Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Marcus has left the building...

Well, actually just moved the blog!
Please join Marcus at:



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

365 Days and The Power To Be You

What? A blog post on Engel’s Ensights blog? Will the wonders never cease?

We’re in the process of creating the new www.MarcusEngel.com and wanted to be sure we incorporate the Engel’s Ensights blog. I’ve been reviewing the prototype for the new web site and, of course, that landed me on the blog.

I’ve been very unfaithful about blogging over the last 12 months, 1 year, 365 days, however you choose to state it. In fact, it was one year to the day since my last blog post. Why? The simple answer is: I’ve been busy. A more truthful answer is: I’ve had other priorities.

If you read back to the last blog post, ya know, the one from a year ago today, it was to recognize the 10 year “anniversary” of the attacks of September 11. I had a unique perspective on the commemorations since we were living in New York at the time.

That one year relocation to The Big Apple is the priority which pushed the Engel’s Ensights blog to the backburner. So, let me give you an update on the past year…

I began the M.S. in Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University in NYC one year ago this month. Having not been a student for a mere 11 years, going back to school, especially in a program as intensive as a grad program at an Ivy League university was, to say the least, overwhelming. Yet, as with anything, persistence prevailed.

Our one year adventure in New York was, in a word: incredible. Both Marvelyne and I love the city and had too many adventures to count. My education was my #1 priority, but there was still plenty of time for exploring the city, dining at new and different restaurants, experiencing NYC nightlife and just soaking up the flava of the most exciting place I’ve ever been.

In early May, I walked home from Columbia to our apartment on W. 119th Street for the last time. While I still had a summer capstone project to work on from our home in Orlando, my time of sitting in classrooms was over.

We spent our last couple weeks in the city entertaining family and friends and trying to mark things off our bucket list. And we did just that!

In late May, Marvelyne and I relocated back to our home in Orlando. I missed this place. While I love NYC, after a few months of living there, I knew I didn’t want to be a permanent resident. Love to visit, but don’t want to pay my taxes to NY state. Marvelyne, on the other hand, would move back in a heartbeat and be content to be a city dweller forever.

The summer of 2012 was spent settling back into life in Orlando, travelling the country speaking and positioning my business for the fall and beyond.

Today, on 911, I’m sitting in my home office, feet up on the desk, listening to Sirius Radio’s commemoration of the attacks of 11 years ago. I cannot help but reflect back to living in the heart of the 911 attacks on America, even though it was a decade after those events. And what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Very, very little.

All we can do is try to remember, as best we can, those horrible events so they don’t slip from our thoughts.

And, because I know there are many of you who’ve asked where my blog posts went…I welcome you back! And thank you for welcoming me back, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

911 Reflections From NYC

Ten years ago today, I was in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. At my home, a 1700 sq. foot condo I'd gotten as soon as I got out of college, I got the news. The evening before, I'd gone to Best Buy with a good friend, Leah, and purchased a new home stereo. To test out this stereo, I also purchased Steve Earl's Essentials. The next morning, after checking my E mail and cleaning off all items of necessity from my desk, I went down to the living room, popped in the CD, grabbed my 12 string and started learning some new songs.

Somewhere in my impromptu jam session, the cordless phone rang. A female friend on the other line asked the question we've all come to associate with something tragic: Are you watching TV? I, like so many other people, had the initial impression that this plane into the World Trade Center wasn't that big of a deal. Probably a Cessna, I thought. Or, even if it was a jet, it can't be the end of the world, right? Wrong. I slowly walked downstairs, thinking there was no big reason to rush. I flipped on the TV just in time to hear Peter Jennings blurt out, "Good God!" Then, I knew something big was happening.

I returned the favor and called several friends to see if they were watching.All I remember is one who was not. I told her and I'll be fforever cemented in her memory as the one to break the news.

Ten years later, I'm now living in the city where the attacks happened. Sure, there was an attack on the Pentagon, and the plane went down in rural PA, but I think most of us associate the attacks off 911 with New York.

Here, what is the vibe? Honestly, I'm not sure it's that different than the rest of the country. We all were attacked that day, not just New York. Were the tears New Yorkers cried any worse than someone in Tulsa? Maybe due to proximity, but we all were rattled to our core...New Yorkers were just closer to that core. Here today, there was a memorial service on the lawn at Columbia. I did not attend. Nor did I watch any of the footage. For me, I don't need to sit down to try to relive the trauma and drama. I think about it every day. I think about the helplessness we all feel. I think about how we all wanted to hug our families tighter that night. I think about a few of my single friends who, without our families, all went out to a local bar to dampen the day and watch the President's address from the White House. That day is as set in my mind as my wedding day, the days Carson and Dasher both retired, the funerals of my grandparents and a good many others that have left scars on my soul.

I'll not close with something "usual" like "We'll always remember" because, ffrankly, we won't. Time will go on. A generation down the road, the taste won't be as ffresh. But I know as long as I livve and my mind works, 911 will be part of my day. It has to be because that's the day our lives....yours, mine and the world...changed forever.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Always A Beginner

So, I just bought this used guitar off a dude on craigslist. This isn't the first guitar I've bought off CL and it's likely not to be the last, either. For guitar geeks, it's a black Ovation six string EA.

Now, here's the deal: I'm really not a very good guitar player. That's not just me being modest; guitar enthusiasts will tell you the same. I am, however, the guy you want to hang out with around a campfire. I can play rhythm on about every pop, rock, folk, country and R&B song ever recorded. But truly being a technical whiz like Joe Satriani or Kellor Williams or Stevve Vai? Nah, not me. I'm just a folkie playing for sing alongs.

So, while we're doing this year in NYC, I wanted to have a musical outlet. I figured as much as I'd be studying, I'd need a release time where I can banng out some Springsteen on an acoustic. Hopped on CL, found a guy selling a guitar and amp and they're both now resting comfortably by my couch.

Changing gears:Today is my first day of grad school. Around 3:30 today, I'll throw on a jacket, grab my laptop and backpack and be a college student again for the first time in nearly a dozen years. Kinda scared, kinda nervous, mostly excited.

Because the narrative med program I'm in at Columbia University is so intimate, we've been provided a doc with the bios and profiles of our fellow classmates. One really struck me. Nahh, not the person so much, but the last statement in his profile:

I see the importance of always being a beginner and am committed to always beginning."

When I first read this, my gut reaction was, "Well, duh! When you think of the grand scheme of life and what we can possibly know, we're all newbies."

Yet, this fellow classmate seems rather proud of being a novice. That's where I felt our opinions devviated.

Back to the guitar. I learned everything I know on guitar back in the late 90s. About once per year, I'll learn a new chord, but really, I play guitar much as I did when I had only a few months of guitar under my belt. Really, I'm still a beginner. I don't want to be; I'd love to be able to shred like Eddie Van Halen, but I've just not devoted the time, energy and patience it takes to do so.I'm still a beginner, but a beginner with enough experience to accomplish what I want.

So, when I started thinking about my classmate's statement, he/she has every right to bbe proud of being a beginner. We cannnot know everything. Life is simply too short. Even academics who devote their lives to a singular focus will readily admit they cannot know all there is to know about that area of study. Life is short and we barely have a chance to scratch the edge of the plane of knowledge.

But, we try! I think we all try to improve ourselvves, even if we remain beginners. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this, I wouldn't be writing it and we'd all be less than beginners. We'd just be uncaring and sedentary.

As I start this first day of the rest of my life, I'm committed to embrace the idea of being a beginner. Proudly. That makes me someone always on the cusp of learning and evolving into someone and something better.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Ease Up, New York? Not So Much

When I was a print rreading fellow (i.e., back in the days before blindness), one of my favvorite reading spots was (gasp!) on the toilet. It must have bbeen someone else's fav spot, too, because somehow Reader's Digest magazines always found their way to the back of the toilet tank or the basket on the floor.

Back in the late 80s or early 90s, I was doing my bidness and flipping through that month's edition. There was a story about a campaign to get New Yorkers to become a kinder, gentler lot. II distinctly remember a black and white photo of a pudgey, middle aged taxi driver yelling and shaking his fist. Under the pic was the caption, "Come On, New York, Ease Up!"

Now, any sociologist and/or economist can tell you that NYC today is very different from NYC of the late 80s and early 90s. Like, somewhere in the early to mid-90s, crime rates just fell through the basement. There are a billion different theories on this that I won't discuss here, but suffice it to say that I've yeet to feel unsafe in our new town.

Furthermore, I have yet to meet with any of the attitude that's been pinned on the Big Apple. In the month (to the day, now) that I've been a New Yorker, I cann't think of a single instance of someone being what I'd term as "rude." No yelling at me/us crossing streets, no mutters under one's breath, etc. I just haven't noticed it...and definitely not the kind of 'tude shown in the photo so long ago.

Does this mean there aren't A-holes in New York? Duh, no! Those people exist everywhere. And thanks to the law of large numbers and this 8 million population, it's probably likely there are even more here. Yet, the kindness of New Yorkers, not the crudeness, is what we've noticed.

Two days ago, I was standing to cross the street onto Columbia's campus. As soon as the light changed, a gent to my side said, "Hey buddy, the light's in our favor." This doesn't mean I don't also use my senses to determine when the safe time to cross is, but I appreciated the gesture. Yesterday, I got a little turned around on a route. After crossing a street I wasn't sure of, I stopped the first set of footsteps passing me.

"Excuse me, can you tell me what street this is?"
"Morningside Drive. The park is directly in front of you."

Was that hard? No, but many simply don't believe New Yorkers can actually be ccourteous and kind. Life DOES move at a faster clip here, so bluntness may be interpreted as rude, or directness as shallow, but II just don't see it.

So, don't believve everything you hear about NYC. It's not the unsaffe place it once was, and the attitude has seemed to have been lost, too.

So, c'mon to NYC! Visit us, have a great time and see why we're falling in love wiith this town!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Why We're Here

Most everyone knows by now that Marvelyne and I are living in New York. Most everyone knows it’s because I’m going to grad school. Some may even be able to state that my area of study is an M.S. in Narrative Medicine. But, over the last year or more, I don’t believe there have been more than a handful of folks who actually know what narrative medicine is. And frankly, a year ago, I was no different. So, here’s the skinny.

Narrative Medicine is a field which has only been around a few years. In fact, the term “narrative medicine” was coined less than a decade ago. To the best of my knowledge, Columbia University in NYC is the sole institution where one can study narrative medicine. Hence, our relocation to NYC for the 2011-12 school year. That’s the logistics, but again, what is it?

Narrative Medicine is a combination of health care, literature, communications, philosophy and a tad bit o’ social work. Interesting, right? But, what does NM do? Well, the goal with narrative med is to take these very complex stories of illness, healing, hospitalization, disease, disability and dying and turn them into something from which others can learn. Let’s take, for example, a story of a patient dying from cancer.

NM can be used by said patient to journal his/her thoughts and feelings as they’re going through the dying process, hopefully on their way to acceptance and peace. It can also be used by the caregivers who are treating the patient. After all, it’s a pretty callous health care pro that spends great amounts of time with a patient and does not get attached in some way.

Now, the tales of the process can be used by other cancer patients, cancer caregivers to understand the patient’s role, learn from the mistakes of other caregivers, etc. Again, NM tries to take these very personal, emotional and complicated stories and put them in narrative form for the comfort of those who are sick, with the added benefit of being an educational tool for the caregiver. Plus, there are many, many other applications I’m not even familiar with yet. But just wait - those times are coming!

Anyone who knows the speaking I do for health care can see the relationship between my work and narrative medicine. But the question still begs to be answered: “Okay Engel, this is interesting and fits you too a T. But, how’s it going to help the work you do?”

Well, for years, my main thrust has been keynote lectures. I’m hopeful for several different things to come out of this narrative med program.

First, books. With as much reading and writing as the program requires, I’m pretty sure there’ll be a few more Marcus titles in the not-so-distant future.

Polishing of my keynote: Through some of the oral communications of narrative med, I hope I can speak with an even more powerful and impacting style.

Third: More offerings to my clients. Now, instead of going too a hospital for a single 1 or 2 hour keynote, I can also teach the skills of narrative to all interested parties. I foresee myself giving my usual lecture on patient care in the a.m., then in the afternoon, meeting with a smaller group of front line caregivers and instructing them in some workshop form exercises about journaling and getting them to see the benefits of NM in their own field.

On Tuesday evening, the Narrative Med program held our orientation. There are approximately 25 students in the program, a little more than half were able to attend (thank you, Hurricane Irene, for at least helping most of us get there.) In my class there are physicians, playwrights, social workers, hospital chaplain, graphic artists, a nurse or two and several folks who’ve recently graduated, thinking they were going to med school, but needing to indulge their love of literature before entering the sterile world of health care.

After introducing ourselves around the room, we got into small groups with a few faculty members. From there, we discussed a poem with a health care slant, then used a prompt for a short writing process. Each person shared something from the prompt, “How did you get here?” We were allowed too interpret that however we saw fit. Most of us took on the task of answering the question about how we came to the field of narrative medicine, myself included. All of us, in some way or another, shared something rather personal… and this seems par for the course in NM. I look forward to these deep, meaningful types of writing instead of the fluff from undergrad English days.

What happens next? Well, next week starts the actual classes. As I get deeper into the program, I’ll share more. In the meantime, please enjoy more of Marvelyne’s musings about our NYC life at:


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

If you're along the eastern seaboard, you've likely been experiencing Hurricaine Irene in all her glory the last couple days. Me, too. Just as an update on the Engels, we left NYC on Friday after our flight was cancelled Thursday afternoon. Got home to Orlando Friday afternoon just in time to watch Irene reeking havoc on the east coast. Have kept an eye on her just to learn if we'd have a NYC home to return to on Monday. As of now, the damage seems minimal, but the shutdown of the NY MTA has things pretty jacked up. So, too, are the airports and airlines.

We're set to return to New York tomorrow morning...please keep your fingers crosssed for us. Officially, I don't have anything until Wednesday afternoon, but I'd prefer to be tucked back into our upper west side apartment well before my appointments.

And this is where being Zen comes in. And it's something I'm not good at. I'm a worrier, a fretter and just generally get all anxious when things are out of my control. So, I'm trying to breathe and be Zen with the full knowledge we have some wiggle room if the airlines are being silly and won't take uus home tomorrow. More updates wheen we return to the Big Apple!