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The end is nigh

Somewhere on the southern California coast a 30 year old Caucasian male of above average intelligence hurtles toward the eschaton.

At least, that's what it feels like. Morgan and I have been trying our best to use this last couple months that I'm in the area to "see ___(insert friend here)___ one last time." Meanwhile, I'm trying to wrap up classes, work on my rapidly expanding dissertation, complete all my hours at my clinical site, rehab my knee, learn to ride a motorcycle, etc. etc. And the beat goes on.

Where's the time for reflection? Where's the time for sacred silence? These days I just take it. For every spasmodic week's beginning there comes the inevitable Thursday power down. I begin racing between clinic and class on Monday morning and don't let up until Wednesday evening. You know you've been in grad school too long when Wednesday becomes the new Friday. But I take the down time anyway. I don't know a better way. Maybe during the next go-around in DC I'll have gotten a little better at not biting off as much. We'll see.

So here I am this Thursday evening reflecting on all the people and places I've see during what has become an epic journey west. I remember the summer before I flew out here. The dominant metaphor in my mind at the time was of the Israelites penetrating Canaan, the land of giants and over-sized fruit. That was what California was for me. At some level I think I was being called by forces unrecognized by me. I did know, however, that I needed to do something with my academic abilities. And so I did. Now I'm coming back east. California was more than I bargained for, and that is the Lord's truth.

What more can be said? California's way different from the east coast. Whereas my friends back in Atlanta were frequently caught speaking in computer code, my friends out here are frequently caught bickering about production quality or fall fashion. Now that's a big cultural gap. Back home it seemed like everyone was a programmer. Here it seems like everyone is in "THE industry." In Atlanta you're swaddled in the kudzu and oppressive wet heat, or else drenched in the coldest rain, whereas in LA you can smell that sweet dusty smell of desert everywhere, which is temporarily forgotten about during the region's two seasons--fire season and mudslide season. The desert has a beauty all it's own, and the mountains and Pacific ocean still take my breath away several years later. They're not the fall colors of the Appalachians, but they're pretty impressive!

People in Atlanta drive fairly sedately. Yeah, yeah...I know this seems a bit idyllic. But let's face it. People don't shoot each other with cross bows in an act of road rage or gun people down. In fact, whereas the nightly new disaster in the south is some kind of storm or tornado warning, the news de jour is a police pursuit of some wacko who doesn't know what a spike strip is. In Atlanta, there's a perimeter that grinds to a halt during rush hour. In LA there's a a spiderweb of undermaintained highways that grind to a parking halt at any random point in the week. (3 p.m. on a Sunday? Really?)

In the south, you visit Civil War sites. Out here you visit a game show, stand in as an extra, or take acting classes.

Hmmm...this reflection is nowhere near over...

To Be Continued...

There are days when I'm convinced that I'm a casualty of the information super highway. There was once a time when I could keep my Yahoo! Inbox down to a trim 25 messages. These days I'm doing good to stave off triple digits! I'm getting positively buried allegedly meaningful e-mail. Just you wait. One day thousands of years from now archeologists will dig down into the primitive remains of a city dweller at a dig off the California coast only to find said dweller's skeletal remains hunched over a primitive piece of machinery with arcane buttons. What a way to go...death by e-mail.

There should be a diagnosis in the DSM-IV-TR for this malaise. Something like "Cyber-fatigue disorder NOS" would probably do the trick. Maybe it's only a matter of time. The human body can only take so much exposure to constructed reality.

Last night's dream

Last night I had a dream that I could fly. This has been a re-occurring dream, now that I think of it. I don't know why this never occurred to me before.

However, last night was different in that it was the first time that I told other people that they could fly. My wife could fly, as could my neighbor Valerie, a couple other faces that I can't remember...oh, and Paris Hilton. For some reason Paris Hilton could fly. (Apparently flying is hot.) 

The first time I dreamed of flying I remember that it was quite an effort. Apparently I had to concentrate very hard, and then I would begin to jump. I would jump higher and higher, as if to gain momentum. Basically, I would jump so high and linger in the air for so long that if I flailed my limbs about and balance my body weight just so, then I could stay up there for a while. It was almost like something you'd see in an Ang Lee film. However, in last nights dream, I didn't even have to think about jumping. If I wanted to suddenly life off, I could. And I had a lot more maneuverability too! In fact, in last night's dream I took off running at a full tilt in the woods and then suddenly shot up through the tree, curving up at trajectory that was actually a little backwards from the direction that I was running. With flying, no mechanical devices were needed...just confidence.

At any rate, I can't remember the exact chronology of the dream even though I literally woke up minutes ago. However, some of the details of the dream are as follows. I remember that it took place over two days, possibly even a night and then the following day. I remember flying off in the darkness of night up the coast to this place on the beach. Somehow there was a camp fire there, but I don't know why. I think there were a couple flying friends with me, but I can't remember who they were. It was their first time though. I had to reassure them that it was safe, and that it was a lot of fun. However, they really dug it, and the next morning there were a few more followers! After a little hesitancy they were able to lift off too, although they didn't have to go through the whole trial and error jumping that I had to go through. They were able to just raise up off the ground. One of our merry flying band discovered a cheap ring made of different colors of transllucent plastic. It was somewhat of an exciting discovery. I told my soaring crew that there were plenty of rings like this lying around. (I'm really not sure why I felt the need to state that.) 

I think that's pretty much it. I think it occurred to me at some point that the government might come after us to try to harness our powers, but they hadn't done that yet. It seemed to me that we would have better manuverability than fighter planes, since we could drop out of the sky at a right angle and disappear into the ground. So I think that would have helped with evasion. Ha, analyze that!

Well, that's all I have. Guten morgen!

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Bagels from heaven

Two days ago bread fell from the sky and almost buried me while I was looking for a quick lunch at Goldstein's Bagels.

Well, metaphorically that's what happened. But the literal truth of the matter ain't that much different. You see, the original plan was to duck out of church quickly, slam down an even quicker In-N-Out Burger, and jet off to the LA Zoo. As God would have it, the In-N-Out Burger on Santa Anita Ave. wasn't so in and out, which precipitated our pulling the car into the bagel shop next door. After all, if you're in a hurry then why not grab a quick bagel for lunch? Or at least it made sense at the time.

15 minutes later as we settled down at one of Goldstein's many empty tables, we were accosted by a middle-aged man in a red polo shirt. "You drink that stuff?" He probed, leering at my friend Scott's Powerade. "I drink coffee. It's all natural. That's shit's all chemicals." Slouching over the side railing next to our table, he stuck out a couple business card sized coupons. "Here you go. Free bagels. Do you mind if I had ten minutes of your time?" And with that we were off to the races.

It turned out that we were talking to Mr. Goldstein. Apparently what Mr. Goldstein wanted to do was "borrow our brains". Ten minutes of time stretched into forty-five minutes, and amounted to a barrage of questions ranging from "What do you think of the new menu I installed yesterday?" to "Did you know that we have a grill and a drive-thru?" And then there were a few mundane apocryphals--he had just bought a house in Asheville, NC and his son was about to head off to college--as well as the juicier tidbits--he'd been divorced and remarried and now had the wisdom of those experiences to support the ironclad law of the universe that having kids is hell on your sex life. For my part, I told him that the signage outside was essentially worthless, and that the menu he'd put up recently looked like a relic from Arby's. (Seemed like a fair trade to me...)

So, as the LA Zoo began to look like less and less of a possibility, Goldstein wrapped things up with the reassurance that when we returned once again to this location "you'll see changes!" When I mused out loud about what that meant, I was soundly informed that it would be a matter of two weeks. Apparently elated by comments about his franchise, he promised that "he'd take care of us." Take care of us? I thought. Did I just join the Jewish mob?

Jewish mob or not, what we did get was six dozen bagels, three bialys, a pair of bagel dogs, a pair of bagel pizzas, and a couple of other indistinguishable items. Then Goldstein slipped me a giftcard and decreed, "When you come here, you will not have to pay. Order whatever you want. Just let me borrow your brain." He grew ecstatic when he discovered that I was studying psychology, and insisted that I come in this Thursday to eat with him and his son. "I'm not doing therapy!" I spurted out. "No, no...of course not. But you think like a psychologist. I'd like to know what you think."

Well, it's a free breakfast. And, come to think of it, a free lunch. And a free dinner. Every day until I blow this town in three months. My mind still has trouble wrapping itself around this "free lunch" concept. Trying to convince myself that this bagel is free seems roughly equivalent to trying to convince my dietitian wife that Skittles are fruit.

But hey. It should be interesting, right? So, come Thursday at 9 in the morning PST, you know where I'll be.

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Reflections on Leadership and Advocacy Day

These last couple days have flooded me with nostalgia and a tinge of melancholy. For the fourth time, I'm in Sacramento meeting with other psychologists in the state, plotting our annual effort to lobby the capitol. Since my first year of grad school I've made the mini-pilgrimage up to "lobby day", but never the two-day build-up beforehand. This time I was drawn into more of the training and strategy, and the statement that "all politics is local" has become a more salient one. (There is indeed a realpolitik to this profession.) I'm going to miss being involved with the CPA lobbying scene. On Sunday night, between two glasses of Macallan 18 year--courtesy of someone's expense account--I was able to sit back and reflect on how far I've come over the last five years. I remember the first year when I skipped out on a final to fly up to Sac-town for my first "political action." Most of the day, I didn't know what I was doing, but voting and political action became a more tangible process. Fast forward to today, when I can hold a thoughtful conversation with our faithful lobbyist and discuss real strategies for mobilizing grassroots action. It has indeed been a rewarding experience.

It's amazing just how fragile a profession can be.  What's so intriguing is that one smallish room full of professionals is all that stands in the way of half-assed legislative proposals, opportunistic scope-of-practice issues, and the general ignorance of elected officials who really don't know much about what good therapy can do for their constituents. The California Psychological Association has the membership of only 4,200 of the 16,000 licensed psychologists in the state. Kind of appalling, huh? Functionally, this means that less than 25% of the profession is speaking on behalf of its guild, and only 25% of the profession is committed protecting its legal integrity against the whims of the state. Compared to marriage and family therapists, whose involvement approaches upwards of 75-85%, our commitment to our field is disconcerting, especially when our state's psychology association is a leader among its counterparts in the country.

And yet, despite all of this, it is genuinely inspiring to mix it up with veterans who, a couple years ago, would have intimidated the crap out of me. This time around, I have the sense that I'm actually contributing something. I know something about the issues. I'm comfortable with the process of lobbying. I have a more intuitive sense about how "change" happens. I once heard Rudy Guiliani remark that "Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy." Just hearing some of the leaders in my field brainstorming about actual solutions fills me with a sense of self-efficacy, even if such "change" rolls on at a snail's pace.

It's Tuesday morning...hours before we visit the legislative offices of our elected officials. Mostly we'll be talking to staffers about my age, probably a chief of staff and, if we're lucky, the senator or assemblypersons themselves. We're trying to encourage them to oppose the govenator's effort to do away with the Board of Psychology, as misguided idea because it actually generates surplus revenue for the state. The Board of Psychology ensures the integrity of the profession by overseeing the acreditation process. Without it, we'd have a lot of wackos doing, er..."therapy." This year, like every year before it, is more important than the last.

Wish me luck!

My first day as an ex-homeschooler riding the bus to high school was hell. To my horror and the subdued delight of my pagan classmates, the haggard smoker driving the bus aired an appalling range of musical offerings. Sitting in my cracked vinyl seat, I agonized about turning carnal by slow brainwashing to the likes of Metallica, the Cranberries, U2, and Collective Soul.

Midway through college I mellowed a bit, thanks in part to the Smashing Pumpkins. The conversion occurred that Corgan’s claim “The world is a vampire…” was an unwitting theological statement that I agreed with. Soon other artists from secular mainstream labels began to likewise distinguish themselves. Though tragic that I missed this insight in high school, I’ve been atoning for my ignorance with closer theological readings of today’s rock luminaries ever since. Billy Corgan’s bitter lament and the Solomon’s prologue—Everything is meaningless!” (Eccl. 1:2)—are not so far afield of each other. Although the zen-like existentialism of Ecclesiastes allows compatibility with countless rock creations (MGMT’s “Time To Pretend” gets my runner up award) my first love was the Pumpkins. 90’s pop culture is emotionally closer to Ecclesiastes than would be immediately apparent.

To be precise, Corgan delivers an overwhelming depressive void in “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”. None of the costs of living—his rage, the pain of “the game”, or the cool that comes with playing it—can buy deliverance from the oppressiveness of a meaningless life. I’m willing to go out on a limb here and speculate that Corgan is singing about his frustrations with a music industry that had “chosen” him as their golden boy and is using him for their own ends. Interpreting this song as an anti-religious anthem seems a bit simplistic for me, but regardless, the existential vacuum with which it reckons calls to mind Solomon’s cynical worldview. (Incidentally, this book was almost dropped from the biblical canon for its heavy use of sarcasm.) Like Corgan, Solomon fails to find meaning from a number of seemingly worthy pursuits: neither hedonistic indulgence nor the pursuit of wisdom deliver from the philosophical abyss. In fact, one of the temporary conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the opening chapters is that both fool and wise man receive the same fate, and concludes: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of this is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:17) Solomon, great teacher that he is, has a full-blown case of rat-in-a-cage syndrome.

There are limits to the similarities between these two texts. Ultimately Corgan only leaves the listener with the morose proclamation that “I still believe that I cannot be saved,” while the teacher eventually concludes that fearing the Lord and obeying his commands affords some level of peace and tranquility. Nevertheless, there is this tired cynicism in Ecclesiastes that never quite goes away, and it is my conviction that Ecclesiastes is, in its own way, a bullet with butterfly wings.

An interview at Walter Reed

Finally, the dust has settled. I've got to say, when I reflect back on last week's trip to DC I am aware that every now and then it pays to be neurotic.

Let me back up a bit. Rewind to a scene that finds me waking up, bleary-eyed, on a couch in a cabin in the hills of West Virginia. For whatever reason I didn't sleep well and was arising from my holiday slumbers at 8ish. (I don't think I my head hit the pillow before midnight the whole time I was away for the holidays.) At any rate, I got up uncharacteristically early, showered, and found myself in a booth at the Panera Bread Co.--coffee in hand and laptop in front of me--contentedly web-surfing by 9 AM on Tuesday the 30th. A half-hour later I got the call from Walter Reed. My onversation with Ms. Shitforbrains arranging the interview something like this:

HER: "Hi, Mr. Gable?"
   ME:"Yes, this is him."
HER: "We wanted to set up an interview for January the 7th at 1 PM."
  ME: "Can I call you back to confirm? I'd like to see what my schedule is like that week so I'll know if I can fly out to make it."
HER: "Well, we're kind of running out of time. Besides, we can set up a phone interview."
  ME: "I'd like to interview in person if I can."
HER: "Well I need to know pretty soon. Our schedule is filling up fast."
  ME: "Ah, well then 1 PM on the 7th it is. I'll do it. I'll fly out there."

In retrospect, it's uncanny that the office manager caught me during the one hour of my vacation when I was coherent, sitting in front of my computer, and thriving with the kind of alertness that too much caffeine can give you. The rest of the time I was muddling around in a technological black hole while e-mail was silently accruing in my inbox like snow in a Maine winter. It was almost a miracle.

It was also almost a miracle that I found a flight from LA to DC for $277 on a weeks notice. Similarly, it was also almost a miracle that I was able to score a couch to sleep on from an old running buddy who lived minutes away from Reagan National Airport literally the night before I flew out. Mike even loaned my a car to get around town! Usually when I fly by the seat of my pants like this I usually get pretty bad skid marks, but apparently not this time.

Ms. Shitforbrains was not to be outdone, however, and she remained mostly unresponsive to multiple voicemail messages, e-mails, and other desperate pleas for favors such as, oh...an itenerary? or directions? or where to park? I left my friend's house at 9:30 AM for a 1 PM interview hoping that all of these things would just work themselves out. One hour and fifteen minutes of DC traffic and one hour of fruitless parking space searching later, I showed up at Building 6 for my interview. And yes, you're right. I had to figure out (1) that the Department of Psychology was in Building 6, and (2) where Building 6 was. Somehow I managed to show up an hour early, whereupon Ms. Shitforbrains promptly asked me, "Do you have copies of your letters of recommendation? We don't have them. Oh, and do you have copies of some of your other application materials? We don't have those either." 

Amazing. Absolutely stunning. Apparently at Walter Reed, the civilians don't know their heads from their asses. Ms. Shitforbrains used every bit of that hour to cobble together a rudimentary collection of data for the interviewers to see, while I sat in the waiting room and practiced deep breathing.

Things got better from there. The actual interview went well. The psychologists who interviewed me geared in a somewhat psychodynamic direction, and I think I was able to score points off of that. I think my responses regarding the whole religion and psychology discussion were well received as well. I came away energized. Part of it may have had to do with all of the cool technology some of the staff had for educating warriors in transition on biofeedback. At one point I was shown to a seat in the egg-shaped noise-cancelling chair and given a small heartrate monitor to clip to my ear. The graphs the appeared on the monitor in front of me then began tracking my brain states, solely based on heartrate variability. That was really cool--it could tell when I was calm and when my thoughts were racing simply bases on HR data from my earlobe! Furthermore, the supervising psychologists seem to really support the idea of me getting my own analysis, which would be really sweet. All in all, I'd say it was a good site for internship.

The rest of the trip was gravy from there on out. Mike also lent me his rail pass so I could waltz around the national mall to my heart's content the next day before I flew out of town. Very sweet! I would soooooo love to live in DC. Could it be possible? We'll see... but if this trip is any indicator, then it might actually happen.
Five days after finals have ended, I am only now beginning to unwind mentally.

This quarter was particularly brutal. This time around, the coursework itself wasn't the problem. Rather it was the constant errand running and reference chasing that come with the process of applying to internship sites, combined with the emotional assault on the ego that come with such a process. The army only complicated things...I had to go through three sergeants at the recruiters before I found one who knew his head from his arse about protocols for military interns. I don't need to go into the tit for tat of it all, but let me just say that I'm glad for a temporary reduction in weekly deadlines, commitments, and the ubiquitous set shifting that comes from having to manage the minutia of incremental accomplishment of micro-goals on multiple fronts. My frontal lobes can only handle so much. It this point I'm ready to throw my hands up in the air and just let the professional current take me wherever it takes me.

But enough with the geekspeak. This afternoon's rant is a little more elementary, and goes like so: if you are a coffee shop that boasts of "Free WiFi", I should not have to spend a half hour trying to figure out how to access your network! Is it really that complicated? (Proceed to bitchfest about Starbucks...)Collapse )

the shopping blues

Yeah...so what to get my folks for Christmas.

It's amazing how the task of finding the perfect gift becomes exponentially more incomprehensible the older you get. I used to be a wiz at this...when I was twelve years old. I knew the perfect gift for everybody. Now? Lord only knows. Living on the west coast away from my parents and sisters makes it all the more difficult. It's not like you can bag a smooth bottle of tequila and slide it under the tree. I don't think you can mail alcohol into Georgia, can you? And it seems that the trend this year is to ask for perishable items.

And furthermore, the older you get, the more demure the responses of your family members become when asked "what do you want for Christmas?" The stock answer that I get served with is, "I just want your presence" or "we haven't really thought about gifts this year" or "it's really not important for us to receive gifts" yada yada yada.

Well dammit, I like gifts. I like giving them, and I like receiving them. If the good king Wenceslas can do it, so can I. Yes, yes, yes, I know that he's one for helping out the poor, and so one and so such. I'm all for that. It's just that he's also a kind of Santa Claus figure too. Can you somehow give but not receive? I really want to get my family gifts!

I think it says something about you if you don't know what you want. It's okay to be up front about some material item that you might want. Desire and compulsion are two different things.

Dear Lord, I hope no one thinks I'm a greedy bastard for this tirade.

thar tis

Green-yellow spear-leaves radiate through the window screen,

pregnant with the hope that resurrects perennially after the completion of the ten page draft.

 

Sleepy neurons nourish each other once again

hours after the all-nighter. Already a more benign stream

of consciousness bathes me,

steamy and warm like wet terrycloth.

 

Face flushed with pink capillary glow,

My higher-order cognitions reassert themselves.

 

Now a razor cuts through the foam to remind me

I am not the beast that all four cups of coffee pronounced me to be at 2:49 A.M.

 

And yes, yes I do feel that God is there again.