Take Some Avoidance, and Call Me in the Morning

Sometimes, I question what I do.

What I do for a living, that is. The questioning began well within my first year in the psychological field…something about it just didn’t feel quite right, something along the lines of, “This is a disorder? A diagnosable condition? Really?” While the evidence of legitimate psychoses and crippling disorders is  firm and proven, and there is no doubt that all of us need help to cope with life events at some point, there are also aspects of the psychological field that leave one questioning how much of this was just whipped up to make people feel better and less responsible for their actions…and perhaps to make others wealthy.

It seems I’m not alone in my questioning, as an article from this week’s New Yorker indicates. And, since this writer states the case with such elegance, I’ll let him to the convincing.

Things that I read and ponder, especially the really good ones, tend to serendipitously connect with other things I read…sometimes in the same day. Today was one of those days, because the connection between Menand’s article and this post…a move review, of all things…leapt out at me.

The beautiful thing about labeling our problems and deviance as “disorders” and “conditions” is that we can largely eschew responsibility for them, at least inasmuch as we only have to take a pilll to fix them. Assuming Menand is correct (and I  think that he is), then this is feeding a niche of our broken healthcare system that was artificially and arbitrarily constructed. As emotional and spiritual health tend to find themselves interwoven, then our popular treatments also lead to an avoidance of an admission of our own problems…a sort of sacrament of confession, if you will…that would ironically pave the way to the redemption for which we ache in the midst of our problems.

And let’s face it, folks…we’ve all got problems.

I hope we stop taking pills for all of them at some point.

Virtual Bookshelves

I had been waiting for so long.

Originally, this shiny, sleek new toy had been promised as a potential Christmas gift. I had dutily performed my research and selected this particular device instead of its competitor. I knew that I really wanted one. And, though Karen didn’t really understand why, she loves giving me things. Because she’s cool like that.

Finances being what they sometimes are, the Christmas gift was pushed to January as a birthday gift (yes, I have a January birthday…I clean up at the beginning of the year!). I waited. I hinted. I drooled. I whined. I hoarded gift cards from Christmas to assist in off-setting the expense. Finally, I was given permission, and I whisked away to purchase my long-awaited gift at once.

Two weeks later, I received great news! My gift was shipping almost two weeks ahead of schedule! I would have it by that Friday… a glimmer of brightness in an otherwise dreary week.

That Friday, however, as I frequently checked package tracking updates, I discovered, much to my frustration, that a snowstorm had forced UPS to delay delivery for the weekend, and I would receive my gift Monday. I voiced rather harshly my frustration that the South has no idea what to do with snow, and that it shouldn’t paralyze life. Then I got over it. My weekend went on.

My gift arrived last Monday (that poor UPS guy was working late!), and I’ve had a week to play with it. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: my new toy is the nook from Barnes and Noble.

Now, I suppose I have to say that I purchased the nook for personal use, that I’m not giving a product endorsement, that I’ve received no special offers from and made no special offers to Barnes and Noble, and that I’m not being compensated by anyone for writing this post…I think that should be enough to make the government happy.  Besides, I’m not writing a product review here, so if you’re wondering why I chose the nook instead of the Kindle, or what I think of its technical performance, sorry…not the point of this post.

The reason Karen and other of my friends draw back at the idea of having all of your books electronically on a single device is because they love the feel of books. They love the smell of them. They want to hold books and to have a tactile experience as they turn pages. One friend insists that books should be treated with the same respect and regard as human beings.  I tend to agree with this, and I imagine that he would have a difficult time with the concept of an e-book.

I’m typically an early adopter. I immediately made the change from purchasing CD’s to purchasing my music by MP3 download with the purchase of my first iPod. I didn’t miss CD’s. The music is what is important, and the fact that I can obtain it instantly is so much more attractive. I really feel the same about books. The words are what are important. I want to be able to pull the book that I want to read out of the air, and have them all on one device that is easy to carry with me. Assuming I’m accepted into a PhD program, I’m in earnest hopes that textbooks migrate to e-book format soon, because that takes a lot of weight off of a student…literally.

As I’ve had a week to play with my new toy, though, spending about half of my reading time still with paper books in hand because e-book selections aren’t quite where they should be yet, I’ve come to some realizations. Perhaps, I’ve even come to appreciate Karen’s and other friends’ points of view. You see, I sat reading this weekend, and looked through our apartment, the back wall of which is lined with books. I sat upstairs, surrounded by more books. There are more books in our bedroom. Karen and I love books. And, while the physical presence of the book isn’t a necessity for me, the inescapable drive to be well-read and immersed in story is. I remember my bookshelf of science fiction novels in my bedroom as a teenager. Isaac Asimov and Robert Henlein proudly decorated my wall with the spines of their books. I like the look of a well-organized bookshelf, and having to go to a certain shelf in a certain room to find a certain book on a certain topic (because we’re slightly obsessive-compulsive in our organization). At the same time, I like being able to simply browse a menu and access any book from the device in my hand. That device, however, cannot substitute for the fact that one of my most prized possessions is a leather-bound collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Reading a book is reading a book, regardless of whether we are reading it as typeset on a page or “e-ink” on a screen. I don’t know what I would do, though, without our rows and rows of books that line our walls. This is part of our identity, even remarked on by friends that visit. Does this make me a literary snob? Am I needlessly nostalgic for something to symbolize my self-perception as being well-read? Am I viewing full bookshelves as a status symbol? If so, then shame on me. If not, I’m wondering if, for all the good that having great literary works available easily and to more people brings, that perhaps we stand to lose something culturally if we lose our paper and leather books…something that was not lost as CD’s became extinct (and as DVD’s follow).

Am I concerned for nothing? Or do you see the potential for loss here, as well?

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Providential Pursuits

As I recently alluded to in recounting my sonnet-writing adventure, I’ve had difficulty making up my mind at times.

The fact that we are largely the sum of our experiences is a basic fact with which I don’t think most of us would argue. What we have experienced makes us who we are today. Some attribute this to chance, some to providence or the guidance of the Divine, but I think we would all agree that the end result is the same. Which makes it remarkable to me that I just didn’t get it for so long.

When I finished my bachelor’s degree and became professionally engaged in the behavioral health field, I threw myself into that field, feeling that I had to forsake previous experience at worst, or relegate it to the status of a hobby at best. While making what I thought at the time would be my career in psychology, I still wrote and did things like designing special effects for a haunted house Halloween fundraiser for a local youth center to give myself creative outlets. At the end of the day though, I struggled with seeing myself holistically, feeling at times that I had wasted years and becoming frustrated that I felt I was always distracted by this or that, constantly being drawn into something new that interested me and immersing myself in the world of some new discipline.

Then I had an epiphany (I mention those a lot here, don’t I?). I had moved to the city in which we currently live to begin grad school. I was hanging decorations in my new apartment, attempting to decide what of the life I had brought with me in disarray merited a position of honor on my bedroom wall. One of the items I chose was a set of porcelain theatre masks that I had collected during my undergrad days. I think it was then that I realized that the days of my college years didn’t have to be just a part of my past that I remembered fondly, but should also be recognized as a very important part of who I was, and who I am. Sort of like playing an album that you haven’t listed to for years, and finding that you still remember all of the lyrics.

Today I was contacting former professors to arrange letters of reference for a doctoral program application. I ended up exchanging emails with one of my favorite professors from my undergrad days, and it was great to re-connect. That sparked my looking at photos and recalling that formative period of my life, something to which I seem be given much more frequently in the last three years or so. I’m remiss in keeping in touch with those who have been influential in my life, and these transitional periods have a way of bringing us back into contact with each other.

I know I’ve frustrated and bemused many people through the last few years, seeming to be the one who couldn’t make up his mind, who was involved in one of several disciplines at any given time, and who would never decide what he wanted to be when he grew up.

In fact, I think that those experiences are finally combining to make something fascinating, because I’ve found the point at which all of these disciplines intersect to be far more interesting than any one discipline in itself. I can hear someone joking that “interdisciplinary” is just a word for someone who can’t make up their mind, but I think that it’s actually a quite necessary exploration. I think that individuals are cast in artificially compartmentalized roles because our culture doesn’t permit them to explore what they do through the lens of another interest. I’ve discovered that theatre and therapy work together beautifully, and theology and theatre, and poetry and mass communication. All this time I’ve been placing parts of myself into a corner, not realizing that all the parts of myself would play so nicely together, because I couldn’t immediately see how they would interact.

I sincerely hope, however, that I’m going to spend the next few years discovering how.

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Difficulty with Duplicity

I’ve delayed writing this post,  because it just isn’t normally the sort of post I write. So, the fact that Scott Roeder was convicted of murder for gunning down a physician who performed abortions is slightly beyond being yesterday’s news. So old, in fact, that most have likely forgotten the incident altogether, as we typically do after a few too many headlines in a given day. Be that as it may, however, I have a reaction that I feel needs to be said.

That reaction is: I have a difficult time with duplicity.

Roeder acted under what he apparently felt was a duty to protect children unable to defend themselves. In Roeder’s eyes, he was murdering to prevent murder. Somehow, that seemed okay to him…it seemed to work out in his mind. Add his name to the list of those who have murdered in the name of God.

I really don’t think that God is too happy about that.

This problem is symptomatic of (not only) American Christians who become zealously motivated toward a cause without stopping to think it through, without bothering to see problems of duplicity. The Christian Scriptures give a clear commandment…one of the Ten with which even most individuals not following the Christian faith are familiar: “You shall not murder.” Its in Exodus 20:13. Its rather self-explanatory in my mind. We’re not to take another’s life.

Now, different theologians debate the exact nuance of the Hebrew word, here. Some believe it means that taking another human life is always out of the question, others believe that only doing so preemptively is wrong, and that acting in self-defense is okay. That’s not honestly a debate I want to have here, because its not entirely applicable. Roeder took the life of Dr. Tiller,  apparently believing Dr. Tiller to be a mass murderer because of the late-term abortions he performed.

My issue: I missed the part where that makes killing him okay. And therein lies the duplicity: “you shall not murder,” an injunction that some recognize at Divine in origin, but certainly one that has became a societal norm whatever your belief, makes it wrong to kill. What the individual has done is not at issue in that phrase. If one has faith in God and follows the Christian Scriptures, there are other parts of the Scriptures indicating that God will take care of the wrongs of individuals. Nowhere does it become our responsibility to take someone’s life in order to expedite that process.

I am Christian by faith. My personal opinion is that the late-term abortion procedure Dr. Tiller performed in his medical practice is abhorrent and barbaric. The faith that leads me to believe this, however, tells me that Roeder’s murder of Tiller was just as abhorrent and barbaric. That same faith tells me that going to war with another country for vengeance and oil control is just as abhorrent and barbaric. This is all the same logic, that I derive from the same statement: “You shall not murder.”

Depending on who you ask, that makes me a pacifist, naive, short sighted, ideological, or any number of other things. I’m not into the labels. I just know that it is wrong to take the life of another human being. We don’t have that right. To assume that we, for any reason, are entitled to murder another human being is to play God.

It seems to me that we are extremely underqualified.