Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Modern Novel: Why bother?

I spend a good amount of my free time reading novels. It's a past time that is more like a personal compulsion; this form of storytelling has grabbed me 'round my neck since I started devouring The Bobbsey Twins. This need to read turned me into a collector of books, a lover of dictionaries, an English major in college. I care about this art form. A lot.

So if you are a reader, too, you may share my enduring heartbreak over what happened to the long form of storytelling that is the novel in the 20th century. Certain writers broke form, and turned the sweeping, luxurious narrative into a broken, piecemeal, fragment of story; a weakened stream of image, word and punctuation. What could have been beautiful became a stumble through words until you want to die from boredom.  (For me, the names of such writers as James Joyce, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and David Foster Wallace send me running for the door. ) The intelligentsia - the critics and editors and publishers - all lauded this development as a maturation, a transition to new greatness, and we the hapless readers were forced to endure it like bad medicine. I did what I think most regular readers did: I read everything else. There is no shortage of writers who can still write a good story.

Hence, my joy at reading the TIME news magazine cover story about author Jonathan Franzen, whose latest book, Freedom, is due out shortly. Finally, a popular literary fiction writer who is understanding the need for storytelling. Here's what he said:
It seems all the more imperative, nowadays, to fashion books that are compelling, because there is so much more distraction they have to resist. To me, now, to do something new is not to develop a form for the novel that has never been seen on earth before. It means to try to come to terms as a person and a citizen with what's happening in the world now and to do it in some comprehensible, coherent way.  
We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we've created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful. The place of stillness where you can actually go to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can acutally make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world.                                      (8/23/10, p. 48)

So, here's to Franzen's perspective: a hope for the return of the value of story telling, the grand, wide sweep of a world that readers in the 18th and 19th centuries simply assumed. English majors, UNITE!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Faith and the Brain

How does our brain look when we engage in prayer and meditation? This weekend's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program on PBS explores this fascinating topic.

July 30, 2010 ~ Faith and the Brain | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Monday, July 26, 2010

Taking Charge of our own Health

As a nation, we spend a LOT of money on health care. It's expensive for a couple of reasons: the amazing discoveries, technologies and research which allow for astonishing cures and healing of human suffering is expensive to create. And secondly, because we Americans have treated health care not as a right, like public education, but as a service that we purchase, like energy or food.

Because of the early national decision to treat health care as a service, the pace and cost of advances in medicine has out-stripped most Americans' ability to pay for it themselves. Hence, the explosion in the last century of our dependence on health insurance. We have become so dependent upon it as an addition to our pay, most of us have come to think of health care as something that our insurance pays for, as if it were an additional source of revenue to our family instead of a support to the health care we purchase.

This model leaves the poor, homeless and unemployed dependent upon our hospitals' emergency system to receive the health care they need. And because treating normal health issues in the ER is like sending a battle ship to take you fishing, this solution is not much of one. But we are so wedded to the health care as a service model, the only solution that the best minds of our day can come up with is to provide universal health care coverage.

What makes me a bit crazy about this solution is the increased dependence we all have on insurance companies. And with this increase in dependence, comes a pressure to keep costs down as they add members who may use more insurance on average than others. So while more of us are covered, the coverage shrinks in response.

While this may be good for most Americans, it has not been good at all for mental health providers. We are the lowest paid health care providers as a group in the country, and reimbursements for our work are getting smaller and smaller each year. More of us are leaving our contracts with the large insurers, and some of us begin our private practices without signing contracts at all, focusing on serving the most people we can as Out-of-Network, or non-preferred professionals.

Mental health, one of the most important of the healing arts to learn and master, is slowly being pushed out of the health care arena. If you have tried to get an appointment with a local psychiatrist lately, you will know exactly this first hand. The recession has made this shortage worse, as the larger health systems cut back on mental health clinics and out-patient therapists.

While we continue to try to solve this growing crisis, we each need to consider how important our health is to us and act proactively. We need to stop expecting doctors to fix things after we have done willing damage to ourselves either by inactivity, abuse of alcohol, food, drugs or other things we ingest. We need to limit the excesses we have come to demand of medicine, whether that be for antibiotics, plastic surgery or that third or fourth expensive test. And we need to put our money where our personal priorities are, and be willing to pay a larger portion of our own care in our daily budget.

We have grown fat, literally and figuratively, at the table of insurers. We are bloated by the expectations that medicine, physical and mental health care are paid by someone else. If it is essential to our lives, we need to add it into our budgets, just like we do when we put gas in our cars and and food on our tables. Like it or not, we buy the things we need in our economy, and we must grow to understand that all this health care is not someone else's bill, but our own.

"In insurance we trust" could be the motto of many Americans. As more of us receive coverage, more of our income will need to be set aside for health coverage. And that is as is should be, if only so long as we commonly consider health care a service we pay for, and for which we should have choices as consumers. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Parenting is Still an Artform

As the summer ticks away, I am spending a lot of time with and for my teenagers. It has me thinking about this generation of youth, how they have been parented, and how many have bemoaned their development. I've written about it in my latest GoodTherapy.org blog posting. I hope you'll visit it there, comment, and let me know how you feel about the children of the Baby Boomers.

Parenting is Still an Artform

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are You Kidding?

The Vatican has just issued a new ruling that equates ordaining women to the sin of pedophilia.

How any person of Christian faith and vision can think and write this theological argument takes my breath away. While the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is blindly adhering to their reactionary 17th Century theology and practice, the people of the contemporary American Roman Catholic community reel from the growing child abuse scandal that threatens to bankrupt every diocese and struggle with a severe and unending shortage of parish priests. Their leaders are making decisions and issuing decisions that should anger every believing Catholic. But where is the local protest?

Unlike a generation or two ago, the protest is out the door, beyond the parking lot and in the hearts and minds of the disaffected Catholic community. While many believing Catholics are struggling to do ministry, love God and neighbor, worship and educate their children in the faith, others have left the community and not looked back.

I believe that the small revisionist groups that have sprung up in and around the American RC community will, within another generation, cause a full split from the Roman leadership and create their own church. Or, at least they should. It's time for a new Catholic reformation in America before there is no church left to reform. 

New York Times article, 7.15.2010