Mask Removal Friday

I will read a new piece this Friday evening, called

“How to Remove a Mask? Carefully.”

It’s about how I talk to patients about uncertainty. (“Carefully”), and it’s adapted from my MFA thesis about the Puritan cultural roots of American medicine.

The event, called Dual Diagnosis, is organized by the Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative, with Profile Theatre.

    • Cost: Free
    • Where: Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., Upstairs Lobby
    • When: 6:45 pm, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019; I am the last of 5 writers reading short pieces.

Here’s the full event announcement:

Dual Diagnosis Performance — This Weekend!

  • 6:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 15 – 16
  • Artists Repertory Theater, 1515 SW Morrison St

Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative is partnering with Profile Theatre to provide a platform for local doctors, patients, and caregivers to tell their stories together. Dual Diagnosis features writers from our Community of Practice workshops, telling their stories of hope, fear, confusion and triumph, in dialogue with Profile Theatre’s mainstage performance (Un)Conditional, a play written and performed by people living with chronic illness. Profile’s In Dialogue series features pre-show performances that delve into the topics of the stage production. We’re excited to bring our artists to share their stories in tandem with a new community of patient, caregivers and artists. 

The readings will feature the following writers:

Friday, February 15th

  • Sally Foster Rudolph, Bird Friends & In Praise Of
  • Rebecca Harrison, Holy Moment Interrupted
  • Lois Leveen, Braincase Hook, Line, and Ticker
  • April Brennan, The Physiology of a Ghost
  • Merilee Karr, How to Remove a Mask? Carefully.

Saturday, February 16th

  • Jennifer Lycette, Finding Grace
  • Leah Walsh, The Illness That No One Sees
  • Paul Laskonis, The Day I Couldn’t
  • Ben Perin, Poems Patients Wrote Me
  • Carol Welicky, A Dance of Saints

Are Women Doctors Better? Data Says Yes

Women doctors ARE better — at saving lives, and at motivating patients to save themselves.

But in medicine, no good deed goes unpunished. Women physicians pay a price. Better work takes more time. Doctors are paid per patient visit, per widget produced, no matter the quality of the care. There’s no ka-ching! in a life saved, or a life empowered.

The (mostly male) powers that be look at women physicians, and see slowpokes who waste their workday chatting with patients, while the speedier men seem to be doing the work. Building relationships? With patients? And their families? What for? Unprofessional!

So women docs become less-respected, second-class, part-timers. Like me.

I know men who are great doctors and great people. But, as with household chores, they get more credit for having any interpersonal skills at all than women do for black-belt level interpersonal diagnostic skills.

Play reading of “The Moment of Death, A Comedy …” at Restoration Row Podcast Wrap Party


We read an excerpt of the opening scene of the play to introduce the characters, and then read a scene. I play NINA, Sheree Wichard plays MAMA and NELLIE MCKEAN, Ashley Turner reads the role of DR. CARISON, and Ingeborg Riedmaier reads STAGE DIRECTIONS.

When Ashley Turner contacted me this spring about featuring my essay “Plant Life” on Restoration Row, I thought my writing career was about over.

“Plant Life” was published ten long years ago.

Since then, I’ve written science journalism: about healthy buildings, and why Portland rats are special. But it’s hard to open doors to editors, as a freelance writer. Let alone finding homes for my creative writing, essays like “Plant Life” and the plays – I was ready to give up.

Creative people live in caves, isolated with our creations. When a fellow explorer like Restoration Row pokes their head in and says, ‘Hey! Hello there! Great work!’ – well, it brought my writing self back to life. So thank you, fellow healers. And thanks for sharing with me actor Sheree Wichard, who has proven to be a hard-working, inspiring muse.

Restoration Row podcast features my essay “Plant Life”

I am honored that podcast Restoration Row will feature my essay “Plant Life” in its first season.

The episode airs Monday, May 7, with audio of the essay, followed by an interview with me, by podcast founder and host Uzochukwu Chima.

I profoundly agree with the podcast’s mission statement:
Restoration Row is a weekly podcast that explores the resilience of the human spirit through deeply personal stories shared by people from around the world. We hope after hearing each week’s story you become more convinced about the restorative power of love and human connection and that sometimes healing can be found in the most unexpected places
We believe that the world of healthcare today is lacking in real empathy and human connection. In this podcast, we explore the healing effects of empathy, love and human connection through amazing real life stories.

Writing Practice is Where You Find It

Since the so-called election last November,  I have spent a lot of time brainstorming with and learning from like minds on Twitter. It’s an intense place. I chose to follow smart people, all of them as desperate as I am to save our country and the world. Clicking into Twitter feels like entering a cave I have painted with small bright screens, covering the walls and ceiling, each one dripping the concentrated thoughts of a mind that interests me. It’s an ironically private experience of public matters.

The 140-or-less-character tweet became my daily writing practice. As my Twitter skills and tools developed, my tweets grew sharper and deeper. To see what I mean, visit: @merileedkarr

Continue reading Writing Practice is Where You Find It

How to Write Fast

I wrote my new article on the dangers of indoor air in ten days, because I had to.

Last June 13, Meg Merrick, editor-in-chief of Metroscape, sent me a frantic email:


I don’t know how quickly you can turn your article around but we have run into a crisis with our lead article and need to come up with a new article for our upcoming issue. Would you be willing to do the article you pitched now instead of later? Unfortunately, we will need a quick turnaround.

Let me know.



By “quick turnaround,” she meant “in about ten days.” Normally I would budget six to eight weeks to research, construct, and polish a major feature article, the kind I had been expecting to produce for Meg’s Winter issue.

Ten days? That’s crazy. Could I do it? Continue reading How to Write Fast

I’m back

Hi, I’m back.

I apologize to my reader(s) for being absent so long. I thought I knew why I gave up this blog last fall – because I felt demeaned by the way a certain magazine changed a story of mine without asking.

But as I got over it, and sat down to restart this blog last weekend, a deep, paralyzing sadness came over me. What the hell? I thought.

So I dove into the emotional laboratory of my journal to place this feeling. And hey, it’s my old frenemy, helplessness, powerlessness, to help or save or protect something. I can’t protect my stories from careless or uncaring editors.

Well, so what? As a writer I should have thick skin. Why is this feeling paralyzing?

Oh, wait, right. I couldn’t protect Mama from herself. (I went into medicine to learn how to fool people like her into saving themselves. But I couldn’t save her.) I couldn’t keep her from crushing Daddy.

There was the patient I couldn’t save in med school because t I couldn’t make my residents listen. It’s still a heart-twisting memory. That failure to save someone who desperately needed help set off a crisis for me. It resolved in my med school senior thesis (a play I called “The Moment of Death: Or, How Your Doctor Got That Way.”)

Helplessness and I go way back.

Should I stop taking risks I can’t control the outcome of? No way.

Maybe I should send my stories out and trust them to take care of themselves. But they’re not just stories. I have a debt to the people who trusted me to tell their truth with actual facts. If the copy is wrong, I’ve betrayed them, by not being able to control the editorial process.

I can’t resolve this dilemma. But recognizing it helps. Here I am.

Science to the Rescue!

Part 4 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

How do science-as-protagonist stories work?

‘X is a problem. Now scientists can fix it.’ Science comes to the rescue. Science is the hero, that rescues a sympathetic victim from some abstract oppressor, the villain.

Let’s take my previous failed pitches for the Indoor Air story and change the protagonist.

Z suspected her home made her sick. She was right.

Many people suspect their homes make them sick.

Now science can do something about it.

Okay, graceless, but those are the building blocks.

The objective of the hero-character Science is the health of the victims of unhealthy houses, which are the Villain.

My original pitch offered cost-efficiency as the hero’s objective. My god, how unheroic! Back to the drawing board.

Science to the rescue!

Building a Pitch for Building Science

Part 3 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

So my protagonist has to be one or several building scientists. Protagonists come equipped, by definition, with objectives, obstacles to those objectives, and strategies to overcome those obstacles.

(I learned this articulated approach to story structure from Pauline Peotter, in her year-long course “Playwright’s Boot Camp” at Portland State. She refuses credit for inventing the method, but I’ve never seen it anywhere else.)

Who among my building-science sources has these attributes? Continue reading Building a Pitch for Building Science