Anatomy

I love human anatomy. I think that we are one of the most beautiful things in the world, particularly the female of our species. It’s one of the first things that got me into art, but it’s led me down many other paths. Early on, I got the book The Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck and drew from that obsessively. Then something else happened to reinforce this love. I began taking martial arts classes. Suddenly, anatomy wasn’t just something pretty to look at, it was a weapon, a tool, a construct to be strengthened with a whole host of weaknesses. Pressure points, nerve centers, how a joint moves and how to lock one up; new avenues of study opened up before me and I was in heaven. In addition to the structure of the human body, now I also had reason to learn about physiology, the workings of the various organs. I studied diet, exercise, breathing techniques, stretching, even starting some basic yoga poses and meditation. You may already have logically concluded that this path is what led me to medical school, and you’d be part right, but it’s not quite that simple.

I studied Kenpo karate for about 8 years, earning a black belt and working as an instructor for 2 of those. But I travelled out of state for some of my college and stopped training for a while. The next time I studied, it was a school that taught tai chi and qi gong. I loved these disciplines just as much as I did my former hard style art. Mandatory reading was The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou, Tsung Hwa, which is excellent. He has a series of three books, the one on tai chi, another on meditation and a third on the I-Ching and I would recommend all of them. While taking classes, I also began learning about tui na, a form of Chinese bodywork, the chakras, the meridians, herbal remedies, etc. I never intended to be a doctor, I was working to enter an acupuncture school.

As fate would have it, the schools I was looking at required MCAT scores as a prerequisite for admission. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember much about the MCAT, AKA the Medical College Admissions Test, but I seem to recall it consisted of two 3-4 hour sessions, with four parts. The physical sciences, biologic sciences and verbal reasoning parts were multiple choice and then there was a written essay part. I don’t remember my score either, but, evidently, it was good enough that a few medical schools sent me information packets for their schools. One of these was the University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, while I never intended to be a doctor, this school allowed for far more financial aid than any of the acupuncture schools and was located much closer to my family and, to be frank, graduating with a medical degree did seem to offer a more reliable future. I went to medical school and I loved that, too.

One of the first classes was anatomy. I had had anatomy class in college and the lab had a cadaver, but we never got to touch it. It had been pre-dissected. Now in medical school, four medical students were assigned a cadaver and were responsible for its dissection. We even got a box of human bones we could check out of the library and take home to study with. That lab was challenging. I don’t mind saying that I was horrible at dissection when I first began. Nonetheless, we persevered and passed the course and continued with the rest of the curriculum. Most doctors never set foot in the lab again, but I have rarely followed the common path. I was awarded an anatomy teaching fellowship while at the school and spent a year helping to teach and dissect in the cadaver lab. Even this wasn’t enough for me, however.

More recently, I taught anatomy at the National College of Natural Medicine, though now, it’s the National University of Natural Medicine, and was in charge of the cadaver lab. The lab had 6 cadavers, all of which needed to be dissected. I usually had between 4-8 students that assisted me in dissection, but that still left a lot of work for me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy dissection. There’s a meditative quality to the act that focuses and relaxes me at the same time. And then, through everything I’ve learned and experienced, I still love anatomy. That has stayed with me throughout my entire life. I still refer back to my Netter’s (one of the most commonly used anatomy atlases), I still go life drawing sessions, the human body still fascinates me. Even if it doesn’t seem like that love is reflected in my art.

The Hummingbird is my Spirit Animal

My spirit animal is a hummingbird. This is not an easy admission for me to make. Quite the contrary. I take no pride in having a hummingbird as my spirit animal, or even having a spirit animal at all, but that’s just the way is it. The hummingbird isn’t exactly the paragon of masculinity, nor are they symbolic of wisdom, or generosity, or bravery or many admirable qualities at all for that matter. Would Richard the Hummingbird have been taken as seriously as Richard the Lionhearted? Even more important to my fragile ego, the very notion of having a spirit animal suggests that I adhere to some new agey, woo-woo concepts. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. That being said, there are some facts you just have to accept when they’re staring you in the face and the hummingbird being my spirit animal is one of them.

I consider myself a skeptic, someone with an open mind, but requiring proof to accept some outre ideas. I believe that the evidence supports the beneficial effects of massage therapy, meditation and mirror therapy, but that the science behind homeopathy, astrology and anything that describes itself as “energy medicine” is sorely lacking. I could potentially accept spirit animals as a metaphor, but their actual existence seems ludicrous to me. Until I had a dream.

I remember being in a forest, but you know how dreams go. It was vague, shifting, archetypal primordial forest one moment, claustrophobic, but desolate, city the next. In all of it, I was lost. Every now and then, I would encounter some fantastical, woodland creature or faceless passerby, and they would speak to me, always the same question. “What is your animal? What is your spirit animal?” I was wound tight, I can tell you that. I mean, how the fuck was I supposed to know? I was lost and these dream creatures were hounding me. I sure as shit knew, with that crazy dream logic, that none of this would end until I found the answer. My anxiety reached nightmarish proportions as the questions came quicker and quicker and the landscape became more mazelike.

As dreams usually go, there are no specifics, only an uncertain sense of the details. The one thing that stuck with me was cold sweat and a gut wrenching fear. As I wandered and wandered through the confusing, narrow pathways, a collection of hummingbirds gathered around me, buzzing my head occasionally, some alighting on nearby branches to chirp their discontent. I was so focused on my search that they barely registered, but their numbers grew and grew until I could no longer ignore them. Looking up at the multitude above my head, a voice rose up in unison, a thunderous chorus that shook me violently awake.

“It’s a hummingbird, stupid!”

There are times I have forgotten my own birthday, yet, I remember those words to this day. Those exact words. Could it simply have been a dream, signifying nothing? Perhaps, but it sure didn’t feel that way. To be perfectly honest, it’s those adorable freakin birds giving me sass like a bratty teenager that sold it to me. Their contempt for me was palpable and still ringing in my ears as I sat up in bed. I shit you not. So, while I never wanted a hummingbird as a spirit animal, I never wanted a spirit animal at all, I suppose I’m not really in charge of those decisions. I’m just going to flit away now and find some nectar to drink.