personal and more whimsical content at:

As the relevant Facebook post noted, the Apoplexy Store exists solely to make t-shirts for me to wear at Nerd Bait performances declare non-profit solidarity with stroke survivors and their carers. That seems appropriate during Stroke Awareness Month. I fact, it’s not only Stroke Awareness Month and International Masturbation Month — funny they should be the same month, and have essentially the same name — it’s also Mental Health Awareness Month. Thanks to Friendoftheblogtim for bringing this to my attention.

See also: death, sex

I’m lucky — my brain lesions don’t keep me from my ADLs, for the most part. But my processing speed has been damaged pretty badly, which in turn leads to memory issues — it’s difficult to take the time needed to make information stick. Another notable difference is that I spend a lot of time wandering around like Black Book‘s Manny Bianco after swallowing The Little Book Of Calm.

“Be the king of your own calm kingdom.”

With massive help from Mrs Stroke Bloke I get by, and pass in society pretty well. But there does seem to be a tendency for people to turn their attention away from people whose brains have suffered some form of damage. Whether more subtle deficits like mine which can be brushed under the carpet, or more noticeable ones like the Prime Minister’s. Why is this, I wonder?

It’s an unfortunate parallel to draw, but at a recent gathering of the Edinburgh Group of the Humanist Society Scotland, someone brought up a thought experiment that was… pioneered… by Bruce Hood, the psychologist.

Hood wrote, in 2009:

I ask the audience if they would be willing to wear the cardigan I brought along. They are understandably suspicious [but] around one-third of them raise their hands…. Once they are told that the cardigan belonged to [the serial killer] Fred West, most hands usually shoot down. People recognise that their change of heart reflects something odd.

But not that odd, of course. Hood argues that “humans are born with brains that infer hidden forces and structures in the real world, and that some of these inferences lead us to believe in the supernatural”. I’m no expert and I can’t be bothered to research the question, but the reaction of the audience strokes me as evolutionarily rational. Don’t associate with items that are associated with danger, and I’d posit that you’re statistically increasing your survival rate, whether the danger is posed by a dead serial killer or a plague blanket.

Don’t click away — it’s just that handsome man from The Wire!

Is this why Sam Keen describes railroad construction foreman Phineas Gage as “possibly the most maligned man in medical history”? [Thanks to Friendoftheblogandy for sharing this article, and to Mrs Stroke Bloke for previously introducing me to Gage.] In an 1848 accident, an iron rod was blasted by gunpowder through Gage’s skull, mangling his frontal lobes.

Gage survived, miraculously, but his mind didn’t, not quite. His doctor reported that Gage turned capricious after recovering, and began telling tall tales and “indulging … in the grossest profanity.” Friends swore that Gage “was no longer Gage.”

Similar observations (You’re really angry…. You’re not the same….) were made about me in the aftermath of The Event. My fault, I suppose, for (i) loudly inquiring “Where’s my fucking orange juice?!” and (ii) being nice. Sam Keen speculates that Gage maybe bore no responsibility for his identification as some sort of drunk, hyper-sexed louche, or more recently, sociopath: “For instance, he worked in South America for several years in the 1850s as a stagecoach driver, a fact hard to square with his being a psychopathic grifter.”

Gage, struck by the rod, may have landed in that “uncanny valley of things and people we can’t quite categorize.” That place where a 5% difference from the accepted norm subsumes the 95% similarity and repulses people. Maybe this explains the results of a poll I heard about on this week’s episode of BBC Radio 4’s weekly satire, The Now Show. It seems 17% of the people polled would have sex with a (presumably humanoid) robot, 41% thought it would be creepy, and “an intriguing 42% [thought], Mmm…, I might. It depends what it would look like. Does it have a Hoover attachment?

Nice elbows. Come here often?

Anyway, back to Professor Keen’s article. Pleasingly for, he believes that the antidote to the tendency to magnify patients’ deficits until the actual person fades away is stories: “When we read the full stories of people’s lives, fictional or non-, we have to put ourselves into the minds of the characters, even if those minds are damaged.”

It’s a similar observation to the one made in this old post:

If we can imagine the position of our fellow human being — instinctively, or upon reflection — it’s the first step to mindful engagement and finding it impossible to be racist, homophobic or sexist.

Or anti-robot. Being anti-robot could end in tears.

Tears?! I’ve seen Clarion students left stunned and bleeding for less.

Happy May, everyone.

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12 thoughts on “International Masturbation Month

  1. I can’t believe you’ve been writing this as long as you have and this is your first reference to Phineas Gage. You’re just like him, holes in your head and all.

  2. Cheers. Bruce Hood’s The Self Illusion makes an interesting read. Other interesting reads are Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, and Otto Scharmer’s Theory U – moving from a I-in-me world to and I-in-us world.

    1. Thanks, Geoffrey. That particular piece does describe an interesting way to shake people on both sides of an argument out of complacency. Sounds like a trip to the library is in order for me.

      Everyone else: Geoffrey’s “Thin|Silence” is linked on the blogroll to the right. As you might guess from the comment above, he synthesizes an improbably massive amount of reading and insight into digestible chunks of blog concerning matters like creativity and mindfulness. Check it out!

  3. So one of the reasons it was so entertaining to write the treacherous brain, and one of the comments friendofthebandlouis made, was that the piece is educational . I hadn’t thought of it that way until then. I mean it’s about Ricky and banjos and stuff right? But I completely agree that the sharing of a story is a radically humanizing element and ttb did that. (We should link to the studio version but I’m typing this in a car in a tunnel so no dice) [Fixed. Wurdz Boi]

    Separately one of the tiny letter questions about favorite scifi matches intellectual masturbation well. My fave tv scifi is lost. Just completely a wonderful way to do a low stakes high intensity brain workout.

    Written sci fi is harder but probably banks (excession or use of weapons) or vinge (a fire on the deep and a deepness in the sky) are the answer

    1. [Dear Reader: You can find The Treacherous Brain and all sorts of other Nerd Baity goodness (like Wrong Word Write Time) at]

      Yes, and I may have mentioned (in a tiny letter?) that someone approached me to tell me The Treacherous Brain was a humanist parable. I hadn’t noticed, but that would make me an even more naughty boy than usual.

      You know, I enjoyed Lost, but either it or I ran out of steam in the last season. This seems to be an increasingly common problem as networks try to squeeze as much as possible out of the closing seasons of a show. The days of the odd creative integrity of Fawlty Towers and The (Original) Prisoner are behind us, it seems? Great acting throughout, though.

      Yet another reminder that I need to check the “M.” facet of Iain Banks. The Bridge in particular, and even The Wasp Factory, seem to suggest a great sci-fi writer. In that sense, I suppose even Gray’s Lanark has a sci-fi side….

      I’ve just stumbled across Will Self’s thing about JG Ballard, which seems relevant to this week’s post….

        1. Although all my reviews read like “His best work since Blood On The Tracks,” I work best in short form and, Stroke Bloke still can’t shake off the avalanche of ideas and technique in my first collection, 1991’s The Quantity Theory Of Insanity.

          “Who is Will Self, Alex?”

  4. I am new to your blog, having just discovered it while searching for information on cerebral hemorrhages, brain surgery and resulting damage/effects. I am now six months out from my own event and it is difficult to find helpful information /support. Not a whole lot out there for younger survivors. Most people just assume that because I can walk pretty well and speak normally that I must be “over it” or my favorite “they must have fixed you”, trying to frame things in terms easiest for them to process, which I try my best to respond to by just smiling and attempting to move on to a different subject. I know I am fortunate to even be in the state I am in, I am quite pleased with my gross motor functions but as more time passes I realize that the devil is in the details as they say, subtle and disguised.

    As far as mental masturbation, I find myself actively engaged in this pursuit to test the boundaries of neuroplasticity as I emerge from the fog. I have found myself returning to my sci-fi favorites: I find anything by Gene Wolfe to be my personal favorite and am currently rereading his “Book of the New Sun” along with Alastair Reynolds and Dan Simmons. Vinge was already mentioned above, along with your mention of Banks.
    Your reference to the statement in an older post immediately reminded me of another great set of sci-fi novels by Joe Haldeman : “The Forever War” and “Forever Peace”. The latter, in particular, where a complete understanding of a fellow human’s unique situation, achieved by a process termed “jacking in”, leads to world peace by psychologically eliminating the ability of one human being to kill another.

    Anyway, I really just wanted to say I am quite pleased to have found your site. I will read on.


    1. Hi, Greg. It’s nice to have you here. One of the mission statements of the blog is to be a place survivors — particularly younger ones — and their loved ones can come to feel a little less alone. And Mrs Stroke Bloke noted last night that that applies to me as much as anyone, so thanks for your comment! It sounds like — six months in — you’re doing well, with a great attitude. Kudos to you! Looking from around twenty months in, I hope you’ll find you’ve still got a lot of upside to look forward to.

      I was fortunate enough to find that NYU Hospital had a great support group we attended while we were still in the city. The discovery of my aneurysms meant we met some lovely folks at Methodist Hospital’s Aneurysm Awareness group, too. Of course, if there’s nothing like that in your immediate area, we’ll be very happy to hear how you’re getting on from time to time here.

      Thanks for the sci fi recommendations. As Paul notes elsewhere in this thread, Ballard and Self certainly aren’t for everyone, but their radio show makes the point that the genre is a great place to explore modern, serious ideas. You’ll find there’s a lot of Doctor Who on the blog (though 50 years, it’s certainly taken advantage of that freedom), and maybe the fact that Michael Moorcock wrote the well-received Who book The Coming of the Terraphiles in 2010 will be of interest to you. Though I’ve not read it myself. It’ll have to join the queue after the Haldeman.

      Good luck with the bounds of neuroplasticity. I can’t vouch for the medical science of, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed using as my own contribution to my OT, and it feels similar to various of the activities my therapists have set me. Keep up the good work!

      All the best,


      1. Thank you Ricky. I have not used myself but others have recommended it, perhaps I need to check it out. I will certainly look into anything Michael Moorcock writes, thanks for the info, I had no idea he had penned that one. His Elric novels were a staple of my youth and I look forward to reading him again. I have kept all of the old paperbacks with their fantastic artwork.
        I do not know how I forgot when I was listing off my favorites but China Mieville is definitely up there in my top five authors, though rather than sci-fi, I think he prefers the term “Weird Fiction” if I remember correctly.
        I will keep in touch, thanks for the support.

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