Narrative Medicine Book Club: March 31st, 2020

For today, Tuesday March 31st, we read up to: “He was now complaining of internal pains.”

The ominousness is building in today’s pages. I thought the above quote was so powerful for how it shows the way Rieux’s consciousness is changing in the face of the threat; the rats become the symbol of the fear, the sense of what’s on the horizon. Also so interesting the way that class is already playing in here — “some families who had seaside homes were already talking about escaping to them,” and the civil servant who says “‘I have other concerns.'” Struck too by Infodoc, “the agency for information and documentation,” and the fact that when the numbers are shared, it gives “a clear meaning to the daily spectacle that everyone had in front of their eyes” — that disconnect between statistics and lived reality, and how it can be one or the other of these things that brings a truth home to us. (And dare we point to the way the authorities are handling things? “The authorities had not considered or planned anything at all, but started by holding a council meeting to discuss it.” Sounds familiar…) — Nellie.

Please feel free to add to the discussion and join in with Nellie below, or on any of your social media channels using #NMBookClub and #CamusThePlague!

FOR TOMORROW: read the next 7 pages, up to “‘Let me know if you have any other cases,’ said Rieux.”

Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST March 30th 2020

Thank you SO MUCH to all who joined us for our first virtual group session!! We had 66 people on the zoom meeting — there were folks from New York and New Jersey but also from Texas, North Carolina, California, Georgia, Alabama, and other countries all over the world — China, Morocco, Argentina, Greece, Brazil, the UK, Poland, and more! Wow. What an incredible thing, to get to come together and feel the collective energy in that virtual space.

The poem that we read together was “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver. We spoke about how the poem seems to juxtapose the idea and feeling of loneliness with the concept of the “the family of things,” and how it offers different ideas of intimacy with “the soft animal of your body” and “the world offers itself to your imagination.”

The prompt we wrote to was: “Meanwhile, the world goes on.” We were only able to hear three pieces, but what we heard was incredible — each piece speaking to our current moment, and each piece full of hope. One response, written as a poem, was unfinished due the time constraint for the writing, and it was observed how this was representative of our current moment — we are constructing a response to this global situation, but are not yet finished.

Please, those of you who were on the call with us, we encourage you to share your work with us in the comments below, and to respond to one another there and keep up the conversation. The full text of the poem is below, and please join us for one of our next sessions: Tuesday March 31st at 7pm EST and Wednesday April 1st at 7pm EST, with more times to be announced soon.

Again, due to the wonderful turnout for this first session, we encourage you to join as promptly as possible: After a ten minute grace period, we will be closing the Zoom session to preserve the integrity of the session for those joined. If you try to join past that time and are unable, we encourage you to join the next session! More times and opportunities will be announced soon.

We look forward to seeing you all with us again!

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
Originally published in “Dream Work” by Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: March 30th, 2020

Welcome to day one of the Narrative Medicine book club! We will be reading at the pace of about seven pages per day, depending on your chosen edition and mode of reading: print, electronic, or audible book. For today, Monday March 30th, 2020, we will be reading up to the sentence: “he wanted to know if the journalist could tell the truth.”

Remember – no need to register to join us, and don’t worry if you don’t have the book yet! We will be reading very slowly, so it will be easy to catch up, and because the club is virtual, you can follow along at your own pace. Feel free to join the discussion here, or just use #NMBookClub and #CamusThePlague to post comments or questions and follow along on social media. Later this week we will announce our first virtual Zoom meeting for those who want to discuss in person.

Some initial thoughts on today’s reading: 

“Camus very carefully sets up this fictional town, Oran, as an “ordinary,” “neutral” place, a “town without inklings,” “an entirely modern town” – and as such, a town where it is difficult to die. He says this on page 2! I wonder how many of you recognized our capitalist society in this description on the second page. What do you think this brief introduction does for the book, the way we enter the novel, as the narrator sets us up to enter the “history” he is giving us? (Also, given our moment, did anyone else feel a chill of terror when the concierge holds the dead rats by their tails? Wash your hands, concierge!)” – Nellie Hermann

Please feel free to add to the discussion and join in with Nellie below, or on any of our social media channels!

For tomorrow, March 31st 2020, read next seven pages, up to: “He was now complaining of internal pains.”

Text & Prompt: "Little Prayer" By Danez Smith

This poem comes from Narrative Medicine alumni, Joseph Eveld. When we read poetry in group sessions we have printed copies, and often read through the poem twice, aloud, with a volunteer reading. The first time we listen, and the second time we use our pens to circle, underline, or write what stands out to us. We encourage you to do the same on your own with this poem, and follow the steps below to think deeper into the piece and take a moment for reflective writing.

1. Read the poem

“From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used and shared from by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press,

by Danez Smith

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

2. Discuss the poem

Ideally, narrative medicine is practiced in a group, and a discussion happens around the text. This is important, not to find answers in the text, or to discover what it “really” means, but to learn how the construction of writing influences our perspectives, and that influence is different for each of us. If you are not bringing this piece to a group and are reading it on your own instead, it’s still good to try to think about how the poem is perceived.

“When I read this poem, I like to think about scale– the poem is called ‘little’ prayer, and it is brief, and yet some of what it contains is massive in scale: ‘slaughter’ and ‘field’ for example. These spaces are contrasted as well, the expanse of the field is found after entering the confined space of a lion’s cage, and slaughter is countered with the intimate and, by comparison, small act of taste. To me this suggests that the poem is giving us the experience that small things have impacts on a larger scale, by paralleling and contrasting these. I also like to think about who ‘he’ is– me or someone else, and where is ‘here?’ A moment in time? A space? I think about the senses– the idea and fear of confinement and predation in the lion’s cage, and the transformation into a visual that engages our sense of smell, much like the change from slaughter to honey engages our sense of taste– the moments of positive transformation in the poem are engaged with the simplest of sense, suggesting that this might be how we process ‘remedies’ for for the larger ideas of fear and ruin. And I like to think about the form of the poem, how the lack of punctuation and capitalization makes it feel soft and quiet, and how the addition of one extra space in the final line allows for a moment of pause before acceptance. These are some of the things the poem does for me, and I encourage you to think of things that I have not noted, or spaces where you disagree or think something different is happening. Those differing perspectives are what narrative medicine helps us to learn from.” – Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA

3. Write to a prompt

Writing in the “shadow” of a text, helps us to learn more about our own perspective and what the text has awakened in us. Set your clock to 3 or 4 minutes, no more. Here is a prompt to try, but feel free to come up with a different one.

Write your own little prayer.

4. Share

You can do this by yourself, but if you have the opportunity to share the experience with a friend, family member, colleague or anyone else, try to read to one another what you wrote. Do not preface your writing with apologies or descriptions (no “Sorry, this was rushed/incomplete/etc…”), and do not change it as you read. Read exactly the words on the page.

If you listen to a partner read, think about the language, mood, narrator, and other aspects of the written story. The plot is important, but so is what you can recognize in the writing itself.

If you would like, you can feel free to share what you wrote by posting a comment below as a means to foster discussion and further connect with others, though this does not guarantee a response. If you comment on what others have shared, comments should remain focused on the elements of the writing, and not include judgements on content, and any inappropriate comments will be removed.