I want to discuss what it’s like to be an artist and a nurse. The visual art pieces are the easiest for me to post: I take a photograph of one of my images, down load it from the camera and upload it onto the blog. Poof! I am the curator of my own Internet gallery. I can explain the images, or not, or use them for illustrations of random posts. I can take refuge in the worn statement “It’s just paint.” Like a fish that surfaces then dives back into its watery depths, I find safety in the intentional layers of interpretations. My viewers tell me what the images represent to them. I don’t have to speak at all.
Writing is more problematic. Putting thoughts down in words feels like a greater commitment to what is said and more concrete than the commitment required by a brushstroke. Perhaps, because I write nonfiction, it seems more self-revealing. However, every mark, be it a word or a brushstroke, reflects a choice made by its author, so perhaps there’s no difference at all.
I suppose that I could make up the stuff that I write. Why not? I mean, what I like about painting is that I can take a subject, then represent it any way that I want to. I like it when the image creates more questions than it answers. For me the object of writing is to examine truth and that requires an attention to detail.
On the days my focus is nursing, I spend a lot of time at work writing down objective information in carefully coded medical terminology. There’s no room in a medical record for speculation or inference, no magical realism. Events happened as written or not at all. Period. The writing is blunt and impersonal. Words in a medical record are merely tools to convey information; they are not supposed to be lovely or melodic on the tongue. There is nothing poetic about charting, and the information is private.
I have an affinity for privacy. My father was a schoolboy in Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II. He grew up knowing that telling tales or speaking about private matters could cause someone’s arrest or even death. In turn, I was raised in a very small town; gossip spread quickly, and at a young age I intuitively knew that private matters needed to stay unspoken beyond the dining room table. In my family’s church, sins were only shared in the quasi-anonymous shelter of a confessional. The current generation’s willingness to post the most intimate details of their lives on the Internet is incomprehensible to me. However, the same need for self-expression bangs determinedly at the door of my soul, and the private persona of the nurse gives way to the voice of the artist inside of me, despite all I have been taught.
I’m not the only person I know who feels like this. At work a few weeks ago, I did a curbside in the hallway with a surgeon regarding a patient we share. The surgeon also writes, and once our patient concern was settled, we briefly caught up on our artistic pursuits. The doctor felt diffident about writing, and I admitted to the same. Then the surgeon went back to the OR and ran a scalpel through the soft tissues of a patient. I returned to my own duties and slid an IV needle, slick as butter, into the vein of another patient, then infused medication intended for their treatment but, potentially harmful just the same if given incorrectly. Neither the surgeon nor I felt that either procedure was as difficult as the self-exposure and disclosure of the act of writing, and I find that amusing.