Friday, February 29, 2008

Professors and Physicians

The ever-present temptation to be arrogant with opinions:

So last night in my creative writing class the conversation drifted to the exciting primary contest between Clinton and Obama. A professor who was taking the class punctuated his input with, "Either would be better than our current president who is both a fool and evil. Electing him twice is proof of the absolute idiocy of voters!" He said this with a very self-assured tone, as if that is the final word on the subject and any reasonable person must concur.

I bit my tongue rather than stir up an argument. While Bush's presidency has been far from ideal, I voted for him twice and I still think I made the right decision today. I voted based on my own political values, which are likely different from this professor's, but are not necessarily less valid or less well-reasoned. I felt irritated that this man in a room full of well-educated adults he barely knew could declare most Americans idiots and his ideas superior to everyone else's. As I watched this older gentlemen who I believe was a professor in the English department, I thought about him spending all day teaching young people about a subject which he knows well and they do not. It is understandable this experience could leave him with the impression that he is far wiser than the average person and everyone is in desperate need of him to teach them what is true.

Of course, this led me to consider my own experience. As a physician I am always telling people things about their bodies that they didn't know. Having unequal knowledge in a narrow field has a tendency to make us over-estimate our own intelligence and the need of others to hear our opinions. It made me think about this blog. I want the controversial opinions here to be expressed humbly and in the spirit of free dialogue, but is that the case? I wonder if I am just another blogger on a political soap box acting as if I understand the world better than anyone else.

Recently at dinner with my parents I confidently said that I couldn't understand how anyone could vote for Mitt Romney who I declared to be obviously nothing but a pretty face and a charlatan. My parents kindly informed me that they had both voted for Romney and went on to explain quite well that on the issues that were important to them he was the best candidate. While their political priorities are different from mine, they made a very intelligent choice based on their own priorities. I felt embarrassed.

As the race for president continues I promise I will really try to be more humble and open to disagreement as I express my opinions both in this blog and privately.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Isolation Needs Celebrities

After seeing the Oscars on TV, it is interesting to reflect on how this small group of people in the film industry have have become the obsession of an entire country.

It is natural to speak and think about the people that we know, but with the breakdown of community we no longer have a network of people who know each other. Even deep friendships these days are not communal; they are relationships in isolation. Therefore we have no one to speak of when we talk to one another.

As a replacement we are given these public personalities of the “stars” to satisfy this basic human need for community. We enrich them and then harass them in order to be able to watch their vapid lives. We imagine closeness with them because we have seen them act out intense scenes on film.

While listening to people incessantly discussing the tumultuous romances of movie stars is pitiful, what is even more sad is the reason people are obsessed with them. We talk about them because we are so very lonely. We were told that isolation is part of being an adult. While it may be childish that grown people hang on every affair of the stars, the desire for a community for connection for a people our own is real and meaningful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Tragic Mulatto

While my overwhelming feeling about our son we expect to be born this summer is joy, I have also have some of the self doubt that likely affects all new parents. One particular concern is the complexity of race my son will face:

Why is the biracial child always supposed to be a tragedy stuck between two worlds? Historically it was typically the white parents that hid these inconvenient results of affairs (Strom Thurman). Now the typical scene is older white grandparents raising a mixed child after the dissolution of the relationship that brought it about. Certainly the acceptance of these children that were once viewed as proof of the crime of miscegenation (or even rape) has improved in recent decades, but they are still often viewed as problematic in-between people. While the virulence of Racism (the belief that race makes a person superior or inferior to others) has become exceedingly rare, the problems of race in America—prejudice, misunderstanding, inequality, resentment, interpretation of history—are far from resolved. Here in Clarke County, Georgia there is still a palpable division between black and white populations. While much of racial integration in the United States may be producing a melting pot, here it still quite obvious on a drive through Athens that “haves” and “have nots” are still mostly divided by race.

So I will be a white father to a son that everyone will usually identify as African American. He will be biracial, but in most people's minds that will count him as black (eg: Haley Berry and Barack Obama both have one Caucasian parent). He will carry the cultural weight of expectations based solely on his skin color. He will have people expect him to be somehow better at sports, more sexual, cooler, tougher, more rhythmic, and less interested in learning. These are the expectations (even admirations) that our society puts on black boys. He will be informed by people that barely know him that he has been wronged by crimes committed years before his birth, and because of this he must act or identify himself in way to amend these ills. He will be told by others that he must be a individual, and any identification with any ethnicity or appeal to his unique dilemmas as a biracial man is nothing but weakness or whining.

But what will his father tell him? I am a product of my own place and I have never known many of the pressures my son will face. I wish I could say that my own experience of interracial marriage has helped me “figure out” the complex and often unspoken rules and taboos of race in today's America, but I have no great wisdom to offer my son.

What he will have for certain is two parents who know themselves and will love each other and him deeply. Beyond the self-knowledge he will have from the experience of his home, I'm not sure he will have much education on the confusing situation he will inherit. I suppose like most children he will have to figure out his identity on his own.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gridbook Fiction

This blog has become a fascinating place for essays and discussions on arts, culture, death, politics, community, and practicing medicine. So, I suppose I should mention my fictions. While I have been writing fiction as long as I could write, I have been much more private with my fictional works than my essays.

Fiction is more difficult to reveal to the world. Fiction is more subjective, but unlike poetry which is exclusively personal, fiction seeks to engage the reader with story out of the writer's imagination. Fiction reveals what the author feels to be meaningful, terrifying, and beautiful. But unable to speak directly about such transcendent things, the writer weaves them into a story and then gives the story to a reader. As Flannery O'Conner said, “You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.”

There is also the risk of appearing foolish. Saying I hope to publish novels someday sounds like someone saying they hope to be a movie star—a pipe dream and a magnet for mediocre talent. Despite all of my years of working on my fiction, I still often doubt if any of the pieces are good enough to present to readers yet.

But I have spent too much of my life on this writing (much more time and energy than I have spent on this blog) to keep it hidden due to my own insecurities. I can only improve my skill as a writer by putting my fiction to the test of being read. So I have created the page Gridbook Fiction to be the literary sister site to The Gridbook Blog. Right now it only has a few stories (and one downloadable eBook) but I expect to add more over time.

Feel free to read if it interests you.