Sunday, September 30, 2007

the rise and gradual fall of a daily victory

Breaking news. I'm the kind of jacka$$ that can write several posts about how she hates everyone and then turn around just as swiftly to tell you that I went to a party on Saturday that was actually very pleasant with very pleasant people who happened to also be medical students. And sadly, I can also tell you that I'll probably be complaining about those same people in another two weeks, once the stress level kicks up near the time of an exam and everyone turns into gremlins again.

Saturday was the kind of day that turned Sunday into recovery, even though there was nothing wrong with Saturday. It's classic introvert behavior. On Saturday, I had to attend a big event in the morning that involved a lot of mingling. Now, this mingling was of the good variety (i.e. it did not involve mingling with other students) and it was extremely meaningful. But it also required a lot of energy.

On the walk home, I had resolved to make something for the party I was attending that evening. I know it would have been quicker to pop into the ever-beloved Trader Joe's, and it probably would have been better for everyone involved if I had. But once some foolhardy notion gets lodged into my head, it's surprising (or perhaps not that surprising to those who know me) how difficult it is to change course.

I have this bad habit of not testing out recipes before dinner parties. Technically, I am totally opposed to bringing experiments over for parties, yet in practice, it seems to almost always happen exactly that way. This adds an undue element of stress, but I am slowly starting to come to terms with the fact that I actually require a certain level of stress in my life. I'm not the sort of person who runs completely and solely on stress-- if I'm overwhelmed, I can get paralyzed. But a healthy dose of stress, that I seem to require just to motivate myself to snap out of inertia.

Anyway, end result:

In case anyone really is curious, which I sincerely doubt, I followed a recipe that can be found here. And when I say I followed the recipe, I use that term in the loosest possible sense of the word. If you actually follow the link, you will see that it is a recipe for Cheddar Cheese Chive Bread. And what I made consisted of basil, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and a layer of sun-dried tomato pesto. Clearly, I have a problem with authority. Also, I clearly am not in top form when it comes to baking. I was in a bit of a rush so it wasn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing bread. But it was edible, which was really all I was going for with such a slap-happy attempt.

Then it was off to the party, and today, all I wanted to do was curl up on my couch and watch awful movies. So maybe I did not accomplish a lot this weekend. But it was kind of nice, for a day or two, to suspend reality and pretend I was someone with this kind of leisure time on her hands. I figure if I pretend for long enough, I might just become someone who actually has the time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

everyone believes in how they think it ought to be*

There was this guy F in graduate school who was quite smart, but also quite, quite proud of that and felt the need to make sure everyone knew this. In fact, he'd go so far as to hold his exam up after the professor had handed it to him and actually say, loudly enough for everyone in my 25-person graduate class to hear, "Wow, I can't believe I got another perfect grade!" Then he'd also turn around and try to show his exam to those around him.

The funny thing is, everyone just kind of rolled their eyes at him and put their eyes back to their books. The class was filled with pretty sharp people, and they sort of felt sorry for this kid's need to prove himself to everyone in order to validate himself.

I find that funny now because, basically, I'm in class with about 25 F's, except they're less smart than the original F's, and then on top of that, I'm in class with about 70 people who do not shrug off such proclamations. Instead, they either moon over how superior those 25 people are or get so annoyed with it that it is really obvious that they're jealous.

So, see, I think this is my main problem with medical school, and really, if this is your only problem in medical school, you probably should shut your trap and be grateful. And I am pretty grateful. But I am pretty sure that, by and large, I dislike doctors. I don't like the self-importance, I don't like the fake positivity or fake altruism (in some), I don't like the blatant greed (in others). But most of all, I don't like the way they approach knowledge, like it's some kind of weapon. In graduate school, you had to know your sh*t, but ultimately that was going to come to bear in your research, not on how you did on one quiz. And when it comes right down to it, medicine ought to be the same way.

Of course, the way the system is designed basically opposes that in every way possible. First, there's the competitive process to get in. Then, there's the competitive process to match for residency. And about a million competitive things in the middle of it.

And my problem is not that those people exist, because I already knew I was in for that. What really worries me is the possibility that I could turn into one of them. The system is designed to turn you into this kind of person. So trying to keep my own perspective about things is definitely swimming upstream. I have my ideas of what is doing well and what is doing poorly, and I want to anchor my feelings on that-- but I can see that, even in the past month, there have been moments where my ideas have drifted based on external influences. I was able to shut them out and get back to my own center, but I wonder how long I will be able to maintain that.

You really won't believe this, but medical school lacks nerds. There are a lot of highly driven (maybe even madly driven) overachievers, know-it-all's even, but that is very different from being a nerd. They are passionate about things, but not about learning, not about the science of medicine. Maybe none of them care about the science, but to me, without the nerds, the educational experience is a bit lacking.

The bottom line is that I don't think I like doctors. But I do like medicine. And that's the dilemma. But I have to remember that there are definitely doctors I like a lot, and also that I don't have to be anyone I don't want to be. So I can tell that the biggest challenge that will face me in school is those moments of having to draw those lines, the lines that point out this is who you think I need to be and this is who I am willing to be, and then not crossing those lines.

* Even though I doubt he's reading these days, Abhi should note that I did something monumental today- I quoted a John Mayer song. I still hate him (John Mayer, not Abhi! I really need to work on my grammar), and I even hate this song (based on the lyrics) but I must begrudgingly admit that the music is actually kind of good. God, maybe medical school has gotten to me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I am stop and go in your eyes

Y'all, weird things are afoot. Lest you think I've gotten all serious and shizz, here's a whole bunch of nothing that's been on my mind.

As far as weird things go, I suppose the weirdest is that today RR pulled out the fine print on the whole will you be my kid's godmother gig. He's been conveniently feeding me information about this whole godmother business piecemeal, which, let's face it, just shows that the man is smart and knows how I run away from responsibility. So first he started working with me to schedule the baptism. That wigged me out a bit, but I kind of had a feeling that particular task was involved, so I dealt. Today, however, he pointed out that I'm going to have to answer, if asked, that I am a faithful Catholic. Technically, I should be okay with this- because I'm not particularly religious, I should not be too concerned with hell-fire unleashing upon me for lying in a house of the big man up above. However, there's something that really does not sit well with me about having to fib. Plus, I am an awful liar, and what if I have an outburst in the middle of the baptism and confess that I'm actually not a believer?

And since we're on the topic of fire and brimstone, I have been catching glimpses of the new fall line-up. Chuck, not so much. It could have potential, but it's not brilliant the way a really good pilot (cough, Friday Night motherf***ing Lights, cough) can be. On the other hand, Reaper has a lot more promise. I like the whole set-up, but most importantly, someone in casting had a moment of sheer genius when they decided to make Ray Wise the devil:

As soon as you see him, you think 'Of course! It's like this guy has been waiting to play the devil his entire career!' It's still a bit clunky and we'll see if the writing gets progressively wittier, but I am willing to give it a chance.

If there is a hell, I'll undoubtedly be sent there for pointing this out, but you can actually watch the entire season premiere of Friday Night Lights here. I'm a bit nervous, having seen it. There's still a lot of trademark FNL (I mean, Kyle Chandler's hair is ultra-expressive throughout), but there's something that feels suspiciously like network-tinkering. Of course, even with that concern, it's still better than anything I have seen on television in the past month.

My classmates are divided up between House, Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy enthusiasts. This makes me dislike my classmates. I don't hate all of these shows. I mean, I kind of do, but I can stand some of them. Okay, I really hate Grey's Anatomy. But what really kills me is this- if you have a few spare hours to kill in a week, why would you choose to watch a dramatization of what you're trying to do for a career? I mean, I guess I get it, but it strikes me as seeming awfully self-absorbed (hilarious from someone who keeps a blog, I know). Don't think I am singling out med students either- if you're a law student watching Boston Legal or some other sh*t, I don't get that either. But then again, I ought to be more tolerant- everyone has a different reason for watching the idiot box. For me, it's purely escapist, so I really do not want to see anything related to what I will be studying for the rest of the evening. Well, unless it's Jason Street's spinal cord injury.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ain't the way you found me, and I'll never be the same

Since I'm always a bit more negative and grumpy on here than I am in real life, I ought to mention some things I rather like about school. I know that in my last post, I adequately demonstrated how I spend too much time observing behavior in my class. I've also wasted a lot of time picking apart my own reactions and behaviors in this environment. But there are some other things I have observed that are kind of astounding, in a good way.

Yesterday, we learned how to do prostate exams. And when I say we learned how to do prostate exams, I mean that we learned how to do prostate exams (you know, by actually doing them). It was the third class that we'd had which involved physical examination. Think about that for a second. You're learning how to take a blood pressure, listen to someone's lungs and heart, and next up at bat? You're shaking hands with a stranger and telling them to lie down on their side with their back facing you. Thankfully, the stranger was a very seasoned, paid model who was incredibly comfortable with his body and thus made the entire experience a lot less traumatic.

I'll tell you what. I wasn't afraid of taking seventy billion hours of class or cramming for exams or any of those types of rigors. That's a known quantity, even if it's somehow more extreme than previous experiences. But doing a prostate exam? Yeah, I was pretty anxiety-ridden about that. In general, I'm most afraid of the doctoring part of being a doctor. Not because I want to have my nose buried in books all my life (contrary to what it may often appear what with my ultra-nerdiness). But it's more because there is very little that can prepare you for these types of things. Some things you can only learn by doing.

So yesterday brought to mind the first week of class, as a result. Because the first week of class, what I feared most was Anatomy. I had never taken an Anatomy class before. And again, memorizing every branch of the brachial plexus is not really, ultimately a big deal. But I had no idea how I was going to react to being in the same room with a considerable quantity of cadavers. I also had no idea how I was going to react to cutting into someone who was once, but no longer is, alive.

The first week of lab, my group stood there regarding each other, none of us quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into. We were so tentative and uncertain. And it really blows my mind that it was less than two months ago. Because nowadays, we're slapping our gloves on and getting arm deep in colon without the slightest hesitation. It just astounds me how quickly you get over things in medical school, whether it be cutting into human flesh or examining a man's prostate. These things seem like they'll haunt you forever, but you very quickly shrug them off as commonplace and unremarkable. It says to me a lot about the capability of the mind- not just a medical student's, because I really do not think they possess some unique ability. If you think about it, it's like a compressed version of heartbreak- you think you'll never get over it, and this goes on for some time, until one day, you wake up and his face has become a bit of a blur, and yet another day, someone else catches your eye. The brain is designed for resilience, for getting over a lot more than we ever imagine, it seems.

This does not even get to the original impetus for mentioning the good, though. Because the other thing I really like about school right now is that it's not about anyone else. Sure, some people make it about other people, but here's the thing. It's pretty intense. Not OMG, I can't handle this! intense, but intense enough that you have to figure some stuff out, and you have to figure it out fast. It will not do to simply follow the crowd. I feel like school has been a process for me for the past two months, of figuring out what things work and don't work for me, how I learn, what I can retain and what I can't, which subjects are intuitive and which require correcting the way my brain reasons, which subjects I can study in group settings and when I need quiet me time. Anatomy, that class I initially feared like a little sissy, has turned into a fascination- it's basically like taking a foreign language class. Well, except that it's a foreign language class coupled with these visual and tactile components. And it's sort of neat when you figure out how to integrate all those components to figure sh*t out fast.

In a way, I learned that last bit from Indian Uncle. He and I, in our quibbling uncle-niece dynamic, went on a kind of west coast tour before one of our exams. Taking our show on the road, someone would ask us a question and the two of us would do our little back and forth about how we made sense of a thing. And whoever asked the question either took one of our sides or (more often) melded our quibbling into something that made sense to them. And weirdly, to me, that's more important than being able to explain something perfectly- it's far more pleasant to see someone else take your words and make sense of those words in their own way. Then again, anyone who enjoys writing might point out the same thing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

never sure when I need you, pleased to meet you

This post feels overdue, even though I don't have anything in particular to say.

I'll tell you the truth. It feels like I've joined some sort of club unintentionally. I just want to use the pool for a swim, but instead I'm stuck with a bunch of a$$holes- it comes with the price of admission, I know, but I don't like what it brings out in me. It brings out in me the desire to be vicious to people who wallow in unwarranted self-pity. Unfortunately, that also means it brings out in me the tendency to isolate myself when I am feeling a bit brooding or overwhelmed.

For the most part, that is okay. Every other Monday we have a test, and so, every other Monday all the good will I have started to feel towards my fellow classmates disappears and gives way to complete annoyance. For the most part, I do not like these people and the way they react to stress, even still.

And so I go back to playing the alien, a role I've played for years now, it seems. The role of someone perpetually on the outside looking in. But when do I start to live the moment rather than observe it? Is it self-consciousness that makes me turn the world around me into a slide under a microscope, or is it simply a coping mechanism to deal with the constant nonsense cluttering the world around me?

I've started to classify my classmates:
  • Baby Geniuses. Pretty self-explanatory.

  • Muppet babies. Also pretty self-explanatory- these are the people that tend to herd around each other and constantly want to know how everyone else is doing in classes even though a) we are not graded on a curve and b) for the mother****ing millionth time, the classes are pass-fail.

  • You down with OMG!? These (mostly) girls tend to laugh a little too loud, are irrationally bubbly and omg, love everything. They love school, they love studying, they love life. And they will not have you thinking otherwise. In other words, you're likely to see them break out into a messy sobbing fit by the end of the year.

  • Silent but deadly. These jerks are fairly smart, but are one of those intelligence-hoarders. Even at a pass-fail school without a mean, they are not helping anyone. They are, however, perfectly fine with taking any manner of help you wish to provide them.

  • I have lived! These people tend to make me coo over them, because I find it cute that people think they've had a lot of life experience because they've worked for 1-2 years before going back to school. They also tend to think they're more mature/sensible than everyone in the class, which is equally funny and cute.

  • Fonzies. These (mostly) guys tend to crack me up the most. A lot of swagger, tend to make bold statements about how everyone needs to calm down. A lot of "Ha! What a bunch of nerds!" comments. Definitely goes home and crawls under a desk into the fetal position if anything goes wrong in exams. These guys have interestingly started to quiet down over the past week...

  • #1 Stunna/Gunners. Pretty obvious. I sort of have begrudging respect for gunners because a) they can usually back that sh*t up and b) at least they're being totally transparent about their intentions, which mostly involve squashing anyone in their path and matching to dermatology or orthopedics. However, occasionally, they're really arrogant pricks to the instructors and something in my genetics gets very offended when teachers are at all disrespected. (Side note: one gunner told me last week that he thinks basic science research is a "****ing joke" and that no basic science researchers should be allowed to teach class. Do you know how hard I had to work to suppress a "oh no you di'nt!"?)

  • Cry Me a River Club. Also known as recent graduates of the George W. school of "this is hard work." The polar opposite of gunners, these fools confound me because I have no idea what they were doing here. They question why they decided to go to medical school (that earns my ire, because it's so competitive and so many people want to go that you're just an a$$hole if you didn't spend some time thinking about it before you jumped on the wagon). They complain about how hard it is and how much work it is (this also earns my ire, since I have to spend hours resisting the urge to yell, "What did you think you were signing up for, basketweaving?")

And so on and so forth. I could keep doing this, but I know it's a bit dangerous to do this. Once you start making categories, people become categories and not people. Right now, I suppose I organize these people in my mind this way, but I try not to dismiss people because of it. Still, I get the same old sense I've been getting for the past five years. I thought, in the past, that it was a result of having this entirely different path I was on than those around me. I thought that was why I didn't feel close to anyone. But now, I really question that. Because it's the same deal- I don't really trust anyone around me, don't really toy with the notion of relying on anyone. Is it always going to be like this, I wonder, from here on out? It's not such a bad way to be, I know, but I suppose I never thought about it until now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

sometimes you know more is less

Over the past year, you might say I fell for two guys. You might say that, but you'd be more accurate if you characterized it as tripping or, even more appropriately, stumbling. Falling implies a kind of force that never really amassed in either of these cases. It was weird and that was kind of how I knew it wasn't really falling. If you stop in mid-air to ponder, "Hmmm.... life seems a bit light and airy, I may possibly be falling," chances are you are not really falling. You're either imagining it or confusing it for something else.

I wasn't really even disappointed, which was also strange. Two guys popped into my life and, for wildly opposing reasons, something about them appealed to me. But I didn't man up or they didn't man up, and nothing came of it, and it was not even vaguely tragic. And yet, with my twisted logic, the lack of tragedy felt a bit tragic. What if I am not capable of more than stubbing my toe on the sidewalk nowadays?

But yesterday I realized I've fallen for two guys in my class. One is the Indian Uncle to end all Indian Uncles. Okay, not really, because he hasn't delivered any misguided analyses regarding my marital status. But otherwise, bona fide Uncle-ji. We've sort of evolved over the past month, and now it's all I can do not to hug him. He has started to annoy people with his know-it-all Indian Uncle way of arguing, and I serve as the comic foil to dampen his shrill behavior. It's almost like I'm his interpreter. He reminds me so much of my mama's that I can't help but tease him playfully, mediating his middle-finger pointing arguments, serving as a kind of surrogate relative who gladly tolerates his let-me-tell-you-one-thing-only streaks.

Two is this meek, soft-spoken fellow who talked to me today after class. There was nothing particularly profound or meaningful about this conversation. Except that you can hear the sound of someone genuinely interested in getting to know you, you can hear sincerity without a trace of a$$hole in someone's voice. And that was what I heard in what he said, in the questions he asked, in the kindness in his eyes.

I walked home with a dumb grin on my face. It is all kind of absurd- I would probably join a convent before I would find either of these dudes in any way attractive in that sense. Yet, what I feel for them seems a lot more meaningful, useful, and worthwhile than the noise with those two clowns over the past year. This would probably be the cue for some bona fide Indian Auntie to shake her head and tell me my priorities are a mess. Luckily, though, there are no Aunties in school with me and Indian Uncle-ji's ego would be too inflated to give me such a lecture.

Monday, September 17, 2007

you'll come apart and you'll go black

"Don't be a chicken," I think. "Don't not write about it just because it is somehow ugly, insecure, even disturbing."

Continue to look for your honest voice, she had said all those years ago.

Sometimes, I could be honest, with you, with myself. But sometimes is not good enough when it comes to writing. And if I've been holding my fingers from the keyboard, restraining myself from letting out words, it is not because life has been all rainbows and unicorns. And nor is it because there is so much to tell that there is nowhere to start. I could say, I could feign those things, but it's stonewalling, it's what I tell myself even to let myself off the hook.

There's this problem with honesty and writing. If I'm really honest, if I'm really telling the truth, I have to admit that it's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, this past month, and not in the "whee, who knows where this will lead" way. Rather, it's the crazed highs and the irrational lows. It's feeling invincible one moment and fully fragile and perishable the next. It's being unsure even when you're sure. It's feeling brilliant followed by feeling like a total moron.

And I haven't written about the rollercoaster because when you're acquainted with this ride as I am, you know it's temporary. You know it's not grounded in any real concern, any real crisis. But if I'm going to keep writing here, anywhere for that matter, I have to square with this. I know I may sound like an ungrateful wench at times, having gotten exactly what I wanted and still feeling the occasional twinge of holy sh*t. And I know, even in the lowest of the lows of the falls from breathtaking heights, there's nothing to regret- which makes writing about it all so strange. What am I complaining about and am I even complaining.

I still have a clarity of purpose. I still know what I'm doing and why. But it has taken over my life, for better or worse, and I think I have to write about that, even if it's in this incoherent manner.

So I went to the water. I walked along the shore, where the waves were sparkling in the late hours of the afternoon, the dying hours of the day. Surfers skimmed along, suspended for a moment before a crash of water knocked them off their boards. They never minded. They were felled by the ocean and they seemed to know they were never going to conquer or tame this beast. And yet, they got back on their boards and paddled out to catch the next wave.

For a moment, it was the strange feeling of home, the feeling of home in a place where I hadn't grown up. Or maybe I had. In San Francisco, it felt as though I materialized again. It felt as though the city gave me a daypass and let me pretend. And I fell off the board into the water, and knew that I'd never beat these ethereal unknowable adversaries. Better to make my peace with the fight, with the neverending, beautiful attempt to stay suspended for that precious stretch of time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

because they made you from the light

This has not been a great week, especially for blogging. Lately, when I think of blogging, in my head, I hear blahgging, and then a recent Cracked article hit such a nerve with me that I really started thinking about how I am using technology and how I should be using technology. But don't worry. This post is not about any of that, though its topic is equally grumpy, I suppose.

I don't have anything profound or optimistic to say about today. Somehow, this day is tied up with so many thoughts and events and changes to me that I don't know how to ever start to unravel them into anything coherent. I can say this. I haven't stood on solid ground since that day, six years ago. Some of that has been bad and some of that has been good. But most of it has to do with illusion. Most of it has to do with sensing, suddenly and with great certainty, that life is not a permanent condition. Some things are always inarguably true; it's just a matter of choosing to be aware of them or not.

It's somehow fitting to me, today, to have not turned on the television today. Sure, television provides some fantastic escapism. But this marks the 6th anniversary of me swearing off the televised news. I know. Maybe some of you will tell me Anderson Cooper is lovely and Keith Olbermann is the cherries and Brian Williams is not such a bad guy. Maybe all of that is true. But that was it for me, that day, 6 years ago. It's a strange reaction, and yet one that has endured. Tsunamis, Katrina, Virginia Tech shootings, always the same effect- the more horrific the tragedy, the more quickly I turned the television off, or rather refused to turn the television on. Maybe some of you will find that apathetic. I can't perhaps explain what goes on in my head. But let me just say this, with no pretense whatsoever (because, come on, this is coming from someone who has admitted to watching The Hills): television cheapens everything.

And so, I feel like the best way to honor all tragedies is not to cheapen them, and not to watch them be cheapened.

But I guess there is something else about today, something else that there will always be for me from now on, something that is maybe optimistic, if not profound. W lost one of his closest friends from childhood six years ago today. His daughter's middle name is that lost friend's name. So that he will always be with W. I don't think W gave her the name so that he would not forget. He was never in danger of forgetting. I think he gave her the name to lessen the blow. If he gave her the name, he keeps a piece of his friend alive with him always. And if that name is associated with a smiling baby girl with an infectious giggle, it must hurt just slightly less every time he hears the name uttered. And that baby girl of his- she is my recently dubbed goddaughter.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

like a rolling stone

It had just stopped raining, and I had just finished driving the two hour route. When I pulled up to the familiar yellow colonial, it was deserted. I dawdled in the small white porch that lined the front of the house for a bit- a pile of dusty books were tilting in a box. I went back to my car and waited inside, not wanting to cause any suspicion.

A few moments later, the jeep pulled up, hopping a curb to get into the driveway. AL and his mom got out, his mom chiding him for jumping the curb. As they arrived at the house, they kept bickering, his mom telling me that the house was a disaster because her son had cluttered it up, while AL quickly pointed out that most of the junk was hers not his. It had been at least two years since I had seen AL's mom, but she treated my arrival like she would have anyone just dropping over for a cup of coffee. Me, I kind of liked that.

You could cynically think that they were just so self-involved in their little world, the little world of mother and son, that no one paid me any mind. But when I got into the foyer, AL's mom turned around suddenly and said, "hey, let me see the soles of your shoes."

I thought maybe she found my Puma's interesting, as AL had been teasing me in Spain that these shoes were very Euro. So, after making her repeat herself once more, I lifted my heel to show her. She grinned. "No moss gathering on them!"

It took me a while to understand what she was saying. She repeated it again with this amused wonder in her voice. Something about the Maine accent or the repetition or the tone just made me feel all warm inside.

Especially coming from her. Now, AL, he's your basic clown, your Labrador Retriever/Man-Child. He's great, but he doesn't exactly exude any alumni status from the School of Hard Knocks. His mom, strangely, doesn't either. But this is a woman who raised two kids as a single mom at a time when that was quite uncommon. She started running daycare out of her house. And when her kids were old enough to go to school, she started getting involved in PTA meetings.

At the PTA meetings, she started to find something. She was good at this stuff, this stuff that required someone to grab a situation by the reins and steer it properly. One thing lead to another, and this single mother of two went on to become mayor. Twice.

I won't lie- I've always been envious of AL for his relationship with his mom, and for his mom in general. She's got such natural confidence in a way that not many women have- she's not threatened by other women, and she's certainly not threatened by men. She connects with people. When I used to visit, we'd go into town, and within minutes, she'd be engaged in some conversation with a random person on the street. It seemed like everywhere we went, she had someone to talk to-- once we were showing her around Manhattan, and she ran into someone she knew.

Beyond that, she's also generous. AL would invite us all over for New Year's Eve up in his hometown, and we'd go out carousing all night. And when it was getting to be around 1 a.m, it was his mom who would show up in her station wagon and give us all rides home. We were all grown adults at this point, and we could have taken a cab, or even walked home. But she's like that. And sure enough, when she pulled up, she'd give the bouncer or bartender a wave, because she knew him from somewhere too.

And now I am jarred. I am really, truly confused, although I am in med school, and I understand science, and I don't believe in intelligent design. But still, my twisted logic overrides any such knowledge and all I can think is that someone this strong is too strong for anything to hurt them. Someone this warm can never be struck with anything chilling. But AL's mom, it turns out, has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. And I just can't believe it.

Also, since I am a turd, let me just pass this piece of advice on to anyone willing to hear it: don't blow off the good people in your life, because you will feel like an absolute piece of refuse when you find out that they have been tackling some real demons while you've been battling imagined ones.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

take your instincts by the reins

I'm making chocolate chip cookies right now. It's not a smart thing to do, when I have a whole bunch of reading to do, it's 90 degrees in my apartment (but of course, these days, 90 degrees is called "cooling down"), and I just looked at some embalmed lungs, up close and personal. I guess it could be worse- I could be telling you about how I was just fixing to broil myself a steak.

Instead of studying, as I should have, this long weekend, I spent a lot of time doing little things that are my version of chilling out. I roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic. I made muffins. I brewed myself a big pitcher of iced green tea and sweetened it just slightly with honey. I began working on a little project that might be useful come winter. I pondered how I might spend my vacation in December. It's a sad fact, but it's time to admit the truth- this is my idea of decompressing. These days, going out to a bar and getting loaded with friends is not my idea of chilling out. Which is weird, because it would have been probably as recently as three months ago.

But that's just what happens, and I know partly it's to do with the state of my life at the moment. It's a good state, mind you. But it's pretty self-contained and isolated, and I spend a lot of time even more self-absorbed than I have in quite some years. I waste a lot of time assessing what I need to do for myself, how best to take care of myself, what I need on any given day.

I don't think it's just school that's brought this about. I think it's just feeling very much alone. Not alone in a bad way. I know no one believes there can be a feeling of being alone in a good way. But I don't mind the solitude. It's just that I'm quite aware that there's no one here looking out for me. I could pull some dumb sh*t in SF, and someone (more often than not RR) would notice and slap some sense into me. But I don't have that luxury right now, because there are no RR's checking in on me. I mean, he is, by email, but it's a bit more removed.

That's the right word for it- removed. I feel removed, and I feel you have to be removed in some ways. But on the other hand, I've already made a mess of a few things and I need to clean them up quickly, instead of relying on the old but I'm very busy with school Twinkie-defense. The tipping point occurred a few weekends ago, when I suddenly had this surge of disappointment towards a number of people. People who'd been clingy at one point or the other over the past year, people who'd been all you're my BFF!, but who had made little to no effort to check in on me now that I have a lot to reckon with. I never had big expectations of such people, so mostly, I was annoyed with myself for being annoyed, if that makes any sense. And in the next instant, I was even more annoyed with myself, because I noticed I was conveniently forgetting a very important point- while I was sitting there b*tching about these people, there were handfuls of emails in my inbox, emails from other people who have genuinely been asking after me, emails that have gone unanswered. So, that's when I realized I was pretty much full of crap.

That's the problem, when I get like this. The removal isn't just circumstance. I'm removing myself. And I need to stop doing that. Just as soon as I finish baking these cookies.

p.s.: It's the best-hearted blogger's birthday today- seriously, I do not think this girl (and yes, dear, you're still a girl to me) has ever had a hint of malice in her fiber towards anyone. Happy happy, V!

Monday, September 03, 2007

things fall apart, it's scientific

There are these teensy but critical structures in our bodies called microfilaments and microtubules. They sort of get short-changed or taken for granted when you're learning biology. They're kind of like the frame of a house. No one really looks at a finished house and appreciates how sturdy those frames are, since they can't really be seen and they don't have a whole lot of aesthetic value. But if that frame was flimsy, you can kiss that house goodbye in short order.

So microfilaments and microtubules give cells shape and provide them with some structure, not too much and not too little. But what really fascinates me about them is not this, their steadfast reliability. What I think is cool is that microfilaments and microtubules, by themselves, are transient.

Microfilaments and microtubules do this thing where they basically form and fall apart, over and over and over again. It takes a lot of energy, this dynamic instability, but messing with it will pretty much destine a cell for the great beyond. So, there they are, these microfilaments and microtubules, taking their little pieces and adding them up, waiting for something to stabilize it, but not waiting for very long- if the right protein doesn't show up, they collapse back into their individual pieces.

That's its task, rolling that rock up that hill just to have it come back down again so that it can start over. But oh, I take great comfort in the importance of falling apart. If they weren't fractured into their little pieces, at just the right time, they might mistakenly latch onto the wrong protein, or form a self-involved mess. Even when certain microfilaments and microtubules have found the right proteins and stabilized themselves, there still have to be some that are floating around free to assemble and disassemble, over and over again. Some percent of them have to keep that unsteady freedom. And I love the notion that instability is a constant, coursing through our bodies, all the time.

It's this weird paradox, because almost everyone I know is uncomfortable (to varying degrees) with the idea that nothing is constant save change. People talk about waiting for things to settle down. And yet, all the time, in our very fabric, we're falling apart and picking ourselves up and putting ourselves right back together. In certain states, we're okay with latching onto others and at other times, we'd just as soon fall apart first. When things really settle down, when you've achieved total stability, guess what? You're dead.

Maybe it's a sign of my off-kilter nature that I take such comfort in this notion. I'm not really better at handling change than anyone else. But I suppose I expect it more, and tend to believe that when people console you with it all works out for the best, they're actually talking about dynamic instability.