A week or so ago I returned to Iowa City to attend this year’s Examined Life narrative medicine conference at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. I was there two years ago for the same conference and at that time I kept asking myself why Iowa was such a center for creative writing in our country. I think I concluded that it had to do with the fact that there’s nothing else to do in Iowa City except drink, write, and watch the corn grow. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but I have yet to discover it. Two years ago when I first visited the town, I wasn’t much impressed by the indie bookstore in town, Prairie Lights. I was being a Seattle big city snob. This time I spent more time in Prairie Lights and it began to grow on me. I adored having my soy latte served in grandmother’s flowered china alongside water served in a canning jar. The bookstore has a small-town friendly vibe and the staff people are helpful and enthusiastic about all things literary. They helped me track down, buy, and read Granta’s Summer 2012 edition “Medicine,” which features Chris Adrian’s excellent short story “Grand Rounds.” Out of the sixteen authors included, only three identify as working in health care—and all three of them are male physicians. But OK, who’s counting (except me). The likes of Alice Munro are included.
I was trying to make sense of Chris Adrian’s sort of Grand Rounds keynote speech that I had just sat through at the conference. The official title of his talk was “Uselessness.” The proposed objective of his talk was: “Participants will reflect, perhaps usefully, on their own anxieties about uselessness as artists, medical providers, humanists, and scholars.” It was a bit of a rambling speech that he read off of an ipad mini from behind a podium to a packed medical school auditorium. I tried to listen to his talk, but was often distracted by the sound of my seatmate—a NYC female physician dressed head to toe in animal print and clutching her animal print covered ipad—snoring loudly, her head falling with a thunk onto my shoulder. Discourses on existential crises will forever be labeled in my mind under the category “fake dead animals.”
There’s a point to this somewhere. To this blog post. To Chris Adrian’s University of Iowa keynote Grand Rounds speech. To the primal animal snores of my med school auditorium seatmate. To the coffee grounds left in the bottom of my Prairie Lights soy latte… Ah yes, it is that I refuse to think this is useless.