Monday, January 23, 2017

we got no chance of recovery

Two weeks ago, the microcosm of safety in which I live was invaded. My cousin, who is supposed to get married in a few months, had a seizure. The day is a blur. It started with receipt of a frantic text message, then a phone call to a dumbstruck fiance, followed by throwing a bunch of things into a backpack and driving to the hospital with my stomach churning. I didn't want to be a physician at that moment. I didn't want to know the things I knew. A woman so young, with the symptoms she had, and the timing of it, there were very few things that could be the cause. So when I heard there was a mass in her head, I was unfortunately not surprised.

There were conflicting impulses when I got to the hospital. I wanted to hug her and burst into tears. I wanted to take her hand and tell her everything was going to be okay. I wanted to see the MRI with my own two eyes, wanted to speak to another physician, wanted to review her labs. I wanted to be everything all at once, her cousin, her protector, her physician. I'm not sure I succeeded at being any of those things.

In some ways, she turns out to be lucky. When the neurologist did show me the scan, I exhaled an involuntary expletive. The mass was large enough that it had caused swelling in her brain, and shifted one side into the other, likely in part the cause of those seizures. The part of me who was a physician checked out in that moment, and it was just about this woman who was as close to a sister as I'll ever get having a tumor, how her life was about to unexpectedly change in this instant. The neurologist had to get my attention to point out that the mass looked like a meningioma, one of the few tumors you can have in your brain that is not malignant.

She needs surgery but it will be complicated because the mass is so close to blood vessels. And she was stable and not having seizures, so by the next day, there was no reason for her to stay in the hospital. She's getting surgery in a week. I am racking up the miles driving back and forth to see her, mostly to keep her distracted from the uncertainty that lies ahead. We haven't been able to talk about her wedding and its feasibility because it brings up possibilities to do with her recovery that she does not want to face right now, and I can't blame her for that.

I wanted to be at the Women's March. I spent the day instead with the near antithesis of a feminist- much as I love my cousin, much as she is the closest thing I have to a sister, she and I hold wildly different beliefs about most things. But I was thinking of the march and thinking of the power shift in this country, and thinking of the uncertainty to do with my cousin's surgery. There are patients out there, who, when ACA is repealed, will have a diagnosis such as hers, will be diagnosed with a mass in their head, and because their seizures are under control, they won't have the luxury of arranging a complicated surgery. They'll be told they're not covered to get elective surgery, they'll be told this doesn't qualify as an emergent surgery, and they'll be stuck with a tumor lodged in their head for an undefined amount of time. My cousin is very worried about whether this surgery will go well, whether it will leave her with neurologic deficits, how long it will take her to recover from the surgery. But to imagine the added stress and turmoil that would come with not even knowing if she could have the surgery? It's appalling.

Friday, January 20, 2017

it is my day to live a simple life

Not great art, sure. Although, actually, I will say that if someone acts well, they can elevate even the silliest of movies, and I think that is what Donna Murphy does in this scene.

It's also, insane though it may sound, a scene I think about all the time on days like these. What she says, I believe in deeply. I always go back to the work, and it is always what I need. To justify my existence, to prove to myself who I am, to chase away all the doubts. Always, the work.

The last couple of months have been concentrated turmoil, and the election only slightly contributes to it. I think there is more turmoil ahead. But it is a Friday, and I am going to do what I always do on most Fridays. I am going to work. My colleagues and I will talk about science for an hour. I will work on a research project. I will write some more of a manuscript. I will see patients.

One of my patients will be photographed. She told me about her granddaughter, who at 10 years old, decided on her own to grow out her hair, then have it cut to donate to cancer patients who are in need of wigs. When I asked her if I could share her story, her eyes lit up; she beamed. I realized that in the end, this is what we all crave. To have our stories told, to be heard as we tell them ourselves, to be told our stories have value, to be remembered. My story is my work, among other things. Today, I am grateful to have that work. Others are not so fortunate, and I feel how much harder this day is for them.

Friday, November 18, 2016

what's the use in worrying about the ways in which the world might come to end

You can't tell me how to feel.

Today, I told a man, and his very large family, that the man had esophageal cancer. They knew that, but I told them the even more horrific news that the cancer had spread to his liver. I have been having conversations like these for the past five years, maybe even slightly longer. Somehow, even when I was a medical student, maybe because I was older than my colleagues, I was often the designated hitter for these gloomy talks. Once, when I was an intern, the other intern on my team confessed to me that she didn't have it in her to help a family as they transitioned their mother to comfort measures, meaning our ICU team would take her off the breathing machine that was keeping her going, and give her medications to make her comfortable. Here's the thing- the other intern was a white woman, and that patient was an old Chinese woman. And that other intern said, "I just don't feel comfortable" and I gave in to her, because the patient was the important one in all of this.

But you can't tell me how to feel. I felt a certain kind of way about that entitled white woman. I did my job and I did what was best, but I did not forget.

It's been a hard time, recently, with everything that has gone on in this country for the past year, and also in my own personal and professional life. There have been a lot of things that have led me to feel both this deep despair about where it's all headed, and also a profound gratitude for my insignificance, for my quite bearable lightness of being at present, childless, husband-less, and in some ways even orphaned.

Still, whenever I've felt bad, whenever it's all going wrong, from the time that I was 18 years old, and this is the very honest truth, I've gone back to the work, and it's healed me. At one point, it was in a hood with starting materials and solvents and stir bars. At another, it was just reading science journals in a library. Last weekend, it was writing a manuscript. Today, it was a difficult conversation with a patient and his family.

A few others have mentioned feeling right back like they did after that day in 2001. I've felt that way. I never felt so divided from those around me. Even in my very own house, which I shared with two white roommates. I was hurting too. All I wanted was to hug my roommates but we weren't feeling the same way about things. They were watching news coverage on an endless loop and like so many people around me, they were hushing any notion of dissent. Even though I grew up in a very homogeneous, white-as-snow part of the country, it wasn't until that day that I really felt with finality- these will never be my people. To this day, that feeling has haunted me. I never wanted to feel that way, never wanted to believe that to be true, and I consider it incredibly sad that I do feel that still at times. Fifteen years later, I thought maybe I had been wrong; maybe the dark chapter was behind us. Especially here, in my comfortable bubble of inclusivity in this very blue state.

But I haven't felt that way for the past week. And you can't tell me how to feel.

I have treated patients who have commiserated with me about politics - some of them have told me about their leanings unprompted. I have treated patients who have come into the clinic wearing NRA hats. I have treated patients who have asked me, while chuckling, knowing they are trying to say something discomfiting, if I have seen a video that brings to question whether the First Lady is, in fact, a woman. I have treated patients who have called me "honey," have characterized me as a nurse. I have treated patients who have openly made terrible comments about minorities. I once treated a patient who had swastikas liberally tattooed all over his body. I have treated a lot of other patients too; it's been a lot of years.

I used to walk into any patient encounter with a blank slate, with the benefit of the doubt. But you can't tell me how to feel, and I can't be quite so magnanimous right now.

So I sat down with this patient today. He and his very large family, a white family from a rural area, and I wondered, for a moment, what they thought of me, if they would be happier were it a white doctor breaking this news to them. It was only for a fleeting second that I pondered it, and then I shook the thought out of my head, and gave them this very bad news, and it did not matter who they were, nor did it matter who I was, not in a superficial sense. What mattered is they were collectively a patient and his family, and that I was a doctor. I told them the bad news, and they didn't yell out "wrong!" and they didn't dispute my words as being liberal propaganda. I told them facts, and they heard them. Some places are still sacred, it turns out. Some places are still bipartisan.

We sat there, and I told them the news that I did not want to tell them, the news they did not want to hear, and they told me how beloved the patient, this man, was. As they were slowly starting to absorb the unacceptable truth, the patient's brother, a teacher, looked up at me and said, "this is some rough job you have."

I replied, "some days, it really is." It was then I really got a look at his eyes, and it turns out they were sincerely kind. You can't tell me how I feel, and it will take me a long, long time, and maybe an eternity will not be long enough to feel a true sense of comraderie, togetherness, patriotism.

I'm reminded of these words that were sandwiched into a funny (funny because it's disturbingly true) bit that Amber Ruffin did for Late Night with Seth Meyers (she's a writer for the show, which has really found its footing in the last months):
But then you realize that by doing what you do everyday, you prove to them that you are unstoppable. They can spend their time trying to pass laws that take away your rights and silence your voice. But all you have to do is live your life right in their faces, and it proves that you cannot be stopped.
So I am relying heavily on work, and I am hoping others are too, in particular those folks that do the very good and true work of journalism and community organizing. And I am hoping those are not the last kind eyes I see from the other side.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

we will meet again someday on the avenue

Some updates- I have become one of those people who ponders things (and foolishly believes she has come upon some epiphany when really it turns out to be oxygen deprivation to the brain) while running. This is not to say that I also don't have the constant chant "please stop" running on an infinite loop in parallel with all that pondering.

I was thinking about why I have not been writing here. I thought before that maybe it was an overabundance of topics, so much to write about that I could not focus on any one thing. I thought maybe I was too impassioned and that was clouding my ability to write in some measured manner about anything that I felt to be worth the words. Then I thought maybe the blogosphere is just good and dead, and all that is left is strings of tweets and clever posts here and there. Then I thought maybe I just didn't like writing anymore.

Then I realized, as I was gasping for breath on my short run in the dark tonight, that it was something else altogether. First, I am not an authority about much of anything in the world. I suppose I could someday be an authority on my job, but not right now, and anyway, that would be a mind-numbing topic to discuss here in any detail. Second, the reason that I wrote, for a very long time, was to be understood, by others, and by myself. For a long time, I felt like every conversation I had fell short, like I didn't get to explain all that I had meant to say. Writing was a way to fill in those gaps at times.

But at some point I got older, and sure, life has gotten in the way. There is not as much time for navel-gazing these days. But I can honestly say that, were I this busy ten years ago, I still would have made time to have an existential crisis. It turns out something else happened. To paraphrase the TS Eliot poem that I so often have quoted over the years, I came to the place where I started, and knew it for the first time.

I am imperfect, as imperfect as they come. I still have plenty of moments of failure and failing to rise to an occasion. But I am aware these days, aware in a much more vivid way, of who I am, shortcomings and all. It's more than knowing, actually. I'm very comfortable with who I am. And I'm also more comfortable these days, more at peace with the notion that no one can wholly know anyone else. Not really. And that's okay. And a bunch of views into these thought-through words on a blog, they're not going to give you any deeper insight into the real person. That's what I'm starting to think. And I might be wrong, because I've certainly been wrong before.

You might not be around when I finally have something to say. Some of you left long ago, and some of you were never here. What I haven't reconciled in all of the above is that profound gratitude I feel when I do hear from someone that some hastily strewn words I've strung together have somehow resonated with them. Maybe the point is not really to be known or understood, but to recognize some commonality- and we are so fortunate, in many ways, to live in a time when that commonality can be sought out because of the many multitude of voices available to us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

pushing the needle too far

Today, I was in clinic and a notorious patient came in to be seen. A review of the chart had a slew of documentation preparing me from what could be in store- various encounters in which Mr. W had dismissed doctor after doctor at the VA where I sometimes train. His complaints had ranged from typical ones like frustration at the difficulties of navigating the system, to more telling ones, like accusations that he was receiving substandard care because he was at a 'teaching' hospital and that none of his doctors knew what they were doing because they were foreigners.

This is not unusual in the practice of medicine.

Mr. W had tangled with his last physician in my clinic, and it had gotten ugly quickly. He had asked her to write down her diagnosis. She had put it on a piece of paper in admittedly small and fine print, and Mr. W had peered at it with his poor eyesight and declared, "what is this, in Chinese? I can't read this." The doctor who had seen him that day, another fellow in my program, had reacted. She called him out flatly for what she had taken to be an ethnic slur. Mr. W subsequently flipped, and said "if you were born in this country, you'd know that's a common saying; people say it all the time."

As he recounted the incident to me, I wanted to tell him that I, in fact, was born in this country, and I said no such all the time.

But I grew up in EBF. The advantage and misfortune of my upbringing is that I can dissolve into a wall. I can seem non-judgmental, I can adjust, I can bob and weave, and I can avoid such missives hurtled in my direction. The blessing in that is it allows me to do my job. The curse is that I have to listen to the ugliness that lives in the deepest places in some people's hearts.

Mr. W is dying. He has a form of leukemia for which he cannot be treated, and just to add insult to injury, he has a solid tumor that has spread past its original site. He is dying without a doubt. And this is also par for the course in my clinic. Many of my patients are dying. Every one of them deals with death and mortality in their own way. Mr. W's way was to lash out and throw blame at anyone who he viewed as not his people.

Were I treating diabetes or back pain or arthritis, I might react differently I suppose. I might react like my colleague and tell the man he couldn't say such horrible things. But he is dying, and trying to school him on the ways of the world was not compatible with my job today. And so I listened to him list out every one of his grievances. I did not tell him any of his grievances were justified. I did not condone him. I just wanted to do my job. The man needed a blood transfusion, and he also needed to go to the hospital because his kidneys were now failing.

By the end of our visit, he took my hand so that he could make his way to the desk to sign his consent to receive blood. But I have no doubt in my mind, not even the slightest, that tomorrow he will be complaining about me, and talking about me as a foreigner too. I will be on that list of grievances soon enough. I know that. But I don't ever want to think I didn't treat someone to the best of my abilities because of their beliefs.

What I don't know is whether Mr. W is typically this racist, or if his illness had brought out all his distrust and underlying biases, things he would have otherwise suppressed as inappropriate. And it made me think about this country and the moment we're having. How there is so much hate and rage in the world. In clinic today, one of the other fellows was reading off headlines from his desk-

LA schools shut down due to threat of violence
Unarmed man shot in Butte County by police officer, caught on tape
Man with gun seen on Purdue University Campus
Man with road rage drives into front of hotel

I had this reflexive reaction to laugh, because that is what I do when things get this bad, when it's almost absurd. I sputtered out, "what is going on?" He looked drained as he just shrugged at me, as if to say we could only expect more of the same. And that does seem to be true. But why? Why has it gotten this bad? What cancer do we as a society have lurking inside of us that is causing these inherent biases and frontal disinhibition? Because something is going on.

In California, don't think we are immune to backwards thinking, because we are not. All the time, among my colleagues, who are highly educated white men, I listen to them bemoan the cultural competency classes they have to attend, and the unfairness of having to give a job to a minority or a woman. I have listened to them talk about how it is not right that they have to hire a minority or a woman when they 'click' more with a white male applicant. One white attending, who considers himself forward-thinking, said "it's hard out there for white men, we have to be so careful about what we say."

I wanted to ask why. Why is it so hard? Why do you have to be so careful? I manage to get through my entire day, every day, seven days a week, without saying something insensitive or inappropriate or borderline/totally racist. It takes hardly any effort at all. Why is it so hard for them? And why don't they ask themselves that question? What would be so horrible about admitting there was a problem?

Mr. W told me today the only physician worth a damn in this place was, predictably, the one white physician he had seen. Now, I know that physician, and he is a good doctor. But so was the Chinese woman Mr. W saw last week, and so were many of the other physicians he had seen. The other white men who are physicians, with whom I work, they think it is amusing when these patients come in with their racist ramblings, with their extreme distrust, with their demands to see an American doctor. They don't acknowledge that this is the very definition of white privilege; they don't recognize the toll such patient encounters take on the rest of us. Or that this is why even as a South Asian-American, which, let's not kid ourselves, is still a place of a lot of privilege, especially in the medical field, I remain at a disadvantage to my white colleagues. They will score higher on patient satisfaction surveys, frequently, just because of the color of their skin, and not once will they acknowledge that this is why they score higher. Partly, it's because we all work hard. Partly, it's because they've been raised to believe they are exceptional, and so they believe everything they've gotten is simply because they are better. And partly, it's because it's just a lot easier to believe it's fair than to acknowledge an inherent problem.

When you're living in one of the most liberal parts of the country, and you work in a profession that is at least 50% represented by women, it's disheartening to realize how far there is still to go.

My friends and I were talking once about what the cut off should be. We were talking about how, as physicians, we let a lot slide, especially in the way of inappropriate remarks, when it came from an elderly patient. We dismissed a lot by attributing their behavior to a different time in the world, when such thinking was more commonplace. We said eventually that population would simply age out, and we wouldn't have to tolerate racism and chauvinism from our older patients 10 or 20 years from now. But lately I am starting to think that's not true.

This is all jumbled up, as are my thoughts, as is my life. it's all connected, my microcosm somehow does seem to be a reflection of bigger issues. But I'm too tired to connect the dots just now. I'll keep trying to treat the racists and chauvinist pigs who have cancer. Maybe some day, someone will recognize the effort that takes.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

one flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher

I was wondering why I haven't been writing here lately. When other people have cited reasons for shutting down their blogs, they have mentioned that they are either too busy or too passionate about what they are doing to spend time on writing. And I am busy, and I do spend a lot of time writing rather dry, medical things for work. But there's more than that at play now.

There is so much going on in the world. And in my world too. It has become increasingly hard to write about some random piece of entertainment, or some random thought I've been pondering, without thinking of how insensitive it is in comparison to big things. Big things like violence and illness and injustice and inequity. It's often seemed best to just stop typing instead of typing something inconsequential when so much of consequence is occurring.

But then you watch a movie like Creed.

I know. That seems laughable. But the thing is, it matters. In America, in our culture, it just matters. Entertainment is our outlet, but it also influences our thinking, our perceptions. It even plays into how we see ourselves. It does this in ways small and large. I suppose even if none of that were true, sometimes you just have to write about what moves you. And Creed did, believe it or not.

Creed is an audacious movie, as much as it is also a formulaic one. If you want to see it as a by-the-numbers boxing movie, it's got all the requisite notes that make it clear this is a movie that can be seen as a Rocky sequel. It has the underdog, the coach who takes a chance on a kid, the love interest, the brash opponent, and the epic final match. And it does all of those things so deftly, it's easy to forget that the plot is very close to a remake of the original Rocky.

But consider what this movie is saying. Spoilers follow, but they will not really change your enjoyment of the film. The movie opens with a juvenile detention center that disturbingly resembles a high-security prison with a bunch of African-American boys who look like boys. Like true boys. And that alone is a halting visual. The movie does not flinch from the fact that there is a broken system here that dooms the majority of these young men.

And then consider that the main character has a lot of promise, but needs someone to take a chance on him. Rocky's cousin works in a local gym in Philadelphia, has been trying to get him to train his son, but ultimately, Rocky ends up choosing to work with Adonis Johnson. Yes, on one level, this is the story of how Rocky trains Apollo Creed's son to redeem himself for his perceived guilt in Creed's death. But on the other hand, and maybe this is because I've read too much about this movie going into it, but this is also the story about diversity, and how diversity happens.

In order for diversity to happen, someone has to open the door in order for you to put your foot through, and then you have to be able to stand in the room and be worthy of it (at the least, usually you have to be more than worth it, but that's a story for another time). This is as true in Hollywood as it is in science and anywhere else. Even though I hit a brick wall in STEM, and ultimately switched my leanings towards medicine, where it turns out I belong, before I hit that wall, I had a lot of people along the way who did help and encourage and gave me opportunities- I just got to the final door and it was shut. But it doesn't mean I don't appreciate those mentors, who were mostly white men, who came before them, who did help me, and who ultimately also helped me when it came time for me to switch course. I'm not grateful to them in a sense of 'oh thank you, for deigning to believe in me'. I'm grateful that they were recognizing a problem, the problem being that women did not feel welcome in the basic sciences, and were doing what they could to correct it. In the case of Creed, it isn't quite so dramatic. But Ryan Coogler pitched Creed to Sylvester Stallone, and he initially turned it down. But when Fruitvale Station came out, Stallone changed his mind and was on board.

That's not nothing on so many levels. Stallone previously had creative control, had written and directed all of the Rocky movies, for better or worse. So it's an act of trust and generosity to let someone else have a shot at it. And for that someone to be a person of color, well, that is not nothing.

You can see Coogler's love of Rocky all over Creed. Yet though the movie reveres Rocky, it makes room, it clears a space for a new lead. This is not a movie about a white guy who is a hero because he trains a black kid. If you really want to compare it to some trope, this is a superhero origin story. And the superhero is Creed, not Rocky. Even the last shot of the movie puts Adonis front and center with Rocky standing to the side. Supporting but not overshadowing, not taking all the credit. That is a thing to see.

Then think of this- how rare it is to see in a recent movie two people separated by several decades in age, neither of them trying to be older or younger than they are, and both of them benefiting from their relationship? This movie celebrates youth but also the wisdom that comes with age. This movie, to be flippant about it, respects its elders. But it's also grounded in the now in so many ways.

The fact is, the Rocky movies were never popular because everyone loves boxing. We never watched professional boxing growing up, but my family watched all the Rocky movies with fervor. Boxing keeps getting featured in movies because it is dramatic and because there's something essential about it. Creed gets to the heart of that, as Rocky explains to Adonis that you're really fighting yourself in the ring. The opponent is there in the movies because an internal conflict is not as entertaining on the screen. This movie's theme is about finding a reason to fight and then having the courage to give it everything you can, and every person in the movie is fighting for something, and it's the right thing. Even the supposed 'villain.' This is not Rocky IV. Everyone wins in some way or another.

And then, there is a whole different level to this movie. And that's what is playing out in the theaters. I went to see this movie in a town in California that is truly one of the most diverse places in America, in every sense, not just in terms of race but in terms of socioeconomics. All of Thanksgiving weekend, I had been trying to get some Indian friends to see Creed with me, and they all wanted to see the new James Bond movie or the new Hunger Games movie. In fact, they were a little offended that I would rather see Creed. It's interesting to me, this South Asian tendency to lean towards identifying with white culture (except, of course, when it comes to rap music, in which case, South Asians suddenly become Straight Outta Compton). But honestly, I just identify more with Creed (it didn't hurt that a hospital scene had some throwaway scenes with an Indian doctor who got to have an Indian name and no accent), and I've realized these small things matter. I am not giving my money to big studio films that don't reflect what America or the world look like, not anymore. I see those movies sometimes on television, but box office matters. And I was nearly giddy sitting in the theater today which was chock full of people of so many different ethnicities. We have a voice, we have a say, and we can and do vote with our wallets. Creed looks like it is going to be the #3 box office this weekend, which is good, but after watching the movie, it should be #1, and it should stay that way for weeks to come.

I think of how those Rocky movies have mattered to me, as a child and as an adult. They were about a lunkhead who didn't have much going for him but his heart and sheer will to keep at it. Strangely, that's meant something to me at various difficult times in my life. The new hero, Creed, has more complex things to say and says them well, and I feel like it makes a difference in ways that we don't even understand right now. And in this increasingly horrible world where so many terrible things are happening, we need art to give us hope sometimes, and to open our eyes at other times. So I don't care if it's just a dumb piece of entertainment. I've got no regrets, except I wish you had seen Creed too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I held my breath and you said something

Once upon a time, and it feels very much like a once upon a time situation in the sense of how far back (but not really, not really), I lived in a breathtakingly beautiful city. Inescapably beautiful. Punch-you-in-the-face, Tim-Riggins, Jordan-Catalano beautiful. My daily drive to and from work was an art school short film.

When you live in such a place, I think you tend to become lazy. You are used to the constant assault of picture perfection. Just before I left, I could walk down the street without being knocked off my feet. In the beginning, I remember talking with my brother at a rooftop party in San Francisco and blurting out, waving at the vistas all around me (and admittedly a little better with the help of spirits), "I think we've found the promised land!"

Which, in retrospect, is interesting, because it wasn't the promised land at all. It was a perfect moment. There is no promised land, I'm sorry to say. But there are perfect moments. Some of them are big. Like when you say goodbye to your best friend in an airport in Germany and know you'll never be close again. Or when you graduate from college and there are bubbles in your chest that are a mixture of nervous anxiety and optimistic excitement. When you hold your niece for the first time. When your cousin, after just doing something amazing, tells you that your support and encouragement inspired him towards that. When you make the decision to completely overturn your life to pursue a pipe dream and that moment that you realize the dream is going to come true. A first kiss. Then that first, intentional kiss. A perfect night out on a New York summer night. Sitting around a fire in the middle of nowhere in Maine. Standing over a roaring waterfall in Argentina.

There is a lot I don't have in my life. But sometimes we miss the trees for the forest. From the outside, perhaps it seems I don't have very much. And yet if you strung together all my perfect moments, it could be just as beautiful as the fog settling over the Golden Gate Bridge on a perfect San Francisco fall morning.

In San Francisco, the beauty was blatant and intentional. I loved it. I'm not sorry. But I realized that there are other kinds of beauty. Believe it or not, New Jersey was beautiful back when I lived there so many years ago (and probably even now). And where I live now is very much the same. It is easy to overlook. When I first moved here from San Francisco, I just viewed it as a means to an end. Good enough, but nothing special.

I don't feel that way anymore. It's not a beautiful place. That is true. But yesterday, I realized a cherry blossom tree has been growing in my front yard for the last three years and I never noticed it until then. In the fall, little yellow leaves gleam against the sun and sprinkle down onto the sidewalk on my way to work. In the heavy rains, everything turns a deep shade of green. Today, when I was walking home, another day of working late hours and not getting home before sundown, these very large dark trees waved out to me against the midnight blue sky. And it's not a beautiful place. But it will do.


Once upon a time, and this really was once upon a time, that far back, so far back that sometimes I can't believe I've been alive long enough for it to have been that far back, I used to get these letters (paper letters, no less) from the love of my life. Or what I call the love of my life, but I'm not dead, so who knows, that remains to be seen. We were all angst in those days, and back and forth's of what if's and maybe's and if only's. He was a very good writer, and I blame (or credit) that as to why I fell so hard for him. He had that Hemingway economy; he could explain better in five words what I couldn't quite put my finger on in five hundred. Once he wrote me a letter, and I don't honestly remember what it was he was turning over in his head or confessing to me. It was something that at the time twisted my heart in knots, but now it just seems likely to have been variations on a theme of wanting something to work out that was never destined to work out. He wrote some very anguished lines, the specifics of which I don't remember.

And then in the next paragraph, probably more to himself than to me, he wrote, "Pause. Take a sip of tea." And the entire tone of his letter changed after that.

Such a stupid, simple little phrase. Sometimes I don't actually fix myself a cup of tea. But I think of that saying all the time. I sometimes think he was put in my life just so that he could deliver that line. For lo and behold, I can be the queen of hyperbole and overanalysis and anxiety. I used to get crippling stomach aches when I was a child from just the thought of going to school. And every once in a while, I get into such spirals. A shame spiral, or a rage spiral, or a stress spiral, and I think the sky is going to fall on my head, and I hear this violent crescendo leading up to some fatal moment.

Then I take a slow, deep breath, let it out and calm myself. It's not always a cup of tea. Sometimes it's Dylan telling me, "all you can do is do what you must." Sometimes it is going to bed and forcing myself to believe that tomorrow is another day, another chance. Come to think of it, he and I read Candide together in college, and I don't know if all is for the best in this purportedly best of all possible worlds, but I do know that taking a breath, pausing, taking that sip of tea, it's a good way to cultivate your gardens.