Running language lightly over the sensorium
One fun poet out of three - not bad.
This week's Reading Between A and B made less of an impression than the last one I went to - maybe because I didn't have a nice chat afterwards to preserve it for later musing - but worthwhile nonetheless. Kathleen Ossip read from two thematic collections. The first, Cinephrastics, a book of movie poems, were at their best epigrammatic; at times I felt lost, because I don't know much about movies -- my fault, obviously. Another collection is set in the period of the Cold War. (So long ago!) It relied on an easy cliché, superficial suburban complacency beneath which roils a turbid undertow. (The work on the web site is more complicated and interesting than what she chose to read.)

Mary Jo Bang is well known and highly regarded, two risk factors for the Great Poet Syndrome: a tendency to orotund truisms (death is all around us, George Bush is a bad president), and an even more dreaded complication, the Great Poet Voice. (Imagine your most boring high school teacher. Then subtract intonation.) She also read from a thematic collection (these seem to be de rigueur), based on the letters of the alphabet. The most successful of these goes like this, in its entirety:

B is for Beckett
There is so little to say.

Here's another nice line of hers, plucked from context. It's about doctors. [I don't know where the line breaks go.] "How little else they know unless you tell them. I tell them I wish I could lie under the summer."

Chris Nealon, the middle poet, was entertainingly arch - qualities helped by his natural, fluid reading style. I appreciate poets that bring a persona to the microphone, and he was a jokester. Maybe his reading, his wit, his sexual jokes, can be identified with a "gay jester" type (Merrill, Powell). (If he's gay, that is. Maybe I'm wrong.) I wish I had more to quote, but he was reading pretty fast and I had had a bourbon to start the reading off (which I was well into by the time Nealon read. Maybe that's why I liked him the most?). A favorite line, again context-free: "She said: I want a tattoo. / She said, I want a thigh wound." Or the image of the city full of "instructible sparks." Or the title of this post, taken from a poem of his.

I would have bought his book, but the bourbon took up my free cash. I won't make that mistake again.


Insensitive introjection

I don't know if any of you remember my Medicine Mensch column way back in April, when I described a "code" on the ICU - that is, the death of a patient despite attempted resuscitation. I just now noticed a letter to the Forward written in response later that month, which I point out now as an instance of a common phenomenon: the tendency to ascribe to me, the columnist, an attitude in agreement with the attitudes described in the column. Thus:

In his April 14 Fast Forward column (“Springing Into Action”), Zackary Sholem Berger captures the unquestioning introjection of emotional insensitivity into the psyches of our physicians in training. As such, he seems unaware of the recurrent abhorrence to those outside his insider’s narrative: the initial “frown” by the resident whose chat was interrupted by a nurse’s concern over a dying patient; the “workplace banter” while the life of a husband, father, brother, friend… hung in the balance; the incompetent obscene specialist whom Berger feels compelled to shield, and finally, the reassurance of “the attending… that we should not beat ourselves up about the patient’s dying, that everything had been done the right way.”

Perhaps reflecting his own indoctrination, Berger attempts to anesthetize the reader’s pain with a reminder that those outside the code are the “uninitiated,” that the complete absence of any feelings whatsoever over a man’s death is sanctioned by a review and validation of the emergency protocol, as well as by the hollow reassurance of one’s superiors and peers.

The letter-writer, it seems, equates the depiction of emotional insensitivity with emotional insensitivity on the part of me, the writer. This is certainly possible but I think untrue in this case. Indeed, I share his concerns about the emotional insensitivity of many doctors; on the contrary, a careful reading of the article would not find a "complete absence of any feelings whatsoever" over the patient's death. In short: depiction of the status quo does not connote satisfaction with it.


Yiddishy doings
On Thursday, at the 92nd St. Y, a number of leading contemporary Yiddish vocalists will perform the songs of Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman. (Here's my most recent post about her.)

Also at the Y, on November 1st, Alana Newhouse moderates a discussion entitled "The Joys of Yiddishism." The question on the table (apparently): "Why are so many young Jews becoming interested in a language considered dead?" (Answers: (a) not so many; (b) superficial interest; (c) not dead.) More complicated, interesting, and articulate answers to be furnished by Alyssa Quint (literary scholar and Forward columnist), Itzik Gottesman (associate editor of the Yiddish Forward, and - by the way - Beyle Gottesman's son), and Allan Nadler (author and Forward columnist). Sense a trend? Newhouse is, of course, arts and culture editor at the Forward.

This Friday, for free!, you can hear Your Favorite Blogger talk about Yiddish and today's Lower East Side. I will also read a couple of my Yiddish poems, with English translations -- and then, separately and a bit later, read our Yiddish version of The Cat in the Hat. Davening at 6, a little smackerel of something at 7:15, I should be talking at 8 or so. This is all part of Synaplex at Town and Village Synagogue. (Actually, the most entertaining part of the evening should be the Yiddish sing-along led by Binyumen Schaechter, also at around 7:15. Schaechter, of course, is Beyle Gottesman's nephew and Itzik Gottesman's cousin. Who said the Yiddish world is inbred?)


Top Five Hospital Euphemisms* for "I Don't Know"
The suspense.

Number five: "It's unclear."

*Among doctors.


Beat on

Hug me, driving soak.
Leave no dry swatch.
Rained on this way
is perfectly wet.
One sea-pane's difference
from drowning.
Who owns human tissue?
Halachic parallels welcome. (זכין לאדם שלא בפניו?)
Federal regulations are based on a notion of voluntarism, but the right to refuse participation in research is based more on ensuring that subjects can be the ones to judge how to protect their own interests than on a pure form of autonomous decision making, which would include a right to refuse for any reason or no reason at all. Hence, no consent is required for research deemed to pose minimal risk to subjects — or for research in which identifying information is obscured or from which it has been deleted (which protects privacy and minimizes social risks such as stigmatization or discrimination, but does nothing to recognize subjects' autonomy). And when patients' preferences regarding the kinds of research that may be performed on their tissue are ascertained, this is done as a courtesy, rather than as recognition of patients' rights to prohibit the use of their tissues for purposes of which they disapprove.
From R. Alta Charo, Body of Research -- Ownership and Use of Human Tissue. NEJM 2006;355(15):1517-1519.


Snows of yesteryear
Gone, daddy, gone.

Says my daughter, looking at a picture of a snowy landscape: "S'iz gegangen a shney!" ("It snowed!"). Then she paused, and said in English, "The snow's gone!" I didn't have the heart to correct such a cute calque.


When friends become bloggers

Long-time friend and consistent commenter Becca now has her own corner of the Yid-o-sphere. Recent posts include a review of a new-ish Conservative machzor, and a spirited, enlightening defense of why Geshem, a liturgical poem of the season asking for rain, should also include women among the ancestors whose merit we're invoking.


Some-nium gatherum.

1. Look, Ma, No Bathrobe!

I forgot to wear my kitl to work on the morning of Yom Kippur, so I could wear it to minchah if I got out of work early enough to go to shul that day. I also forgot to leave my favorite machzor at shul before the holiday. Ditto my tallis. Thus, since I no longer carry in the eruvless wonderland that is now Manhattan, I was sans kitl, wearing the same pseudo-silk, slippy-shoulder quarter-tallises that everyone else was. Davening from the same gack-inducing translations. In other words, I had to leave my snobbiness at home -- salutary.

2. Chinatown Clinic

I felt great that I helped my patients today in clinic. Getting home before ten o'clock at night wasn't bad either. But I really felt like a kid in a candy store interviewing a patient for the first time in Chinese -- and he understood me. (If he had more complicated medical problems, I would have resorted to the translator phones.)


A non-ingenious paradox*
What's (not) eating you?

We're supposed to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur. But I like fasting (apart from the associated lack of milkshakes). Unsurprisingly, then, material affliction can lead to spiritual pleasure. Or what can be mistaken for spiritual pleasure -- dizziness from low blood sugar is not the same thing. You have to be self-aware enough to realize that a temporary religious high (from fasting, prayer, and the like) is not the same thing as spiritual progress. That bowing your head like a reed on a fast day does not necessarily give you a backbone you'll be proud of on the day after.

*Quack, quack.