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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.

Day 124: A Serial Dater

In Couples, Dating, Love, Men, Relationships, Romance, Teaching on September 20, 2016 at 4:26 am

I started dating someone new, and, admittedly, I must have spent half of the day with my mind looking something like this:

He’s nice, I really like him.

to…

He’s not right for me because when I got sick the other night instead of calling me he told me to sleep it off like some idiot prick.

but…

He took me to the movies the other night and we must have laughed for half of the night and when we went to brunch on Sunday he kept his hand on my leg the entire time and shared his eggs and sausage with me. Plus, he doesn’t like to eat the ends of sausage or bananas either which basically makes him my food soulmate (because everyone knows that eating the ends of those kinds of things is disgusting and weird).

but…

He doesn’t always call me in the evening to say hi.

to…

He doesn’t mind if I wear a shower cap and he taught me how to keep my bath towels from smelling like mold.

but…

He STILL hasn’t fixed my sliding closet door which fell off the track, and he said he’d fix it when we started dating two weeks ago.

to…

He asked if he could go with me to my son’s soccer game, cutely, by inquiring if I wanted company…clearly he cares about my role as a mother.

but…

I’m not really sure if he’s ready to date a women with a child. I mean he doesn’t have children himself and, clearly, he doesn’t understand what it involves and how tiring it is to be a single parent.

to…

He also supports the #hilaryforprison hashtag and loves sending crude memes. Oh, and he follows cute baby animals on his instagram feed so, yeah, there’s that.

After spending the last couple of days reading Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, and an article a friend sent to me about the topic of love and relationships, I realize I am plagued by my own love conundrum (and it’s probably the reason I have been single too long).

First, I have an extremely difficult time saying…look let’s give this a shot, a real shot. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am pretty much a serial dater. I have never really wanted to admit it, but I think it’s partially true at this point in my life. I mean, yes, there are definitely bozos out there, and I am smart to get rid of them, but there have also been a smattering of really great guys over the years that I have kicked to the curb before truly giving them (or myself) a chance to connect. As Ansari says in his book, we judge people on initial impressions without giving ourselves the time that is needed to actually SEE if a connection could even exist. A lot of this is perpetuated by online dating, we see a box on a profile that says something (like he’s a Lakers fan) and then we say – no – I love the Warriors and so we could obviously never be a match. Then we click to the next profile. Realistically though, if we met this same person in real life we may not find out they are a Lakers fan until days or weeks down the road in which time we may already have built a connection with them and then it doesn’t seem like as big of deal that they like the worst basketball team EVER. Online dating teaches our brain to check boxes and in essence “filter,” instantanteously but what we must realize is that people are not boxes – they are people with dynamic personalities, quirks and interests. It is oftentimes all of these things, too, (the personalities, quirks and interests) that are what make a lasting relationship.

Moving on to my next big relationship prob.

I spend a lot of time analyzing how someone is loving me. Is it enough? Are they giving me enough? Are they just using me? How often do they show me they care? I know why I do this. I do this because in my last relationship I finally taught myself to be selfless and I gave of my whole self, I fell in love, and then I got BURNED. So, now I have taught myself to turn that selfless love thing OFF. I don’t fully give of myself, I don’t embark in being LOVING and instead focus on being LOVED and LOVABLE. In the above mentioned article I read, it reminds us that to receive love we have to be loving. For instance, the other night I thought to myself this guy is really not that loving…it pissed me off. But then I decided to try an experiment. I told him I wanted to go to dinner, he never lets me pay, he says ladies don’t pay, and for this reason I knew that INSISTING to pay at dinner would come across to him as an act of loving and caring on my part. After dinner his entire attitude changed, he was more caring toward me, we connected better and we spent the entire rest of the night laughing and being close. I could see his demeanor changed after I picked up the check…he felt an investment on my part and by giving love I had shown him it was OK for him to be vulnerable back.

So, takeaway for today for this new relationship:

Give it a CHANCE.

Be LOVING to receive LOVE.

Btw, he just sent me this text: “you’re my blonde bombshell. I miss your face.” He’s not THAT bad and I like that my bath towels no longer smell like moldy cheese thanks to him.

a whit who’s TRYING to date.

 

 

Day 101: On traveling to the store with my son

In Children, Kids, Teaching on October 25, 2013 at 2:48 am

There is always that hectic feeling when you have to run errands (doubly hectic as a single parent because you can never “retire” the children to your partner while you actively escape). There have been many moments, these doubly hectic moments, where the lip has folded out (my son’s lip of course), the head tilts downward, the arms lock at the elbows and then wrap around grabbing the lower back, there’s the occasional emphatic “hmph,” and the eye glare (out and beyond into the distance of course–what child would ever set eyes on a mother in pursuit of the grocery store–for milk–for that child’s morning cereal–oh no). Then there’s the body thrash, it’s abrupt, short, a gentle kick that’s just enough to rock the boat but not enough to sink it.

So many adventures like these have I experienced.

and yet…

Then there’s the moments where parenthood is something else. Something rare, yes rare, that’s right.

There we were, us too, and a dog. En route Famous Footwear to exchange a pair of “too big” clearance-priced basketball shoes. I’d begun my occasional self talk (i.e., I have a complete conversation with myself–an act that I’ve convinced myself only really smart people engage in) when my son interrupted me, “Mom, you know something?” I replied, “What do I know?” “You hold onto a lot. You need to imagine, imagine it’s a big balloon and you just let it float away off into the sky. Or it can be bird, one you hold in your hands and then–you let it fly away.” Then he motioned for me to look behind my seat, there I saw him mimicking his words, “You stand there holding so tightly onto your balloon, but its too hard. Let all the sad things go.”

I asked him where he learned this. He told me it’s what he does when he has to deal with the things in his life that make him sad.

Being a mother is such a multifaceted role, the things we learn from our children are often unexpected, sometimes difficult, but always the greatest lessons we will ever be an audience for.Image

Day 99: On Worrying

In Happiness, Kids, life, Teaching on October 15, 2013 at 5:21 am

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote his 11 year-old daughter while she was away at summer camp. The object of his letter was simple, he wanted her to know the very things that warrant worry (and the many things that do not). He writes, “my little half-wit–”

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful intrument or am I neglecting it?

Day 93: I know the pain of a heartbreak…

In Couples, Dating, God, Happiness, life, Love, Teaching on August 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I couldn’t sleep the other night so I decided to do a random YouTube search. With all of the recent hype concerning little Prince George, I decided to look up Princess Diana interview footage; I wanted to see what she was like.

As I watched her talk, she was surprisingly candid and honest. I remember the hype around her death, although I was still young at the time, and the overwhelming commentary concerning her beautiful, giving heart. This became apparent to me as I listened to her speak. She made it clear that her issues were a means to empathy. She could feel what the bulemic girl in the hospital was feeling because she actually felt it too. She could understand the depressed woman because she felt it too.

All great, compassionate people love others in a way that is personal and close. They love that way because they’ve felt the pain of heartbreak once too.

Heartbreak isn’t easy,

It isn’t clear

And you don’t need Jesus till you’re here.

As I experience heartbreak in my life, I come to know two things better.

Life if full of pain.

And we can use that pain to do good, or we can let it eat away at us.

a whit.

Day 92: Here at the Uni…

In Education, English Major, Teaching, Women, Work, Writing on July 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

When you’re a teacher, the most meaningful, and perhaps important, part of your job is your students. I was on campus working at the university today and I decided to segue from my work to get a sandwich for lunch.  I noticed one of my students, one of my more insightful and dedicated ones would be an understatement, I approached her and we got to talking about her current endeavors (I always like to hear what my students are doing and the ways in which they have advanced).  She informed me that she is working with a program referred to as “summer bridge” wherein she helps a cohort of university freshman make is through their first year of college; I was so proud of her.

As I began to turn away from her, she stopped and looked me in the eye,

“The things I learned from you really helped me and I will never forget them. I just want to thank you for everything you taught me about writing.”

I beamed. Those are the real moments, the ones that counteract all the freshman students who sit in the back of the room and quietly sneer or text. It reminds you why you teach and it makes me feel like I am making a difference here at this university.

professor whit.

Daily Cupcake: Blogs I Love

In Blogging, Blogs, DIY, Home Decor, Teaching on February 24, 2013 at 4:44 am

{image brought to you by www.greenweddingshoes.com}

{image brought to you by http://www.greenweddingshoes.com}


Today’s Blogs I Love cupcake is brought to you by craftgawker {if you haven’t checked it out you should} where I found Crafty Scrappy Happy. Jaime, has created a wonderful site for all you fellow DIYs out there [myself included].

I was particularly drawn to her blog by THIS project, but when I clicked on House Tour and read these words I fell in love:

Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.

Right now, I am living in a rental–sometimes I feel like I can’t create the way I want to and my expression is inhibited.  Yet, we have what we have–and learning to make that beautiful is all part of the journey.  Plus, The Nester lives in a rental and her home was just featured in Better Homes. Anything is possible.

a whit.

Daily Cupcake: Blogs I Love

In Blogging, Blogs, Health, Holstee Manifesto, Monavie, Teaching on February 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm

“A More Meaningful Life,” when I read that phrase on the Monavie shipment I received just yesterday it reminded me of the Holstee Manifesto–the importance of living a fulfilled and truly lived life. Happiness is a choice that we choose as I am reminded. It’s that knowledge that in good and bad there is always hope and there is always a driven purpose behind everything that happens in our lives.

When things are good, it’s easy to forget, forget why the seemingly bad happens, and why it is so pertinent to our development in this life.

It’s so easy to forget that we find happiness in hardship. It’s so easy to forget that our ability to love stems, sometimes, from its absence.

We can only know good from being able to distinguish what is good–that requires knowing sad, lonely, hardship–through all of these experiences we find meaning.  We find who we are and we learn to define ourselves.

We create something while we’re living here on this earth, we create the meaningful life.

Or we don’t…it’s a choice. How lucky we are to have free will. How lucky we are that our life is not deterministic, at least in a cognitive sense.

Choose the good life. It seems fitting to look at this awesome blog.

Monavie!

And if your interested in ordering Monavie, my website can be seen HERE.

Day 77: London Memories.

In Friends, Friendship, Happiness, Humanity, life, Teaching, UK, Wales on January 8, 2013 at 4:42 am

The UK was wonderful.

It’s amazing to me how different the lifestyle is just an ocean skip away.  It’s also amazing how calm I felt while on the farm in Wales and, I believe, I was anxiety/stress free.  I spent 10 days building fires [more like watching fires be built], juicing, tea-ing, drying clothes on the aga stove [with the accent I thought they were saying arga but only now did google correct me], taking fresh-air walks, reading poetry by Simon, enjoying fresh farm bacon and custard.

The list goes on.

The first night as I was lying in bed in the old farmhouse, I peeked out the window only to see complete darkness and the sky lit up with thousands of tiny stars.  It was there that my heart sank and, for me, the journey of my unspoken friendship came full circle. I believed, no I knew, at that moment, that we met for a reason and here it became clear to me.

Years ago now, I made this post about my friend [now one of my best friends].  It was an unlikely friendship, but here we are years later and I began to see the bigger picture.  This special friend met her husband while working in Tiffany’s, he had come in to buy a silver platter as a thank you gift for some friends he was staying with while visiting New York, he was British. They met and love ensued, she moved to London with him and they had their little boy.  I’m sure there was a night where she lie in bed, staring out the window, at the British stars just like me.  While I gazed my mind wandered to this thought.  She was young when she met him, probably my same age that I am now, in love with a Brit, and now here I am in love with one too.  I find it no coincidence that her dying husband arrived back from his very last trip to London on the same exact plane that Konk and I departed on to London, only one hour later. A trip, for us, that would commence a life, on the same exact plane where an end-of-life trip was coming to a close.

I once wrote, “why would she want to be friends with me?”  As I journeyed to London this holiday season I felt the answer deep within my heart.

It’s funny how the answers come, sometimes.  It’s funny how we write, speak, or feel questions not knowing if or when the answers will come.  In a lot of ways, this friend has taught me some of the most meaningful lessons on friendship–those lessons are part of the answer too.

These last couple of days it has been hard to hear of her “Brit’s” rapid decline, almost heartbreaking, my heart aches to think of her London story coming to a close.  She said to me the other day, I wish I was in the UK.  It’s so great, the best.

I thought, yes, you’re right, it is the best. I thought, let’s go there together.  Let’s make another London memory together.  It won’t be the the close of the book, only the chapter.  Could we?

Some questions, well, you know.

a whit who has thought a lot.

Day 70: Internalize the Rubric

In Education, English Major, Laughter, life, Teaching, Writing on September 15, 2012 at 6:36 am

I was standing in the meat department of the grocery store the other day staring blankly at the chicken cuts when the guy behind the counter looked at me and asked,

“what do you want?”

I looked directly at him, and I said.

“I’m sorry sir but I don’t know what I want. I don’t even know what day it is, and if you were to ask me my name at this very moment, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’d be able to tell you what it is.”

I think he thought I was joking at first, but then after I stood there for about 5 minutes with a continued fixed-chicken thigh-gaze, he finally got it.

Skipping forward a few days, today I found myself at a gathering wherein I was told to internalize writing rubrics. After five years of undergraduate work, an almost complete masters degree, and countless graded papers (both my own and those of my students), I couldn’t help but return to my meat department moment (and gently kick my colleague under the table). I was under the impression a paper was either an A, B, C, D, E, or Failing. Maybe my internal grading rubric is slightly off kilter–or maybe I’m just starting to lose my sanity after several years in grad school (I did just notice my accidental E in there). I’m just lucky I am getting an identifiable name, albeit correct, on my own papers. I’m sorry professors. It was kind of like a moment in class last week wherein my student looked at me, and then he asked who was going to be the professor the following week…?

Um, me.

OK, so whose going to be the professor all semester?

Um, me.

Sorry kiddo, I’m not going anywhere whether you like my rubric or not. The good thing is though, I can’t remember my name half the time so guess what? You don’t have to either. I promise, I won’t take points off for that.

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