the original kStyle blog.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Monday Questionnaire
A Day Early and a Dollar Short Edition

1. If you had an extra hundred dollars every month, what would you put it towards?

2. Where have you last reduced your expenses?

3. What do you do with your change? Keep it with your bills? In your pocket? Squirrel it away?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lao Tzu and Descartes: Philosophy behind Medicine

According to the Tao Te Ching, The Way produces one, one produces two.
The two produce the three and the three produce all things.
Thus, all phenomena are related, and nothing can be separated. Nothing exists in a vacuum. This is the foundation of much Eastern thought, and also of Eastern, and generally holistic, medicine.

Modern Western medicine is brilliant. For any sort of operation or dramatic situation, I would want to be an American hospital. The basis of Western medicine is Cartesian logic: B has a cause, A, which must be found and addressed. If a serious heart condition arises, we might give someone a pacemaker, or even a new heart, depending on the specific cause. It’s logical and effective.

But Western medicine stumbles when confronted with more subtle phenomena. By always looking for a specific A that caused B, it often misses the effects of C, D, and E, which are also playing a part. Compounding this oversight is the fact that many doctors are too overworked to examine or address lifestyle factors. A simple solution is easily overlooked in favor of medication.

Anyone training in Eastern medicine—acupuncture, herbs, bodywork, or qi gong—is taught that lifestyle is primary. We are trained to look deeply at diet, exercise, sleeping patterns, career, and relationships, and to act as a guide to healthier habits. A good shiatsu practitioner—or herbalist or acupuncturist, etc—sees health as harmony: harmony within oneself as well as harmony with the environment and world.

Let’s use me as an example. I used to get frequent colds and sinus infections, to the point of feeling desperate. After my third regimen of antibiotics for sinus and ear infections in one winter, I asked my doctor what was wrong and how it might be fixed. He said, “If you get another one, we’ll call the ear-nose-throat doctor,” and left it at that. But I was run down, miserable, and exhausted from the constant infections. The antibiotics were taking their toll, too, leaving me drained and harming my digestion*. The whole thing was depressing me.

Looking back at my former self, I could now recommend dozens of things that would have helped. I would teach my former self qi gong exercises, remove my former self from dairy and maybe even wheat, make sure my former self was getting enough movement, recommend that my former self take a shower with essential oils of peppermint, yarrow, and frankincense, and maybe even teach her to treat a few points for immunity. I now know that shiatsu would have kicked the problem, too. In fact, in my first year of shiatsu school, I felt another ear infection coming on. Two shiatsu treatments from a professional later, it was totally gone without antibiotics.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything is connected.

Yesterday, a colleague was telling me about some problems his son has: He has a learning disability, he stutters, and he’s seriously depressed. He seems to be getting better with therapy, but the progress is slow. I suggested that maybe antidepressants would help, to make life bearable and give his son more strength to do his inner work with the therapist. My friend told me that doctors they’d consulted determined that the three issues (disability, stuttering, and depression) were unrelated, because they could find no direct causal relationship. That blew my mind. According to my training, there’s no way these things are unrelated. I would need to examine the boy to know for sure, but, based on theory, he has a problem with HT meridian, which related to speech disorders, learning, and joy. My course of action for him, were he my client, would be to treat with shiatsu/diet/exercise, and recommend he also get therapy and ask his doctor about antidepressants.

Some people roll their eyes and think of shiatsu as witchy voodoo magic. I like to point out that, although there are very intuitive aspects to the system, it’s essentially a compilation of highly detailed observations collected over thousands of years. And…it works.

So, why should we choose either Lao Tzu or Descartes? We are blessed to have both masters accessible, and we should meld their ideas. While I believe parts of Western medicine are just wacky nutso insane (skirting real exploration by medicating things away too hastily, literally cutting out parts that don’t work optimally), I know they think much the same about what I do. But I’m happy I can have both my shiatsu and my birth control pills.

Reading assignment: The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

*Another problem with our medicine: using bombs to destroy anthills

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday Questionnaire: Inspiration Edition

1. In honor Mozart's 250th birthday on Jan. 27: What inspires you?

2. Name a group of people you admire.

3. Tell us about a landscape that left you in awe.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wow, I Really Can't Sleep

The neighbor noise has become unbearable, and tonight it's coming from above and below.

Above: STOMP STOMP STOMP (floor: sqeeeaaaak squeeeaaaaaaaak squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaK) STOMP STOMP runrun run run STOMP

Below: (obnoxious videogame music getting louder and louder as they become drunker and drunker) DUDE, FUUUCK! Aw. WHOA!, etc.

I tried ignoring it, focusing on my breathing. At one o'clock, I went downstairs and politely asked the young men to turn down the volume of their game. They did, and apologized, but the yelling continued. The upstairs neighbors--Well, that's been a full-out WAR lately. Our polite dual-language requests for peace have fallen upon deaf ears. (I PRAY for deaf ears for myself.) We've resorted to very maturely banging on the ceiling with a broom handle, hoping to "train" them by punishing them while they're in the act, so that they make the connection: like poorly behaved cats and water spray bottles. They, in turn, stomp back, aggressively. I actually wished them dead for a moment tonight.

Just for a moment.

Really. I swear.

So, tonight I didn't bother with the ceiling-hitting, knowing it would be futile, and moreover wake the peacefully slumbering G., who is exhausted from PhD quals and therefore sleeping through Armageddon.

I tried meditating, treating meridians involved with sleep, and pretending the surround-sound noise was a sort of postmodern symphony. I visualized a Dutch windmill lazily whirring round and round in a field of nodding tulips, a trick that never failed to lull me to sleep as a child. I began to feel that my grasp of the elusive thread of Sanity was slipping. I had a conversation with God a la Jimmy Stewart at the end of It's a Wonderful Life: Lord, I've never been a praying man... Then I resorted to begging and pleading with the Almighty, in that way usually only a stomach bug with violent vomiting can cause. I abandoned that tack and got up to soothe myself with warm soy milk and a slice of buttery rye toast.

I realized then that I was working in the wrong paradigm for myself. I asked, WWBD? What would Buddha do? Probably meditate some more. Okay, smarty pants, so what would a Taoist Immortal do?

The answer was clear: feng shui.

Thanks to the miracle of Google and the World Wide Web,* I found a wide range of solutions to noisy neighbors and for attaining a peaceful night's rest. Now you'll excuse me while I place a bunch of mirrors facing upwards and downwards, to reflect their noisy qi back at them.

Note the post time.


*brought to you courtesy of Al Gore

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Questionnaire

1. Why would chocolatiers sully perfectly good chocolate with lemon filling?

2. WHY??

3. So, how are you? Any good weekend plans?

4. Imagine if spammers redirected their evil genius to do something good for the world...I guess that's not really a question. Is it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Monday Questionnaire: Your Audial World

1. What sound makes you feel nostalgic?

2. What can you hear wherever you are right now?

3. Current song obsession?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Nice Cinematic Surprise

As I wrote in my comments to kStyle's post about the year's movies a couple of weeks ago, I didn't enjoy many movies in 2005, and by the end of the year didn't feel like any but a handful had been worth seeing. I added one to that handful this weekend with a rental of Wes Craven's Red Eye, a thriller from late summer that I enjoyed immensely for the following reasons:

1. Not including end credits, its running time is about 76 minutes long. I'm not sure a movie needs to be more than 76 minutes long, and this one, like all good short movies, still feels like a full meal.

2. The film stars Rachel McAdams, whose presence elevated three already good movies this year: this one, Wedding Crashers, and The Family Stone. Last year she did a bang-up job in Mean Girls, which she helped take from good to very good, and The Notebook, which she took almost by herself from mediocre to good. They're saying she's the next Julia Roberts, but I don't know why anyone has to be the next anything. Besides I think she's much better.

3. It's a movie with (almost) not an ounce of fat on it. A thing is set in motion. It happens. The ending is both surprising and inevitable, and when it occurs, the movie is over. No one learns any lessons.

4. I say (almost) because there is one thing: at a key point, the screenplay makes the protagonist do something entirely unnecessary and superfluous, removing momentarily our alignment with her. But because its failure on this point gave me reason to pause and contemplate interesting issues of dramatic structure, I forgave it, much as I would forgive peas for sitting on my plate next to the potatoes.

5. Its supporting cast is populated with good character actors who, though most of their characters don't even have names, look like and behave like interesting people, and are given interesting things to say and do.

6. Those things the movie does that, due to its being essentially a genre movie with nothing on its mind, are severely less than plausible, it does with gusto.

7. Not including end credits, its running time is about 76 minutes long.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wednesday Writing Assignment

I’ve been writing a lot of marketing copy lately. It’s recalling fond memories of an persuasive essay assignment Ann & I did together in high school. As “Gail” and “Lily” (or some other such names), we held a faux Tupperware party in our English class. (Ann has since written a charming poem, which I believe was inspired by our Tupperware sales days.)

Your assignment, therefore, is to sell something to the rest of us.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Monday Questionnaire
Hey, We're Only Human Edition

1. What character flaw do you suspect people misunderstand you as having, though you actually don't?

2. What character flaw did you used to have, until you grew out of it?

3. What character flaw do you try the hardest to avoid having?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Birth of a Business, Part 3: Fear and Doom

Yesterday, Tuesday, Heather from the Board of Health called and left a message. My massage practitioner application was in good order, except for the TB test. When would I send in the TB test? I panicked, a little, and called back: I didn't realize I needed a TB test. It turns out that it wasn't written on the application, but buried in the regulations.

I called my doctor's office and explained that I needed a TB test before Monday. They booked me in at 9:45 Wednesday, explaining that I'd need to return for test evaluation Friday. I thanked them for squeezing me in so fast. Then I called the office for which I might do contract work, making an appointment to visit them at noon Wednesday.

Last night I slept well for the first time in what seems like weeks, largely because I went upstairs before bed and explained to our Brazilian neighbors--a different set of Brazilians since the last time--that the stomping around at night was keeping me awake. Really, the way I said it in Portuguese was the rough equivalent of the following "English":

I speak only a little English. Every night, I can't sleep because you could be walking stomp stomp stomp. Please would you walk more--I don't know how to say. Less nose. Too much nose, I cannot sleep. Thank you.

Anyway, the neighbors were apologetic and I got to sleep through the night, so I guess the point got across. I was somewhat surprised that I slept so well, because I was having awake-visions of my future TB test producing a huge welt, a festering red lump of you-have-TB-ness, and all the time, all the money spent on training in shiatsu and starting a business being popped like a fragile bubble because of the disease once called consumption.

So this morning I hauled off to the doctor's office, where the nurse stuck a watery solution of dead virus beneath my forearm and told me not to scratch it, and to stop in anytime on Friday. Turns out there's no copay for a TB test. How nice that it was free.

Then I went home, ate a dosa, and showered before embarking upon my job interview of sorts. The Greek therapist who runs the office was very nice, a gentlewoman in the sense that is rare now. She was older than I'd expected. She asked where I grew up, and then we decided that the best thing was for me to give her a shiatsu treatment so she could learn firsthand. She was enthusiastic and offered me a contract, at which point my old friend Anxiety began sneaking up with his evil cousin, Panic Attack. (My CBT therapist had warned me, when I left his office from our final session, that my then-cured panic attacks might return at major life turning points: death, marriage, new career. Two out of three ain't bad.)

We agreed that I would read the contract over, decide if it was agreeable to me, and then sign it when I was ready. The Panic was kind enough not to choke me until I returned home. Breathing only made it worse, as it highlighted the constriction of my throat, so I called G., seeking a little reason. "THEY OFFERED ME A CONTRACT!" I exclaimed. "That's great!" he replied, mistaking terror for enthusiasm. "NO--I'M PANICKING!!!" I explained, frantically. "Well, have you read the contract yet?" "I CAN'T LOOK AT IT!" "OK, we'll read it together when I get home." This idea calmed me a little. We made small talk about Home Depot and thermostats for a minute, and then hung up.

I calmed myself a bit more by emailing work to say I'd take the whole day off rather than just the morning, as planned; reading an absorbing book for a few minutes; and then practicing tai chi outside. Once I could breathe normally, I went to the bank I'd carefully selected online, to open my business account.

The manager was very nice and, lucky for me, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, so I made out with both a business checking account and an application to join the Chamber. When the time came to give him money for the account, I realized my checkbook was at home, sitting on the desk. I ran home to get it--fortunately, I live less than half a mile from this bank--and felt weak and panicky again. What was I doing, opening a business checking account? I muffled the panic with a slice of whole wheat bread smothered in peanut butter & honey. (Complex carbohydrates are wonderful for panic, blanketing the gut just where the jitters arise. I do not recommend trying this with simple sugars, such as chocolate, which will only make matters worse and add fatigue to the problem.) On my way back to the credit union, one guy at the gas station on the corner recognized my car and gave a hearty wave. This simple gesture heartened me, and, at the bank, I wrote my account-opening check triumphantly. Then, feeling victorious, I went to Dunkin Donuts and bought a gift card for all my friends at the gas station.

PS So far, no welt.

Float Takes on Hollywood

I’d make a terrible movie reviewer. The films I enjoy fall into but a few categories. I’d end up writing reviews like: This was a horror movie, so I didn’t enjoy it. One star.

That said, it was a banner year for movies I do like. And so, I bring you:

kStyle’s Arbitrary 2005 Movie Countdown, a Week Late, without Any Actual Counting, and Only Five Movies (Though I Did See More Than Five)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The very talented Johnny Depp paired again with Tim Burton, with delicious results. Quirky and darkly humorous, the film’s atmosphere suited Dahl’s writing well. Burton went a little crazy with the subplots, but I forgive him after seeing Oompah-Loompahs performing synchronized swimming in a chocolate waterfall.

Good Night, and Good Luck George Clooney’s directorial debut is smart, gorgeous, and inspirational without any sap. This film is a meaty 90-minute close-up of Edward R. Murrow standing up to the grotesque, formidable Sen. Joseph McCarthy, shot in stunning black-and-white and brilliantly acted. It made me want to be a better person.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill A documentary that spoke to my soul. Homeless Zen bum Mark Bittner befriends a flock of wild parrots living in San Francisco. In 83 minutes I laughed, cried, and began to think a little differently about life. This little gem was refreshingly honest and utterly without pretension. Also: Parrots!

Bollywood/Hollywood Okay, so I think this is technically a 2002 film, but it just appeared in the New Releases section at Blockbuster. Charm! Singing! Dancing! Pretty saris! Romance! This tongue-in-cheek look at both Bollywood and Hollywood formulas won me over with a wink and a coy smile. Set among Toronto’s East Indian population, the film is acted in English, with songs performed in Hindi. It’s a delightful, lighthearted masala hated by critics (what do they know) and adored by yours truly.

March of the Penguins Can I just say how much I hated this movie? Really, really hated every self-important, dreary minute of this nonsense. If you’re looking for a good bird movie, take my advice and see Wild Parrots instead. Thanks for listening. I feel better now.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Monday Questionnaire
My, how things change Edition

1. Who used to be good and isn't good anymore?

2. Name something you care significantly less about than you did five years ago.

3. What is the latest indication you've noticed that the culture is going to hell?