Chapter 03: Professional Goals Coalesce During a Post-Graduation Gap

Title

Chapter 03: Professional Goals Coalesce During a Post-Graduation Gap

Files

Loading...

Media is loading
 

Description

In this chapter, Dr. Cohen tells the story of his experiences during a two-year gap period after his graduation from Reed College. He begins with the influence of mentor, Arthur Patton, whom he had met at the age of fifteen and who encouraged him to take time off after graduation to spend time with his grandmother, Vanda Scaravelli, and take music and yoga lessons from her. Dr. Cohen describes the impact of this time, particularly on his sense of discipline, noting that his grandmother was his "main mentor." Dr. Cohen then talks about his uncle Alberto, who had a dream of going to India and inspired him to go to India for three months.

Identifier

CohenL_01_20160504_C03

Publication Date

5-4-2016

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Mentoring; On Mentoring; Formative Experiences; Discovery, Creativity and Innovation; Faith, Values, Beliefs

Transcript

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Yeah, and then I ended up doing two years of gap. At that time we didn't call it a gap year. But in my first year I went to live with my grandmother in Italy for a year to get to know her. And one of my key mentors who I met at 15, who was actually -- at that point I'm not sure what he was. He ended up becoming a successful photographer, but he was drifting in life and doing odd jobs here and there but got connected with our family and was a super intelligent, challenging person, who was really leading a pure life with no apologies, and leading the philosophical side of life, of lead life as if this is your last day on earth.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

What was his name?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Arthur Patten. And he really was leading his life in that way, and that just really turned me on when I met him at 15 and was struggling with high school. But I won't go into all the details in my high school misbehaviors. But we can go on the record saying that I'm glad my kids aren't like I was in high school. Not sure how my parents survived. But Arthur was very influential, accepting me as somebody who was not quite on the path. And seeing that Arthur was not on the path, he was making his own path. And it's like wow, that is cool.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Seems like your grandmother was like that too. Sounds like you were attracted.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

She was totally like that, but at the same time she was raised as an aristocratic -- she grew up in a villa. Arthur though grew up in an aristocratic family and said, "Screw you. I'm hitching across the country to San Francisco to explore my sexuality. And thank you very much, I don't need you anymore.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Or don't thank you very much.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

And he did it to his death on his own. And there's an interesting backstory, which is that when Arthur went to San Francisco, he had some connection and got a job as a truck driver for an antique dealer and this antique dealer somehow knew my grandmother. So when Arthur was saying, "I've enjoyed, I'm going to go and travel around Europe, and I'm interested in exploring Italy,he said, "Well, when you go to Italy make sure you visit Vanda Scaravelli and say who you are and that I sent you. And so he does that, and then he becomes lifelong friends with my family. One of the key people who worked for that antique dealer is Alison, my wife's, great-uncle. We didn't find this out until our wedding when Arthur said, "The only reason I will come to your wedding is if you let me take formal portraits of all your guests. So he set up literally a portrait studio. And when I brought Alison's great-uncle into the room to introduce him to Arthur they were like they knew each other from 40 years ago.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh my gosh, that's crazy, how amazing.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So it was really chilling that our two families were connected before we were potentially even born. It was like around the time that -- it's really weird.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

That is amazing, that is amazing.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

And that Arthur of course was such an influential figure in my life. So how did we get off on Arthur?

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Inspiration, the next step.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Oh, right, so I did my gap year in Italy. So Arthur is the one who said, "If you want to get to know your grandmother,which was the purpose of going to Italy, because I of course knew what a special person she was, "you either have to take yoga lessons from her or piano lessons from her or both. She was also a concert pianist trained in the Florence Conservatory. But being a woman, she was never -- but she had concert pianists come to her, and she would play for them. They would play for her, and she would give them critique.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

The coach.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So again all during childhood I would hear Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, and she had a grand piano and a baby grand and music was always in the house.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So did you take his advice?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So I did both. I took daily yoga lessons from her, and then she didn't teach me to read music, but just taught me a few Bach. The pieces from The Well-Tempered Clavier. And I didn't really learn how to play the piano but I certainly learned how to play those two pieces. And I learned issues around discipline of piano. But yoga of course is something that certainly was easier to learn, at least superficially, to begin with, than learning piano.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

What did you learn about your grandmother and about teaching from that whole experience?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

What was very interesting about taking both piano and yoga from her is although they physically look different from the outside, her method of teaching was essentially the same. It had to do with breath. It had to do with energy. It had to do with focus. She was a very disciplined person. During that time she was writing her book, Awakening the Spine, which was a yoga book that we all convinced her to write.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, neat.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So it was first published by HarperCollins in '91, so I was there in '88, and she's the first person I saw using a standing desk. She typed the whole manuscript on this ancient manual typewriter for most of the time with the typewriter on her piano, on this baby grand, and standing there typing away this book. And I was there and helped her. She would bring me sheets and say, "What do you think of this? Is this written OK? I wasn't the editor for it, but I was just there while it was happening.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

That kind of thing is so important. I realized that when I got into the academic part of my career. Realizing that I'd watched my dad write his PhD. Seeing someone do that kind of work, seeing the micro portions of the process, demystifies it, and I found it may easier for me to accept what my process was. Just having some kind of image of what that kind of high level intellectual work looked like. I don't know if you felt the same way about your experience with your grandmother.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Yeah, what resonated the most was the aspect of discipline. So every day she would wake up and she would do her practice, probably starting at 4:00 in the morning, and I wasn't awake for that. But doing her yoga, her breathing. I would come be her first student, essentially daily, for the time I was there. And then her students would show up after my lesson and she had about six or so students. She only taught one on one. She never took group. And she only taught teachers. So I was this chosen one, at least within the circle. And then her students, they were all 20-year veteran yoga teachers, and they would come for their lesson. And then we would all eat lunch together. And that was the morning. And then the afternoon at least when I was living with her she played the piano and wrote her book. It was really intense. There was lots of other things that we did during the day, and she had other commitments, and she would teach piano, and somebody would come and play something for her. When I was younger she would go and actually teach in a number of different places. I'm not sure the details of who these students were.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

But sounds like the center of her life was really with yoga, music, her communities of people she was connected with. That's very cool.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Absolutely. Yeah.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Did she have a pet name for you?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

No. Italians don't do a lot of abbreviations. You do Alessandro, my son, and people would call him Sandro. But no, and I called her Vanda.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, you did. How would you describe your connection with her?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

I don't know. She's my main mentor. She's so unique person.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Is she still with us?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

No, she died in '95. That morning did yoga and had a cerebral hemorrhage and ended up living for like two weeks when she really shouldn't have. And the doctor essentially said, "She has the heart of like a 40-year-old, so it's not going to give up on its own quickly. Even though she mentally was in a coma. Two weeks. Yeah, it was hard on my mother in particular. I didn't love the process, but I was there for the whole process and was literally in the room when they called it. It was quite an experience. It wasn't negative at all. And in fact there was no sadness because I knew, I think, she was ready. She wasn't able to do the poses exactly the way she used to be able to. And she'd done what she needed to do.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

I'm glad you were there. That's neat.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Well, I wasn't when she had the cerebral hemorrhage.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right, but towards the end.

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Chapter 03: Professional Goals Coalesce During a Post-Graduation Gap

Share

COinS