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Patrick Clary's Dying for Beginners is a collection of vibrant poems about living (as well as dying); about family, friends, music, loss, war and love. The book's title is evocative of the countercultural insight that dying is an essential part of living. We only become fully human by coming to grips with our own mortality. This engagement with mortality emerges from love and humor, as well as from suffering and loss. Clary's poems speak to what he has discovered about himself, as a beginner to his fellow beginners.
The poet's route to discovery traverses Death Valley, where, during a spiritual retreat and vision quest, he has this epiphany: "Suddenly, I find all my wounds are turning into blessings" (p. 1). This inversion of categories is not an exotic, one-off event, but becomes a new way of looking at the world, a perspective in which life events, carefully observed and described, blossom with deeper meanings that can only be expressed by metaphor or paradox. For example, in "Days I Don't Remember," Clary reflects, "And all my roads are turning into rivers" (p. 27). Or, in "Meditation on the Pays d'Oc," he observes, "Instead of dying, I cough up a butterfly, watch it / dry its wings in the sun..." (p. 74). Or the essential quietism of "That silence moving through our lives was me" (p. 33).
The poet had his first lessons in dying when he worked as a medic during the Vietnam War, In "Orientation at Bien Hoa," he discovers, "Yes, gentlemen / This little war here / Exists only / For one reason: / To give you all the pleasure / You can handle" (p. 10). He also learns how easy it is to kill with an M 16 rifle, which can "Put eighteen holes in / Whatever you point it at / Inside of two seconds" (p. 11). Meanwhile, the human tragedy of Vietnam takes place all around him.
Clary reflects on the limits of his calling in "Three Variations", where he observes his own hands, "professionally / Tender on demand, but still uneasy / At your easy tenderness" (p. 35). The words "professionally tender on demand" evoke his work in palliative medicine, although the same words could-and should-apply to medical practice in general. But Clary recognizes that the human capacity for compassion is not inexhaustible. There will always be a tension between the work that needs to be done ("another pair of hands in the emergency room," p. 63) and our limited reserves of kindness and empathy.
The book ends with a humorous and moving short prose narrative ("Origins of the Earwax Patrol," pp. 83-86) about caring for terminally ill patients.
This annotation is based upon the version presented at The Mint Theatre in New York City in 2010, translated and directed by Gus Kaikkonnen. It featured Thomas M. Hammond as Dr Knock and Patrick Husted as Dr Parpalaid, with Chris Mixon, Scott Barrow, and Patti Perkins in supporting roles.
A middle-aged but recently licensed physician, one Dr Knock, has arrived in rural France to take over a practice purchased from the genial old country doctor, Dr Paraplaid. Much to Dr Knock's surprise, he discovers that Dr Paraplaid has done very little over the past three decades, seeing only a few patients a week and enjoying much of the time playing pool, riding around in his jalopy, and admiring the countryside. Feeling slightly cheated, Dr Knock realizes that the practice he has purchased at some expense amounts to very little at all. He is, however, an ambitious man. He did not become a licensed physician in the eager flush of late adolescence but as a man of the world, or rather, a man of the entreprenurial modern world where opportunities are seized and technology is transformative.
Once Dr Paraplaid has gone, Dr Knock promptly sets about employing the town crier to advertise his practice so that the entire valley knows he is there. He meets up with the local school teacher and the pharmacist, enlisting them as allies. With everybody he encounters, he smilingly and then sharply insists that unlike Dr Paraplaid, he will not go by "Monsieur" but by "Doctor". And when he actually opens the office, he begins by offering free consultations. Of course, he always seems to find something wrong, elaborately explaining the aches, pains, and illnesses he discovers (or induces), but the free consultations, like free "samples" are designed to create grateful customers. Invariably, they learn that the cost of the treatment is commensurate with the exact maximum amount they could pay. And thus, Dr Knock takes a placid, lazy practice and builds up an expanding medical business.
Summary:The book's chapters derive from a conference entitled "Representing Autism: Writing, Cognition, Disability" held in 2005. Contributors are scholars of English, communication studies, psychology, and other disciplines; some are on the autism spectrum themselves or are parents of autistic people. The book attempts to address what editor Mark Osteen in his introduction cites as a deficit in the field of disability studies, namely that the field has ignored cognitive disabilities. Osteen notes that autism is a spectrum not only among people but within individuals: "any given autistic person's abilities will occupy different locations on [the spectrum] at different times" (7) but a severely autistic person is not merely "different." The editor also addresses the question of self- representation, arguing that "we must strive to speak not for but with those unable or unwilling to communicate through orthodox modes" (7).
In 2008, editor and physician Paul Gross launched a new online publication, "Pulse--voices from the heart of medicine" (published by the Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center). This anthology contains every poem and first-person narrative published during Pulse's first year, arranged in five sections corresponding to publication date and not to theme: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. Paul Gross, in his introduction, states "After more than a decade of practice as a family doctor, I came to appreciate that the science I'd learned in medical school, though powerful and useful, was also incomplete . . . . it contained much truth about illness and healing, but not the whole truth" (xvii). Like many other caregivers, Gross discovered "that writing and sharing my healthcare stories with others was therapeutic" (xviii). He looked to "Sun Magazine" as an example of how first person narratives, both prose and poems, could turn "hurts and triumphs into something potentially beautiful, funny or moving" (xviii).
The poems and prose that arrive every Friday online to Pulse's thousands of subscribers (and the selections in this anthology) are carefully screened by the editors according to these guidelines: the stories have to be first-person, and they have to be true, recounting the writer's own experience. Submissions are accepted from any person involved in healthcare. The language used must be "clear, simple language. No medical jargon. No arcane literary devices" (xx). Gross and his editors decided that Pulse would not be a medical journal nor a literary magazine--its purpose fell outside the perimeters of both genres--and so Pulse, and this anthology, offers work that is, in a refreshing and honest way, different from the slick or more polished poetry and prose that might be found elsewhere.
In reading this anthology from cover to cover, and so from season to season, I found that the poems and prose seemed to fall into several categories: Personal musings, in which authors relate healthcare experiences that engender intimate and revealing narratives about their own lives--among the best of these are "Well Baby Check," p.3; "Finding Innisfree," p. 31; "First Patient," p. 39; "Losing Tyrek," p. 45; "Carmen's Story," p. 62; and "Chemo? No Thanks," p. 106. Other pieces are commentaries on the other side of healthcare, the one that cries out for reform and affects both patients and caregivers. Among the best of these are "Redesigning the Practice of Medicine," p. 9; "A Brush with the Beast," p. 22; "Rx," p. 60; "Halloween Horrors," p. 69; and "Brain Cutting," p. 136.
Other pieces are humorous ("Aunt Helen Sees a Ghost," p. 6) or political ("My War Story," p. 11), and many poems and prose pieces speak of patient encounters or about being a patient, some more anecdotal, relating a specific incident that affected the author ("Once," p. 41) and others multi-layered, some relating medical student or intern experiences ("Jeannie," p. 48; "A View from Nepal," p. 87; "Ripped from the Headlights," p. 90; "Snowscape," p. 97; "First Night Call," p. 100; and "Wounded Messenger," p. 114.) The "category" I found most interesting and most unique are the selections I will call "confessions." These writings--demonstrating openess and bravery on the part of the authors--tell of regrets, mistakes, sorrows, wrong calls and other mishaps that occur, daily, in the practice of healthcare. In these, the most human face of caregiving is revealed. Although most of the pieces in this anthology contain elements of "confession," the most specifically revealing include "Mothers and Meaning," p. 14; "Physician's Exasperation," p. 44; "Confidential," p. 53; "My Patient, My Friend," p. 73; and "Apologies," p. 104.
Editor's note: Coincidentally, a recent relevant paper on confessional writing by physicians expounds further on this topic:"Bless Me Reader for I Have Sinned: physicians and confessional writing" by Delese Wear and Therese Jones (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vo. 53, No.2, Spring 2010, pp. 215-30).
Summary:This is a collection of four stories and a novella with pervasive themes of death, loss, grieving, mourning, and anger; the characters live in rural parts of the upper midwest, and there is much unhappiness in their lives.
This is an imaginative documentary film by director-producer Su Friedrich, of her experiences with health problems, physicians, the health-care system, and how these affected her relationship with her female partner over a period of more than two decades. The narrator-subject takes us through her numerous surgeries, hormonal (prolactin) imbalance, and her growing disenchantment with the traditional health-care system.
She films herself: getting dressed into the "humiliating" paper garb prior to being examined by her physician; in exchanges with her various physicians; reading from medical texts and self-help books as she tries to understand her condition(s); taking t'ai chi classes and preparing herbal potions; gardening and doing needle work. As the film ends, she is grappling with the prospect of menopause, but she feels that she has taken charge of her body and of her own care, that she tends herself as she tends her garden.
Summary:A number of expressionless faces blindfolded, bandaged, many eyeless, some with hats of the 1930s, glasses, masks, bullet-ridden helmets, comprise three fourths of the canvas. Anything but a group portrait, these totally disconnected faces staring straight ahead are all on different planes. None are connecting with another. Remnants of crematorium smoke stacks and a burned city are the only visible detail in the upper fourth of the canvas, from which a series of tired male refugees, painted in a much smaller scale, appear to be walking down into the portrait.
Summary:Driving-school instructor Marco (Marcello Mastroianni) feels unwell, especially in the mornings; his stomach swells, and he develops emotional lability. His wife, the hairdresser Irène (Catherine Deneuve), is sympathetic – but only to a point--and insists he seek help.
In 1818, the newly trained physician, John Keats (1795-1821) (Ben Wishaw) is living with his well-off friend, Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), and they are trying to devote themselves to the art of writing. Keats cannot abide the idea of having to practice medicine.
The uneducated, fashion-conscious Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), notices Keats, moved by the care that he bestows on his dying brother. She offers a gift of a beautifully embroidered pillow, which soon finds it way into the lad’s coffin.
Affected by the young man’s death and the mystery of poetry, Fanny flings herself at Keats, undeterred by Brown’s open disapproval of her lack of class, education and bearing. Flattering his work, she asks Keats for lessons in literature and then reveals herself to a reasonable judge of poetry. In spite of himself Keats is drawn to her and declares his love.
But the poet’s health is fragile. Funds are raised to send him to Italy, and Keats announces that he must go, because his friends have decided. He seems to know that he will die. Fanny is brave and hopeful. Chastened, Charles Brown comes to Fanny’s home to announce the death of Keats in Rome.
Séraphine (Yolande Moreau) is a housekeeper, ill-treated by her employers, but she finds solace in painting naïve images of flowers, fruit, and birds, using vivid colours that she makes herself from plants and animals. Her mistress rejects the art as junk.
Séraphine sympathizes with the apparent loneliness of the German tenant Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) who is a connaisseur of art. He admires one of her tableaux and is astonished to discover that the artist is his housekeeper. He encourages her and buys some paintings. But war in 1914 forces him to return to Germany.
Spiralling downward deeper into poverty and mental alienation, Séraphine continues to paint works that grow larger, bolder, and more colorful. Finally her bizarre behavior leads to her arrest and commital in an insane asylum, and her painting ceases.
Uhde eventually returns to France and organizes the first Naïve Art exhibition featuring work by Henri Rousseau and Séraphine. But only years later does he bother to look for her. She is miserable. He arranges for her to be given a more comfortable room, but he doesn’t speak to her and she never paints again.