When walls talk


By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer

Janice Lindsay reflects about when walls talk.
Janice Lindsay

I once had occasion to visit a doctor who was new to me and whose office I will never forget. 

Doctor-visiting does not rank in my top ten list of favorite pastimes. When the nurse left me, anxious and alone, in the tiny, bright, sterile examining room, I looked around for something to bring me a smidgen of warmth and comfort.

What I saw was the room’s only decoration — a huge full-color poster of a diseased colon.

Such an illustration might be instructive at some point in an unfortunate person’s life. But in that case, a smaller, more discreet graphic, pulled gently from a file folder, would feel less intimidating.

Lots of doctors display diagrams on their walls: the skeletal system, a cutaway of an eyeball, a knee joint. Those can be interesting and informative, since we hardly ever peer inside our own bodies. But as an aid to relaxation in a stressful situation, most of us would prefer the non-diseased variety.

Even so, something a little more soothing would be welcome, whatever the reason for seeing the doctor: a painting of a flower-filled New England meadow, or photo of a sunny Mediterranean coastline. My dentist displays, in his treatment room, a steadying watercolor of a sweet little sailboat on a calm sea.

My former gynecologist had no body parts on the wall. His examining room was decorated only with black and white photos he had taken himself. Nice idea. Except that in every photo, the subject was an automotive junk yard, scattered piles of discarded, bashed, rusting cars, hardly the image you want to peruse while the doctor examines your female innards.

My primary care physician cheerfully decorates her walls with drawings made for her by young grateful patients. Pastel walls are stenciled with flower and leaf designs. A mobile of silvery leaves hangs from the ceiling, gracefully and gently turning. It’s charming and calming.

You can tell a lot about a person by what he or she chooses to look at every day.

In my writing career, I’ve written for, and about, many different people. I’ve always liked to meet them on their home turf, to see if I could discern who they are by what they look at. Photos of children and dogs (warm and personable?). Original art or prints of famous paintings (sophisticated, discerning?). Paintings of battleships (hard-driving, clear-thinking?). Framed certificates from continuing education programs (proud of accomplishment? Or unsure of self and trying to impress?). Collections of mementoes from trips abroad (interesting in world affairs?). One business executive’s office was bare of personal decorations except for two three-by-five-inch photos of his two Mercedes convertibles, past and present (lonely?).

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably reveal what I look at every day as I write.

Family photos. A colorful, if amateurish, collage I made. A few greeting cards I like. Cat calendar. Autographed sketch by children’s author Richard Scarry from the 1970s. A county map. A poster of the cover of my only, so far, published book. Knick-knacks from friends, family, and trips. Two small grinding wheels from my grandfather’s workshop. And books. In my office I have reference books, anthologies, and 75 books about the European Middle Ages and colonial New England. 

What would a stranger discern about me with a glance in my office? Probably that my mind is a mishmash, a jumble, and all higgledy-piggledy. That might not be a good thing, but it’s surely more conducive to mental health than pondering a four-foot-tall diseased colon.

Contact jlindsay@tidewater.net.



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