Sarkin originally wanted to be an artist, but decided an architecture career sounded "more professional." He changed his mind again during his sophomore year at Penn and went pre-med. Medical school plans evolved into dental school plans, which he later dropped.
Upon graduation, equipped
Self Portrait, 1995
with a biology degree from Penn but unsure of what he wanted to do professionally, Sarkin enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers University to study environmental science. Residents of the house he lived in at the time were interested in natural medicine; influenced by this, Sarkin decided to go to chiropractic school, and by 1982, he had established his own practice in Hamilton, Mass. "I was good at it," Sarkin says now. "I worked hard, and I really loved what I was doing. I was successful financially, and I taught courses all around the country and was well respected in my field."
Then came the ringing.
It started with a golf game in October 1988. "I bent down to pick up the golf ball, and I felt like this explosion had gone off in my head," Sarkin recalls. "I developed a ringing in my left eartinnitus -- and it was highly severe." He suffered with this unrelenting, unexplained condition for nearly a year while he sought the opinions of specialist after specialist. Finally, a neurosurgeon traced the pain to a swollen blood vessel pressing against the acoustic nerve in Sarkin's ear. He performed surgery in August 1989, which ended the tinnitus, but caused a massive stroke and put Sarkin in a semi-comatose state for two months.
After a lengthy hospitalization and rehabilitation (a part of his cerebellum had been removed), Sarkin returned to his chiropractic practice in 1990, but sold it four years later. "I felt that my abilities were still okay or else I would never have gone back to work and subjected my patients to that, but I felt like it was time to try something else," he says. Sarkin won't discuss how he now supports himself and his family.
Although he had little formal training, Sarkin had always been artistically inclined, with a slightly off-beat flair for the visual. "Even when I was a chiropractor, if I had a party, I would design the invitations," he says. "On the phone I would do doodles that were nicer than your average doodles, and would save them. And I always put more thought into where things would go in my house, visually, than it seems other people did."
That artistic bent mushroomed after his stroke.
"Thoughts of projects and ideas just flood into me," Sarkin explains. "Let's say you have an idea. Most people have a barrier to an idea. There's a filter. Know what I'm saying? Understand? That filter's been removed for me. I see things. Let's say you see a pattern in a cloud that looks like a whale. You're like, 'Well, that's really nice and all, but I've got to go back to work because I have a deadline.' If I'm walking down the street, and I see a cloud that looks like a whale, I go back to my studio and make a drawing of the cloud that looks like a whale, I make a sculpture of the cloud that looks like a whale. I get my camera and take a picture of the cloud, and I blow it up...So the things that everybody sort of just casts aside have taken on a significance for me that's obsessive." Continued. . .

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette | Last modified Mon, Jun 9, 1997