Showing 181 - 190 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice

Ma, a Memoir

Freed, Lynn

Last Updated: Oct-04-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The middle-aged narrator is caught in the maelstrom of tending to her father, who is dying of cancer; coping with her demented mother; mediating between her parents, for whom "[S]ixty years of marriage had only heated the furious war between them"; and dealing with her own grief. This glimpse of an increasingly common family dilemma is superbly rendered.

Although it is narrated in the first-person, the narrator is never intrusive as she allows the situation to unfold through dialog and unadorned description. The mother's dementia lends the story its bizarrely humorous moments, as well as its poignancy. This little "memoir" of a complex family dynamic is written with skill, insight, and a light touch.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Handbook

Summary:

Professor Sandra Bertman founded the Medical Humanities Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and holds certificates in grief counseling and death education. This handbook outlines how she uses the visual and literary arts to "improve our professional abilities to deal with death and dying." Her premise is that the arts provide a valuable vehicle for exploring and making bearable the prospect and fact of death.

Bertman illustrates her presentation technique (Chapter 2) of juxtaposing dual images around six central themes, here abbreviated: the chosen death; death and afterlife; existential aloneness; loss of control, unmentionable feelings, grief; the land of the sick vs. the land of the well; the moment of death. The book offers dozens of paintings, sketches, and photographs (reproduced in black and white), as well as many literary excerpts. Classic works are represented (David's painting, The Death of Socrates; Michelangelo's sculpture, "Pieta"; Tolstoy's novel, The Death of Ivan Ilyich) but there are many unusual representations as well--greeting card messages, epitaphs, cartoons.

In addition, some groups with whom she works (for example, medical students studying Gross Anatomy) have submitted their own drawings and commentary. These are shown in Chapter 3, along with written responses to a follow-up Death Attitude Questionnaire. Responses are from junior and senior high school students; college students; medical students; graduate nurses; hospice volunteers.

Chapter 4 gives suggestions for how to use images and texts and for how to approach discussions of loss and grief. The course syllabus for "Dissection, Dying, and Death," taught with Gross Anatomy, is appended, and there is an extensive bibliography.

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Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000

Carruth, Hayden

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Written while Carruth was approaching or had reached the age of 80 years, this collection understandably reflects the recognition of aging, loss, and of a changing world. Also, there are memories--of jazz and jazz players, relatives, pets, youth. And there is life in the present--with grown children, old friends, the Vermont countryside, writing, remembering, coping, not coping. Throughout, Carruth has a no-nonsense style; a mixture of straight talk, irony, irreverence, contemplation--and wonderful craft.

Carruth's adult daughter, Martha, died miserably of cancer in the late 1990s; in Part II, "Martha," Carruth describes himself as "blocked and almost silent / for two years. Titled "Dearest M --", this is a 15-page elegy that accomplishes "a release of some dire kind" (46) for Carruth, but he can't take pleasure in the release, feeling shame instead ("how shaming, how / offensive!"). Even in his mourning, Carruth raises questions about the ethics of writing such poems, and questions whom he is addressing ("not Martha. The absence / is like a hollow in my mind" [48]).

Section IV, "Faxes to William," is a series of 54 short poems addressed in "faxes" to a mysterious William: "William, do you know why / I like writing these faxes / to you? Because you / don't have a fax machine" (75). The poems instruct William about writing poetry ("some poets write blurbs, William, / and some do not. And it is by / a law of nature that the former / envy the latter desperately . . . They have unmade / their beds and they must schlepp in them" [67]); and life ("William, for the things / life didn't give us / we have no / compensation. None." [7]); and pose conversational questions ("You say I shouldn't write / so much about old age?) that have their own answers (I always / told my students to write / about what they know" [86]).

Section V, "Basho," is in dialogue with a 17th-century Japanese poet who is considered to be the best haiku poet during the time this form was being developed. Carruth's haiku-like poems in this section blend reflections on aging with reflections on writing poetry.

The final section, "Second Scrapbook," continues to explore memories ("Memory," in which Carruth learns of a former wife's death and can remember her--fondly--only as she was years ago. "My dear, / How could you have let this happen to you?" [116]); growing old ("Senility": "week after week, the mist gathering" [120]); representation ("Something for the Trade": Please note well, all you writers, editors, directors / out there: when a phone call is terminated / by the other person you do not, NOT, hear / a dial tone" [121]).

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Summary:

Fin (Peter Dinklage)--short for Finbar--is an achondroplastic dwarf and a taciturn lover of trains. He repairs toy trains in a shop run by a tall elderly black man. When the shop owner dies suddenly and bequeaths Fin a "house" in Newfoundland, New Jersey, Fin, jobless, uproots himself to seek out his inheritance. The house turns out to be a deserted, former Station House adjacent to train tracks and is located in an abandoned section of the community.

Fin tries to make the house livable, sleeps on a sofa, and relocates the outside mailbox so that he can reach it. Once he can demonstrate that he receives mail and pays bills at that location, he applies for a library card--he is an avid reader of train lore. Fin seems content to sit on an outdoor bench, clocking the trains that pass by, reading his books, walking the tracks, and keeping to himself in his little house.

Two people interrupt his solitude: Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a gregarious young man who has taken over his sick father's food truck stand--and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), an artist and divorcee who twice nearly runs Fin off the road in her small SUV. Joe tries repeatedly to engage Fin in conversation and comraderie; Olivia makes fumbling apologetic overtures to Fin. Fin grudgingly begins to engage with Joe and Olivia and they become a threesome as Joe and Olivia follow Fin on his train track walks, sit with him as he clocks trains, and share dinner at Olivia's waterfront home.

Each of the three protagonists is a wounded soul. Fin endures startled glances, snickering whispers, outright rude comments, and even invisibility--a supermarket cashier passes him over for the next customer because she does not see him; he longs for a "normal" body that would allow him to physically defend himself; he longs for a normal sex life. Joe is "happy-go-lucky" on the surface, but is under the thumb of a domineering father who makes frequent calls to Joe's cell phone. Joe tries, unsuccessfully, to court Olivia. Olivia is enveloped in guilt and mourning over her young son's death and thinks she is still in love with her former husband.

Two other individuals play a role in Fin's new life: the pretty, young librarian (Michelle Williams) who tells Fin that he has "a nice chin" and confides to him that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, a boorish local she has not yet told; and Cleo (Raven Goodwin), a preteen black girl who is curious about Fin's train knowledge, and seeks his friendship. Cleo enlists Fin, against his will, to speak about trains to her school class.

Olivia triggers Fin's outburst of pent-up rage and frustration: she rejects his concerned vigil, when, for days on end, she refuses to leave her house or answer her telephone. The despondent Fin goes to the local bar, downs glass after glass of whiskey, sitting alone; thoroughly drunk, he smashes his glass, climbs up on the bar, gesticulating and yelling at the crowd to "go ahead, look at me, here I am!" (paraphrase). Staggering out onto the train tracks, he falls as an approaching train barrels down on him. He smiles up into the train lights, seeming to welcome what appears to be certain death.

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Evidence of Things Unseen

Wiggins, Marianne

Last Updated: Oct-12-2004
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This book interweaves an American love story with the development and repercussions of x-ray technology and atomic energy. It is an intriguing and beautifully written story. The setting is the southeastern United States, where the male protagonist, Fos, meets and marries Opal. Fos is a returning World War I veteran when the story begins; the story ends some years after the atomic bomb is dropped in World War II.

Fos is stationed in France during World War I. His assignment is to produce chemical flares. He shares a trench bunker with "Flash," the regiment photographer. After the war is over, Fos and Flash open up a photography shop in Flash's hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Fos is fascinated by natural phenomena such as phosphorescence, radiation, and the application of scientific discoveries for practical use. Flash is a good businessman and has a way with the ladies.

After Fos marries Opal, the three are in business together--Opal has accounting experience and handles the shop's "books." On the side, Fos and Opal have a traveling show that features an "x-ray box" where people can view the skeleton of their own feet. Opal is part of the show, on exhibit to demonstrate how this works as Fos x-rays her feet. A baby comes into their lives--they name him Lightfoot. The novel takes these characters and a few other connected figures through the 1920s into the Depression of the 1930s and formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, to the work on the atomic bomb at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Fos is recruited by the government to work at Oak Ridge--to take photographs. To say any more about the plot would spoil the pleasure of reading this absorbing book.

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Talking to the Family

Stone, John

Last Updated: Jun-25-2004
Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The physician prepares himself to deliver the news of a death to a family. His white coat symbolizes this role in his professional life; and when he takes it off at home, he becomes only a man with chores to do around the house. Yet that chore, replacing a lightbulb, seems to symbolize rebirth and the sustenance derived from personal life which allows the physician to continue in his often difficult role.

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Death

Stone, John

Last Updated: Jun-25-2004
Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The author has witnessed both prolonged dying, occurring "slowly as rust"; and sudden, unexpected death, as "find[ing] the doorknob come loose in his hand."

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Delivering Doctor Amelia

Shapiro, Dan

Last Updated: Jan-28-2004
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

Subtitled "The Story of a Gifted Young Obstetrician's Mistake and the Psychologist Who Helped Her," this is an absorbing account of a young female physician's torment following the difficult delivery of a baby who was soon thereafter diagnosed with cerebral palsy. "Doctor Amelia" seeks counseling after she has taken an indefinite leave of absence from her practice and faculty position. The book intertwines reconstructed counseling sessions in the voice of the doctor-patient, with the therapeutic strategy and personal reflections of her therapist, author Dan Shapiro.

The obstetrician enters therapy because she has lost confidence in her professional abilities. Once deeply engaged in her chosen profession, she has lost her enthusiasm for it and feels "numb." Her marriage is under strain. When asked if she is suicidal, she hesitates and then denies she is. Shapiro thinks there may be trouble ahead, and so does the reader. Gradually, Doctor Amelia reveals the incident that triggered her changed emotional state. She had delayed performing a cesarean section on a patient who was in extended labor and whose baby was showing deceleration of its heartbeat rate. A few weeks later, the baby's pediatrician informed Doctor Amelia that the baby had cerebral palsy and now the baby's parents are filing a lawsuit.

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Mom's Marijuana

Shapiro, Dan

Last Updated: Jan-19-2004
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

When Dan Shapiro was 20 years old and a junior in college, he was diagnosed with "nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease." Thus began a five-year ordeal of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a bone marrow transplant that failed. But this memoir, which recounts diagnosis, treatment, and two relapses, is more than a narrative of illness. Woven in and out of the subjective experience of physical and emotional trauma is the author's life as an adolescent, a family member, a young man who falls in love with the woman who eventually becomes his wife, a graduate student learning to be a clinical psychologist.

Sequences of ordinary life are carefully juxtaposed with sections on illness and treatment, emphasizing the author's determination to incorporate his illness into his life, all part of one continuous fabric. Even though disease was enormously disruptive, "[l]ife doesn't stop when something horrible happens" (158). Part of that life was a mother who decided to grow marijuana plants in her backyard ("Mom's Marijuana") so that her son would have an antidote for the terrible nausea that accompanied his chemotherapy. It is Mom who learns in a waiting room conversation that it might be advisable for Dan to bank his sperm for the future-- and who then proceeds to make the arrangements. As the memoir ends, Dan's mother finally disposes of the dry marijuana leaves that have been hanging in her attic for several years.

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Hairball

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This well crafted story concerns a contemporary woman in her thirties who undergoes significant personal losses; in fact, she seems to lose or lack an identity. Over the years, Kat, an "avant garde" fashion photographer, has altered her image, even her name, to suit the situation and the times. She has had two abortions and "learned to say that she didn't want children anyway."

The story begins when Kat undergoes surgical removal of a rare and peculiar ovarian tumor containing hair, teeth, bones (the clinical term is a dermoid cyst ); Kat dubs it "hairball " and stores it in formaldehyde on her mantelpiece. We learn that Kat's relationship with her married lover is going sour, that he will replace her as creative director at work. She fantasizes that she has given birth to "hairball" who she sees as the "warped child" of their failed relationship. Physical symptoms accompany Kat's growing emotional confusion. Hairball becomes the vehicle for an ultimate bizarre act reflecting Kat's personality disintegration. She has gone from being Katherine to Kath to Kat, to K, to being "temporarily without a name."

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