My Mental Health Awareness Month guest blog for Central Vermont Medical Center website:
For today can I just write a blog about writing a blog? Of course I can. I’m the boss of me. Except that I started writing another piece today, one I realize could be considered controversial and should only see the light of day under deep pseudonym in the AARP magazine backpages–so I feel less the mistress of my own freedom than any thinly veiled braggadocio might suggest. That piece, the one you will likely not read, is about the atrocities of getting old in the changing workplaces of an ageist society where you are unappreciated as a still fierce force to be reckoned with. Instead the piece reads more like a Human Resource reportable incident than a blog post and do we really want to go there? If you do, message me discreetly.
So anyway, in the spirit of positivity, let’s talk about a new project instead. This March I attended the annual conference “Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professionals” at Harvard. I admit it was daunting to spend time with two hundred medical experts and hearing their pitches for what could easily become the next medical blockbuster. We met with agents, editors and publicists and attended three days of lectures on such topics as “How to Get Your Message Out in Today’s Changing Media Environment,” “Narrative Writing in Healing: The Power of Stories,” and “Publishing is Changing the Way Medicine is Practiced.” Participants left the conference all charged up with action plans and brand new twitter accounts. I left geared up to do…something. During the workshops I made a pretend pitch to write a patient-centered handbook, titled something like So How Was Your Week?, which would explain, in a conversational Anne Lamott-y tone, what to expect from your psychiatric encounter. I practiced and pitched it and got good marks for my delivery to a panel of a dozen agents and editors and the aforementioned two hundred others. No agents swarmed me for a book deal, nor did I really want one. My handbook just didn’t have the punch of, say, revolutionary non-pharmacological ways to beat the common headache forever or how one surgeon brings the dead back to life or the slam dunk memoir potential of impoverished illegal immigrant cures blindness (maybe I embellished a bit here) What I really want to do anyway is find ways of talking about how we feel about doing health care, how do our stories matter in the schema of Obama-care and litigation and insurance insanity? I’ll never be an Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, I’m just a worker on the front lines. But what if stories like mine and those of my colleagues could shine a light on the complexities of today’s health care and create better communication with patients, families, colleagues, legislators? What if we could promote health care by making our process more transparent? What if we found words to support each other during this process? Working on the front lines can be a lonely and misunderstood endeavor. Our stories have great potential to heal and I want to talk about ways to do this.
So in the positive spirit of staying close to home and writing what you know, starting in May I’ll be working with the marketing and communication team at my local hospital to do some interviews and write some blogs and connect with my colleagues and patients to do the same. Stay tuned. In the meantime here are several collections with beautiful narrative, moving examples of the genre.
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris, Seal Press 2015.
Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, She Writes Press 2015.
Same Time next Week: True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness, edited by Lee Gutkind, InFact Books, 2015.
The Vermont Book Arts Guild exhibit opens this Thursday, February 15 and runs through March 18. Hosting this exhibit is the University of Vermont Living/Learning Gallery in Burlington. From my artist statement:
“New Views from the Memory Motel”
The Three Dimensional Art of Memoir: transparency, translucency, opacity
“transparent translucent opaque transparent translucent opaque transparent” is printed on vellum rolled around a page of quotes. Stuck in a porcelain scroll. “There are shards stuck in our unconscious we don’t even know about until they surface.” Shards of porcelain surround the grouping of scrolls and containers that make up the series New View from the Memory Motel. There really is a Memory Motel, I found it while visiting a friend in Montauk and took some photos, and voila, a new series was born. Much of what we hold on to is bittersweet so I quote Abigail Thomas: “The word memory comes from the same root as the word mourn, and that should tell you something.”
And from Jenny Kerber, “Writing in Dust” 2010: “The memoir can also serve as a form of testimonial, bearing witness not only to the particularities of a place at a moment in its history but also to the writer’s conscious commitment to it. The Latin root of memoir, however, also reminds us of the proximity of remembrance to mourning. Even as memoria tries to keep something or someone alive, its substance often only amounts to a pale shadow of what has already been lost.”
Elements: Porcelain pages, various handmade papers, fabric, threads, charms, milagros, encaustic, ephemera, original artwork and text as the basis for the written word, also incorporating micro-essays, quotes and pieces of memoir via vintage Letra-Set, stamps, and inkjet printing. Photo by Ben DeFlorio
Read my guest blog about the piece and the process in July on Brevity.com: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/memoir_vessels/
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner living in Northern New England. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as prose poetry and articles. Her first book, “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women,” was published in 2015 by She Writes Press. Most recently her creative nonfiction has appeared on Kevin MD, in Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Best of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop, and in “Mothering Through Darkness.” Her work is upcoming in the collections “Second Blooming” and “How Does That Make You Feel?” She has guest blogged on a number of sites including Brevity.com, and infrequently on her own website at www.ninagaby.com. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, and Arizona State University permanent collections. Gaby’s three dimensional memoir vessels explore transparency/translucency/ and opacity in mixed media including the written word and have been exhibited recently in several regional gallery shows, including the juried show “Unbound V” and “The Art of Place” which she co-curated at Chandler Center for the Arts this past winter.
Personally I can’t wait to get to New Hampshire tomorrow. And this is why. Hillary. But stay with me here, I’m very much alone (I live in Vermont.)
I got heart and mind invested. Let’s get this out of the way: it may be my last chance to ever see a woman elected president in my own country. As a feminist from the womb, it’s crucial, so much so that I once even considered campaigning for Elizabeth Dole. Very briefly. But mind over heart in these end times. End times. The repubs get in and we further erode the environment, separation of church and state, and any respect we have left on the world stage. I envision Christian-Fundamentalist-imposed burquas for all women of childbearing age within the next 15 years, but then again, I’m of a hyperbolic nature (except no one saw it coming in Teheran either.) Don’t get me wrong, I love Bernie’s message, it resonates. My husband and I lost almost everything in 2002, I feel the greed and lack of controls on Wall Street acutely and still do every day as we continue to crawl back. But to claim that a president can revolutionize our banking system is pie-in-the-sky. There is just so much that a president can do, it’s a democracy. Hands will be tied.
Jonathan Chait from the New Yorker says it much better than I: “Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board.”
Enter Hillary with her brilliant understanding of foreign affairs. My god, she knows all the world leaders and likely knows all their kids names and birthdays. What I don’t want is a president that can’t do much- no matter how good the original message may be, leaving us even more crippled in the larger arena. And yes, I’ve loved Hillary since I took my baby daughter to meet her when she came to meet with us nurses back in my hometown over two decades ago, wanting to know what was wrong with health care. She fought a valiant fight that is only bearing fruit two decades later, starting when the Millenials were still babies. My point? She’s still around. Still brilliant, tough, presidential. So it’s not like I have time to join a campaign (I’m tired and can’t afford to retire) especially one that will make me even more unpopular with my Vermont neighbors, and it’s not just about meeting Al Franken tomorrow in New Hampshire, although that will be very cool. It’s that, like in so many campaigns before, starting with local campaigns as a kid, even before Eugene McCarthy, even before I could vote, I have no choice. And if Bernie gets the nom nod, you betcha. Him too.
Original title “Me, Hypocrite in a Coffee Shop, Day After Christmas, 2015”
This piece for KevinMD was a hard piece to write. When we sit with our patients throughout the day we focus pretty exclusively on who they are, what they are saying, why they are sitting in our office in the first place. We focus intently on what is the best right thing to do for them/with them. Later, we may worry about them, or we may binge on Netflix or immerse in the misery of all the documentation that we didn’t get to while they were sitting there, because we were listening rather than typing, but either way, it needs to be done. The lap-top-data-monster is ravenous. The point is, we are too busy to think. But sometimes, as I describe in the essay just up on KevinMD, we confront ourselves. Sometimes when we were really trying to do something else. Sometimes the sorrow, the exhaustion, “the vicarious traumatization” is unavoidable. We try to care for ourselves and it feels hypocritical. This soul baring/bearing piece is meant to start some honest conversation.