May was Asian Pacific American Heritage month and Momsrising.org had a blog carnival in honor of it. I haven't been writing much during my intern year, but couldn't resist contributing after getting an email blast soliciting contributors. Check out the article: Gaysian Marriage?
As the end of another year draws to a close, it seems only natural to take a moment and reflect on the last year. I've often thought that the setting of our world can be an unfortunate combination of complicated issues that trigger political and emotional landmines while at the same time leaving little time for introspection. As such, anytime I'm struck with the inkling of reflection, I try to embrace and grow it.
Reflection is important for emotional health. It's also imperative for personal growth. While many of my personal growth moments have been due to the generous patience and mentorship of countless of folks, I am also certain that self-reflection was a critical component.
I started my reflection with what would be best described as Hallmark thankfulness. I have a loving and supportive family, a caring and inspiring partner, a community of friends, and a stimulating and fulfilling job. I have secure and convenient housing, access to education, a regular paycheck and I also have a steady supply of antidepressants. I'm grateful everyday. Reiterating why I'm thankful just because it's the year's end would be the easy way out.
So, I'm realizing, given my current situation, true reflection at this year's end is not just recounting what has happened or what I'm fortunate for, but really pushing myself to think about what I've been afraid to think about. (Even beyond the typical "hard questions": Am I contributing enough to our global society? Have I been kind? Incidentally, a generous answer to both those questions would be, "sometimes.")
Even these past four paragraphs are probably longer than they ought to be because I'm reluctant to get to what I'm scared to say.
I'm anxious about having a wedding next year because I'm not totally comfortable with being queer. On top of that, admitting that I have discomfort with being queer is embarrassing for me.
I am an eye-roller by nature. I have a friend who is the opposite. She is a breath-catcher. Everything is beautiful to her from drops of rain to people fighting for justice. I value all of those things, but I’m a scrooge. It’s infantile, but being around someone like her only makes my eye-rolling activity rocket from the level of an unremarkable curmudgeon to somewhere between teenage and epileptic.
So it’s surprising that I found myself at the opening weekend of Samsara, the new movie from the creators of the canonical, Baraka. If ever any movie were to attract a sea of breath-cathers, this would be it. However, it was an unmissable opportunity: humongous screen, 5 years in the making, 70mm film footage, 25 countries, and the artists on hand for a Q&A afterwards.
Even I caught my breath. For all 102 minutes of it my mouth hung open. I almost drooled on myself. Simply put, it was incredible.
It’s visually stunning. It’s never-before-captured footage of holy rituals, like the Hajj from nearly 2,000 ft in the air. It’s technically meticulous, with the smoothest of camera panning and pushing all while shooting a time lapsed sequence.
It’s also infuriating.
Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson clearly have enormous talent. Who else has gotten this access? Who else would come away with the same images? But it’s been squandered.
We cut from households on the manmade islands of Dubai to people scavenging for food in the landfills of Manilla. We follow the flow of weapons from bullet factories to a man buried in a casket the shape of a gun. And there’s this machine at a factory farm that sucks up chickens as they cluck with panic and try to run away.
Their images have an astounding potential to move people, to leave us unsatisfied with the way that we humans treat each other. However, all they do with the images is create what Fricke calls “a guided meditation on the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.”
That’s problematic. By instructing us to use his images to meditate, Fricke wraps up all of the poignantly recorded suffering into a neat, pretty packages. We’re free to view them without having to dwell on their complete significance. We are absolved from the need to take action.
When asked to describe their own reactions to the footage and comment on the huge disparities that they witnessed, Fricke notes that he’s grateful for the life that he has. Michael Stearns, the composer for the film, comments that Magidson has very strong opinions on the matter but after several away-from-the-microphone comments that none of us can hear, all Magidson can produce is, “There is extreme poverty in this world.”
Maybe it’s that they’re scared of being construed as political. Maybe the only way that they can get access is by remaining neutral observers only interested in meditating. I’ll always be curious what Magidson said off microphone. Regardless, by the end of the Q&A session, one gets the impression that Fricke and Magidson are simply visual tourists with extreme talent and an interest in the spiritual. I can’t help but wonder if some of the subjects of the film might feel exploited to have their suffering recorded for the sole purpose of helping two rich, white guys meditate.
Fricke and Magidson obviously recognize that compelling images require more than just visual beauty. Most of their images are striking only because of the heartbreaking juxtapositions that they present. For example, there’s a portrait of what appears to be a family holding their guns. In the center is a young girl with a pink rifle. An obvious interpretation screams at the viewer. The young girl and the color pink is supposed to represent innocence and youth which is contrasted with a gun which is represents violence and death. It’s a comment on the extreme level of armament of society today. But if viewers of this film are truly supposed to meditate only on “flow,” then it’s not a profound statement at all, it’s just a gimmick to create a charged visual.
A tear drops from a Geisha’s eye. It begs us to consider the price that some us must pay for the luxury of others. Initially moving, it’s all too appropriate and disappointing when Fricke explains that the tear was from the lighting, her heavy make-up, and the instruction “don’t blink.” One begins to wonder how much substance is behind Fricke and Magidson.
Even as artists, a re-watching of Baraka, does make you wonder if they’re just repeating previous victories. At one point an audience member asked how they decided to reuse footage and why. Fricke visibly bristles and states that they didn’t reuse footage from Baraka. Yet he does admit, “We just can’t seem to stay out of the Vatican.”
Some of the footage is so similar that it might as well have been reused. Both movies have footage of Mecca, of Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, volcanoes, the Vatican, the Tokyo subway, the Egyptian pyramids, factories on fast forward, industrial farms, and starry night time-lapses. In such a beautiful and complex world, how could it be that things are repeated?
Ultimately it’s fitting that Fricke and Magidson fall short of perfection. Talent aside, they’re only human and thus capable of the same majestic heights and disappointing flaws that are portrayed in their film. In many Buddhist teachings, Samsara is more than simply the cycle of reincarnation, but the world of suffering that we are trapped in before we attain Nirvana. As my friend put it, “It’s like they’re stuck in their own little Samsara.”
But perhaps that’s too harsh - they’re only filming what we’ve all participated in creating. As Fricke takes great pains to illustrate, we’re all connected: this is our collective Samsara.
At the very least, the film’s gorgeous and nonverbal medium is powerful enough to create messages that transcend the filmmakers’ intentions. Go see the film, but please, do these images justice. Do more than just meditate and passively experience. Be inspired to do something about it.
Eid said! It's Eid, marking the end of Ramadan! I can't help but feel a little nostalgic for Michigan. Even though I'm not Muslim, it can be fun to be swept up in a community's special time.
I'm not Christian either, in fact, I don't even really celebrate Christmas commercially anymore like my family did when we were children, but I still love watching A Christmas Story on TBS. I'll even admit that I enjoy a good slice of fruitcake every once and awhile (I do have standards though... only high quality fruitcake and usually with rum).
Similarly, it was such a privilege to be living in an area with a high enough concentration of Muslims that I could get a contact high. You're reminded to be thoughtful about one's behavior and thoughts. You're inspired to come together as a Muslim community, a local community, and a global community. You congregate around food. These are all things that I support.
For those of us who are not Muslim, Ramadan's most notable aspect is usually the month long fast that occurs while the sun is in the sky. Though the fast is only one portion of a larger theme of abstinence and purity, it's definitely one of the first things that comes to mind for me when I think of Ramadan. And medically, though I'm sure actively trying to reduce the number of negative thoughts in your mind can reduce stress and thus promote wellness, it's the fasting component of Ramadan that needs to be discussed with my patients who have Diabetes.
Last week I began functioning as a real doctor. I didn’t wear a long white coat because family medicine doctors are too counter-culture to wear white coats but, I did write a prescription without having to run around looking for a doctor's signature. I filled out official medical paperwork and signed "MD" behind my name. When my patient addressed me as, “doctor” instead of babbling out the usual, “No, no. I’m a medical student, but perhaps I can still be of help. If not, I’m certain I can find someone who can,” I simply turned and said, “Yes?”
As excited as I am to be moving forward in my training, and as sure as I am that I learned many useful things over the past four years of medical school, I can't shake the feeling that when I say I'm a doctor, people have an image of what that means that is different from what I actually am. As my co-intern said the other night at happy hour, "Is anybody else suffering from intense imposter syndrome?" Unanimous nods.
Acknowledging it out loud helped explain the thoughts that had been popping into my head the past few weeks. Whenever I had a moment of downtime, memories that I hadn't thought about in years would seemingly randomly surface: the time that a friend in high school decided she didn't like me anymore and I never understood why or what I had done; the time at soccer practice when I was nine and I was chided for thinking I was better than my teammates; and the time a coworker told me that he didn't trust me.
What I fear is that somehow I've gotten this far despite of who I am. The litany of remembered failures and shortcomings, however small, are moments when people were able to see through to the truth of me. At any moment the smoke will clear and everyone around me will be able to see what they saw as well. One ought to chastise me for even entertaining the thought that the people are around me could be so obtuse for so long, but the quiet fear remains, lurking in the back ground of my thoughts.
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to be a medical practitioner and contribute to society beyond the one-on-one interactions that you actually have with your patients.
I'm super proud of my sister, Emily (and pictured to the right), who has been part of team that just opened up a community garden through their medical school in the middle of the Bronx. While it might not produce enough food to support a community of patients, it is an area of green space, quiet, and perhaps, most important, a focal point for healthful eating and getting back in touch with real food.
BODY stands for Bronx Obesity, Diabetes, and You. Check out the rest of the short blurb on them here!
Hey folks! For those of you who are curious, I've posted the speech that I gave at graduation this past Friday. It was a huge honor to be chosen by my classmates. I've also included the text here.
We all have that friend. The friend who in the middle of the conversation will pause to google whatever it is you're discussing or debating. Occasionally I find it annoying but more often, especially since I don't have a "smart phone" myself, I find it satisfying and convenient.
Recently, while hanging out with said friend, we all discovered a new game. Since Google Search has an algorithm for auto completing searches based on the most popular searches out there, we realized that if we just fed in our ethnicities, we could get a pulse on what the masses were thinking about us.
Some were expected, but others, well, others I could not have predicted. Most were hilarious.
And then just a few more because I was curious:
Sad but true: I’m not very good at writing about happy things. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not very good at celebrating.
Celebrating is not to be confused with partying. I like parties. I like laughing and being loud with friends. I like getting carried away into the night. Partying frequently happens in the setting of celebrating something so it’s never occurred to me that I might be bad at celebrating, but I am. It’s partying that I’m good at.
Partying can be mindless, but celebration requires a sincere appreciation of something positive.
Maybe it’s having high expectations for oneself gone too far. When I think back to many of the accomplishments that I’ve been supposed to celebrate for myself, they don’t tend to move me. Usually they’re related to studying hard, working hard, or training hard. These are all tithme consuming things that can be unpleasant at times, but ultimately they are just that -- time consuming and sometimes tedious.
Or maybe it’s because that I’m so aware of my own privilege that these accomplishments are not as impressive as they may seem. There were not necessarily that many obstacles in front of me. What is so special about simply doing the work that was put before me? Conversely there’s an important distinction between humility and taking ones accomplishments for granted.
However, regardless of ones reasons for not truly celebrating, I’m realizing that celebration is important when it comes to sustaining oneself. The victories are few and far between and the disappointments seemingly unfixable.
Recently my classmates elected me class speaker. It’s flattering, an honor, and most of all, a surprise. So often I feel isolated and not just ignored but brushed off. Getting elected to speak at graduation by my peers does not align with my own impression of how my classmates see me.
At some of my lowest points those around me often remind that the silent masses are not necessarily in disagreement. Sometimes people are scared to speak up; sometimes it’s not in their personality; and sometimes they think that since I’ve already said it, what point is there in saying anything? I shouldn’t assume that everyone thinks I’m unreasonable.
I should celebrate this. Not just as a personal achievement, but as something positive that I need to embrace because how often is the dissenting opinion voted to give a speech? The world does not dole out affirmations. Strength, just like self-confidence is something that must come from within us. But, in those moments of weakness and doubt, why not take advantage of the few external validators that come your way?
And so I will celebrate. Not with partying, but with a little meditation. I will sit and bask in the positivity, the way one basks on the beach hoping to store some away for the coming winter.
I’m frustrated. The man sitting in front of me is an incredible person. He’s been the chair of medical departments and president of one of the world’s largest global health non-profits. He’s improved the lives of millions of people. I have everything to learn from him, but I can’t seem to get much from what he’s saying.
It’s hard to pin him down. He is willing to condemn fee-for-service reimbursement and endorse an accountable care organization model but the conversation stops there. He doesn’t even give me a chance to finish asking about his thoughts on single payer; he talks right over me. He’s most famous for both working in the pharmaceutical industry and also being a champion of increased access to medicines. When I ask him how he personally navigates the tension between the “incentive for innovation” and increasing access to medications worldwide, he describes the financial strategy of providing funding to help defray cost and risk to pharmaceutical companies, but there is no mention of his own inner, ethical dialogue.
This is my chance to take advantage of the “old boys’ club” network and I feel it being schmoozed and side-stepped away with tangentially related anecdotes.
I get the distinct feeling that this is how it feels to be a member of the press interviewing a politician and that confuses me even more because the context of our conversation is not an antagonistic one. We were invited to chat with him over a meal so that we could learn from him -- we were even asked to submit questions ahead of time!
I’m also pretty sure that he doesn’t like me.
Dammit. How depressing. I can’t even make friends when I want to.