Friday, March 3, 2017


Once a month LL spends her Friday evening at a women’s dance gathering. The boys and I stay home and watch part of a movie. The boys are 2 and 4. As a family physician I’m well aware of the recommendation to limit screen time, along with the solid evidence between all the other things one could be doing with that time—reading, playing outside, making music, engaging with friends—and better health. Probably more importantly, my own parents raised me without a TV, and we don’t own one. For the occasional movie we set up a projector and screen.

So up until tonight (not counting the Winnie-the-Pooh movies that their Nana and Papa allow them) our boys had seen a total of two movies, both by director Hayao Miyazaki: Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Watching a little over half an hour at a time, we’ve seen each film now twice all the way through.

Tonight we decided to branch out and try something different: 2014’s highly acclaimed Song of The Sea.

We made it about 20 minutes in.

At that point we had to stop. Our 4-year-old was terrified. My good friend (not coincidentally, a pediatrician), who lent me the movie and whose 2-year-old loves it, had warned us that there were scary parts. I do not believe we made it to any of the scary parts. My son was crying because the main character and her older brother were being taken away from their father to live with their unsmiling grandmother. Again and again I was asked, “Why was she so mean?”…“Why was she making them do things they didn’t want to?”…and most of all, “Why was she not listening to them?”

Over an hour later—after reassuring, coming up with no less than seventeen possible explanations for why she was so mean, reassuring, watching some of the familiar Totoro, reassuring, brushing teeth, reassuring, pee in the potty, reassuring, reading a story, reassuring, carrying upstairs, reassuring, lights out, reassuring, a long giraffe family story, our repertoire of eight songs, hugs, kisses and gobbles, love sparkles, and more reassuring—I was able to reflect on why this movie had evoked such a strong fear response.

In our family we value listening, empathy, explanation, and love. Equally, we value responsibility, natural limits, community, and helping others. Looking back at the short clip of the movie we saw, the whole thing was terrifying. The little girl who is the central figure is mute. She cannot be heard because she has no voice. Her older brother, to whom she clings, is clearly antagonistic towards her. Her father loves them both, but takes no responsibility in protecting them from a figure who is a caricature of evil. There was no community because they lived alone on an island. I was terrified too! In reading, afterwards, Wikipedia’s plotline, the obvious was stated: of course things get better. Her brother sticks up for her. Her muteness is explained. The family is reunited. Even the grandmother isn’t so bad. I’m familiar with the elements of the Hero’s Journey, and I don’t doubt that the rest of the movie lives up to its reviews. At the same time I understand why it was so scary. Up to the part where we hit “STOP”, there was very little that was not a direct threat to everything we’ve tried to instill in our little guys.

This is not to say that we will never again venture beyond our same safe two Miyazaki films…though I did promise our 4-year-old we’d shelve Song of the Sea for now.

Yet neither is it in any way a cautionary note to self that we’re over-sheltering our kids. There is so much fear and actual horror in the world right now that the last thing I want is to try to numb our boys by exposing them to any significant fraction of the 200,000 acts of onscreen violence the average American child sees by age 18. There is also so much incredible beauty, kindness, selfless heroism, creativity, collaboration and community in this world, and these things tend to get an ever-shrinking amount of our focus, much less media time, beyond the walls of preschool. If our son experienced genuine fear at the depiction of a separation of family, that is a very natural and healthy fear. I feel grateful that he has the vocabulary and courage to express his feelings and ask for what he needed in that moment.

And of the seventeen explanations that I came up with for why the grandmother was so mean, the one my boys liked the best was, “maybe she just didn’t get enough ice cream!” Think I’ll go have some myself so that I never turn into a mean dad.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Post-election world

My head is reeling from all the various links people have sent me and I want to share some quick thoughts-to-myself as I try to process it all:

Staying positive. A lot of negative post-election analysis out there, important for understanding perhaps; also a lot of positive organizing/momentum to focus energy on.

Staying connected. For me one smile, hug, or phone call is worth a million internet articles.

Remembering human goodness. A lot of good and suffering people on both sides cast their ballots in hopes of a better future, and we are all in this together.

Remembering the big picture. I keep coming back to “350”…we’ve surged past 350ppm CO2 and only concerted action will slow climate change, and climate change will exacerbate the fate of the less fortunate in a world where CEOs currently make (on average for Fortune-500 Co’s) 350x the salaries of their lowest-paid workers.


Here are some links I’ve found helpful:

“House of Straw: How Washington’s tax system undermines our economic future—and how to fix it”—a very readable primer on WA’s highly regressive tax structure (worst in the 50 States!)

The L-curve: a graphic representation of wealth distribution in the US:,

The Spiritual Grandmothers on a helpful framework in which to place our president-elect

An article I found OUTSTANDING, from a friend, understanding the reasons why many Trump voters cast their ballot for him:
(and the first link therein explains the “deplorables” comment Clinton made…)

And this much, much longer article really gets to the heart of value-based voting (and what we can do)-- has some good articles on neoliberalism and its endorsement of a winner/loser world, and a related article (sent to me by the same site) stresses the need for reaching out across ideologic lines:

Finally, for anyone interested in supporting what I characterize as a “climate-and-how-it-hurts-the-most-vulnerable” group,, which is very active in the Standing Rock movement, here’s their link:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Vote Hillary Clinton

It's been 6 months since I wrote. But this posting isn't about me.

In the madhouse that American politics has become, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that critically important issues hang in the balance. Hillary Clinton stands on the right side of every one of those issues compared to her rival. And while Obama wasn't my first choice in 2008 (Dennis Kucinich was) and I would be voting for Bernie Sanders if he were still in the race, he isn't. In fact, it's harder to find a stronger endorsement of Clinton than from Sanders: "Any objective observer will conclude that--based on her ideas and her leadership--Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States."

What are these critically important stances, for which Clinton must, must, must be elected?

First is a livable planet. I don't just mean "the environment" as some bucolic ideal removed from everyday life, but rather, the fact that our carbon emissions are altering the Earth's climate so rapidly that we are already in the midst of a mass extinction event. For further reading I'd direct you to Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction", or, for a shorter starting read, her 2006 New Yorker article, "The Darkening Seas". The latter outlines how even if we had stopped all carbon emissions tomorrow--10 years ago!--we've already released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to radically acidify the oceans and cause massive die-offs, die-offs we're already starting to see, for example, in oyster beds here in the waters of Puget Sound. While the ability of any one President to halt or slow this process, much less reverse it, is limited, at least Clinton acknowledges that climate change is real. And, she has a cerebral cortex that can be engaged.

Second is a livable planet. I don't mean a peaceful, hand-holding lovefest where we all sing Kumbaya and drink hot cocoa made with vegan coconut milk and fair-trade organic chocolate. I simply mean a world where we don't shoot each other, lock each other up, and build walls between each other, just because we don't all have the same skin color or speak the same language or share the same religion. Somehow, soon, we've got to figure out how to live together, all of us, or we might die together, all of us. Check out "Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?" by Alan Weisman. Clinton is far from a peace-wager. But she is less likely to accidentally, or intentionally, nuke Iran, or Mexico, or New Hampshire...wait, isn't that one of ours? the first 5 minutes of her time in office. And, she has a cerebral cortex that can be engaged.

Third is a livable planet. And I don't mean a U.N.-controlled socialism-faced wealth-redistributing egalitarian democracy, for heaven's sake. I just mean that if we're going to learn to live together--both as people, see point two, and as people with the planet that sustains us, see point one, all evidence points to the idea that healthier societies are more equal. Not equal. Just more equal. Less un-equal. Currently, in the US, the average CEO in a Fortune 500 company will earn more in a year than could be earned by 7 generations of his lowest-paid worker each working for 50 years. (yes, that's 350x as much.) That's a hard truth to reconcile with the idea that all individuals are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. See "The Spirit Level" by Picket and Wilkinson for more on this. It may be hard to endorse Clinton, who has received millions from large corporations in speaker fees, though it could be argued that this is the soul-selling necessary to play the game as it's currently played. But she at least pays lip service to policies aimed at reducing inequality, instead of boasting about the power that wealth buys her. And, she has a cerebral cortex that can be engaged.

Vote Hillary Clinton. Our lives depends on it. She's not perfect. But she's the only electable choice. And, she has a cerebral cortex that can be engaged.

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!