Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole, collage, 2017 by Julianna Paradisi

Why is it 2018 feels more like “2017, The Sequel, and not an actual New Year?

While I have one or two friends who’ve had an immediate change of luck, many more of us are experiencing 2018 as a poorly constructed, run-on sentence (or rambling blog post) with little progress or clear goals for the future.

Progress requires a release of perceived limitations, and expectations. The process of releasing creates tension similar to a snake shedding its skin, or a butterfly breaking forth from its chrysalis. Things become too tight and uncomfortable before breakthrough occurs.

Nearing the end of January, the growing and stretching feels more intense than in previous years, and I find myself sympathizing with Alice for choosing to follow a rather strange rabbit down a hole, without thought of where it would lead, or how she would return. “Don’t over think it, just do it.”

Choosing to go down the rabbit hole is not a characteristic of most nurses. Nurses like clear goals, something to steer towards, whether it’s gaining a patient’s trust by managing her pain, meeting discharge goals, or simply relieving a fever.

Measurable goals work in nursing. They’re admirable, and create safety.

* * *

Safety. What is safe?

As an oncology nurse navigator, and a cancer survivor, my patients and I grapple with this question daily: How to balance cancer prevention (safety) with an enjoyable and fulfilling life?

If you believe the answer is easily found in NCCN guidelines, and AJCC recommendations, you are most likely not a cancer survivor. Being a cancer survivor is “going down the rabbit hole.”

* * *

Being an artist and writer demands a willingness to go down the rabbit hole; a comfort level with uncertainty.

The challenge of life is learning to live somewhere on the continuum between safety, and recklessness.

Hank Stamper, the burly central character in Ken Kesey’s epic novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, about Oregon’s logging industry, argues towards recklessness:

“Hank would have been hard put to supply a reason himself, though he knew it to be true that Lee’s presence at the Snag tonight was important to him…maybe because the kid needed to see first-hand what kind of world was going on around his head all the time without him ever seeing it, the real world with real hassles, not his fairy book world of his that him and his kind’d made up to scare theirselfs with.”

* * *

Progress begins by asking questions.

What is safe? What is reckless? Should a predictable outcome dictate the beginning of a new enterprise?

An explorer would answer, “No.”

Alice returned from Wonderland, having viewed strange, new perspectives, and with a bunch of great puns. I assume she counted it a good experience, because she went back for a second trip Through the Looking Glass.

Here’s to going down the rabbit hole, and leaving 2017 behind.






Making a Painting with Gertrude and Earnest in the Rabbit Hole


comission (2010) artist: JParadisi

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really nothing.


Gertrude Stein


  I don’t know much about genius, but I do know about making a painting, and it does take time sitting around doing nothing sometimes. I hate those times. I try to welcome them. I am a doer. I like waking up every morning with a list of things I want to do. Nursing is a good fit for me in that sense: there is always something to do when I’m at my nursing job. The studio is not like that. I go to the studio thinking I have several hours to make a painting. I set up my tabouret (a fancy French word for a little table or stool) with paints and medium and brushes and rags. When I can I leave a painting at a moment when I know what my next brush stroke will be. Then, when I return to the studio I have a starting point to re-enter the painting. It’s a little trick I play on myself.  Hemingway used this device, stopping at a point in a story where he knew what he would write next.  Knowing where to start does not guarantee a painting will progress, however. How many times have I spent hours applying paint to a canvas and stepped back to look at my work, disappointed? Sometimes, knowing what to do next leads to an artificial and contrived feel to the painting that I cannot stand. So out comes the palette knife and rag and I scrape and rub away all that paint and hard work, leaving me clueless how to get back into the painting.  At that point, I am Alice down the rabbit hole, forced to sit back and do nothing, really nothing. It’s painful and frustrating. The nurse in me wants to complete her tasks and check them off her list. The artist in me knows that’s not how a work of art gets made, and she laughs at the nurse’s compulsion.