WickedEye's Quotient

10/08/2009 at 08:45

Paintings & Pipes, Maps & Territory...Venice & Carbondale

I'm sitting at my kitchen table in the grey of a cloudy autumn midmorning and remembering Venice: the pristine, near-effervescing colors of a sunny morning on the Adriatic coast, with Lombardis and turisti alike raising their faces to the perfect sky.

But this is not an essay on Venice. When I (finally) have time to construct one, it will read like a half-dream- one whose retelling strains at the edges with the knowledge that the dreamer seeks to impart a vision for which language itself has no capacity.

Venice is the utmost, and immaculate, embodiment of tangible magic.

And for someone who has watched a baby elephant peek from behind its mother on an Indian mountainside and swum in a mangrove forest in the Caribbean and sung Compline at the Couvent des Ursulines, that's saying a lot.

The sum of those experiences is a big part of why I'm writing this. One of the many reasons I love traveling is that it gives me so many places to go when I don't like my current surrounds. And yes, I'm fully aware of just how mad that must sound, and I can't be arsed to sterilize the explanation for those who demand strict rationality in their descriptions of thought (and if you are such a person, you may very well find you're in the wrong place).

Mad or not, it's true. When thinking of other things- school, studying, friends, family, reading- I have little leisure to consider where I am and if I like it. But such intense concentration fades with completion of thought or task, and I once again look about me- orient myself to my physical surrounds. Ground myself in my body and the sight and sound of the things around me. And when I do that, that locale doesn't always please me.

I like my apartment; I've gone to great pains, after the last place I lived, to make certain that I can and do enjoy this one. But, rich fabrics and bright colors aside, it's a hell of a lot more appealing on a sunny day than a dull, drizzling October one. The fact that the apartment is located in Carbondale doesn't greatly help, either: I've resigned myself to living in small towns for the near future, and Carbondale has many charming and engaging features. But it is not my preferred environment, and it is impossible to set foot outside my apartment without being reminded of that.

So, Venice, today. And now that I've mentioned them above, Kuttikayam and Guilligan's and New Orleans as well. Places that are part of my mental landscape: a wide world in which I live as surely as my body lives on physical terrain, a world mapped from the mundane but containing experiences, memories, feelings: information that the workaday topographical world can never accomodate.

It does sound mad, I know; but we all do it to a certain extent. There are the things we see in front of us, and the vast rich jigsaw of the place in which they fit inside of us. They are not the same place. For we humans, the map and the territory are often inverted; the images we have in our head, the memories and current assimilations: these are where we live. The physical world is a map to consult. It is a source of input which often fades into the background when we occupy our own internal landscapes.

Differentiating what is real from what is not is important. Is what separates the sane from those who are not. But the things which make us unique are the mental territories we construct, the record of discoveries through which we move. And if those things are not real, then neither are we.

Magritte's painting, 'The Treachery of Images', is a perfect example of this: A large pipe with the legend 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe') beneath it. Magritte's point is well made: the painting is not a pipe. It is an image of a pipe. It cannot, as Magritte once pointed out, be filled with tobacco.

But it is Magritte's pipe. It is all the pipes he filled with tobacco over the years before his brush spilled their amalgamation onto a canvas. Ceci n'est pas une pipe, c'est n'est pas notre pipe, mais c'est son pipe: It is not a pipe, it is not our pipe. But it is Magritte's pipe, in a much larger sense than that in which he owned the labor of its making and the canvas on which he spent it. It is Magritte's idea of a pipe, and it was as real to Magritte as the image of it is not to the rest of us.

Paintings and pipes, maps and territory. We navigate them constantly.

I occupy a given latitude; whether in Venice or here in my kitchen, I am always somewhere real. But my place of residence changes. In that sense I am a citizen of several different countries: the Here and Now, the Once Before, the Future Dwelling, the Nonexistent Ideal. Their borders are blurry, but they are all distinct. All real.

And the Here and Now, my grey-washed kitchen in Carbondale, is too dim a place for me to stay at the moment. I've no reason to linger.

So I'm leaving it, and you, for a marocchino from Caffe Florian, drunk in the open air of the Procuratie Nuove. For a seat amongst the ghosts of Casanova and Goethe and Byron, for the feel of the warming sea breeze and a view of the scintillant colors of the Piazza de San Marcos. For a place to revel in the endless vibrant jostle of the world surging past me across the piazza.

Arrivederci, Carbondale. For a little while.

10/01/2009 at 23:31

Metousiosis*- Law and Medicine

I wrote this on the Saturday after my first week of medical school. In a gesture of hope and intent, I'm posting it now, 8 hours away from my first medical school exam.


The relationship between law and medicine is that between the things to which we belong and the things which we own. And because we live in our own bodies, live individual lives in the midst of others who do the same, the relationship between the two is inextricably intertwined.

I didn’t think this way when I set out to study both. I merely observed that all the most basic human rights—the ones that had concerned me, literally, since I was a child—sat in these areas of human effort. Bodily integrity. Mental health. Food, clothing, shelter. Safety from fear.

Having studied law—been at odds with its study and also been wholly subsumed in its intricacies and its brilliancies—and now, entering upon the study of medicine, preparing myself for a career in medical practice, the consideration of both fields has become weighted. Not biased; never that. My love of language and reverence for the march of law and the advancement of justice in human history, my gratitude and awe at the singular genius and great-mindedness of those who’ve shaped law in the last 400 years, precludes that.

But I want—intend—to practice clinical medicine. My activities within the law will always be linked to that practice. And it’s in this first allegiance, this concept of medicine as a personal undertaking as well as a central necessity of human life, that the difference between law and medicine is most important to me.

Law is the language of the things that own us—those things to which we owe allegiance. Our families, our communities, our countries, our world: they are governed by the rules to which groups of people, not individuals, agree. Of course our personal proclivities and mindsets dictate these interrelationships; but the rules which govern them absolutely, the rules which can be enforced, are set by us as parts of a whole. They are an ongoing negotiation, a discussion in which rules and premises are fluid and understanding of meaning is set by the culture in which the conversation occurs.

Medicine is the language of the thing we own—the single thing within our possession and over which our powers are (or should be) absolute. I have had a life that convinced me, from very early on, that the only things we can ever truly own lie within the limits of our skin. That whatever our bodies can do and our minds can know are the only permanent possessions humans have. The laws which govern what we can do with our bodies can be enforced only to a certain point: we are constantly in possession of that which lies within us. Such possession is a realm into which only the harshest and most abominable societies trespass.

I’ve chosen to be one of those who treat and nurture the latter entity—who live in the latter language. One of those who participates in a conversation governed by physical rules and realities, ones which no amount of negotiation will change or blunt. That we are still discovering those rules and their operation makes the conversation incomplete and oft-corrected, but the acknowledgment and frequent correction of mistakes are a hallmark of those whose main concern is the well-being of those for whom they care, and not for others’ perception of their omniscience. Acknowledgment of one’s limits is the surest sign of honesty.

It’s not this simple, of course; few things ever are. There is significant intermeshing between law and medicine, a great deal of dependence upon the understanding one of the other, even in the absence of any more exigent need.

Yet my understanding of these two fields centers around this dichotomy. My understanding of my own study, and my own approach to both these central areas of human effort, centers around the allegiances we owe others and the rights we have over ourselves—over our one absolute possession. Between a sense of self and a sense of self's place in the midst of those around us.

I want to nurture the former while respecting the latter. And it is the effort of learning to balance both which will occupy the next eight years of my life. The rest of my life, however long it may be, will be spent in maintaining those skills and that balance.

This is how I think, who I am, what I wish to become. It’s a journey that, in many ways, I’m only just beginning.

I can’t wait.


*Metousiosis (uμετουσίωσις): Greek for change of ουσία (essence, inner reality).

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