A Meditation on 15 Minutes

The problem with committing to writing or drawing something for 15 minutes every day isn’t finding the time to do it. The problem is convincing yourself that 15 minutes is worth the effort in the first place, which is funny if you think about it. I mean, if you were starting an exercise program for the first time, 15 minutes would feel like an impossible amount of time to run in place or around a track. 15 minutes of laps in a pool would be a goal of achievement to an out of shape swimmer. Hell, meditating quietly for 15 minutes is hard to do for the initiate. But for an artist or writer, 15 minutes of creating something feels barely worth the effort. For most artists and writers, (notice I did not say bloggers, a genre of creatives who often boast about how fast they can whip together a post) it takes 15 minutes of staring into space or working out a puzzle just to limber our minds enough to type a thoughtful sentence or paint a meaningful stroke on canvas. Once it’s in place, we are known to again stare into space, read, or work a puzzle for another length of time before inspiration strikes and the next sentence or gestural stroke is generated. 15 minutes? Why bother?

ink drawing by Julianna Paradisis 2015

ink drawing by Julianna Paradisis 2015

Here’s what I’ve discovered in a few days about committing to writing or drawing for 15 minutes everyday: during my waking hours, whether home or at work, I now find I am thinking about what I plan to create when I get home and set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes. This post in fact, began vaguely in my head sometime after lunch today while I was at work. By the time I came home and ate dinner, I couldn’t wait to get to my computer and start writing. How did this happen?

Actually, I already know the answer. It’s because what you focus on expands (Wayne Dyer). It’s very New-Agey to talk about intention, and mindfulness, but intention and mindfulness are euphemisms for “Pay attention!” as in when you were a little kid and your mom or dad yanked you by the arm out of the way of something or someone, and hissed, “Pay attention!” Or maybe you weren’t spanked as a kid, and instead your teacher dropped a book on your desk in front of you because you were daydreaming and not following along with the rest of your class, and then said loudly, “Pay attention!” until someone complained about that teacher, and now when someone doesn’t pay attention someone else makes a new rule and everybody has expend for the kid who wasn’t paying attention whether or not they were.

Self-discipline, the foundation of personal progress, is like that. If you pay attention, you can accomplish almost anything, and that’s why no one should think 15 minutes everyday isn’t enough time to change a behavior. It is. Give it a try.

 

Bringing Art into Clinical Settings

by jparadisi

Hang Your Art Here by jparadisi

Nurses and artists share many characteristics. Donations of time and skills are perhaps the most common.

Nurses donate time by volunteering at health screenings, or speaking about risk prevention at health fairs. Artists often donate artwork to local charity fundraisers, or loan work for exhibition in a clinic or hospital lobby.

Art in the clinical setting may offer a sense of relaxation, joy, or even help to redirect the focus away from an unexpected diagnosis for a patient or a loved one — even if it’s just for a few minutes.

A reader asked about bringing art into clinical settings. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when either asking for a donation, or curating a hospital or clinic art exhibition on a small budget:

  • All blank walls are not created equal: Hang art away from direct sunlight, which fades the inks or paint, and damages works on paper like drawings or photography. Walls in areas of high humidity are also a poor choice for hanging art.
  • Ensure the artwork is secure: This is especially important when the artwork is borrowed. Professional galleries insure artwork while it is in their possession, but your clinic or hospital probably does not. Artwork should be under direct observation at all times, and secured behind locked doors when not. I met an artist whose painting was stolen from a lobby wall, creating an uncomfortable situation for both the artist and the clinic.
  • If the work is for sale, have interested parties contact the artist directly: Don’t get involved in the sales transactions.
  • Get permission to use the artists’ names and photographs of their artwork: This is useful for promoting the exhibit hosted by your department or clinic in the hospital newsletter and local press releases.
  • Disrespectfully handling artwork is a quick way to lose artist support: Framing is expensive. Protect the corners and edges from dings. Don’t stack paintings or photographs on top of each other when preparing to hang or taking down an exhibit. Secure art from falls. If necessary, provide signs asking viewers to refrain from touching the art.
  • Showcase a particular artist or stage a group show: Choosing work related by themes, for example, photography, still life, or about a specific cancer, is another idea. Include statements written by the artist describing their inspiration. Often the artists will volunteer to hang the shows, and provide labels for the work if you don’t know where to start. Art therapists are good resources for creating exhibitions too.
  • Thank your artists: When artists donate artwork they can only deduct the cost of the materials, not the price the work sold for, from their taxes, so a proper thank you is crucial. An appreciated thank you includes the name of the work, the buyer’s name and contact information (with the buyer’s permission) so the artist has an opportunity to connect with a potential collector, and the price the piece sold for. Consider hosting a reception for the artists and buyers to meet.

I Wish I’d Said It

I’m not saying that there aren’t occasions when entertainments transcend their aim and become art, and I’m certainly not suggesting that art must not entertain, but the ultimate aim of an entertainment is to confirm the reader’s existing sense of how things are and how things should be, while the aim of the literary artist is to upset and disrupt that vision.

Robert Boswell

The Damaging Effect of Preciosity

Preciosity is over-refinement in art, music, or language, especially in the choice of words.

Nurse as Sisyphus by jparadisi 2012

Nurse as Sisyphus by jparadisi

I am struggling with preciosity while writing this post. A clever idea isn’t coming, and I feel distress, because I need to wrap it up. If I cannot write something profound, then at least I should be entertaining.

Preciosity is an art term with a negative connotation. An artist should never hold something she makes so precious that she cannot bring herself to change or even destroy it, because the bit of paint or brush stroke that’s considered precious enslaves the painting.

Writers are familiar with preciosity too. Sometimes the best-loved words are the very ones that need editing to clarify the thought. Any precious bit a writer or artist insists on retaining becomes an obstacle to the larger creative process, very often ruining the result.

Being a nurse also requires a resistance to preciosity. The best care plans are never perfect. A beautifully constructed work schedule becomes overwhelming, because of a staff sick call or unexpected admissions. We administer a medication, and the infusion is delayed or halted, because the patient has an allergic reaction to it. We are disheartened by the recurrence of disease in a favorite patient. On very bad days, we make an error.

There is no preciosity allowed in either art or nursing. Everything is up for grabs and can change in a heartbeat. Nurses striving the hardest for preciosity are the most doomed to disappointment in colleagues, patient outcomes, and themselves.

A good day of patient care cannot be summoned on command from a nurse any more than a masterpiece can be summoned from an artist or the next great American novel (or a blog post) can be summoned from a writer. Some days, both in nursing and in art, the best you can do is show up and try your best.

At the end of a shift, you may have made someone feel better, but perhaps all you did was prevent that person from getting worse. Likewise, after painting all day, you may end up taking a palette knife to the canvas and scraping all that newly applied paint to the floor, so that you can start again tomorrow.

Seated in my favorite chair while writing this post on a laptop, I struggle to keep myself from deleting it. Some days, both as  nurse and a blogger, this is the best I can do.

Why Nurses Need to Make Art

The first thing people usually say to me when they find out I’m an artist is, “Gosh, I can’t even draw a straight line.” My response to that statement is, “Nobody can. That’s what straight edges are for.”

Detail of oil painting by jparadisi

Detail of oil painting by jparadisi

When these same people discover I am also an oncology nurse, the second thing they say is, “Painting must be so therapeutic, after dealing with so much death.” My response to this statement is more complex than the first.

First, there’s not really “so much death” in oncology, as treatments improve and many cancers are managed as chronic conditions, which is great. There is still sad sorrow, however. Ironically, when I’m most engaged in a real life human drama, that’s when I find it the most difficult to unleash my creativity. On those days, I’m more likely to calm myself by going for a long run, or knitting, which I consider hobbies.

For me, the creative act of painting is often as uncomfortable as a difficult day of patient care. This is because, I believe the difference between art as therapy, and art as art, is that art as art usually begins with a question or inquiry, and most importantly, results in an insight. Art as therapy requires neither. However, if art as therapy results in an insight, it can also meet the status of art as art. Simply speaking, strong works of art, like strong nursing, involves critical thinking, not simply performing rote skills.

Attaining insight is the reason I believe it is so important for nurses to open up to creativity. Insight leads to an understanding of motivation, our own, and that of others. When we understand our motivations, we are better able to communicate with others. In this dynamic time of The Affordable Health Care Act, nurses need to publicly communicate our role in health care now more than ever.

For instance, the nurse blogosphere is full of posts championing Advanced Practice Nurses as primary care providers. Proponents focus on filling the gap created by a shortage of Family Practice physicians, and reducing the cost of care. While these goals are admirable, the time is now to take creative control of the Nurse Practitioner image by promoting the characteristics differentiating medical science from nursing science: an emphasis on preventive care, in-depth patient teaching, and patient-centered care, which are in some ways superior to that offered by medical science. By creating an image, or branding, if you will, for APRNs, they are appreciated as a unique profession, not as a watered down brand of medicine, or “doctor lite.”

Unflattering, and inaccurate images of nurses are created through tradition, novelists, and outside observers, but rarely by nurses themselves. In order to dispel the nursing stereotypes we despise, nurses will need to rise up and create new ones through visual art, novels, screenplays, and films of such quality that our vision of ourselves transcends into mainstream culture.

Note: This post originally appeared in March 14 2013 on RNFM Radio: Nursing Unleashed!

JParadisiRN Illustrates Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Article About Alumni Winkler County Nurses

Any alumni of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center out there? That’s my painting on page 28 of their alumni magazine, Pulse. I’m not an alumni, but this image accompanied one of the posts I wrote in support of The Winkler County Whistle Blower Nurses, Vickilyn Galle, and Anne Mitchell, who are, for JParadisiRN.com. The editor contacted me for permission to use the image. I am proud to be connected in a tiny way to these two courageous nurses, who put their careers in jeopardy for the protection of patients.

Painting by jparadisi on pg 28 of TTUSC alumni magazine, Pulse winter 2013 issue

Painting by jparadisi on pg 28 of TTUSC alumni magazine, Pulse winter 2013 issue

Changing Nurse Stereotypes Through Creative Control

At a restaurant, I demurely settled onto a chair pulled out by my escort. Glancing at the menu,  I wonder out loud what the night’s special might be. In a gesture meant to display his bravado, my date raises his finger to signal the server, shouting, “Nurse!”

Another relationship bites the dust.

If Kafka Wrote About a Nurse by jparadisi

If Kafka Wrote About a Nurse by jparadisi

The public’s image of nurses hasn’t changed for decades. Every Halloween, sexy nurse costumes appear out of nowhere, as if summoned by call lights. On TV shows, doctors do hands-on patient care while nurses find the necessary supplies STAT! from wherever TV hospitals store their supplies.

The media represents nurses as one of five basic archetypes. Oncology nurses, in particular, tend to get lumped into the nurse saint group, perhaps because of the longstanding relationships we tend to develop with our patients. It’s a difficult persona to uphold during long, short-staffed shifts.

Additional images are created from combinations of the basic five, which are:

  • Nurse bitch
  • Nurse saint
  • Smart-ass nurse
  • Nurse/mother substitute
  • Sexy nurse

Why do derivative portrayals persist?

Because screenplay writers do not write from a nurse’s perspective.They write about nurses from their own point of view, limiting the possible creation of new characters. These portrayals of nurses are weak because depth of knowledge, intuition, internal dialogue, and a range of personalities cannot be grasped through observation without familiarity. Writing workshop instructors will tell you: Authenticity only occurs when a writer has a clear understanding of her topic.

For instance, in his deeply moving novel, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese creates a complex tapestry of personality for his character, the surgeon Thomas Stone. However, in his portrayal of Sister Mary Joseph Praise, the mother of Stone’s twin sons, Verghese resorts to a clichéd saintly-sexy-mother nurse composite who dies early in the story, saving him from further character development.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest Verghese is more familiar with the personality traits of surgeons (he’s an MD) than of nurses. He writes a stronger character when he’s familiar with his character’s point of view.

With this in mind, I believe nurses will not be authentically represented in the media until we raise book writers, novelists, and screenplay writers, or TV and filmmakers, from within our ranks. The media’s portrayal of nurses will change when nurses take creative control of it.

What might occur if grants were available to nurses desiring to make film documentaries, write books, or create paintings from our point of view? What if hospitals allowed, and encouraged, creative sabbaticals for nurses to pursue such projects, as do many other industries? Would the public perception of nursing change? Would nurses’ perception of themselves change? Would patient care and delivery of service also benefit from nurse empowerment through creative control?

Random Thoughts: I’m An Artist

Three Horses by jparadisi

As much as I love making images of my heart’s desire as an artist, there’s something to be said for developing the ability to create an image on demand. It’s a little like working with a limited palette: it forces me to look at the available options, then push myself to create something I might not have imagined without the limitations/expectations. It reminds me of when I was in kindergarten and the other kids would line up at my easel with their sheets of paper and ask me to draw horses for them. It didn’t make me feel less of an artist, it told me I am an artist.

Polymaths, Multitasking, and Renaissance Men (and Women)

On weekends, the clinic where I work closes when all of our patients are discharged. Sometimes we work a full eight-hour shift, but today, it means that we closed shop around lunchtime. This gift of a weekend afternoon causes mild distress, however, because I have to decide whether to spend it plinking out a new post for this blog, or playing hooky. Getting home without window shopping, and staying home instead of going for a run along the river doesn’t solve the problem. Once home, I avoid picking up one of the three books I’m reading, or the magazine articles next to my favorite chair, or the knitting project and completing “just a few rows”, until suddenly all the free time has evaporated.

Sergei. jparadisi

Today, I am writing about polymaths, multitasking, and Renaissance men (and women).

My daughter gave me the book A Left-Handed History of the World, by Ed Wright, because I am left-handed. It contains chapter-length biographies of left-handed people who shaped world history. It was published in 2007, so President Barack Obama isn’t included, but I’d look for him in future editions. Interestingly, of the twenty-nine biographies, only four are of women: Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, Marie Curie, and Martina Navratilova, who shares her chapter with John McEnroe. Hmmmmmm. I’ll save that thought for another post.

Anyway, I read the chapters about the lefties Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, because I wanted to understand the differences between a polymath, multitasking, and a Renaissance man (woman). Leonardo, according to Wright, was a polymath (a person of wide ranging knowledge and learning), but not very good at multitasking. According to Ed Wright, “His (DaVinci’s) low completion rate demonstrates the risks of divergent thinking. It’s unlikely that he completed more than 20 paintings in a 46-year career-in a way he had too much genius for one person to be able to effectively manage.” Maybe, but those 20 paintings are masterpieces Ed. And don’t forget about the wooden parachute that works, and the helicopter.

Michelangelo was more disciplined, able to multitask (simultaneous execution of more than one program or task by a single computer processor) and complete the work to which he commissioned himself. However, his drive and perfectionism came with a price. Wright says,

“Whereas Leonardo was known as a genial man, prone to procrastination and getting sidetracked, Michelangelo soon developed a reputation for a terrifying, obsessive perfectionism…The Florentines referred to his terribilitas, meaning ‘fearsome willpower’.”

I’m not well educated enough to claim to be a polymath. While I can multitask, I am happy to report that I am a nurse, and not a computer processor, which is a machine. The definition of Renaissance man is “a person with many talents or interests, esp. in the humanities,” and that is a description I will own.

I don’t believe in a balanced life.  A well-lived life is a dynamic organism, constantly changing. I live life as if it’s a juggling act, and as I’ve said before, the trick is knowing which balls in the air make you happy, and which ones make you frantic.

So, today I’m going to write for an hour or so. Then I’m going to read that article on feminism I’ve meant to get at all week. Afterward, I’ll pour something cold to drink and sit on the deck for what’s left of this beautiful afternoon, waiting for David to get home from work. Poor guy, he had to work his entire shift today.

Hoarding and The Meaning of *My* Things

photo by jparadisi

You know how when you were in nursing school reading about pathology, and you thought you had symptoms of every disease you studied? You knew you weren’t really sick, but still…it gave you pause. This common phenomenon is called hypochondriasis of medical students, or nosophobia.

Well, I kinda had déjà vu of that last week.

It began with an innocent enough tweet from the American Journal of Nursing. The tweet read: AmJNurs AJN Got to get this book! RT @sciam: MIND Reviews: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things http://bit.ly/h6zax9 (emphasis mine).

To the right of the desk where I am writing this post, sits a pile of stuff. The pile of stuff is made of washed, empty yogurt containers, flat, plastic lids, old bed sheets, pages torn from magazines, glass jars of varying sizes, and the disembodied heads, arms, and legs of dolls. And that’s just the stuff I can see sitting here at my desk, without actually going through the pile. I mention this to David, who says, “Yeah, everyday I want to throw this stuff out, but I remind myself it’s Julianna’s stuff, not mine.” I had no idea.  OH SNAP!  I am a compulsive hoarder!

Well, not really. I am an artist. This pile of stuff is awaiting transfer to my studio, where the real hoarding takes place. Unlike the homes of pathological hoarders, however, my studio lacks floor to ceiling piles of accumulated stuff and “goat paths.” The containers, lids, jars, sheets, and doll parts are stored in their respective places. They also have purpose. The containers and lids are recycled into paint holders and palettes. The sheets are torn into rags, a necessary artist’s tool. The jars hold dirty brushes and solvent. The magazine pages are pasted into scrapbooks of images. The doll heads and limbs…well, you’ll find out later.

Anyway, I read the article linked in the tweet above, and am relieved to know I am not a pathological hoarder. Still, I think I’ll clean out a cupboard or something after I post this piece.