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Greek gods, Buddha (maybe), and Paul Cézanne

I have, believe it not, thought to write daily. Unfortunately I have been bogged down with ‘the job search.’ It is a bitter subject! So here are the masterpieces for 16-18 January:

Bacchus and Ariadne (detail) by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. Oil on canvas, 1720s.

At first I had difficulty with this painting. My heart said Renaissance, but my mind said, “1720s?” It turns out Pellegrini did paint in a partly Renaissance style, though he did not live during the Renaissance period. Being able to make such distinctions is one of the goals here, so I’m fine with having felt a bit confused! So first, the content–what’s happening? Often when we see Bacchus (aka Dionysus), he is easy to identify by symbols bunches of grapes, wine chalices, or simply a ruddy, drunken-looking face. Not so here. Here, he looks rather young, rather ordinary, and despite the unrealistic pose, is simply presenting a ring to the fair-skinned, blushing Ariadne.

The story as far as I know is that Bacchus found Ariadne abandoned by her father on an island, and eventually married her. I suppose the sky devoid of a city line and also what I believe is the horizon over open ocean indicates their location.

What made me think Renaissance? Firstly, the subject matter. Renaissance art was full of Greco-Roman mythology and the Bible. Maybe some patrons, but that was most of it. Secondly, the relatively low drama. Sure, Ariadne has somewhat of an expression and is blushing, but overall, there is not a lot of emotion on either face; the subject matter itself is rather mundane (I mean, compared to such popular Baroque subjects such as the beheading of Goliath, Holofernes, and John the Baptist); the soft lines and colors, lack of contrast, and treatment of fabric; and the ideal aspects of the figures’ appearances.

What, besides the date, made me say, No… not Renaissance? Firstly, the composition. Renaissance art is typically quite balanced and can be outlined by a triangle, maybe there is some clear perspective added. Think of Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper. But Pellegrini’s painting is built from a strong diagonal from the upper right down to the lower left corner of the piece, a common characteristic of Baroque art which adds a sense of action, drama, and sometimes a “snapshot” quality to the image. In fact, this is a snapshot, a moment in time, the offering of an engagement ring (though I do not know if the tradition of engagement rings goes so far back).

Anyway, there is really a mix of the Renaissance and Baroque styles in this painting, mainly with respect to composition and subject matter. For instance, though Pellegrini chooses to depict Classical figures, at the same time, he doesn’t choose to paint them symbolizing or enacting some virtue, as you might expect from a Renaissance painter. Rather, he chooses something emotional, perhaps even passionate (a characteristic of the Baroque): a marriage proposal. It is not my favorite painting, but it is good for showing that art does not always fit neatly into the styles and periods taught in school, but is something that grows and evolves and depends on the individual artist, too.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin). Chinese, Liao dynasty, Willow with traces of pigment, 11th Century.

Man, I do not know a lot about Asian art! I’ll say what I do know: This is a very old and beautiful sculpture, around four feet high, made of wood. I do not know about Chinese art, but I do know the Japanese historically favor natural materials like this, which makes sense considering Eastern spiritual views. If I were to see this sculpture, I would identify the figure as Buddha by the outstretched ear lobes, which represent wisdom–or perhaps an authority figure being portrayed as wise by using a symbol of the Buddha (just as Western patrons have had themselves depicted with symbols of wisdom from the Bible or Greco-Roman mythology).

I remember the word “bodhisattva” from a lecture a long time ago, but had to look it up. A bodhisattva is indeed not the Buddha, but has wisdom like him. Here’s what it means: someone who has reached Enlightenment, but delays Nirvana in order to help others reach Enlightenment. Actually a really beautiful concept and someone worthy of immortalizing in sculpture, I’d say. An analogy would be like if The Virgin Mary would have had the option not to ascend into Heaven, but to stay on Earth for a while to help lead others to Heaven (or maybe she did, I don’t know).

I can’t say much more because I know practically zero about Chinese history or art. The composition is rather serene and balanced, slightly stylized, perhaps representative of physical ideals  of beauty in China at the time (maybe now as well). More information is available via the link above. I’ll have to check it out myself.

Ah, time has flown by pretty quickly actually. I’ll go read a bit more about the piece above, and delve into Cézanne and tomorrow’s masterpiece, well, tomorrow.

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A masterpiece a day

… makes you a better art historian.

For the first winter in a while, no one sent me a calendar as a gift, and so this year I chose my own. Because I was in high spirits from having finished school (for now), I went all out. I purchased a daily calendar which is mostly decorative, a wall calendar which is far more useful, and a datebook which I use to log my exercise.

The datebook cost about five dollars and has as its cover the now famous almond tree painting of Van Gogh. Some might say Vincent would have disliked his work being turned into “merch,” but I say that he wanted poor people to have beauty in their homes. I am not poor, but I’m not in a position to be buying legitimate art, nor am I able to create my own. I think he wouldn’t mind.

The wall calendar was also inexpensive, and each month presents a new painting by Sandro Botticelli. I like Early Renaissance painting, it is that simple. I will say of Botticelli that the more I learn, the more I imagine him as sort of a stereotypical macho, sensual Italian man. I will never forget visiting Italy in 2007–at least as recently as that, it was still common and acceptable to quite obviously and vigorously cat call and whistle at women! It isn’t like in the US, or it wasn’t. It was intense. I imagine Botticelli doing this, drinking wine copiously, telling sex jokes to Giuliano de Medici or someone.

Ah, but the point–the real treat–the part that serves no practical purpose–the daily calendar. I might’ve been tempted to get a calendar that tells a joke each day, or maybe a word a day… but over the last four years I have sorely missed reading and writing about art, having been too busy trying to understand the methods of such black magic as thermodynamics and reaction mechanisms. My hearts pounds as I recall it!

So I’ve got a daily calendar, and as often as I can (and as often as I remember and also am not lazy), I will come here and write some notes on the piece of the day. I haven’t written critically about art in a while, so my standards won’t be high at least at first. I need to work on recalling information and analyzing the works before I can move onto creating and supporting any theses. Please read or don’t read, for your own pleasure, but I do recommend any of the links I include! On to it for today then! The cool part is that all the works are at the Met in NY, so I should be able to post links for curious readers to click. Now on to it!

Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly (detail) by Mary Cassatt, oil on canvas, 1880.

It is always interesting to see a work by Cassatt instead of by her male contemporaries. She was, of course, a great Impressionist painter. Born in Pennsylvania, she spent time training, studying, and living in Italy, Germany, and France. She was a colleague of other Greats such as Manet, Monet, and Degas; and her work was shown in four out of eight Impressionist exhibitions at Paris’ famous Salons. An important aspect of Impressionist work is its presentation of light, which brings the viewer’s focus to the subject herself rather than intricate physical details (e.g. detailed, naturalistic representation of lace in a Baroque painting). Indeed, one perceives the brightly shining sun in this painting, though the sun itself is not depicted. An atmosphere is created from color and light, soft lines, and choice of subject matter–and here I have come to what differentiated Cassatt from her contemporaries. While Degas was painting voyeuristic bath scenes and young ballet dancers, Monet was painting series of the same subject under different lighting conditions (lily ponds, rivers, buildings), and Manet was painting risque images of women looking at you (waitresses, prostitutes, etc.), Cassatt was painting Lydia–Cassatt’s own sister. Mary Cassatt painted domestic scenes, and became particularly famous for her warm scenes of mothers and children. She was educated and privileged, and she was acquainted with the avant-garde; but her scenes of women in private are not titillating or invasive–instead they are respectful, comforting, and lovely. One does not become fascinated or curious or shocked (or even disgusted) looking at Lydia, as one might looking at Manet’s Olympia. Instead, one feels at home. We see Lydia like our own sister. We may appreciate her beauty, the elegance of her clothing and manners, sure, but not the way a suitor or a peeping tom might. She goes about her business, and she must be aware of our view because we can see her face. But she does not look at us in order to make a bold statement… or to make any statement at all. We are just family.

Perseverance or denial?

It is hard to believe that I was once a person who received compliments on her writing. I believed as recently as a decade ago that my calling from God in this life was to be a writer, though it was not ever perfectly clear what sort. At first I thought journalism, but I don’t expect that was the Spirit putting it into my head; in those days I was just discovering the history and the great literature and art resulting from the First and Second World Wars.

I made a major decision or two in the pursuit of having something worth writing about.

Now here I am. It is true I am an adult with responsibilities now, which is the usual excuse for abandoning hobbies and old friendships and things. But really I do not have any pets, let alone children. In fact, I do have free time… the sad reality is that nowadays I tend to spend it napping, watching television, or sitting on the couch wishing I could have both free time and energy. There is a cartoon somewhere about how at various stages of life, one can only have two of three of these: time, energy, money. For the most part, the cartoon seems accurate.

Last time I wrote that I remember, it was about mental health. I saw a psychology post-grad who suggested I use my health insurance (which I no longer have, but that is another post) to find a psychiatrist or therapist or whatever I might prefer. I cannot say the appointment was very helpful. I cannot say one thing I learned. I walked away feeling that I am probably rather healthy after all. Truthfully, I would like to have counseling, advice, behavioral training–but maybe it is all a post-modern, superficially complex way of longing for a second childhood. It seems to me I did not learn all I should have the first go round. Even though I am fine, there is still a gap between who I am and who I want to be.

During the meeting, the psychologist asked me how I felt about graduation coming up relatively soon. I said, and I was honest, that I did not feel particular anxiety about it, but rather eagerness to be done with this degree. I still hold that feeling, but now the anxiety has arrived. And the regret. The what ifs. The I should haves. The if only I could do it agains.

Earlier in college I encouraged myself with some of the education news of the day. Folks writing about the elasticity of intelligence, grit, and other topics which to me frankly seem more grounded in belief in the American dream than in reality (though I have not looked to find research on these topics).

So here I am. I am not so good at school, not so good at my job, not so good at a whole lot besides keepin’ on keepin’ on. (This is why I was able to run a marathon once, despite being fat and out of shape and not training–I just go.) So I think, who is right? Am I applying the sunk cost fallacy to my life? Am I being realistic or pessimistic? Am I cutting my losses or just giving up?

I’ve heard it said that it takes something like 10,000 hours of practice to get good at a skill. But I always wonder, are there not people for whom even 20,000 hours practice will not result in them sounding good with a violin?

I was speaking with someone a few months ago, and the cognitive dissonance was real as I encouraged her to study something which she confessed she believed was beyond her ability to learn. I encouraged her and told her it was not beyond her ability, but internally I was asking myself, “Are you sure you think so?”

The truth is I know neither what I want (that is actually achievable: wanting to win the Lotto is not what I mean here) nor what I am capable of. Do I believe there are things beyond my mental abilities? I do and I don’t.

Throughout it all I find myself struggling with faith. I do not mean I don’t believe. I believe strongly enough to fear the possibility of losing my belief. No, I believe. But my zeal is gone and my life does not seem purposeful. For years after my baptism, I read the Bible every day. Every day. I prayed. I remembered God when I looked at a mountain or the sea or a living thing. Now I remember God when I am in the country and have been hiking a little while, and I say, “What is wrong with me? Where is my awe? I forgot this was Creation.” I find myself surrounded by beauty, but still choked by thorns.

Several times in the past year the reading has come up, the parable of the seeds. I am the seed that fell among thorns, and though I grow, I am not fruitful. It was easy not to be preoccupied with worldly things when I was a teen, not paying my own bills, not yet worrying about taking care of my aging parents. It was easy in the Navy too because for all the poor excuses for leadership and for all the danger, the Navy life is pretty easy. Only now in life I have come to the point where I must…

What must I do?

For a couple of years now I have been thinking I would like to become a physician. Of course this is an enormous undertaking. Significant time, effort, and money will be necessary to even gain admittance to a medical school. Supposing I do get myself a short coat, when what? Commit years more of my life to my country (that is also assuming the military would accept me again) or take out over a quarter million dollars in loans to pay for it.

And people pretend to wonder why there is a “diversity problem” in medicine. But that too is another post!

I expressed some of this concern over pursuing a medical career to my mother. She asked if it was my call or not. Always in church we are praying to God for those called to priesthood or religious life, praying for those who are discerning, spreading the word about “exploration days” at local monasteries and such. I have heard a calling story or two, and knew a seminary student once, in his forties, who has previously been an electrical engineer. How do you hear the call? Is there a call for everyone (to different things)? Or is there a general call to do the church’s mission and to live a holy life, which a Christian may do however she sees fit?

I do not know of course. I have prayed lately for a call, but I am not committed to the prayer. Of course God knows this. It is hard to ask God for something when you are not sure it is something he really does–sure he could do it, but does he want to? Does he think it’s a good idea? I am reminded of the ancient Hebrews’ desire for a king, since all the other tribes had one. I do not know where in the Bible this story is told, but it’s true. God told them it wasn’t a good idea. “Look,” I’m paraphrasing, “See how much good it does the other nations to have kings. With kings come taxes and wars and strife. But you have Me for a king.” But they didn’t listen, so God did give them a king. Then it was just as bad as God told them it would be.

Well, I allotted myself 40 minutes to write. Perhaps I have not come to my point exactly, but I have come to the end of that time period and must be off.

Not another self-serving blog post on mental health! In my experience with people who are mentally ill, the one area of greatest contention is this: the center of the universe. What I mean is that I know people who are mentally ill who believe they are the center of the universe, and others who believe anybody and anything but them is the center of the universe. Few hold the correct view, that is that there is no center to the universe, and one must find a balance between self-love and self-discipline, giving and saying no, controlling and yielding.

I don’t mean to criticize anyone. I believe in mental illness just like I believe in cancer, but it’s trickier…

I hate to write because frankly I think mental illness is a fashionable term which most people bandy about excessively, inaccurately, and without thinking. In the past few years, knowing someone who lost a sister to suicide, seeing the difference in my friend before versus after good mental health care, and struggling with my own unwanted thoughts and behaviors, I have become much more attuned to our colloquialisms: OCD, ADD, bipolar, depressed, etc. Some of these words have meanings distinct from any sort of illness; for instance, I find it unfortunate that it is ambiguous to say, “I am depressed,” because of course one can be depressed without having an illness.

Anyway, I’ve read so many accounts of So-and-so’s struggle with an eating disorder or something, all ending in, ‘and now I love myself, and here are a few paragraphs full of the most positive adjectives I know of to describe how brave I am or how gorgeous my body truly is or–‘ almost always there’s something about inspiration in there. Maybe some vaguely feminist stuff. Often some allusion to a significant other, like, “now I see the beautiful woman my boyfriend saw all along.”

I don’t mean to rant about it or to really shit on it. I just dislike it because it’s hard for me to believe so many people are truly having such a very similar experience, then writing the same article on practically every blog of young women’s magazine out there for the past decade. Secondly, it reads to me like a bunch of positive self-talk, not so much what the person really believes. I think people who are genuinely secure do not preface statements of how awesome they feel with, “I may have X flaw, but…” I just don’t really buy it most of the time. Finally, if I did buy it, I’d be a little disturbed because such articles always seem to ignore the reality of a situation. It’s great to survive depression or develop self-esteem or learn to manage your compulsions–but life is still a bitch, and it doesn’t matter how good you feel about yourself, you still have to pay the bills, and the war in Afghanistan is still raging, and there’s no way you feel so “victorious” all the time unless you’re delusional or high or both.

So these are some reasons I rarely if ever write about mental health. I don’t want to be self-centered. I don’t want to be fake. I don’t want to be trite. I do like to be private.

But as much as it irks me to think about any sort of X-illness pride, there shouldn’t be shame either. And I recognize that refusing to talk about things even if I have good reasons might be part of why mental illness is still stigmatized even among healthcare practitioners (at least so says one of my mentors, a psychiatrist himself). Likely enough my perception of mental illness is colored as much by dominant attitudes as it is by personal experiences and actually thinking about it and trying to be fair and to understand.

I suppose I’ve felt for a while now that I would be a hypocrite for not “talking to someone,”–ah, that phrase! Yes, it’s seemed like a good idea for a while. I have not been functioning like I think I should be. If I were my friend and I were aware of things, I would say, “Go talk to someone!” I say people can be mentally ill, yet deny that I could be–then refuse to so much as have a check up lest someone qualified concludes that I am clinically something or other.

It was hard enough for me to accept when a doctor told me I have acid-reflux. (And I am still holding out hope–being stubborn?–that I can ameliorate this problem through behavior changes instead of medication.)

So my thinking and speaking has not been consistent with… my life, I guess. I’ve read psychology books. I could speculate about why. I do rather think that anyone in my circumstances would act more or less the same; but I see now that all that shows is my behavior makes some sense to me, not that it is actually normal or healthy. Anyway, today I made an appointment for a telephone assessment with someone from my school’s counseling and psychological services. I was unjustifiably surprised by how difficult it was to press the dial button on my phone. As it rang, I hoped for an automated appointment service instead of a person; and I was also surprised that I had this thought.

I don’t know what will happen. I know what I would like to happen, but not how it is possible. I’m very leery about drugs because prescription or not, sometimes they change people. Since my mother started taking psychiatric drugs several years ago, she has been like a different person both to me and to herself. I think I would rather suffer and be me than gain any benefit if it involved becoming someone else. I have had a very clear idea of who I am for a long time, and even the mild personality change that comes about from having a drink or two of alcohol disconcerts me.

Well, what is my point? My point is I have restored myself from hypocrisy. Good for me. Now if I can… I don’t know… get back on track, I suppose. We talk about getting on track with diet and exercise or work or this or that plan, or even with relationships. I need to get back on track mentally. Not a big deal, not different–neither more nor less special or “inspiring” than someone deciding to start working out consistently for the first time. Right?

Nothing really

I try to write in my private journal. It seems more authentic and honest. But then, I hardly write, despite thinking about it and often meaning to. I even work out songs and poems sometimes while driving home from school.

Only, I feel like writing, but I am pressed for time, and it is quicker to type here.

I am obsessed with life and with mortality lately. My grandmother died, but I didn’t know her. Now I wonder about her. I found out she had earned a number of certifications and a degree of some sort in criminology of which she was very proud. I found this out accidentally, and asked my mother about it. Mother said she has the degree, which is quite large, somewhere in the house. She feels bad discarding it because it was special to my grandmother, but she doesn’t know what to do with it. I told Mom I will take it, though not now, since we will be moving in only a few months (and then probably not even a year later).

I might as well tell the truth here, since I very much doubt anyone will find this who would be upset to see my do it. My grandmother tried to abort my mother. In those days, this was illegal. The procedure was obviously not “successful.” Knowing this has no doubt filled some of the distance between my mother and myself and my grandmother. How does one not take such a thing personally?

Yet I endeavored to understand my grandmother. What was it like in the 60s? She was an unwed mother. She and my grandfather had broken up before the pregnancy was known, and she did not seek assistance from him. Indeed, he only knew about my mother through the grapevine for many years.

Well, I am glad my mother lived, of course. At other times in my life I have wished that I had never been born. I would be surprised if I never feel that way again, but at this stage, I am happy to be alive, and I do fear death.

I have been thinking of the draft lately. I watched “Gangs of New York,” which prompted me to talk to my father for some reason. We talked about how the draft had begun, and he told me his number was the next one up right when the Vietnam War ended. So in a similar way, I thought how Uncle Sam, and not my grandmother, could have prevented my existence.

I met a veteran on the streets recently. Looking at his face was like looking at my uncle. He was tall and blue-eyed, dignified. The strength of my uncle’s will and mind seemed to make his body appear stronger–though it was very weak and broken in the last days. He suffered because he was drafted. I wonder all the time how it might have been different for him if he hadn’t gone. I wondered about all the Vietnam veterans.

I thought about, have been thinking about, that is, what an evil it is to take a young man away from his mother. The draft is a crime against men, but it is a crime against these women who spend 18 years raising men up just to have them torn down by the stupidity of war.

And I do mean stupidity. Vietnam was no World War II. Americans were not needed to help end a genocide. Very few of our wars have ever been worthwhile. How can the government force men to go die for corrupt causes? And if the cause were good–say we were in a fight to protect our land and freedom, for instance–then a draft would still be wrong because either people would volunteer, or it would be right for them to lose that for which they refused to fight.

I can’t imagine having a son grow up and get called to go kill or be killed in some farce. Even if I had a daughter today, by the time she turned 18, she would likely be subject as well. I think it is sick.

To borrow the Baptist vernacular of my youth (I became a Christian and a Baptist at age 16), I suppose I’d say I have PTSD on my heart. Of course there are also the dead and the physically mutilated to care for. But I am most perturbed that people are sent to wars, then return appearing well… but they aren’t well at all. I won’t detail the suicide statistics. Isn’t it inexcusable to destroy people’s minds? To disturb their dreams and disorder their nervous systems for perhaps their entire lives?

So it is one thing for those who volunteer. But it is another to draft people. And it is not an irrelevant issue. So Vietnam was many years ago. So there are only so many more years before all the Vietnam veterans have died. So? As my wonderfully apolitical husband wrote recently, “Donald Trump has been elected president, so nothing seems too far-fetched.” I don’t mean that these thoughts are based on fear of what Trump specifically will do. I mean that in 1933, how many Germans would have been able to predict what their country would look like in ten years? You cannot guard against what you do not even realize is possible.

So my thinking is not only about how I might die, or how I might never have existed. It isn’t just about war or loss. It is also about children. Children ought to be a motivator to improve the world, but there is only so much a parent can do. If we have children, we cannot keep them from another draft. We cannot keep the elephants, rhinos, polar bears, tigers, or countless other species alive for the children to see. We can only hope the fresh water and food shortages predicted by climate scientists (and which we have already begun to see) will not touch them or create conflicts which will touch them.

I have always been one of those people who does not think any time is better or worse than another. All are different. All have advantages and disadvantages, justice and injustice, evils and triumphs over evil. But it is hard to be optimistic or truly believe that any children of mine would live in a world that is as good or better than today’s. All we do is destroy, argue, hoard, and try to position ourselves better to be able to do those things! Socialism has never succeeded. Capitalism is not sustainable. What is next? Another Cold War? Another World War? Both? And then what?

Recently I was reading a short story by Tolstoy. In it one character speaks in favor of celibacy for all. Sex to him is an animal behavior that prevents humans from assuming our true and elevated identity. The person to whom he is saying this naturally asks how the human race would carry on without sex. Most interestingly, the reply is that… the human race was never meant to carry on forever. Religion, he says, predicts that the world will end, and science predicts the same!

Of course Tolstoy didn’t possess much scientific knowledge at all, but he was right about this. Religion and science do agree–more now than ever before, perhaps–that the world will end.

I do not have time to write more. I have work I must continue. These are only some of my thoughts lately.

 

Back on the ship

The worst part about Kyle going back to sea was that after not hearing from him for a few days, once he finally could email me, it was apparent how miserable he is. I am accustomed to being the most depressed person in the conversation. I’m afraid some of my attitudes have rubbed off on Kyle. Or maybe he is just more expressive than when we first met. I don’t know, but I know he hates the ship as much as I hate him being away. If he were away to do something he likes, something he felt called to do, etc., it would be alright.

I remember after we got married we went to Jamaica. I thought Jamaica was pretty average, but Kyle loved it and said something like, “Well, when I come back by myself…” which at the time hurt my feelings and pissed me off. But now, not so much. I’m going to Colorado by myself next month. It’s not bad simply to be apart. What’s bad is to both be apart, and both mostly hate what you’re doing, and have limited communication.

It sucks. Sometimes I think I should have stayed in the Navy and Kyle should’ve gone out to go to school first. On the other hand, by the time I got out, half the reason was that I knew it was only a matter of time before my mouth got me in trouble. I don’t think that’s a problem with Kyle. I guess the best I can hope is that he grows numb to the shittiness quickly. All I can do is work hard in school, at job searching, at my medical school application, and at saving money. It feels like we are both very near and very far from the next, better leg of our life.

Only problem with that is I know when we finally adopt a cat or two, he’ll love the cat more than me (not that I blame him). That’s okay. Life is too short to keep up a routine that you dread repeating everyday–and it’s worse to watch your spouse experience this.

A C.O.D., a motorcycle crash, and me

Kyle was flown to his ship Thursday. I’ve not heard from him since, and here I am keeping myself company.

Thursday and Friday were both bummers because of this, but also because I had midterm exams as well as an experiment to do that was not going well (and to which I resolutely return tomorrow).

Saturday I managed to reach my mother by telephone. Again I am questioning the value of her psychiatric care. Is a patient better off if he or she feels better but no longer makes choices as rationally as before?

You see, my mother–after years of “forbidding” me from the other side of the country to get a motorcycle, went out, and without a motorcycle license or even training, bought a motorcycle.

She crashed it into a tree on her way out of the dealership and sustained multiple injuries, including two broken bones, necessitating surgery.

Where is Kyle when I need him? Only he understands how I feel, especially after having met my mother.

I am grateful that my mother has access to quality healthcare, has a loving husband to serve as her caretaker, and… you know… she lived! But I am exasperated. She’s lost it. She has bloody lost it.

Of course she did teach me basic human decency growing up, so I could not even express any of this to her. Of course with her new pins and screws in her body, road rash, bruises, etc., she is suffering enough, and I wouldn’t dream of telling her how I feel about it all. But I do have strong feelings. When did my mother turn into such a hypocrite? Who told her any aspect of her decision to purchase a motorcycle was not stupid?

Anyway, our conversation didn’t last long. As usual, she told me the latest drama of her life–which indeed was quite dramatic this time–and shortly thereafter felt the need to go.

I am hesitant to compare her to my grandmother, who was absolutely horrible to her, but I do think of it now. One of the reasons I never got to know my grandmother was that she seemed to have zero interest in me or even my mother. She also took anti-depressants and other medicines. Were they the same as my mother’s? I don’t know. But maybe it is simply a side effect of some of these drugs that one becomes less interested in listening. I don’t know. I only wish if my mother did not care about my life, she would stop pretending she does.

Saturday I also aggravated an old running injury, spent some time outside under the shade of some wonderful trees, and did some reading and writing. It was mostly very sad and frustrated.

This morning I volunteered at the ER as usual, and it was a good though bittersweet morning. At least I know I have a soul. But I have written about that in a place dedicated to my experiences in the hospital.

When I got home, I called my father. Sometimes he is off the wall, truly, and I don’t know what to even say. Often however, he still teaches me things. It’s insane. My father is not the most talkative person, and it is a shame because he has a wealth of practical knowledge. History too. We spent a lot of time talking about weather and politics, a little time on relatives, etc. I told him I would certainly not vote for Trump, but that I was not entirely supportive of Clinton either, especially after the FBI’s findings were released.

And Dad promptly convinced me to vote for Clinton. I won’t go through his arguments, but most significantly, he told me he would do so if he could–“but I’m a felon so I have no business talking about it.”

W H A T ? !

I didn’t feel right asking him what felony he’d been convicted of. I had no idea. Does this mean my father’s been to prison? All this time I thought he didn’t vote because he lacked faith in the system or something. This must have been 30+ years ago!

I mean, let me be as clear as possible: I don’t give a shit at all. My father has worked hard and given me all he could. He is knowledgeable and intelligent and funny. He has integrity–and for all his flaws and sins, I don’t know of lying, cheating, or stealing ever being one. I know of a thing or two both of my parents have done in violation of the law. Now what the hell and when my father was caught, charged, and convicted with a felony, perhaps I’ll never know. But it does change my opinion of him… only for the better.

Now I know he had an additional struggle I never knew of. I have long thought it wrong that people who’ve served their time should still be unable to vote. I have long thought it is hard enough to find a job, how much harder it must be for people who have made bad mistakes during youth. I never knew my father was one of these people.

I feel like when I learned about the suffragettes. How could a woman not vote? How could she not vote when her foremothers had to fight so long and hard to win her that right? But now, here I was thinking of throwing my vote away on a third party or abstaining from voting for president in November… when my father would vote, but he can’t! How could I not?

Like Dad said: we don’t want that nut job having the nuclear codes.

Say what you will about Hillary Clinton. I guess… I’m with her.

Ahhh, I have so much to write about, but I need to get things prepared for tomorrow and get to bed. I miss my dad. I wish he lived closer. I miss my mom, too, but I don’t think she’s appreciate my company like my dad would. Things are just different with her now. Besides, she has my stepfather and brother. As for my dad, he and Kyle haven’t even met yet. God only know how that will go, but they are my favorite people … and isn’t there something wrong with life when you spend so much of it away from your favorite people? Then again, I don’t like that many people, and even fewer of them like me, so maybe I should not think too generally. Who knows?

Torture

It’s one of the reasons I’m not voting for Donald Trump!

Actually, while that’s true, that’s not exactly what I mean to write about. I mean to write about this election season, this society, this… inability almost everyone has to open their minds to anything they didn’t learn or come to believe before they graduate high school (or, for many Trump supporters, not).

If you can’t open your mind, of course you can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone whose views differ. Of course you can’t keep it respectful either, since you don’t truly respect the other person’s opinion. Although I do believe the latter can be accomplished by those who care more about people than about being right. For instance, I frankly no longer respect opinions that deny (and no, that is not meant to connote anything, see Brian’s brief defense of the word’s applicability here) climate change; but when I have those awful conversations, I think I’m able to keep it respectful because I do realize that a person can be wrong about one thing and still be great, valuable, and even intelligent.

Everyone who opposes Trump should realize this about Trump supporters too. And even though I might’ve made a swipe about many of them having a poor education, the truth is there’s probably more to it than stupidity and bigotry. Probably. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. My mom supports Trump–she’s not a serial murderer, ya know?

Anyway, so what’s behind the inability or unwillingness to sincerely truly really genuinely honestly fa real tho consider new and different facts, evidence, logic, and perspectives? My emphasis on those synonyms is due to the fact that I think we all see people pretend to engage in such conversations all the time. Everyone wants to feel like they’re being mature and fair and open-minded, and so they make half ass efforts at appearing so. Sometimes people make an honest effort to understand others’ views on a divisive issue, but usually this turns into a shit show (both in person and on the Internet) when the people being asked a question–a perfectly innocent question, mind you–get defensive because they feel the views they’ve been holding onto for so long, if called into question, might prove to be not so worthy of holding any longer.

It’s not that often a person openly asks, and another person openly answers. People are always reading between lines, often filling in blanks with implications that were never there, and trying to protect themselves (subconsciously) from that dreaded experience of not only admitting to yourself you were wrong, but, Oh Goodness, admitting it to someone else!

That’s the rub. We don’t want to be wrong. We damned sure don’t want others to see that we’ve been wrong. Why is it so hard to admit you’ve used a logical fallacy? Are you afraid people will think all of your arguments in the future are also fallacies? Are you afraid that you’ll find your other, more important beliefs are also based on fallacies, and WHAM! existential crisis will hit?

These are possibilities.

Is it that I am proud and I hate to be reminded, let alone shown publicly, I am imperfect? Ooh, here’s the juicy question in these days of equating nearly every criticism as some form of shaming. Also a possibility.

Perhaps it has always been this way. I wasn’t alive a hundred years ago, after all. It’s just torture having so few people to talk to about serious matters. When I was much younger, it seemed better than now. We were old enough to be thinking about politics, philosophy, and religion, but perhaps we had yet to be fooled into believing we had to be part of some school of thought (or lack thereof, really). It isn’t only people who disagree that have trouble speaking critically. It is sometimes people of the same opinion who fail to do it too, to look at what they agree on and say, “Let’s reevaluate this,” or to consider new evidence. I have a friend from my ship with whom I agree on many issues, but when we talk online, he frequently misses the forest for the trees, makes a disagreement where there wasn’t one, and…. gives a lot of people the impression that he really just needs the last word for some reason. (We love him anyway.)

It isn’t all about the fragile human ego though. There’s another piece, that is, not knowing how to debate. My mother does this. We’ll be talking about whether colleges should be free. I will start to make an argument. She will say, “Yes, but what about…” and it will be something like bilingual teaching in elementary schools, a tangential issue at best. It is her way of changing the subject when she does not want to pay attention to my argument. Other folks tend to go for emotional appeals, logical fallacies, and references to “evidence” from sources that would make any librarian, scientist, or English teacher shake their head. Yet others will attack reputable news sources like the New York Times or a university publication by accusing them of being part of some conspiracy that’s been going on since the Cold War Era. Okay?

My point is that all of these are things you can learn not to do. It’s part of critical thinking. It’s what every discipline besides P.E. is supposedly trying to teach. Not, “How do I memorize the answers to everything?” but rather, “How do I develop a system for finding correct answers to yet unforeseen questions?” This is the question of all science, of philosophy, and of most English and humanities courses I’ve taken and books I’ve read.

Yet most people graduate high school still not differentiating “they’re” from “their,” and deciding that “You’re a libtard” is a reasonable response to a criticism of the Iraq War. Were they all sleeping?

Perhaps I might’ve titled this, “Reasons I’m Not Going To Be a Teacher.”

I don’t know. But wouldn’t it be nice if those unwilling to listen weren’t always so happy to talk?

Greenland, money, love

A few months ago I heard about an opportunity to take a pre-med course in Greenland. Since I’d be studying an amazing indigenous culture, the effects of climate change on human health, and wilderness medicine, naturally I applied. I was accepted too. Then I balked at the costs and the long travel time (and as someone who’s crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific more than once, I am not using the term long lightly).

But my husband encouraged me.

Which was surprising. I know it’s unacceptable these days to stereotype unless you’re a famous comedian, but we always joke that his Jewish heritage is a blessing even though he isn’t religious at all. The man is good with money. It’s annoying sometimes, for example, when you ask what he thinks about a meal, because he can’t evaluate something independent of its cost. Even if you gave him something free, he might say, “Yeah, but what did you pay for it?”

Mostly it’s a good thing though, of course. Anyway, it was really surprising to me that Kyle was not only supportive, but encouraging about Greenland. I’d expected him to say, “It’s up to you, dear,” with his words, and “but it is a lot of money,” with his eyes. But he didn’t. And when I hesitated about making the deposit for the trip, he encouraged me to do it. He even said, “It’s worth it.” A conclusion he does not often make!

So I applied, paid the deposit, and waited. Then the trip was cancelled. Ha!

I’m disappointed at losing my only real prospect of meeting Inuit people, but it’s okay. Again, with the encouragement of my better half, I made different arrangements. Wilderness medicine in Colorado. I won’t need my passport, but it should be exciting anyway.

Summer is mostly planned now. I’m taking some conventional classes, going on the wilderness trip (crossing my fingers to see a bear), and studying for the MCAT. I need to make some phone calls and try to secure some shadowing opportunities. I’m still looking into research opportunities.

But as I dig myself deeper into this hole I call “wanting to be a doctor,” two things strike me hard. One is good and one is bad; I’ll tell the bad first.

The bad: The medical school application process. Wow. There is much to be said about it, but the real doozy is the cost. MCAT preparation materials can cost thousands of dollars. The test itself is over $300. Applying to an average number of schools, say 20-25, can cost around $3,000. Depending on the number and location of interviews, an applicant can expect to spend hundreds or thousands more on airfare, lodging, food, and time not working. What? And for all the talk about increasing diversity…

But that is a tangent I shall not go on today.

I understand that many, many more people apply to medical schools than can possibly be admitted. Today I was looking at info for a school I am interested in. Last year they received over 7,000 applications–and accepted 184 people. I get it. You’ve got to “weed people out.” I can’t help but wonder if the associated costs of applying are actually a part of the weeding process. I definitely don’t think they should be, but they must be. Let’s be real here.

Again, I can see the tangent line in my mind, but I won’t draw it. American colleges are all screwed up. I don’t love Bernie’s answer. I don’t love Hillary’s. Even if I thought the Republicans had anything thoughtful to say, I can’t vote for any of them because–well, that’d take a book–but the point is it shouldn’t cost more to become a family physician than it does to own a home in New York City. I’m grateful to have the opportunities that I have, but it makes me sad as an American that what I’m doing is completely out of reach for some poor Appalachian who would probably be a way better doctor than me. I don’t care what St. Ronnie himself would say, bootstrapping can only get you so far. We’ve got to figure out a better way… but we can’t even figure out how to deal with K-12 education in this country! Yikes! I’m so afraid to be a parent when I think of this.

The good: Even though becoming a physician requires a ton of time, pain, stress, money, and probably relocating, my frugal husband is being so amazing about it! It’s funny, really. Lately I have been thinking about how people in relationships take cues from each other. From Kyle, I’ve learned that life is so much better in comfortable shoes. From me, he’s learned a lot of sass. But when I first started college, I was planning a degree in Electrical Engineering. I thought it was the next level of what I had been doing in the Navy, and I didn’t know what else to pursue, so that’s what I went with. Kyle made it no secret that he thought it was a bad idea. At the time I was offended, but in retrospect I realize that he realized I never liked working on electronics in the first place.

When I realized EE was a bad mistake, I–for only one semester, in my defense–completely about-faced and decided to study Art History. Kyle knew if I did this we’d probably end up broke, living in Chicago, and he’d get dragged to art museums even more than he does already. He did not protest, but he did not show support. Being a female, of course I took note of this.

Eventually we both kind of agreed that I’d be a good chemist. I love chemistry, and I’m decent at it. Kyle recognized that my chemistry classes put me in a good mood, while my art history classes frustrated me.

For the record: I love art history. If I were independently wealthy, I’d be all over it. But I find classes that require a lot of subjective discussion to be quite frustrating. You could say it’s because I don’t care what other people think, but that’s not true. It’s because in some classrooms what you feel is put on the same level with what you think, and that’s not right.

Anyhow, I knew chemistry could get me into various things. Chemistry is the study of matter after all, and all that physically exists is matter. Food, forensics, waste, solar panels, iPhones, everything depends on a chemist in one way or another. In fact, your body is a big biochemistry lab held together by hydrogen bonds and lipid bilayers and God’s grace and other things.

But when I came home from the medical conference where I pretty much decided I want to become a doctor, it was much like the case with Greenland. I thought Kyle’s eyes would widen with horror, knowing how difficult and costly it would all be. I was wrong though. No one has been more encouraging in the process so far. No one has been more confident about my ability. And interestingly, he is the only one who will be greatly affected by this besides me. It’s quite amazing.

Of course, he could be fantasizing about me having an enormous salary one day, but I doubt it. I’m so grateful. How I snagged this man is right up there with “what’s the meaning of life” on the list of universal mysteries to me.  I’ll just be happy when he’s the hell out of the Navy and pursuing something exciting to him too.