Tag Archives: learning

Straight from the heart… to your brain.

Happy Friday! Only a few more to go this Lenten season, and what better way to celebrate than with another Fishy Fishy Fish Fry. Tonight, we’re trying Libby McNeil’s at Hotel Marshfield. It would sound impressive, except… Marshfield. I know I’m not fooling anyway. It’s no church basement, to be sure, but it is still Central Wisconsin.

Pretty sure I’m not supposed to like Lent this much, and yet…

I love what Joan wants to talk about today. LOVE IT.

“Gifts of the heart are what memories are made of.” –Sheryl Nicholson

So, touching the heart is what makes the memory stick. YES!

“I have a theory that only what touches the heart is really lodged in the mind. Memory is made up of what has touched our lives. So, in later years, the data drops away because it is useless. But soft touches, hard words, deep joys, great pain never leave us. For good or ill, they remain. They are always there, soothing us or torturing our souls. The life question it leaves us with may be worth thinking about, What do we do with the feelings that clog our souls?” –Joan Chittister

I love this so much, not only because of what it means for personal experience (which, I mean, duh, right?!), but even more so for what I think it means about what we do work-wise. Simply about what sticks.

Gratuitous puppy picture!
Gratuitous puppy picture!

I recently wrote this about myself… my thoughts about teaching:

When I applied to Michigan Technological University in 2001 as a chemistry major, I did so despite my passion for biology as I had convinced myself that chemistry required “real” thinking while biology was mere memorization. However, my experience over the last nearly 15 years has clearly demonstrated otherwise. I now recognize all of science as a series of important interrelationships. A firm background in math, physics, and language is necessary to understand basic concepts in chemistry and biology, which serve as the building blocks to biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, and on and on to multitudes of other biomedical fields, including immunology, microbiology, virology, parasitology, and more. I believe that teaching with this perspective will give students a sense of how their courses are important with respect to the larger field of biomedical science and will inspire passion and enjoyment for learning.

And when I think about all of that in the context of what Joan is saying, what it really boils down to is this: I can do chemistry. I can think about, talk about it, get an A on a test about it, but honestly, I rarely feel it– in my heart.

Oh, to be sure, there are excellent chemistry jokes that make me ridiculously happy (the ether bunny is seasonally appropriate and immediately comes to mind), but for the most part, it just doesn’t light me up.

{Source} AHHHH ha ha ha ha HAAAA!
{Source} Ah ha ha ha!

Host/pathogen interactions? That lights me up.

I needed to know chemistry to really get it, of course, but the chemistry has long since faded. Loooong since. Yes, I can calculate molarity, measure pH, tell you how many protons a carbon atom has… but I could talk for hours about how tricksy gonorrhea and chlamydia turn out to be once they find their way into a genital tract. And how conversely clever the body is in response. On and on and on… because that lights me up. So I remember it. It is a memory that has stuck. Much more than any theory of quantum mechanics or SN reaction mechanism. (This last statement is so true that I had to google SN reaction to make sure I wasn’t just inventing that on the spot. It’s legit. Whew.)

Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.
Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.

I’m good at learning things, at remembering them long enough to write the paper, give the talk, take the test, but it’s definitely true that not everything sticks very well. And I’ve always wondered about that– why is it that I can sing every line from every song in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, even years after last hearing it, but could barely remember a given toxin’s mechanism of action for as long as it took me to brush my teeth?

Because the toxin does nothing to my heart. (Assuming said toxin is only theoretical, of course. Things would be different if we were talking about toxins for realsies.)

Jacob? Jacob and his sooooons?! They make my heart flip flop! And that’s why it sticks. I think, anyway.

So… what do we do with all those emotions that clog us up? Those memories that stick? The song lyrics that pop to mind when all we want is the answer to the next test question?

It’s a good question.

Perhaps the best answer I have found is to do something that lights me up as much as a song lyric every day, as often as possible. Granted, I don’t love everything I write about, but I get real into a lot of it. It’s even spilled over here, I’m sure you’ve noticed– foster care families, integrated behavioral health and primary care, rare genetic disorders, opioid addiction. Writing itself is like that, actually. It’s not exactly what I was “trained” to do, but I have always loved doing it. So maybe, in that respect, the clog isn’t a clog at all if you’re training those feelings on something productive. Maybe?


And a relatively unrelated side note… I’ve often felt jealous of the pride people have for their children, assuming it’s something I couldn’t know until having them. And I can’t have them. At least at the moment it’s difficult. Snowball effect. Woe is me. But then again, good things keep happening to people I love so very, very much. And I feel SO CRAZY proud. Absolute heart bursting pride for someone else. Or something else in the case of my sweet pup. So what’s to say that that kind of pride is reserved only for your flesh and blood?

Jerk, second track, that’s who.

So, anyway, upon getting some SUPER GREAT news for Sister Doctor today, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the heart bursting pride with all of you!!

Sister Doctor has matched into a General Surgery Residency program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine and Public Health! Not only is it one of the top programs in the entire country, but it’s also a mere couple hours away and, guys, I could not be happier for her!! (And selfishly for me and the rest of our big Sconi-based clan as she’s staying close to home and that’s excellent, excellent news!)

A little Match Day gift-- feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!
A little Match Day gift– feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!

On Wisconsin, yo!

Fun fact-- I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!
Fun fact– I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!


The morning I cast a spell to open the milk.

This morning in Mexico, I was preparing a breakfast of Froot Loops and Zucaritas! (Frosted Flakes) for my two favorite niños, Emily and Christian.  In my very, very limited Spanish, I asked Emily, “Con leche?” With milk? To which she answered, “Si, por favor.”  Yes, please.  (Emily is very polite, even in Spanish… must be good parenting.)

So, I retrieved the carton of milk from the fridge, which was packaged in a very European-style box.  (Except obviously, this is also Mexican-style packaging.  I just didn’t realize it until now.)  Until this point, I had done everything with a flourish to entertain Christian and Emily.  Good morning, darlings, can I pour you a bowl of cereal for breakfast?  And which one would you like– we have honey nut cheerios, froot loops, and zu-ca-RI-tas!

But then I had to open the milk.


Ok, self, you are a PhD-educated adult.  This carton of milk with NOT defeat you.  Use your super-sized problem-solving skills and big, fat, human brain to open this carton.  And while you’re doing it, turn your back to the kids so they don’t see you struggle.

But then I noticed it– LEVANTE!  Lev… lev… lev… wingardium LEViosa?  LIFT?!

Oh, I’m sorry, are you unfamiliar with Harry Potter?  There is a great scene in the first book/movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) where Hermione schools Ron on this levitation spell.  It’s wingardium leviOsa not wingardium leviosA!

And yes, I thought of wingardium LEVisosa before I thought of LEVitate.  But think about that for kids… and the incredible impact that reading can have on a child’s capacity to understand words.  Words through context, words through roots, words through association.  That’s awesome!

I went to school for over 20 years and studied lots of different things, but I really think I learned most of the important life-kind-of-things that I know by reading books.  Good books and not-so-good books, I learn something from every single one…

Even spells!


(Whose the nerd now, Tom?!)