Saturday, October 2, 2010

To Do

Over the summer, I picked up an age-old practice that is popular among my peers.  I started a “to-do” list.  It was one of those moments in early adulthood where I worry that I am becoming an adult too early.  But since medical school is brimming with forms to fill out and meetings to attend, I grudgingly yielded some ground to age in order to prevent schedules and errands from derailing my mind.  Plus, it gives me an excuse to own an iPod.  It’s curious how tapping a back-lit rectangular touch-screen is somehow infinitely more satisfying than keeping a pen and pad.  But I’ve realized something else in 2 months of electronic list-keeping.  Having a to-do list doesn’t guarantee anything will actually get done.  In fact, my list seems decidedly more effective at highlighting (or back-lighting) all the things I don’t have time for.  Kind of like a chubby middle finger—with all the things I can never get around to tattooed from nail to knuckle.
Some of the regulars on my list include a pair of jeans that need tailoring, a tooth cleaning that requires finding a new dentist, and an oil change for my car that is roughly 2000 miles overdue.  I think of these tasks as the loners who checked into my sad motel of errands and never checked out.  And the problem with housing such tenants is that you never know which ones are going to turn out to be closet psychopaths—introverts who never call any attention to themselves until one day they set the entire establishment ablaze.  Maybe I’ll get tartar buildup, all my teeth will rot, and I won’t get into a good residency because straight teeth and a good smile are the first things a residency director notices during an interview.  Maybe my car’s engine will explode while I’m cruising down the freeway and they’ll have to shut down the 405 so rescuers can pry me out of my self-inflicted burning wreck.  Or maybe, I’ll get too fat for the jeans I bought 3 months ago.
Aside from the undone errands, I have also managed to partially embark on a handful of recreational endeavors.  Like the acrylic painting I started last Christmas.  I felt inspired to create after my girlfriend, Tiffany, and I went on a holiday hike and took some beautiful pictures.  Nine months later, I am the proud owner of a half-inspired canvas which adorns the floor of my storage closet.  There’s also the novel I started reading this past summer, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I got 90 pages into it before school started 8 weeks ago, and it’s been collecting dust on my nightstand ever since.  I am quickly entering that nebulous territory where if I don’t pick the book up soon, I might as well start again from the beginning.
But among all the great un-achievements I’ve amassed, the most disheartening are a handful of aspirations I have long held but never appropriately addressed.  Sure, it’s nice to have healthy teeth, clean engine oil, and fitted jeans, but when I’m old and broken, I can’t imagine thinking to myself “if only I completed more errands.”  No, the items most worthy of regret are always the ones that don’t fit nicely on a to-do list.  Things like travelling and improving my Spanish, learning to rock out on the drums, and spending more time exhaling as I swan dive into forward bend.  Aspirations that have nothing to do with due dates and everything to do with the character I hope to embody.  Sometimes, I wish they had taught me in first grade to accomplish all my life goals before I turned thirteen.   Because now I’m stuck behind the eight ball wondering, will I be any closer when I am a working physician?  When I have kids of my own?  When I’m senile, have erectile dysfunction, and have forgotten to save up for retirement?  Exactly how swollen is this middle finger going to get, doc?
But even as I stumble, I try not to lose heart.  Because if medical school has taught me anything, it’s that hope plays a key role in the therapy of all chronic conditions.  It’s what ailing patients say when you visit them—just one day at a time.  It’s a faith that in the midst of disease and deadlines, we’ll find space for the things that are important, for the things we love.  For me, this includes writing.  Writing to tell a story, writing to find myself, and writing for no other reason than to finally check off an item that has been on my to-do list for over 4 months.  So at least for this moment, the swelling has gone down just a bit, and this is a hopeful sign.


  1. Wow Jay. I've never read your blog or anything you've ever written but I really enjoy your writing style. It's a lot more impressive and entertaining than mine. Can't wait to see what's next.

  2. Thanks Angela. And I'll be sure to keep an ear out for RN openings. I'll ask at the rheumatology clinic I work at. And thanks for reading!

  3. Fantastic last paragraph. Who knew Med students had so much soul!

  4. Thanks for sharing Jay! Keep your head up and stay hopeful.


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