Thursday, February 2, 2012

"The art of description"

The heavy scent of Dama De Noche blooms envelops the areas on the corner path which I take to get home every night. It is a curious smell, one would think that a place as far removed from rural scents and sounds as this part of Manila was, you would expect nothing as delicate, or as dainty.  Yet where the flowers are, I cannot tell yet. At certain times of the day, the scent is there, barely perceptible, but seemingly floating, an invisible nocturnal cloud which I imagine to be various shades of pretty ochre…

On that walk home, I was only paying half a mind to the “ochre breeze”, as I was busy keeping up with the barrage of messages on my work phone… as I rounded the corner, I nearly bumped into this massive hunk of muscle of a man.  From the periphery, I only noticed his legs, tanned trunks of sinewy muscle (could I have possibly seen the corded anterior tibialis? I think yes.) stemming out from white, expensive-looking Nikes. Up and up, he was wearing shorts, with the seams just cut off at the knee, a manly length, ensured to maximize athleticism and show off someone’s “body of work”.
“Hi,” he said.
Curious, I looked up from my red distraction of a phone… it took a while for me to see who it was, as when I looked up to see who the other person was, my gaze had to travel from my eye level …his chest (which I imagined to be lean and broad, judging from the comfortable way his dri-fit shirt was stretched over it), still upwards, until I could see the face from whom that one word greeting came from.
“Hey.” I said, surprised. There was no one behind me, but I was still considering that he might have been talking to someone else over my head.  My, he was tall, over six feet tall of muscle and manliness…and he said, Hi.
A little while later, I found myself in Book Sale, one of my favorite places to go in the mall, sniffing a book called “The art of Description”, by Mark Doty.  It was a book on just that, description. Putting into words just how we see things in the world, which, I believe sounds easy enough…until you start to do it.
(It’s not so easy, you know. Try describing the sensation of looking into someone’s eyes when you feel the deep stirrings of love that you can never tell them about, or try describe the colors of sunset, or even just the “reflectivity of the bay on an August morning”.  :-))
Well, it seems like a self-help book, but I cannot discount the fact that it has mellifluous words in it, and that is even a bigger pull for me. I just like to get lost in the sights and sounds of the wordplay.)
My recent interest in honing my skills in “painting with words” was sparked by a very recent academic endeavor.
Last week, I went on rounds with my mentor to see one of his patients on the pay floors. It was about an hour long, and all I did was sit and observe. 
(Learning from the “masters”, is an active process, you really have to go out of your way to see them in action, as in Psychiatry, being asked to observe is not something that happens every day, regarding the very confidential nature of most of our work.)
I tried to learn from the experience, taking in all I possibly could, as much as my sensate faculties would allow me.  Everything had a purpose, the relaxing, comfortable atmosphere which he made in the patient’s hospital room, the way he positioned the family members, the way he placed himself in his seat, the modulation in his voice that he practiced, they were all for a purpose. I also observed how the members of the family acted, how they spoke, how they moved. I think I even had to subconsciously memorize the expressions on their faces while they were telling their  versions of the story…
Afterwards, Sir discussed the case with me. The afternoon’s learning session was to be focused on “what I saw.” The “mentoring” was very informal, mind you, we were outside the gate, and he was smoking, while he had me recount…and describe what it was that I had seen during the rounds.
I made the same mistake of thinking it was easy.
My initial attempts at “describing” what I saw (My mentor and I talk in English, which works for me, because I think I would be at a loss for words to describe the episode in Tagalog) were met with, “You’re not describing, you’re making a cognitive judgment…Now, try again.”
“Observing and describing is very important…that is the best way to learn Psychiatry…”
It took me a few more tries to actually get to “describe”, without “judgment”. At first glance, one would likely think, “Describing is easy enough.”, but why did I have such a hard time doing it? My mentor has a very eclectic way of thinking, and it’s never easy to really “get” what he wants you to say. He challenges me, but in a good way.
 Hence the book…

Like I always say, there’s never a boring day in Psychiatry.
Oh, and about the super tall, muscular dude, I’m afraid to say it didn’t go anywhere. Flattering as it may have been that he was making the first move (he waited at the bend to see if I would reciprocate), I didn’t. My head, and my heart was simply too full, and my stomach too empty to think of any possible dalliances. :-)
And so I walked home. Looked out my 27th floor balcony, and mused about the delightful possibilities.
So many things could still happen. :-)


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