This past week was tough, and I had a hard time focusing on anything but rapid fire news updates — the United incident, a shooting at a school, the situation in Syria, and so on. This piece by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the brilliant book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer) helped: Love in the Time of Numbness; Or, Doctor Chekhov, Writer.
Mukherjee is a doctor and a writer, as Chekhov was, and he describes the numbness one experiences when faced with the daily tragedies of medicine. But instead of addressing his career as an oncologist, he asks, “How shall we continue to write in these numbing times?” and turns to Chekhov for answers.
The essay, like all of Mukherjee’s work, is beautifully written. I also appreciated his inclusion of Chekhov’s six rules of writing:
“Six principles that make for a good story,” Chekhov would later write, “are: 1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality . . . and; 6. compassion.” The first five principles cleanse and desensitize our wounds. But it is the last—compassion—that moves us beyond numbness toward healing.