Monday, September 9, 2013

Had I But Known, I Might Never Have Soared

guest post by: Cindy Corpier

When most people recall the eighties, they muse about Ronald Regan, Michael Jackson’s phenomenal success with Thriller, shoulder pads we’d love to forget and hair bands (Poison, Motley Crue, etc.), along with many unfortunate hairstyles (think mullet and giant frizzy bangs).  For me, medical training, first medical school then residency and fellowship, swallowed the decade whole.  The only television I remember watching is MTV videos and Miami Vice (think escape).  I rarely looked at a newspaper and was oblivious to politics until the 1988 election.  By then, my blinders were coming off after witnessing the devastating AIDS epidemic while those in power played “blame the victim.”   

But before that point, one day in 1983 during my junior year Obstetrics rotation, my super-cool intern Marsha suggested we skip out of the hospital in the middle of the day and go to a movie.  Nerd that I am, that was my first (and last) time to skip school—ever.  And the movie?  Flashdance, of course. 

What a feeling. 

Sitting in the dark, nearly empty theater wearing baggy green scrubs and my oversized 80s glasses, I was transported to Steeltown, USA.  By the movie’s fabulously romantic ending, every cell in my body yearned to be Jennifer Beals’ striving, independent Alex Owens with dark curls and a beautifully toned body.   I wanted to work hard and beat the odds to make my professional dreams come true.  I wanted to ride a bicycle through the city to my converted warehouse apartment and wear heels to the ballet at night.  Despite the smoky bar and leering men, Alex’s creative choreography had a purity that came from her love of dance.  Though I’m no dancer, she was the perfect heroine for me at the perfect moment in time (It didn’t hurt that she also wrapped Nick around her lobster-eating fingers). 

Yes, it’s incredibly corny, but Alex and I were about the same age and both filled with the boundless confidence of the truly naïve.  She didn’t fully understand that her passion and work ethic might not be enough in the rarified world she sought to enter.  Similarly, I didn’t understand a whole slew of things about the world I was entering, like the limits of medical knowledge and how what I didn’t know might kill someone.  I had never played a team sport or been interested in the military, therefore male hierarchy made no sense to me.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I was also completely clueless about issues of gender inequality.  Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” had rung in my ears since adolescence and I thought feminism was passé that I needn’t worry about pay inequality or subtler forms of bias.  I simply did not understand the inherently conservative stance of the medical profession.  Conservative, as in, holding to traditional attitudes and cautious about change.   Even though in the 1980s less than 15% of physicians were females, I didn’t understand I was a member of a minority for whom the rules were different.  I had done all the things the guys did to be there so I assumed a level playing field (in medicine the metaphors always relate to sports).  As you can imagine, some of what I didn’t know got me into trouble at times, another new experience for a rule-following, teacher’s pet of an eldest child.  Had I known, but also understood all of this as a twenty-something, my path might have been smoother.  On the other hand, I think it might have been more burdened by anxiety, resentment and insecurity.   One of the many things I’ve learned from my patients is that sometimes blissful oblivion is preferable to the relentless truth.  Likewise, if Alex had known how slim her chances for success were, she might never have soared through her dance.

After my afternoon playing hooky, Irene Cara’s voice rang in my ears and now when I need it most, it still does.
What a feeling
Being's believing
I can have it all
Now I'm dancing for my life
Take your passion
And make it happen
Pictures come alive
You can dance right through your life

(And yes, I do know that Flashdance is not a documentary.)


Cindy Corpier is a recent MFA in Fiction graduate from Spalding University.  She lives in Dallas, Texas where she practices Nephrology.  She’s never gone on a bad vacation, still believes she’ll one day speak French fluently and lives with an incredibly patient husband along with two fairly impatient orange cats.

Thank you, Cindy, for your beautiful insights and for sharing your experience with us. It is a pleasure and an honor having you here today!

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