Inklings: On and off the wall


By Janice Lindsay

The other day I had occasion to visit a doctor who was new to me. Doctor-visiting is not one of my top ten favorite pastimes. When the nurse left me alone in the tiny bright examining room, I looked around for something to help me feel a little more comfortable about being there.

What I saw – it was the room's only decoration – was a huge full-color poster of a diseased colon.

Such an illustration might be instructive at some unfortunate point in a person's life. But as far as I knew, I had not reached that point. And even if I reached it one day, a smaller, more discreet graphic, pulled gently from a file folder, would feel less intimidating than that giant vision of cancerous body parts. Perhaps the doctor, a specialist in internal medicine, finds the artwork beautiful. Probably his patients do not share his aesthetic tastes.

As all-the-time artwork, something a little more soothing would have been welcome. A painting of a flower-filled New England meadow. Photo of a sunny Mediterranean coastline. Or, as my dentist displays in his treatment room, a watercolor of a homey little sailboat on a calm sea.

I looked away from the diseased colon, in case my own colon might start feeling sick in sympathy.

Lots of doctors display diagrams on their walls: the skeletal system, a cutaway of an eyeball, a knee joint. Those can be interesting, since we hardly ever have a chance to peer inside our own bodies. But as an aid to relaxation and an inspiration for healthful living, most of us would probably prefer the non-diseased variety.

One perceptive doctor I know decorates her examining room with crayoned drawings that her young patients make for her. The pastel wallpaper is stenciled with flower and leaf designs. No body parts at all.

You can tell a lot about a person from the objects he or she chooses to look at every day.

When getting to know new writing clients, I'se always liked to meet them initially on their home turf. Can I discern who they are by what they choose to look at? Photos of children or dogs or cats (warm and personable?). Original art or prints of famous paintings (sophisticated, discerning?). Paintings of battleships (hard-driving, clear-thinking?). Framed certificates from continuing education programs (proud of accomplishment?). Collections of mementoes from trips abroad (interested in world affairs?). One business executive's office was bare of personal decorations except for two three-by-five-inch framed photos of his two Mercedes convertibles, past and present (lonely?).

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably reveal what I look at every day as I write.

Small family photos. A colorful, if amateurish, collage I made. Cheer-up greeting cards from a friend. Autographed drawing by children's author Richard Scarry from the 1970s. An area map. A poster of the cover of my only, so far, published book. A three-foot-tall, extravagantly dressed, bejeweled rag doll I made for fun. Mementoes and knick-knacks from friends, family, and trips. Two small grinding wheels from my grandfather's workshop. A turkey feather. Books: reference, humor, anthologies.

What would a stranger discern about me, if one happened to wander into my office? Probably that my mind is a mishmash, a jumble, and all higgledy-piggledy. Maybe that's not so good. But it's probably more healthful to ponder a hodgepodge mind than to ponder a four-foot-tall diseased colon.

Contact Janice Lindsay at [email protected].