Zen and Art

I finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance today. While not the most literary book I’ve read, it was a good read because of the author’s diction. The clarity Pirsig writes with and the philosophy he evokes made the book worth my time. Small snippets of the book made me analyze my motivations and perceptions of things.

Originally, my friend had suggested it to me in high school – about 6 years ago. However, my tastes were radically different then, and the reason I chose to read it now was because of the best post I have read online.

The book is a discussion of the nature of quality in the context of a motorcycle trip. Admittedly, I have little experience with real philosophical arguments. I took a few introductory courses in undergraduate at Tulane, but since then have focused on more tangible things. With that admission, I can’t whole-heartedly agree or disagree with Pirsig on many of his points. I was enraptured with the book, and during my reading found no flaws to pick in the arguments about rhetoric and dialect. I feel like the major reason the book was so enjoyable was because Pirsig was not being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian – rather, he elaborates on several fresh looks at antiquated arguments.

Some of the most telling portions of the book actually didn’t have to do with philosophy directly. The narrator’s descent into a forgone madness was well characterized, and it was interesting when reality and dream sort of melded.

Anyways, I don’t have much else to say about it, because it’s more a book that I’d discuss with people who read it.


Second semester

Well, I completed my second semester of medical school a few days ago. The last exams, unsurprisingly, were a wild ride. The semester culminated in a 3-day mental marathon. We had two very specific exams on the final Monday of the term, and two comprehensive, board-style exams that were exhaustive in nature on the final Wednesday. During the final hour of the testing, I genuinely wondered to myself how I would be able to complete a grueling 8-hour examination with 100% mental clarity; here I was struggling to stay focused after a mere 4 and a half.

I realized that I still have 50+ examinations left under my belt before anyone even lets me register for the big one, so it’s an inevitability that I will adapt over time to the increasing stresses of medical academia, proving myself ultimately on the USMLE.

My second semester was rough, and overall I am slightly disappointed in the quality of instruction I received. The 2 exhaustive exams I mentioned were ‘Shelf’ exams written by the NBME, and while I was entirely comfortable taking one (Biochemistry), the other left me asking myself if I even knew the material being tested (Physiology).

Nevertheless, I passed, though not as spectacularly as I did in first semester. The takeaway message for me overall for this set of 15 weeks was simple: study hard, but not to death, and you will be fine. For me, it is not feasible to expect perfection every semester. My goal in studying on this island is to learn medicine and perform well on exams. I’d rather not burn out and be a husk of a human consciousness by going overboard in studying.

The name of this blog was chosen deliberately – “a toilsome peace” – because I need to remind myself that consistency and effort are the backbone of any endeavor I will ever undertake if I intend to undertake them properly. I cannot be impatient with things that matter. Originally, this line of thought – this impatience – stemmed from my frustrations with the medical admissions process and my fitness goals. Differentiating complacency and patience has been my large personal struggle, and it will be many years yet before I am entirely at one with my thoughts, goals and motivations fully. I know at certain points I certainly am at this peace I seek, and at others I am furiously displeased. I am happy that I have the wisdom to recognize that, and more often than not I find myself patient rather than complacent.

In other news, I’ve been thinking a bit more seriously about what I’d like to pursue professionally. I’ve been reading more about hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. It is a therapy that is maturing rapidly and, therapeutically, it has amazing potential. Like any therapy, there are risks and routine use, but what fascinates me is the plethora of applications HSC transplants have – I imagine gene therapy in its fullest form.

However, it is now that I exercise great patience, because, as of now, I am on this island, no labs or full-fledged oncologists anywhere. I will wait, but not complacently, and continue to educate myself so that once I have a real opportunity to research and treat, I will make the most of it.