Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Zen and the Art of Digital Disimpaction -- Episode I

I'm nearing the end of my vacation period in my third year of medical school. Along with the traveling, sleeping-in and seeing old friends that has filled this month I have also been able to dive into some fiction reading -- reading that has nothing inherently to do with medicine. Even though I have a handful of books waiting for me at home, I had this feeling that I wanted to find something completely new, as if the books that I had been looking forward to reading had already been tainted with the sweet stench of medical education. When I was in Portland earlier this month, I made made my way to Powell's book store and stood in front of the huge selection of 'staff-picks' and without reading the back of the dust jacket picked out a book. I picked out a book based on title alone -- it was this one 'Rivers' by Micheal Farris Smith which ended up being a satisfying if not an excellent read.

So it was when my wife and I were at SFO headed to the plane to bring us to Florida (where I am right now) where I decided to do the same at a small bookstore in the airport. It was here where I found 'Look At Me' by Jennifer Egan which, again I chose without reading the synopsis on the back of the book. I'm not yet finished with this, but I imagine that I'll have it wrapped up by the time my last lazy-bum pool-side afternoon wraps up on Thursday. And, even though I'm not finished it I've found it to be an excellent novel -- one that intertwines dynamic explorations of pop culture, struggles of adolescence and (even more impressively) a honest look at the dangers of philosophy and what it means to be honest with one's self. A certain character (Moose) has had me thinking about Robert Persig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (ZAMM) more than I have in at least fifteen years.

I must have been around sixteen when I read this book, as I distinctly remember devouring most of the book while I was waiting at bus stops while I was going to and from my after school job at Red Robin. While I cannot remember many of the details of ZAMM, I remember well the feelings it generated within me. The fact that truths of this world can, at times, be very dangerous to the human mind is a sentiment that I think I've held on to -- and as I lay baking in the Florida sun yesterday, trying to pinpoint exactly where I came up with this idea, a memory of sitting at the 82nd and Division bus stop kept popping into my mind. I remember I was listening to Frank Black's 'Teenager of the Year' album (an all time favorite, to be sure) on my discman (skateboarding with a discman in my backpack was always filled with many skips, no matter how many seconds it would buffer. The news that the iPod will no longer be manufactured only serves to reinforce just how easy the punk kids have it these days) when I reached the penultimate part of ZAMM -- at least, from this reader's point of view. Again, the details are hazy, but I had this realization, through the novel's protagonist's struggles, that in order to gain some kind of realization of truth in this world, that a sacrifice was necessary -- and that, as far as I can see, anecdotally at least, it is always a sacrifice of self.

It is easy to to go through life operating on the surface. Superficial interactions with coworkers, friends and even family are hard to break through. It is convenient to watch TV and have your beliefs and opinions sculpted by those who want not to inform, but to sell you something. It is the path of least resistance to form judgments on others based on how they appear and not what they say and do.

It is to be vulnerable when interactions with those in your life go beyond the superficial. It is hard to shut out the ever-present noise of all media and be willing to form opinions based on your own understanding of the world and not pre-approved images on the nightly news. It can be frightening to try and understand an individual who comes from a place you know nothing about -- whether it be from a far corner of the globe or who dress differently.

Okay -- hold on -- all this is great and all, but is not really what I'm trying to get at here. Furthermore, I'm struggling to try and put into words exactly what I am  trying to get at. Perhaps when I finish the novel in the next couple of days I'll have a better understanding of my own thoughts on life. And that is why I love and miss reading fiction -- I believe a good book can provide more food for thought than a thousand years of film or video can ever serve up.

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