So Much to Write About, But Where to Start?

Back in April of 2017, I published the first article on this blog in almost a year: As a Writer, I Hate Being ADD.  In it, I mentioned that there are 19 blog article drafts in the Drafts section of this blog and 16 for the dental office, and how I hate having so much writing and so many thoughts bottled up in my head that won’t come out.  But the weird thing is that writing stuff out, whether typed or handwritten, has long been one of the best ways of getting worries, stresses, hopes, dreams, and everything else out of my head and either resolved, released, or plans made to resolve or release them.  That’s why I journaled for years at a time during college, dental school, study abroad, early years of being married.  Heck, it’s a big part of why I started this personal blog in the first place.  I still have most of those journals lying around somewhere, probably in the attic.  Don’t think about trying to steal them unless you’re fluent in German, though, as I wrote most of them in German for practice and privacy.  LOL  Plus my handwriting sucks.  Anyway, it became obvious to me this morning that I have to write no matter what.  No matter how disorganized the thoughts or ideas are, I have to get them out.  So basically, this blog piece will be…

Not a [Rant] but a [Ramble]  😀

Just a few of the things that might or might not get covered today (because my goal is to cram this out and publish today, no matter what):  Fair warning, a lot of it is going to be rather depressing.

  • Horror at what is happening to America, my beloved home
  • Social media/news overload
  • On becoming more successful than I ever dreamed possible
  • The exhaustion & ennui of success & dealing with lost motivation
  • I’ve forgotten how to BE and DO for no other reason
  • Zen, Tao, too much mind, not enough spirit
  • Science, Technology, & Medicine have Failed, & I’ve lost hope for humanity
  • ADD mixed in randomly since it’s part of everything in my life

WTF, America?

Back on Nov. 15th, 2016, that’s the title of a blog article that I started, and it languished ever since, despite the fact that there’s so much I want to write about it, so I have to at least try.  It was a week after the US Presidential Election, and I was still in shock that Donald Trump had won.  To tell the truth, I still am in shock. Not just that he won, though; I’m in shock that he’s actually turning out to be far worse than my worst nightmares, and that the Republican Party is so spineless, power-hungry, and bereft of any of the principles it claims to represent, that they’re doing nothing about it.  By enabling Trump, they’re allowing him to literally destroy our democracy with barely a hint of protest.  Not only that, but every bad thing of which they once accused the Democrats, they are now doing themselves but multiplied 10 times over, and their hypocrisy is so far off the charts that it can’t be measured.  I’m not even going to try and list everything that’s so fucking messed up, because this article would be a gazillion words long, but if you want a daily running record, here are 2 good summary places, although there are plenty more.

It just boggles my mind that somehow, because every night when I go to sleep I think, “Surely, Trump and his administration can’t possibly get any worse tomorrow.”  And almost every fucking day, they prove me wrong.  He’s been President over 175 days now, and the number of lies is simply staggering.  And Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell do nothing about it, because they aren’t actually statesmen, they’re just power-hungry politicians for whom the ends justify the means.

Oh yeah, and the GOP as a party?  It’s unbelievable to me that this party, which was once the political home of some good and great politicians and ideas, has now devolved into nothing but a group of people dedicated to making rich white Christian people even richer and more powerful, and the rest of the country be damned.  No lie is too bad that it is disowned or refuted; science is ignored and insulted and denigrated, minorities, women, and LGBTQ are second or third class citizens and their rights are unimportant; Christianity is a shield for the worst bigotry; they won’t even go after white supremacists any longer but welcome them openly.  Oh, some protest and still embody real conservative principles, but the Republican Party itself is now but a shell of its former self, and it still shocks me that so many principled conservative thinkers still hope to regain their party.  No, that will never happen.  At some point, they will be forced to realize that what was once the Grand Old Party is not what it was, and they will have to leave or be kicked out.  How long that will take, I don’t know, but it won’t happen until enough principled conservatives decide that power is no longer worth associating with ignorance, bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and prejudice.  And the question is ultimately: will it be too late to save the American Experiment? If the Democratic Party doesn’t retake the House and/or Senate in 2018 with the help of Independents, I fear that it will.

Social Media/News Overload

This is something of which I’ve been at least subconsciously aware for some time, but this morning it hit me just how bad it’s gotten.  I carry my iPhone or iPad practically everywhere with me, so I can check Facebook, Twitter, and even a little Google+, although that’s faded somewhat since I haven’t been as active photographically for some time, and that was really the base of my love for G+.  Then there are the 6 news apps (The Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy) + Apple News, constantly sending me Notifications.  The moment I see a notification on a screen, I feel practically compelled to check it, like an addiction.  I look at my phone almost the entire time I’m walking the dog; it’s in my lap to check when I get to stoplights (no, I’m actually quite good at limiting it to that; I don’t text and drive or read and drive); it’s the first thing I check when the alarm goes off and the last thing I check at night before sleep.  It’s really gotten out of hand, and certainly the outrage that grips me with each new action by Trump or someone in his administration doesn’t help.  Oh yeah, and my ADD brain bouncing all over the place all the time doesn’t help, either.

Therefore, it’s time for me to unplug for awhile.  I have to do it for my own mental health.  I need time and space to let go of outrage, anger, frustration, fear.  I don’t know how long it will be, but 1 month bare minimum.  All news & social media apps deleted from iPad and iPhone; logging out of them in browsers and making sure they’re set to not auto-login (all my passwords are crazy long/complicated, so I’d have to open my password app, which is inconvenient).  Maybe check in 1x/week for messages, then back out.

Becoming More Successful Than I Ever Imagined Possible & Getting Bored With it

So I guess I’ll combine 2 of my initial topics, and this will kind of include a draft blog “2016 Year in Review,” even though we’re already halfway through 2017.

Largely thanks to my wife, but also thanks to the incredible team of employees we’ve gathered at our office, our dental office has grown to the point that we are now likely in the top 5% of solo dental practices in the USA.  2016 was our 5th consecutive record year, and we’re on track in 2017 to do even better despite taking a lot more time off to rest from working so hard.  Pretty much everyone on our team, including us, was on the verge of burnout at the end of 2016, and we knew that couldn’t be sustained.  So for 2017, we are taking a lot more vacation time and trying hard to not schedule patients on Fridays; we’re doing pretty well at keeping that promise to ourselves so far, too, and it’s definitely helped.

Really and truly though, I never dreamed we would ever reach this point.  It wasn’t even a goal, because I thought it was out of reach, and yet… we are.  It’s happened because we work hard, we take great care of our employees, who are well-compensated and who know how much we value and appreciate them pretty much every single day, and because our entire team really cares about taking care of the patients who trust us with their care.  Honesty and integrity are the key, plus good communication, keeping our fees reasonable, using technology to enhance care.  It’s amazing to watch, really, because it just happens.

And yet……it’s become routine.  There’s not really a challenge to it any more.  For the first 10 years of practice, we struggled just to keep the doors open; for the next 3 years, we struggled to become just moderately profitable.  In the last 4 years, though, we’ve just kept growing without even trying.  It’s just happened, and we’ve gotten so used to it that it’s normal.  Sure, there are occasional slow days or weeks, but we work hard and it always picks back up.  Every month, every quarter, every year.  We do a lot of very procedures that many dentists consider very challenging or only for specialists, but we do them so routinely that it’s easy.  And with routine comes boredom, especially because of ADD.  It’s the same issue that I’ve faced repeatedly in my life, both before and after my diagnosis at age 33: once I get pretty darn good at something, it becomes boring and I lose interest.  Martial arts is one of the few things that has withstood that test, especially in Shaolin Kung Fu at The Peaceful Dragon, because even after 4 years, I barely feel like I know much, and even what I know needs lots of improvement.  But after 19 years of doing dentistry, it’s pretty routine.  Yeah, there are some skills I really want to improve, especially in surgery, but I know that I can master those skills with just a little work.

How to resolve this?  When it first struck me this morning that this was a problem, it took a bit of walking & pondering before I realized that I already know the solution.  But before I get to that part, there’s one more topic which I need to get out of my mind and heart and into words.

Science, Medicine, & Technology have Failed, aka I’ve Lost Hope for Humanity

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I’m about as positive a person as you could meet.  Optimistic, cheerful, happy, goofy, that’s me.  Of course, I have a serious side and get down sometimes, and I try to temper my enthusiasm with a dose of reality and pragmatism, but as a general rule, I look for the best in people, try to be the best I can be, etc etc etc.  I’ve always been amazed at human ingenuity and creativity, and while there are definitely big problems to solve in the world, they all seemed to be heading towards resolution and solution, probably within my expected lifetime.

Not any more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still cheerful and happy and silly with the dose of serious and occasional down.  But I’m really beginning to lose hope for humankind, and I am not exaggerating when I say that Trump’s election was the catalyst for this loss of hope.  That was just the final straw, though, not the whole reason.  So why have I lost hope, or at least, why am I far more pessimistic than ever before?  It’s both complicated and simple:

Science, medicine, and technology have defeated evolutionary pressures that previously killed many people whose genes really shouldn’t be continuing and growing.

It’s quite true that the theory of evolution is far more complicated and nuanced than what most people think of: “the survival of the fittest,” but there is a measure of truth in those words.  Medical care has progressed such that people with genes that would normally lead to an earlier death and no procreation are able to live long lives and pass on those genes.  Yes, I know that you’re thinking that I’m about to suggest eugenics wasn’t such a bad thing, but no, I’m not going there.  Humanity isn’t wise enough yet, if it ever will be, to make wise choices about who should live and who should die.  But it is a simple truth that many genes are allowed to continue and spread that do not confer any evolutionary benefit and do actually spread evolutionary disadvantages.

Take vaccines, for example.  I’m a proponent of mandatory vaccination.  Much like the old saying during the Tobacco Wars, I like to say that “Your right to not vaccinate ends at the point that your non-vaccination threatens the lives of others.”  IOW, your choice to not vaccinate deliberately endangers those who can’t vaccinate.  Your non-vaccination can directly lead to the deaths of other people, and you don’t have that right.  But guess what?  Even anti-vaxxers still benefit from herd immunity, whether they understand it or not, and those people are still protected (mostly) from illness, hospitalizations, and even the deaths of themselves or their children because vaccines work.  Heck, I really think that one reason anti-vaxxers can get away with their idiotic and ignorant beliefs is because vaccines have been so successful, that people are no longer aware of just how awful those diseases are.  Even with the recent outbreaks, very few people have seen the suffering that those diseases caused, so it’s easy to discount them.

Depressingly, I feel that the only way anti-vaxxers will ever learn better is if a new disease comes along to which they won’t get the vaccination, and when they see everyone around them falling ill and dying but the vaccinated people living, THEN they might learn.  For many of them, though, it will be too late.

Simply put: medicine, science, and technology have allowed people to live without suffering the consequences of their own stupidity and unwillingness to learn.  It’s why ignorant people can claim to be experts about stuff about which they know nothing about, because they’ve never been forced to see otherwise.  If you want proof, just read Tom Nichol’s book The Death of Expertise, and then read so many of the Twitter responses from people who think they know why he’s wrong.  Even though their very responses prove his points.  Same thing with comments to articles by SciBabe, or any article about climate change.  People who are too dumb to have the first fucking clue what they’re talking about are alive because science, medicine, and technology keep them alive instead of the law of the jungle letting them die.

With all the alternative facts, alternative news, fake news, anti-science rhetoric, and yes, fundamentalist Christian and Islamic beliefs based on books that are thousands of years old that are clearly wrong about many things……..what will it take for humanity to survive it’s own stupidity?  I’m no longer sure that it can.

Too Much Mind, Not Enough Being

With all the stuff I’ve just written about, it’s probably easy to see what I mean by “not enough Being.”  At least, if you’re at all familiar with Zen Buddhism and/or Taoism.  It’s something about which I wrote several years ago in The Art of Mindfulness in a Busy Life.  In that post, I mentioned that maintaining that balance between our busy Western lives and inner peace is like walking along a razor’s edge.  Clearly, I’ve fallen off that narrow blade onto the side of “too much mind/busyness.”  That’s what really hit me this morning as I did a little walking meditation at The Peaceful Dragon after realizing my mind was interfering with class too much.  Too much phone, too much work, too much politics, too much worrying and anger, too much too much TOO MUCH!  Not enough peaceful time within myself just BEING.  I’ve forgotten what it means to do just for the sake of doing, and of what it means to simply BE.  Even when we were on vacation around July 4th, just relaxing at home, I still didn’t really disengage mentally from anything except work.  Yes, I did spend time relaxing physically and mentally, but I still worried, still read too much, and didn’t let my “soul” find rest.

Now don’t go thinking that my use of the word “soul” means my atheism is weakening or anything, because I continue to be far happier as an atheist than I ever was as a Christian.  I simply chose that word because most people will understand something of what I meant; most people aren’t familiar enough with Zen Buddhism or Taoism to understand the terminology.  I mean that I’ve lost my Center, that place of inner peace within that can carry one through all events and trials.  My focus became too outward and not enough inward.

Yes, I have to allow myself the mental and emotional space for re-centering my turning off social media and news.  Get rid of mind-numbing games on the iPad that eat up time to no benefit at all.  Get off the computer except for focused purposes with defined time limits.

Being ADD has advantagesInstead, there will be more time with my wife and daughters.  There will be time to breathe and meditate.  To read favorite old books with characters who are like good friends.  Time to engage with people.  To exercise – but not with a specific purpose of weight loss or to compete (I’ve even decided not to compete at the Kuo Shu Tournament in Baltimore in 3 weeks, despite spending much of the last year in preparation for it).  No, I will exercise for the pure enjoyment of it, whether in Kung Fu or with my personal trainer.  And when I go to work, it will be to enjoy each patient and to be fully present for each of them, no matter how busy the schedule.   There will be no goals towards which to work; not retirement nor vacation nor money.  I will go and be the best dentist I can be for no other reason that because I want to do so.


What Does It All Mean?

In the end, I have no final answers. I don’t have the power to save the world.  All I can do is what I can do within my own little Area of Influence, as Stephen Covey described long ago in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  And while I’m doing it, I will again attempt to walk the razor’s edge of mindfulness, which I had forgotten.