Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST April 23rd 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! This Wednesday evening we had over 35 participants connected to us from across the United States, with some joining from Colorado, California, and Texas, and international visitors from India and Tokyo!  There were many first timers and we really appreciated their willingness to jump in to the activities and share their work.

Our text was: “I Have a Time Machine” by Brenda Shaughnessy, posted below. After hearing the poem read aloud, the group discussed the ways the references to time in the text allowed us to reflect on our own memories and the connections they make for us between ourselves and the people and places we have encountered.  

Our prompt was: “I have a time machine, but…” Participants’ written responses to the prompt ranged from the very individual experience of sifting through one’s memories of a specific event all the way to larger commentary about universal fears, desires, and experiences that we share when we evaluate past choices and their impact on our futures. The discussion after hearing the creative works shared was rich with observation about the commonalities and unique features present in the writing.  As always, we were grateful to everyone who attended and encouraged by the openness and support that all of the participants conveyed to one another throughout the session.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Saturday, April 25th at 2pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

I Have a Time Machine
BY BRENDA SHAUGHNESSY


But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,

which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.

But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.
 
Thing is, I can't turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well not zipping—And if I try

to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I'll fall into space, unconscious,

then desiccated! And I'm pretty sure I'm afraid of that.
So I stay inside.

There's a window, though. It shows the past.
It's like a television or fish tank.

But it's never live; it's always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.

Sometimes it's like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I'm leaving behind,

and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.

Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.

Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.

Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.

Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion

of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother's mother's mother.

I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I'd find myself
 
an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven't gotten far at all.
 
Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I'd like;
the past is so horribly fast.


Brenda Shaughnessy,
"I Have a Time Machine" from So Much Synth.
Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy. 
Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 23, 2020

Rieux and his colleagues, including the priest, witness the terrible death from plague of a young child. Rieux, in his exhaustion and grief, argues with the priest, who still believes that the plague is punishment for sin: “that one, at least, was innocent, as you very well know!” These pages are very interesting – Camus writes of how “superstition” and “prophecies” have taken the place of religion for many townspeople, these prophecies read with “as much eagerness as the love stories” found in newspapers “in times of health.” This resonated, as so many of us search the news for definitive projections of how this will all end, and so many people put forth theories and plans – both careful and reckless – to move forward. The priest, it seems, has been both changed and not by what he has witnessed; looking forward to discussing with you all the way Camus contrasts his second sermon with his first. 


FOR TOMORROW: Read to the end of section 4 in Part IV. 


Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 22, 2020

In today’s pages Rambert finally decides to stay in the town; “if he went away he would feel ashamed.” Rieux says there is no shame in happiness — Rambert answers, “But there may be shame in being happy all by oneself,” as “this business concerns all of us.” This exchange made me think of those currently protesting orders to stay at home – the false idea that one lives in an unconnected universe where achieving what one wants is possible without the help of others, or without putting others at risk. And another wise statement by Rieux, on the ability to understand and process what one is living through in the moment of living it: “One can’t heal and know at the same time. So let’s heal as fast as we can.” 


FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, up to “It was everything or nothing,” in section 4 of Part IV.


Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EST April 22nd 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! The sea was present in both text and group as several transatlantic participants joined us from Morocco, France, England, and Italy. We were glad to welcome back those who have become a source of warmth and comfort week to week.

The text we chose (posted below) was a song, “Alfonsina and the Sea” (Alfonsina y el mar)originally written in Spanish by Argentinian writer and lyricist Félix Luna, and composed by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez. Luna wrote the song in homage to Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938), one of the most revered poets of Latin American literature. The song echoes the influence that the sea had on Storni’s writing and life, alluding to her suicide on La Perla beach in Mar del Plata, Argentina. While this text was particularly delicate, our participants were up for the challenge; together we persevered through the poignancy of its content in both English and Spanish, calling attention to the beauty in its form, voice, and sound. Participants commented on the melodious quality of the work, where the text’s lines themselves seemed to ebb and flow like ocean waves. We concluded that the song was like a ballad, having a rhythm of an embodied performance. The switches in narrative voice, the balance between passive and active elements (what is choice vs. what is taken away), and the wavering between the absolute and the variable/the universal and the particular, were unique features that allowed us to dive all the more into the text’s depths. One participant was reminded of refugees in the Mediterranean, and noted the myriad of ways that texts can be interpreted and appropriated. We are grateful for the willingness of the group to engage with “Alfonsina and the Sea,” which explored difficult subject matter during a particularly difficult time.

Our prompt was: Write about what you are looking for… The facilitators were struck by the original ways that participants incorporated multiple languages, aquatic imagery, and senses into their writing.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Thursday, April 23rd at 7pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Alfonsina and the sea
Félix Luna & Ariel Ramírez
 
Por la blanda arena que lame el mar
Su pequeña huella no vuelve más
Un sendero solo de pena y silencio
Llegó hasta el agua profunda
Un sendero solo de penas mudas
Llegó hasta la espuma
 
Sabe Dios qué angustia te acompañó
Qué dolores viejos calló tu voz,
Para recostarte arrullada en el canto
De las caracolas marinas.
La canción que canta en el fondo oscuro del mar
La caracola
 
Te vas Alfonsina con tu soledad,
¿Qué poemas nuevos fuiste a buscar?
Una voz antigua de viento y de sal
Te requiebra el alma
Y te está llevando
Y te vas, hacia allá como en sueños
Dormida, Alfonsina, vestida de mar

Cinco sirenitas te llevarán
Por caminos de algas y de coral
Y fosforescentes caballos marinos harán
Una ronda a tu lado.
Y los habitantes del agua
Van a jugar pronto a tu lado
 
Bájame la lámpara un poco más
Déjame que duerma, nodriza, en paz
Y si llama él no le digas que estoy
Dile que Alfonsina no vuelve
Y si llama él no le digas nunca que estoy
Di que me he ido
 
Te vas Alfonsina con tu soledad,
¿Qué poemas nuevos fuiste a buscar?
Una voz antigua de viento y de sal
Te requiebra el alma
Y te está llevando
Y te vas, hacia allá como en sueños
Dormida, Alfonsina, vestida de mar


Álbum: Mujeres Argentinas
Publicación:1969
Género: zamba
Duración: 4:35
Compositor: Ariel Ramírez
Letrista: Félix Luna
Alfonsina and the sea
Félix Luna & Ariel Ramírez
 
Across the soft sand that the waves lick
Her small footprints are not coming back anymore
Only one path made of sorrow and silence
Reached the deep water
Only one path made of untold sorrows
Reached the foam
 
Only God knows about the anguish that
accompanied you
And about the old pains your voice never told
That caused you to go to sleep, lulled by the song
Of the seashells
The song sung in the depths of the dark sea by
The seashell
 
You're going away, Alfonsina
Along with your loneliness
What kind of new poems did you go looking for?
An ancient voice made of wind and salt
Is shattering your soul and taking you away
And you go there, like in a dream
Asleep, Alfonsina, dressed with the sea

Five little mermaids will escort you
Through paths made of seaweed and corals
And phosphorescent sea horses will sing
A round, by your side
And the aquatic dwellers
Will soon play by your side
 
Dim the light of the lamp a bit for me
Let me sleep in peace, nurse
And if he calls don't tell him I'm here
Tell him that Alfonsina is not coming back
And if he calls never tell him I'm here
Tell him that I have left
 
You're going away, Alfonsina
Along with your loneliness
What kind of new poems did you go looking for?
An ancient voice made of wind and salt
Is shattering your soul and taking you away
And you go there, like in a dream
Asleep, Alfonsina, dressed with the sea

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 21, 2020

In today’s pages we get one of the strangest moments of the book so far: the opera company of Orpheus & Eurydice, trapped in Oran, performs the opera over and over again every week for months to a packed house. In the third act, a singer collapses, presumably of the plague, and the audience files out leaving their “fans and lace stoles” behind, “luxury that had become useless.” We also pick back up with Rambert’s quest to get out of the town, “choosing happiness,” as Rieux says. Somehow I still feel sure that Rambert is not going to get out … 


FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, to the end of the paragraph beginning “The light spread through the ward,” in section 3 of Part IV


Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST April 20th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined in kicking off our fourth week of Narrative Medicine Virtual Group Sessions! We loved seeing regular participants and welcoming new faces from around the globe.

In previous sessions we have been close-reading poems and prose. This evening we chose to explore a text in another medium, as one of our participants put it, “to open our minds to new ways of seeing.”

We ‘slow-looked’ at the painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel (posted below). Participants noticed the juxtaposition of earth, water, and sky; warm climate in the foreground and colder in the background; the incongruity of calm water and wind-filled sails; the different directions in which the painting’s figures gaze. Two keen observers noted a small but important detail in the bottom right corner: two legs sticking out of the water at odd angles and the ruffling of otherwise calm water. That brought us to the title of the painting and its reference to both place and Greek myth. Together we wondered: What is the role of the farmer, the sheep, an island fortress, and everything “yonder”? What is the center of the painting? Is it the landscape? What of Icarus, who is off to one side, and has already made his descent? Why did he fall so far from the sun that melted his beeswax wings? Where is Daedalus, his father, who constructed the wings as a way to free his son and himself? We considered the painting’s composition, and how it invites us to follow the gaze of various figures in the landscape, invites us to look down at the earth, up to the sky, and into the water. Most people agreed that neither man nor beast represented in the painting concern themselves with Icarus. Do they focus solely on their work? Do they “know” Icarus and dismiss his pride and daring? Do they not see? Do they not care? The discussion allowed us not only to appreciate how much can be discovered when we take time to slow-look but also to recognize how many questions and possible understandings we were able to generate.

This evening’s prompt: “Write about an unseen splash” took people to swimming pools and other bodies of water with accidents, collisions, and rescues. Others wrote of metaphorical splashes taking place now in hospitals as patients and healthcare workers battle Covid-19 and the rippling effect into our communities.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Wednesday, April 22nd at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

c. 1560

oil on canvas

73.5 cm × 112 cm (28.9 in × 44 in)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of BelgiumBrussels

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 20, 2020

At the beginning of Part IV we get a discussion of the exhaustion that has taken over the town, and the way that without a cure for the plague, Rieux’s role has gone from that of “a healer” to that of “a diagnostician.” He has “just enough heart” to “use it to bear the 20 hours a day in which he saw men dying who were made for life.” An exhaustion has set in that numbs them all, against the suffering but also against the very precautions that are meant to protect them against the plague. An eery statement, in our moment: “It was the very struggle against the plague that made them more vulnerable to the plague.” An interesting piece about Cottard, too, whom we spoke about in our meeting on Sunday: a character who is thriving, in a way, under the Plague, because he is no longer isolated, instead united with everyone else in the condition of hardship. 


FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, up to “Tarrou looked at him and smiled suddenly,” in the second section of Part IV. 


Live Virtual Group Session: 1pm EST April 19th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! We had 51 participants from the UK, Bahrain, Morocco, Turkey, Canada and 12 states including Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and California.

Our text for the session was “Sci-Fi” by Tracy K. Smith. Looking at this poem, we considered the tension at the core of the poem. “Sci-fi” begins with promising language “no edges,” but quickly accumulates into a space that is empty, “unhinged.” The language of the poem creates discomfort with sibilant sounds, relentless future-tense verbs, and the turn of the poem on the word “but” that moves the mood from one of  hope to one of dread.  Participants seemed particularly struck by the contradictions in the text— the sense of control in an uncontrollable universe, the presence of realism/reality in a sci-fi universe, hope in a hopeless place. The final commenter turned the group discussion on its head, pointing to such hopeful images as the falling away gender distinctions, the absence of sexual threat, the eradication of early death, and the possibility of positive change. The poem, we concluded, in its very ambiguity trains us to entertain multiple readings and multiple ideas whenever we come together.

Our prompt for the session was “Write your Sci-Fi story.”

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Monday, April 20th at 6pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Sci-Fi
 
There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.
 
History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,
 
Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.
 
Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,
 
Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.
 
For kicks, we'll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.
 
The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned
 
To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.
 
And yes, we'll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,
 
Eons from even our own moon, we'll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once
 
And for all, scrutable and safe.
 


Tracy K. Smith, "Sci-Fi" from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. www.graywolfpress.org
Source: Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 18, 2020

At the end of Part III Camus explores the flattening of the plague, the way “exile and separation” leads the townspeople into “the very system of the plague,” which is  “mediocre.” “No one among us experienced great feelings any more, but everyone had banal feelings.” His description of how everyone is reduced to the present tense is so resonant; I have been thinking about that myself these last days, faced with impossible decisions about a family member. How do we make decisions when we don’t know the future? “In other words, they no longer made choices…Everything was accepted as it came.” This statement too is a frightening one, a warning, a reality we must fight hard against, as we can: “The truth must be told: the plague had taken away from all of them the power of love or even of friendship, for love demands some future, and for us there was only the here and now.”


MEETING TOMORROW AT 2 EST! Visit https://narrativemedicine.blog/blog/narrative-medicine-book-club/ to register. 


FOR MONDAY: First 7 pages of Part IV, through with the paragraph that begins “It often happened that Tarrou would go out…”


Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST April 17th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! On a Friday evening we had approximately 40 participants connected to us from across the United States, with some joining from Virginia, California, and Massachusetts, and even some international friends from Canada.

Our text was “Speaking Tree” by Joy Harjo, posted below. After two readings of our poem, the group discussed the sense of trees as humans and humans as trees, and the relationship between poetry/poe-tree. What does being rooted and grounded mean without movement but with the desire to move?

Our prompt was: “Write about a longing.” Prompted writing revealed poetic language in the shadow of the text where time is slowed, there is a longing to dance, and a wind threading rings. In discussion of the writing shared, participants noted the rich descriptions of the connections between individual and communal experiences, the interdependence between our bodies and the natural environment, and the variance in our perceptions of the passage of time.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Sunday, April 19th at 1pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Speaking Tree

I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.
                                                - Sandra Cisneros

Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—

Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—

Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—

Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth
Between sunrise and sunset—

I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—

What shall I do with all this heartache?

The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—

I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:

Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge. . .

To drink deep what is undrinkable.


From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings
by Joy Harjo
Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo
W.W. Norton & Company