Tag Archives: New York Times

Love and “Non Sequitur” Defined (or, A Weekend Alone)

What does a working mother of three do when she finds herself home alone for three days? Well, true story, I can tell you the answer:

Bake, lots. Clean, prune and organize. And think. Lots.

Turns out though that I wasn’t completely alone. I had two rambunctious, trouble-generating puppies to keep me company.

Okay, I baked. First though, I started to clean the kitchen cabinets. As I cleaned I found bits and pieces of things that needed using up. The first was a jar of soy flour from… well, a while ago. So, I baked 8 dozen pumpkin muffins using the soy flour (there was more to use up than I thought.) Then I found a tube of almond paste left over from making stollen this Christmas so, I baked an almond pound cake. I found 3 half bags of chocolate chips. You guessed it – cookies.  Then a bag of golden raisins, a 1/2 box of currants, and some walnuts? Oatmeal cookies.

I thought about the meaning of love – after all, it was Valentines Day this week. Turns out, when you look on-line for a definition of love you may find out that

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

The dogs certainly challenged this definition; I may not have been endlessly patient. I may have angered. I’m afraid I can list their wrongs (they got in the chicken coop – twice, vomited on the rug – once, peed on the rug – once, made a hole in the fence – once, escaped through their new hole in the fence – once, woke me at 530 – three times). And, I did boast a bit when a nice lady complimented my ability to walk two young labs at the same time (didn’t mention that I had run them in the fields for two hours before she saw us limping home.)

I watched TV and learned, from an episode of  “How I Met Your Mother”, that

opening yourself up to another person means opening yourself up to going a little insane

Okay, that definition of love I’ve got covered.

 

I looked up the meaning of the word non sequitur.

I did some laundry (I may have been alone but, I do have three kids.) Pruned the roses. Organized the freezer (to fit in all the baked goods) and then felt compelled to eat all the odd bits of frozen things there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Read the NY Times all the way through. Looked at Twitter despite planning to take a “holiday” from social media. And there I found this definition of love:

Love, I’ve recently recognized, is that moment when you desperately need forgiveness from the one who inspires your best self for having just been, in some small, petty way, your base self.

I walked the dogs again. Made the beds. Cleaned a closet. Sorted through the CDs; listened to lots of Alexi Murdoch, Macy Gray and The Cure. And, spent several nice hours on the phone talking with a handsome man from Switzerland who has always inspired my best self. My Swiss friend asked me – It is hard to live alone isn’t it?

Its going to rain Tuesday.

 

2pooches
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Connections and Bonus Questions

I just read “18 Stethoscopes, 1 Heart Murmur and Many Missed Connections” a fabulously written article in the New York Times by Madeline Drexler. She tells her story of being a model patient – a person with a medically interesting “finding” who is asked to help teach medical students. These “patients” are examined by small hoards of inexperienced medical students who have little knowledge, little skill and varying degrees of innate bedside manner.

I was fortunate enough to go to a medical school where we began examining patients – real and staged ones – from month one. I still remember many of these people well; more clearly perhaps, than those I cared for in my sleep-deprived haze of residency. As Ms Drexler describes, I am certain that back then, I too was filled with awkwardness and overtaken by my interest in the examination findings at the cost of expressing empathy.

There is one that comes to mind now. He was a model patient for my final exam in a class on physical examination. I think he might have been the bonus “question”. I had studied hard. I was tired. He was in a room behind a door I nervously opened to find the answer to what exactly was different (medically speaking) about him. There in the room, on an exam table sat this young man. He may have been 25 or so. Dark haired, bespectacled and calm. I approached him and began the work of examining his body for a “finding” of sorts. Heart, lungs, abdomen… all depressingly normal. Mouth, neck, ears…getting closer. Then to my joy I found “it” and remember well the thrill when I did. There was a big part of me that wanted to say ” Woo Hoo! I did it”! Ms. Drexler describes this reaction in other students:

“This was a student who is not uncaring or unkind,” Dr. Treadway told the class. “But in that moment she did something all of us do all the time: she was so engaged with the problem that she forgot about the person who had the problem.”

I had a favorite attending doctor in medical school. Everyone else was scared of him. I looked up to him. Sure, he asked the hardest questions and embarrassed me at times. I stood tall with the knowledge he was doing this to make me better. And, when I watched him with patients and parents I saw that all of his sternness evaporated; he became the most caring doctor in the hospital. He asked, as Ms. Drexler reminded us to do, about how it felt to be stuck there as patient or parent. When he was talking with a family it seemed that perhaps, time had stood still. He had no where else to go, nothing else that mattered more than the people in front of him.

I think of this man often. He motivates me still. And, what I know now after all these years, is that I am still learning. Every visit with every patient I strive to become better at listening, interacting, understanding. I reach for the ability to make them feel that time has stood still in that room with them. I am not there yet but – reading Ms Drexler’s words and remembering my attending’s gifts help me feel that I might, just might get there some day.

P.s.: The answer to the bonus question was prosthetic eye.

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“You have to be a bit outside of something to see it.”

Since reading the New York Times this Sunday I have been thinking about Glenn Ligon’s quote:

You have to be a bit outside of something to see it

These words have been rolling around a bit in my head. He was describing another artist’s work and these words had a specific meaning. However – like many quotes taken out of perspective we make them our own; we give them our own new meaning. For me they brought to mind the truth that can appear when we have the opportunity to view not only art, but people a step apart from them. There can be such breathtaking  beauty found in seeing someone we care about unexpectedly before we realize they are our own.

We are usually so embroiled in the daily work of parenting that we do not often have a chance to see our children (our greatest works of art) from a view a bit outside of the experience of parenting them. A few years back I wrote a brief article about nurturing friendships in young children. Part of the advice I offered was about how to handle the end of a playdate:

When it is over and you deliver the friend to their parent take time to praise their behavior to the parent – this makes both child and parent feel good and ultimately helps strengthen the budding friendship.

Taking time to reflect positively on another child to their parent can share with them one of those magical moments of seeing their child outside their usual perspective – it indeed makes all involved feel great! This advice and Glenn Ligon’s words also came back to me in the office recently. I was seeing an emotionally challenged child and her parents. Somewhere near the end of our visit I commented on what a beautiful person she was and how her strength of character combined with her parent’s incredible support would help her rise above her struggles. As I mentioned her shining nature I saw a glimmer of relief in her mother’s eyes. For a second her haze of stress and worry parted and she could see her daughter there across the room as I did – a beautiful person with a positive future.

These times of seeing our children a bit outside of our usual view are gifts to be savored and shared. Enjoy!

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Minimalist Art Provoking Maximum Discussion

An article by Carol Vogel in yesterday’s New York Times brings me to focus here on item number one in The List. The article was a review of Glenn Ligon’s upcoming retrospective at the Whitney museum in NYC. Glenn Ligon is a modern painter and conceptual artist whose work focuses on his view and exploration of American history. There is much here to use as fodder for a dinnertime discussion with your kids.

First a bit of art history to set the stage with. His work seems to fall well into the broad category of Conceptual Art. This movement followed Abstract Expressionism (think Rothko and Pollock) and Pop Art (think Warhol). Ligon’s work seems heavily influenced by a Neo-Dadaist artist: Jasper Johns (think American flags and numbers), …and if all this is making your head spin either skip on through or, see the bottom of this post for examples of work by these artists. Conceptual Art is a cool ah, concept to talk with your kids about. It very simply put, is art that focuses on ideas rather than aesthetics. The Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp was amongst those setting the stage for conceptual art by leading us to question what art is exactly and to stretch our expectations of what art should be.

The work of art is always based on the two poles of the onlooker and the maker. Marcel Duchamp

Years later, Conceptual art began to look at the context and perception of words, objects and ideas. In Ligon’s work he often uses words or phrases from other people and reproduces them in ways that urge the viewer to look longer and harder at what has been said. Taking these words into a new frame or focus pushes us to contemplate their ideas as those outside our own experience bringing us possibly, to a new understanding.  As Ligon himself said:

You have to be a bit outside of something to see it

The New York Times article about his work is well titled: The Inside Story on Outsiderness. Look with your children at his art; doing so may move them towards that first item on our List: to widen their perspective and encourage cross-experience understanding. Glenn Ligon’s art is about important and challenging concepts developed in large part by his experience as an African-American gay man  and yet, is presented in ways that are approachable. Challenging but not crushing of a child’s interest. My friend described them as “minimalist art provoking maximum discussion”.

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Representative works discussed above:

Glenn Ligon "All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence" (inspired by words from The book "Black Like Me")
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko
Jasper Johns
Andy Warhol