Chapter 4: How to read a doctor’s office

I owe thanks to Graeme Decarie for prompting me to get started on the writing of my very own Autobiography Stories. I urge you to get started on your stories as well, if you have not yet done so.

When we think of reading, we think of reading a text or a screen.

I like to read doctors’ offices. I also like to read dentists’ offices. I’ve had less experience reading optometrists’ offices, but I have learned to read them as well.

These are among the topics for Chapter 4 of my Autobiography Stories. But I will first take a step back and consider insights that I have gained from working on the first three chapters of my Autobiographical Stories.

Chapter 1: Cartierville School in Montreal. It was at this school that I became proficient in a standard judo move that I enjoyed practising at recess time in the snow. It was good to have some snow on the ground when practising this move as otherwise somebody can get hurt.

Being able to order a cup of coffee without struggling to make myself understood is one of the great pleasures of my life. Jaan Pill photo

Being able to order a cup of coffee without struggling to make myself understood is one of the great pleasures of my life. Jaan Pill photo

Chapter 2: Learning fluency as a second language. As a child I stuttered severely. At times I could not get out any words at all. I now speak quite well. Being able to say what I want to say, without a struggle, is one of the great pleasures of life, in my experience. I often still marvel at the fact that I can ask for a cup of coffee at a Starbucks without having to stumble over every word.

Chapter 3: My parents fled as refugees. Like many people, the refugee experience is a key part of my life.

How to read a doctor’s office

I like to read persons and situations as much as I like to read books and screens. Sometimes I like to think of the punctuation and story structure that comes to mind with regard to a particular person, group of persons, or situation or situations that I encounter. I recall a book about East Germany – Wall Flower: A life on the German Border (2015)  – in which the writer of the book pictured all things, that she encountered in her life, in terms of music.

The author of Wall Flower (2015) would hear particular notes, or would imagine particular ways that music functions, every time she encountered a person or a situation. I can relate to her experience, except that instead of experiencing music, I experience punctuation and varied elements of how language functions.

Topics for Chapter 4: How to read a doctor’s office

My topics in Chapter 4 can be outlined as follows:

1. I read a doctor’s office. I move from one doctor’s office to another. Some time later, conditions arise that enable me, with the help of a couple of physicians, to determine the cause of irksome, hitherto perplexing physical symptoms that I’ve been trying to figure out since my late teens. The insights that arise as a result of the journey to a new medical clinic prompt me to begin work on the draft of Chapter 4 of my Autobiography Stories.

2. On an earlier occasion, I read a dentist’s office. I move from one dentist’s office to another. Instead of going to have my teeth cleaned every three months (in my purported, dentist-ascribed role as ‘plaque magnet’), I start to have them cleaned every four months, which is the standard length of time between cleanings. The insights that arise as a result of the change in dentists are an ongoing source of inspiration for me.

3. On another occasion, I read a series of optometrist offices. Recently I moved from one optometrist’s office to another. It was a good move, as were the moves as they relate to medical and dental practices.

The metaphor of the judo move

In the draft of Chapter 1, I describe my enjoyment of a judo move whereby one child sends another flying through the air, and a strategy whereby if a child attempts to ambush me from behind, I would crouch down and cause the child to trip over me. Both of these manoeuvres I would spend countless hours practising and perfecting at recess times on days when the snow was thick.

From these games I’ve developed principles or understandings of how things work in the world. In working on my draft of Chapter 4, as it relates to readings of workplace settings – such as a doctor’s clinic – I’ve been able to clarify a core principle associated with the judo move that I have described, the one where you flip a person over on their back. I don’t know what the move is called but all the kids I played with as a child in primary school knew it well.

In keeping with my practice of reading situations and picturing things in terms of storylines and punctuations, the judo move is – metaphorically speaking – a transformational procedure whereby a pivot point is established as a key punctuation point in any kind of ongoing narrative that you can imagine.

The pivot point changes the direction of a flow of energy, in such a way that the force of the opposing player is mobilized for one’s own benefit. The opponent ends up sprawled in the snow and the person working with the pivot point remains standing.

At a more abstract, metaphorical level, the pivot point can be likened to a twist or turn in a story, whereby a situation that had previously been read in one way is suddenly and instantaneously turned around so that now the story is read in some other, strongly divergent, way.

In the media realm, the pivot point occurs when a scandal emerges.

Judo like meditation is a technique with many variants; such techniques can be adopted by any of a wide range of belief systems, including religious and corporate ways of seeing, and ways of being in the world.

Important thing is to begin

When I come back to the draft of Chapter 4, I will add some flesh to the story. Each of my chapters will be about 10,000 words; with a previous local history article, I’ve begun to figure out through trial and error how to write such a chapter. The key thing is to get started. I owe thanks to Graeme Decarie for encouraging us to get started with our stories, whatever form the stories may take.


I like to think of the following story as an illustration of a principle that is associated with a  judo move, or more generally an illustration of how, metaphorically speaking, pivot points can work at critical moments in a person’s life.

A July 12, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Takeaway owner, confronted by armed robber, serves another customer instead: Said Ahmed tells how he ignored pistol-wielding masked man, continued making a large chicken souvlaki for someone else, then turned and walked away.”


5 replies
  1. graeme decarie
    graeme decarie says:

    Okay. But I don’t want you sneaking around to read me, and use me to your advantage.
    However, dentists are fair game for anything.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I will, of course, follow your instructions, which are as follows:

    Start with little incidents, observations, etc. I started with the Dick and Jane reader. It turned out to be the theme of the whole autobiography.

    But start with any incident. Then, when you have enough, blend some of those incidents into the first chapter. It really isn’t hard.

    But don’t start with a scheme of any sort.

    [End of text]

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Further thoughts occur to me. On July 9, 2016 I was listening to a segment about Alice Munro, who is 85 years old today. A remark that stayed in mind for me was the distinction between what is overt and what is covert in life, and in writing. The person who was talking about Alice Munro’s writing spoke of how, in a story by Alice Munro, there is a sense of something that is lurking, which can at any moment pull the rug from out of the reader’s feet. Those are such great metaphors.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Here is the link to the above-noted CBC Fresh Air interview regarding Alice Munro:

    Writer Alice Munro at 85 Jul 9/16

    The blurb for the interview, which is posted at the Fresh Air Facebook page, reads:

    “On the occasion of Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro’s 85th birthday, CBC Books producer Jennifer Warren shares some facts and insights into the Ontario short story writer’s legacy.”

  5. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Big ideas

    As I go about putting together my Autobiography Stories project, a thought shared by the writer Ronald Wright comes to mind. Somewhere he comments that civilization is a pyramid scheme. I like the ring of the concept: Civilization as a scam.

    Civilization operates on a few big ideas which may or may not be sound. The ideas dominate the idea space; dominate the geography of ideas; dominate the marketplace of ideas.

    That is to say: When immersed in a story we let down our guard.

    Pivot points

    One’s life has many pivot points. Energy is mobilized around the time of birth. Over time the energy develops the body, brain, and networks within which a person grows.

    The twists and turns – the pivot points, whereby the flow of energy is directed in this or that direction – are there for one to observe and in some senses they are inexorable.

    Getting started is among the key pivot points.

    “Compassionate killing”

    Personalities express pivot points in characteristic ways, which may change or may remain the same. There is the way of Compassion which may include unexpected pivot points – as in the concept of “compassionate killing.” The way of Contemptuousness as a Trait is another option. There’s also the way of Social Collaboration. Or one can be hard-wired with pivot points that enact Social Dominance.


    So many great choices are available to us – and so many great choices are made for us. Our brains are wired in particular ways. The wiring is set in place for us, with and without are direct participation depending on how community and family-based energy is mobilized, around the time of birth and during early childhood. We can also to some extent edit the wiring later, often with help from other people, thanks to neuroplasticity.

    These are thoughts that occur to me as I work on my Autobiography Stories.


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