Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Autonomous interdependent gratitude

Thank you to my mother. For the month of March, she made our little family a “March Advent”, and every day my boys (and LL & I) have delighted in opening a package wrapped in brown parcel paper. For my birthday I received a tribute poem to Nelson Mandela, written by Maya Angelou and brimming with images of Madiba, which brought tears to my eyes. On the package she’d affixed a horoscope for Aires that read, “You love autonomy. You specialize in getting the freedom and sovereignty you require. You are naturally skilled at securing your independence from influences that might constrain your imagination and limit your self-expression. But here’s a sticking point: If you want the power to help shape group processes, you must give up some of your autonomy. In order to motivate allies to work toward shared goals, you need to practice the art of interdependence. The next test of your ability to do this is coming right up.”

Thank you to It informs me that autonomy comes from the Greek root auto, self, plus nom, or law: self-governance, self-determination, independence (not to say self-control!) Consider how highly—in the U.S.—we hold those values, as compared to their opposites. Even “interdependence” and its synonyms “symbiosis” and “cooperation” can draw frowns in our radically go-it-alone culture, while from “dependence” it is a short slide to “addiction” and the double-edged sword of “faith”. (I once watched a TED talk whose thesis was that doubt is the essence of faith, an idea I have to think might benefit the devout in any radical belief sect. Even my own, of what I might call “Earthism”.) What I need is a radical shift towards recognition of the interconnectedness of all life, including the ripple effects of my everyday smallest actions.

Thank you to Tanmeet Sethi. Tanmeet was one of my mentors in residency. She has a son, Zubin, who was born with muscular dystrophy. Thank you, Tanmeet, for sharing your story with the world via your own TED talk on the power of gratitude. What a gift.

Thank you to Randall Battle for teaching me how to play guitar, or at least, to do the very best he could in the short space of several hour-long sessions every week or two for a few months in the time right before our family left the Okanogan.

Thank you to my friends, colleagues and most of all LL, who tolerated, encouraged, and even did their best to work with me on, submission of another resolution to this year’s Washington Academy of Family Physicians’ House of Delegates. This one is no less than a call to action for the preservation of our own species, a fate inseparably linked to that of so many other species. If this is what my horoscope is trying to tell me, that is, to let go of my attachment to the specifics in order to achieve any good at all, then I will do my best to listen.

Thank you to my boys for bearing with me as I learn to be a kinder and more patient father.

Thank you to Bill Manahan, whom I credit with teaching me the little song our family sings every night along with fun hand gestures: "Thank you for this food, this wonderful wonderful food, and the animals, the fruits and vegetables, and the human hands, that made it possible."

Thank you to all those I've thought of but have run out of time to record in this very very short list of thanks!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Year!

Check out the Leap Manifesto by Naomi Klein et al.!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Dark Side ii*

Disclaimer: Episode VII, “The Force Awakens”, is not reviewed in this blog.

But it does make an appearance.

On the first Saturday of the New Year LL and I have our second actual date night since before our first child was born. It is fabulous. We check into our hotel early, then meander down to a coffee shop for afternoon coffee and a freshly baked chocolate tart. Fabulous. Then back to the hotel, then out for a leisurely dinner. The hotel is fabulous. Dinner is fabulous. LL checks her phone one last time before the movie: the boys are doing great. We go next door to the Rose Theater for the first episode of Star Wars released in a decade, and the first not under the direct control of George Lucas. The movie, too, is fabulous. It is hard to imagine a more blissful half-day.

Three hours after the start of Star Wars we are back in our hotel trying to fall asleep. My mind is still going, maybe not 100 miles an hour, but more than 10—a long ways from sleep speed—when our next-door neighbors arrive back to the hotel. We’ve never met them in person and likely never will. They are loud. Loud for the hour, loud for the type of hotel we’re in, loud period.

I would like to say that I do the grown-up thing, ring the operator, and ask him to intervene. This would not only be more polite, it would likely be both more effective and efficient. And here’s the rub: even as I consider my course of action, the one that I’m allowing myself to lean towards makes me angrier and more awake. I was already aware, before our hotel-mates arrived and started making so much noise, that I should have gotten up and done something to wind down: draw a picture, maybe journal a little. Now, even if my action results in quiet, I’m very unlikely to fall asleep anytime soon. But I do it anyway. I knock on the wall. At first pretty softly. Then, when nothing changes, a bit more assertively.

The voices do quiet down. Now I’m riled up but stubbornly stay in bed. We try turning on the bathroom fan for a little white noise, but it’s got an occasional rattle that results in the opposite of the desired soothing effect. Finally I do get up out of bed and start to write. The light of the microwave I open up, which is the dimmest thing I can find to turn on, is small enough it doesn’t shine into the bedroom where LL still is. I’m starting to feel better.

And then, a good hour after my knock on the wall, comes the retaliatory pound.

I leap up, rip the microwave oven from the counter, storm out into the hall, and throw the oven through—no, no. There’s no question that I am furious. But this time reason prevails and I call the operator.

All noise ceases, but now I’m fully angry. LL is up too, of course. I want to leave. The hotel. Right now. On principle. I’m not staying here. I’m not sleeping here. I want a full refund, and I want it now. How dare…yes, I get it, I’m acting worse than either our 1-year-old or 3-year-old is capable of. The Force has been Awakened, and I’m sad to say it is not the Light Side.

Thankfully LL talks some sense into me and we do stay. We stay, I write some more, I allow some forgiveness, I forgive our neighbors, I forgive myself, and we get some sleep, far more sleep than we would have gotten (obviously) if we’d packed up, driven up the hill to where our boys were staying with Nana and Papa, and likely woken everyone up. As it is we sleep until eight. Eight! That is fabulous! We soon learn that our 1-year-old, usually up at six, had gotten up at five!

Before leaving the hotel I write our neighbors an apology and place it in their door. I am genuinely sorry. They probably had no idea they were being so loud. They were, after all, just talking; it just happened to be right on the other side of what was obviously a fairly thin wall.

As I write about this now I think back to last month’s entry, which was also about a situation falling apart and about “digging myself in deeper.” Is there such thing as The Force, an intangible yet quite consequential energy that exists in all living things but especially in the relationship between them? Absolutely. Is there a Light Side and a Dark Side to that Force? Absolutely. Is this Force explainable in terms of evolutionary psychology, in terms of adaptive actions that had and have benefits for their actors?

Absolutely. In the span of human history, itself a blink, a half-blink, in the history of the planet, we have evolved a set of behaviors that has factored into our remarkable and meteoric rise. Some of these behaviors would make Darth Vader blush, others are more altruistic that Obi-Wan could possibly imagine. We label them “good” and “evil” and every shade in between, and yet all of them meet or in the past met, on some level, some need of ours. One could certainly make a strong argument that many of the behaviors we developed that served us well throughout most of our tenure, when we lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers at direct risk from the environment and from each other, no longer serve us in today’s uber-connected and uber-crowded world.

The challenge we now face is not whether or not we can evolve quickly enough. In terms of actions needed to reverse or at least stay a future of catastrophic climate change and mass species extinction, we don’t have centuries or even decades but likely years. I don’t want to say we “can’t” evolve quickly enough. I love the Brian Andreas quote that says “if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination.” So anything is possible. It’s just that evolution, at least in traditional terms of behavioral traits passed down through genetic mutations, won’t give us enough time.

The real question then becomes, can we imagine enough? What I do know is that we can’t do it alone. That I can’t do it alone. My imagination, alone, isn’t big enough. My emotional self isn’t even big enough to not bang on my neighbor’s wall at midnight! That’s why I write in a public space, and why, after years, I’m finally starting to re-kindle connections to others. To those heard but unseen neighbors: I gave you my email address. I hope you write. I truly wish you nothing but the best. I wish all of us nothing but the best. We’re all in this together. And all questions of morality aside, what I do know is this: The Dark Side is less fun! ☺

*ii: "episode i"--I wrote a post titled "The dark side" in November 2009. Obviously I must complete at least "ix" episodes!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The morning mail, or something like that, or actually not at all

It has been a terrible morning.

There is no question that I’m given to hyperbole on both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. Recently all the providers at my new clinic were asked to submit a brief bio for our website, and I wrote, speaking in the third person, “[he] thinks that he is the luckiest person in the whole world.” And a good part of the time that’s true. But I suppose it should not be surprising that someone who sometimes feels on top of the world might at other times feel the entire weight of it. Isn’t there a DSM-5 diagnosis and medication for that? Increasingly though, I seem to be granted insight into both the highs and lows, one that tempers, if not obviates, the need to seek professional help.

Hyperbole notwithstanding—it has been a terrible morning. First, as I am making a smoothie, I spill half of the can of coconut milk into the open silverware drawer. Not having time to clean it up right away I throw a towel into the drawer and forget about it. Then it’s time to get Felix up, but both Sam and I are on the increased bowel transit program this morning, and a long stint in the bathroom (mine) bookended by two poopy diaper changes (Sam’s) puts us quite a bit behind in making it upstairs. After some high-level negotiations I manage to get Felix downstairs and seated at the breakfast table. Things go relatively smoothly, and both boys in fact eat quite well. I even play them a breakfast song on my guitar. And then, forgetting how late it is, I decide to clean up the kitchen.

“Triage” would be a better word. Dishes from the day before are still stacked in precarious edifices around the kitchen. I’ll be able to unload the dishwasher, at least. I pull open the silverware drawer. Oh, yeah. Ok. Unload everything. But where to put it? No counterspace. Shove things around, remove the liner…ecch, wow, there’s more than fresh coconut milk under there. Need paper towels.

Out of paper towels. Well, four-letter-word. Ok. Safeway. Let’s go. We’re out of avocados, bananas, and dish soap anyway. Let’s pack up and go. Wait, how did it get to be 10:30? I’ve accomplished nothing!

Up to so far the boys have been peaches. Now, however, at the mention of an unplanned outing, resistance is voiced. I’m not having it. Oh—wait. The I’m-not-having-it approach doesn’t work with 3-year-olds. How many times must I bang my head against that brick wall to realize that pushing harder doesn’t actually achieve the desired result? How did it get to be…11:30? More silently voiced four-letter words. Ok! No Safeway! We need some outside running-around time, or the afternoon naps, the cornerstone of parental sanity, are shot!

This is when things go from bad to worse. Having used my limited capital to negotiate a trip to Safeway (part of that hour having been used to supply an overdue snack), I neglect the 2nd cardinal rule of dealing with 3-year-olds: Never say you’re going to do something, and then don’t do it. An hour ago there was less than zero interest in a trip to the grocery store. But that was then. Now it is the official itinerary.

Against my better judgment, I break the contract and carry the boys, wailing, to the school park just a block up the hill. Correction: older boy wailing, younger still a peach.

The funny thing about when things fall apart, is that sometimes I just keep digging myself deeper. Is this why, after an actually quite enjoyable time at the park, I still consent to the promised Safeway trip? That’s madness! It’s lunchtime, to be followed by naptime. There’s a pretty narrow window there, after which the chances of falling asleep decline precipitously. Why do we go?

Go we do, and the slide continues. We arrive back to the car with all groceries purchased just as the clock tower at the courthouse across the street rings one o’clock, the time Sam’s supposed to be asleep. Wait. It gets better. I had put Sam in the cart with two boots on. Now there’s only one. Four-letter four-letter four-letter!

Somehow, we retrace our steps, come up empty, leave our number with the Safeway customer service desk, make it home, eat some left-over smoothie and oats and granola bar, and I get first Sam and then Felix down for nap. Somehow they fall, and stay, asleep. Somehow, amazingly, the message on my voicemail is a nice lady from customer service telling me they’ve found the Bog boot. The afternoon can only be better than the morning. And it will be. But what a morning.

I remember that I used to think that by the time I became a parent, I would have “it” more or less figured out. Whatever “it” was, it has changed, and as a parent changes, daily. This wasn’t even going to be a blog about my morning. It was going to be a blog about our mailbox shelter, the one that I built over the weekend to put over our mailbox because our mail keeps getting soaked. That, like my morning, was hijacked. And that is ok.

I just keep reminding myself of a little saying inscribed on a decorative rock in LL’s parent’s house: “If it’s not fatal, it’s usually no big deal.” Or as Felix would say, “It’s not a big deal, it’s a tiny deal.” The mailbox can wait—it has to anyway, for a second coat of paint. So if you’re on my long list of people that I hope to but haven’t yet sent a letter to…it’s coming!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Living in Port Angeles, I usually tune in to CBC Radio One from Victoria when I have to drive somewhere for a few minutes. Right now the talk in Canada is all about accommodating 25,000 Syrian refugees in the next two months. Ever since Paris, xenophobic pundits in both Canada and the U.S. have tried to argue, quite naturally (a natural response to any horrific event is to simultaneously lash out and withdraw) but quite illogically (the terrorists responsible for the carnage in France are actually a significant part of those destroying Syria, namely ISIS, and, none of the suspects in Paris were Syrian refugees), that denying safe haven to fleeing women, children and families will somehow make the world a better place.

Many of my blogs focus on the impacts to the natural world of human activity. One might reasonably say that human-caused climate change is first and foremost a humanitarian catastrophe. It is. This statement is not to deny the impact on other species and ecosystems: the two are inseparably linked.

For this month (the blog entered earlier in November, which I just finally added text to last night, was my late entry for October) I thought I would share a cartoon my mom shared with me some months ago. Syria and climate change. My apologies, as always, that you'll have to copy and paste the link:

Everything is connected.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Orders of magnitude

(updated with text: Nov 22nd)

I was originally going to title this “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”, as per my jack o’ lantern theme. On September 28th Shell Oil abandoned its plan to drill in the Arctic. This seemed—especially when followed in early November by Obama’s several-years belated rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline—a major victory against evil, and a cause for celebration. Or, to reframe the descriptor “evil”: these were major victories for anyone who believes that community, the environment, and the current and future livability of our planet are more important than the short-term profit of a handful of already obscenely rich old white men.

These victories are by no means an excuse to close our eyes, mouths or ears to the ongoing injustice and destruction wrought upon the planet and its species (including our own). However, rather than delve into this, let me take a moment to savor these two wins, focus on the hope they bring, and reflect on the scale of what we’re talking about.

In about an hour, with a kitchen knife and a few dollars worth of pie pumpkins, I can carve three fun faces for Halloween, and perhaps bring a smile or two to any parental figures who recognize my motif.

In a few weeks of Arctic summer—had they proceeded—Shell would have carved into the ocean floor, using a rig built in 1985 and retrofitted for $100 million in 2009, perhaps squeezing out a few barrels of oil at the cost of a when-not-if spill that would have imperiled grey whales, polar bears, walruses, seals and salmon, not to mention the symbolic avarice and indiscretion of drilling in the place already most affected by climate change.

In the 65 million years since Earth’s last catastrophic extinction, the forces of evolution, plate tectonics, and climate have created a myriad of fragilely balanced and beautiful ecosystems, of which the Olympic Peninsula is one (pictured is Hurricane Ridge).

In this comparison of orders of magnitude, there is an infinitely greater space between the 2nd and 3rd examples than between the 1st and 2nd. Carving a pumpkin and operating an oil rig are microscopic compared with the creation of a living mountain. With organization and enough pumpkin carvers, I or anyone else could build, or destroy, something comparable to the Transoceanic Polar Pioneer.

And yet our collective actions are without question transforming the world on a scale we can barely fathom. Snowfall on the Olympics may become a thing of the past. Salmon, seals, walruses, polar bears and grey whales, likewise, if ocean acidification unfolds as predicted. If ever there were a time to not lose hope, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—in the space between when I posted the pictures, and now when I’m finally writing, the devastating Paris massacre has added yet another horror—it is now. We are creative individuals. We must now act with purpose, for good.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dance to this!

For this month’s posting I weighed all kinds of the usual doom and gloom and am instead opting for something lighter. One of the great things about our tiny rental here in PA is that it has a giant, 2-story garage. The 2nd floor is an unfinished space that our landlord eventually plans to develop into an additional dwelling unit…until then, it’s our workout/dance/playspace.

Dance is what got me through college, not just in one piece but in one often-joyous piece. When I started medical school four years later, I was wise enough to know that I needed it, and helped form an eclectic dance group that met weekly for almost 3 years. Letting it lapse because I became “too busy” was one of the biggest follies I’ve ever committed…I still need dance.

Here’s a playlist built for movement, some of it newer stuff, a lot of it older. Enjoy!

All about that base * Meghan Trainor
Hooked on a feeling * Blue Swede (from Guardians of the Galaxy)
This one’s gonna hurt * Reina del Cid. My favorite new artist. Check out “Library Girl” too!
White walls * Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Thanks Emmy!!!
Piece of my heart * Shaggy…a reggae cover of Janis Joplin
I saw her standing there * The Beatles
Ex’s and oh’s * Elle King
Peter Pan * Diam’s. French HIP hip hop. To borrow the line from MC Hammer, “if you can’t move to this then you probably are dead.”
I’m walking on sunshine * Katrina and the Waves
New York groove * Ace Frehley…featured in the movie “Inside Job”, a must-see.
Le Fleuve * Miriam Makeba
Start me up * The Rolling Stones
Ca plane pour moi * Plastic Bertrand (from Ruby Sparks)
The one! * Hugh Masakela
Walk of life * Dire Straits…in my top 5 favorite songs of all time
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles * MC Hammer—not to be confused with the cartoon theme. This is from the original live-action movie, in my book the best of the many versions by far.
You can’t hurry love * The Supremes with Diana Ross
Jump in the line * Harry Belafonte (Beetlejuice…I’ve got a lot of movies represented here!)
Lean on me * Club Nouveau. Also in the top 5.
Crazy in love * Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z
Hey Ya * Outkast. Thanks L-Dawg!!!
Mes oreilles * Amylie. More French hip hop pop.
Little Hands * Matt the Electrician. My other favorite new artist besides Reina del Cid.
Paper planes * M.I.A. (yep, also in another must-see movie, Slumdog Millionaire…)
Nothing matters when we’re dancing * The Magnetic Fields
Cecilia * Paul Simon. How many songs do I get in my top 5?
Angel * They Might Be Giants. Possibly my #1 favorite song of all time. It has to be the version from their live album, though.

That should be enough to get you started. ☺