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. ☺

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It has to be thrilling or it will eat me up, or, Connection

Yesterday I finally put a letter in the mailbox.

It’s the first letter I’ve mailed in…I don’t even know when. This particular letter has been in the making for almost a year, on and off. As I get older it seems things are measured more and more in years. Oh, it’s been a year since I spoke with that friend. Five years since I ate at that great Vietnamese restaurant at 12th and Jackson. More than 30 years since I was a first-grader, and yet I still have distinct memories of being six years old.

It makes sense. Our brains are wired to conceptualize time as a fraction of our experience, and our experience grows ever in length. For my three-and-a-half-year-old, a month is the same fraction of his life as a year is of mine; this is a commonly reported-upon perceptual phenomenon. With time our world, and worldview, grows in breadth as well. Felix’s spatial and experiential world can be rattled off in the phrases he so frequently rattles off. “Mama Dada Felix Sam Nana Papa Tega Zoffy” are his people, even though Tega and Zoffy are Nana and Papa’s cats, and Zoffy died several months ago. I recently made a list of “my people”, people I want to write a letter to, and it rapidly reached over 100—and included my younger brother, who died 15 years ago. A huge trip for Felix would be from here to Seattle to visit my sister and her family, whom he hasn’t seen since February. For me, a huge trip might be to visit the family I stayed with in the Peace Corps in South Africa and haven’t seen in over a decade.

Yet for both of us, we hunger for the meaning that comes from staying connected to the world we map out in our heads. Several years ago I read an article in Science News that was a fascinating look at this small-world connectivity. The gist of it was that the connections between people, which one might think are random, are anything but. There are nodes of “greater connectivity” at every scale one chooses to look at from the neighborhood up through the world. Every person on earth really is connected to everyone else by only a few short links, as per the title of the movie “Six degrees of separation.” When we feel connected to this network, we thrive. When we feel isolated from it, apart from it, we literally wither on the vine.

As busy-ness has taken over my life I’ve noticed a natural tendency in myself to let connections drop. This is not without its toll. I think I understand more and more what Patch Adams means when he says “it has to be thrilling, or it will eat me up.” He’s talking about connection. He’s talking about friendship.

Which is why I’m so happy to have mailed a letter. I know it’s only one letter. But it’s a start. Being able to name a challenge is the first step in overcoming it, and I hereby name this one: I want greater connectivity, friendship.

I wonder, too, if we as a species have an innate hunger for connection to our past—to our own individual lives, yes, but also our collective past as families, communities, ecosystems, to our natural and societal histories—that functions in a similar way to our drive to stay connected to and make sense of our physical world. If this is the case then our world is presented with at once an immeasurable tragedy and opportunity. The tragedy is the terrifying speed with which our natural world is being destroyed, and the speed with which the human communities that depend on that world are being altered. The opportunity is that of slowing down and connecting, re-connecting, with that world, with our friends present and past, and with ourselves. It is such connection that offers the possibility—the thrilling possibility—of creating a better future.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pretend Blog, or, Crazy Kindness

In the early hours of Tuesday, July 28th, 13 men and women suspended themselves from the St. Johns Bridge, 205 feet above the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. There they would spend the next 40 hours, alternating between cold nights and 100-plus degree days, only abandoning their positions when forcibly removed by the police. Although the 13 aerial activists were members of the group Greenpeace, they were joined in the water, quite spontaneously, by hundreds of kayakers, inner tubers, and even swimmers, who felt compelled to join their mission—a mission that briefly succeeded. That mission was to stop oil giant Shell from drilling in the Artic.

The St. Johns Bridge is the last bridge on the Willamette before it empties into the Columbia, and although there are two remaining bridges between Portland and the open ocean, the St. Johns affords the last best opportunity for preventing a ship from reaching that ocean.

Why might one wish to prevent a ship from reaching that ocean? In the case of Shell, the answer is simple, even if largely symbolic: 98-plus percent of climate scientists agree that if we are to have any hope of containing global warming at a near-catastrophic 2 degrees Celsius, we need to leave 80% of oil reserves alone. Drilling in the Arctic carries the additional “duh” factor of the absolute stupidity of drilling in conditions virtually guaranteed to cause a major spill, plus the “eccch” factor of drilling in the homes of polar bears facing extinction directly because of global warming.

Although Shell was ready to drill for oil up in Alaska, it needed its icebreaker ship, the Fennica, in order to do so, and the Fennica had been sent into drydock in Portland for patches to its hull. On Thursday morning the repaired Fennica left its dock and bore down on the frail human web that had spun itself under the St. Johns bridge. For a moment it appeared that it might crash right through. This would have been as easy as a hand brushing away a cobweb, except in this case at the cost of human lives.

But it did not. Instead the Fennica turned around and headed back to port. It would return, later, with the full weight of an armed police and Coast Guard force that lifted swimmers from the water and Greenpeace volunteers from the air in order to wedge its way through and out to the Pacific. But for a brief moment, the spiders won. The giant had been turned back.

I watched all this, as it were, via email updates and web searches from the comfort of my armchair. The comfort is tenuous. I’m acutely aware of my own existence as a member of the most eco-destructive lifeform that evolution has ever visited on its own planet. When we moved to Port Angeles, LL and I thought we’d at least said goodbye to the forest fire smoke that is now a given for summers in Omak. But the Olympics received 6% of their usual snowfall last year. Fires raging in British Columbia a few weeks ago sent a massive smokecloud down to us, and parts of the Peninsula itself are on fire for the first time in recorded human history. Human-caused global warming is real. It is here and only going to get worse, and speaking for myself, in my daily life it is difficult to find the time and energy to make a meaningful difference against this unfolding disaster. I am a physician and a parent, and though I bike to work, compost my butternut squash peels, recycle my empty coconut milk cans, and even make efforts to think and write about “the big picture” (as it were!)…it seems small. I am not out on in that fragile space between St. Johns and the Willamette.

I know, I know, I know, that I have to still find peace within myself, that I have to, as the Dalai Lama reminded me the other day when I came across a quote of his, “be kind to myself.” In fact, it was that kindness to myself that allowed me to go to bed a couple nights ago instead of staying up extra late to write this blog just because it was the end of the month. I was kind to self. I slept. Now, I write. I write this blog which isn’t really a blog, in order to not go crazy, in order, maybe, to stay crazy, to stay crazy enough, kind enough, revolutionarily happy enough, that I can carry on, to have fun, to make the work of revolution fun, to love myself, to love LL, to love my kids, to love the world, to make a difference. That is why we are here. Is it not?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Painting at midnight, pancakes at dawn

See last post: what I am doing?

By streetlight at 11pm I am painting the first side of a door purchased this afternoon at a second-hand store, so that in the morning I may measure, saw it in half, then paint the remainder of the bottom and hang it upstairs for a top-open door to Felix's room. By the early rays of sunrise I am peeling and shredding a butternut squash to mix with eight eggs and perhaps 4/3 cup coconut flakes for pancakes. At noon LL and I are pulling dandelions in the slab of concrete in our yard, to fill the cracks in with drought-hardy perennials, and also, along the edges, raised beds of kale, strawberries, and a few valiant shoots of broccoli. This all while trying to chase after Felix and Sam, read a (worthwhile) book called "No-Drama Discipline" and apply it as much as possible, stay up to date on CME, and slowly increase our clinic encounter numbers. In other words: staying busy, yes, and anything I may be doing pales beside LL, who is doing all of this while actually directly providing the bulk of Sam's calories.

And yet. Mentally, I am infusing this busy-ness with an urgency it does not always merit. In so doing I am often doing more at a time than is necessary, doing something that may not be the most needed action at the time, and/or not giving myself adequate pauses, breaths, such that the few times I do get a "break", I quickly rush to fill that void with activity that is not always restorative.

Keeping such a schedule becomes a form of what Naomi Klein calls "looking away." She is referring, in her intro to "This Changes Everything", of looking away from the full and terrifying impacts of climate change and, inseparably, the full and terrifying impacts of unfettered capitalism. And this looking away has the ultimate effect of curtailing the creativity that is so needed right now to fix our world. By pouring my every attention into each painted corner, each perfectly grilled pancake, each word of praise or redirection for the boys, and yes, each doctor-patient encounter, I am denying myself the time and space needed to imagine a truly better world.

And in case you noticed: yes, I'm also taking all this WAY too seriously! Part of the delicious paradox of the entire situation is that I need to lighten up, sleep more, care less--at least about details--and enjoy life. Only as such can I or any of us be the change we wish to see. Hey! At least I'm a day early on this post! There's still another whole day of June! Yay! To bed! :)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The foolish consistency of my little mind

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Five and a half years ago I started writing this blog. I soon settled into a pattern of writing monthly, usually in the last few hours of the last day of the month. With each new entry I clung--and to this day still cling--to the hope that something changes. To wit, that the writing would propel me to achieve my original aim of reaching out to others, of connection. But connection, to paraphrase Georgia O'Keefe, "takes time, like to really see a flower takes time", and clearly I was and still am spending my time elsewhere. I live a fairly consistent life. What then are the foolish consistencies which not only occupy, but continually create, my mind?

In other words, what on earth am I doing? And not just with my physical energy, but with my mental energy, since both literally create who I am?

I shall return to this question next month. As usual it is late and I am tired. Who was it that said, the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? For now it is enough that I am and have spent the vast majority of my time and energy being a father, a husband, a doctor.