My first book of poetry!

I’m thrilled to announce that Finishing Line Press will be publishing a chapbook of my poetry entitled Tools for Survival in early 2015.  Prepublication sales will take place from November 25 – January 23.  Stay tuned for information as the date gets closer!

The Big Ask

Sometimes you recognize it as you are making it.  Other times you only realize later, long after the answer and its effects have rippled outward through your life, just how much rested on – and sprang from – that question.  Will you help me with this?  Do you know anyone who does xyz?  What do you think of this idea?

Several years ago I read an article that gave this phenomenon a name, to which I pay homage in this title. You can read it here, and I highly recommend that you do; it makes you want to jump up and shout your big, scary, but potentially life-altering question from the rooftops.

Which is, on a smaller scale, exactly what I intend to do here.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I became a doctor who loves to write, and now my goal is to make a career of both in the tradition of my idols Danielle Ofri, Atul Gawande, Pauline Chen. In fact, I wrote a collection of essays during medical school. Several have been published on their own, but I am hopeful that I might be able to publish them together as a book.

So here it is: I’m looking for an agent. Or a publisher. Someone to take stock of what I have written and help me toward the next step, or to guide me in reworking what I’ve done so far. And I will appreciate any thoughts/recommendations/general advice that anyone has to offer.

This ask might not end up being the big one. But maybe it will lead me somewhere. And at the very least, it’s good practice for the next one.

Should the star of my life star in my writing?

Lately my husband has been sending me a lot of articles discussing the use – or careful avoidance of – the Internet and social media by parents for the sharing of photos of their children. Most of the articles are written by people who have made a conscious decision to minimize their children’s exposure to the online public, some simply by limiting the number of pictures they post and by strengthening their privacy settings, others by establishing password-access-only sites to share pictures with close friends and family, and, in one case, by registering a URL, email address, and Facebook account in the child’s name, to be handed owe to him or her at such time as the parents deem appropriate.  I have not yet come across any articles encouraging the opposite, go-ahead-and-share-away philosophy, which I suppose makes sense since that approach seems to be the norm.

I will admit that I share photos of my son on Facebook.  There was the initial birth announcement featuring a shot from the delivery room. I keep an album of the photos we take each month, him propped in the same chair with his stuffed elephant nearby for comparison. Is he in my profile image?  Yes.  Other than that, I don’t post very often, but does it really make a difference given that I’m posting at all? In terms of preserving his privacy and waiting until he is of an age to give consent, or at least assent, to the sharing of his identity and image, is it an all or nothing phenomenon?

This really brings up a bigger question for me – what about my writing? How does one manage privacy concerns when writing about one’s family? My husband figures frequently in my work, and although I never delve into deep dark family secrets or share anything overly private, he is always my first reader and I give him full veto power over any piece that involves him. (He has yet to exercise that power.)

But now there is my son. One simple solution would be to not write about him until he is older and can grant permission, but he is such a huge part of my life, and already has such a great influence on all of the things that I process through my writing – my work as a pediatrics resident, the balance between career responsibilities and family life, and of course the joys and challenges of motherhood – that avoiding mention of him feels impossible and counterproductive.

Protecting our subjects’ privacy, especially when those subjects are patients, is a topic that features frequently at conferences in the medical humanities. The general consensus seems to be that the writer should try to gain the subject’s permission and, barring that, alter any information that might make the individual identifiable to someone who knows him or her.

Thus far, I have taken a similar approach in writing about my baby. I never use his first name, and handily his last name is different from my own.  Nothing that I share pertains to his appearance, health, or any other aspect of his life thus far that he could conceivably in the future wish to keep private. The question looms as to whether he will be upset one day that I have written about him at all. That’s something that I can’t predict. I can only hope that he will understand how essential the act of writing is to his mother’s well being and that he will know that I have made every decision with the intent to protect him.

How do other writers feel about including their children in their writing? Do you avoid it, embrace it, or strive for some middle ground?

The Comfortable Conferencegoer

Recently I attended a national academic conference, and while I’ll admit that, having brought my husband and son along for the trip, the balance of time spent was skewed more toward pool and beach activities than academic sessions, I did indeed attend several and overall they were of good quality. One left me somewhat disappointed, though, because although it addressed what I would consider an important topic within my field, it didn’t really add much new to my knowledge. And while that sentiment might initially make me seem too self-assured, it actually got me thinking about what we gain from conferences and how we might be able to gain even more. 

As a resident, I am far from an expert in anything, including the topic of the conference session in question. But the topic is an area of great interest for me; I have read numerous articles about it and devoted elective time during medical school and residency to exploring it further. So, I gathered from the comments made during the session, had the majority of my fellow attendees. Many offered thoughtful input beginning with phrases such as, “In my experience,” and, “Whenever I face this issue.” It was clear that people were there because they were interested, but perhaps they stood to gain less that day because their interest had already spurred them to develop a knowledge base of their own. 

I began thinking, are they [we] really the ones who need to be at this particular session?  There were, more than likely, numerous other physicians out there who would benefit from either an introductory or refresher course on the topic, and they might not even have considered setting foot in that room. Similarly, there were many other topics about which I have much to learn, but whose sessions I had not chosen to attend. Most of the attendees at the meeting were probably clustering into conference rooms to listen to lectures and partake in discussions surrounding areas about which they already knew a fair amount, while bypassing others where the topics being treated felt more foreign, and from which, therefore, they had even more to gain. It would seem that in selecting how we spend our continuing education time, we might not be continuing our educations in the most meaningful and fruitful manner. 

Conferences are already somewhat self-selecting events. There is the obvious and logical level of self-selection: pediatricians attend conferences on pediatrics, oncologists, conferences on oncology, and so forth. But when it comes to which specific conferences under the umbrella of our specialty we choose to attend, and which particular sessions offered there, I would wager that the choices made have less to do with where our weaknesses lie and more with where our comfort does.  As a result, there is a large deficit between how much we stand to gain and how much we actually do.

During medical school we are indoctrinated that as physicians we must be life-long learners. Once we have completed our training, much of this learning is, by necessity, self-directed. But before we conclude our efforts simply by attending an academic conference and relaxing in the comfort of meeting up with old friends and colleagues and listening to lectures on our particular areas of interest, I challenge us all to take the additional step to explore a topic with which we feel less familiar – uncomfortable, even – and in doing so to expand the boundaries of our comfort and, most importantly, our medical knowledge. 

Guest Post on BLUNTmoms

Exciting times!  My post “Want to Simplify Your Life?  Have a Baby” was included on the very hip, entertaining site BLUNTmoms.com.  Check it out  here then stick around to explore the rest of their site.  Whether you have a spouse or kids or neither, you’ll definitely find something there that speaks to you.  (Probably moreso the ladies, but guys I’m sure some of the articles there will entertain/enlighten you as well.)

Thanks, BLUNTmoms!

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