Sunday, September 28, 2008

Audio Geek: Rupa and the April Fishes


I gotta give it to a someone who is a doctor and professor in one of the most competitive medical/science research institutions in the US, University of Californian at San Francisco, as well as an accomplished songwriter/musician touring nationally and internationally with the San Francisco-based band Rupa and the April Fishes. How does Rupa Marya do it?

She asked for it.

(Yes..., let that sink in...'cause there's a lesson there, people.)

Marya recounts: "...so after my first year of internship [at UCSF], I went into my program director and said, 'Listen, I'll be a terrible doctor if I'm not an artist, and I'll be a terrible artist if I'm not a doctor,'" Marya says. "'And I need to find a way to do these things.'"

Well, after her conservative older male program director solemnly informed Rupa she was "pushing the envelope" they found a way to make it work. According the NPR profile: "She was able to take advantage of a flexible residency track designed for female doctors who may be expecting children, which allows her to spend six months working and the other half of the year touring." Marya writes lyrics in Spanish, English, French, and Hindi, but most of the songs on the band's debut album are in French. Gotta listen to the profile to get the background on that choice. Once she finished her residency this past July, UCSF took Marya on as faculty. Obviously they agreed that being an artist made her a better doctor and teacher, and valued her unique contributions both to the institution and the field.

I was really moved by her story of how many of her songs are inspired by stories from her patients in a way that captures the spirit of the story and doesn't exploit the details. In that manner puts those stories, that human connection back into the world instead of absorbing all that energy and just internalizing it in relatively silence. Maybe more doctors need to find a creative outlet of that type, maybe that would help some of the unfortunate bedside manner out there.

I think the part-time appointment arrangement is a wonderful option. It sounds so smart for those of us who can't plug ourselves into one discrete life path--but instead find ourselves on a couple of intertwining ones. Something about this reminds me of Toni Morrison's Sula, the way the character Sula was an frustrated thrwarted artist, and that thrwarted energy became something of a destructive rather than creative and constructive force in her own life and that of her community. But that's another thread...

Definitely listen to the NPR profile to hear the story of the band's name, another inspirational conception...

Endnote:
• April 16, 2008 NPR profile of Rupa and the April Fishes
• Rupa and the April Fishes website for the album eXtraOrdinary rendition, from Cumbancha Records
• Rupa and the April Fishes' MySpace page
• NPR September 12, 2008: Song-Of-the-Day Pick: "Poder" by Rupa and the April Fishes, commentary on everything that can cross the US-México border (fishes, wind, money, "pero yo no"/"I cannot")

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