Showing 191 - 200 of 588 annotations tagged with the keyword "Individuality"

Summary:

Body of Work is a cleverly crafted memoir - or, rather, the first chapter of a memoir - of the author's medical school experience at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island. Ms Montross relates the chronological course of her team's dissection of a female cadaver with no discernible umbilicus and whom they therefore name Eve. (She neglects to comment on Eve's ribs and whether she has the normal complement or a supernumerary, more masculine, rib.) As she and her team of four (later three as one student drops out of school) proceed with the orderly dismantling of Eve, bone by bone, nerve by nerve and blood vessel by blood vessel, she uses this experience as a springboard to analyze her and her team's emotional reactions to the often unnatural process of deconstructing, literally (at times with a saw), a former person now cadaver, as well as the gradual, almost imperceptible acculturation that transmogrifies medical students into doctors. In fact, she devotes the final pages to this metamorphosis and what it means to the person undergoing the transition from caring student to detached physician, and whether one can retain enough caring, while remaining sufficiently detached to function as one must as a clinician, to become both a whole person and competent physician: "How much of becoming a doctor demands releasing the well-known and well-loved parts of my self?" (page 209)

Although it primarily revolves about the axis of her gross anatomy (cadaver dissection) course, the author's narrative includes tangents that have variably relevant relationships to this course, e.g., a trip to Italy to inspect first hand the anatomy theater of Vesalius in Padua and the Basilica of St. Anthony; another trip to the anatomical wax sculptures museum in Bologna, where the author also observes the "incorrupt corpse of Santa Caterina" in a "small church called Corpus Domini" (pages 223-224); interspersed histories of the traffic of corpses for dissection, including the infamous Burke and Hare story; some flash-forwards to her second and third years; and a prolonged narration of the final illnesses of her grandmother and grandfather. This last bit of family history is worth the price of the book alone. Despite the apparently incongruous collection of such asides, the author makes it work smoothly, if not seamlessly.

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The Glass Castle

Walls, Jeannette

Last Updated: Apr-14-2008
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The Glass Castle, a gripping memoir about growing up devastatingly poor in America, opens with this first line: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." (p. 3) Jeanette Walls slinks down in the taxi's back seat and returns to her Park Avenue apartment. A few days later, she manages to contact her homeless mother and take her out for dinner, offering her help, yet again. But her mother refuses, and when asked what Jeannette is supposed to say about her parents, her mother replies "Just tell the truth...[t]hat's simple enough." (p.5) And with these words, Walls launches into the history of her upbringing, with all the deprivations, suffering, joys, shame, exasperations, tribulations and sorrows - the story of the Rex and Rose Mary Walls' family.

Rex Walls is an alcoholic and dreamer, his wife an artist and egoist; both are psychotically blind to the basic needs of their four children. Yet the parents do feed the children with love and intellectual stimulation, managing to keep the family unit intact while the children figure out how to survive. The reader first meets the child Jeannette at age three when she is on fire, cooking hot dogs on the stove in a trailer park, completely unsupervised. She requires multiple skin grafts but enjoys the regularity of hospital food, until six weeks later her father abducts her from the hospital in the first of a series of "skedaddles" that the reader learns is the way Rex Walls stays ahead of bill collectors and other authorities.

At each miserable turn, the reader wonders if things can get any worse. They do. The family winds up living in a rotting hut without plumbing in the coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia. Rex steals money from his children, Rose Mary buys herself art books instead of food for the family. The kids eat garbage they secretly remove from trash bins at school.

But finally, one by one, the kids do escape, although, like everyone, they carry the past within them. To varying degrees, each is scarred. Nonetheless, Jeannette works her way through Barnard in New York City and becomes a contributor to MSNBC. Ultimately the book is a tribute to the gutsy resilience of some remarkable individuals.

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Edwards, Kim

Last Updated: Mar-27-2008
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Because he can't reach the hospital in a winter snowstorm, Dr. David Henry ends up assisting his own wife in the birth of their twin children at his clinic with the help of his nurse, Caroline. The boy is fine; the girl has Down symdrome. While his wife is as yet unaware, he gives the girl baby to Caroline to take to an institution. Norah, his wife, remains unaware that she give birth to two children, yet is haunted by some sense of loss she can't name. Caroline, unable to leave the baby in an unappealing institutional setting, makes a snap decision to keep her. She leaves town, renewing communication later with the baby's father, and raises her as a single mother until she meets a man who is willing to marry her and love Phoebe as a daughter.

Only after Dr. Henry dies suddenly does his wife discover the existence of her daughter, through photographs sent to him over the years by Caroline, and then a visit from Caroline and Phoebe. Sadly, but with a will to choose life on strange and demanding terms, Norah and her son, Phoebe's brother, choose to enlarge their circle of family to include a loving relationship with Phoebe, clearly her own person, and the woman and man who have cared for her.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sandeep Jauhar, M.D., Ph.D. is currently director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. Thus, one can assume that he is an accomplished cardiologist and administrator. It was not always so. This memoir flashes back to 10-15 years earlier when the author was casting about for a career, finally settling on medicine almost by default; it follows him to medical school (at Washington University in St. Louis) and then centers on his first year of residency training at Cornell's New York Hospital in Manhattan -- the internship year.

We learn in the introduction to the book that the author will speak freely of self-doubt about career choice, constant anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, and disillusionment. Which indeed he does. But Jauhar first discusses his family background: born in India and emigrating with his family to the USA at age 8; father holding a Ph.D. in plant genetics, now writing academic textbooks and still regretting that he had not been able to afford his dream of becoming a doctor; mother helping to support the family as a lab technician; older brother, Rajiv, a mentor and competitor, charming, self-assured, and unquestioningly headed for a medical career; sister, Suneeta. Sandeep (the author) undertakes graduate work in theoretical physics but as he nears completion of his doctoral degree, realizes that he probably does not have what it takes to be successful in the field. When his girlfriend, Lisa, becomes seriously ill, he begins to (re)consider medicine as a career. Against the advice of his parents who are now convinced he is a dilettante, he applies to medical school and is accepted.

Disillusionment began during the first two years of medical school: "In graduate school I had never learned to memorize . . . But now I couldn't rely on logic and reasoning; I had to commit huge swaths of material to memory" (32). He considered quitting to become a journalist, a profession that had always intrigued him, but which had been discouraged: "my father made it clear that journalism and writing were never to be considered career options because they offered no security" (33). Yet, amazingly, he was awarded a summer fellowship just before starting medical school that placed him in the Washington, DC office of Time magazine; the contacts he made then allowed him to work as a student reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during medical school and led ultimately to his ongoing and current position as a contributing medical essayist for the New York Times.

Internship for Jauhar unfolds as a series of anxiety-provoking encounters with patients and humiliating encounters with his physician superiors. Feeling inept and inadequate, he stumbles along and worries that he is harming patients. There is too much to keep track of, too many "little things that I find burdensome" (91). "Having so much to do was bad enough, but not knowing why you were doing what you were doing was terrifying . . . Patients were needy, their demands overwhelming . . . Everyone seemed to know how the place worked except me . . . The ecology on the wards was hostile; interactions were hard-bitten, fast paced" (112-113). He is in constant doubt and conflict about his career choice. Even his private life is affected -- his girlfriend Sonia, still a medical student, comes from a medical family, is strongly motivated and secure in her career choice, which aggravates his own sense of insecurity. (Reader, he married her.)

Midway through internship Jauhar suffers a herniated disk. He tries to tough it out without taking time off but his stint as "night float" at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital, which specializes in treating cancer patients, proves too difficult-- up all night trying to tend to the severely ill and "taking care of patients about whom you knew next to nothing" (154). He takes a brief leave followed by a reduced schedule. He recognizes that his problems are emotional as well as physical -- he is depressed. But gradually, as his neck problem improves, as he recognizes that medical professionals are actually able to help patients feel better -- his neurologist and physical therapist had "provided hope and comfort to me at a vulnerable time" (181)--, as he makes a house call to a dying patient, as his essays are published in the New York Times, and as the season moves to Spring, his depression lifts and he looks forward to his work.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author's mission is to investigate, understand, explain, describe, and puzzle over the nature of phobias -- his own, and that of other sufferers. Allen Shawn is a composer, pianist, and teacher, and is a member of a gifted family: his brother, Wallace Shawn, is a playwright and actor; his father was William Shawn, for many years editor of the New Yorker Magazine. As a musician and academic, Allen Shawn is "successful." And yet, his life is severely limited by agoraphobia, "a restriction of activities brought about by a fear of having panic symptoms in situations in which one is far from help or escape is perceived to be difficult" (13). The author interweaves sections that summarize his extensive readings on the fight-flight reaction, evolution, brain and mind, Freud's theories on phobia--with his personal history, especially as he believes it relates to his phobia.

Shawn's descriptions of how he experiences agoraphobia are vivid and informative, detailing the situations that trigger his physiologic symptoms of panic and disconnectedness: driving on unfamiliar roads, any kind of travel that is unfamiliar, walking across or on the edge of open spaces, traveling across long bridges, being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). The agoraphobe, he writes, "feels at risk, as if at risk of sudden death or madness" (14). Shawn tells about what he must do in order to strike out on unfamiliar trips, that is, when he gathers up the courage to take them. He must venture up to the point where panic sets in, turn back, then on another occasion repeat the process but attempt to go further, pushing through the panic, until, one day, he can make the entire journey without turning back. Sometimes he never makes it to the desired goal.

The author points to several different factors that seem to predispose people to phobias: heredity, unconscious imitation of a phobic parent, upbringing. In his own case, in retrospect, his father showed symptoms of agoraphobia. Shawn discusses the underlying repression that was pervasive in his household -- his father carried on a long-term relationship with a woman while remaining married. Shawn's mother knew about the relationship from early on but any discussion of it was forbidden, even after it became common knowledge.

Perhaps more important in Allen Shawn's perception of repression is what happened to his twin sister, Mary, who was born with what is now considered to be autism, and mental retardation. Allen felt close to this girl, even though her behavior was unpredictable and baffling. When he was about eight years old, his parents sent her away to a special boarding school without warning Allen, or offering explanations. From then on he rarely saw her; 10 years later she was institutionalized. The family did not speak much about her and her "'exile' . . . added yet another layer of mystification to an already really mystifying atmosphere. It turned out that even in our temperate environment something extremely violent could occur" (177). Not long after that, Allen began to experience severe anxiety in certain situations.

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A Kind of Alaska

Pinter, Harold

Last Updated: Mar-13-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

In this one act play, as a result of a new medication, a middle-aged woman named Deborah wakes up after spending nearly 30 years in a "coma." More precisely, she was in a dream-like state of unawareness or altered awareness that Hornby, her doctor, refers to as "a kind of Alaska."(p. 34) Deborah thinks that she has only been "asleep" for a short while, so she asks about her parents and sister, as if she were still the adolescent she remembers. Hornby assures her that her mind has been suspended all that time, although he has been at her side, fighting to keep her alive: "Some wanted to bury you. I forbade it." (p. 34)

 

Uncertain what to say, Pauline, Deborah's younger sister, now enters the hospital room. Hearing Pauline's news of the family, Deborah tries to comprehend what has happened, but it seems just too bizarre. Then Hornby reveals that Pauline has been his wife for more than 20 years. Deborah experiences the walls of her consciousness closing in, "Let me out. Stop it. Let me out. Stop it. Stop it." (p. 38) Suddenly, she returns to the conversation and summarizes everything she has heard. "I think I have the matter in proportion," she concludes.


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Black Mesa Poems

Baca, Jimmy Santiago

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In the title poem, Jimmy Santiago Baca says: "To write the story of my soul / I trace the silence and stone / of Black Mesa." This collection of poems carries the reader into the mountains and valleys of northern New Mexico, and to the barrio where the poet and his family live. They are poems full of incident and experience, of the "twenty-eight shotgun pellets" that remain in "my thighs, belly, and groin" from an incident with Felipe in 1988 ("From Violence to Peace"), and the slaughter of a sheep to the tattoo of wild drums ("Matanza to Welcome Spring"), and the tragic story of "El Sapo," the Frog King.

Baca’s characters live close to the land, close to the mountains, and sometimes outside the law ("Tomas Lucero"). These poems witness to the violence and despair of barrio life, but also to its energy and joy. Baca’s hope continues "to evolve with the universe / side by side with its creative catastrophe."

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Vertumnus and Pomona

Flinck, Govaert

Last Updated: Feb-28-2008

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Vertumnus and Pomona is a story of seduction and deception from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a popular source of imagery for 17th century Dutch painters. Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and change, assumed multiple guises as he attempted to woo the recalcitrant wood nymph Pomona. Govaert Flinck has painted the moment in the courtship when Vertumnus, disguised as an old woman, is speaking on his own behalf to a bemused Pomona. The two figures are dramatically pressed to the front of the picture plane in a tightly defined space and are set against a dark background of tree trunks and exposed roots.

While the setting is intimate and the figures are so close that their knees almost touch, the distance between them is unmistakable. Pomona, seated on the right, is portrayed as a ruddy complexioned young woman, elegantly-if curiously for the setting-dressed in white satin, with a richly embroidered bodice. She leans to her left, her check pressed heavily into her hand, her gaze directed off into the distance. Whether she is listening intently to her companion or dreamily lost in her own thoughts is impossible to discern.

On the left, Vertumnus is portrayed in mid-gesture, "her" right hand moving toward Pomona; her left, turning back to herself. In contrast with Pomona's youthful complexion, Vertumnus' coarse skin and features bear the evidence of age. What isn't immediately certain, however, is Vertumnus' gender. While the rust-colored clothing and turban-like headdress suggest a woman's garments, there is a manly quality in both the face and hands. Flinck, exercising his culture's delight in sexual innuendo, solves the riddle for the careful observer who notices the walking stick that leans against the inside of Vertumnus' thigh.

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Moby-Dick

Melville, Herman

Last Updated: Dec-11-2007
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

After deciding that it's time for him to get back to sea, Ishmael arrives in New Bedford, Massachussets, in search of adventure. At the Spouter Inn, he befriends his bed-mate, the harpooner Queequeg, and they travel to Nantucket. Here, they sign up for the Pequod, and on Christmas Day, set off on a three year voyage hunting whales for their oil. After several days at sea, the captain emerges from his cabin to enlist his crew into joining him in his pursuit of Moby Dick, the white whale that "dismasted" him.

Simmering with rage, Captain Ahab leads his crew across the oceans, with the help of his stoical and ethical quaker First Mate, Starbuck, and the cheerful Second Mate Stubb. The crew encounter other ships at sea, hunt sperm and right whales, and process the blubber for oil as they get closer and closer to the final confrontation between two of the great forces in American literature: the human will of Captain Ahab and the natural power of an untamed whale.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Manuela (Cecilia Roth) a nurse who works in a transplantation unit, witnesses the accidental death of her romantic son, Esteban, as he chases a car bearing the famous actress, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes), from whom he wants an autograph. Esteban had longed to know about his absentee father, but his mother had always refused to tell him. His heart is transplanted, and Manuela is shattered by grief, leaves her work, and sets out to recover her past.

Obsessed with her son’s obsessions, Manuela trails the famous actress, Huma, who gives her a job. She finds old friends in the underworld, and a beautiful nun, Rosa (Penélope Cruz), who works with the poor and plans to go abroad. Soon it emerges that Esteban’s father is "Nina," a transvestite prostitute, and that Rosa is not only pregnant by him/her, she has also contracted AIDS.

Rosa’s austere mother was unhappy about her decision to become a religious, but she is even more horrified by her daughter’s pregnancy and illness. Initially reluctant, Manuela nurses Rosa and after her death, she adopts the infant son who is of course named Esteban.

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