How I share my creativity with others in medicine

The creative platform Lyrical Mezzanine (@LyricalMezz) aims to nurture resilience or resiliency in clinicians, caregivers, patients, chaplains, family members, friends, scientists, teachers, and others — and to combat burnout simultaneously. I created the platform out of a need to profoundly process responses to experiences in medicine and science and to share the essence of those complex thought processes with others.

A mezzanine is usually considered a level between two actual full floors in a building. Lyrical Mezzanine displays are similarly on a level found somewhere between two or among three visual or fine art forms, exploring the limits of fine and visual art. Lyrical Mezzanine finds itself situated between, and at the same time combining, these two or three forms of art: poetry, photography and 3D mixed media. Each combined piece bears words, lines, images and physical objects to increase the connection with the viewer, as the piece encourages them to consider each line of the poem or each accompanying 3D object in the concept of their reality. Lyrical Mezzanine, therefore, implies relationships among various physical objects woven together by the lines of each poem. The items in some pieces are attached to the wall for maximum visual impact all at once.

Such is the 3D mixed media that accompanies the poem “Anonymous” – a graduation gown, and the clothes of a little son and daughter affixed to a wall, with an empty beer six-pack and an empty wine bottle on the floor. These items represent what an unfortunate man threw away through his alcoholism — the opportunity to see his children grow up and graduate from college.

As a medical student a decade and a half ago, I was required by my course to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to learn more about the plight of individuals with alcoholism and write a professional journal entry about the experience from my standpoint in medicine. My professional journal entry turned into a five-page poem. Two pages of the poem — the abridged version — won a state medical poetry competition and was published in Connecticut Medicine, the medical journal for the state of Connecticut. Whenever that poem is shared, it always reaches the hearts and minds not only of individuals with alcoholism but also those who have loved and cared for them.

In Lyrical Mezzanine, some items are affixed to the floor, unmovable, in the place where they would usually be used. Some items are loosely placed on stands, tables, or the floor to encourage hands-on tactile interaction with the viewer, such as in the 3D mixed media accompanying the poem “Our Cadaver.” I wrote “Our Cadaver” in 2005 at the end of the first year of medical school. It was the opening piece at our memorial service for the families of our cadavers. Many families had the opportunity to experience our gratitude and find even more closure. It meant a lot to me to be able to share with my cadaver’s family what I experienced from him. It meant even more to me that Minnesota Medicine, the medical journal for the state of Minnesota would choose to publish this poem within my first year of landing at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The journal juxtaposed with the words of my poem a picture of the back of a man’s head wearing a nice black hat. In order to capture my cadaver — our cadaver — visually in 3D in my mixed media art, I went to a thrift store and bought all the components I would need for his dapper outfit. If he was going to be wearing a nice black hat, then he may as well be wearing a nice black suit and nice black shoes. I also thought he ought to have a nice red shirt and a nice black and red tie. I then ordered online a small anatomical skull that separates into several pieces. I also ordered a hand and a small anatomical heart. I decided that — after all — my cadaver should be a cardiologist’s cadaver. And so I laid out the suit with a nice black hat, and the parts of the skull and the heart in its appropriate location, and I put the hand – my hand – on the heart (Figure 1).

Another piece is based on prose that is expanded into myriad physical elements or features that compose an interactive garden centered on the theme of “Morning Glory” — the title of the prose. The mixed media capture various items from the life of an elderly patient about whom the prose was written. A woman who — no matter what life sent her way — would always rise again the next morning, like a morning glory flower that closes at night and opens its petals to meet the morning sun. That message of being like the morning glory can inspire patients, caregivers, health care providers, and anyone else, as life often throws us all curve balls. As viewers adventure through an exhibit like Lyrical Mezzanine, they can see, read, feel and touch fragments, features, and portions reminiscent of their own individual worlds that create conversation pieces for considering how various details in their lives and the lives of others matter.

Essentially, my creative expression as a physician juxtaposes written poetry with physical objects with which other health care professionals, as well as patients and caregivers, can deeply relate. The words of the poetry describe or provide a context in which one could or should view or interpret the physical objects. Simultaneously, the opportunity is offered to view or interpret the words of each poem or prose in the context of the emotions, thoughts, or memories evoked by the physical objects. This takes the words off the pages and helps them come alive three-dimensionally as physical objects and brings each individual into the poems literally as the exhibit surrounds them. The exhibit, therefore, enhances their “Perception” (the title of another poem) of the art and culminates in a multidimensional, multifactorial and multisensory encounter.

Sherry-Ann Brown is a cardiology fellow.

Image credit: Sherry-Ann Brown 

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