Talkin’

I found out recently that my friend Greg actually reads this thing. So, for his sake alone, I’ll be more faithful to posting. In truth, I’ve wanted to start the majority of my days with writing of some kind…this Blog thing is fine. Writing is one of the most cathartic things I do. It has also been arguably the single most helpful skill I possess in advancing my professional life. Maybe personal too. Christina always liked my poems, letters and stories. I once had a boss tell me that throughout life, nothing would serve me better than having effective communication skills. He was my boss at “Cave of the Winds” – this huge cave that people toured for 10 bucks, and I was one of about 20 tour guides. I remember thinking that, yes, in that job, I needed to be able to speak well. But I was skeptical about whether or not a person could really get far in life on communication skills alone. But I turned out to be pretty good at the public speaking required for that job, and later found that I enjoyed writing…and wasn’t too bad at it either. I suppose that writing is not much different from public speaking. One uses sound, one uses – light, really – and in terms of physics the twain often meet.

At any rate, I’ve not really found much success in life anywhere but in things like writing and speaking. But I’ve managed to get much further in life than I would have expected on that day talking to my boss next to the yawning entrance of the Cave. My essays were almost exclusively what granted me entrance to Westmont College…and probably were a big factor in my ½ tuition scholarship. Grades or test scores certainly didn’t play a positive role. Then graduate school in public health came along, and I found that the majority of the degree involved writing papers and giving public presentations. On bad days the worst I could do there was A- grades. Then med school. No other graduate school that I’m familiar with places such a strong emphasis on grades and test scores for entrance than med school. Maybe engineering school tops them, and vet school too I guess, but med school is certianly one of the most stringent. I really had no business applying to school with my anemic 3.0 GPA and 27 MCAT score. The GPA was waaay below entering averages for US med schools, including my specific med school. The MCAT was the very bottom-low end of average of those who made the cut into med school. Basically, if you had a MCAT score like mine, you needed a 4.0 GPA to make up for it and you’d probably get a spot somewhere. So I really didn’t have a chance. Except that the application required essays….3, if I remember. Next thing I know I’m buying hUGE books on Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology…then a stethescope and a white coat, all that stuff.

Now I’m applying for the final phase of my education. Residency. I’m met with a very favorable environment of having chosen a specialty that needs applicants, and is biased toward people with communication skills. Particularly writing, speaking and that amorphous quality “leadership ability”. My test scores – used to rank candidates for residency – are, as usual, like a scarlet letter on my application. They’re terrible. Worse, comparitively, than my MCAT. My grades from med school are conspicuously absent in “honors”, although I’ve managed to avoid any failing grades (you can’t advance without at least passing). Yet even with this hex on my application…I’m interviewing at top Universities in the United States. Top. I still wonder if it’s a hoax. Maybe they somehow make money for every applicant, like in grade school. Remember how in grade school those ladies would come through the classrooms with clipboards and ask how many “warm bodies” there were in the class that day? I always wondered if I would be disqualified for shivering. Anyway, here I am. On my way to Dartmouth. Then University of Rochester. I’ve bypassed U of Massachusets and U Vermont simply because I don’t have time to get to all the places. I never believed someone like me – a kid who had to get a note from his 3rd grade teacher every day stating whether or not his behavior was satisfactory (i.e. “didn’t throw crayons today, showing improvement”) – would be turning down interview invitations to Umass.

So, you can understand why, over these next 30 years (‘Lord tarry and the creek don’t rise, as they say), I’ll be telling my kids to write even if they hate it. To clarify their English, to enunciate, to speak with grammatic vigilance. I haven’t succeeded in my goals yet, but I’m pretty close now. And I owe a large part of that success to my ability to write. And speak. Neither of which ever came slowly for me (props to God for that part). But I still had to work at it. I still work at it. I still compile rambling, laden missives like this on a regular basis. But when it matters, when twilight is falling on my future from inept testing and attention-deprived schoolwork, I’ve been saved repeatedly by words and my ability to weild them. My boss was right. The better you communicate, the better you live.

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