Showing 341 - 350 of 513 annotations tagged with the keyword "Ordinary Life"

Ruth

Gaskell, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Jan-19-2004

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ruth is an orphaned seamstress. One day, while repairing ladies' dresses at a ball, she meets Henry Bellingham, an aristocratic young man who accompanies his proud partner to the seamstress' room. Circumstances throw Henry and Ruth together and the two become close friends; innocent Ruth has no idea of the trouble into which this affair is leading.

Henry invites her one Sunday to walk with him out of town to her old family home. She is blissfully happy during the trip, but on their return, they are overtaken by Ruth's employer who jumps to conclusions about the couple and fires Ruth on the spot. Pressed by circumstances, Ruth accepts Henry's offer of help. She travels with him to Scotland and the two become lovers. While in Scotland, Henry becomes ill. His mother is called and as soon as her son is well he returns to London with her, leaving the disgraced Ruth behind.

Ruth is ready to kill herself but is stopped by Thurston Benson, an invalid who pities Ruth and finds her a place to stay as she falls ill in her despair. When Thurston and his sister Faith find out that Ruth is pregnant, they have her move in with them, presenting her to their friends as a widow. Ruth bears a son and everything goes well for many years. Ruth's piety and goodness win the respect of her very traditional neighbors.

About this time, Henry Bellingham is campaigning to represent the district in which Ruth lives. He recognizes Ruth and tries to win her again, even offering marriage, but she will not listen to him. Soon after, a jealous woman in the town discovers Ruth's secret. Ruth is fired from her position as governess and despised by the townspeople. All her goodness stands for nothing in the face of her early mistake.

Ruth struggles on for her child's sake, even helping in the hospital during a typhus epidemic. She learns that Bellingham is nearby, deathly ill from typhus. She helps cure him, but leaves his bedside before he can recognize her. She, however, contracts the disease and dies. Bellingham comes to see her body.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

This book represents collaboration between neurologist-poet Jerome Freeman and potter Richard Bresnahan. Thirty-seven black-and-white photographs of ceramic pieces by Bresnahan from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are interspersed with 56 of Freeman’s short poems. In his introduction Freeman writes, "Richard’s pottery (champions) both our environment and the need to nourish our humanity through cooperation and caring." Likewise, Freeman notes that much of his own poetry "attempts to focus upon caring." As he also points out, "the economy and simplicity of pottery can resemble the spare verbiage and subtlety of successful poetry."

Indeed, Freeman’s poems are simple, direct, and evocative. Many of them, such as "Carrying On" (p. 3), "Ten Year Old with Rheumatoid Arthritis" (p. 17), and "DTs" (p. 49), create images of patients. (However, the 88-year-old arthritis sufferer in "Carrying On" by no means considers himself a patient!) Others evoke more general human responses to severe illness ("Apocalypse," pp. 6-7), or to the threat of illness ("In Defense of the Hypochondriac," p. 15). In the former, Freeman writes of a comatose ICU patient, "All about keep mostly / thinking there’s a mistake / here somewhere." In the latter poem, Freeman concludes, "The worst might / happen. Keep crossing / bridges before you come / to them."

These poems also evoke the landscape and flora and fauna of the Great Plains: "Lake Superior in February" (p. 29), "The Prairie Gentian" (p. 79), and "When Wild Turkeys Come Out of the Woods" (p. 87). But the outside and inside worlds are closely connected. In "Coma Vigil" (p. 59), a poem about a woman in a persistent vegetative state, he begins, "Dawn’s bounty spills over / the rim of sky to spread / across darkened / prairie." Does the woman want to be kept alive in her "coma vigil"? The poem ends, "The time has / come. / Shadows still conceal / easy ways of letting / go."

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The Silent Boy

Lowry, Lois

Last Updated: Jan-19-2004
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

The story is told by Katy Thatcher, an old woman in 1987, about a critical period in her life from 1908 to 1911. Katy, whose father is a doctor, takes an interest in Jacob, a boy from a neighboring farm, who can't speak, who sings quietly to himself, but who seems able to communicate with animals. Jacob occasionally comes to the Thatcher home to be in the barn with the animals. Katy comes to feel she can communicate with him in a rudimentary but sympathetic way.

When the live-in housekeeper next door, sister to the Thatcher's housekeeper, has a baby out of wedlock, Jacob, aware of the trouble, abducts and brings the baby to the Thatcher's house on a stormy night, hoping, Katy believes, to save it the way he has saved orphaned lambs by bringing them to a substitute mother. But the baby dies of exposure and Jacob is taken to a mental institution. Katy becomes a doctor.

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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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The Tragedy

Picasso, Pablo

Last Updated: Nov-21-2003
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on wood

Summary:

In a bleak setting, at an ocean's edge, a family grouping of three poor people, barefoot, huddled and shivering, are lost in contemplation. The figures' proportions are elongated. Imposing in their size, they take up the entire canvas. Rendered entirely in shades of blue, all other details are eliminated from the composition adding to the mood of blue empty coldness of sand, sky, and sea.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

St. Luke’s Hospital was founded in 1750 to provide free care to the impoverished mentally ill. It mixed benevolence with "unconscious cruelty" in the treatments used by the "practitioners of old," from restraints and drugs to swings and a key to force-feed recalcitrant patients. Dickens describes this gloomy edifice as he saw it on December 26, 1851, although he notes a "seasonable garniture" of holly.

The inhabitants of St. Luke’s largely sit in solitude. Dickens decries the absence of "domestic articles to occupy . . . the mind" in one gallery holding several silent, melancholy women, and praises the comfortable furnishings--and the relative "earnestness and diligence" of the inmates--in another. He uses statistics to show the prevalence of female patients, "the general efficacy of the treatment" at St. Luke’s, and the unhealthy weight gain of the inhabitants due to inactivity. Dickens describes the behavior of various distinctive inhabitants during the usual fortnightly dance, the viewing of a Christmas tree, and the distribution of presents.

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Turning Fifty

Dunn, Stephen

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In the first of this poem's three stanzas, the narrator is looking out the window, presumably on or near his fiftieth birthday. He watches as a baby possum is snatched up by a fox while the possum's mother stands dumbly by. Seeing this, the narrator notes that it is one more thing he "couldn't do anything about." In fact, he sees the drama dispassionately. He says that instead of "feeling very much" he had the sense of "something dull / like a small door being shut, / a door to someone else's house."

In the next stanza, later that night, the narrator is flipping through the TV channels but stops when he is captivated by a nurse who "had a beautiful smile / while she spoke about triage and death." Again he observes death from afar as the nurse talks about her experiences in Viet Nam and how a dying soldier asked her to bend closer so he could smell her hair.

In the final stanza, the narrator's wife comes home, tired. The narrator, however, is somehow energized; he wants to talk about the possum, the fox, and the young man who "wanted one last chaste sense / of a woman." The wife wants a drink, some music, everything "normal." But the narrator, transformed by the nurse's smile, its "pretty hint of pain / the other expressions it concealed," is no longer just an observer.

He now has "something to say," something almost inexpressible about life and death, the death that he is moving closer to but was, at the poem's beginning, unable to face. The nurse's experience--her proximity to death, her ability not only to observe but to acknowledge and honor it--has somehow transformed him.

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Eclipse

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Poet and writer Jeanne Bryner has assembled 24 short stories to give us Eclipse, a wise and tender collection that reflects her blue-collar roots in Appalachia and industrial Ohio, and also her work as a registered nurse. These stories are about real human beings, flawed and graced, who, for the most part, care for one another, whether family or stranger, with compassion and the kind of acceptance that comes from living a hard life. Bryner's writing skills move these characters beyond easy stereotype and turn their actions--their anger over the death of a loved one or the cooking of a Sunday supper--into transformative metaphors that illuminate the sorrows and joys of everyday life.

The following stories might be of particular interest to those teaching or studying literature and medicine: "Sara's Daughters," in which a woman undergoes artificial insemination and, through her thoughts and her conversations with the nurse, perfectly reveals an infertile woman's humiliation, longing, and hope; "The Jaws of Life," in which a young woman takes her Aunt Mavis to visit Uncle Webster in a nursing home and there observes the poignant interactions of the well and the dying, the young and the old, moments infused with both charity and dread.

In addition: "Turn the Radio to a Gospel Station," in which two cleaning ladies in a hospital ER observe and philosophize about what goes on around them, the deaths and near-deaths, the kindness or mutinies of nurses, the doctors' mechanical repetition of questions, the lovers hiding in the linen closet; "The Gemini Sisters," in which a group of weight-watching women meet to shed pounds and talk about life; "Foxglove Canyon," in which a registered nurse with forty year's experience relates memories of her work, her family, and how things change when a writer comes to teach the staff and the patients about poetry, "the flower you stumble across growing near the barn, a purple bloom that nobody planted."

"Red Corvette" examines the intimacy that develops between family members, particularly when one is caregiver to the other. In this story a woman comes to visit her post-op sister and remembers, while watching her sister suffer in pain, their childhood, those moments of freedom and health she yearns for her sister to regain.

"The Feel of Flannel" is about a woman who, like her mother and grandmother, has breast cancer. She refuses to participate in a research project but instead barrels ahead into her uncertain future, planning to wear her nightgown to the grocery store and tattoo her husband's name "right here when this port comes out."

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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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Equal Affections

Leavitt, David

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The first part of this novel presents a detailed picture of the Jewish Californian Cooper family, centering on the sixty-year-old Louise, who is dying of breast cancer. Her husband, Nat, is unfaithful, and, she suspects, only loves her when she is at her weakest and most sick. Her daughter, April, is a lesbian folk singer who becomes pregnant with the help of a gay male friend and a turkey baster. Danny, the son, is also gay, living in New York with Walter, his lover, who is becoming increasingly detached and obsessed with internet sex groups.

Louise considers herself lucky, though, compared with her younger sister Eleanor, partially disabled by childhood polio, disorganized and ill-groomed and married to Sid, whom Louise finds deeply unattractive. Eleanor's son is a sociopathic drug addict, and her daughter has ovarian cancer caused by Eleanor's taking DES (diethylstilbesterol) in pregnancy. She sends Louise newspaper cuttings about the causes of homosexuality and the dangers of AIDS.

The first part having established the complex dynamics and histories of the family's relationships, the second brings the entire family together in the crisis of Louise's final illness and death (a reaction to chemotherapy drugs causes severe chemical burns and she dies in a burn unit in a San Francisco hospital). After her death, the new dynamics of the family are established, and Louise's son and daughter conclude that their mother had "a terrible life" (p. 261).

The short third part shows that no such conclusion is possible, that even those closest to us remain terribly but fascinatingly unknowable. A flashback to a point just before Louise's final illness describes her attempt to convert to Catholicism and a brief moment in which she experiences a marvelous sense of complete harmony.

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