Thursday, November 27, 2008

struggling with the commercials

we may have a rather unusual household. 15 years ago, when we got married, my wife and i had a discussion about cable tv. we were making our budget, and she was fretting over whether we could afford it. i admitted how hard it was for me to have a conversation with a tv running in the background. i tend to watch tv when it's on, regardless of what it is. i'm not the type that can let it run in the background and ignore it. so we chose not to get it.

and then we decided, since nothing else was available, we just wouldn't bother with a tv. people found that horrifying, and kept offering us tv's. my brother in law even surreptitiously put one in our trunk one night while we were over for dinner. we ended up connecting that to a vcr for the occasional movie night for a while, but it didn't make the next move.

and over the years, we've really appreciated the effect it's had on our family. its hard for me to imagine being bored. there's not enough time to do half the worthwhile things we'd like to do, or to do together. i can't imagine how people find time to watch tv anyhow. i'm certain we wouldn't read together much, and i can't tell you how precious that time is. i'm reading the kids the two towers now, and they're loving it.

so at times like this, when we're on the road to celebrate the season and enjoy family, it's really quite shocking to take a dip in the commercial pool. we just saw a toys'r'us commercial where they didn't actually even show a toy. it was all logos and brand names. or walmart "save money, live better"... do i even need to point out how much more i save by not going at all? live better? how on earth? every single commercial i've seen this morning has fallen in the category of 'wow-- somebody made that and can keep a straight face?'

i guess its pretty cynical, but the bits filling in the space between the commercials aren't much to miss either. i suppose some of the news is worthwhile, but they basically give you a headline and then repeat it over and over. it is worthwhile for me to know that there was a terrorist attack, but beyond the fact that it occurred, they tell me little of worth.

it's hard for me to see much future for our country when we are subjecting ourselves to such a controlling force. the marketting class is the great 'pusher' and we are the junkies, and we do what we're told. we're so concerned about keeping our economy going, but ... surely there's something better than what we're doing now. the matrix image of the people being farmed, the life sucked from them to feed machines. there's more truth to it than we think. instead of a bug like robot, look at the other end of the hollywood-industrial complex.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


my wife and i read together. startling to some, we have a prediliction to reading each other fantasy or science fiction novels.

we just finished Tehanu, by Ursula K. LeGuinn. it's the 4th book in the earthsee trilogy, mostly about a man named Ged, whom you first meet in the first book A wizard of Earthsea as a boy who goes to the island of Roke to learn to be a mage. the first book deals with ged's desire for power, his impatience, his pride. He ends up rending the border between death and life, and letting a ugly shadow of himself, a nameless dark across into the living word, and then, scarred from the ordeal, is hunted by his own evil, until he turns the tables and hunts and vanquishes himself.

but he loses a great deal in the encounters as well as growing. there is an undertone and understanding of death and life that is decidedly eastern, and clearly has an element of reincarnational thought, although it is only specifically stated in the 4th book, and then only once. in fact, it clearly has a recurrent depiction of death as a sunless, starless, timeless land where people exist only as shadows of themselves.

in the second book The Tombs of Atuan, he meets tenar, who is actually the focal character of the second and 4th books. she is taken as a child to be the high priestess of the dark ones, and is "eaten" so that she has no true name of her own, only living for the rites and sacrifices. ged comes to the tombs looking for the other half of the broken ring of erreth akbe, a historical piece that bears the rune of peace that can restore a king to the empty throne in havnor. some elements that are rather LOTR here. she trapps him in the labyrinth beneath the temple, and is commanded to execute him, but hides him instead, and starves him nearly to death, then nurses him back to life. Eventually, she see's her own imprisonment and together, they restore the ring (the other half of which she wears as a charm) and fight for their freedom together.

in the third book The Farthest Shore, we meet lebennan, the boy who will be that new king, and he and ged (now archmage of all earthsea) go on a great journey hunting a great evil, a mage who is promising immortality, but essentially draining the life-force of his followers to keep himself in a neither truly dead nor alive state indefinitely. they end up tracking him into the dry land itself, where ged battles with and destroys him. in the process, ged exhausts his power. the only way back to the living land is over the mountains of pain. ged knows the path, but the boy who becomes king has the passion, and carries his now-beloved ged back over the mountains home.

but ged is no longer a mage, and evil has not been eradicated, merely set back. so in book 4 we get a very interesting interplay of discussions about gender roles, the nature of power, and identity. we meet a young girl who has been badly burned, and a much older tenar, who is the widow of a wealthy farmer, we meet servants of the defeated enemy from book 3, and earthsea is ushered into a new age not by ged and tenar as heros, but as parents to someone else's crippled child.

Friday, November 21, 2008

calling and caregiving

at a recent concert, my wife picked up a book real love for real life by andi ashworth (wife of charlie peacock, who was in the concert -- desi wrote about it in her blog,

this evening the phrase "we can rest in doing what we can without ever pretending we are more than the little people we plainly are"

a lesson known, but so often lost sight of. no one in my family is in a medical profession, and when i went to college, i studied engineering. in my family there was an unspoken sentiment that men were "supposed" to be engineers, but it really wasn't right for me as a life's work. as i looked around to figure out what to do, i ended up with a night job taking care of an elderly man with parkinson disease. what did i really contribute? i helped him get to the bathroom, get in to the kitchen in the morning, get a bowl of cereal. it certainly didn't undo his disease at all. but it was huge. he couldn't do those things without me.

i came away from that with a changed perspective. i hadn't done much, but i'd done all that could be done. and there was great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment in that.

the book falls in the "artful living" genre, which is what drew my wife to it, and these thoughts get a fair amount of discussion in our home, which is what got my curiosity up enough to start reading it. but unexpectedly, i found myself dealing with other, perhaps even deeper issues. i found myself hashing out the issues of a productivity focus, and an accomplishment or capability based sense of self-worth.


ambitious title, eh?

don't worry, i'll cover it it in a paragraph or two, because my kids won't make it much longer than that before they need me in the next room.

being a father is something that was a long slow process for me, and whenever i have to discipline our kids, i get very introspective. parenting dillemas seem to fall into two broad categories: when you know full well the right thing to do and it's unpleasant and you don't want to do it (90%), and when you just really don't know what the best thing is (10%). I think that the second type probably becomes more common as they get older. my oldest is only 8. For us, the most common situations where we don't know what's best involve other people -- close family friends or grandparents, where something is going down that we really don't consider best, but the relationship is important, so what is the lesser of evils. The grandparents don't do everything my way, but when is it a big enough deal that it's worth risking the beautiful relationship they have with their loving grandparents?

Of course, the grandparents would probably be shocked to find out that i have thoughts like that, i'm certain that from there perspective i seem decidedly on the "control freak" end of the spectrum, with ideas about how most everything should be done.

Still, parenting is an awfully serious responsibility. Look at how much of societies ills we lay at the feet of parent-child interactions.

Really, if my daughters end up picking bad apples, shacking up with guys who beat them and abandoning their kids..... who are you going to look at first? If my son were to be that kind of a guy, who would you start asking questions about his relationship with.

And not without reason. Who else has a bigger role to play in what they aspire to, in their baseling understanding of the world, their ideas about what relationships are supposed to look like?

I never expected so many of my musings to revolve around fatherhood. but they do. so i'm certain that will be reflected here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We moved to New Orleans nearly nine months ago for a number of reasons. Primarily it was a job move. The group i had been with in Macon Georgia wasn't really a good match for me, and it finally became clear in a partner's meeting that it was time for me to move on, all in a very friendly tone. I certainly wish them the best as they continue taking care of the worthy people of Middle Georgia! One of my best friends, and one of the brightest neurosurgeons of my generation, is still there taking care of brain aneuysms with that group.

How much i love my job at LSU, (and how obsessive i am about it) is topic for another day, but tonight i'm thinking about other reasons we moved to New Orleans. While we were in Macon, we were deeply involved in a project officially named "Elias Community Church." It was originally intended to be a church (hence the name), but the IRS thought it was a little to "outside the box" and decided it was a "religious organization," still tax exempt, but needing a little more oversight. Then it came under the rubric of the Southern Baptists, and none of that really mattered anymore.

In a sense, all of that information is a set of "stubs" for future posts. Right now, i'm just trying to set the stage to mention the other thing that brought us to New Orleans. Elias Community, as it was known, was an attempt at an intentional christian community. It was situated on the edge of an impoverished area in Macon, and it wasn't too far from Mercer University. Several students lived there, and some pastor-types, and our family. We got to know the neighborhood children (although they kept moving in and out all the time!), and our previous church from florida sent a youth team to do VBS.

My father-in-law, a semi-retired minister, and his wife, are still there, and one of our students has stayed on. The issues run deep though. The institution we call church doesn't always impact the core rythms of life. It is difficult to read about the life and teachings of Christ and see mandate for an institution. A group here, called Communitas New Orleans, affiliated with Church Resource Ministries (CRM) is dealing with a lot of these same issues, and we have been priviledged to come alongside and learn much from their journey. I hope over coming months to share some of what we have learned in Macon, and what we are learning from our new friends.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The national savior

I voted today.

Despite fears and horror stories of how long the wait would be, my wife and i went to the polls and cast our votes. It really wasn't that long, actually, and it was nice to have a brief moment to talk. Afterward, we stopped by the nearby coffee shop, where the line was longer than the polls, because apparently, it was all the same people, and it takes longer for each person to get a latte than to influence the course of their government.

The coffee shop had a different attitude today than other times i've been. I am not an infrequent customer there. My position with LSU is half research, and since the destruction of much of our infrastructure, the faculty are spread accross many hospitals and campuses around the city. This particular coffee house is near the Tulane campus, and has free wireless internet, so it's not a bad place to meet people if you need a place with good parking and internet access.

So this morning, I'd voted, and i'd grabbed a post-vote cup of coffee with my wife, and then was waiting for the Tulane faculty member i was to meet there and the two research assistants who were helping us, because it was a central location for the 4 of us. In the interval between her leaving, and their arrival, a middle aged gentleman walked up, put his cup on the table next to me, and launched into a lecture about my use of four chairs, "I can't believe people like you! Taking up two tables and four chairs like you own the place!" He added more and then turned on his heel and marched out.

Mind you, there were still plenty of open seats and tables, but that's all beside the point. It just struck me that i can't imagine that happening there on any other day. Somehow that had to do with voting day. A day where we are fired up about our own and other peoples opinions, and somehow feel like there's a value in declaring them.

It's only true to a point. There's that old truism about opinions....

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ah, this is inspired (incited?), by you Laurie, and the discussions we used to have. Obviously the thoughts and issues didn't arise in those talks for the first time (look where we lived), but the conversation has to continue, even if i speak to myself.

I've been a journaller for nearly 10 years now, and journalling can often make sense of things in life. It does this through a forceful imposition of narrative. The act of telling your story forms and changes it. "The unexamined life is not worth living," but the life and thought repeatedly examined only by oneself is unlikely to be worth terribly much either.

I will be asking many i have known to drop by, peruse, and share their thoughts with me. This is a fruitless excercise if it is a monologue.