Mama M: Torn Between Two Worlds

Columnist

Dear Mama M,

I shouldn't admit this, but I started medical school mainly because I wasn't sure what else to do. What I really wanted was to be a writer, but I knew it was hard and impractical, and I figured I could just do it on the side while making a living as a physician. I've been doing a bit of freelance and having some success. It's getting harder and harder to convince myself to stick with medicine in light of that. What do you think? Should I stay or should I go?

Torn Between Two Worlds

Dearest Torn,

I have been thinking about you for a while now. Your question conjures up both despair and hilarity in me. The dilemma between art and practicality is an ancient one. Michelangelo’s father only allowed his son to study with Ghirlandaio because the great Master broke precedent and allowed Michelangelo to be a paid apprentice. Art, by its very nature, may seem impractical. Zora Neale Hurston, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, and Emily Dickenson are a few of the great writers who lived impractically and died penniless.

And yet, there is this internal pull, this life force, this writer/painter/singer/dancer inside us that does not seem to care. Our spirits crave art. It is said that art calls the artist, not the other way around. You are quite possibly a writer. An artist. An impractical, nonsense-making,who-gives-a-crap type of person who forms words in their head spontaneously. It is possible that the writer in you is writing anyway...in your mind…on napkins and tiny slips of paper. Stories and ideas might just appear, magically, from inside your awesome self. And that, sweetheart, is a gift.

The thing that cracks me up (just a little...I am not making light of your struggle) is that it is just so damn hard to get into Medical School and the fact that you went because you “were not sure what else to do” is funny to me.  Lots of people wait tables, or join the Peace Corps when they are unsure what they want. But you, honey? You got yourself into Medical School and that means that, though part of you desires to write, you also want something else.

Our minds create drama and duality, where they do not exist.  There is no right and wrong here. There are only the choices that you make and the ones that you don’t. I hear that you are having success as a writer (awesome!). I am not hearing whether you are enjoying Medicine. Is it the success that is making you doubt Medicine, or is it Medicine itself? What are you craving?

I think you can do both, sugar. I do not think you have to choose. But, if you must, then you have to follow the hungriest part of you. Who needs you the most, sweet love? You are not torn between two worlds, darling. There is only one world…one You, with many moving parts. Build some bridges inside your psyche, to connect these kick-ass parts of yourself who want to write and practice medicine. You might want to think about the field of Narrative Medicine, and find awesome mentors right here at UCSF who will support your deep desire to connect writing and medicine.

Who can go to medical school when you are unsure of yourself? (is that not a little bit awesome and funny to you?) I think you are larger and more capable than you are letting yourself be. Grow your mind to expand your spirit. Peace and Wholeness are yours, sugar.

Artistically and impractically inclined, and with enormous love,

Mama M