Instead of wildly speculating, thoughtfully considering, or analogically writing about life as a dentist, I’ve actually been doing it for the past few weeks. Such a disconnect between writing and experience is precisely the reason I’ve tried to make it so easy to post things in this space and exactly why I am troubled when I do not. That is to say: I don’t want to look back and forget what life was like, so I seek to write it out here. And yet, when I seem to be living the most life, I’m not writing… I’m out living. Like coming back with no pictures of your great tour of Europe, because it was too exciting to stop for photos. I guess I’m someone who isn’t confident that memories in one’s head are good enough souvenirs of a life well-lived.
Immediately after getting married, I wrote little. When I did, it was nothing proportional to the magnitude of life changes I was experiencing. Yet, I remember that period with great fondness — moving in with Mykala for the first time, learning how our lives were going to look together, returning from our honeymoon to a house that was only half moved-in to, yet on its way to becoming a home. My memories of that time are rich, but I wish my writings were equally so.
Now, I am slowly going from being a student to being a not-student. I enter the dental operatory with my mask already on 99% of the time, which has helped to avoid the blatant questioning of my experience or the impossible-to-hide disappoint on some patient’s faces: Oh crap, I got the new guy. Spending all of my work-week in mouths has made me become surer in my actions, which seems to calm down those who may be wondering if they should reschedule with someone else. The other day, I was demonstrating something to Mykala and she told me I was “touching her face like a dentist,” which was actually kind of nice — like, hey, I’m learning some of those subtle things you do when you gain experience!
So, what else would I like to capture about this time; what feeling (that I might remember as a vague sense of this time) do I want to pin down and articulate, sharpening my understanding of “now” for future Alex? Well, I’ve started to get better at handling composite (tooth colored filling material), to the point where I’m actually satisfied with my work. It’s not that it wasn’t OK before, I’m just… insanely picky about my work. Really, really picky. Little stuff, stuff I know patients can’t see, bugs me. I want things to be not just OK, not just long-lasting, but awesome. So I guess I’ve also realized that I am really really perfectionistic, and this drives me from tooth to tooth to refine refine refine. This is excellent news for my career, because I’ve many years of doing the same thing—and that excites me. Most of all, the exposure of going from mouth to mouth, person to person, is helping to hone my instinct for what is normal and what is pathological. Being able to place your patients in a context, put them on a continuum, helps you make better decisions.
And really, I think this is true of any pursuit of excellence: you need to know how what you are doing fits into the tapestry of your profession, only then can you chart the right course.