Monday, June 22, 2009

He's Barak Obama

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Botany of Desire

The small irony in my intentional summer writing these past few weeks has been the absence of my usual writing. I'm afraid that in my search for Story, I have been neglecting my own story and musings on its behalf. I've devoted so much time to trolling* my own imagination that I don't have much to reflect on here regarding my own life, learning and experience. I've mostly been parked in front of a computer screen (and lately a movie screen), looking for a spark that might precede a good idea.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan is my all time favorite book. I've never read it, but I've listened to it on mp3 a half dozen times - the first when I was spending countless hours splicing and terminating cable ends years ago in a noisy data center, and the most recent when I downloaded it to my laptop in my girlfriend's kitchen this morning. It is a fantastic recording - on par with the Jim Dale's reading of the Harry Potter series - and I always find comfort and inspiration from hearing Pollan's take on the natural world. The Botany of Desire is a well spun tale of 4 plants that shaped humanity. Unlike many natural histories, Pollan tells these stories from the plant's point of view. I like that. It reminds me of Ze Frank's show on "busting your cycle." (see below) These botanical storylines are familiar, yet they turn the classic tales on their heads both through research and novel perspective.

I keep reminding myself that good Story doesn't come from a well chosen plot line or an M. Night Shyamalanic twist, but from a change in perspective. It comes from showing an old favorite in a new light. So, what have I been writing about, cloistered in my thoughts instead of out in the sun these early summer days? Medical School. Lame, right? I hate myself a little for even saying it, but I decided there was still new life to be unearthed in that which has dominated and suppressed my imagination for the last year. Who knows, maybe this exercise will even help me cope with the the day to day of medicine by allowing me time to reimagine my place within its labyrinth. If nothing else, it should at least earn me a bit of closure with what was a thoroughly harried and disorienting year.

So, there it is: some Botany and some Ze. Not origional or groundbreaking but nice: a return to old favorites. I hope you do pick up the book or at least watch The Show below. The summer is a fantastic time for reimagining.

*trolling - I was recently accused of "trolling" or "being a bitch on the internet because you can." In this post, I was using "trolling" in its origional, fishing, context whereby one drags the ocean floors in search of shrimp and other hiding, tasty treats.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Built to Last

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Though not the most intelligent canine in the animal kingdom, the Yellow Labrador remains it's fiercest hunter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Age 26

When you were young, music moved you. You resonated with the beat and with the story. And with the story you cataloged your experiences. Adam Song for hard times – I never thought I'd die alone / I laughed the loudest, who'd have known? Radiohead when you just needed to fall into the Earth and be absorbed by it. Kenny Loggins for reminiscing – Winnie the Pooh doesn't know what to do / got a honey jar stuck on his nose – and Tool for transcendence. There was a song for every feeling, every subdivided emotion. There was a soundtrack, a mix-tape, for every one of life's events.

Prone to hero-worship, it's no wonder young people are drawn in and captivated by the rock-stars of their generation. Still, I was never much of a concert-goer. With few exceptions I never went to big shows or bought tapes of live performances. I did hang out at coffee shops with live music but not the kind you'd stand in line for. No, I'm talking about the hypnotic synchronicity that comes from choosing the perfect CD for the occasion – for the exact shade of emotion that's coloring your world at the time. It's this desire for resonance I think we lose as adults.

The cry of the American teenager is, Please understand me! They grow into their maturity early - with a depth of emotion comparable to adults - but have no experience with which to interpret it. Their puppy-loves and heartbreaks aren't shallow, they're just unguided. And in steps Rock'n'Roll. The music travels with them – like guided meditation – through their experience of every new sensation. They know how they feel, but the music tells them why they feel.

As adults we've grown out of this 'music as a shaman' phase. We interpret every new emotional state with an ever increasing library of personal experience. We still cry at movies and keep a few mix-tapes around for particularly low days. We still resonate, but we do so with perspective.

I resonate less and less these days. I watch movies more and experience them less. I rely on personal experience more than lyrics or bass-lines to guide my mental wanderings. In the case of unwieldy emotions, I seek human interaction over music for their interpretation. It's good, this maturing. I like the feel of my emotional library; it's still a little roomy, but it's filling out nicely. And today it's okay that I'd rather listen to NPR than a burnt CD on my commute. I do miss the transcendence of a well chosen moment-to-moment personal soundtrack, but I'm embracing my stage. Today I feel old. And today that feels fine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The transition between School and Not is a greasy business. Even when it's over it sticks around, coating your hands and not wiping off. It stays under your fingernails even when you use that shower brush you're not sure is for fingernails or grout cleaning. You're contaminated, tainted for who knows how long.

I sometimes wonder if the Bodhidharma began to see a world of walls like I see a world of medicine. This 5th century Buddhist monk spent nine years staring at a single wall in a cave in Southern China. He spoke to no one. After 7 years the Bodhidharma is said to have fallen asleep. Enraged at his own behavior, he cut off both of his eyelids to ensure it would never happen again. He stared and he stared, letting the seasons pass him by until one day he was finished. When he finally stood on those wobbly, atrophied, legs and hobbled out of the cave, what did he see?

The Bodhidharma probably did see a world of walls thanks to the thickened and scarred corneas that come with eyelid removal. Still, he had trained his mind to find meaning in this absurdly finite sliver of reality: a single wall of a single cave. As I begin to reclaim bits of the life I left to pursue medicine, I feel like I'm rewriting my narrative in terms my own small sliver of focus.

Sometimes I sit with my Someone and reminisce about our travels. There is a curious phenomenon that often happens when we picture past events. I will recall, for instance, a small greasy taxi driver chatting us up as we careened down dirt roads on a mountainside in Peru. Someone will remind me of a particular town we passed, and I tell her, “Yes, and that's when the guy said, 'if we don't tip kids who fix roads, they are much much worse.'” I can picture the driver, his thick accent and pigeon English, and the little boy we passed filling in the potholes with rocks. It's about here in our recollecting that Someone laughs at my impersonation, reminding me that the driver spoke only Spanish. This happens all the time. I can remember whole conversations in English I've had with poor Ecuadorian children who've never spoken a word of English in their lives. Not having spoken Spanish in a while, my brain has rewritten my experiences in light of my current linguistic priorities.

As I retrace my steps from a year ago, I wonder how my cave will have shaped my recollection and experiences. Even as I picture old friends, I can't help but label them: Marfan, foot-drop, Fragile X. Last night as I walked by the house where a neighbor with Down Syndrome used to live, I picture ligamentous laxity and the danger of dislocating his odontoid process. After only 10 months I've already begun to rewrite my reality in this new language. After nine years will it be all I can see?