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Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

Day 125: Paul Kalanithi

In Dreams, English Major, Friendship, God, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, life, literature, loss, Love, Meaning, People, Relationships, Teaching, Writing on September 20, 2016 at 11:51 pm

The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

In reading Paul Kalanithi’s story there are two quotes that stood out to me. One is listed above. While Paul is recounting his perceived role as a neurosurgeon, I think the poignant thing about that quote, is that you can change the words, and, in doing so, you will see something very beautiful:

The individual’s duty is not to stave off pain or return others to the position before they felt pain, but to take others into our arms, those whose lives have been disinegrated, and work until they stand back up and face, and make sense, of their own existence.

While Paul was most certainly a beautiful doctor in his lifetime, what I found most touching about his book was his ability to see (through the lens of his profession) the meaning behind living. The part of life that drives and perpetuates us, if we’re lucky. The precious ability we have to connect with others and enrich their lives through the experiences we make with them.

I have degrees in English literature. Paul did too. I have spent years disconnected from books, from authors that once touched me so deeply I felt a definitive passion to share their words with others and, hopefully, contribute to the world by helping their ideas, failures and successes to live on. My life got in the way though, and I lost that passion, I quit reading, I quit writing and I chalked up the time spent in academia as a waste. What I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d learn from reading this book, a book about a neurosurgeon’s life, is that what I’d studied, and how I felt about it, and how I can still feel about it, is meaningful. You can bring that passion, that meaning, to other aspects of your life, just as Paul had done. He was a neurosurgeon, but he was also a lover of Dickenson poetry and Emerson’s Leaves of Grass and Eliot’s The Wasteland. He found a way to beautifully intertwine his passion for works and authors such as the above with his equal, but different, passion for medicine and the brain. In fact, I believe, the two were codependent in his life. He was such a great physician because he had read the words of the grieving, of the loving, those who struggled to understand their own mind, such as Hemingway, and thus with these literary experiences he was able to further understand the element of humanity that must be present for a great physician to exist. He understood, like he states above, that he wasn’t God, his role wasn’t to stave off death, but to show those patients he encountered, how to live, how to love, how to grieve, how to be supported, how to find meaning – all things he learned, and, eventually, put down into a book of his own. 

This idea leads to my second favorite quote of the book, when he and his wife Lucy discuss the idea of having a child after his cancer diagnosis:

Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Life isn’t about avoiding suffering, it’s about fully living which includes suffering. When we read literature, some of the greatest works, or, on a personal note, some of the works that have touched me most, it’s been the books, the poems, the historical recounts of people that suffered, that experienced something that hurt them and then took the time to write about it. Those are the ones that make you see life differently, those are the ones that remind you what living is really about. This is a subtle reminder that hardship is beautiful and to avoid it would equate to a flat life. A life absent of deep seated meaning. 

Paul’s book is one that will leave you in tears, but in a good way. What struck me most about this book was, oddly enough, the cover of it (I am oftentimes drawn to book covers and their hidden messages). 

Paul was a leading neurosurgeon at Stanford University. He was up and coming and he was a “great” doctor. I thought of my own grandfather who passed away just last year. I remember visiting him in his hospital room before he had lost the ability to communicate. He was a surgeon, not a neurosurgeon, but he lived his life in the same professional circle as Paul. I remember distinctly looking at the white board in his room, the one where his name and conditions were listed alongside his current medications and their dosing, it read: “Dr.” with my grandfather’s first and last name following. Each time a nurse would enter the room, he’d emphatically remind him or her that he was indeed a doctor, a surgeon, and that they should refer to him that way. He’d go on to let them know the years he’d spent in the operating room as if it somehow mattered while he lay in bed dying. Perhaps it did, perhaps it brought him meaning, but what this story is meant to point out is what’s written on the front of Paul’s book, a memoir of his life, is just his name – no lofty Dr. title preceding it. Just Paul Kalanithi, that’s it. Surely, someone who spends years of their life training to be a physician, a neurosurgeon, didn’t leave that title off by mistake or as an oversight (my own grandfather taught me that). Perhaps though, Dr. is omitted because Paul saw himself as more than just that. In reading his book, I think it’s quite apparent he did. 

When there is no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

A whit.

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HOLSTEE JUNE: OPEN YOUR MIND, ARMS, AND HEART TO NEW THINGS AND PEOPLE

In Beauty, Books, Fiction, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, life, literature, Men, Thoughts, Women, Writing on June 30, 2012 at 4:13 am

This book kind of pisses me off, kind of.  Anyway, you should read it, if not for anything else then at least for the controversy surrounding it.  I guess the guy James, who coincidentally reminded me of an alcoholic I once dated also named James, made up parts of the entire non-fiction memoir.  He got baited by Oprah (poor guy–not really).  And the funniest part of it all, after a heated law suit it was determined by the publisher that readers could get a full refund of the book by presenting their original receipt, and a ripped out page 165 (in some basement somewhere there’s a HUGE ripped out pile of Frey’s page 165s–or maybe he wanted them back personally), with a signed affidavit that they we’re essentially ‘scarred’ by the intentional misleading facts within the book.  If you did that, you are crazier than the author.

Like any good author though, Frey said that he did feel the facts within the book were ‘true’ for him because that’s how he felt or acted in his own mind, essentially he related his perceived persona versus factual experiences–coo koo AND brilliant (I bet his publisher thought up that one after consulting a literary theorist at Yale).

All of that said, there are parts of this novel that really resonated with me, I even shed a tear or two by the end (which I never would have imagined). Like this one,

If you understand that all things change constantly, there is nothing that you will hold on to, all things change….Trying to control the future is like trying to take the place of the Master Carpenter.  When you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand….Knowing other people is intelligence, knowing yourself is wisdom.  Mastering other people is strength, mastering yourself is power.  If you realize that what you have is enough, you are rich truly rich.  Stay in the center and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion.

If you want to shrink something, you must first expand it.  If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.  If you want to take something, you must allow it to be given.  The soft will overcome the hard.  The slow will beat the fast.  Don’t tell people the way, just show them the results.

As James learns to embrace these principals, he begins to heal.  He’s an addict, I am not.  I’ve known addicts, though. One thing you learn from the novel, the most important thing I would argue, is that we all have a piece of addict within us.  Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

The Manifesto says, OPEN YOUR MIND, ARMS, AND HEART TO NEW THINGS AND PEOPLE.

James meets a girl in rehab, Lilly, he loves her very much.  When she is scared or alone, he tells her, “Remember the word Ever.” Ever means always, he means to tell her that he will always love her but I think it means more than that too.  It references this earlier continuum of life, throughout life we must EVER open our souls to the people and things that are around us.  It is in this that the Million Little Pieces come together to make something whole–love.  Love is being whole.

Day 46: Atticus Hansen Earns His Wings

In Esteem, Fiction, God, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, literature, Men, Teaching on May 28, 2012 at 2:01 am

I’ve always been a very intuitive person, especially when it comes to things that are near and dear to my heart.

I’d decided about a week ago that I am going to run Eppie’s Great Race in honor of sweet little Atticus Hansen whom I have mentioned on my blog a few times.  Here and here.

Well, today I set out on my daily run.  It was 6, plenty late enough for the massive heat wave to have died down, I was running within my range of miles, and I was making about average pace (for me).  But I kept looking down at my Atticus bracelet, I kept telling him to be strong, and I kept telling myself to run harder and faster than I had previously–for him.

I couldn’t do it, I got to about mile 2.5 and my body just was aching in pain (it normally isn’t like this).  I began to walk, and I thought about Atticus the entire 1 mile of it.

I got home thinking my lag was from a lack of calories, so I immediately loaded up on some tuna and broccoli and then I went straight to the computer.  I thought, he’s gone–and he was.  His sweet little soul returned to Heavenly Father today and as I stared at the picture of him that was posted, in his little baseball digs, I thought of little e and my immense love for him.  I can’t imagine the grief the Hansen family must be feeling this day, but I am thankful for the knowledge that Atti will now be serving a higher purpose and watching down on all of us in love.

I am also thankful to know that he will always be a strength to me.  It’s amazing how one little boy and a blog could touch my life so deeply.  Thank you Atticus.  Little e put it nicely this morning as we we’re leaving for the pool.  I asked him if he had his Atticus bracelet on, with wide eyes he looked up and said very matter-of-factly, “Yep, got Atticus right here!  He’s going to the pool with us today!”  Who knows, maybe he did.

If you’d like to help support childhood brain tumor research please follow this LINK.

Grad Students: The Umentionables–Day 39

In Education, English Major, life, literature, Musings, Thoughts on April 16, 2012 at 7:04 am

I realize I spend a lot of time talking about my status as a divorcee, but I rarely talk about the other things that I am (i.e. a graduate student in the humanities).  Yes, I am one of those very dedicated, smart individuals who has chosen a career path in academia, pause, and not just any old field of academia I would add…English Literature (emphasis on the Literature portion).  You see, let me explain, Literature is one of those funny fields of study…funny in that you spend countless hours, reading countless books (thousands of pages really), and you probably will never obtain any sort of job that will help you to pay back your countless student loans.  True story.

I’ll add though, I can’t say that I am at all disappointed in my choice to pursue an advanced education in English Literature and Composition studies.  I do believe it is one of the most holistic educational experiences one can have, and when I look at others who have graduated from similar programs (albeit different disciplines) I realize the stark contrast in our educational experiences and rigor.  English is tough, it’s tough based upon the sheer amount of reading one must do (literally thousands of pages per week) and not only do you have to bank those pages but you also have to comprehend just what’s going on within the plotline and with the applied theoretical approach.  However, all of that said, you gain a greater appreciation of the world, humanity, and the experiences/perspectives that accompany the aforementioned.  The discipline of Literature really speaks to a greater understanding of the diverse nature that is our world.  I’m just struggling now with how to contextualize the aforementioned into an appropriate, lucrative career path that will support my loan repayment in particular.  I hope you can sense my optimism here.  Smiles.

Today though, I was thinking about the ways in which grad school has changed me especially as I approach the end of this particular educational endeavor.  I realized that I no longer take showers for enjoyment.  You see, as a grad student (single mother probably adds to this) you get so used to having so much nightly work that taking a shower becomes an unwanted task.  It’s a get in and get out approach.  I used to love the shower when younger; I would stay in there for a full hour if possible.  Now, my body won’t even allow me to do this.  It just WANTS OUT. Move on whit, you’ve got work to do!

Interestingly grad school has also lent to my extreme obsession over books, so much so that I take pride in all of those that I own.  This is why I have a wall-to-wall bookshelf filled to the brim with them (I’ll be adding 45 new novels next semester (one’s I’ll need for my comprehensive exam).  Because I am slightly OCD, I have them arranged by height and width.  It’s obsessive but I pride myself on having read them all.

Finally, grad school has turned me into an anxiety-ridden freak (thank god this blog is anony).  This isn’t really an isolated phenomenon though.  In fact, I work in an office of about twelve colleagues that teach within the Department (myself included) and of the twelve I would say…twelve are on the same anxiety meds.  I heard a couple of em’ swapping meds the other day (don’t know if this is legal).  I’m convinced that we’re not crazy, we’re just driven right?

So, an abhorrence for showers, book obsessions, and crazy pills…this is what grad school (in the humanities) perpetuates.  I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to control my bouts of anxiety (which typically center around my attempt to be perfect in situations where perfection does not exist) through the adoption of an “I don’t care attitude.”  Seems to be working quite well so far, although I’m judged by some.  This is another thing about grad school, it’s a political environment, one wherein there are certain expectations, ways of doing things, and definitely grad student no-no’s (not trying to be perfect is a no-no).  However, I’ve learned that life is for living and not for being perfect.  It’s for loving things beyond the halls of the English Department (although I do love these halls and they’ve given me much over the years I’ve walked them).  If you can’t find balance then you’re probably the best grad student (and the most unbalanced human being).  It’s taken me up until my last semester of graduate school to decide to stray from this.

I’m beginning to love showers again, although I’m realizing this is a gradual process.  I do like having clean hair on a daily basis, though.  Smelling good is nice too.

I don’t know how many more books I’ll be collecting come my graduation in December.  I do know that my bookshelf will begin to adorn non-classical works–and that’s OK.

Just in case you’re a perfection-seeking grad student in the humanities–anything that ends in the suffix “azepam” should be of help to you.  I suggest the balanced thing though, having tried both I find it a much better course of action. You don’t want to graduate a masters holding drug addict and/or chain smoker bordering on lung cancer.

–a grad student whit.Image

(This pic speaks well to my shower commentary.  I never  had so many days of greasy hair as I’ve had in the past three years.  Apology in advance to any of those who experienced me on a day wherein I didn’t have time to take a shower (for a few days in a row) and/or I forgot to wear deodorant.  I know it happened, more than once.

Running Book List

In English Major, literature on December 23, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Running Book List:

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce

Bless Me, Ultima by Anaya A. Rudolfo

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston

Solar Storms by Linda Hogan

Kanthapura Raja Rao

Erasure by Percival Everett

Paradise by Toni Morrison

The Signifying Money Henry Louis Gates

Times Arrow by Martin Amis

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Possession by A.S. Byatt

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Nice Work by David Lodge

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Sweet Smell of Pyschosis by Will Self

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

The Problem With Politics: It’s All in the Language: Daily Cupcake

In Blogging, Blogs, Education, Feminism, History, life, literature, Men, Men, Politics, Thoughts, Women on November 17, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Politics.

For me, the problem has always been in the language, which is interesting given my area of academic focus deals exclusively with language and its usages.  However,  literary theoretical discourse does differ quite drastically from that of political discourse in my defense (although the two do overlap in some instances).  So, I will continue to struggle as will you, most likely.  Unless of course you’re working on your PhD in political science.  Geesh, I wish.

Here’s an interesting article on language and politics and if you’re like me (in need of political assistance) you might want to visit this webpage, which has a wealth of information as well.  Of course, you’ll still have to discern for yourself (biases still exist)–if you can.

Daily Cupcake: What? Not Jewish Enough?

In Articles, Blogging, Blogs, Education, Faith, Family, God, History, Humanity, life, literature, Love, Men, Men, Mother, Musings, Parenting, Politics, Stories, Thoughts, Travel, Women, Work, Writing on November 16, 2010 at 7:07 am

It’s quite odd, during the Holocaust many struggled with the idea of being, well, “too Jewish,” or rather Jewish at all.  Lives were literally lost over Jewishness, whether you looked it, acted it, etc.

Well, now there seems to be a new crisis.  Now, we’re dealing with the issue of being “not Jewish enough,” put quite simply.

Check this out.

This post is dedicated to all of those who experienced, survived, or were lost in the horrific Holocaust.  If this is a historical event that interests you I highly recommend the two part comic narrative Maus.

God Bless.


 

Should I get Divorced?: Day Eighteen

In Articles, Blogging, Blogs, Dating, Education, Esteem, Family, Fiction, Friends, Happiness, Humanity, Laughter, life, literature, Love, Men, Men, Mother, Musings, Parenting, Politics, Romance, Sex, Stories, Thoughts, wit, Women, Work, Writing on November 16, 2010 at 6:51 am

It seems to me that after you experience divorce, that is, become a divorcee, you also become a magnet for those seeking “friendly” relationship advice.  Since my divorce, I have never had so many married friends approach me expressing their own personal marital woes.  Can we say smoke and mirrors?

So, what do you say to these helpless worshippers?  Their eyes pining upwards toward yours, in dismay, you (well I) certainly cannot leave them hanging.

So, I tell them what my mother told me almost four years ago–

“It’s time to evaluate.  There are thirty days in a month and if over half of those thirty days are spent in argument/fighting/retribution, then you seriously need to consider your life.”

So, I did the addition and I recommend it to my pleading friends as well.  If you’re in the negative then…

I guess this doesn’t necessarily mean divorce, it didn’t for me, marriage counseling can always be the next step but most I find have already given that a fair shot.  So, then I move to my next bit of advice.

It isn’t easy (divorce that is).  So, consider wisely.  This isn’t a life and death situation, in any sense of physicality, but it may be with regard to the soul, your soul.  If he doesn’t pick up his dirty underwear, empty the dishwasher, or clean off the toilet seat–you may want to hire a maid and get a good job with long work hours, instead.  No, but seriously, divorce isn’t easy and making that jump will most certainly change you in every way possible, good and bad.  It will also present a little addition to your life.  Something I like to call the “what if factor.”

What if he had been different?

What if I had been different?

What if the timing had been different?

What if that whore from the Nordstrom shoe department had never been working that Wednesday afternoon when my husband, on a whim, decided to go peruse for a new pair of penny loafers?

You’ll always wonder, what might have been?  What dreams might have come AND could things have worked?  This is what you sacrifice when you choose divorce.  You sacrifice ever knowing.  However, consider this, whose to say things wouldn’t have been different anyway because with every circumstance, every change, there comes a differing outcome.  So, maybe the Nordstrom girl wasn’t there that Wednesday, instead, five years later your hubby gets run over by a truck crossing the street–either way, you’re alone with accompanying heartache.  It’s all a matter of relativity and the passage of time, leading you this way and that, all dependent on varying occurences.  I think Robert Frost put it nicely, “And both [roads] that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black / Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back.”

So, finally when I have exhausted all the aforementioned then I end with this, “secure your finances before ever mentioning the word divorce.”  Trust me, it’s not being deceitful…it’s being smart.  If you have to, stick it out, until you have what you need to leave.  I’ve encountered many friends, with young children, no assets, no education, their husband(s) owning everything; having reduced them to the life of: housewife.  Just make sure you leave when the time is ripe, oops, I mean right. 😉  It never hurts to get a little legal advice prior.

A good friend from back when I was married emailed me the other day concerning a matter similar to this post’s topic.  I thought it funny, she, after all these years, my divorce from her husband’s friend, had returned to me for some semblance of hope.  My final words to her, “I’ll be praying for you and your little family.”

That’s how my advice column will always end, always.

A divorced whit.

Daily Cupcake: For the Homosaps.

In Articles, Blogging, Blogs, Education, English Major, God, Humanity, Laughter, life, literature, Men, Men, Politics, Stories, Thoughts, Women, Work, Writing on November 13, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I thought I would change things up a bit for today and provide you with an excerpt of text.  This one is from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, which also means that this post won’t show up on several internet servers due to banning (not that anyone from the middle east reads my blog anyway).  For those of you seeing this, enjoy:

“Question: What is the opposite of faith?”

“Not disbelief.  Too final, certain, closed.  Itself a kind of belief.”

“Doubt.”

“The human condition, but what of the angelic.  Halfway between Allahgod and homsap, did they ever doubt?”

“…O God, he cries out, O allgood allahgod.”

Rushdie likes to use puns throughout his writing, created words, in this instance “allahgod” and “homosap” but these are just two of many examples, and they don’t come without intended meaning.  Suggestive of the word allahgod, through the combination of the Muslim Allah and the traditional Christian God is the creation of another dimension, a third space. A place where, perhaps, god and allah are one and the same, or they represent a new type of god  (perhaps any other god worshipped).  He also combines the words “all” and “good” adding emphasis to the fact that “allahgod” is “allgood,” and all encompassing.  Then what are we? “homosap.” This shortened version of our species describes us as “homo,” supposedly knowing; however, with the ending shortened to “sap” indicates a sort of foolishness.  So perhaps Rushdie is suggesting that we, humans, lack an open perspective/judgment concerning god and his universal nature, his allgood, allpowerful, allknowing, presence.

Just something to chew on.

Day Seventeen: “Gender is a Performance:” Play Your Own Part.

In Articles, Blogging, Blogs, English Major, Esteem, Family, Friends, Happiness, Humanity, Laughter, life, literature, Love, Men, Men, Mother, Parenting, Politics, Romance, Sex, Stories, Thoughts, Women, Work, Writing on November 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm

I recently stumbled upon this blog post, which I found to be slightly disturbing but not for the reason you might be inclined to think.

Our society has transitioned into a new wave of discrimination and this time the target seems gender related.  Since the beginning of time, and even currently, differing cultural groups, religious groups, varying ethnicities, have been the product of discriminatory practices but now we’re venturing into a whole new sphere.  I think the important thing to remember is this is nothing new.  As many of you know, my educational background is focused in the area of literature.  Throughout the years I have explored a variety of texts, poetry, fiction, essays, etc, where gender/sexuality issues exist.

Yes, there were homosexuals in the fifteenth century. Big shocker.

However, gender and sexuality, in the past, were presented mostly through allusions, satirical jest, etc.  We’re entering a new era and in this one people are opening up.  Finally, individuals are facing the blatant reality that gender is not so easily defined nor is sexuality.  How wonderful that we are transitioning towards this way of life, writing, living the obvious, the real, why hinder such?

But it’s happening, people are impeding this miraculous feat and, yet again, lives are being lost, ruined, and hurt because of differences.

A professor once said,

“gender is a performance, a fabrication.”

You could think of it like this, each one of us is playing a role in a play, acting the part, being the person that very role assigns.  Unfortunately, life, sexuality, gender, is far more complicated than a role so strictly designated.  Individuals may choose different performances or they may be living a biological performance different from that of yours or mine.  That doesn’t make their performance any less real or vital; however, your assumption or judgment of it may be detrimental to their life. If we continue with the theatrical allegory, the world of theatre, is quite obviously designed and encouraging of creativity, why not then in our own societal structures as well?

Individuals, children, adults, PEOPLE, should be allowed to live their lives. They should be allowed to perform the way they choose and most importantly our children need to know that those choices are okay because inevitably they will grow up and act a part of their own.

The holocaust, the chinese exclusion act, black slavery, native american discrimination, and the list goes on and on.  All of these historical events have one thing in common–injustice.  People being forced into roles they were never meant to inhabit.

So, play your part the way you want to.  Don’t try to perform the role necessarily assigned to you by socially constructed gender terms.  Little Boo played his part (the one he chose) and I think he did a great job of it.

Whit.

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