This piece is a response to a thread on Reddit’s r/writingprompts. The prompt was “Your character lives out the lyrics to your favourite song.” I chose Ghosting by Mother Mother.
This is also an exercise in forced free-writing, as I did not let myself go back and change anything as I wrote (the exception being obvious spelling/grammar mistakes). It’s interesting to see the way my writing evolves from one simple idea into full-blown erraticism. However, I believe such literary chaos fits nicely with Mother Mother’s musical style.
Either way, my brain enjoyed this exercise. I hope you do, too.
The bed looks untouched; you will have no idea I spent the last week tossing within it. The rooms are tidied, though I left the dust that lined the window frames and furniture. In the fridge is a bowl of spoiled fruit. I open the fridge several times debating whether I should throw it out; I want to throw it out, but I won’t. This is supposed to be an empty house.
I don’t know where I’ll go from here. When I told you I was leaving, you didn’t believe me. You knew little of the life I left behind—you always wanted to know, but I refused to tell you—but you were sure that I had nothing to go back to. In your anger, you told me that I had nothing, was nothing, without you. Though the words you spoke would seem harsh and cruel to an untrained ear, I knew better. You were scared of me leaving; you were scared of me. You had always been scared of me.
I had arrived into your life in such a vapid way. We frequented the same coffee shop. I would sit at the table in the corner, holding my cup in my hands—I didn’t put it down on the table; it was a strange habit you noticed almost instantly. You never stayed long, though I felt your eyes linger on me each time you stood in line. I saw you become more and more entranced with the thought of me. Each day, your eyes fixed on me for one moment longer.
Eventually, I stopped going to that coffee shop. I was tired of being scrutinized; my arms were tired of lifting that cup. I don’t remember much of that time. I was displaced. That winter was cold.
In the springtime, I returned to that coffee shop. I went in the evening to ensure we wouldn’t meet again. For weeks I watched the world go by from the corner. I was content. That spring was warm.
One day, you appeared again. I could feel you before I saw you: your curious, enraptured gaze. While you waited in line, I planned my escape; as I stood up, you were in front of me. I dropped my cup on the table.
You apologized for startling me, and offered to buy me another drink. I tried to refuse, but you insisted. You said it was important that you speak with me.
And we spoke. We spoke for the rest of that evening. We spoke for many more evenings. We spoke for months. You shared your reasons for your fascination; you said I looked identical to someone who had frequented your dreams since childhood. I told you that you were crazy. You laughed. It was a perfect laugh. We spoke of many things afterward. I’m not exactly sure when we came to love each other.
After a year of speaking, you invited me to live with you. You said you dreamed of me so often now, it was as if I was already there.
But within months of living together, we stopped speaking. It just happened naturally. We ran out of things to say. You still loved me and continued to dream. I became a spectre that wandered around, unfinished and unfulfilled. I told you I was leaving. You said cruel things; you were scared.
I open and close the fridge one more time; the fruit stays, I tell myself. I walk along your lonely hallways once again, inspecting each corner. I am removing any trace that I have been there. When I left after our argument, I removed all my belongings. Now I am removing evidence that I stayed here while you were away on business. This winter is cold; I have nowhere else to go. You’re coming home today.
I spent many of these past nights wrapped in your sheets, trying to devise a way to stay with you. We could speak of mundane things: the weather, the neighbours, or our meals. I could lay beside you at night and hold you while you retreat to those visions of me you believe are real. I could become those dreams rather than the waking nightmare that I’ve become. I could stop scaring you.
As I come to the end of the hallway, I stop to open the closet. There, folded neat and tidy, is that sheet I wrapped myself in. I put it away last night after realizing one important truth: you would never see me for what I really am, let alone love me. When you stared at me in that coffee shop, you were staring right through me. You only saw a reflection of an old dream.
I’m out of hiding now. You know I’m just a poltergeist, a trickster, who took that form. You realized it the day I left you, though I think you knew it all along. I think that’s what scared you. I wasn’t that person, yet you couldn’t bear to let either of us go. And truthfully, I enjoyed scaring you too. Our life together was an eternal Halloween; I was a creaking in your stairwell, a constant reminder that dreams do not belong in reality.
You don’t need me to remind you of that fact, anymore. You don’t need my tricks, or my ghosting. I close the closet slowly, taking a deep breath. I take in the house, and our life together, one last time. It smells of death: that of our love, your idealism, and me. I rush to the front door, gagging, and pull it open. I use my key to lock the door and toss it into the bushes.
Once again, I am displaced—a ghost out of its grave.
"You are a shell of the person you once were; why are you letting this year defeat you so easily? Obviously everything you are must be some kind of lie if it vanishes at the first sign of adversity. Dumb-ass. Weakling. Failure. Loser."
a self-reflection (courtesy of that monthly emotional aggrandizement)
I don your influence as one might
a beloved piece of clothing.
The fit is so evident,
she noted to me: you are covered in it,
you are entwined.
Belief comes slowly—
I have only just
gotten used to bareness—
but the sting in my cheeks,
they hold happiness
And I feel so light, yet rooted;
a strange combination of peace and complacency
for the now
and excitement and longing
for the future.
There is something so beautiful about finding
clarity in contradictions and
desire in dissonance;
such is deconstructed to the ability
to dine with discomfort
with a fullness in the belly
And the cloth fitting tightly.
noun, plural discontantslanguorthies.
1. a lethal combination of discontentment, restlessness, oppressive stillness, and apathy.
2. a feeling that accompanies the act of staring blankly at a ceiling while lying down.
3. a word that describes that feeling that is hard to describe otherwise.
"she suffered from such discontantslanguorthy that she felt it necessary to create a word to embody the extent of her bizarre emotionality."
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Excerpts from the travel journal (1 - Ireland)
It seems fitting to transcribe some of these scribbles, since I referenced a “dear reader” several times in my entries. Even at that time, I wrote the journal to be read (despite some of the horribly personal things included).
(2012). How can one sum up something as incredible as travel in a few sentences? It is not possible for there is too much to describe, to delight in. In less than a third of a day, we were in a whole new, strange exciting place. What’s more, we were surrounded by thousands of individual lives on unique routes that suddenly passed our own.
…As we travelled about the streets, we became familiar with them — I am incredibly proud of this fact as Catherine and I are notorious for our awful sense of direction. However, as we learned to masterfully manoeuvre the streets, the weather brought its own challenges. Sunshine one moment, threatening grey clouds the next — it was without any sort of discernible pattern. You can tell the locals have mastered the sudden shifts, though. Within moments of rain, unseen rain gear appears and/or the citizens of Dublin duck into nearby doorways to wait. They know that their patience will pay off when the weather shifts once again.
(2012). Quick to wake with an 8am alarm, we checked out of the hostel and headed for our train to Galway at the Houston Station…
…We passed by vast green fields (has a field ever been such a colour?), small stone farms, and lounging cows.
…For the evening, we sampled a taste of Irish theatre — a production called “The Mai.” It was advertised as “a play about love — the kind that chews you up and spits you out,” detailing the misadventures of four generations of women in the affairs of the heart. It was so incredibly frustrating to see Mai long for something that so clearly ceased to exist (his love), yet it was incredibly understandable in its own right. I’ll admit, I felt my eyes droop and lost some parts of the first act to fatigue, but the final message resounded quite strongly. Love is a messy affair no matter what continent you are on, and it is only as destructive as we let it be.
(2012). The Cliffs of Moher. I don’t think I could come up with a single word — or several for that matter — that accurately describe the feeling of walking atop those cliffs. Spanning 8km, lining the ocean with green and stone, the cliffs are simply breathtaking. Our guide warned us about going beyond the walkway, but Marie led us bravely beyond them and I am so glad she did. To think I could have missed that experience produces a heavy feeling in my chest — what other life-changing experiences have I missed out on because of my “goody-goody” disposition? Perhaps saying the cliffs were life-changing is a bit of an exaggeration, but I still cannot stress enough the feeling of being on top of, what felt like, the entire world. The cool breeze, the soft ground, the adrenalin of perilous waters waiting to swallow you up if you move only two meters to your right. I think it is best to say that the cliffs reminded me of what I have already figured out about life — something that is easy to forget in the buzz of everyday life. And that, dear reader, is something I like to call “the big picture.” It’s hard to think of small things when standing atop such tall cliffs, you see.
(2012). The fact that the tall-ship festival was going on was a stroke of luck for us, really - it gave us something to do before taking the last bus to airport. There was a lot of luck associated with tonight, actually. For instance, we happened to stumble upon a tour that interested us, which happened to take us along a route that brought us back to Marie. Indeed, serendipity is more magical than the sight of the towering masts cutting the light of the setting sun over the River Liffy (though the latter must be considered a close second).
Imagine this — huge ships lining the shore as far as you can see, people brushing past each other excitedly as they sport novelty sailor hats, foods of the world, music, dance, and beer. If you can do that, you have a good idea of our evening. We explored a Mexican ship (with the careful hands of the young crew guiding us down steep steps in such a lovely old-fashioned way), we danced behind a carnival parade, and watched the sun set over the river. As night time fell, we parted ways with Marie at last, with a firm hug and exchange of well-wishes. Who knows if we will ever meet again?
..It is now beyond the day marked for this entry, and the smell of the airport McDonalds is overpowering. Now, we try to sleep until 4:30am, here on these food court benches.
Here’s to travel!
100 word challenge(s)
How can one sum the entirety of their existence’s wisdom into a few brief words, especially when teetering on the cusp of nothingness? See, I already wasted twenty-three words mulling over the unfairness of being confined a word limit as I contemplate my hypothetical death. I believe it is fitting, however, as I’d likely be complaining of the unfairness of death itself. And so, in the remaining limit my message is this: you cannot begin to understand the effect you had on my life. Thank you for being there. I will miss you. Send my love and regards to humankind.
…the violent storm was…
She said she lived her life in pathetic fallacy. She believed her emotions were so sacred that nature itself bent its spine and stretched its arms to fit her. When we were separated, I used the weather to visit her. The violent storm was her anger at having been mislead; the overcast was her contemplative walk to work; the wind was the intensity of her voice; the sunlight falling through the sieve of clouds was her insatiable determination to live each day better than the last. Indeed, the most accurate forecast was her response to the text “how are you?”
It seemed impossible to her that such implicit happiness could re-emerge so casually. With countless reflective walks and bus rides to her name, she had already accepted that extensive rehabilitation would be necessary to mend what had been broken in her life—there is an inherent weakness that follows years of disuse and neglect. However, in the quiet moments of that morning, the shrinking of muscles and the decay of precious tissue went unnoticed. In unusually warm arms there is proliferation; in the grasping of a willing hand, there is the strength to walk without a wobble.
Why I’ve Chosen Medicine (& Why it Will be the Worst and Best Decision of My Life)
I feel that this piece is one that has been long-standing; while these musings have been circling my consciousness since I first began to grapple with the application process, they’ve only just settled into a coherent (and mentally legible) image. Though I was successful last year on McMaster’s CASPer test without any practice (as I secured an interview that was denied to 4,000 other applicants), I have spent the better part of this evening preparing for tomorrow’s rewrite. The effort seems somewhat ridiculous, given that the test is designed to assess my personality; however, I felt that my self-awareness has been lacking lately and thought some reflection might be helpful. Thus, this thought experiment was born.
This is going to be horribly honest and hyperbolic. I anticipate cringing as I reread everything I write here. I fear that any reader who knows me will look at this as some terrifying deformity and will subsequently leave with an altered (though more accurate) impression of me. Regardless, I am willing to proceed only because I feel it will help me in my endeavours.
So let’s begin with the “why.” In other words…
This is a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I learned that some admissions board would be interested in the answer. Prior to this, when I had only the faintest inkling that I would enjoy using my biology knowledge to help people, I didn’t concern myself with the “why”. Indeed, I merely knew it was something I wanted to do.
But of course, wanting something for no particular reason is not enough when you’re competing against the country’s best students. So I began to devise a neat statement that would effectively fill the void immediately following the question: “Why do you want to be a physician?”
This is what I came up with.
(For the sake of dramatic effect, imagine me sitting erect in an uncomfortable plastic chair, opposite 4-5 panelists who are scrutinizing every word and movement as I say this.)
Beth: “There are two reasons why I want to be a physician, and they tie into each other quite well. First, when I think of the moments in my life when I have been most at peace with myself…most happy and content with where and who I am…moments where I can’t help but smile and look at each insignificant thing as if it were the force that spins the very earth itself…moments where I could die utterly happy and fulfilled…well, these moments exist immediately following instances where I have altered the course of another person in some meaningful way. I derive this extraordinary feeling by bettering someone else. Though this may seem like a roundabout and convoluted way of saying the cliche “I like helping people,” it’s more inherently selfish. I see medicine as a career that will offer this feeling in immeasurable quantities. Despite the certain trials I will face, I know that the happiness payout will be incredible.
But of course, I anticipate you and others will have the same response to this explanation. Indeed, people have questioned me: “Why not just pursue an easier career that lets you help people?” This leads me to my second reason. Truthfully, I believe that my passion for academia and for the intricate systems (both biological and psychological) that make up the human existence would never be satisfied in another career. All my success in school, and the abilities I have discovered and developed along the way, fit into the pursuit of medicine perfectly. I will never be satisfied in another career, because I feel that my abilities and my motivation have predisposed me to the challenges posed by medicine. Anything else would feel like admitting defeat.
Furthermore, if I want to help people to achieve what I perceive to be the epitome of happiness, why not help in a way that is so fundamental to the human existence? Through medicine, I would exert an influence in something that is crucial to all humankind—I would play a role in their physical (i.e. biological) manifestation, without which all other aspects of humanity would be lost. I cannot fathom a way to better someone in a more fundamentally important way than bettering their health.
And that’s why I want to be a physician.”
Of course, this statement is a lot prettier sounding than it probably would have been in the actual scenario (fun fact: I never had the chance to try out my response…despite the fact that I stayed up until almost 4am running through it over and over again the night before my interview).
So that’s it. That’s why I want to be a doctor. I’m not sure if it’s a good reason, but nothing has resonated more with me than the feelings that swell as I express what I’ve written above. How does one use a feeling to justify a want? This is something I’ve grappled with, and the eloquent (albeit overly “flowery”) explanation above is the best I’ve come up with.
Yes, I want to be a doctor…but should I?
This section is especially difficult for me to write, as it essentially voids all the effort I’ve put into pursuing medicine to date. Nonetheless, I’ve spent a good portion of time reflecting on 1) why I should not be a doctor, 2) why I believe I will be a bad doctor, and 3) why this pursuit has been one of the worst experiences of my life.
Number 1 and 2 tie together nicely, as my anticipated weaknesses as a doctor perpetuate my belief that I should not be one. I like lists, so I’m going to break this down into the top 3 reasons you would not want me practicing medicine.
1) I can’t deal well with failure. This is something I became aware of back in high school when I would receive a mark below 90% and sulk for the rest of the day/week; back then, anything less than a 90 was a failure in my books, and I didn’t forgive myself for these failures very easily. (Yes, I realize how stupid this sounds. Cringe-worth honesty, remember?)
I could provide endless examples of how I’ve sucked at coping with failure, but for the sake of time, please take my word for it when I say that it’s not pretty. To generalize it simply, I don’t rebound very well mentally. I ruminate and cry and become nonfunctional, and I let these feelings intrude on the other successful aspects of my life.
So why does this matter when medicine is considered? Medical error, my friends. It’s a tragic circumstance that happens way more than the health care community would like you to believe.
(This TED talk offers some interesting insight into the topic, if you’re interested:
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say I make a mistake when treating a patient (as I and other humans are bound to do). Now, let’s say that this mistake leads to the death of my patient. This outcome is a failure - and a gross one, at that. While I could rationally argue that such medical errors happen to all physicians, I am almost certain that I would never fully forgive myself. And as the mistakes pile up (not all deaths, ideally - I’ll venture that I wouldn’t be ENTIRELY incompetent in my practice), I would be overcome. I truly fear for my emotional well-being as a doctor; I can only hope that practice and experience improves my ability to deal with failure. Because, to be frank, I can’t deal with it now.
2) I am sensitive to death. Like, really sensitive. In one of my courses this past year, I was able to reflect on my personal constructs of death and dying, and it really opened my eyes to my unstable relationship with death. Apart from my grandparents (who died before I could form long-lasting memories), an immediate friend/family member has never died. Needless to say, I am inexperienced with dealing with death in most capacities (my childhood dog hasn’t even died yet). What’s more, I view death as something entirely negative—the only thing that will make me cry in movies/television is the death of a character.
In terms of medicine, I anticipate that the death of my patients (even the unpreventable ones) will weigh heavily on me. I know I could never be a surgeon, because death would be too immediate - it would be right at my fingertips each and every day. Who wants a doctor that becomes emotional at the prospect of their patient dying? While I’m sure I’ll learn to keep a steady voice and straight (but empathetic) expression with time, I think that I will still feel it all. And, to be perfectly honest here, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle it. One of the requirements of medicine is emotional health that allows one to fully use their intellectual abilities, and I foresee rough waters maintaining my intelligence with death lurking about.
3) I have a frustratingly low level of self-efficacy. Honestly, if it weren’t for grades and positive feedback, I would not believe in my own intelligence and abilities. I think this is due to the high expectations I have for myself, and my predisposition to consider anything less a failure (see #1). If you were to ask any one of my family members or friends what frustrates them about me, I’m sure this topic would pop up. It is not uncommon for me to complain about my poor performance on something, only to later realize that I did just fine (or exceedingly well). I don’t do it to be annoying, you see. In the moments I am fretting about a less-than-perfect performance, I truly feel that way. I think I just find it easier to doubt myself than to be optimistic.
This one is fairly easy to connect to medicine. Who wants a doctor who believes that they suck? A physician with poor self-efficacy would not inspire trust or professionalism (the latter which is a core requirement of medicine, according to practically everyone everywhere).
While I fully believe that there are more reasons I should not be a doctor, I find it exhausting to talk about my weaknesses so candidly. Plus, this is getting quite long and I’d like to wrap it up while I have some semblance of thoughtfulness.
Is it worth it to be a doctor, given the process I’m experiencing now?
My immediate, reflexive response to this is “OF COURSE!”, as this is an attitude I’ve engrained into my being since I came up with why I want to practice medicine. (“It’s fate! - I’m destined to do this! - Nothing else will ever fulfill me!” Ya-de-ya-ya..)
My slower, more reflective response is this: I’m not sure. Being wait-listed for McMaster - the most poignant failure of my life, as it was a failure in achieving what all my previous successes had been building towards - was awful. Actually, it’s STILL awful, because I’m still reeling from it. I’ve written about this before, though it was a lot more emotional. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on it and pinpoint exactly what made (makes) that pseudo-rejection so difficult.
1) Everyone knew about my pursuit, so accordingly, everyone knew about my failure. If it wasn’t clear by the last section, I can’t handle failure very well. However, I think I am worse at handling other people’s knowledge of my failure. If I was the sole recipient of the knowledge that medical school didn’t want me this year, I think could (eventually) learn to forgive myself. But how can I ever earn the forgiveness and respect of all those who rooted for me, believed in me, and dedicated time and resources to me?
2) I was wait-listed, which is a slap in the face in itself. Actually, I would consider it a “slamming of the door in my face, just as I was about to cross the threshold” kind of thing. For those of you who don’t know, McMaster only accepts ~200 candidates each year. Obviously, I wasn’t one of them; however, being wait-listed meant I was likely in the top 250. That’s 250 out of the 4,600 who applied. Though I will admit that this is an accomplishment to be proud of, it is still…for lack of a better word…shitty. This is how I imagine it:
Beth: Oh! An interview! I’m so excited to show them how perfect I am for this career.
*Beth completes a somewhat decent, but not overly stellar MMI interview.*
McMaster: Hmm. That was better than 250 of the other interviewees, but not in the top 200. Let’s keep her in the proverbial limbo for 2 months, so we can MAYBE use her as a last resort if our first choices drop out.
(Now, I need to emphasize this — McMaster is a great school, and the interview experience was phenomenal. I am just bitter over the existence of these accursed wait-lists. No one likes feeling like their a second, third, or last choice.)
3) I picked a post-graduate area of study that is highly competitive and difficult to get into. One of the single most hardest things about this experience is logging onto social media to see my friends and peers moving forward with their lives, as I’m stuck in this transient year of nothingness. If I had gone down the alternate path, I’m sure I would be enjoying life as a graduate student now and continuing my beloved student existence. While I’m perfectly happy for the success of those around me, I’m bitter and jealous that I’m not experiencing the same success. Furthermore, there is no guarantee I’ll get in this upcoming year, or the next, or the next. This means that further failure, incompleteness, and transience are but a hop, skip, and jump away. Meanwhile, my Facebook is littered with people getting their masters, PhDs, full-time jobs, and their futures.
Given all this negativity about my supposed “dream” and the hurdles I seem to be tripping over along the way, why do I even bother? Well…
Becoming a doctor WILL be the best decision of my life. Need anything else matter?
Identifying the strengths that will prepare me for a career in medicine is exhausting to me. If I were to list them here, I fear that I would look like a shameless promoter; it feels so unnatural answering the types of questions meant to divulge inherent abilities. My perception of my strengths as a person and future physician are based entirely on the feedback of others. Therefore, while I could list some cliche points about my collaboration, communication, leadership, and interpersonal abilities here, I’m not going to bother. If you know me at all, I’m sure you could offer you’re own perspective about my suitability for a career in medicine, and I think you would argue in favour of my pursuits.
My impression of myself is based on the impression of others, and others have told me time and time again, “You’re going to make a great doctor someday.” This is enough for me. This allows me to continue to hope and to dream and to pursue.
As I noted, my motivation to become a physician is intricately linked to the existence of other people. It seems only fitting that people be my compass in the journey.
As long as you, dear reader, believe I will be a doctor, I will believe it to. And I will do my damnest to ensure I am the best one.
And from this little experiment (though it may be unclear to you as I am not the most comprehensive writer), I am confident I have made the right decision.
You’ll just have to trust me on this one.