Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Deep End

It is Saturday night and I’ve just finished up at a meeting of family physicians. It takes a while to wrap up some final paperwork and goodbyes, then I wend my way through the snarl of traffic I used to call Seattle and pick up my friend Neville for dinner. Neville says that when we lived here the traffic was the 18th worst in the country. “Now it’s the 3rd,” he says.

After dinner I drive by the Central Cinema. I love the Central Cinema! Dinner, drinks and dessert—a fabulous crème Brule, if I recall—while you watch a movie. It’s here that LL and I first saw “Best Worst Movie”, a charming documentary about what truly is the best worst movie ever made, “Troll II,” and then stayed up for the namesake midnight movie. Right now they’re showing “Groundhog Day” and I’m tempted enough that I park the car to check show times. Right in the middle. Too bad. I get back in the car and drive back up 23rd, then take Boyer to cut back west again. I drive past the church where I crashed a wedding in order to meet the band that LL and I ended up asking to play at our own reception.

Everything feels eerily normal.

Everything has felt too normal, ever since reading the introductory chapter to Naomi Klein’s latest work.

In language brilliant for its clarity, Klein lays out a thesis captured by her title. “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate”. I haven’t yet read beyond the 30-page introduction. Now at LL’s parent’s house, I can see the book out of the corner of my eye. It crouches on the desk, a fire-breathing dragon cloaked under a sky-blue cover. An ocean-blue cover. A tropical ocean blue, swallowing islands, cities, and the sky.

“The International Energy Agency warns that if we do not get our emissions under control by a rather terrifying 2017,” Klein writes, “our fossil fuel economy will ‘lock-in’ extremely dangerous warming. “ ‘The energy-related infracture then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed’ in our carbon budget for limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius…As Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, bluntly put it: ‘The door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.’ “

2017 is 23 months away. Suddenly lower gas prices don’t seem so great. Seattle’s traffic mess, even as it buries a few billion dollars in a car-only tunnel that’s already way over-budget and way under current sea level, is one piece of a rapidly sinking planet. We are headed for deep water. And that’s if we were to stop, for all intents and purposes, now.

If we instead achieve the more-likely (without drastic action) prediction of 4+ degrees Celsius by centuries end, “even the best-case scenario is likely to be calamitous. …This would drown some island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, and inundate many coastal areas from Ecuador and Brazil to the Netherlands to much of California and the northeastern United States, as well as huge swaths of South and Southeast Asia. Major cities likely in jeopardy include Boston, New York, greater Los Angeles, Vancouver, London, Mumbai, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.”

A chime. I look up. A text. My phone is pulling me back to the surface, back to the present, the normal, to a beautiful family 5 hours’ drive away on the other side of the Cascades, two beautiful boys who are asleep and a beautiful wife wanting to check in before sleep. I must go. “This Changes Everything” will have to wait. But not for long. Not for very long at all.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

what I want

I’ve watched Keanu stop bullets with kung fu
too many times to not want to be famous.
Too often I’ve watched the out-takes
at the end of a Jackie Chan movie
that shit is for real y’all
to not know that amazing things
are, indeed, possible.
With enough practice.
Most recently I’ve related
to Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers, right before
he turns green and huge and tears apart bad guys,
he says (when asked how he can become angry so quickly)
“I’m always angry. It’s keeping it down that’s the hard part.”
Some days I wish I could skip the Jackie Chan discipline,
dedication, dislocated joints,
and just let my anger turn me huge and green
and tear things apart.
Tear apart things like the Grand Coulee Dam
and in the process restore the salmon run,
the Colville confederated tribes whose culture was that salmon run,
the broken lives that show up in our ER because it’s gone.
Tear apart things like Monsanto
and in the process bring back farming that isn’t actively destroying the planet
things like Coca Cola
and bring back clean water as public property and a human right
things like Walmart, Shell, the empires of the Koch brothers and Kemper Freeman,
and restore representative democracy and community and some last vestige of hope
for our planet.
I wonder if this poem will get the attention of the FBI.
Some days I want to be famous for channeling my anger to destroy bad things.
I want people to look past the mild-mannered family doctor
and see a simmering pot of rage just waiting to tear things apart.
But today
today I am angry over trivial things
little things
petty and avoidable things like wasting time online trying to decide
which superhero movie to watch in the precious time that LL’s parents watch the boys.
And so I walk down 45th and instead of reading the movie marquee
I walk into Open Books
and buy, for LL the love of my life,
a book of poetry by Mary Oliver.
Next year Mary Oliver will turn 80.
I open the book and read a poem called “What We Want.”
Then I don’t want so much to be famous.
I don’t want to stop bullets with kung fu.
I don’t want to be angry.
I just want to listen.
To observe nature, such as it is, such as is left of it, such as we are a part of it.
I just want to be a good husband and a good father
and as much as possible
to inspire my two little boys to make the world a better place
by doing so myself.
And if Monsanto and Coke and all the dams and prisons and jetski manufacturers
go by the wayside
in the process
well, that will be okay too.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

4644 square inches

(99% written on November 9th on my so-called smartphone; last 1% written right now)--

I am standing at the kitchen sink with our four month old baby asleep on my chest in the baby carrier. Straight ahead of me the window looks out onto fall. To my left is the oven, from which I have just removed roasted red peppers, tomatoes and carrots. To my right, cupboards and countertops form an "L" punctuated by the refrigerator. I walk between a 5 by 4 and a 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 foot shock-absorbing wellness mat, and these 4644 square inches define my current existence.

In the crook of the "L", Israel Kamakawiwo plays Ka Huila Wai on the ukulele; Sam often tolerates much more mellow music once he's actually asleep. This arrangement allows for remarkable accomplishments. Together we can remove roasted vegetables from the oven. We can core and slice pineapples. With a bit of a stretch we can even wash dishes. There are a few things that are hard to do. I cannot, for instance, go to the gym. It's pretty hard to go through the mail. Email is difficult, not because it's impossible to respond to things using voice recognition software to type, as I'm doing now, but more because it's hard to occupy the mental space needed to confront things such as Medicare payment reform, global warming, job interviews. Those things exist in a world far outside of these 4644 square inches.

At the very time when outside forces seem to have conspired to make our lives busier than ever, Sam, even more so than Felix before him, has forced us as parents to slow down and examine what is important to us.

More important than anything is our family. Felix. Sam. Mama. Dada. When I say these names aloud to Sam, the world’s biggest smile lights up his face. We cannot get this time back later. I can’t go back in 4 years and spent more time with my 4-mo-old. As our outside world spins into ever greater dezord—the Creole word for disorder, and the other word besides baggai (stuff) that I retained from my Haitian birthplace—these few square inches of soft, bouncy, supportive floormat seem ever more comforting. The most important job for me to be doing right now is to hold my sleeping baby.

Friday, October 31, 2014

White Walls and French Hiphop

I wanna be free
I just wanna live
inside my Cadillac
that is my sh*t
and I throw it up (throw it up)
that's what it is (what it is)
in my C A D I L L A C b*tch (b*yaaach)
Can't see me through my tints (nuh uh)
I'm riding real slow (slow motion)
got my paint wet dripping shorty
like my 24's (umbrella)
I don't got 24's (no oh)
that's those big white walls
r-r-round those hundred spokes…

These, it turns out, are the words that our now-4-mo-old will fall asleep to. And even, sometimes (praise be!) take a bottle to. He likes Macklemore, one of the very few rap artists I can listen to. Oh, yes, and he also loves French hip-hop. Diam's "Peter Pan." Amylie's "Mes Oreilles". Youssoupha. Plastic Bertrand from the movie "Ruby Sparks".

We discovered this first in the car, when LL would be driving and marimba (the favorite CD of our 2-yr-old) would fail to put our newborn to sleep. So she put on Macklemore. This had been given to us by her sister, an amazing dancer and choreographer who among other jobs teaches a high school dance team. And guess what? It worked. Not the slower, melodic songs. The hard-hitting, beat-driven numbers like "I just wanna dance with you" and "White Walls".

So who knows. Our first is on track to be a construction worker. Or a Wild Thing. Or a chef. And this little one? A French rapper. We're just thrilled that he sometimes now will eat independent of Mama.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Still working...

…on finishing August's post, and haven't even started on July's promised future post. A lot going on. Maybe October will be less hectic?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wings of Fury (to be continued)

In 7th grade I climbed into the cockpit of an F6F Hellcat and flew out over the Pacific to shoot down enemy planes, island bases and even entire aircraft carriers. I died several times. Each time, though, I sprang back to life and back into the sky, until I eventually was able to destroy the entire enemy fleet start to finish without losing a plane, and was named Admiral of the Fleet.

This of course was Wings of Fury, a few blinking green pixels on the black screen of our old Apple IIe, and I was able to accomplish all this with the up and down arrows, spacebar, and, for missiles and torpedoes, the letter “Z”. At the time it seemed a double triumph: the thrill of victory, yes, but also the success of squirreling away the time needed for this victory in a childhood otherwise largely devoid of electronica.

In retrospect, success has never come more easily. As I struggle with what may be my greatest challenge to date—bottle-feeding our 2-mo-old infant—I long for the simple pleasure of a 4-stroke computer game.

There is simply no equivalent path to guaranteed success. I've tried sitting, standing, walking; cooing, singing, talking; slow-flow, fast-flow, short-nipple, elongated, soft, firm; have tried waiting for full awake-ness and hunger, have tried sleepy and post-feed; I've tried persistence and persuasion and patience. The results are consistent and clear. This baby knows what he wants and a bottle it is not.

A point of clarification: When I, or a grandma, or anyone else besides Mama feeds our baby, it is still Mama's milk, not formula. Thanks goodness for pumping. But this technology has not yet allowed any of the rest of us to successfully get calories in the little bug, nor allowed us to give the Mama a tiny break.

Not that either one of us wants ourselves as parents, either of us, to become too independent too quickly from our baby. The demands of work, however, have already called me back, and there is considerable pressure for LL to return as well. And we are among the very lucky few who can afford to take even a few weeks off.

The U.S. is in the venerable club of only four nations--joined by Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea--that offers no paid maternity leave.

---again to be continued---

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Short entry

This month I had been planning to share, because I've found it hard to find online anymore, my copy of the 1993 Caring People magazine's interview with the real Dr. Patch Adams. I have a paper copy, sent to me by Patch himself along with the first letter response to the first letter I ever sent him. (This fact alone--that he responds personally to all correspondence--is, to me, inspiring.)

I will try to share it next month. In Patch's own words, "Be physically fit. If you're not, your community will have to take care of you. In order to be a passionate worker, if you have a big project, you'd better stay physically fit. It's going to take a long time! (Unless your project is…dinner.) Make fitness part of the ethic of your effort. Rest when you need it. Otherwise spend your time wisely." Right now I need rest…tomorrow I go back to work with a 4-day stretch of hospitalist.

But I will share more of Patch's words next month. If ever I have felt the need for them, it is now! Washington is experiencing the largest wildfire in its history, at 250,000+ acres. The prediction of a continued increase in fires in the coming years, fueled by anthropogenic global warming, is disheartening. Omak right now is hot and smoky and I could use some inspiration. First, rest!