Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy Tribute Video

From the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Very moving video:

The End of a Legend

Politics goes on the sidelines for today, as the nation mourns the loss of the great Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, the last surviving Kennedy brother. Kennedy had been in the Senate for almost fifty years when he died last night of brain cancer. He was known as the "liberal lion" of the Senate, a man who never failed to strive for that which was best for his state and his country. Kennedy especially championed civil rights and, most recently, health care reform. I pray that his passing will revitalize the champions of real reform, and that the Edward M. Kennedy Health Reform Act will be passed into law within the next year.

This great speech came from the 2008 Democratic National Convention, right after Kennedy had undergone surgery for his brain tumor:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer Movies: #44-51

I've also finished a number of movies this summer. Here's the last part of the list of movies I saw this summer:

44. He's Just Not That Into You: Recent release based on a bestselling self-improvement book. One of the best romantic comedies I've seen since Love Actually...and it was really very much in the Love Actually mold, in that there were multiple couples who were connected to each other in random ways. Perfect movie that both guys and girls often like.

45. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Classic, classic Frank Capra film about an idealistic small-town man who is sent to the Senate as a replacement, and comes face to face with the corruption, wheeling-and-dealing, and compromising that is a part of political life. Must-see film.

46. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: The sequel to the first Bridget Jones movie. Not quite as good, but still entertaining. Bridget and Mark Darcy are blissfully happy until Bridget's naturally suspicious and jealous nature gets in the way.

47. Miss Congeniality: One of my favorite movies. Female FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) with "no discernible trace of estrogen" has to "turn into a lady" when she goes undercover at the Miss United States beauty pageant.

48. Citizen Kane: This is the movie that vies with The Godfather for the #1 spot on all the top 100 movie lists. A fascinating movie looking into the life of a wealthy, strange, and complicated man, who I believe was at least loosely based on William Randolph Hearst.

49. Ocean's Thirteen: The third movie in the Ocean's series. Not as good as the first, but better than the second. Danny and the gang take on a Las Vegas casino tycoon (Al Pacino) who has cheated Reuben out of a share in a new casino.

50. Under the Tuscan Sun: A beautiful movie based on a beautiful book...although both are quite different. In the movie: a divorced woman takes a trip to Italy, and winds up buying a villa in Tuscany and turns her life around.

51. Noises Off!: Hands-down, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. The cast of a touring show starts out having trouble getting their act together on-stage; when the show finally comes together on-stage, everything goes bad off-stage. Starring Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, and John Ritter.

Summer Reading: Books #26-32

Well, the summer is done...and so my summer reading time is nearly done. Once classes start tomorrow, my reading will chiefly be academic, probably. Here are the books I read since last I posted:

26. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Continuing in my quest to read all of Jane Austen's books, this was an excellent one. A young woman whose mind is wrapped around novels (the trashy reading of the day) sees mystery everywhere...including in the home of the father of the man she loves.

27. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough: Since I was on an Austen-esque kick for a while, I read this book. Picking up several years after Pride and Prejudice ends, Mary Bennet is the only one of her sisters still single, and so strikes out on her own (much against the wishes of her brother-in-law Darcy) in search of injustice in England.

28. The Teapot Dome Scandal by Laton McCartney: Excellent work of nonfiction about the scandal that occurred when Big Oil financed the election of President Warren G. Harding and took over his administration, giving over naval oil reserves to oil companies...and the subsequent investigations into the players and the process involved. Still a highly relevant work.

29. The Power of Less by Leo Babauta: Regular readers will have heard me mention Leo Babauta before. He's the writer of my new favorite blog, Zen Habits. The Power of Less is his book of advice for simplifying your life to improve its quality. Excellent read.

30. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen: The book that launched the GTD cult. Productivity guru Allen offers advice that anyone can follow to streamline their lives and improve their levels of productivity. My boss at Barnes & Noble made all the managers read it this year. Very well done.

31. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen: Famous book on how American history textbooks revise and sometimes completely rewrite the history of this country, ostensibly to make kids more proud of their country. Loewen urges teachers and textbook companies to improve the quality and teach kids that history really is relevant and interesting.

32. Hood by Stephen Lawhead: All right, I admit it- I'm not done with this one yet. But it is excellent. Lawhead takes the story of Robin Hood, and puts it back where he and other scholars believe it originated: in the Welsh resistance to the Norman invasion.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back at University

Settled in back in the dorm. Same dorm, new floor. Seen many old faces and met a few new ones. Expect more of the same to continue tomorrow. Had delightful evening consuming s'mores with s'Methodists. My wonderful friends. And I gotta say...I really love this place. Plenty to do in upcoming days-- settling in, dealing with the knee, dealing with the start of the school year-- but right now, although I miss my family, it's wonderful to be back with my great friends here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This has had me laughing for a few days...

I admit it: I really enjoy ABC's reality show "Dancing With The Stars." I've always been a fan of ballroom dancing, and I like watching famous people try to learn to do it...especially those who are less than graceful (like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak last season). What has had me laughing since the upcoming season's stars were announced is the fact that, in addition to the usual run of actors, football players, Olympians, and models, former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is going to be appearing on the show! I have to wonder why the producers of the show would bring DeLay on. Maybe they woke up one morning and said, "We've never had a politician on the show. Why not get a disgraced former Republican House Majority Leader who resigned after being arrested for violating campaign finance law?"

Still, Jim Ellis says in a POLITICO piece that DeLay could be a force to reckon with on "Dancing With The Stars." I look forward to watching and finding out!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's Packing Time

I've never been a gigantic fan of packing, but I've gotten quite good at it over the past couple of years...reason being that every year, twice a year, I've had to load up some of my stuff into boxes and move to and from my university in DC. It's funny, too....freshman year of college you and your parents go overboard, trying to come up with ways to meet every eventuality, and you pack everything you could conceivably need, and the packing piles inevitably look like the local Wal-Mart blew up. By the next year, though, you figure out more of what is necessary and what is not. Yet somehow, even in this, my third year, I still feel like I might be taking too much. I know a lot of this stuff WILL be used (and I've definitely cut down the amount of books and clothes I'm bringing) but right now we're at four boxes, two under-the-bed bins, and one large suitcase...with the likelihood of one more box, plus a couple of assorted bags. Must try to remember to cut down still more...although if I wind up moving off campus next year, that probably won't happen.

Meantime, this is a sign that return to the routine of university is near! The beautiful thing about finding the right college is that it really makes you excited to return to school, for the first time in your career as a student. I mean, in middle and high school, the end of summer is something to dread. But for me, at least, that all changed when I got to college. While part of me always misses the lazy (ish) days of summer at home in New England, I enjoy getting back to being with my college friends, and even to the routine of classes and paper-writing and reading and activities. In DC in three days...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Laugh of the Day

A good laugh for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Looking Forward, Looking Back

My friend Rachel noted in her most recent blog post just how fast her summer has gone. For me, this summer has been quite strange. It's really split into Before and After...with my knee operation being the signature dividing line.

Before Knee Surgery (BKS), I was working at my local Barnes & Noble. I celebrated my 20th birthday. Visitors from Nova Scotia came down to hang out. I cleaned out the clutter in my room and experienced the satisfactory manual labor of sanding and re-staining and varnishing two deck chairs. I started to learn to cook and bake, and read and watched movies. I drove around and hung out with different friends. It was a thoroughly enjoyable (if pretty low-key) summer.

After Knee Surgery (AKS), I spent the first two weeks pretty much just sleeping. I've read and watched movies (like before, only even more) and databased all our movies. People have come to visit me. I've spent time doing pool therapy and going to doctors' appointments. I've slowly started to relearn to walk, but have mostly just rested and let my leg heal.

I don't begrudge the choice I made to do the surgery this summer-- it was the right way to go, to get this taken care of while I had the means and inclination-- but I have to admit that it has made for a rather unusual summer. While I know that this semester will be challenging (especially since I'm not fully recovered yet, and heading back to school next week), I'm looking forward to getting back into the academic routine. Having something to focus my mind on makes being grounded by leg problems much more tolerable.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health and the Hollidays

When I first encountered Professor Frederick Holliday last fall in Reflections of American Society on Stage and Screen, his boundless energy grabbed my attention. Prof. Holliday loved talking and teaching about film...and he almost never managed to stay in one place for more than five minutes. More importantly, he treated his students with respect, as equal partners in the learning process.

When the semester finished and I left his class, I kept in sporadic touch with Professor Holliday. In February, I learned from one of my friends (who had signed up for Prof. Holliday's class at my urging) that my former professor had fallen sick. His pain increased, and he soon could not finish the semester. A few weeks later, I learned why. Doctors had diagnosed Professor Holliday with Stage 4 metastatic kidney cancer.

Over the next several months, I followed updates on Professor Holliday's condition, provided by his wife. Regina Holliday fulfilled the role of caretaker; while continuing to look after their two sons, she fought for her husband's care as they went in and out of five different hospitals, dealing with the confusion of botched records transfers, pain management, and treatments. By May, Prof. Holliday entered hospice care; by June they moved him home. There, on June 17, 2009, Professor Frederick A. Holliday died at age 39, surrounded by family and friends.

Professor Holliday taught me a great deal about how film and theater reflect the culture of their times. He also taught me what a truly energetic teacher looks like, and what it means to be really passionate about a subject. More than that, though, his experiences with the US health care system at the end of his life showed me the full extent of the need for real reform.

Others have also taken this lesson to heart. Since her husband's death, Regina Holliday has been employing her gifts for art and advocacy by painting murals in D.C., depicting the need for health care reform. In the latest one, "73 Cents," she has painted her husband in his hospital bed, surrounded by his children, a nurse with her hands tied, and other symbolic figures representing problems in the current health care system. The title of the mural comes from a fact she learned while Prof. Holliday was in the hospital: that a copy of his medical record cost seventy-three cents per page.

The mural has caught some significant public attention as the debate over health care has ramped up in recent weeks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked Mrs. Holliday to speak at a press conference for health care reform. The D.C. FOX affiliate channel, BBC America, and Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch column in The Washington Post also all featured the Hollidays' story over the summer.

Every time another news outlet tells the story, Mrs. Holliday notes this specifically: Before American University hired her husband, the two of them worked five jobs between them to support their family. None of these jobs offered health benefits, and even their combined income was not enough to afford family health insurance. As a result, Prof. Holliday had not been able to see a primary care doctor, so the symptoms of the cancer went unobserved by a medical professional. Had he been regularly receiving primary care, Mrs. Holliday maintains that doctors may have caught the cancer before it reached Stage 4.

The Hollidays' tragedy of health care deprived American University of an excellent professor, as well as a family of a loving husband and father. Their story is profound, and it comes at a time when health care has once again grabbed the national political consciousness. Few issues get more personal than health care-- most of us were patients when we were born, and will be patients when we die; many of us will also be patients at least once somewhere in the middle. A responsible government owes its citizens the chance to be healthy without going broke. No matter what the means of reform will be, I hope that any plan for "fixing the system" will include a comprehensive means of substantially reducing costs and radically expanding coverage.

In the meantime, the debate will go forward. Professor Holliday would have liked that, I think-- his classes always included lively discussion of a range of issues, and his wife is already actively participating in the current discourse. Civil discussion is the lifeblood of a good education as well as of a functioning democracy... that's just one more thing I learned from the Hollidays.


More reading and viewing of the Hollidays' story:

Reading About Reading... and more

I like lists of book recommendations. Maybe it's genetic (both my parents have library science degrees), maybe it's because I just kind of normally developed into a bookworm, I don't know. But here's a few lists of recommended books I've been looking at. I think I might devote next summer to working on the list of 30 books to complete before you're 30...

Here's a few other good articles I've been reading today:

Do YOU want a public option?

I do. Which is why I added my name to this TV ad/petition that's going out to pressure Democratic senators and representatives to support a public option for health care reform.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Health Care Ups and Downs

I really hate to give Sarah Palin any more airtime than she deserves (which is NONE), but Keith Olbermann just does such a masterful job of denouncing her "death panel" comment for what it is-- dangerous nonsense-- that I have to post this video. Palin, meanwhile, is vigorously defending her belief that the Obama administration has it in for less productive members of society.

On a related note, I am sad to take notice of the internal memo that The Huffington Post claims to have obtained that shows evidence of a previously-denied deal that the Obama White House made with big pharmaceutical companies. This from the presidential candidate who decried special interests. We'll see what comes of this, if anything.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has an important opinion piece up about "How to Fight Healthcare Fearmongers and Demagogues." The most important way: we need a coherent and comprehensible (as well as comprehensive) plan. And we need total honesty about it, what it will cost, and why (really, why) it's so important.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Uplifting Reading

For some uplifting and encouraging reading, today I recommend:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And this is why I love NPR...

With the current debate on health care raging, one thing opponents of universal care LOVE to do is demonize the Canadian system. They pull in Canadians who complain about the system, and tell the horror stories of how they were forced to wait for care in Canada and so came to the US for treatment. In its wonderful role as a fact-checker and myth-debunker, an NPR affiliate station went up to Canada (specifically, to British Columbia) to answer the question, "Does Canada's Health Care System Need Fixing?" Here's an excerpt from the full article, which you can see by clicking on the question in the last sentence:

Canada has a universal health care system that's paid for through income taxes and sales tax. All Canadians are covered, and they can see any doctor they want anywhere in the country with no copays or deductibles. Some things aren't covered: optometry, dentistry and outpatient prescription drugs. Many Canadians have private insurance to cover those services, though some struggle to pay for them out of pocket.

U.S. critics of Canadian health care like to call it socialized medicine, but it's more like socialized insurance — meaning the risk is pooled together. And while the individual provinces and territories set their overall health budgets and administer the health plans, the delivery of medical care is private. Doctors run their own businesses and then bill the government.

Emphasis mine. The article does address various pros and cons, and it does a fine, balanced job of presenting the Canadian system of health care.

On a similar note, Consumer Watchdog advocates "Open[ing] Up Medicare To All" as a means of addressing the problem of so many people being uninsured, and presents some solid figures on how Medicare has been a more cost-effective institution than most regular insurance agencies (among other numbers, Medicare spends 2% on overhead; most private insurers spend 25-27% on overhead).

Meanwhile, back on NPR, Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute writes "Health Care Reform? Maybe Next Year." Not because it isn't needed, but because of two factors:

It's not that we don't need health care reform. Right now, Congress basically conditions health coverage on your ability to get and keep a job. That's not health insurance. That's survival of the fittest.

But there have always been two things standing in the way of Democrats' plans for universal health insurance coverage: math and politics.

Emphasis, again, mine. Finally in this morning's health care reading, Charles M. Blow writes in the NYT about the "Health Care Hullabaloo" and how Democrats are losing control of the debate, thanks to the apathy from most of their own party. To which I can only say one thing: This is very, very sad.

Goals: Academic Year '09-'10

I like to use these last few weeks before school begins to settle in my mind what my goals are for the year, and the means I plan to use to accomplish them. Last year, for instance, my goal was basically to get the GPA I needed to get to retain my scholarship at school, and some of the habits I instituted were working more during the day than at night, and not letting myself get tangled in too many commitments. This year, I'm posting my goals here so that I can keep them in front of my eyes, and in a public forum where you can keep me honest.

  1. Boost GPA. I'm now safe in terms of my scholarship, but it's time to aim higher for personal best and future gain. Shoot for 3.6+.
  2. Regain use of right leg. If the surgery I had this summer is to do any good, I must exercise to regain strength and mobility, and thereby a higher quality of life in the long term.
  3. Live frugally and well within my means. I have been gifted with generous scholarships, but must spend money very carefully-- especially while unemployed.
  4. Think about what I want to do next. I am halfway through my college career and it's time to look at the logical next steps for after I graduate.
  1. Maintain a regular, early-ish waking time. Don't waste the day by staying up late and then sleeping for a long time just because I have later classes.
  2. List top three priorities every day. Get them done early so that the rest of the day is free to deal with whatever comes up.
  3. Do not go on the computer before getting up, showered, and dressed in the morning.
  4. Shut down the computer every night.
  5. Work ahead, work ahead, work ahead. Procrastination is the enemy of relaxation, sleep, and solid work.
  6. Use a 30-Day List to limit spending habits. (30 Day List rule is that when you decide there is some nonessential item you want to buy, you write it down on a list with the date you record it, and are not allowed to buy that item for 30 days. If, after that amount of time, you still want it, you can budget it in wherever it works.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's About Time

As a left-leaning person of faith, I was class-A thrilled to see this update from Reuters, entitled "Religious Left Wades Into Health Care Fight." As the right (including the religious right) has ramped up criticism of the current health care reform efforts, I've been wondering where the left-leaning groups were-- the ones who purportedly believe in caring for the poor, the sick, the needy. I'm pleased to see even Reuters has noted their increasing involvement. Here's hoping they can make an impact in striking back against the misinformation and paranoia that has been pervasive in health care debates to date.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I'm Going to Turn Off My Computer Now... soon as I post these articles about why it's a good idea, for mental/spiritual/emotional sanity and rest purposes. Seriously, give it a try sometime instead of surfing the web. Read a book. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Whatever makes you happy offline.

For more thoughts and inspiration, please see:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

NYT Round-Up

Just a few quick hits that caught my attention--

Simple Pleasures

As I spend time contemplating my priorities and assorted goals for the upcoming year, it's helpful to think of the little things that, when added into the mix of a given day, make the effort and life in general more palatable and fun. So here is my list of 25 simple pleasures, many of which I enjoy any time, and some of which are things I specifically enjoy while at school.
  1. Walking.
  2. Laying on the Quad on a warm sunny day.
  3. Reading a good book.
  4. Movie nights.
  5. Ben & Jerry's.
  6. Frozen yogurt.
  7. Long conversations with good friends.
  8. Conducting along to good classical music.
  9. Spontaneous off-campus outings.
  10. Milk and Oreos.
  11. Cooking with friends.
  12. Soul-baring late-night conversations.
  13. The monuments at night.
  14. Crossing things off my to-do list.
  15. Journaling regularly.
  16. Prowling in an old and used bookstore.
  17. Random sing-a-longs and/or jam sessions.
  18. Fries and a chocolate milkshake.
  19. Sitting outside at dusk.
  20. Warm, fresh chocolate chip cookies.
  21. Disney music.
  22. Reading the comics.
  23. Macaroni and cheese.
  24. Getting mail.
  25. Making someone smile.

A Proud Day...

...for Hispanics, for women, and for the US in general.

The Senate today voted 68-31 to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic, and the third woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

The voting breakdown:
-Democrats for Sotomayor: 57/58 (Sen. Ted Kennedy did not vote due to health concerns)
-Independents for Sotomayor: 2/2 (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut)
-Republicans for Sotomayor: 9/40 (These few being Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and George Voinovich of Ohio.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Today's Reading..and Other Thoughts

TOP ARTICLE OF THE DAY: My late former professor's widow, Regina Holliday, was featured in Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch for Thursday August 6. Mrs. Holliday has been something of a hero to me in her fight for health care reform through her artwork. The late Prof. Holliday and his family lacked health insurance for many years; when he finally was employed by an organization that provided health insurance (my university), he was soon diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer, and died several months later. He was an inspirational professor for me, and his wife has been fighting for better health care since his diagnosis and death. I could (and probably will) say a lot more, but for now, I will say this-- IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE TODAY, READ DANA MILBANK'S PIECE "IN A PLEA FOR HEALTH REFORM, A WIDOW PICKS UP HER PAINTBRUSHES."

Thank you.

On a separate note, here's some of my "simple living/simple productivity" reading, mostly from my new favorite blog, Zen Habits, and an entertaining yet profound site called
Some days I have to wonder if it's possible to do these things and be in a job that makes what our society considers (and what, in my comfortable existence, I often consider) a decent amount of money to live on. Leo at Zen Habits does it in his life in Guam, but he is an author and blogger. I've been worrying about my dad a lot; in his high-pressure job with IBM, he can't seem to stay asleep at night. Yet he believes (probably quite rightly, given today's economy and job market) that slowing things down is a good way to stop having a well-paying job. I really don't know what to tell him, other than to keep encouraging him and sending him all the love I have...and I pray that there may (there MUST) be a way to stay sane and stay employed.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Finding the Balance

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits writes all the time about simplicity. His latest piece, "Your Life, Simplified," is a profoundly basic list of how to simplify your life in the most important ways-- one which I intend to use as I start to evaluate my goals and visions for the upcoming academic year.

I know I've been writing a lot about simplicity lately. I think I've gotten more interested in this idea of simple living because of the life I've seen during my time in DC, which I inevitably always reflect on more when I'm away from the city. With some distance, it's easier to compare and contrast the lives I see people living in small town New England, and the lives I see people living in the District.

I don't pretend to believe that one is better or worse. In fact, I rather enjoy the balance I have going between the two. DC has its pluses-- good public transportation (makes it easier not to drive everywhere and damage the environment), high levels of public engagement, and my university friends (all of whom are wonderful people and some of whom are wonderful people with great ideas about simplicity and social justice). But it also has its minuses-- high levels of consumerism, people always on the go and in a hurry, people more interested in networking than relationships. My hometown in New England, on the other hand, still has high levels of consumerism (you get that everywhere), and public transportation is minimal so people generally drive-- though some of my friends are more known to bike or walk. But the air is cleaner (something I ALWAYS notice-- it's like a veil is lifted on the sky) and people are usually more relaxed and enjoy the chance to communicate and develop real relationships. Small businesses are arguably more present and established than corporations. There may be less "big-league" stuff to do, but the only way you can be bored is if you allow yourself to be.

I often wonder about how simple my life really is, either in DC or at home. Is there any kind of measuring stick? Part of me doubts it. It's such a personal thing. For me, learning to shut down my computer at night and not boot it up until I was up and dressed was a big development, and felt like a major step toward simplicity. But how much of an impact does that really have, on me or in the grand scheme of things? I don't really know. Maybe simple living is more of a continual process, something you do when your life feels like it's spiraling out of control or when you get discontented. Everything I read says describes it as a lifestyle. Some things have described it as a means to an end. Either way, evaluating life from the perspective of simplifying can only be a good thing, in the long run.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Productivity & Focus Reading

As a reasonably busy person (at least, during the school year), I have developed a high level of interest in techniques for productivity and focus. Here's some of my latest reading on the subject:

The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz published a self-help/spirituality book called The Four Agreements, in which he passed along four principles for living a better life. I wrote them down at one point, and just stumbled back over them. It's pretty good advice.

The Four Toltec Agreements
  1. BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD- Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. DON'T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY- Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS- Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST- Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are health as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Notes from Simple Living Reading

One of my recent interests, as regular readers will know, is the idea of simple living. I participated last fall in a Simple Living Experiment through my university's Methodist student group, and really enjoyed the experience. Since then, I have been looking for further ideas to simplify my life and, as a by-product, improve my productivity and quality of life. I read two books this summer on simple living-- Paula Huston's The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life and Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska's Simple Living: One Couple's Search for a Better Life.

Huston's book looked at the subject through the lens of her own experiences with learning to live simply, and the Catholic monks that she used as an inspiration. Levering and Urbanska, on the other hand, took a more secular and autobiographical slant, telling the story of their move from life in the "fast lane" of Hollywood to running an orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Looking for ideas to restart the Simple Living Experiment at school, I took notes while reading these books; here are a few of the ideas I took away.

From Huston's The Holy Way:
  • A time of solitude and silence is essential for self-exploration and growth, helping you to uncover weaknesses and strengths-- these guide the parts of your life you change in light of simple living.
  • A period of fasting or other kinds of asceticism can be helpful in refocusing your energies on things that really matter.
  • It's important to reorganize areas of your life where you find physical or emotional clutter.
  • Work to control your desires, rather than letting them control you.
  • Don't become cynical or those around you who are not following the same simple living habits as you are.
  • Community (especially spiritual) is important for personal and spiritual growth.
  • Communal worship is a profound tool for simple focus on what matters.
  • Do not make an idol of work or achievement; our real work is to love.
  • Take Sabbath times-- eliminate all but the most essential obligations in favor of rest.
  • Abandon yourself and your fears to God's love and goodness-- freedom awaits.
  • Value integrity-- wholeness, or the state of being complete.
  • Live with veracity, in matters small and large.
  • Generosity-- the way of the servant-- teaching and living without ego getting in the way
  • Tranquility-- need for centering, peaceful and harmonious existence
  • Awareness of world's darkness need not affect our capacity to love
  • In the end, simplicity is a method to an end result of joy and love
From Levering and Urbanska's Simple Living:
  • Simple living leads to time for family, community involvement, creative outlet, and self-discovery
  • There is a direct connection between our personal lifestyle choices and protecting the environment.
  • There is no absolute standard by which simplicity can be measured.
  • License to play and relax-- enjoy time, take rests
  • *Not* keeping up with the Jones's-- how many "things" do we need, really?
  • what matters is not the number or status or value of our possessions, but the amount of pleasurable time a person is able to spend with them
  • Where is the middle ground between the total rejection of a consumer culture, and excessive consumption?
  • Frugality-- save money, limit borrowing, live within your means
  • streamline possessions-- keep and maintain what matters most
  • give back to the earth a small measure of what we have taken

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Favorite Columns

I love reading columns, especially the ones in the New York Times. These opinion pieces are, to me, like more sophisticated, less ranting blogs. Here's a list of my favorite NYT columns from recent weeks:

Movie Update (#24-43)

It's been a while since I posted the movies I've been watching, so there's quite a bit of ground to make we go:

#24. Gone With the Wind: This 1939 Victor Fleming classic is, simply put, excellent. Vivian Leigh makes a Scarlett O'Hara that you love to hate, and Clark Gable is a smooth, roguish Rhett Butler. One of the greatest books ever written becomes one of the greatest movies ever made.

#25. Dave: A fun comedy about a presidential impersonator (Kevin Kline) who is drafted to actually be the president when the real one is incapacitated. Also starring Sigourney Weaver as the First Lady.

#26. I.O.U.S.A.: Documentary about the truly scary levels of the US national debt, how it's gotten to where it is, and how we might be able to reduce it. Very informative and yet intimidating. Check out the website of the Concord Coalition for more info.

#27. Johnny English: Spy comedy starring the bumbling Rowan Atkinson as Britain's top secret agent, who has an over-inflated opinion of himself but still somehow manages to save the day.

#28. Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Classic comedy starring a young Matthew Broderick as a boy who decides to simply take the day off from school with two of his friends. Fun and sweet.

#29. Minority Report: Excellent psychological suspense thriller starring Tom Cruise. Set in the future in Washington, D.C. when special cyborg-like beings can detect murder before it happens.

#30. Ten Things I Hate About You: An old favorite of mine, starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Chick flick based on Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew.

#31. Matilda: Disney-esque break! Brilliant but underappreciated by her family, Matilda uses her considerable mental powers to get back at those who belittle her.

#32. The Godfather: This is one of those movies that I felt I absolutely had to see, and I don't regret that decision. EXCELLENT Mafia movie starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. I'll just say this: there's a reason this movie regularly competes with Citizen Kane for the top spot on the American Film Institute's top 100 movies list.

#33. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The latest film installment of the Harry Potter saga...this was by far my favorite of the HP movies since Prisoner of Azkaban. David Yates did an excellent job directing, and the cast was as usual superb. Well worth seeing if you're a Harry Potter fan...but I still wouldn't reread the book too close to seeing the film. It's always disappointing, no matter what.

#34. Saving Private Ryan: Another Top 100 movie that I'm glad I got to see. Tom Hanks plays Capt. John Miller, the leader of a squad that was assigned to go behind enemy lines to retrieve a private (Matt Damon) whose brothers had been killed in action. I'm not usually much for war movies, but this was just a top-notch film.

#35. Bridget Jones's Diary: A favorite chick flick starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth. Based on the book by Helen Fielding, about a single girl who resolves to turn her life around by losing weight and finding a nice, sensible boyfriend.

#36. High Society: Classic Cole Porter movie musical (based on The Philadelphia Story) starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong. How does it get better than that?

#37. Made of Honor: Another fun chick flick with Patrick Dempsey. Tom (Dempsey) is asked by his (female) best friend to be the maid of honor at her wedding. The catch? He's in love with her.

#38. High School Musical 3: Senior Year: The third and (presumably) final installment of Disney's High School Musical series. Troy and Gabriella's final year at East High is almost over, and the accompanying emotional turmoil of the end of high school ensues.

#39. Fame: 1980 music/dance flick about a school of performing arts in New York City that is geared toward mostly underprivileged students with talent. The movie follows a few of these students from the auditions to get in through the end of their senior year. A remake is coming out later this year.

#40. The American President: Michael Douglas plays a widower president and Annette Bening his lobbyist love interest in this sweet and funny Aaron Sorkin romantic comedy. This was the movie that sparked the hit series The West Wing, and you can tell-- it's the genius of Sorkin. The president in The West Wing, Martin Sheen, plays the Chief of Staff in this movie.

#41. Mrs. Doubtfire: Robin Williams comedy about a divorced man who really, really wants to spend time with his kids-- to the point of dressing up like an elderly woman to be able to do so.

#42. Pretty Woman: Julia Roberts and Richard Gere romantic comedy. Roberts plays a street prostitute in Hollywood; Gere plays a wealthy businessman who picks her up and then hires her to be his date for the week he's in town.

#43. Mamma Mia!: I had my doubts about this film. Not because I dislike Abba music or any of the actors/actresses, but because Pierce Brosnan is a singing male lead in it-- and I really think James Bond should not sing. But I was pleasantly surprised, and wound up really, really enjoying this movie based on a musical based on a story encompassing hit Abba songs.