Sat, 29 Nov 2003


the smiths "last night i dreamt that somebody loved me"

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Last night I really did dream. It was kind of depressing in a familiar sort of way, and I was not surprised when I woke alone. But what struck me wasn't the sex (although there was that in the dream), but holding her in my arms, trusting each other.

But enough of self-pity.

Still, I wonder.

Apparently, I am perseverating, thinking again and again of Le Guin's Earthsea, and now I think upon the matter of male and female. Gender roles (which Le Guin magnificently examined in The Left Hand of Darkness.) Are the stereotypes she makes in the Earthsea Cycle true to life, or are they merely a gimmick to explain some fantasy mechanics? (Yes still, it rings truer than the artificiality of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time dichotomy between saidar and saidin, the female and male halves of the One Power. The ying and yang feature significantly in this fantasy series as well.)

Even in this day and age, is it true that some things are still looked upon as "a man's job," while other things are "women's work"?

Although I must say, medicine is culturally behind at least a generation. The fact that the previous generation of doctors was white and male is still apparent, although, I must say, the majority of my teachers have been women. And yet, is there something about healing that is inherently female, somehow?

Anyway. I thought about my loneliness, and the solitarity of an Earthsea mage. In Le Guin's fantasy, there is a superstition that men, in order to have magical powers, must be celibate. (Although I suppose it is not far from the superstition believed by many of the religious. I shudder to wonder about the incidence of pederasty in the magehood.... Hey, I'm not a pervert. It's just that I finished reading Tehanu and just watched "Gothika.") And so wizards lived alone, not just without a woman, but often without true friends, except for perhaps other mages, and maybe not even those.

And, not to elevate what I'm doing beyond what it is—it is a tradition upheld throughout history, nothing more, nothing less—but it struck me how similar being a physician is to being a wizard. As Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn noted, "That is most of it, being a wizard—seeing and listening. The rest is technique." What we do is descended from the priesthood, anyway. We are the gatekeepers to the spiritual world, easing babies into life, guiding the elderly out of life. We are the keepers of specialized knowledge, the prognosticators, the diviners of hidden processes.

After an intellectual debate I had with a fellow classmate, I thought: what is it that separates the practicing attending physician from the 4th year medical student? Surely, it is not sheer knowledge, for anyone can pick up a textbook or journal and read, and if you have a good mimind, probably understand. I truly believe that, for lack of anything more precise, it is mostly wisdom that makes the difference. A virtue that can only be acquired by experience, by trusting in your existing fund of knowledge, by building upon this steady base. The structure must already be built, the mast upright. We have but to raise the sails and gather the wind. What we must learn mostly in the intervening years it to have faith, to stay true to our oath, to have confidence in our craft, and always, always be willing to learn something new.

This is not the first time I've mentally masturbated thinking about this parallel. I remember when I first read the Harry Potter series, that it was strange, how not-unlike medicine and magic are. (After all, as Arthur C Clarke has remarked, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.") The discipline required. The personalities that it attracts. The bizarre inferiority complexes that get manifest as arrogance and disdain for fellow human beings. As there is black magic and white magic, there is surgery and there is internal medicine. Sometimes what we do is empty of power except for the ritual. The orders written are like incantations, the drugs prescribed like magical ingredients, potions, and elixirs.

Someone else had written that the physician is this age's incarnation of the priest, the wizard. After all, in past generations, the line between magic and medicine was indeed murky. There are witch doctors, medicine men, healers. This is the tradition we are derived from. (And also, this same someone pointed out that entertainers, specifically, actors, were also derived from this tradition.) I think precisely because of the technological prowess of our era, not a few of us are longing for some real magic.

But back to my point: in Le Guin's books, the only men who know how to wash dishes, do laundry, sew their own clothes, are the wizards, because of their predilection to celibacy, and the lack of anyone else to do it for them. And I think back to when A laughed as I ironed my shirts, teasing E that he should learn how to iron from me, and after re-reading these Earthsea books, I wonder if there really is a connection to having knowledge and being alone, as if the two things were mutually exclusive. (No, I am not talking about knowing how to do "women's work"—I am using Le Guin's words just for simplicity sake, and I hope you won't read any paternalism in it. There is just the fact that I am trying to rationalize my solitude by noting how much time studying the Art takes.)

To cut to the chase (I don't even know how I am making this conceptual leap), is there really something about being a real man, and is it true that to have knowledge and understanding, you cannot be a man?

20:38:49 29 Nov 2003 > /playlist > permalink > 0 comments


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