Fresh Air
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a "talk show," it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights." And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country's leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators.
Critic John Powers returns from the French film festival to talk about this year's new international films. Top among his picks is The Assassin, a martial arts film by director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

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Whatever ... Love is Love detail....
In her memoir Whatever ... Love is Love, Bello describes the evolution of her "modern family," which includes her romantic partner (a woman), her adolescent son and her son's father.

Maria Bello is famous for her roles on television's ER and in films like Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence, but her new book is about her life off-screen. Whatever ... Love is Love is a memoir about family and relationships that expands on a column Bello wrote in 2013 for the New York Times. In that piece, the actress describes falling in love with a female friend, telling her 12-year-old son, Jack, about the romantic relationship and continuing to co-parent with her son's father.

Bello tells Fresh Air guest contributor Anna Sale that the name for the book was inspired by her son's reaction to the news that his mother had fallen for a woman. "He said, 'Whatever mom, love is love, shout it out to the world,' " Bello recalls. "And from that little nugget grew this entire concept and revolution, really, of being a 'whatever.' "

Interview Highlights

On what inspired her to write the New York Times piece

When I decided to write the Times article it was before Thanksgiving of 2013 and it was after my son's dad's 50th birthday party. And [my partner] Clare and Jack and [my son's father] Dan were there; my parents had flown in from Philly; my brother was there; all of Dan's family. And I looked around this room and I thought, "There is so much love here and there are so many of my partners in this room, and that love is fluid and no matter how our relationships change, that love is always the same." So I was just proud of my modern family and I wanted to share that with the world.

On telling Clare how she felt when they were still just friends

We were sitting at a restaurant and she was kind of in the middle of a break up ... and I said, "There's something I need to tell you, something important." And I start crying a little bit and she was like, "Oh my God, are you pregnant? Do you have cancer?" I said, "No, I have these feelings for you." Slowly but surely we worked it out, tried to be sensitive with everyone around us, I don't think we always were or did it right, but we tried.

On the language she uses to describe her relationships

It's funny. Sometimes people say, "How long have Clare and you been together?" I always say, "Well, what are you asking? Is it from the first time we met? Was it from the first time we kissed? Was it from the first time we had sex?"

People ask me about Jack's dad: "How long were [you] together?" A magazine asked us that and I said, "We're still together. We will always be together no matter how this relationship changes." ...

I use different words. Sometimes I'll say, "My girl," [about Clare] sometimes I'll say, "my girlfriend." I rarely use "partner," because I think the labels of partnership can be so limiting.

On co-parenting with her son's father

It's so complicated for a family to shift around and the truth is, life is fluid, relationships are fluid, they are not static. As much as we want to hold onto an idea of what they're supposed to be, people grow and change and often in different directions, and then what do we do with that? Some people just throw out, throw out the love. Some people can make it work. I'm not saying it's easy for us — some days we can't stand each other, all of us, and then some days it's different. We communicate as much as we can. We talk about it, but it's certainly not easy. But I think the only other option is throwing out what we have and what we have is something very special.

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Cover art from Do No Harm, by Dr. Henry Marsh....
In his memoir Do No Harm, Henry Marsh confesses to the uncertainties he's dealt with as a surgeon, revisits his triumphs and failures and reflects on the enigmas of the brain and consciousness.

Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh has opened heads, cut into brains and performed the most delicate and risky surgeries on the part of the body that controls everything — including breathing, movement, memory and consciousness.

"What is, I think, peculiar about brain surgery is it's so dangerous," Marsh tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "A very small area of damage to the brain can cause catastrophic disability for the patient."

Over the course of his career, Marsh, a consulting neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley's/St. George's Hospital in London since 1987, has learned firsthand about the damage that his profession can cause. While many of the surgeries he has performed have been triumphs, there is always a risk of leaving the patient severely disabled.

In the memoir Do No Harm, Marsh confesses to the fears and uncertainties he's dealt with as a surgeon, revisits his triumphs and failures and reflects on the enigmas of the brain and consciousness. Despite his decades on the job — or perhaps because of them — Marsh says that much of the brain remains beyond his grasp. He likens the mystery of the brain to that of the big-bang theory. "We're all sitting on an equally great mystery within ourselves, each of us, in this microcosm of our own consciousness, and I find that a quite nice thought," he says.

Interview Highlights

On the danger of brain surgery

You can nick the liver, you can remove bits of the lung, you can remove bits of the heart and the organ goes on working. But with the brain, although some areas can suffer some damage without terrible consequences for the patient, in general terms, it's very dangerous. Which means the decision-making is very important and ... in my experience over the years, when things have gone wrong, it's not because of [we] cut the wrong blood vessel or dropped an instrument or something like that. The mistakes made — the mistakes are in the decision-making — whether to operate or when to operate.

On the computer navigation system used in brain surgery

One of the ways brain surgery is different from surgery elsewhere is you can't explore the brain. If you do an abdominal operation you actually put your hands — nowadays a lot of it is done visually ... but when I trained many years ago in abdominal surgery you actually put your hands into the patient's abdomen and feel around. You feel for the abnormality. You clearly can't do that with the brain and [that's] why brain surgery was very limited until the modern era — we didn't have brain scans. It wasn't exactly guesswork as to where to go, but it was very difficult. Now with so called computer navigation there's not a real-time method but it's a way you can see on the brain scan done just before the operation where you are with your instruments in the patient's brain.

On how the brain creates pain

A lot of what we think is real and obvious, in fact, is, well you could call it an illusion in a way. If I got pain in my hand the pain is not actually in the hand, the pain is my brain. My brain creates a three-dimensional model of the world and associates the nerve impulses coming from the pain receptors in my hand with pain in the hand and it create this illusion that the pain is actually in the hand itself, and it isn't. The more you look into neuroscience the more strange and confusing it becomes.

On patients watching their own surgery

I'll ask my patients, "Do you want to see your own brain?" and some of them say, "Yes," and some say, "No." If they say "Yes," I'll say, "Well, now you're going to be one of the few members of the human race who has ever actually seen their own brain." It's a strange, strange thing to experience. I've actually had an operation on the visual areas of the brain, with the patient awake, at the back of the brain. I've had some of my patients — the visual cortex looking at itself on a television screen — and you feel there should be a philosophical equivalent of acoustic feedback.

On the mysteries of human consciousness

My thoughts don't feel like electric chemistry, but that is what they are. I find it quite a consoling thought that our modern scientific view of the world which has explained so much, we can't even begin to explain how consciousness, how sensation arises out of electric chemistry, but the fact of the matter is it does. ...

The sense of awe and mystery, for some reason, has gotten greater as I've got older. I'm not sure why. Maybe because many of us, as we get older, we start thinking more about the fact our life is going to come to an end, and we become a bit more religious and philosophical. If you don't have conventional religious belief, as I don't, I think in a way thinking about the mystery of one's own consciousness and the universe is a sort of compensation for that in some ways.

On being open about his mistakes

The public need to understand that medicine actually is often a very uncertain process. It's not like going to a car dealer and buying a car or getting things fixed. It's very uncertain. It's very difficult, and there's a lot of talk in this country as there is in the States about duty of candor and guilt-free culture and transparency, and I thought, "Well, I'm going to write a book," (which is based on a diary I've kept all my life) "which says what it's really like with no holds back, the good things and the bad things." Again, some of my operations are great triumphs and tremendous, but they're only triumphs because they're also disasters. If all operations were easy and safe and straightforward there'd be nothing very special about them.

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