Friday, June 16, 2006

Various and Sundry Updates

1. Even though I was bummed about the demise of my early music group, now it looks like people are trying to find a way to keep some new version of it going. It almost certainly won’t happen this coming academic year, but it may well be revived in the future.

2. Meanwhile, my own playing is going very well. On break from the group myself because of having been on sabbatical, I’ve focused my attention on my 19th century (a.k.a. Irish) flute, which is by far my most demanding instrument. The focused attention is finally starting to result in noticeable improvement – subjectively, anyway. What I mean is that I don’t know that I actually sound any better, but it feels like it is flowing better. I used to have dreams of playing an Irish flute beautifully and effortlessly – even well before I actually had one. I’m finally catching glimpses of that sense in my real-life playing, in fleeting moments! It’s amazing that we can do things in dreams that we cannot do in real life, at least without a lot of time and practice!

3. I have had some health worries, so I went to the doctor last week, and went in for some tests this morning. All of this was scary for me. Health concerns, and the medical establishment itself, strike deep chords of fear within my soul. I worried about a lot of things, including (a) that people would chastise me for not taking better care of myself; (b) the process would be dehumanizing—I would turn into an object under investigation instead of being treated respectfully as a human being; (c) that they would indeed find something seriously wrong.

Fortunately, I was wrong on all counts. Everyone has been very kind. The process was fascinating: I found myself very interested in the science and technology of it all, and, much to my own astonishment, realized that I do trust all this fancy equipment, and so I found its judgments reassuring. Most telling: I was simply glad to have people paying compassionate attention to me.

4. Related to the above, I am sure: I have been channeling a lot of energy into being supportive of others, to the neglect of what I know I need to do to take care of myself. I think my health worries are how I am trying to get my own attention. This is my fundamental problem/question in life at the moment: how to be supportive of others without losing myself.

5. My birthday is coming up. I will be 42. This seems significant. Maybe this year I will find the answer to the great question of life, the universe, and everything.

(Yes, I’ve read all the books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. The stories are filled with tidbits that are excellent for illustrating various philosophical issues, but, alas, most of my students have never heard of these books anymore. The recent release of the movie has brought it back into public consciousness, but only somewhat.)

6. I’m going to a conference next week. I’m driving instead of flying. I wish I could take a train, but there are none from here to there. We live in a strange world, that the only two options I have are to fly or drive. While I am grateful to be able to get from here to there, it really does seem that we should be able to organize our transportation better than we do: in ways that are friendlier to the environment and less stressful to travelers.

7. Taking a long car trip by myself has prompted me to consider getting an even more fuel-efficient car than the fuel-efficient one I currently have. Specifically, I’m entranced by the Toyota Yaris: maybe because I saw them all over the place when I was in England, and then was delighted to find them appearing in the U.S. as well when I got back. It is against all of my principles to be entranced with a car – I would rather do without cars altogether; I would rather not be materialistic; I would rather be content with what I have. But there we have it: the great claws of consumerism sometimes establish their grip even on me. So far, I am resisting.

After years and years of not having a car, I finally got one when it was the only way I could accept a very attractive job offer. By this time in my life, my principled resistance to getting sucked into car-culture had evolved to simple fear due to inexperience. The process of overcoming this fear and gaining confidence has been very important: a process of engaging the complex world we live in more fully.

Most surprising has been my growing attachment to my car. Now I understand why people love their cars. Cars are more than just hunks of machinery designed to get people from one place to another at ridiculous dizzying speeds. They are fun. They give us a feeling of independence and freedom. They extend our range.

But even knowing this now, there is still a part of me that disapproves and that very much wishes that we could develop a better public transportation system and drive much less than we currently do. Cars, like other technologies, have created new expectations about what we should be able to do (how far we can go; how much we can accomplish), and these expectations have made our lives very complicated and demanding.

Ok, this is enough for today.

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