She just turned twenty-two on this lunar year March 6th
Just about to throw away her textbook and see the world
But, she realized there’s much trouble she needs to face
Sometimes she wishes she could return to when she was twelve
When her only responsibilities were going to school, simple, without worries
She’s like a flower bud full of hope
The days between January 29 seem to draw closer together, and filling them in with a series of nothings seems easier—these blue skies meld in and out of each other too fast for me to follow. This is what writers mean when they say life is short: life in itself is a series of long drawn out days that converge into a single moment, gone before anyone ever acknowledged its existence.
I’ve been thinking of Paul Kalanithi’s words: A sigh, and the earth continued to rotate back toward the sun. In some ways, the fact of my own mortality hangs above my head. I am reminded of it daily—my medical books are elaborate descriptions of ways to delay death, my patients are flesh and blood reminders of how debilitating disease can be, my classmate(who was faithful, kind, and God-fearing)’s very recent passing is a painful reminder of the unpredictability and brevity of life.
Am I more like Grindelwald? Shall I die just a little as the days crawl past? Shall I feel my youth wane and my joints grow heavy? Shall I feel my skin sag and smile helpless as my (eventual) grandchildren toy with my chicken wing arms? Perhaps I shall. Even this slow wasting seems like a brief moment in the greater scheme of things.
We know this: humanity has lived long enough to become aware of our ephemeral existence. Still, we press on and attempt to carve out something substantial out from our numbered days. Still, we get up. We get dressed. We eat. We live. We read. We write.
I am not anxious about dying, or dying in pain. These may well be my end. I fear wasting the days before my demise. I fear blinking, and opening my eyes to another year gone without having improved myself, my relations, the world in the time span. And though I’ve been told (indirectly) that faith is not something desirable to have, I fear losing my faith. I fear watching it wane until it becomes ghostly and irrelevant to me. I fear my God turning away from me. I fear myself aiming for the earth again, and losing heaven in the process.
So, may this be the year I get up. Get dressed. Read. Write. Live. Act. Do. Resolve. Believe.
Perhaps, then I shall come into the next year satisfied with all my hands have done, and all my eyes have seen.
Send me skyward, to parts unknown, to paths feet have yet wandered, to prayers I have muttered. Send me onward. Though my shoes long to stay cement glued to the ground, send me forward. Away, to countrysides and skylines, to parched lands and endless seas, to scorching heat and biting cold.
I will follow: open armed, eagle spread willing. I will go: backpack ready, shoes on when I sleep. I’ve learned what it looks like to stay static, always fighting time and space and God. I’ve learned what it looks like to play with fire, taunting flames until one of us gets burned. Most often, the victim is me. I’ve learned what stars look like from the wrong side of the earth. I’ve learned reckless hymns, sung to justify my wrongs. I’ve learned the path of least resistance. I’ve learned contempt.
Send me forward, and I’ll learn to want better things: the steady turning of gears, a well oiled machine. Send me onward, and I’ll learn how to steer past pirate ships. I’ll learn how to keep dreams in my pocket, tend them quietly until they grow into realities. Send me patients, and I’ll learn how to love them. Send me typewriters, and I’ll learn to write again. Send me more, God, and teach me to have more faith again.
Send me skyward, and I’ll grow wings again. I’ll learn all the flying I’ve forgotten.
Excerpt from letters I've been writing to strangers about friends I once knew, and the people they could have been.
Five thousand steps from where I lay, there’s a boy with blistered feet. His shoes two sizes too big, passed down one year too soon. On Mondays, he walks east, and we meet—peripherally. Incidentally. The way seagulls note the presence of fishermen as both parties attempt to catch fish.
On Mondays, his feet blister from shoes he tries too hard to fill in an attempt to pacify beasts in his chest fed by the cloud heavy lie of his head: “Never enough, Never enough,”
Soundless noise whispers in his ears. It is so loud he misses my greeting, so distracting he misses me entirely.
Two thousand steps from where I lay, he steps on beds of sands in shoes that fit. Size ten.
On Tuesdays, he shakes of his beast, and he is himself again—feet nimble and quick, Meleager besting Atalanta. Without the tricks.
On Wednesdays, his burden presses against his breast, and his shoulders sag beneath the weight again. He feeds the beast lies, believes them to be true in the process, and when made aware of their falsehood, continues to believe them anyway.
From where I lay, I pray to God for telescope vision, or needlepoint fingers to pry the monster from his frame. From where I lay, he is no longer visible: feet too weary to prop legs up, legs too heavy to stand.
He does not hear me when I ask him: whisper your secrets so I may Atlas-carry your burden. My shoulders tuck neatly beneath your arm for you to crutch-lean upon me for support, but still he pushes up at burdens. Pushes me away. Like I said, we meet peripherally—Winter and Spring, our feet never bringing us close enough.
I've been on hiatus–nothing you couldn't have deduce from my archive history–for a couple of months in pursuit of my education. The short of it: I am learning to suffer. The long of it I shall attempt to type out soon.
On another completely unrelated note: hence forth, consider my title capitalisation literary blasphemy or a reference to E. E. Cummings decapitalisation of i's. Truth be told, the sharp edges of title capitalisation bothers me. I have no idea why. Perhaps I am compensating for... something... Clinical psychiatry may answer that question... Or I'm simply rambling and all this is a distraction.
Well, go on, poem down below.
The clicking of typewriter keys
have faded, and the ledger scribbling
ceased, and the sound of laughter
muted by heavy textbooks and headphones
tuning the rest of the world out lest I
decide this isn’t worth pursuing anymore.
This is my life now: stethoscope
amplifying your heartbeat while
tuning out what makes your heart beat
I am trying,
convincing myself, spitting
theories of delayed gratification, consoling
my weary heart
wants out, wants
anything but this, but
the heart is treacherous if it is consulted
for anything but its beating.
This is my life now: white coat wrap
dreams from reality’s biting cold, orphan
leave them on empty doorsteps, and ring the bell.
Someday, I will be back for you
when you have grown
aware of your worth, reject the birthright of my
arms when I finally have enough strength to hold you.
You have the right to.
I haven't been around lately, but there's a good reason for that! I'm nearly through with my first year of medical education. *Cheers!*
It’s been a surreal year. Medical school has always been one of my castles in the clouds, so to say I’m on the last leg of my first year after countless years of pre-empting excited relatives by saying “I might not even go to medical school” is amazing. It does feel a bit like an out of body experience. I’m still trying to comprehend what I’ve gotten myself into.
To be honest, I felt like throwing in the towel about two months into it. (My uncle talked me out of it after a phone call, fortunately, so I'm still in the rat race!) I have never studied this much in my entire life—and I wasn’t even studying as much as my classmates. I wasn’t used to putting so much effort into something and simultaneously failing to get the results I so wanted. I’m not being modest. My grades are quite unspectacular, and no matter what anyone says to cheer me up I can’t bring myself to believe them otherwise.
But somehow, I’ve gotten through to the last two sets of exams relatively unscathed. In fact, if we don’t count the damage medical school has done to my intellectual pride, I’d say I’m in a pretty good place.
I can already feel the lure of the summer—the guilt-free pleasure of sleeping eight hours a night, the liberty to wear anything but that restricting white blouse and pencil skirt, the privilege of reading at my own leisure. It’s very tempting to watch movies and read novels instead of putting in the effort for the last leg of the school year.
But as a future physician, that’s just not the way to do it. To become the woman I’ve been reading about and praying about, I know I have to do two things: press on & finish strong.
Recently, I’ve been actively following Megan Rapinoe, and devouring her presence on social media. For those who are unaware, she’s a professional football player—the soccer kind. She plays as midfielder of the US Women’s National Team, and she’s a bit of a maverick in the best way. She’s amazing on the field. Her cleverness manifests itself in the way she plays. She plays her opponents, and I think she’s wonderful if you haven’t already guessed from me writing this mini-fanatic paragraph.
She’s had two separate ACL injuries that have caused her to miss the 2007 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics—both extremely important football tournaments. I imagine it’s a difficult thing to work so hard for the great big fight only to find yourself incapable of participating. You’ve worked so hard for it!
It’s odd that she motivates me so much at the moment, but she does. So much. It takes discipline to get back up your feet. It takes discipline to approach an injury without whining and to say from the start “what do I need to do to get to where I want to be?” Here I am feeling incapacitated, and there she was recovering from her ACL injury to go on to play in the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics. It’s a mindset, and you have to want to get to where you want to be.
To me, she’s the perfect example of pressing on. She’s the example of Philippians 3:14 that I’ve been striving to embody—you fix your eyes on the prize, and you fix your eyes on what you were called to do. In my case, it’s becoming an A plus physician. That’s the goal. I’ve prayed about this. I’ve journeyed through so many road blocks to get here, and now that I’m here, am I still pressing on? Am I still putting in the effort? I should be. I want to be.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
At the same time, I realise more and more the reason to be resilience—to never waving the white flag—to finishing strong. In my case, I want to do my best out of love for my God, and love for the kind of being He is. He values my hard work, and If I really valued Him and His opinion, would I be putting in any less than all my effort? If I love this profession, would I really be looking for ways to simply get by instead of persevering until the very end?
This is what it means to run the race—it means you’ve found something worth enduring for. It means you ought to endure. It means it’s going to be a long five years. It means there will be struggle. It means you will falter. It means you will fall sometimes, but you can choose to get back up. It means there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It means lean on Christ, and lean on your friends. It means through hard work, prayer, and nothing short of a miracle, you’ll get there someday—just as others have done before you.
It means press on. Finish what you started. Finish strong.
It is, once again, exam week. How I've been surviving medical school with my dismal study habits is beyond me, but here I somehow am!
I'm thoroughly excited for exams to end, of course, primarily because I'm a terrible test taker and secondarily because The Icarus Connection is launching on March 23rd!
This is my brain child.
If you've never heard of Icarus, he's the son of the great craftsman Daedalus. The father son duo were stuck on an island called Crete, and in an attempt to escape Daedalus fashioned wings for Icarus... Made of wax. When he got too close to the sun, the wings melted and Icarus was no more.
Most people find this a sort of tragic warning story against ambition. I find it the opposite. Some passions are meant to consume us. Some passions are worth burning for. Granted, it isn't very pleasant but somehow the greatest people of history have been refined by iron and fire.
This is what me and my friends at The Icarus Connection stands for––the value of pursuing passions worth burning for, particularly through expression in the performing arts of poetry and music.
We're holding our launch event March 23rd, in Blue Rocket Cafe + Kitchen. Our website is over at icarusconnect.tumblr.com, and we have a Facebook page if you find the need to visit it. It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but we’ll be updating it as we go along.
So there you have it. Hopefully, things go smoothly for me––both in my exams and in our launch event.
Maybe I'll see you there, yes?
I've been performing this piece a lot lately. (To be exact: twice) Or at least, as much as my medical school schedule will allow.
Today, I had the most wonderful opportunity to perform this poem in the opening of Pinto Art Gallery's new wing for the Academy of Arts and Sciences. (I hope I got that right, I'm a bit dazed at the moment but I do believe I got that right.)
This poem is about growing with people and out of people.
Video shall follow soon, so do stay in tune for that.
Much love, etc.
Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, so
we deconstruct to reconstruct,
abide by the laws of conservation.
anatomy ones in my case—try
to piece together the parts
that make us human.
haven’t quite figured it out yet, but
we are all too willing to try
with every person who comes our way.
See, I did the math—or
I let Google do the math.
We have a candlestick life expectancy
of about 78 years.
With each sun’s cycle, we
are likely to interact with 3
new people in our sky rise cities.
80,000 in each lifetime—80,000 potential subjects
in our effort to decipher ourselves. They arrive
with hedge clippers to trim us down to size, or sometimes
we trim them.
There are people
who aim to leave black hole traces—tattoos
that serve as living proof of their existence.
trace the laughter lines around your eyes, translate
your wrinkles into poetry.
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet people like him.
If you’re lucky, he
will leave his fingerprints on your skin without
will fill your life with
until he is everywhere your wandering gaze leads back to.
will make you feel ten feet taller, like the
world is too small for your hobbit feet—and if you are lucky, he
will give you the world—no, better—he
will cheer you on as you take it
by storm, be your shield when you
are wielding your sword.
He will deconstruct himself
before you, reconstruct himself
until you forget the days without him
and you’ll love it.
are treading on lego pieces, positioned to hurt yourself
when your path diverges and he
are constantly reinventing ourselves, we
were never meant to stay static.
We were made
with feet, meant to move with.
We were made
with dreams meant to grow
wings with, meant to fly with.
We have grown together, we have grown
out of each other,
See, you are my infinity—constructed to resurrect
from the ashes of memories I’d burned, programmed
as a constant form of energy, shapeshifting…
Brighter stars are said to eclipse their brothers—some suns
are never discovered because they’re not bright
enough to see, and I’m giving up believing
that people like you are still looking for people like me.
And I’ve given up
parts of myself to fit into your galaxy.
You have the tendency
to deconstruct parts of history, stitch together
the patches you like. Conserve
photoshopped perfection but sweep
the process of progression under the rug.
As for me,
I’ve been trying to conserve
photograph memories—these moments
in time—the fabric
of your red shirt as you clung to me
for positive energy, the sound
of your voice when you wouldn’t talk
to anyone but me--
I write them down in ink
on raw skin before I forget—before I reconstruct
images in marble, lose
the frailty of flesh in translation,
before my candlewick life blows over too.
Mine is a finite set from point A to B, and
it won’t matter if it contained
an impossible amount of little infinities—my set
is bounded, and one day, the curtains
will close, my cup run dry,
will be lost in translation:
Everyone’s memory of me
will be a scratchy darkroom photo, plucked out
seconds too soon, fading white
from the bright light drawn back windows let in.
Even then, I will be deconstructed—reconstructed to fit
into someone’s perception of the dead.
And even then, out of my 80,000 encounters,
It will be my greatest pleasure
to be inaccurately conserved by you.
Every year on the date mother went into labor to bring me into this world, I pretend to be wiser than I am and write myself a letter for the year to come.
If that seems weird, you should meet me in person. I'm just peachy. =]
As much as I'd love to gift myself this, it's a transatlantic plane ride away. Oh well, this letter will suffice...
Note: Satirical. While spacing out in class sometime this week, I wondered what my thought process would look like when coming up with a differential diagnosis. Did my neuronal personas have whiteboards? Names? Completely unproductive side conversations? Probably.
“Our patient,” a greying Dr H said, doning his century old white coat as the clerk whispered didn’t they phase out those old things? as softly as she could muster. “Has hypertension, excessive acne, and asthma. What is wrong with him?”
Bespectacled Jace raised his sorry excuse of a hand even if he didn’t need to. “He’s lonely and can’t get a date. Probably depressed.”
“… Wrong… On all accounts. His wife has been here since dawn. You, Anson,” Dr H nodded at his most promising clerk yet.
“Autoimmune? Lupus?” if he means it as a joke, Dr H wasn't buying it. He wrinkled his brow and sighed.
Dr H’s wrinkles pressed further into his skin. How disappointing. “Anyone else?”
Jawn again—“Thyroid problem? Increased T3 and T4 could cause hypertension and cystic acne.”
“Thyroid hormone levels are normal,” Dr H nodded. “But good try. You deserve a pat on the back from yourself.”
Anson shoved his glasses up his nose bridge. “How old is he? Could be environmental. Toxic air, toxic food, toxic twenty-first century lifestyle.”
“This isn’t helping your lupus case, you idiot. It’s never lupus.”
“Corticosteroids,” Kale said. Dr H never took her name seriously, and usually took her answers less seriously than her name.
Today, however, Kale’s answer was “acceptable.” He asks her to go on.
“Primary asthma,” Kale began, staring down at her smart phone, “leading to chronic intake of corticosteroids. Hypertension could be drug-induced due to sodium and fluid retention. Increased sebum production from overactive glands (also induced by steroids) can cause the acne.”
“You googled that!” Anson complained.
Kale shrugged. “You didn’t.”
The gist of it: I've been trying to keep focused on the work at hand, but since I am here blogging versus actually popping open my textbooks, I am failing miserably at being a medical student.
So, without further pitiful ado, here's a short poem that reflects my perpetually distracted state.
I need to stop
I sincerely hope wherever you wander, you are doing a much better job at living than I am.
He avoids eye contact
as he explains the curse
of oak tree cracks
carved onto his cheeks
obscuring him from Prince Charming
into the ugly beast.
of unsightly-turned-beautiful futures,
discounting the allure
of sweet sap candies
behind bark façades;
forgets to trace
from the places he’s been
trace them for him:
until he believes himself a masterpiece
instead of an unworthy beast.
I've been soul searching (yet again) in the hopes that my decisions do not become regrets.
I wonder: if a woman is so keen to escape the monotony of her days, should she be somewhere else?
soothes the storm's shrill shrieks,
smooths the wrinkled sheets
of ocean waves
playing tug of war games
for no other reason
but their own amusement.
stirs sleeping birds,
their wings tucked
beneath self-imposed chains--
who have forgotten
And if they could escape,
would it be weakness of will
to forsake expectations
would it be a mistake
to be discontented,
to forsake the solid stability of land
for nature's promised thrill?
It will do no good to deny it--classroom hierarchy exists, and I mean not the social ranking amongst students. I speak of academic hierarchy. The students society sees as intelligent are perhaps ranked not by actual intelligence, but mainly the perception of intelligence. It hardly comes as a surprise that the students professors perceive as "most likely to succeed" in his classroom are those who sit in front, who raise their hands the second a question is posed, or who jump at any opportunity to prove themselves.
Honestly? I do none of those things. In fact, I sit near the back of the classroom, prefer to scribble my answer into my notebook when a question is asked, and try to evade much notice in general.
According to common belief, I am therefore a disinterested and disastrously average student. I am a ghost, content to flit in and out of classes. I am not the brightest, or I would participate more actively. This is the tragic assessment of the general population when met with such a person.
Upon further investigation, however, isn't this assessment rather unfair?
Are we not able to form our own opinions, and know for ourselves the correct answers to questions? Are we incapable of thoughtfulness? Are we worth any less because we'd rather listen quietly at the back than project our thoughts in front of the entire class?
Yet we quiet people are told to speak up. After all, how will we succeed in life? In my case, I am training to become a doctor meant to interact with patients. I should show eagerness! I should distinguish myself! I should be an effective communicator! I should not dread public speaking! I should speak to strangers without fear so easily lodging itself in my chest! I ought to be ashamed for not doing these things, should I not?
Quite to the contrary, I personally wonder why I shouldn't be a much better physician because of my introversion.
Allow me to speak freely about my own circumstance and feelings about this topic. Mind you--I, perhaps, am far from representative of any group of persons. I simply think it is unjust for anyone to judge my ability to become an effective physician on whether or not I am an eager beaver in class (or in any situation, for that matter!). And perhaps this short piece will help others understand those like me.
Society so often forgets that mankind is composed of different personalities and perspectives. Each kind of personality has something unique to contribute to one's chosen field, and yet it is so easy to have ideal characteristics in mind--a doctor should be personable, intelligent, professional, confident. These are desirable characteristics, yet it's so easy to have a stereotypical image of how these traits ought to express themselves.
Must one be talkative and loud to be considered personable? Must one be the first to answer in class to be considered intelligent? Must one be stoic to be considered professional? Must one have swagger to be considered confident?
Can't one be quiet and yet develop rapport? Can't one think hard on his answer before giving it? Can't one be candid and yet be professional?
I think the interesting thing about introverts is how keen we are in our observations. We learn others' opinions because they readily give it to anyone who lends an ear. We are able to filter our thoughts before they flow from our tongues. We are able to notice subtle changes of demeanour resulting from words said. We are able to say the right things at the right times because we notice certain things overlooked by others. These we are able to do precisely because we are less eager to be the most perceived person in the room. Our ability to find security in the background lends to our perception of the world. And is this not a good thing? Shouldn't it attune us more to the feelings of our patients?
The entire reason I chose this profession was because it was so keen on humanity. With any other field, though perhaps one could argue that the ultimate goal was to touch a human being's life, none does so as intimately nor as immediately as medicine. There's a certain degree of compassion a physician must absolutely have to practise medicine. The fictional Dr House is, arguably the exception but perhaps even he represents the bare minimum: how does a doctor treat a patient's disease if he doesn't wish to save that person's life? Taking it one step further: aren't introverts capable of a grassroots sort of compassion? Furthermore, perhaps there is something special in a physician who is less eager to speak--perhaps we have understood the fear that comes with having to say something out loud.
I suppose the question boils down to stereotypes: can't we deal away with such things? Shall we admit that a successful doctor may just be the medical student who prefers to shun any sort of limelight and simply go about his duties the best he knows how--unconventionally? quietly?
If lavenders littered London,
Their scent would be masked by blood
Drawn from wounds bitterness had cut
Into flesh and bone of fiends
No different from those of friends.
If roses grew atop cobblestone,
They’d be used to mask wounds
Meant to bring peace as they split open,
Cast aside instead by the sight of petals
That obscured the effects of truth.
If lilies grew in fields,
They’d all be cut down
By rioters and ravers
Who destroyed hard-earned silence
With superfluous sound.
If your ashes fell in my city,
They'd use your final breath as propaganda:
Bring arms to your burial,
Weep tears of lies
And smirk into black handkerchiefs.
If lavenders littered London,
They would be swept away by morning
Before seeds of a simpler time
Take root in hearts
Long used to forgetting.
We have only just begun,
Yet I countdown
To the day of reckoning:
The day of Judgement
Isolation, I've heard
Is rarely walls
Or being pressed down
From seven sides.
A vast expanse
Without rock bottom.
Yet I'd prefer it to the way we'd end:
Hands held tightly together
Before realising we'd used paste
Too strong for our liking,
Wish to fly with our own wings,
Wish to navigate
Both free to dip
Into rain drenched clouds.
But we've clipped wings
Severed urges too strong to deny,
Forged contracts in time
That can never be brought back.
We wait for our last judgement,
Wait to be told off
For our conscious mistakes.
Wait for the end
As our world begins to bloom.