Friday, October 31, 2014

From Whining to Gratitude

This month I had a colonoscopy for the first time. I’d heard people talk about the pre-procedure cleaning, and how that was the hardest part. I read online about the drink that you take to empty your bowels, and how awful it tasted.

So I approached the cleansing day with some trepidation. My experience? It was easy. The drink tastes a little salty, that’s all, and if you’re prepared and spend the evening near a bathroom, the cleansing is a minor inconvenience, even funny if you take the right attitude.

The next day, while we were waiting for the doctor to come into the room, I told the nurse-anesthesiologist that, in my opinion, the cleansing experience was minor and that people were whiners. She replied “YES!!”

Afterwards I thought about it this way: modern science has developed a technology that can reduce the incidence of colon cancer (a very nasty and painful disease) to almost zero, and our part in the equation is to spend a few hours going to the toilet every fifteen minutes. But what part do most of us put our attention on? The small amount of discomfort. We whine about how much we suffered.

Because of my GLACHH (gratitude, love, acceptance, compassion, humility, honesty--see blog post) work, I was instead capable of putting my attention on the amazing gift to my health the colonoscopy represented. I could feel gratitude.

Everything is a mix of good and bad. In this dualistic world there is no free lunch, there is nothing that is all positive. In this country we have become so spoiled by the good life that we seem to be expecting life to have no down sides.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Genre-less Music

There’s something new happening in the world of acoustic music. Last weekend I went to see Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan—a duo of banjo and fiddle. When I first heard about the concert, I wondered how those two instruments could possibly make for an interesting evening of music. But recently I’ve been listening to a lot of music on YouTube with Chris Thile, Michael Daves, Brian Sutton, Noam Pikelny, and others, and these musicians are playing together in all sorts of combinations.
Chris Thile has been pushing the boundaries of musical categories for some years now, ever since he left Nickel Creek. You never know where he’ll turn up and what kind of music he’ll be playing; right now he’s touring with Edgar Meyer—that’s a duo of mandolin and acoustic bass. Their song, “Big Top” doesn’t fit any music genre I know—jazz bluegrass would be about the closest you could come to a category.  He’s also playing Bach sonatas on his mandolin. Maybe we’re almost to the point where we can throw the concept of genre out the window: it doesn’t matter any more what instrument you play, you can create music in any style you like or create a new one of your own. It feels so free and fresh. 

In the concert I heard, Mr. Pikelny and Mr. Duncan played bluegrass, but they also played a Scottish reel, Django Reinhardt-style swing, and some haunting waltzes of Mr. Pikelny's composition. The instrumentation was sensational; they are both masters on their instruments (Mr. Pikelny just won banjo player of the year from the International Bluegrass Music Association). Sometimes I shook my head in wonder at the amazing runs Mr. Pikelny did on his banjo. And there was something wonderful in just having the two instruments; instead of a band passing the solo lead from instrument to instrument while everyone else plays rhythm, there were a lot of times when both men were playing lead at the same time and it was marvelous.

Do yourself a favor and click on some of these links and start exploring this new world of music!

Update: Thanks to my friend Arthur for reminding me to say that both these men are also in bands: Mr. Pikelny is in the Punch Brothers and Mr. Duncan is in the Nashville Bluegrass Band.

Also, I did not watch the tour video I linked to above until after I wrote this post. When I did watch it (linked again here), it was interesting that the men brought up two points I’d mentioned.
  1. could these two instruments fill an evening?
  2. with only two instruments there’s “no place to hide.” No playing background rhythm.

Another feature of this music is that the musicians often share a single microphone, creating an acoustic, “living room” feel. Instead of having separate microphones and listening to a tailored mix through earbuds (each person has a mix with their instrument/voice a little higher), these musicians are listening to each other acoustically. This creates a realness that is lost in all the electronics. Mr. Pikelny and Duncan had individual mics, but there were no floor monitors or earpieces.

Another group that plays this way sometimes is the Milkcarton Kids. When I saw them earlier this year they used only one microphone, and faced each other. It was as if we in the audience were sharing an intimate musical experience that the two men were creating together. Exquisite. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ebola Demonstrates the Need for a World Government

Last week Ebola made it to the United States. It was only a matter of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts a “worst-case scenario” of 1.4 million cases (worldwide total) by early 2015.

Other Ebola outbreaks have happened in rural villages and were relatively easy to contain. But this day was inexorably coming when an outbreak would spread into urban areas, making it much more difficult to contain. So why wasn’t there a UN plan in place for exactly this kind of situation, with mobile hospitals and protective suits ready to deploy? There doesn’t seem to have been any contingency plans ready to handle a health emergency of this scope. So far most of the foreign aid workers are nonprofit groups like Doctors without Borders, and these people must be getting exhausted. The U.S. is deploying 3000 troops to Liberia, but this effort will take weeks or months before making any difference.

In my mind this event has exposed the fundamental weakness of our current global governing systems. The world is interconnected now. More and more problems are global. We can’t say any longer that, for example, this Ebola outbreak is just West Africa’s problem. It’s our problem too. One person gets on a plane and the virus is here.

And Ebola is just one example. Climate change is another. Syria is another. Allowing the Syrian civil war to fester allowed ISIS to gain power.

My husband tells a great fable: Imagine a rubber lifeboat, afloat in the middle of a vast ocean. The boat is filled with passengers, each one representing a nation of Earth. The boat’s rule is that each passenger has the sovereign right to do whatever he/she likes in his/her seat. If a passenger wants to take out an ice pick and start poking holes in the boat, that’s her right. But everyone in the boat—that’s all of us—will go down together.

 We live on a small planet in a sea of darkness. We better learn to start thinking of ourselves as the same people, as citizens not of the United States or of Liberia but as citizens of Earth, recognizing that my interests are yours and vice versa. If I hurt you I hurt myself. We’re that connected now.

It’s time we developed a global governing system with true power. The UN was a good beginning, but it was deliberately made weak so it couldn’t interfere with the business of most nation-states. We need a real world government.