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Archive for the ‘Writing’ 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.

Day 104: I’m Ready to Read Again

In Blogging, Books, Christmas, Holidays, Reading, Writing on December 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm

blowing-leavesYesterday was a wonderful day.

As I emerged from my drab office building, I was overcome with the power of the wind. I didn’t notice it at first, I must have been caught up in a thought but as I glanced out the corner of my window the leaves swirled. Then, driving out of the parking lot, I felt my car gently shake and a loud clunk—obviously an acorn had struck me side on. Then I knew the wind was blowing, hard.

It’s those gentle reminders, whether they’re nature’s acorn or self-induced subtle incidents—like the time I put the toothpaste in the refrigerator—that wake you up. As we enter the holiday season, it’s important to think about the concept of thankfulness. This year I have a lot to be thankful for, as I have every year. I, however, like many others, at times, get off track. I get caught up in those swirling leaves, swooshing around, busily, allowing everything around me to become a blur. Then an acorn hits me on the head and I STOP.

This pause is probably what inspired this very blog post, it’s what woke me up to the simple pleasures in my life. In that moment yesterday, I remembered how much I love writing. How much I’ve missed it, how long it has been since I’ve blogged. Then I got to thinking about another thing that I love…reading. As I’ve spent the better part of the last eight years working on degrees in English, my studies have dulled my love for reading—almost scarily. I found myself in recent months with no desire to ever read again. What a scary thought, a life without books—my books have taken me on so many inspiring journeys, inspired so many wonderful conversations with random strangers, and led to so many new ways of ‘seeing.’

The other day I felt a spark as I walked through Barnes of Noble, I saw Gladwell’s new book—David and Goliath—and I almost bought it. Then today I realized how much I miss my books. How ready I am to have them back in my life, which also made me realize the greatness of

pauses

“A temporary stop in action”

Pauses as I see it are great in two different, but equally important, ways.

They allow us a cessation of any given activity chosen to pause, therefore provoking an even deeper love for that thing once it is resumed; and,

They offer us a moment to stop the chaos (noted above) and reflect, recharge, and realign.

Although pauses can be hard sometimes, we can be left missing the thing that so commonly decorates our life, they allow us to also see the real value of that thing. Sometimes, too, they allow us to place it more appropriately within our existence. I can’t wait to read

Schroder
Bough Down
Meaty
Her
David and Goliath
Falling to Earth
I Want to Show You More

Please pause this holiday season.

Happy Christmas!

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.

Day 91: Please Help (I’m not a wordpress techy)

In Blogging, Blogs, Writing on July 21, 2013 at 2:11 am

dep_6698513-3D-Please-Help-Crossword

Well, hello again.

This post is a shout out for help! I would like to get the blog redesigned in a nice way that makes it much easier to navigate. If you know how to do this within wordpress, I would greatly appreciate your help!

Just leave a comment, even if you know of someone who can give me some insight!

thanks, a whit.

Day 86: A favorite poem

In Education, Poetry, Women, Writing on March 23, 2013 at 10:38 pm
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
-Dickenson

Daily Cupcake: Blogs I Love

In Blogging, Blogs, Books, Children, Education, Family, Mother, Motherhood, Women, Writing on February 24, 2013 at 8:28 am

Today’s cupcake, Blogs I Love goes out to this blog–a blog about being a mom and author–two of my favorite things [although I haven’t quite accomplished the author thing, yet].  I am just waiting for my early retirement, a new macbook, and a house with an office.

The author of this blog also wrote the book Sparkly Green Earrings a novel that chronicles life and being a family…

before I became a mother I had no idea that it would be the hardest and best thing I would do in my life. that I would look at this little person and see so much of myself…my sense of humor, smile, and ability to create drama out of nothing…and I can start to think you’re just like me but you’re not, you’re your own person–you are the dream we couldn’t have imagined and I wrote this book for you. love mama

As mothers we do so many things for our children–like drive home to get a different booster seat so our 2nd grader looks cool as he drives to the school fire station field trip, and clean up dog poop so our kids can know the beauty of loving something that loves them back threefold, and go to the store and buy 7 of the same pair of shorts because they are his “favorite” and that way he won’t know he’s not wearing the same outfit everyday. There are the usual things people always mention [probably the people who don’t have kids yet]…midnight feedings, tantrums, yada yada yada.  It’s the unusual things, though, like bribing your kid to leave the toilet seat down and tricking them out of candy by saying it’s owie medicine–that’s what makes a mother. You can enter to win a free, signed copy of Melanie’s book Sparkly Green Earrings here.

sge-pin-4

a mom whit.

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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Sometimes Adults Play Pretend Too: Day 62

In Humor, life, Love, Travel, Writing on August 6, 2012 at 6:30 am

{image compliments @soho_press}

I’ve visited NYC/Manhattan/Soho a few times now, and I love it.

I don’t live there.

In my mind I live in the garbage dumpster of Manhattan (actually that would probably be better than my current city of dwelling).

In reality–there’s a boatload of people, mostly living in the midwest, that would give their right ball to live in my sunny CA town.

I’ve lived all over now, Idaho/Utah/San Diego and traveled Europe a couple times–everywhere seems better than here.

I don’t know what does it for me, but I feel the culture literally ready to explode when I walk the streets of NY. The Soho girls with their high top sock buns make me jealous.

So I pretend.

I pretend that I live in lower Manhattan, and I’m beginning to pretend that I can create what those Soho girls have. It’s going, eh.

There are some upsides to my pretend game (versus the reality of those who do reside in Manhattan).  I was watching Wanderlust tonight and comically the guy skypes a tour of his NYC home by gently turning the macbook in several directions–kitchen, slight turn, bedroom, slight turn, bathroom, slight turn, me again.

My friend told me the other day, “maybe you can buy a retirement home on the east coast.” Little does he know, I just might. Until then, I’ll keep pretending to hail taxis with a flick of my wrist, have coffee in the poshest of shops followed by a familial stroll through Central Park.

My therapy: lots of Sex And The City re-runs.

signed–a dreamer {who was born in the wrong place}

HOLSTEE AUGUST: Remember to Love Because It’s What Makes You Real

In Books, Esteem, Friendship, Happiness, Holstee Manifesto, Humanity, Laughter, life, Love, Teaching, Thoughts, Writing on August 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Love is such an interesting emotion, it’s one of the things that makes me feel vulnerable, but being loved is truly what makes us real–just like the Skin Horse says. It doesn’t happen to people who break easily because love takes toughness, endurance, and perseverance. Love is not like the romance film, it’s much more real than that, and I oftentimes wonder if the people in this world, the ones who truly know how to love, are only those who have endured an entire lifetime giving it to someone. I think it just might take those loose joints, lost hair, and shabbiness to truly understand what it means to love. Perhaps that’s why we’re given an entire lifetime to pursue it, perfect it, and understand it.

In looking through the Holstee Manifesto and it’s proclamations, which we have now made it through in entirety, the only words that appear more than once throughout are: life and love. This provokes something in me, it reminds me of the importance of living a life of sought love. That’s what the manifesto begs. It’s not easy, it will hurt at times, but it’s like this quote states:

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Daily Cupcake: Holstee July LOVE.

In Holstee Manifesto, Laughter, life, Love, Men, Romance, Thoughts, Women, Writing on July 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

If you’re looking for the love of your life, STOP. You will find them when you start doing things you LOVE.

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