Prufrock goes to the doctor

One of my favorite poems is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.

I have no aspirations to developing an interpretation that accords with what analysts of the literary sort have assigned.  I read it and it spoke very much to me about the sorts of day to day struggles I have with context where what I wish to communicate and how I wish to be perceived both seem to differ vastly from what is available to me.  “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” describes so well how I often feel when these moments fail me.

No context is more loaded with this disconnect than my various experiences with doctor/patient communication.  The history giving, the narrative that starts with the spoken or unspoken question of “So what brings you here today?”  I know that what I need to communicate is valid, is of great import (to me), and that how I answer (and how well I answer) will have a significant impact on whether I get what I need.  But I am not what is expected of a suitable patient.  I complain of feeling terrible and yet I don’t look terrible to these people.  Could I show them a picture of how I used to be, of how I should be now so they could see a “before and after” effect of this long grinding illness on me?  And beyond my physical impression, there is also the fact that I necessarily deviate from the script.  I haven’t the heart to catalog all the ways in which I do.  I suspect there are many I am unaware of and listing the ones I do know only makes me feel irritatingly self pitying.  I will say that like Prufrock, I also measure out my life in coffee spoons – I am a careful and deliberate person who fears to put too much down, to give too much away and that sort of person is often seen as fussy and dismissable.  And that sort of person often gets in his or her own way when he or she tries to engage exactly because she or he is trying so hard to both analyze and act at the same time.

When I read that Prufrock fears that his attempt to foray into a sphere of discourse from which he is necessarily barred or at least a priori judged as inadequate will not just be difficult and frustrating but will “disturb the universe, I feel a deep resonance with poor old Prufrock.  Indeed, “how should I begin?” and  “how should I presume?”


And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?



Sometimes, a perfect moment comes along.  It’s so nice when it happens.

The past few weeks have been difficult.  I’m feeling pretty bad physically and work is stressful.  My boss seems to be entering into a “last hurrah” stage.  She’s on her way out but is going down kicking and screaming.  The kids are having some tough times – we’re all blaming Northern February plus mid second semester stress.  Midway through the second semester, it becomes clear that whatever your hopes for the school year, you are on a path – largely irrevocably – to them being realized or dashed.  For a lot of students, this is about when they realize that they are not doing well at all and that it is rapidly getting too late to pull it together and save the year. For a lot of kids, this is when it is clear that academic probation, withdrawal, or dismissal is looming and they have only a few weeks to reverse or correct it – if that’s even possible.  We had two students transported for psych evals last week, one I know closely and I grieved for because my time in college (round one) was full of such turmoil and misery.  A close friend of the student’s had had a suicide attempt and it sent the student – who was already having some difficulties – into a tailspin.

Yesterday, another student who I’ve worked closely with came and found me on my lunch break.  I had gone and hidden out in a less frequently used, private room where we have our dictation software set up.  “I’m eating lunch” I told him warily over a mouthful of sesame noodles.  “I just wanted to use the computer, I can wait til you’re done, it’s ok,” he told me.  He stayed and chatted with me, telling me about a class he’d just left where he kicked ass on a presentation.  “We were supposed to present something for 2 to 3 minutes,” he said, adding that most students did song lyrics.  He chose a poem, and proceeded to recite part of it for me, the rest I looked up.  It is perfect for right now.

    Max Ehrmann  


    Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
    they are vexations to the spirit.
    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain and bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself.
    Especially, do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love;
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.

    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy.

    Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.


For reasons irrelevant to the nature of this blog, the topic of Haiku came up recently. A search online for more info on it has revealed two fun things.

One is this site, which is nice and has information on teaching and writing haiku.

The other was mention of random haiku generators such as this one. In playing with the haiku generator I discovered the option to change the vocabulary list it draws on. “Golf” vocabulary was an option. To my disappointment, medicine and health were not categories, nor does it seem they are in other generators I found. I think I might have a christmas project.

Until then, here’s a hand made health haiku, a coda for the extra long ragweed season which has managed to overlap with the post-thanksgiving-travel cold going around at work.

Allergy or cold
Kleenex hide     cough drops
No. Empty foil packs

with coffee spoons

The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino is an excellent, I mean truly excellent essay about “what it’s like to live with sickness or disability”. While reading it, I thought of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock measuring out life with coffee spoons.

The essay is linked through But you Don’t Look Sick, (oh another great name) which I just discovered was founded by Ms. Miserandino. Well done Ms. Miserandino!

For anyone who is interested in knowing what it is like to live without the luxury of good health in a world which presumes all are well (or well enough), I offer more words from the poet as advice. Do not ask what is it. Let us go and make our visit. Read the essay.