Vyvyane Loh MD about

Write your bio, I was told. Tell us who you are in your own words. 

(Be forewarned: I can sometimes take things too literally!)

A. Wave

The act of naming, so important in many cultures, holds great significance for the Chinese. When I was born, my mother remarked that I was a lively baby. The nurse caring for her replied, “Then you should name her Vivian (sic), which means lively.” I present the following from etymonline.com:

1630s, from French vivide and perhaps also directly from Latin vividus “spirited, animated, lively, full of life,” from vivus “alive” (from PIE root *gwei- “to live”). Extension to colors is from 1660s. Sense of “strong, distinct” (as of memories, etc.) is from 1680s; that of “very active or intense” (as of imagination, interest, etc.) is from 1853. Related: Vividly; vividness.

So much for the Latin. My training in Classics as an undergraduate definitely fell more on the Greek side. Bios in Greek means ‘life’, from which the Latin vita arose. Bibiana, for example, is a Spanish cognate of Vivian. Perhaps in fulfillment of what was conferred upon me at birth, I went on to study Biology (double major with Classics) in college, and then, as a physician, to study the miracle of Life in its full expression in the human body.

Along the way, I realized that much of the healthcare industry in which I was trained is, in reality, a sickcare industry. Our current system prioritizes the delivery of medical care (in the form of drugs, devices, testing, etc) rather than the attainment of health. The irony was that early in my career I found myself burnt out and unable to care for myself, much less my patients. This forced me to re-evaluate my career and the conventional way I had been trained. I wanted a different approach and practice of medicine. For that, the first step was to go beyond the paltry definition of health we had been taught, that of merely being in a state ’without disease’.

The word ‘health’ (and its cognates, hale, heal, etc.) derives from ‘whole’; the mission then, was to recover the fragments of myself. For I had spent my life compartmentalizing aspects of me to fit categories that society so loves to devise. On the long journey back I allowed the return of play in science, art, literature, dance and music. If you believe as I do, that every individual is born to a purpose, then mine is to create. That is terrain laden with the topography–the heights, depths and contours–of invention, discovery, extrapolation and exploration from which I derive my whole-ness, my health and thence, the ability to heal. I take literally, my roles as doctor (from the Latin docere, to teach) and physician (from the Greek physis, nature): my services and strengths are in teaching and in restoring our bodies to nature, for we are indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I was asked to write a Bio for this About section and rather than recount degrees attained and my ‘accomplishments’ I have written my Bios, my Life, in ancient and foreign words.

I was named for Life herself, that mysterious cycle of energy flow that is death and rebirth. To misquote a Beatles song, “And in the end, the life you take is equal to the life you make.” My oath: May I always serve and nurture sacred Bios, and honour the Whole who is our home.

B: Particle

  • BA, double major: Classical Languages and Literature (Ancient Greek & Latin) and Biology; Boston University
  • MD, Boston University School of Medicine
  • MFA: Creative Writing (Fiction); Warren Wilson College
  • Board-certified in Internal Medicine & Obesity Medicine
  • Radcliffe Fellow 2005-2006 (Fiction)
  • Guggenheim Fellow 2008 (Fiction)
  • Novel: Breaking the Tongue (WW Norton); shortlisted for IMPAC award

C. Dark Matter

Vyvyan, vagrant variant of Vivian.
Further variegated by the final
that most flexible, industrious vowel
without which
English would be


My delight in that appended e is
its ambidexterity.
With Vyvyane in English
the e is unspoken, poised, watchful;
in other tongues it sings a lilting coda,
a little tail, wagging goodbye.

As a child awakened in mid-sleep
by the screeching tinnitus of silence,
I understood it as the place where
sonic batsongs and silent e‘s gather, demanding


D. Non-locality

My lineage is that of nomads–
Hakka, the Guest People,
regarded as pests when they overstayed
or strayed beyond circular walls
made to contain their scabrous sprawl.

Madeira, Taiping, Windermere, the Hebrides, Tierra del Fuego, Belem, Bhutan, Kathmandu, Istanbul, Ilios–

–crossroads and crossings, ledges and edges, intersections, borderlands, frontiers, charnel ground, womb, terra incognita–

The cartography of the known world is
defined by lines where
certainty and dogma drop
into void seas.
Where I am is at once
the Everywhere
that has marked me,
the Nowhere
that has mocked me,
the Anywhere
that has shunned me,
the Somewhere
that has summoned me;


Vacuum–which as you know–is not empty
but the sum of Zero



E. Entanglement

Every mind is an accretion and
distillation of multiple minds.

Herewith are my disclosures,
a confession of my Entanglements:

Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Rilke,
Heidegger, Celan, Hopkins, Keats, Wordsworth,
Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides,
Mahabharata, Upanishads, Gilgamesh,
Manyoshu, Libai, Dufu, Rumi, Heaney,
Coetzee, Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Shusaku Endo, Kadare, Kafka,
Bach, the Beatles, Brahms,
Milton Nascimento, Gal Costa,
Djavan, Elis Regina, Arvo Pärt,
Mrs. Wong, Mrs. Thomas,
Mrs. Simons, Miss Chew,
Medzhitov, Kubes, Straub,
Steve, Carm, Drapkin, Dino,
Carl, Sean, Patrick, Jean,
Sylver, Aparna, Anil,
Rosanna, Pete, CJ, Andrea,
Claire, Kit, Ellen,
Calvin, Xiaoyi, Horton
–Hopeless to attempt
a complete catalogue–
the list grows, shifts, changes
the way the earth
is shaped by rain, sun, tremors.

Rest assured I have received
no financial compensation
for housing these minds
in mine.

F. Heisenberg

Now you know my name
but only one
of many

Fernando Pessoa and his
seventy-five heteronyms
have nothing on me

We who contain