November 16, 2018

Clothing optional

If anything, an examination of the words clothing optional” should focus more on the options and less on the clothing. When it comes to exposing our vulnerabilities—both in the clothing sense, or in any other analogous way—we are left to decide from among an array of options as to what level of comfort we have to be who we truly are in front of others.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent some time in Big Sur, and were treated to nights filled with the clearest of skies and a deep darkness that even the darkest of suburban skies could never replicate. Staring up, the canvas was dotted by more stars than I had ever seen, making the night sky feel less like a dark expanse, but instead like a ever-changing piece of heavenly, lightscape art.

One night, we hiked down to the hot springs at the Esalen Institute for the twilight soak. At ground level, the darkness was pervasive, but the sky was afire with scintillating dots of brightness—this was a night sky like no other, like none I have seen and probably ever will see.

I spent most of the time while at the hot springs soaking in the baths and staring up at the heavens, watching the travels of shooting stars, while listening to the ocean waves crash against the rocks just below me. I was mesmerized by the setting, by the experience: enveloped by water that had been naturally heated by the earth, beside an expansive sea that told stories through its rushing against the shore, and under a canopy of lights that were millions of miles away but felt like they had been painted there just for me at that exact moment. It was magical and meditative.

The hot springs at Esalen are marked as clothing optional, and as people entered the area of the baths, it was clear that each bather had a different idea on what the expression of that option would be. For many (most?), it meant entering the hot springs in their bathing suits, covered to their comfort. For some, it involved being wrapped in towels that were only shed when entering one of the baths, and quickly re-wrapped upon exiting one bath to enter another. For others, the option of clothing optional” meant the freedom to not fuss about any kind of cover at all, to enjoy the full experience en déshabillé and in complete comfort and concert with the nature around them.

What was important, and not really surprising, was that nobody really cared. Nobody took notice of the options taken by others; each one of us was concerned with our own experience, our own way of enjoying the hot springs in the way that was best for ourselves, without any judgment or consideration of the choices that others made.

I think of this—how we choose to express ourselves when we feel vulnerable—often. In some situations, we opt for cover, we opt to hide—our talents, our ideas, our aspirations, our bodies—and only reveal what we must. In other circumstances, we bare what we need to in order to feel like we belong, or like we can engage. And sometimes, we embrace the option of full transparency: we let people, places, and experiences in completely, being fully vulnerable and embracing the disquiet that often comes with letting others know about your hopes and fears, your strengths and flaws, your unbridled optimism or your cautious wariness for the world.

It’s not just at the hot springs where we are presented with the option to bare ourselves to the world; every interaction with the world around us is a moment to assess our options for vulnerability. Like at the hot springs, there is no wrong decision, no correct way to be—all we can do is to be who we are, and to embrace the options we choose for our own comfort, without judging others, and most importantly, without judging ourselves.

Everything that Atul Gawande writes is incisive and excellent, but this latest piece on why doctors hate their computers is among the best he’s written.

Medicine is a complex adaptive system: it is made up of many interconnected, multilayered parts, and it is meant to evolve with time and changing conditions. Software is not. It is complex, but it does not adapt. That is the heart of the problem for its users, us humans.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital health recently, and especially about how we design digital services for those whose job it is to serve others (this line of thought is, after all, a core part of my day job) and this piece encapsulates a lot of the issues that I’m exploring around the inherent Taylorism built into the design of our digital services.

Squeezing more patients into an hour is better than spending time entering data at a keyboard. More people are taken care of. But are they being taken care of well? As patients, we want the caring and the ingenuity of clinicians to be augmented by systems, not defeated by them. In an era of professional Taylorization—of the stay-in-your-lane ethos—that does not seem to be what we are getting.”

Why Doctors Hate Their Computers should be required reading for anyone in the world of digital health, digital government, and enterprise technology.

The volume of knowledge and capability increases faster than any individual can manage—and faster than our technologies can make manageable for us. We ultimately need systems that make the right care simpler for both patients and professionals, not more complicated. And they must do so in ways that strengthen our human connections, instead of weakening them.”

In case you missed it:

A few things to read and explore:

A beautiful rumination on hope, by colleague and new friend Jenny, and making it through dark (literal and metaphorical) days:

Hope, like love, is an active choice you make every day, not a state of mind. Hope, like love, is a thing you practice, and nurture. It thrives on small victories, the mundane flashes of joy that remind you of how much better this dumb world could be. It’s not a thing that can live in isolation, in one brain, in a single pair of synapses. It draws strength from a community that also chooses to hope.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately, and also about lottery tickets, and voting. Buying a lottery ticket is nothing like voting, except that they are both tiny admissions that—against enormous odds—I’m not quite ready to give up. It is perhaps irrational to stand in line to cast a ballot for a candidate I know will not win. It is also a signal that I am sending my own grudging and recalcitrant brain that I am choosing to hope. There is something hopeful in voting, and something hopeful in mourning an election outcome I had already predicted among similarly heartbroken friends, drinking too much and talking too loudly and being hopeful enough to still be angry.

I’ve had quite a few conversations about this excellent piece on philosopher Bruno Latour, and his thoughts on the construction of scientific reality and how they relate to climate change, over the past week. It’s well worth a read:

In the 1980s, Latour helped to develop and advocate for a new approach to sociological research called Actor-Network Theory. While controversial at the time, it has since been adopted as a methodological tool not just in sociology but also in a range of disciplines, like urban design and public health. From his studies of laboratories, Latour had seen how an apparently weak and isolated item — a scientific instrument, a scrap of paper, a photograph, a bacterial culture — could acquire enormous power because of the complicated network of other items, known as actors, that were mobilized around it. The more socially networked” a fact was (the more people and things involved in its production), the more effectively it could refute its less-plausible alternatives. The medical revolution commonly attributed to the genius of Pasteur, he argued, should instead be seen as a result of an association between not just doctors, nurses and hygienists but also worms, milk, sputum, parasites, cows and farms. Science was social,” then, not merely because it was performed by people (this, he thought, was a reductive misunderstanding of the word social”); rather, science was social because it brought together a multitude of human and nonhuman entities and harnessed their collective power to act on and transform the world. […]

Latour believes that if scientists were transparent about how science really functions — as a process in which people, politics, institutions, peer review and so forth all play their parts — they would be in a stronger position to convince people of their claims. Climatologists, he says, must recognize that, as nature’s designated representatives, they have always been political actors, and that they are now combatants in a war whose outcome will have planetary ramifications.

Andray speaks the truth and calls out the idea that polite society will prevail in light of the actions of white supremacy. This is an important message for everyone calling for dialog and debate, without realizing that some of us are literally dying while the rest of you are debating:

For those of us who are increasingly being stripped of our humanity, both legislatively and rhetorically, and starved for justice and solidarity in these appalling times, faith in our democracy is not enough. Without the necessary works of our peers to protect the marginalized from the growing movement of white supremacists, that faith must die.

Because far too often, we’re the ones dying, instead.

It’s incredibly sobering and frightening—and for many, life-threatening—to think that the changes on the Supreme Court means we might be heading back to the way things were in the 19th century:

Even if Kavanaugh were not a post–Bill Clinton convert to the belief that the president is above the law, his decision to ritually debase himself before the president who selected him is an act that should end any fantasy that Kavanaugh possesses the necessary personal integrity to hold the position, let alone to defend the constitutional rights of Americans from a government determined to strip them away.

I haven’t gotten around to watching the new Netflix show just yet, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favourite novels written in any genre, so I’m so very glad we are experiencing a Shirley Jackson renaissance:

The persona that Jackson presented to the world was powerful, witty, even imposing. She could be sharp and aggressive with fey Bennington girls and salesclerks and people who interrupted her writing. Her letters are filled with tartly funny observations. Describing the bewildered response of New Yorker readers to The Lottery,” she notes, The number of people who expected Mrs. Hutchinson to win a Bendix washing machine at the end would amaze you.” Of Katinka De Vries, the wife of the novelist Peter De Vries, she writes that she found it difficult to spend the day with someone named Katinka, even though she is very nice.”

The fact that greater diversity among our elected representatives is better for everyone should be increasingly evident these days, so I’m surprised that it’s taking so long for our municipal electoral politics to catch up:

Diversity on council isn’t a matter of political correctness. It goes to the heart of representative democracy, which is premised on elected bodies reflecting the citizens they serve. Elected bodies are unlikely to ever be a perfect microcosm of society, but the persistent homogeneity of municipal councils is of concern. Councillors invariably draw on their own experiences and beliefs when they exercise their duties, and plenty of evidence shows that decision-making tables are more effective when they include a broader range of perspectives. The exclusion of diverse voices from municipal councils may result in flawed policies, and that threatens the effectiveness and very legitimacy of the decisions that are taken.

I’m married to an infectious diseases physician, and often describe her job as sleuthing out the mysteries that are happening in the body. Looks like the analogy is an apt one:

A doctor trying to find out what is wrong with a patient resembles a detective searching for the perpetrator: identifying the cause of a disease is like looking for the motive for a crime.

These representational abstract paintings by Joseph Lee are absolutely stunning. I’d love to have one in our home.

identitychrist by Joseph Lee

I’m an avid fan (and heavy user) of VIA Rail, so this Twitter thread on the occasion of its 40th anniversary was heartwarming and sweet:

I still can’t believe that almost 26,000 people voted for an alt-right white nationalist for mayor in the recent Toronto election. This profile of Faith Goldy and her transformation to alt-right poster girl was scary and fascinating.

Sevilla built a city-wide protected bike network in two years and on a modest budget and I’m still sad that our city can barely get around to painting a bike lane over a few blocks without years of debate.

Also, I’m still baffled that people with influence in our city are arguing over future, potential, currently non-existing transit solutions for the city rather than embracing the fact that the bus is still the best way to move people around, and that by investing first in better bus service and infrastructure, we lay the foundation for better transit. There are some things that are so evidently obvious, it hurts my heart and head that people in London, Ontario just don’t get it—or more importantly, don’t want to get it because they don’t actually care about better transit.

In today’s edition of things you didn’t know you needed: an oral history of Too Many Cooks. Now the song is stuck in your head, too.

In case you need another song stuck in your head, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the Chili’s baby back ribs jingle.

You’re welcome. Keep singing, be as vulnerable as you feel comfortable being, and see you in a few weeks.

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