I took my book, Writing For Your Life by Anna Quindlen to a cafe to read. The essay I happened to be on at the time was about Narrative Medicine, and the benefits of writing the stresses and reflections of life from our often stressed and there-when-folks-are-most-vulnerable medical professionals.
Dr Rita Charon started a program titled Parallel Charts wherein medical students wrote their own experiences and charted their days out with information that would not appear on a medical chart. For example there was one instance of a young resident who felt a stab of personal pain every time he walked into the room where the patient was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient reminded him too much of his deceased grandfather who had died from the same disease a few months earlier; or the nurse who wrote about her mind wandering at the delivery of a first-time mother: ‘it’s her first baby, it isn’t going to be a slip-and-slide’.
This kind of narrative writing is crucial not just because we may lose such lucid moments to the passage of time, but also because we do get to cement our learnings and experience while writing it out. Our learnings for the future if you will. Unfortunately writing is not easy. It requires patience, steadfastness and an active determination to set your thoughts into words.
In the words of Anais Nin :
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
I have often written about what a lifesaver writing has been. I got to treasure the truly hilarious moments of life multiple times over and I am sure I would not have remembered half of it had I not written it all down. To think that I have only recorded a small measure of life continues to be a yearning. I can blame time, resource and ability and many more limitations. However, it is equally required to experience life in its fullest forms to be able to jot at least some of it down. And thus life goes on. Not writing half as much as I’d like, but writing enough to give me a hearty glimpse on times gone by and the many joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations that it bought along its wake.
Note: I was humbled to read that many authors have a daily output of nearly 10000 words. Truly astounding.
It is a pity that this exercise of Narrative Medicine is not more widely practiced in other areas of life. Any body who is in the position of guiding or caring for another human being – teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, counselors, lawyers, tax accountants, parents should all have this in their toolkit to cope, better ourselves and enjoy the passage of time.
I am an engineering leader, and having had the benefit of being shaped as a leader by companies that had a human interest, means that I do take an active interest in the people on my teams – the ones I directly manage and the ones I interact with.
This was often a refrain in my team meetings and I still think it is true: We may forget the actual work we did or how it was done, but we will never forget who we accomplished these things with!
This is the human experience and to have leaders who are able to see us for who we are: human beings with potential to do good, is the best thing that can happen to us. I know many who would scoff at this and write this off as corporate humdrum, but I can vouch that when you know a team-mate’s visa is up, or their child is undergoing surgery, or their insurance running out means tumultuous times for their dependents, it only makes us grow as humans to see these situations and help manage through them.
If, at the end of the day, we do not remember the humans who helped shape our thoughts and feelings, we may as well be replaced by AI bots.
After all, we are all broken in different places and as I glanced up at the board in the cafe that day, the clairvoyance of it in the context of narrative writing was unmistakable.
“Let my troubles be the cause of someone’s laugh, but let not my laugh be the source of someone’s troubles.” – there truly was a wise restaurateur at the helm.
3 thoughts on “The Writing Life”
I really enjoyed this post and am intrigued by the book you mentioned- I’ll be adding it to my library list! As a former nurse, I also love the concept of Parallel Charts and would have had MUCH to write about. ✍️💗
I would love to read about some of your pieces as a nurse, Laura. Even if you aren’t one now, I am sure what we do becomes a small part of who we are.
I do still think of myself as a nurse even after deciding to move on from the profession. It will always be a part of me on some level!