Sunday, May 21, 2017

Creators and contributors in society

First there is this selection from The Writer's Almanac:

"Observations of an OB/GYN Nurse"
Lois Parker Edstrom          
In memory of Dr. Tom Critchfield

The babies, CEOs of his life,
set the schedule, write the script.

They arrive in predawn hours
and the middle of the afternoon

unaware of an overflowing
waiting room or his need for a few

hours of uninterrupted sleep.
The police recognize his car,

escort him to the hospital
for those middle of the night calls.

Surgery, lunch in the hospital cafeteria,
then office hours where the babies,

bundled in mother’s arms,
check in for a six-week visit

peaceful and slumbering, as if making up
for the sleep he missed.

At career’s end, twin granddaughters
born on his birthday.

Memories streak across the mind’s sky.
We need their bright, yet fleeting comfort.

His life of births, his solitary death.
This night Venus trembles

below the crescent moon
like a glistening tear.

"Observations of an OB/GYN Nurse" by Lois Parker Edstrom from Night Beyond Black. © Moon Path Press, 2016.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I offer the foregoing poem, copied from today's edition of The Writer's Almanac, without comment about the poem's qualities, which I am not qualified to judge; however, the subject of the poem, which I think is poignant and powerful, and the poem's mere existence provoke me to ponder the question: who are more important contributors to society -- people who create art (reaching and influencing some people) or people who do something more substantial and essential in life (reaching and influencing many more people).

In a less circuitous approach to the issue, I ask you this more specific question based upon my thinking about and reaction to the poem: what types of people are more important contributors to society at large -- people like the doctor (i.e., the millions of tangible, necessary contributors to society) or someone like the poet (i.e., the fewer and perhaps less important and less essential contributors to society)?

Yes, you will counter that I am being foolish because the world needs all types, and you might argue that a world without the arts is both unimaginable and unacceptable. However, I am not quite certain of that notion. This is a complicated issue, and I am probably guilty of not framing the argument sensibly. Perhaps I should say it this way, not intending but perhaps unconsciously swerving into irony: I would rather have doctors than poets in the world. Hmmm.

Well, what do you think?


  1. It's true that society needs everyone, Tim. So this is a difficult question, indeed. I think it's more a matter of character than it is of profession; I really do.

    1. Good point about character, Margot. There is also the issue of value-added to and improvement of society. Sticky wickets!

  2. Van Wyck Brooks once objected politely to some high critic's drawing a serious comparison between a poem's structure and the structural engineering of a great bridge by pointing out that a structurally imperfect poem may still have literary value, while a structurally impaired bridge will fall down and kill people. We can live with less than perfect poets. We want the best doctors we can get.

    1. Thanks, Frank. I like that perspective and analysis. And I like the notion of having the best doctors, and I wish it were a reality.

  3. If it was me, I'd choose to counter with a different question, thus avoiding the issue altogether... Such as: which matters more, the penny or the gum... But I'm a coward about some things...

    1. Mudpuddle, if never before encountered your either or option. Hmm. Yep, I'm puzzled.

  4. I disagree.

    One of the debates going on today is that between those who argue for the importance of the quality of a life versus those who argue for life at any cost. The arts are a necessary part of the quality of life.

    Which side would your comment put you on?

    1. Fred, I choose quality, but my definition might not be yours. In fact, who determines quality? Hmmm.

    2. Tim,

      How important is it that our definitions of quality agree?

      Who do you think determines quality?

    3. I don't know, Fred. I really don't know any longer.

  5. You raise a really good question.

    In the end I must admit that what actually keep others alive must be placed at a higher value then art.

    With that art is vitally important. I am glad that I live in a world where there is both.

  6. That question sort of assumes that writers live in some kind of artificial bubble and never volunteer at their local shelter or food pantry or do anything practical to help others, and that they have no other kind of job. That said, I am a writer married to an academic doctor, and I would rather have a doctor if I needed a doctor--that need can be quite pressing, and dire physical needs can destroy pleasure in reading and a whole lot m ore.

    My opinion, not original, is that there are a variety of gifts, and a variety of ways of being in the world. The challenge is to find out those gifts and what what you were meant to be. And then to be fully alive.

    Haven't we had enough examples of nations that put no value on either poets (who were meant to write for the state, a thing that kills poetry, or else to be silent or re-educated) or educated people like doctors? Those countries have shown us that a state without culture and learning does terrible things to its people. And destroys them by the millions.

    It's not either/or to me. Not at all.

    1. Marly, Brian, et al . . . my latest posting is somewhat responsive to the issue in this posting: