Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Farewell, Dr. Bruccoli  1

Posted on June 6th, 2008. About Books, News and Politics, Ramblings.

During my junior year in college during the fall of 2000, I enrolled in a class at the University of South Carolina called “Fitzgerald and Hemingway.” The course was taught by Matthew Bruccoli, widely recognized as the leading F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and the creator of the largest collection of Fitzgerald memorabilia known. In short, it was an unforgettable experience.

Dr. Bruccoli passed away this week, as I learned from this article, sent to me by a friend in Charleston. I stared at the computer screen, stunned. Then the tears came. The world feels a little emptier with him gone.

His class that semester consisted of about 20 students (of whom about 15 showed up for each session – I never missed it), meeting with Dr. Bruccoli in the rare book room at the Thomas Cooper Library. We started each session by passing around a piece from the collection. The first time, it was a first edition of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises with the following inscription on the title page: “To Scott, with great esteem and affection. Ernest” Wow – Fitzgerald’s copy of Hemingway’s book, inscribed by Hemingway to Fitzgerald. Truly unique. The following session, we examined an old slide projector with glass slides featuring images of war. Dr. Bruccoli explained that Fitzgerald owned these, as did many in the 1910’s, and used this to emphasize Fitzgerald’s remorse over never having the chance to fight in World War I. One day it would be Fitzgerald’s whisky flask. The next it may be his notebook he carried around Hollywood in the 1930’s as he jotted down ideas for his final (unfinished) novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western. It was such an awesome way to begin discussing Fitzgerald’s writing.

We had guest lecturers too. I’ll never forget famed writer and critic George Plimpton’s visit to our class. We sat at the large conference table, Plimpton and Dr. Bruccoli with us, and laughed at their stories of their various encounters with Hemingway, his family, and friends. That night, we were Dr. Bruccoli’s guests at a performance of a dialogue Plimpton had written after compiling letters between the two men. I was one of three students from our class that attended (and I brought my mother, a bibliophile). Where was everyone? Did they not realize the experience they could have? As Plimpton closed our class, I handed him my photocopy of his script that had been distributed at the start of class and asked if he would mind autographing it. When he died in 2003, the script, which had sat on my bookshelf, was moved to a special box for preservation.

When I started medical school, I would go through flurries of short story writing, and once was even brave enough to send one to Dr. Bruccoli for an opinion. He sent feedback several days later, which to my relief was positive. I have the envelope with the manuscript and Dr. Bruccoli’s letter in storage, but the word I remember from the letter is “publishable.” He went on to explain that he almost became a doctor, but didn’t want to be surrounded by people who were ignorant. Instead, he continued, he went on to become an English professor, and was surrounded by people who were even more ignorant. I submitted it to a literary magazine, and it was rejected. He also enclosed one of his books with a witty inscription. After graduating from medical school, I went back to USC to visit Dr. Bruccoli before I moved to Seattle. He encouraged me to continue collecting rare books, and to enjoy medicine but to remember my passion for literature and writing.

He was gruff, and he was remarkable. I don’t know if I will ever meet another person like him. He is still very much alive in my mind, slamming his hand on the table and growling, “Hemingway was a MEAN son-of-a-bitch!” I can see the curious look on his face as we opened boxes of Hemingway galleys and manuscripts recently purchased by USC. I remember only being able to enter the University Club in St. Paul, MN, where Fitzgerald used to have drinks when he was a young man, because I was able to describe to the door attendant, thanks to Dr. Bruccoli, in detail what the bar looked like, despite not having ever seen it in person.

In the midst of my sadness while at work today, one of my friends was kind enough to listen to me ramble on about how remarkable Dr. Bruccoli was. He reminded me that I was lucky to have known someone like that. Lucky indeed. I am lucky, but unfortunately it just doesn’t seem like there was enough time. There never is with someone like him.

Misconceptions about Barack Obama  1

Posted on April 21st, 2008. About News and Politics.

Rather than celebrating the diversity that Barack Obama’s very existence embodies, his critics (or rather, his opponents), are playing to people’s fears in an attempt to bring him down. I’ve seen examples of this recently:

1. In order to test a neurologic patient’s mental status, I will often ask about his familiarity with current events. In particular, right now, I will ask about the presidential race and the names of the candidates. When asking this question recently, one patient answered right away with “Hillary,” “McCain,” and “the other guy – I can see him, but I can’t think of his name.” His mother immediately jumped in with: “You know he’s a Muslim.” Trying to avoid a political discussion, I just pointed out that he is not a Muslim. “Yes, he most certainly is,” she assured me.

2. A patient I saw last week for delirium was presented with the same question about current events and the presidential candidates. Again, it was: “McCain,” “Hillary,” and this time, “Obama.” My attending neurologist asked, “What is McCain’s first name?” “John,” he answered. “Okay, and what is Hillary’s last name?” “Clinton,” he answered. “Right, and what about Obama’s first name?” The guy thought, and thought, and then said, “I’m not sure. I know what his middle name is, though.”

Regular people, even in “liberal” Washington state (although I will point out that neither lives in Seattle), commenting on Barack Obama’s rumored Islamic faith and more aware of his middle name (Hussein) than his first name. I can’t help but wonder – do his opponents even care that he has been a member of the United Church of Christ for decades? Perhaps when the footage of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were aired, he should have responded with: “But wait a minute – that can’t be my pastor. I’m supposed to be a Muslim, right?”

It just doesn’t even make sense.

France loses its last World War I veteran  0

Posted on March 17th, 2008. About News and Politics.

I saw this article early this morning, announcing that the last living World War I veteran in France, Lazare Ponticelli, had died at the age of 110. He was born in 1897 in Italy and emigrated at the age of nine, volunteering to serve for France when he was 16 (and, like the last American surviving WWI veteran, having to lie about his age to enlist). I thought of my great-grandfather, whom I remember quite vividly as he did not pass away until I was 15. He was born one year later than Ponticelli, in 1898. How is it possible that he would be turning 110 this summer if he was living?

From two million American men who served in WWI, there is now only one – Frank Buckles, who was 107 years old this past Veterans Day. Only one! Before we know it, this will be the case with World War II veterans. I am so grateful for people like Ken Burns, whose documentary The War beautifully captures the essence that was World War II (written by someone who actually cannot fathom what it was like to be involved in that war, but the closest I have come to feeling like I understand it was from viewing his documentary).

It is sad that many of the stories, if not captured in the near upcoming years, of the second World War may die along with those who experienced them. The reason to study history is supposedly to learn from it and avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. Of course, there are millions of people alive who remember the Vietnam era well, and this has not prevented us from repeating some of those mistakes.

Rest in peace, Lazare Ponticelli, and thank you for protecting freedom (it doesn’t always have to be American freedom for which people are fighting to be worth honoring the soldier). He stated at one point that his enlistment was his way of thanking France for being the country that fed him after he left Italy – what amazing gratitude.

My first caucus!  0

Posted on February 10th, 2008. About Baby Dodds, News and Politics.

It was not only my first caucus, but Evan’s and Gabriel’s as well. See Evan’s blog post on this topic for full details of the numbers from our precinct – let’s just say the turnout was HUGE. There were more people packed into Washington Middle School yesterday for the Democratic caucus than there are on a typical school day. Our particular precinct was to hold its caucus in a normal-sized classroom as about 30-50 people were expected. The room was packed – shoulder-to-shoulder people stood. Evan tells me 173 people from our caucus showed up – that’s a lot of people standing in a classroom (and spreading to the hallway). Here is a picture of G and I at our first caucus:

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I agonized for weeks over the decision as to who I would support. Initially I, like many residents of Washington state, did not think our caucus would matter that much because it fell after Super Tuesday, but about one week prior to Super Tuesday I had a feeling we would have a say. Anyone who has had to work with me has endured my annoying vocalized contemplations over who my candidate would be – but in the end, I am very pleased with both Clinton and Obama, and I think we could have worse problems than two inspiring, intelligent people battling to run the country.

Hillary Clinton visited Seattle on Thursday, and I thought, “It’s too bad her visit is during the work week because I can’t go.” On Friday, Barack Obama visited, and as I drove to work, I thought, “I absolutely have to find a way to attend this rally because I’m dying to hear him speak.” I realized my decision had been made – it took a lot of effort and motivation to get to Key Arena to hear him speak, and it was worth it. I was happy to caucus for him yesterday, but since Gabriel attended as well, and since he had not yet had his afternoon nap, we signed in for Obama, stuck around for about ten minutes, and returned home. Evan was our precinct officer, so he had the pleasure of leading the caucus, and did an excellent job!

It will be interesting to watch the Democratic race unfold over the next few months – I say “months” because I really think this one could be decided at the convention. I hope it isn’t, though – there will be a lot of disappointed Democrats if they hope until August, and then lose -there may not be enough time for healing before November if that happens. But we’ll see. I’m excited that what could be the turning point in the election did not occur in New Hampshire, or in South Carolina or on Super Tuesday – but this past weekend, when Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Maine all decisively went for Obama.

Ugh – Wolf Blitzer AGAIN?!  2

Posted on January 24th, 2008. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

I had a busy week at work last week, but was able to watch the recorded Democratic debate tonight (the one from Myrtle Beach, SC, during which Obama said Clinton was on the board of Walmart and Clinton said Obama couldn’t pay for his programs). He said, she said, blah blah blah – but geez, what the heck was Wolf Blitzer doing hosting it?! Hasn’t he already hosted a debate? And this one was TWO HOURS LONG! As usual, everyone steam-rolled over him, he tried to redundantly make the same comments when he was allowed a chance to speak, and he succeeded at annoying me again. Interestingly, when I spell-checked this blog post, Windows Live Writer asked me if I wanted to use the word “Blister” in place of “Blitzer.”

At the end of the debate, Blitzer said, “We are completely out of time. But we do have time for one last question…” Grrr! Then apparently you are not completely out of time, are you? That last question, by the way, was about why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr should endorse each of the candidates – a “Why should Dr. King have chosen you?” I think this is such a stupid question, and very disrespectful to Dr. King. How can anyone judge who he would have supported? I can easily draw a parallel with those ridiculous billboards that say: ‘ “I am watching you.” -God’ or something equally unattributable to God.

My Political Update  3

Posted on January 11th, 2008. About News and Politics.

First of all, since Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, why are the pundits now questioning whether Barack Obama really has what it takes to win? Clinton won by all of about 11,000 votes in a very small state after losing to Obama in a larger one (Iowa). Plus, Obama and Clinton received the same number of delegates in New Hampshire, overall he is leading in the number of delegates (albeit narrowly – 25 to 24), and a candidate needs 2,025 delegates to be the nominee. It appears to me the race has only barely begun, so how can the race be called? Are some of these people the same people who called Florida for Gore, then Bush, then “too close to call”?

I’d also like to know why Fred Thompson haughtily puts Ron Paul down so frequently – Thompson is so condescending, and I believe it was Paul who got 8% in New Hampshire compared to Thompson’s 1%. Hmm…

Gabriel is punished for refusing his nap  0

Posted on January 6th, 2008. About Baby Dodds, News and Politics.

This morning, Gabriel became screechy and cranky and needed to go down for a nap. When he was placed in his crib, he was moaning and fussing. We had recorded the ABC Republican debate and were watching it in the living room. After a few minutes of fussing, once we realized G was not going to be falling asleep anytime soon, Evan got up from the couch, went into the nursery, and said, “Okay, little boy. You asked for it. Now you get to listen to what John McCain thinks of healthcare.”

My guess is G will be asleep within minutes. 🙂

A quick comment about the debate itself – Mitt Romney made the almost laughable comment that if someone can afford health insurance and chooses not to buy it, then he should pay for his own healthcare interventions. My first thought was – so if a person making $50,000 chooses to send his child to college rather than paying for health insurance, then we tell him – sorry, you should have spent that money on health insurance instead? Romney then went on to explain if the patient has to go to the hospital and pay “$1000” because he needs “some sort of repair” he should be responsible for it. I appreciated Huckabee’s response – that a kleenex in a hospital these days will run $1000. This interaction reminded me of Bush, Sr. not knowing how much a gallon of milk would cost. Romney is so out of touch with what it is like to live as a normal person in America. He is my least favorite of the major candidates from either party. Does he even realize that a single MRI out of pocket is more than $1000?

Dan Fogelberg dies  0

Posted on December 17th, 2007. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

I was stunned to learn this morning that Dan Fogelberg had passed away at the age of 56. I remember his name coming up when I was in college, and I said, “I always loved his song about his father, ‘The Leader of the Band.'” My roommate chimed in with, “I always liked ‘Another Auld Lang Syne.'” Several months later, when I played my Dan Fogelberg CD while I was living in Montana, my roommate there asked, “Do you have ‘Run for the Roses’? That’s my favorite Dan Fogelberg song.” And even later, when I was in medical school, a friend was at my apartment, picked up my CD, and said, “Oh, I didn’t know Dan Fogelberg sang ‘Longer’! I love that song.” I think many Americans in their late 20s or older remember his voice on the radio in the 1980s and are surprised by how many songs are his.

Fogelberg lost a battle to prostate cancer at a young age. I am disappointed that I will never see him perform, but can thank him for the years of music that accompanied our summer morning trips to swim team practice and across the country on adventures.

Why is Wolf Blitzer a national news journalist?  2

Posted on November 19th, 2007. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

Has anyone out there ever asked this very question? CNN has given him his own cable news show, The Situation Room, which is an overstimulating experience of multiple images suffocating its viewer, and an underwhelming intellectual experience. Not only is The Situation Room on five days a week, but it is THREE HOURS LONG. That is FIFTEEN HOURS of Wolf Blitzer weekly. And if that wasn’t enough to make people pull their toenails out, CNN made him the host of the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas last week!

Wolf Blitzer has annoyed me for years, but the recent debate has given me the smack I needed to finally blog about this. If I had to pinpoint exactly what irritates me, it goes something like this:

1. Wolf Blitzer continuously repeats himself.

2. Wolf Blitzer continuously repeats painfully obvious points.

3. He never seems to be listening to others when they are speaking. This comment is reinforced by the statements he makes when another person is finished speaking that seem tangential, at best.

4. He is not assertive and ends up appearing helpless.

5. When appearing helpless, he resorts to repeating painfully obvious points.

During this most recent of the many debates we have endured, Blitzer introduced the rules by informing the candidates that he would “gently” remind them if they were going over their allotted amount of time. Fine. Then, when the debate started, speeches between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama bounced back and forth, and during the first ten minutes I wondered if Blitzer would ever step in to allow any of the other candidates a chance to speak. Then, when Gov. Bill Richardson finally had the opportunity for air time, he was in the middle of giving an excellent answer to a question, which he stated he would answer in four parts, and after articulating parts one, two, and three, he said, “And fourth…” when Blitzer butted in and tried to cut him off. There were many awkward exchanges like this.

Suzanne Malveaux, John Roberts (the reporter, not the Justice), and Campbell Brown were all present to ask questions of the candidates. I just do not understand why Blitzer is the host, front and center, while three intelligent and interesting journalists play supporting roles in his show. It resembles the situation in The Fountainhead in which Lois Cook, the fictional author of The Gallant Gallstone (a fictional piece of fiction), is promoted to the top of the literary world because Ellsworth Toohey props her up to the public as the author that should be appreciated, and so people do just that because they are docile gullible souls. She is not talented or better than any other author, but people like her because they feel it is the acceptable thing to do.

CNN constantly tells us we should watch Wolf Blitzer in his Situation Room, and we do. Maybe he is on tv because the 24-hour cable news networks need someone who can fill three hours each day, and I must admit, he does succeed at this.

AIDSWalk 2007  0

Posted on September 29th, 2007. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

One might presume from the title that I participated in AIDSWalk 2007, but in fact I did not. However, just now Evan and I were watching the evening news and were informed that Seattle’s AIDSWalk took place today at Volunteer Park. It jogged my memory a bit.

In 1995, I participated in AIDSWalk in Columbia, South Carolina. I was 16 years old, a sophomore in high school in a small town (Chapin, SC), and remember seeing a poster somewhere advertising the walk. It was the "second annual" event at that time. 1995 may not seem like that long ago, but attitudes in South Carolina were so different then. I had been a community theater enthusiast, and because of this met several very talented and kind people, whom I later learned were homosexual. Several knew people who were HIV positive, and my young mind understood that wonderful people could be afflicted with this disease.

I began asking my friends at school whether they would accompany me to the walk in Columbia, but either they were not interested or their parents would not allow it. I drove myself to the event, alone, not knowing a soul downtown that Saturday morning. However, I was quickly embraced by fellow walkers and activists, and we enjoyed our 8k walk around the city. I remember a member of my family (who shall remain anonymous) asking me that night: "Did you have fun with the AIDS people?"

The following morning, I eagerly thumbed through the Sunday newspaper, The State, to read the article covering AIDSWalk – and there was not one. I registered my discontent – it was the birth of my first ever letter-to-the-editor, which was published the next week.

Just two years later, as the president of the National Honor Society, I took five classmates downtown to participate in AIDSWalk ’97, and the turnout in the park was tremendous compared to just two years earlier. The local news cameras interviewed participants, musicians played on a stage, etc. For AIDSWalk ’98, Evan joined me, as I was then a freshman at the University of South Carolina and had met my companion!

I used to believe, back in 1995, that everything important had already been accomplished, and there was nothing left for me to do. What a difference a little perspective gives a person. I have watched this disease grow from a fatal illness smothered in discrimination to a chronic infection managed with medication with better understanding and empathy from those around them, and of course – from an AIDSWalk not even covered in the local newspaper to annual AIDSWalks all over the country where thousands show up to participate.

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