I have been doing a lot of work this week. This time by work I mean typing, transcribing medical reports, which is a job I started doing on the side in my 20s that grew into a full-fledged business in my 30s (to my joy and consternation, and not necessarily in that order).

Now, in my 40s, I have decided to step away from it in order to focus on my creative work.

This decision was a long time coming and is not easy, but it feels completely right, so in that sense it is simple.

Anyway, this week, one of my lead transcriptionists is on vacation, and in covering for her, I have enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the things I have always loved about this strange job, including one that I think has greatly informed all of my creative work, and probably my life too.

Have you heard of medical transcription? It means typing a medical report from dictation. So someone, usually a doctor, dictates a medical report, and the transcriptionist listens to it and types it up.

One of the key skills you need to be a great transcriptionist is the ability to hear. It is much harder than it sounds (ha).

When I first started out, I was truly astonished to realize how much my brain was unable to hear certain words if they were not what I was expecting. And once my brain thought it had heard a particular word that made no sense, it got stuck on it, and it was very hard to get it to open up again so that I could hear what was actually being said.

This having trouble hearing is magnified by the circumstances of transcription: dealing with audio with no visual, dealing with doctors who are often speaking quickly, sometimes with an accent, and dealing with terminology that can be challenging.

But still, I felt it was a profound message about how much we listen to the world through our chosen filter.

How much we experience the world through our chosen filter.

And I am using the word chosen there intentionally.

It made me think about what filter I had chosen, about what filter I wanted to have, and about how to actually change your filter.

In transcription, there are all kinds of tricks you can use to hear with a fresh ear. Sometimes you want to play the file faster, sometimes slower, and sometimes you only need to turn the volume up a little bit.

Oddly, one of the best tricks is to listen with the volume way down, I am guessing because it gets your intuition engaged.

Sometimes you just have to walk away and come back a minute later, trying your best to forget the incorrect words you had heard before, and then you can hear it fresh.

So in this surprising (at least to me) way, I have spent years practicing how to keep my ears, eyes, and mind open. How to find that receptive state…and lose it, and get it back again.

I was also practicing how to let go of my own filter professionally, creatively, and even personally.

I was thinking about this while typing this week, but also while squeezing in a little work in the studio. I had this one panel sitting by my palette, because it just wasn’t right. And I couldn’t hear it yet.


The closer they get to being done, the more effort it takes to hear, to stay receptive.

For keeping a fresh eye with painting, I have many tricks also, including squinting, looking just to the side of the area I’m working on, and always, always using a mirror, because it’s such a quick way to see the work fresh. When I see the mirror image, I can often immediately see what’s wrong with the composition.

With this little panel, I finally got that fresh eye, felt which colors needed to go where, and now it is truly done.


I moved on to these canvases, which are close to being done but getting some final adjustments.



With that last one it’s kind of like I’m doing a patch job on the bottom right, so that will take a bit longer.

But this week, here’s to getting unstuck. And here’s to finding all of those little tricks that help you do it again and again.

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