Tag Archives: art

An open invitation for guest blog posts on illness narratives

When I first started this blog, I was excited to seize the domain illnessnarratives.com. Now several years later, however, I’ve realized that the focus of my writing here has evolved, and I’ve felt uncomfortable about how many of my posts have been about me and my writing rather than on illness narratives in general. This blog has been alive throughout a good chunk of my journey towards a career in medicine, from my undergraduate to my medical school education. It’s been challenging to find my direction, to balance sharing my own personal writing accomplishments and experiences with my thoughts on illness narratives that I encounter

To that end, I’d like to try something new. I’ve always felt it strange that I was the only voice in a blog that aspired to comprehensively survey the landscape of illness narratives.

This is an open invitation to anyone interested in writing a guest blog post. Here are some examples of what I’m hoping for, but I would welcome a post about anything that interests you related to illness narratives:

  • Review of an illness narrative, be it literature, film, music, or any other media
  • An illness narrative of your own
  • Thoughts about illness narratives as a genre
  • Ideas about the ethics of writing about illness
  • Any other interest you would like to explore!

Your blog post could be as short or as long as you like. It could be anywhere from a paragraph to a few pages; whatever works for you. All you have to do is email it to tkpaul@umich.edu, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. It’s that simple. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions at all; this will be a learning process for me.

I’m hoping that this might change things up a bit, and that I’ll be able to breathe some life back into this website. Because it’s summer, the world is anew, and it’s time.

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The Art of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility through Art

IF.

Short for infertility, a disease resulting in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. There are many causes, some known and many unknown. It is often merely a matter of chance, a condition that arises with little explanation.

I have to confess that I had not thought all that much about infertility as an illness until I encountered ART of Infertility, a “an infertility artwork, oral history and portraiture project.” This art exhibit is a compilation of infertility stories expressed through various artistic media, by a diverse range of women who have experienced or are experiencing infertility.

I’ve been struggling to write about this exhibit for months now, but nothing I say seems to do it justice. I guess I just want to say that this exhibit moved me in inexplicable ways. The stories that these women share, the art that they use to express their own inexplicable emotions were incredibly powerful. Their words, their symbols, the hues and textures and things were all used to convey the spectrum of ways that infertility touched each of their lives and their selves.

The ART of Infertility prompted me to realize just how many potential triggers exist in our society for those who are infertile. As a society, we make so many assumptions about how those who are married will have children (or, side note, even those who are not married, for family planning comes up in many professional development discussions with women in medicine it seems). It reminded me of how intimately femininity is often intertwined with the ability to bear children. While this is not always the case, it’s one thing to make the decision not to have children; it’s another thing all together to not have the ability to make that choice.

For those with infertility, the constant reminders of one’s infertility may seem ever-present. Menstruation may be a monthly reminder, a taunt about the body’s reproductive shortcomings. Those struggling with infertility may be surrounded by constant reminders as their peers procreate without problem. There are so many challenges to one’s self that can be inflicted by infertility, challenges that are best told by those who experience it themselves.

I guess infertility is another illness that urges me to wonder how we as a society, as strangers, friends, and family to those invisibly suffering, can cultivate a more sensitive environment. Can we open our minds to the variety of ways that people choose to live their lives and the many aspects that may lie outside of their control? Is it possible for us to cultivate a culture of sensitivity that reconciles the course of majorities with the various paths taken by everyone else? How do we escape the limitations of assumptions and make space for human diversity?

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Introspection at the Heart of Medicine

This blog post reflects on my artwork in conversation with others, and it is included in the Crossroads blog at The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

As I examined histological slides, I was struck by the simple beauty of the human body on a microscopic level. These images—still silhouettes of chondrocytes in the hyaline cartilage of joints, scattered pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex of the brain, pebble-like adipocytes of fat—were each works of art. And, I realized, they all exist within me.

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Khalil Harbie’s The Art of Anatomy

In The Art of Anatomy (shown here), Khalil Harbie also turns his gaze inward to realize the art of the human body on a macroscopic level. He seems fascinated in the musculature of the forearm— the bulk of the brachioradialis, the careful curvature of the flexor carpi radialis, even a hint of the flexor digitorum superficialis. His intricate shading brings to life the texture and dimensionality of the forearm within a planar space, illustrating the very structures that enable this sketch.

Introspection enables a new way of seeing oneself that permeates into how one views and interacts with the external world. Only with introspection, I posit, can we begin to connect with those around us and truly achieve empathy. The core skills of doctoring, of listening and adequately responding to the suffering of other human beings, depend on an understanding of the self.

The human body, and human life as whole, is aesthetic by nature. We are colorful, we are shapely, we are beautiful. Art is at the heart of scientific studies like histology and anatomy because, in essence, art is the heart of humanity.

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Excited for The Examined Life conference: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine

When I attended the WMU Medical Humanities Conference last fall, I heard about an upcoming conference called The Examined Life: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine. And now, I’m fortunate enough to not only be attending this conference but also be presenting about my childhood cancer narrative research!

The Examined Life conference explores “the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing.” This conference seems to align perfectly with my own dual interests in medicine and literature. I think that participating in this conference will help me to figure out how I can maintain and balance both passions throughout my career, and I’m looking forward to meeting others in these fields with their own insight and experience to share.

At the Examined Life conference just one week from now, I’ll be doing something a bit different. In writing my Honors English thesis over the course of this year, I realized just how crucial my methodology has been in shaping the adolescent cancer narratives that I wanted to analyze. As a result, rather than just presenting about my research, I’ll be leading a discussion forum this time. Specifically, we will be discussing the ethics inherent in my methodology and thoughts that may be sparked from encountering these narratives. I’m curious, nervous, and excited to see what comes out of this discussion. I believe that these conversations will give me a lot to think about as I look towards further developing my honors thesis.

Here’s the abstract for my discussion forum:

Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative

I’ve never been to Iowa! I’m excited.

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

“The Heart of Medicine”: Published in The Intima, A Journal of Narrative Medicine

This month, my artwork I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve was published on the front page of The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine! Check it out here:

The Intima, I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve

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I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

The heart has long been appreciated as a vital organ in the body, one whose persistent beating sustains human life. During the Middle Ages, the heart fell under the scrutiny of a variety of philosophers. Some, like Aristotle, reasoned that the heart, not the brain, was the important organ of the body that dictates human reasoning and rationality. Others believed the heart held different responsibilities as the seat of the soul, a place of emotion and passion.

The heart as a representation of love has survived especially through the heart shape, a symbol that has been prominent since the end of the Middle Ages. The simple heart shape has become a metaphor for affection, for lust, for devotion. As the image primarily associated with Valentine’s Day, it remains powerfully resonant of love.

In Othello, Shakespeare alludes to the importance of expressing such emotion with the phrase “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve.” The phrase once referred to the jousting tradition where knights wore colors that matched their respective ladies. Now, this idiom alludes to displaying emotions openly and fearlessly.

This collage, motivated by the recurring appearance of the heart shape in non-cardiac tissue, demonstrates how the heart shape we so commonly associate with love can in fact exist outside the organ of the heart. Taken from kidney, mammary gland, liver, and prostate gland tissue, these samples demonstrate how the heart shape lives on structurally in other bodily organs. These hearts are constructed with different kinds of epithelial tissue from simple cuboidal epithelium to simple squamous epithelium; different cells come to naturally construct the heart shape. The array of colors arose from the different dyes used to illustrate the tissue structures. The basic dye hematoxylin binds to basophilic components like nucleic acids and ribosomes, while the acidic dye eosin binds to acidic components like protein. Although the heart shape is embodied differently in these various organs, it maintains the basic structure of two symmetrical halves that coalescence to create a whole.

Passion and love are not isolated within the cardiac tissue of the heart. Instead, these emotions circulate throughout the entire body. We must embrace these naturally permeating feelings, and so, “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve.”

I was honored to be selected as the Grand Prize Winner of the Science as Art Contest for this artwork and description.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (CC:BY-NC-SA).

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Angels & Monsters: A child’s eye view of cancer

Godzilla stands next to a purple hospital, breathing out engulfing flames of fire. He is burning out cancer.

This drawing was one of many to inspire art therapist Lisa Murray to share the work of children with cancer. Photographer Billy Howard is also dedicated to these children, capturing their personalities through a camera lens. Together, Murray and Howard set out to bridge their representations of these children. Murray let children illustrate what it feels like to have cancer through the medium of their choice, then wrote out their explanations. Howard photographed each child individually, honoring their personal journeys with cancer.

Angels & MonstersGodzilla vs. Cancer was an art gallery exhibition in 1994, sharing the illustrations, explanations, and photographs of 25 children with a larger audience outside the Pediatric Oncology ward. Eight years later in 2002, 17 of the children had survived. These creations along with biographies and a list of resources were compiled to create the book Angels & Monsters: A child’s eye view of cancer.

Cancer brings out fear: tears, pain, sickness, confusion, isolation, and band-aids. But it also brings out friendships, faith, perspective, and love. While each artistic piece offers insight into each child’s perspective, black and white photographs showcase each child’s self. On a swing, with a superhero cape, by a window, curled in a bed. Each work of art and the rationale behind it is compelling, each photograph and each child beautiful.

The authors reflect honestly with simple yet profound understandings of these children and their journeys. I loved the phrase that Jeff Foxworthy uses in the forward to describe these children: “old souls in little bodies” (viii). These individuals exhibit the precision of language as they carve out childhood cancer. They invite us to into “a special world. No artifice exists there. The human spirit holds sway with complete honesty and great dignity” (6).

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Literary Narratives, Visualizing Illness