Sunday, January 30, 2005

A paradox discovered in online quizzing

So I took a few online quizzes today, and I found some interesting results. To begin, I tried the Nerd Quiz. Here I learned that I am, in fact, a "Mid-Rank Nerd," placing in the 77th percentile of nerdiness. Next I tried the Loser Quiz, thinking that my well-established (but not overwhelming) nerdiness would also relegate me to the depths of the loser pack. Quite surprisingly, I learned that I actually rank as "Kinda Cool" -- cooler, as it turns out, than half of people. Hmm. It would appear that mid-level nerdiness does not preclude at least a modicum of coolness. I would like to think that my peculiar set of characteristics suits me well for the field of neurosurgery, which happens to be the coolest field of medicine (an incontrovertible fact), but one that nonetheless demands a redoubtable degree of nerdiness.

Anyhow, I also proceeded to take the Spoiled Rotten Quiz, and learned that I rank at about the 70th percentile of spoiled rottenness. I wasn't aware of having been so spoiled, but that's perhaps because I'm largely surrounded by a gaggle of overeducated, overprivileged medical students in my social circles. Incidentally (and scarily), I had my girlfriend take the Spoiled Rotten Quiz as well...she scored in the 98th percentile, and was told by the website, "You are spoiled, spoiled, spoiled, you brat!" She vehemently denied this assertion, but I have had similar suspicions myself. Good thing she'll be a dermatologist, and can spoil herself rotten as needed.


I have had an irregular schedule of late, which means of course that my circadian rhythm -- free of any entraining influence -- has exerted its own creativity upon my life. So each night I find sleep a little later, becoming increasingly unproductive as my daylight hours become scarce and nightime hours, which invite idleness, become abundant. I often find myself on nights such as this looking for entertainment in odd places, such as the old file on my hard drive that contains things I wrote in the past. Here is something curious I came upon: a rivulet of thought that sprang from my sleep hungry mind a few years ago.

Given limitless time, there’s no limit to what I could accomplish. Impossible, perhaps, but true. My time never lasts as long as it lasts, and I can’t stand how unproductive it makes me. Are you kidding me? – another day and another tally of goals not met? I fret but this fretting only serves to waste more time. Really what I need to do is plan, plan out the last detail of my strategy so that I know exactly how to avoid every pitfall. But herein lies the difficulty, for my entropy is stronger than my order and the time spent ordering is as time spent trying to dam a river with my hands. I cannot make water flow uphill. But I think I could, though, given limitless time.

My plans, my plans! What have I need to know, when all I need I can do! To make it happen, that is my goal. And yet the sound surrounds me with its insistent din and echoes into the bottom of my soul. Oh, how quaint, to mention the soul – how sickeningly trite in this day and age. This time, this age holds me enrapt while it subtly, below the threshold of attention, exenterates me. If only I could have been born in a different time, in a different place, in a different time people did not think the same ways and look upon deeds the same as they do now. The deeds meant more, each of them, thick with marrow that is the genesis of the red liquid infusing all. And now what have we, and what have I? I have only my goals, my neverending goals and my neverending thoughts and my neverending dissatisfaction with my progress towards who I am, or who I was or will become if only I could reach my goals – my goals? Where did I get the term? Is it from some self-help book that I read during a depressive mood, or is it from some self-esteem and productivity training with which I was indoctrinated as a messy-haired boy in school? Why a goal? Why not a ball or a stem or a brick or something tangible? I want to reify, to make the goals concrete, for there I can lay my head or rest my feet. Ever elusive, though, this damned goal as the sound reaches a fever pitch and brandishes its sharp pitch at my eardrums. A puncture ensues, in the world of my mind, but a hand to check the side of my head finds not blood, not pus but only sweat dripped from the side of my face. If I were of the confrontational sort, I would assault the sound, threaten violence, violence of the kind I could not possibly execute as the man I am now and would not possibly execute, due to the reprehensibility of the thing, if I were the man I want to become. Composure! I want and need composure! But there will be time for that.

Life marching on with its incessant throbbing continues to pound my ears. But is that a mistake? Could life perhaps not be in the sound? Is the sound even a part of life at all? Or is life everything that spurns the sound, spits upon the ground, turns its back and walks away without fear of reprisal because it cannot fear reprisal? I fear what I cannot fear, and therein lies my pain. The noble thing, the true thing, the quality thing: to repudiate fear out of deference to the structure of being. My thing? To fear what I cannot because I think of it as some Sisyphusean task, nobleness springing from the interminable doing. Absurdity drips off of my face and into the ears that can get no relief from the sound. And it all attests to the time.

I clutch, and squeeze, and the material gives way between my hands but I cannot wring out the sound. The sponginess infects me, proliferates in my skin and my flesh until I too am soaked with the ghastly noise. Only I can’t squeeze it out, for a hand cannot grasp itself. I try, though, and I think I could if only I had limitless time.

I feel capitulation at my temples, claws digging in and piercing the flesh, digging further and gouging at it, it being the parts inside that cannot drip, or at least not drops I can feel. The sound, the furious sound. Signifying nothing. Or something, but I don’t know for sure quite what.

Finally a surge! I can withstand, I am mighty, I am not afraid. I have time, and I will not loosen my grasp. My will, indomitable, will surge onward!

My spoken claim to victory merely grants entrée to the inexorable. Sound drowns, an innocuous bath gone awry. I reach, I press. The beeping stops and I rise for another day.

A friend of mine read this once. As his eyes moved down the page, the space between his eyebrows grew increasingly furrowed, until I worried that perhaps his face might involute entirely and leave nothing but a moist, shiny skull. When he concluded reading, he looked at me with sincere concern and said, "Are you, umm...okay?" With some reassurance, I convinced him once again of my sanity, and never again ventured to let him read anything I had written.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The freedom of soliloquy

Upon reviewing the site meter statistics for my blog's first few days of existence, the following words come to mind, borrowed from Dante by T.S. Eliot to serve as his epilogue for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:"

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

These lines translate as, "If I thought that my reply were to be to someone who would ever return to the world, this flame would be still, without further motion. But since no one has ever returned alive from this depth, if what I hear is true, I answer you without fear of shame." Like good old J. Alfred, I can apparently narrate my life from this blog as though I were confiding in no one at all -- as, apparently, nobody is listening. Soliloquys are liberating; I can see Shakespeare's fancy for them.

That being said, I will now cock my head, gaze upwards dramatically, gesticulate firmly (and too frequently), and thus with my deepest booming stage voice proceed to air my thoughts on the eve of my match into neurosurgery residency.

To occupy my mind tonight, I decided to re-watch an old favorite movie -- Fight Club, directed by David Fincher and based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk. Every time I see this film, I find it shocking how well the dialogue captures the cryptic concerns of an entire generation of its male audience. Through the narrator's self-conscious criticisms and tongue-in-cheek denouncements of his way of life, we can appreciate the extent to which our common dreams and goals (money, success, possessions, the "perfect life") have been unconsciously and insidiously installed into our minds by American consumerism. Yet, if you're anything like me, seeing this movie only momentarily inclines you to reject this force-fed blackguard of the ideal life; before long, the same old compulsion to seek extrinsic perfection insinuates itself from our culture back into your psyche, the truth having only been elucidated for a brief, almost imperceptible parcel of time (much like a single frame of pornography spliced into a children's movie by Tyler Durden's nefarious fingers). So, for tonight at least, a wisp of enlightenment has cooled my brow, and I feel less concerned about the outcome of the computerized matching process that will determine my fate for the next seven years. I can think instead on other topics of (in?)consequence in my life.

For instance, today I saw my first complete autopsy as part of the pathology rotation I am completing. My previous conceptions of an autopsy were certainly dispelled as false. Of course, most of what I envisioned of an autopsy comes from t.v. or film. The typical scene takes place in the dimly-lit basement of the county coroner's office, with gray faces looking on sternly as the forensic pathologist demonstrates the key piece of evidence hidden in a deep anatomic crevasse, such as in the axilla or behind the tongue. The reality of hospital autopsies, it seems, lacks much of the ceremony and all of the suspense. First, every observer or participant must cloak him/herself from head to toe in layer upon layer of plastic, cloth, and latex, all designed to confound evil bodily fluids and their inexorable tropism for the skin and mucous membranes of all things living. Suitably donned in space suits, then, the pathologist and the autopsy technician begin the work at hand: the systematic dismantling of a cold, swollen, bruised cadaver. After the positioning of the body (a curious sight, the disturbingly floppy limbs making unwieldy an otherwise death-firmed corpse) the process proceeds. A Y-shaped incision is made; fat is dissected; the chest wall is sawed off; viscera are removed; measurements are made; organs are weighed. Later, the scalp is sliced through in the back of the head and pulled forward firmly like a child's cap in winter, to allow for the cracking of the skull and the removal of the brain. Later, the cadaver's new openings are closed with rapid expediency, the technician wielding his stitch as deftly -- if not as elegantly -- as any surgeon. All this transpires coolly, rapidly, impersonally, and with an overwhelming sense of economy. Seeing the process unfold, one thinks of a fisherman standing on the bank of a river, cleaning out the guts of his day's catch by the last meager rays of a fading evening sun. One does not, however (without an effort, at least), think of the end of a life, of a family huddled together in desperate sobbing solidarity, or of where amongst the sour-smelling organs a soul might once have resided. No, it seems that by the time a naked corpse reaches the autopsy suite, the person who once lived inside was perhaps removed with the clothing; stuffed into a bag marked "PATIENT BELONGINGS" alongside shoes, clothes, a toiletry kit, and a stack of futile Get Well Soon cards. Upon retrospection, the entire austere sight might seem quite depressing -- that is, if one were not inured to such things.

I pray for the departed person and her family.

* Dante's words and their translation borrowed from The Wasteland and Other Poems, a collection by Helen Vendler.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Me trying to look at my brain Posted by Hello