Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Below I've posted my self-description, which I originally wrote for my work with Blue Zones. They asked me to write about myself in terms of childhood and in terms of travelling/exploring the world (and also to list my accomplishments*). Here's what came out:

* Traveled in six of the seven continents
* Was once in the room with four living Presidents
* Won High School Championship in Volleyball
* Lived and worked in Costa Rica
* Worked on Kerry/Edwards 2004 Campaign
* Slept in over 135 beds from May 2004- May 2005
* Founded the philosophy/travel Web site ienjoysneezing.blogspot.com

As a kid I was mostly into playing sports with my friends. I always said that I wanted to be a psychologist when I grew up. I wasn't much of an explorer. The first exploration I remember took place when I was around seven years old. My older brother and his friends were planning on heading into the woods behind my house to find the abandoned (and supposedly haunted) house deep in the forest. I begged them to let me come along. The house had been destroyed in a fire many years before and my brother told me that the ghost of the witch who had lived there still haunted the premises. I was scared out of my mind.

When I was a kid I hated having to change my clothes with the turn of the seasons. In the fall, when the weather turned cold, my mother would force me to wear long pants instead of shorts. I always said that I didn't like the feeling of the pants. In the spring, my mother and I would have the exact opposite fight: I always refused to start wearing shorts again, claiming that shorts didn't feel right.

It wasn't until I went to Spain at age 20 to study the country, the language and the culture that I became interested in travelling abroad. I have spent more than three out of the last six years out of the country and I believe that it has shaped me into who I am today. I have learned that the society that I grew up in is just one of the infinite realities that exist on our planet. I have learned that even though there are six billion people on Earth with six billion different lives, there are certain pieces of life that all people share. I have learned to be patient, to trust the righteous path, to trust myself and my choices. I have learned when to swim with the current and when to swim against it. I have put myself in difficult situations, mild danger and physical discomfort. The more I challenge myself through travelling, the more I appreciate the warm comfort of coming home---the familiar faces, my family and friends, the food I grew up eating, and, perhaps most of all, my bed.

Despite all I've experienced and learned in the past 20 years, despite the physical discomfort I've put myself through on my travels, the 30-hour chicken bus rides through mountainous northern India, the extreme heat of New Delhi in May, and the insatiable hunger that two months of eating noodles left in my meat-deprived stomach during my time in Asia, some things never change. To this day I struggle with pants. Yes...PANTS. I tend to find a pair of pants that I really love and wear them everyday for 6 months, maybe a year, until they fade away and die. I struggle to adjust when I lose a pair of pants to the gods of wear and tear. I mourn the loss. Then, some day not too long after, I find a new pair of pants, which I will undoubtedly wear for the next 6-12 months. Also, I haven't worn jeans since the early 1990's. I tried a pair on at the Gap a few weeks ago. It was repulsive.

My point is this: after all I've experienced, all I've learned, there are certain pieces of our personality that will never change. And that sums me up pretty well. I put myself in tough situations, I challenge myself to adjust, to change, to become a better person. But there are certain parts of me that are simply me.

That's Michael.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Life these days

I just finished my second semester of school. Life is good. The end of the semester came and went without causing too much damage or taking from me too many hours of sleep. There were days that schoolwork pressure tightened the knot behind my left shoulder, but all in all i maintained equanimity, I maintained the perspective that my feelings of stress or nervousness about achievement versus failure were normal, expectable feelings that one in my position might feel. The knot has faded considerably in the last four or five days. I handed in my last final on Thursday night at proceeded directly to a friend's house, kicking off a 10-day period in which the goal is simply to feel as though i am truly "on vacation". Jordan and I went canoeing the following day, after a Parisian lunch on the pedestrian mall in Georgetown---only 8 blocks from school and work, yet a world away. The weekend and days since have been filled with sports and outdoor fun, happy hours and long, drawn-out baths. I even went "on vacation" to my parents' house for a night.
School was good. The Rorschach is some crazy stuff. There were times when i worshiped it and times when i cursed it; in the end i feel: that test sure does show a lot about an individual. It has also shown me a lot about myself. I've learned what aspects of my mental/emotional state are most distressing and what proverbial cliffs i would be most likely to fall off of.
School, and the mode of thought that accompanies the psychodynamic learning environment, in combination with psychotherapy, has been a source of intensity in my life, providing me new depths of self-understanding. Sometimes it is confusing, sometimes it solves all confusion. in general it is enlightening.
i think of my dreams often these days. i write them down a couple of times a week. they become more and more vivid as time passes. i feel as though the introspective forces of the various aspects of my life combine as multipliers or exponents, not as sums. i am becoming deeply engrossed in this world. there is no separating my education from my life, in a sense. psychology, at this point, fills not only my intellectual pursuits but my spiritual ones. psychology fills it, but it does not fulfill it. there is still room for more. i try to meditate, though i find it challenging. i go to church (yes, church) every couple of weeks, and that provides me with a semi-distanced sense of belonging to a community, a sense of belonging that, unlike my Mt. Pleasant community, values me as a human and not as a person. whereas in Mt. Pleasant i am who i am, and i am expected to 'be' or 'do' according to others' perceptions of who i am, at church i am just a human, among other humans. it is refreshing and i feel no expectations on the part of the fellow churchgoers, i feel no sense of responsibility or owing. therapy is the same way. i pay with money and therefore owe nothing else. in other relationships there is a mutual obligation based on trust, love, support, etc. these are the most important things we have, but these are also burdensome and, at times of deep introspection, oppressive.
living with seven people is good and hard. living with seven people who are among your closest friends is better and harder. we all struggle in our own way to adapt, and the house feeling ebbs and flows. we are in a flow right now. the weather is perfect and we smell the freedom of summer approaching. the sun stays out late and i arrive home after work, 8.30pm, to find friends and neighbors in the backyard. road trips and camping trips approach.
i, however, have one more semester between then and now. for seven weeks i will be busier, and more weighed down with schoolwork, than i have been so far. in mid-June i will have patients, a relationship in which the burden of responsibility and obligation fall one-sidedly on me (perhaps the true source of my feelings). i have never been so excited for something yet feared it so much; i have never felt so naturally predisposed to be skilled at a task, yet also so deeply afraid to do it. to quote Dr. Zweig/Lowenstein: "yes, yes, it's all a rich tapestry" (Groening et al., circa 1993).