Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS [book review & giveaway]

A good friend of mine posed a question to me a couple years ago that has since become a favorite conversation topic of mine with many different people. “In the movie of your life,” she wondered, “what actor would you choose to play you? What about your best friend? What about your love interest? What songs would be on the soundtrack?” It’s fun to think about, isn’t it?

Donald Miller begins the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by writing about when two film producers approached him with the idea of making a movie based on his memoir Blue Like Jazz. His description of the screenwriting process is fascinating. Although the book is taken directly from Don’s own life, the movie is to be a fictional portrayal of the character Don. The struggle he faces is unique: turning the events of his life into a cohesive story that grabs an audience and wraps up in two hours, and along the way coming to terms with the fact that his life is, frankly, quite boring. When Don asked one of the producers if people would be bored if the movie showed his life the way it happened, the reply that came was “I think they’d stab each other in the necks with drinking straws.” But really, all of our lives would probably be pretty boring if they were made into movies. “Life is slower [than film],” he writes. “It’s like we’re all… waiting for something to happen, and every couple months the audience points at the screen and says, ‘Look, that guy’s getting a parking ticket.’”

How many times have I daydreamed about my life-movie? The more I thought about it after reading the first few chapters of A Million Miles, though, the more I realized that the movie in my mind is based on a completely fictional life – one where I wear designer shoes and look like Reese Witherspoon and fall in love with someone who has a British accent, with a charming indie-rock soundtrack following me all the way. But let’s face it, Reese would probably not sign on to do a movie where her character sat around and studied most of the time except when she was taking naps or watching television or e-mailing a friend. If I wanted to make my life into something anyone would pay nine dollars to come watch, it would take some serious editing.

So, most of our lives would not make very exciting movies. What do we take from this? To me, the rest of the book after the initial setup served as a personal challenge. Don weaves elements of his own story in with parts of many other peoples’ to illustrate that the most fulfilling parts of our own lives are those where we made choices to create our own stories; when we consciously point ourselves in a new direction. We’ve got to take risks, we’ve got to learn from other people, and we’ve got to create memorable experiences. Because when you look back on your life, I’m sure you don’t want to see it as one endless cycle of sitting around and eating food and watching television and going to the gym. You’ll want to look back at the time you rode your bike across the country, or took a risk and pursued a relationship with someone, or jumped off a cliff. “There is a force in the world that doesn’t want us to live good stories,” Don writes. “It doesn’t want us to face our issues, to face our fear and bring something beautiful in the world.” We have to overcome our complacency in order to live a bigger life.

This was one of those books that I read at the perfect time. It seemed like every chapter spoke to me directly and encouraged me to live just a little differently. It’s definitely one I’ll keep on my shelf and pull out again sometime soon and I’d highly encourage all of you to read it.

Here’s the exciting part. I got this book from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, and they sent me an extra copy to give away to a friend. So I’m going to give it to one of you. All I’m asking is that you tell me part of your story – something memorable that has happened to you, whether it is funny, or sad, or even if it’s a little bit boring. You can leave it in a comment or e-mail it to me at allisonlott [at] gmail.com. On Friday, I’ll pick someone to win the book. Have fun – and I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

top five jobs i would rather have: wednesday edition

1. the person who smashes up all the makeup to photograph it for magazines. i think there would be something very therapeutic about pouring out a $55 jar of powder and then smearing a Chanel lipstick across a page. and getting paid for it.

2. game show host. everyone in the world perceives you as a genius when really all you have to do is read a teleprompter. maybe i could take over for alex trebek when he retires? i think "jeopardy host" would look rather impressive on my resume.

3. poet. i wonder how much money william carlos williams made for that red wheelbarrow poem? i could write that in four minutes flat. also, i would not be required to use capital letters, something in which i am clearly not in the mood for today.

4. homeless person. it worked out okay for this girl... and i don't see her slaving away over a pathology textbook until all hours of the night. win/win. and i could get free medical care by just going to my neighborhood ER every time i got a headache, right?

5. the person who writes the labels for vitamin water. i could SO be funnier.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

musings of a disgruntled narcoleptic.

A few weeks ago, I switched to a new Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance policy. Because I had been uninsured previously for a few weeks, I was anxious to get some more of my narcolepsy medicine because I had run out. So on September 1st, the day my new insurance policy began, I be-bopped on down to my neighborhood Target pharmacy in order to pick up my prescription. However, the pharmacist had some disappointing news. "You need prior authorization from your physician's office," she informed me. So I called my physician's office. They cheerfully agreed to call Blue Cross and provide authorization. So, a few days later, I checked back with Target. Bad news again. "We spoke with your doctor's office, and they provided authorization, but for some reason when we try to run it through it still says this drug is not accepted. Maybe you could try to call the insurance company and see what the problem is."

A couple days after that, my parents got a letter in the mail from Blue Cross saying that approval had been verified for the drug. Great, I thought. Maybe it just now went through. So I tried again with Target. Still rejected. Finally, yesterday, I called Blue Cross. After a long and confused conversation with a very friendly yet clueless BC/BS representative, we managed to pinpoint the problem that had been confounding every party involved for the past two weeks. Here's the deal: The drug I am taking is called armodafinil, manufactured under the trade name Nuvigil. There is no generic for this drug; only one company makes it. The Huntsville Hospital Sleep Center had given prior authorization to Blue Cross for me to take armodafinil. Target had been trying to run it through as Nuvigil. Between the physician's office, the pharmacist, and the insurance company, not one of them could figure out that these two different drug names, in fact, were the same thing.

Now, this seems like a pretty ridiculous problem. I don't even know to whom I should direct my incredulousness. Okay, perhaps the doctor's office should have provided both names for the drug in their correspondence with the insurance company, I'll admit that. But Blue Cross obviously has a distinct policy regarding this drug because of the fact they specifically required previous authorization for it, so I'm not sure why their system would not recognize the two names of the drug. Also, isn't it a pharmacist's job to know that drugs generally have a compound name as well as a manufactured name? If this was a common problem, would they not have automatically checked both names? I'm wondering how often things like this happen and go unnoticed, or how many patients think that insurance is not covering their medication when it really is. What a dumb problem to have.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

higher education, technologically speaking

The other day, I was remembering back to the world history class I took my freshman year of high school. Each afternoon during fourth period, I'd bring my navy blue Five Star spiral notebook to class, I'd sit down in my alphabetically assigned seat, and I'd take notes for fifty minutes. Straight notes. There was no PowerPoint, there were no laptops, and there was no downloading of anything from the Internet. I paid attention for those fifty minutes because there was nothing else to do. I wrote a lot down; I'm sure I had my fair share of hand cramps. Occasionally my teacher would give us a handout with a very general outline of the topics for the day if we were learning something particularly confusing, and we frequently had map handouts to better visualize all the European countries and empires that were constantly changing throughout the centuries. It was a lot of material, and it was really hard, but it was manageable. After all, what we could learn was limited to the amount of material that could be conveyed (and written down) in fifty minutes a day, five days a week. The rest of my teachers at good old GHS all worked pretty much the same way: there were either straight handwritten notes or outline handouts. We all liked the outlines, of course, because they were friendlier to the fingers and there was less of a chance that if you dozed off for a minute you'd miss something major.

Fast forward to college. A lot of my classes worked the same way, but a lot of the teachers had begun to use PowerPoint slides instead of outlines. This was not a huge deal; thanks to Samford's generous free-printing-for-all policy, we'd stop at any one of the several conveniently-located computer labs around campus and print the slides out before class, taking handwritten notes on them in the same way as we would for an outline.

Fast forward one more time: medical school. With the exception of a few professors who still provide printed handouts, PowerPoint slides are the norm for presentations. This is perfectly fine with me. However, it kind of concerns me a little bit because I feel like technology is destroying some of the checks and balances on education that were previously in place. Here are some examples:

1. With PowerPoint, there can be a much greater volume of material taught in a short class time. Efficiency at its best, you say? Not exactly. With a nearly unlimited amount of hard drive space at their disposal, educators no longer have any incentive to remove extraneous information and keep it concise. In addition, it's all too easy for them to breeze past several slides with only a brief mention of "you can memorize this one on your own time." One of the lectures in my otherwise-very-well-taught class at Tulane this summer was - wait for it - 251 slides long. Two hundred and fifty-one slides for a three-hour lecture on the female reproductive system. Is this necessary? Absolutely not. I'm not trying to be a whiner and say I don't like to learn; in fact, just the opposite: I learn a lot more from a concise, well-organized lecture than a sprawled-out, unfocused one that takes up an entire binder by itself when printed out.

2. Organization falls by the wayside when material is presented in a slide format. While great for presentation, slides are crummy for putting smaller pieces of information together in the big picture. Outlines put information into perspective and highlight the relative importance of different topics. Slides are like pieces of a puzzle, and even if they are in order, it's difficult to see the big picture when you're looking at boxes on a page.

3. Since our notes are given to us in a digital format, it should mean that we have a myriad of options of how to take notes and study, right? In a sense, that's true. Last year, our lectures were usually posted the night before to allow people to print them if they so chose. This year, however, the lecture files are often not posted until the teacher walks into the classroom five minutes before lecture is scheduled to begin. I prefer to annotate the PowerPoints during class on my computer using Microsoft OneNote and then print them out later to study, so normally this is not a big issue for me (unless we're having class in the hospital where there are no power outlets - but that's a different story). But it is a major annoyance for those who prefer to print their notes. I see no reason why this is necessary. I highly doubt the professors are scrambling to put together their PowerPoint files at 8:55 in the morning before class at 9, so I see no other explanation (other than laziness or forgetfulness on the part of our dear educators) why they could not be posted the night before, or at the very least earlier that morning.

Don't get me wrong; I think technology is amazing and I'm glad professors have such modern methods of distributing information and lecture materials to students. But there's something to be said about the checks and balances that existed a few years ago - when teachers' enthusiasm to impart large amounts of knowledge was balanced not only by a very real limit on the amount of paper available, but also on the speed of their students' scribbling fingers.

Happy September, everybody.