03.20.17

The Heroes

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:20 pm by Administrator

i saw “Logan” this past weekend while the rest of the family saw “Beauty and the Beast”. i haven’t been a huge fan of the X-Men movies up to this point, but i figured it’d be interesting regardless to see the end of a storied franchise. with all the incredible reviews, i figured i was in for a darker, more probing x-men movie. i was not disappointed.

“Logan” reminded me very much of David Michod’s “Rover”, despite their obvious differences. while Rover is terse on dialogue, Logan engages its audience with a steady stream of Wolverine’s pithy and austere reflections; and while Rover is straightforward in its violence, Wolverine’s action scenes are elaborately choreographed to convey passion and vulnerability. what the two movies have very much in common though are their aesthetic and their message about human nature. against a desert backdrop of slow apocalypse, men kill in order to salvage their humanity.

after finishing “Rover”, i recall feeling unsettled and a bit spooked by the conclusion. “Logan” on the other hand tries to leave us with more conventional feelings: sadness at a loss, hopefulness on account of a redemption. it’s the completion of a heroic arc, we are led to believe. but in a sense, the implications of “Logan” are no less spooky than that of “Rover”. here is a man who is both mentally disturbed and with homicidal tendencies, and it is ironically his love for another being that allows him to tap into that pathological homicidality one last time. we see this strangely conflicted idea presented in cinema from time to time (think “The Professional”), and it is jarring and disturbing to me every time. i’m not sure that is the intent of “Logan”, but it is the experience i am left with all the same. the man that Wolverine becomes in the end is not a hero. he’s “Eric” at the end of “Rover”, or like any of Joe Abercrombie’s ill-fated protagonists of “The Heroes”: a man who has lost all touch with reality, who kills in order to express affection, whose life in the end is a story of moral futility—and a series of bloody battlefields to show for it

03.17.17

Rites of Passage

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:07 pm by Administrator

in times like these, i realize that there’s no natural end to the trajectory i’m on. there’s no graduation to the next stage; there’s no final exam and a summer break that follows. i miss those rites of passage, as much as i don’t miss the standardized exams and the perpetual insecurities about the future. the rites of passage gave seasons their meaning, and they permitted me to experience life in chapters brief enough for focus and reflection. there was a story i could tell about every school year that passed. there was a story i could tell about my past and my future. now the years run together, like a long run with no destination except my inevitable exhaustion, and it is up to me to define the moments when something ended and another thing begins.

the last time i had such a moment was my 40th birthday. it stands out in my mind as a perfect moment in my life: a moment i’d built up to with great attention and preparation. one night i went to bed in a mysterious little town fully drunk and brimming with fond memories, hearing the wind rattling the naked trees of late Fall. the next morning i woke up to an idea about what must follow, and i knew, at last, who i really am.

i think about those moments in the biblical story when God interrupted a person’s life. God told Noah to build an ark. He intercepted an old and childless Abraham on a beach to talk to him about fatherhood. He wrestled Jacob to the ground at Peniel. He summoned Moses from his mid-life crisis and called him to a lifelong adventure. for these men, these were moments of calling. but they were also, in a sense, rites of passage that brought an end to life as it was and signaled a journey to radically new destinations. interestingly, these rites of passage heralded the worship that these men would give to the Lord. Noah built his altar upon descending onto dry land. Abraham offered his son isaac on the altar. after Peniel, Jacob gave up all he owned to his brother Esau and made peace. and after being confronted by the burning bush, Moses committed himself unto repentance, leadership, and everything that followed in the service of God. rites of passage determined the form of worship that would follow—because the rites of passage determined the identity of the worshiper.

i long for rites of passage in part because i seek validation, rest, and focus, like any other person. but i long for them as well because they are the moments when i find myself most keenly aware of God’s interest in my life. my intuition tells me that these moments are important enough to create for myself, even if life and its work do not offer me that season.

i have been working now in clinical practice for eight and a half years, and i’m tired now. more fundamentally, i’m feeling the need to step away and open myself to a different direction—a new leading. it’s a sabbath i’m looking for, an extended break from my current lifestyle and its rhythms, and i think it’s something that i need to plan for in the next two years. it will probably that i quit my job. that’s okay. perhaps that’s even necessary. i feel it in my bones, that i’m ready to hear something new from my God; and i believe that if i set the time and the place, the Lord will meet me there, as He met my forefathers. there’s no telling what i will hear, but there’s no doubt that it will transform me, and i believe that what i will discover is the thing that is mine to give—the worship that will define my life and my legacy

03.13.17

For a good time, call Jordan…

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:28 pm by Administrator

Jordan Peele, that is.

“Get Out” has gotten an outstanding 99% on RT and is being widely acclaimed as an unconventional horror movie with “trenchant social critiques”. that doesn’t mean everyone will be a fan. the middle-aged White couple to our left, for example, didn’t get it at all and left the theater audibly frustrated. the younger White couple to our right laughed at about half the jokes. but there was a certain glee shared by people of color in the audience (ourselves, the Black girls behind us, and a few other pockets in the audience) that steadily mounted over the course of the film and spilled over into unqualified euphoria by the climax. in the end, the movie is either amusingly off-kilter or downright resonating, and the difference, i believe, is in the eye color of the beholder.

first, some basics. the White people in “Get Out” are stereotypically White. not in the deep South overtly obnoxious sense. they’re the unconsciously biased, pseudo-progressive but inadmissibly arrogant version of the racist Whites. in other words, they’re immediately recognizable. the audience gets to enjoy the Whites from two angles: the perception of the Black protagonist (who calls them out on everything) and the blatantly robotic White impersonations by other Black characters.

second, though the Whites end up getting the tables turned on them, the violence against them isn’t as much dramatic (a la Django) as it is relieving. Peele’s point, in the end, isn’t so much that the diabolical Whites deserve death; it’s just that White privilege is sickeningly manipulative, and it takes more than a bit of effort and inconvenience to get out from under it.

not all the jabs are against Whites. there’s some hilarity directed at the TSA, for example. but the fixation of “Get Out” is the experiential space called “the sunken place”—and i promise that there will be some good academic writing on how “Get Out” uniquely illuminates the 21st century Black American experience. regardless, Peele’s epic horror film is as validating as it is funny, and it helped me get woke from my sunken place, hopefully for more than a few hours

03.10.17

line them up

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:01 pm by Administrator

line them up

the young men are old enough to kill,
the young girls are old enough now
to bleed, to bear the burden
of the future.

take the ones with fair faces
and willowy bodies, and give them
the world. make the rest of them
stand naked

and watch as the pale children
of an ancient tribe descend upon
the earth, to continue the ritual
sacrifices.

the rest, with hair as black
as the night that birthed the gods
of this world, with skin darkened
by a sun

that has written its story of infliction
into complexion, a record of all the fields
it has presided over, all bodies brought
to ruin,

line them up.

send them to prison.
send them to the south, as far south
as the gullies and the dry riverbeds and the dusty roads
will take them.

send them away
because ghosts have white faces,
and they say that the dead will rule
in this life

while the ones with eyes full of shadows
leave their childish ways behind,
bleed and bear children
who will remember.

03.08.17

chronicle of the unhewn throne

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:23 am by Administrator

i ripped through book 3 of brian staveley’s epic trilogy in four days days. that’s right: 650 pages of small-print over 12 hours scattered over 4 days. i saw a kingdom razed almost to the ground, witnessed several tens of thousands people put to death by axe, sword, immolation, and evisceration, mulled the mysteries of spiritual cohabitation, and guiltily enjoyed one long overdue sex scene that finally transpired in the last hundred pages. it suffices to say that i was thoroughly exhausted when i was finally done.

here’s the verdict. staveley writes wonderful prose, great dialogue, and vibrant action. similar to brandon sanderson, he’s also gifted at building great complexity into his characters. perhaps it’s this latter quality that ironically left me somewhat disappointed at the finish of “The Last Mortal Bond”, despite how much I enjoyed the series overall. staveley’s characters are in fact so complex that they veritably elude any straightforward judgment by the reader. the villains, in other words, end up not feeling like real villains, and the heroes of the story offer us little satisfaction in their victories. for sure, the plot finds resolution, but the conclusion feels like a loveless knotting of loose ends.

sanderson, by comparison, loads his plot equally thick with mythology and religion, but there is a clear delineation between the good guys and bad—and there is a spine-tingling satisfaction when the good guys win. no one does complex, morally ambiguous characters better than joe abercrombie, but even with abercrombie, there’s enough sentiment mixed in with the sardonic humor to make us believe in the anti-hero. staveley on the other hand puts his protagonists through so much brutality and testing that they seem barely human by the end of the story. kaden and valyn veritably devolve into one-dimensional creatures of fate; and adare, the glaring weakness of the trilogy, fails to define herself as an authentic heroine. perhaps this is staveley’s point: that being human ultimately empties us all, until nothing really matters except the spin one chooses to put on the arbitrary tale.

fantasy needs its good and bad guys. for me, that’s the moral of the story, as i look back upon the fields littered with dead Urghul and Annurians and find myself curiously dispassionate, as if i’d found my way to the vaniate itself

03.06.17

moonlight

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:32 pm by Administrator

in some ways, i feel the same way about Moonlight as i did about Obama’s presidency. i’m glad that Moonlight won Best Picture, just like i’m glad in retrospect that Obama won both of his terms in the White House. but in both cases, the setup for success promised more than the results that were actually delivered.

let’s start with the positive. Moonlight is a very important film because of its subject matter. it’s a story that addresses so many difficult and nuanced issues surrounding urban cycles of despair, the ravage of drugs, the ramifications of bullying in schools, and the impact of prejudice on the experience of marginalized people such as people of color and gay men. the movie touches on these matters with delicacy and discretion, while rendering a compelling central character that brings sharp focus to the human impact of these issues.

and Moonlight’s importance goes beyond its story. it’s a story written, directed, and acted by an almost exclusively Black ensemble, and its accolades carry that much more social significance as a result of this fact, particularly in light of the cruel and divisive political climate generated by Donald Trump and his cast of deplorables.

but where Moonlight fails to deliver is in the consummation of its narrative arc. it solidly succeeds in establishing the context for a provocative and incisive coming-of-age story; but after setting the table for a veritable revelation, Moonlight leaves us with nothing beyond hors d’eouvres. the protagonist finds his way back to his beginnings but with no real sense of a journey. as he finds himself stranded in his circumstances, so are the audience left without any real insight or direction in their own mulling of the tale.

it’s no longer enough for the contemporary audience to simply be instructed on the tragic consequences of racism, prejudice, and poverty; we demand an articulation of something essential and even specific about the world we live in. when we watch a movie about a gay man of color struggling to find his way in the world, we expect to land upon something more substantial than the premise of his enduring inner child, however tenderly that idea might be rendered. after all, it’s been over seventy-five years since Citizen Kane.

it was a very weak year for movies. i would have picked La La Land as the better movie, but even La La Land pales compared to Chazelle’s debut film Whiplash. in the end, i’m glad that Moonlight won, because a film about a gay Black man in america needed to win. but it should have accomplished more in its vaguely suggestive third act; and its dispirited denoument certainly left me wishing for much more

03.01.17

Emptiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:05 pm by Administrator

i’m reading brian staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn right now, which is pretty incredible and maybe 2nd on my list of recent fantasy favorites (1st being Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind). the quality of the writing and pacing of the plot are excellent, but where staveley really excels is in the richness of his mythology. his background in religious studies is profoundly demonstrated in the complex interweaving of mystical principles which he embeds in the story universe. among these ideas, he presents the idea of the vaniate—emptiness, or, more precisely, the emptying of self.

this past weekend, i organized and led a retreat for one hundred forty providers, their family members, and the senior leaders of our company. the focus of the retreat was the burnout and demoralization of the providers, whose ranks have been depleted over the past year by considerable turnover related to job dissatisfaction. i designed the program to give them an extensive opportunity over two days of facilitated discussions to air out their grievances and to constructively define their requirements for long-term solutions. it was a grueling experience for me and for my team; as quickly as the experience came together (less than a week of prep time), we struggled through an amazing array of logistical issues. there were providers who arrived without a hotel room reservation; there were providers who’d been accidentally left off the invite list; and there were last-minute additions to the program to manage. as the main architect of the agenda and the emcee for the entire weekend, i put in five straight fourteen-hour work days including both saturday and sunday, and when i finally made it home on sunday afternoon, i fell into a dreamless three-hour nap totally exhausted.

by all accounts, the retreat was an incredible success for the company. providers came up to me afterwards tearful and thankful for the experience. a provider i’d never met before threw her arms around me after we adjourned and told me how thankful she was that i had represented her struggles as a clinician so truly. i left the experience feeling like i’d done my job, and that made me feel good about the effort i’d put in.

but when i woke up on monday, i felt somehow wrong about the whole thing. and as my disparate feelings settled upon something discrete, something of clarity, i realized that instead of feeling proud of what i’d done, i was feeling the incredible burden of carrying the struggles and pains of my peers on my shoulders. i had become a channel of their frustrations; i had become a vessel for our common grief. and i realized something else too—that the words of my fellow providers had validated a silent, repressed agony in my own life as a doctor, a trauma that i had carried for more than a decade. the experience this past weekend had somehow unearthed that grief, in a way that made me angrier about my circumstances and more suspicious of the leaders who wanted to help us.

for the first time in my life, perhaps, i came to understand this aspect of trauma. exploring trauma with someone does not always create intimacy and healing. sometimes, talking about trouble can actually alienate people and set them back. maybe some of our providers left the retreat feeling better about their work and about their company; but for me, it opened my eyes yet again to the state of my being in a way that made me feel worse about what i’m doing.

i am a leader. and what this means, i realize, is that i feel not only for myself but for all those that rely on me. and my feelings are powerful and relentless and heavy to bear. they drive me to action and even to anger. and they hound me in my sleep.

i had a dream last night of emptiness. i cannot remember what i saw; it was a vague geometry of sepia surfaces. but i remember the feeling i experienced in the dream. it was a pervasive and terrible feeling. there was nothing to live for. there was nothing at all. it was a weighty dead feeling, and i woke up with it. for me, it was the vaniate. it is the price i pay for feeling what others feel. it burns me out within and leaves me carved out, carved up, dry and hollow.

i remember those 40 hour days now and what they did to me. i remember being told that i killed a woman, and i remember her name. i remember being told that i had contributed to the death of a man, and i remember his name. i remember the decision i’d made, late on a call night, that had led to his demise. i’d taken him off pressure control ventilation to reduce his hypercarbia, but by correcting his hypoxemia i’d caused auto-PEEP that led to barotrauma and extensive subcutaneous crepitation. he’d succumbed to a pseudomonal pneumonia three weeks later. the attending, a legend on the oncology service, had responded to my email of concern by blaming me for his death.

i remember the fatigue, the cold sores, the hemorrhoids, the desperation of nights without backup and support. i remember the drinking and the hangovers. i remember the days i’d wanted to drive my car off a bridge and die. i remember the look in their eyes when they pushed the PCA for dilaudid, and i remember envying them. i wanted that high, i wanted that opioid high—but they were the ones who got to fall into sleep, while i was the one who had to stay up for another twenty hours, minding them, the dirt of the earth. i hated my patients—and i will never forget how much i despised them, for hurting me, for creating work for me, for dying on me and leaving me with no one to comfort me.

i remember the trauma of those years and the trauma of the years that have ensued. i remember the man who died outside my clinic, ten yards from the door, minutes after i’d seen him and shaken his hand. i remember the way my administrator had talked to me one winter afternoon, when she’d told me that i needed to see more patients, when she’d accused me of not doing my part because i was unwilling to stay late. i remember afternoons in my office flinging profane words at the wall, in a place where no one could hear me. no one could hear me. and even if they could hear me, they could never understand. no one understands.

i slept my way into the vaniate. i woke up remembering decades of pains that no one can understand. it was supposed to put our fears and angers aside. but instead, the retreat flung me back, back into the maelstrom that has been my terribly difficult struggle to understand life and death in a world that is casually unjust and cruel to the needy. i have no answers. i am the blind leading the blind; i am the wounded healer. once upon a time, i cursed God because i believed he was responsible, but i have no one to blame any longer, not even myself. i sit here at my computer compelled by a spirit that has no name, spinning in the anger that has no object, in the helplessness that has no purpose, and i tell myself that i do not want to be empty, but neither do i wish to carry these feelings in me any longer