Thursday, April 26, 2012

Almost in Love - my heart and medicine

"I call them the 80%," Sarah said.  "They are 80% right for you, and they are the hardest to leave.  But you still have to leave."  She's now happily married with two children, one of whom used to gleefully jump from my doormat to the floor, the height of two inches representing a massive plunge to the toddler. I also have the privilege of reading her "happy anniversary" posts on Facebook, so I can confidently say that she found her "100%."

"100%" is awesome.  Technically, it's "perfect."  But "80%" doesn't seem so bad, either.  In fact, "80%" feels like a LOT.  Like a huge bunch.  If 80% of the world's debt were erased, that would be cause for rejoicing.  If 80% of the time my auditions resulted in bookings, that would be heavenly.  So, why doesn't the "80% guy" leave me rejoicing in heavenly strains?

As the daughter of a professor, I must point out that 80% is a B-.  Actually, it's a C+/B- which in my Korean household is, effectively, unacceptable.  I'm not buying the C+/B- tomatoes.  I'm not paying to watch the C+/B- movie.  And I've learned over time, that the C+/B- man is, as with my homework, effectively unacceptable.

So, why am I writing this?  Clearly, the lovely Sarah has conclusively taught me to toss off the "80% guy."  Three cheers for Sarah!  Eliza is home free.  But I write this because so many people ask me why I left medicine, and I'm beginning to think that medicine was my "80% life." 

Someone remarked remarked about my time as a doctor, "… you always seemed happy …. I guess it must be internal …."  Believe me, "80% satisfied" is fairly satisfied.  But to quote the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, "Marriage is a long business."  A life is a long time.  A career is a long time.  And to be doubtful of my choice … or rather, to be tenaciously and tirelessly enticed by another possible choice 20% of the time … well, over the years, that adds up.

Even as a medical student, I could always spot the people at peace -- and it came in various flavors.  There was Malcolm, the surgical resident who never wavered in his steadiness and was outwardly friendly, despite days of sleep deprivation.  On the other hand, there was also, I'll call her, Jane who wouldn't stop complaining and bemoaning the state of the schedule, or the color of the walls or the odor in the hallway.  But if you took the time to feel her energy, she was in love.  She was clearly in love with her job, her department and her responsibilities.  She just had a saltier way of expressing it.

I remember pointing to Malcolm once saying, "I want to be like him when I grow up."  He had something I didn't, and I wanted it … and it had nothing to do with the specifics of his career choice or marital status.  He was in his right place.

The right place is not the "80% place."  Be that as it may, the "100% place" doesn't have a sign on it.  A person must feel it out, on their own.  After much blind groping, I can say that I'm there.  It isn't always pretty.  I eat a lot of peanut butter.  I'm often speeding from one venue to the other - the plight of the permanent part-timer.  I also job hunt all the time, continually auditioning.  But I'm there -- home.

Here, I get to throw all of my Self -- my loud, my tortured, my classless, my musical selves -- into my career.  I get to be relaxed about my tastes and opinions.  I'm no longer trying to be someone.  I live a sloppier existence.  I can now, "go with the flow."  Also, I'm no longer jealous of other people's happiness.  The pining acid envy that used to corrode my soul has gone.  Instead, I devour the hours ... all the while, wholly in love.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star Material - a blessed kindness

 Originally published in JAMA, Feb 10, 1999

Dan's fears were confirmed.  Despite three months of daily anxiety, the bottom line again read, "Pass."  Dan's hands clutched yet another lukewarm evaluation to add to his ever-growing pile.

"According to your evaluations, you need to speak up more, Dan."

Dan glanced up at the attending in charge of the medicine rotation with a blank look that belied his jumbled thoughts.  Since July, the clinical segment of medical school had overwhelmed him.  Numbed and intimidated, Dan had gradually receded into silence, the worst possible position for a third-year medical student.  Too disheartened to respond, Dan simply shook the attending's hand and returned to his team.

"Hey, Dan.  How was your evaluation?" asked his intern in an uninterested tone.  She did not consider Dan "star material" and was relatively certain she wasn't alone in her opinion.

"Fine,"he shrugged in response.  He noticed a paucity of students.  Most had been released from clinical duties after their evaluations.  After a pause, he asked, "Is there anything I can do?"

"We've had two admissions," she replied, "and I've started working one up.  The other is just a stable transfer from on outside hospital awaiting nursing home placement.  Somewhere along the line, they discovered he was a veteran and shipped him here.  If you could write him up before you go, that would be great."

Dan hid an internal sigh.  On any other night, he would gladly have stayed late: two months ago, Dan's wife had abruptly moved out, leaving behind a painfully empty apartment.  Having recently failed to distinguish himself as a potential doctor, however, he would have preferred to spend this evening at home, away from the hospital.

At the threshold of the new patient's room, Dan paused.  Clearing his thoughts, he walked in with a cheery greeting.  The patient's expression of subdued desperation stopped Dan in mid-sentence.  Something was amiss.  Digging through the transfer notes and old charts, Dan pieced together the patient's story.

Approximately two months ago, the patient had had a massive stroke that left him without control of his arms and legs.  Unfortunately, the patient had also undergone tracheostomy tube placement several months prior to his stroke.  Speech had been possible with a tracheotomy speaking valve, but the valve was now missing.  Thus, he was effectively mute.  To exacerbate matters, the patient had no known living relatives.

Catching up to his intern, Dan explained the situation and asked, "How do we get a tracheotomy speaking valve?"

"Write an order for a speech pathology consult."

"Yeah, but ..."  On a Friday evening, a speech pathology consult order would require follow-up telephone calls.  Each phone call spawned more phone calls, but Dan was determined not to allow this patient to sit through a mute weekend.  Eventually, Dan located a speech pathologist, and the two of them found a speaking valve in a far-off storage room.

Returning to the patient, Dan carefully fit the valve onto the patient's breathing tube.  Looking straight at Dan, the patient croaked out his first words since his transfer, "I want my last rites."

Startled, Dan bolted out the door in search of the hospital priest.  With his busy weekend schedule, however, the priest had already left the hospital and would not return until Monday morning.  Another priest was available on an on-call basis, but the patient's doctor had to designate the situation an emergency.  The intern's response was firm.

"No.  This man is stable.  He'll make it through the weekend."

"You don't understand," Dan replied.  "This man knows he's going to die."  Dan tried his best to retain his composure, but being at the end of professional relationship that appreciated neither the urgency of the situation nor the Herculean efforts required on the part of a student to obtain equipment and religious counsel, he did not care how agitated she appeared.

"Look.  It's getting late.  You're free to leave.  Oh, and ... youdidagreatjobthanksforyourhelpandgoodluckonyournextrotation."  The intern's voice faded as she raced off.

Resolutely fixed on the task of helping this man obtain his last rites, Dan ignored her annoyance.  Instead, he found a telephone book and marched to man's bedside.  Unfortunately, the patient couldn't recall the name of his parish.  He hadn't been to mass in years.  Undeterred, Dan patiently waited as dusty memories were teased awake.  An hour later, Dan telephoned a parish, located on a street that rhymed with "flower."

A sympathetic voice from the outside voice answered the phone, and this kind soul located the patient's name on the parish roster.  With the Friday traffic, the priest would be delayed an hour and a half.  Could the parishioner wait that long?  As the man nodded a weary yes, Dan felt a surge of relief.  He said good-bye to the patient and, without a word to anyone else, made his way home in the chill March night.

Saturday afternoon, Dan's telephone rang.  It was his "ex"-intern.

"Dan?" she asked softly.  "The priest stopped by last night.  ...  I wanted to tell you ... that is, to thank you ....  You see, your patient passed away early this morning."

This was based on my friend and classmate Dan (not his real name) who never felt the need to publicize his story.  I still thank him for allowing me to share it. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Perpetual Pursuit of My A-Game

I love my friend Beth.  I also love baseball.  I also love Katelyn.  "What's the theme?" you ask. Ambition and depth.

People often mistake my curiosity for defiance and deviance, but it's curiosity laced with ambition and depth ... drive and specificity ... hunger and magnitude.  Humber threw a perfect game yesterday, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt Katelyn and Beth would eagerly listen to my patchwork-quilt understanding of a perfect game.  Why?  They both get a kick out of the A-game and what it takes.

The discerning Reader will ask, "Eliza, what's chewing you up?"  A push is always a response to a shove, and yes, I've been shoved.  The shove came last year.  A more seasoned actor, one who has enjoyed and is currently enjoying public success, dismissively remarked, "Eliza, you take this too far."  I had questioned him about this and that and the other … the specifics aren't important because the end result is that I annoyed him.  Maybe he felt like he was being pushed.  So maybe that's why he responded with, "Eliza, you take this too far."

So, maybe the real subject is not ambition and depth.  Maybe the real subject is "letting go."  Maybe the real topic is, "bring dismissed and being ok with it."  Another possible topic is "leaving your fellow actors alone."  Before you chide me, dear Reader, I am gradually learning that third item is true -- and I'm working on it … but for the time being, this is my blog and I want to write about taking it far!

If you're hungry, isn't that what you do -- take it far?  As far you can?  A far as your abilities will let you in the moment?  Don't you want to train for the majors?  Katelyn breaks her characters down into animal essences.  Beth doesn't believe in jobs -- she only thinks in terms of careers.  And the Majors … well, the Majors tell a story with every pitch and every game.  Every baseball stat has a story behind it -- a glorious story full of sweat and heart and focus.  Beth and Katelyn have sweat and heart and focus, too.

Forget it -- this is my blog, and I get to reveal what I want to reveal … and today's revelation to cyberspace is this:  I love playing my A-Game … all the time … every chance I get.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shepherd Me, O God, Beyond My Wants

My dear friend will die any day now.  We weren't sure he'd make it to Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Easter … and now, by refusing a feeding tube and respirator, we all know that it is imminent.  He shall not be here long.

But in truth, he hasn't been around for a while.  His position was on rotation, so he's was effectively out of my life a couple of years before his diagnosis and demise.  Why, then, the pangs?  Why didn't his absence pull at my heart the way news of his death will?

It is, of course, partially due to the finality of it all.  It will be certain that I won't sit with him again.  But there is more.  It isn't just the absence of him that brings tears to my eyes.  It is the idea that I won't love in that vein again -- so purely and openly, without resentment or disappointment.

Loving people is so complicated, hence the multi-million dollar pet industry.  They have their preferences and expectations and needs.  Consequently, this man of the collar who is facing his mortal end stands together with only one other person in my life in the type of love they bring to mind.  The love I feel for them relaxes my shoulders and tastes like spring water.  I am whole in their presence.

The other person is my dead mother.  Since she passed when I was three, we never sullied our relationship with dispute or rancor.  We never conversed.  We never negotiated.  We never had to make up.  I just woke up one day and was told I was a "big girl now."

Although I'm often jealous of friends with mothers, I know that I am who I am because of that loss.  Since the age of three, I have been certain that I would die someday … and that childhood knowledge has marked me.

And in truth, there is something wondrous about retaining a memory of pure love.  It is virtually irreplicable beyond those tender childhood years … which is why Father Pat's passing stirs up my childhood grief.  At his funeral, I will likely cry for him and cry for my mother.  A child has no ability to mark and honor the passing of a life, much less their mother's.  With his passing, I will be able to release decades of pent up loss.  But I will also be able to know that I am fortunate in the scope of the Universe.  I am a starred child of the heavens to have known two figures of pure love in my life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Crafty Serving of Love

As I pulled my baby carrots out of the refrigerator, I recalled my wonderful Craft Services Lady from Sunday's shoot.  In addition to the requisite beef jerky, bananas and gum, she also had single-serving packs of organic baby carrots and celery slices … and, surprisingly, a sunny attitude toward the background talent.  She actually sauntered over to us with her weighty tray of sundries.  "Hey, everybody," she sang out, a basket of mini-Snickers hanging from her left arm.  We had our fill and then some.  And our delight was hers.

This is to be contrasted with my usual Craft Services Lady, who shall remain nameless.  In her presence, without fail, I am treated like a cockroach -- a dirty creature eyeing her wares.  Unfortunately for her, food consumption and boredom are directly correlated, and background extras often have the most boring job on set.  We stand when told to stand, we walk when told to walk; kindergarteners have more stimulating days.  But we're background, and we're proud of it.

My Indignatory Self was aroused on Sunday.  "Why can't Wicked Witch of the West be more like Little Miss Sunshine?" I wondered.  Why is one offended when we approach her wares and the other welcoming?  And then my mental chatter was off and running -- why can't people be nicer, isn't it her job, etc, etc, etc and so on and so forth … and eventually, even I was annoyed at my own thoughts.

This, of course, was exacerbated by other events in my life.  I had been swimming in the pond of rejection lately, shunned by colleagues.  At my size, I was often left lingering against the wall as teams were picked in grade school.  And I was in the middle of such an episode.

But today, I came back to my senses.  Wicked Witch of the West was actually serving up something greater.  She was showing me that I'm capable of far more than I was crediting myself.  I'm here to find all the paths to love, peace, relaxation … fill in the blank.  I'm here to learn to love in new ways everyday, and they're here to show me how to do it with flair.  I'm here to know my worthiness despite my surroundings, and events are here to teach me all the secret nooks and crannies of that knowledge.  I don't need friendly and loving people around me all the time.  I just need to have my friendliness and love in my back pocket at all times.

So, Wicked Witch of the West and Distancing Colleagues, I'm ready.  Bring the torrent and torment.  I'm shall steadfastly steer myself toward peace every chance I get … maybe not always gracefully, maybe without pouting every now and then … but it takes resistance to build a muscle … and what is the heart but a bundle of muscle?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Grubby Fullness of You Breathing Life into Me

I'm still mad about a show.  Funny, isn't it, how some memories can hurl you straight to the emotional core of a chronologically stale event.  That is the case with this show -- just mention it ... whisper it, and I'm back on my high horse with my right index finger in danger of poking out an eye.

Many things we view as scabs or splinters to picked at and reviled, however, can lead us to discoveries.  Although I could wax metaphorical about this grain of sand turning into a pearl, I'm still too mad at this show to endow it with such grace.  Instead, I'll just admit from my high horse that today, this show -- this grubby and misshapen outgrowth of my life -- actually led me to a discovery of worth.

To begin, I hated the show because I believed it lampooned its central characters.  The direction called for caricatures, not people.  It encouraged cartoonish-ness, not authenticity.

Who the hell am I to make such statements, though?  Where lies the boundary between Mickey Mouse and Marlon Brando?  Isn't it invisible?  Isn't anyone's opinion correct?

Well, no ... and here is where I glimpse the line in the sand: a central character in a story should always have a perceptible gap between their internal and external worlds.  I say "central" because often stories need foils and side characters for the sake of efficient narration.  But if a character comprises a hefty portion of the narrative drive, then you better show me your conflict.  You better round yourself out with some aspirations, desires or incongruities.

Why?  Because then I can feel for you.  Why again?  Because I, too, as long as I can remember, have carried my own conflicts and gaps and incongruities.

We see this in stories time and time again -- the hooker with the heart of gold, behemothic Citizen Kanes yearning for childhood sleds of wood, and (to quote one of my more colorful friends) ballerinas who like to take it up the ass.  The audience can relate to these juxtapositions of light & dark, leather & lace and grace & wrath simply because we perpetually live out those longings.

I believe our human condition inherently leaves us with gaps between our internal longings and our outward actions.  If I always acted out a coherent version of my internal world, then perhaps I would taste immaculate happiness and feel completed.  But it's the disparity between my internal self and my external self, my aspirations and my abilities, my moral chaos and my rule-abiding alacrity which makes me relatable ... and urges me on to live another day, to again attempt redemption.  Without the conflict, I am simply a flat line-drawing of qualities to be colored in ... and a two-dimensional structure does not breathe.

I argue that as an actor, it is my responsibility to find that conflict within the text to make my character a real person -- an embodiment of both our pathos and relief.  I want to see a father yearning for recognition but trapped in self-defacing habits.  I want to see the mother feverishly chasing after all-that-glitters because she's unable to locate the nidus of her personal worth.  And I want to see the woman who brusquely and nonchalantly brushes off her past precisely because it haunts her in every blade of grass, every meal and every shadow.  Show me the people who have yet to find their unified self, and I'll sit, stay and listen as patiently as the most devoted lover.  Because then I will be sitting with my self ... my full self ... and in doing so, I will encounter a measure of peace and satisfaction ... and more importantly, I will be reminded that I am not once and not ever alone.

Exposure Time - more headshots and head-thoughts

Tomorrow morning, yet another photographer will take a "shot" at my "head" ... and my tension is already rising.  I guess that will simply guarantee another tense looking close-up photo of my face.  So, Reader, I have come to you with the purpose of dispelling such invisible nonsense.

To start, I believe the most compelling headshots are the ones in which you see the person in all their uninhibited and uncensored glory.  Everyone their specific essence, but it isn't often we see it.  Truly and practically, though, the hours of the day are a summation of transactions, and one needs to live by the rules of engagement most of the time.  I often think, "That's nice, little missy, but I just need you to keep walking so I can turn left, thank you."

A headshot session, however, is a chance for me to let my guard down, to expose myself, to just relax into my aura.  The wish, always, is to end up with a photo which "captures" a part of me ... which, in turn, is hopefully, a commercially viable photo.  For tomorrow's session, though, I have a few things polluting my auric tide.  First, I feel like the photographer, who has photographed some of the world's most beautiful women, is doing me a favor.  Secondly, this man is internationally renowned while I'm barely known in a single zip code.

So what's a gal to do?  The pervasive talk of the time is to think myself into a better feeling place.  But I chafe at that for a process as exposed as photography.  Instead, I feek an urge to twist that into something more personal.  

Ah ... perhaps, as one of the casting directors jokes, it's time to "pull out my Meisners."

Instead of trying to feel something different, maybe I'll just show up -- intimidated, bewildered and all.  Maybe I'll just give into my fears but this time display them long enough to be photographed.  Maybe I'll stop trying to work the session for a product and this time work it for the process.  Maybe I'll let myself feel what I feel in the moment, no matter what ... if it's fear, then let it be ... if it's intimidation, then let it be ... whatever it is, tomorrow, I'll let it be.

Even as I write those words, I feel relief wash over me.  Trying to feel fierce, trying to feel beautiful, trying to feel anything just feels like trying to hold fistfuls of jello -- feelings and effort just leak out between my fingers, and how does one grasp inherently formless matter?

Instead, perhaps I'll just go with the vibe at hand.  Just pull from what's there.  Just let myself be intimidated and overwhelmed and overcome by this man's art and reputation and presence.  And in doing so, I just might be on the right track.  The real me will meet the perceived him ... and thus the Real Me will show up.  And, hey, that's all I want to see in those photos, anyway.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And So Eliza Begets Her Cosmos ...

Welcome to my words.  Welcome to my heart.  There is an electric freedom in this ersatz solitude of the internet.  Whoever you are, dear Reader, you now have an access to me that is not allowed to any physical body.  Here, I shall endow you with qualities unclaimed by you ... although, it's possible that you do, in fact, blindly harbor them like the log in your eye.  I will whisper to you my most private discoveries, the sort of musings that lovers yearn for.  On these pages, you will also feel my punishment for thoughts you never had and actions you hadn't conceived.  Words carry force ... and whimsy ... and release.

Welcome, Reader.  Enter this, my landscape, and you shall be loved fully because it is through my words that I expose myself fully.  A person cannot be more naked than their thoughts.  Welcome to all who stay.  And Godspeed to those travel on.

This is the first entry in Eliza Shin's first blog.