Sunday, December 28, 2008

if you were never aware of what was around you

One of my favorite poems by Kenneth Koch says:

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.

In Buenos Aires, the traffic lights flash yellow before they turn green. When I first saw this, I thought it was brilliant. I figured portenos are more concerned with preparing themselves to go rather than to stop. I was wrong, of course. The traffic lights flash yellow before they turn green, but they flash yellow before they turn red as well. They have just covered all their bases. I guess Americans place more weight on stopping, which I suppose says something too.


It's hot and humid, but every so often, a breeze blows through the trees and so it does not seem so bad. I am not quite adjusted to the time, but jet lag just makes for lazy mornings right now, which is no tragedy, especially in Argentina. Hardly anything was open when I emerged from the hotel at 11:30 yesterday.

Tomorrow I leave for Iguazu Falls. The forecast is horrible, but I remain hopeful that I will get a decent view of the falls, however briefly. Right now, I should probably be more concerned that I have no place to stay once I get there. One of my travel companions is supposed to arrive today, so a part of me is quite inclined to just throwing my hands up in the air and passing the baton.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

you've known it all the time, I'm learning it these days

This is not what I should be writing about, to be certain. I should be writing about the sunburn on my nose this afternoon, how a humid sweat is welcome after a summer in the desert, a fall and winter in the bitter cold. I should write about how Spain becomes Argentina and Argentina becomes Spain, how Barrio Retiro becomes Buen Retiro and suddenly I am not so sure where I am. Am I in Madrid or Buenos Aires? When you're alone, your mind can play tricks on you. I guess that's what I'm writing about.

It was the same time of year. Many, many, I don't even know how many years ago now. What I like to call my year of great upheaval. Up until November, I had been teetering too high, floating like a balloon waiting to be popped. By December, the deflation had started, but I was not ready to fall. Going home, being alone in the company of multitudes of uncles and aunties with their interrogations and pitiful looks, it was too much. It would have been the pin that burst the bubble, and I would have hurtled down to the ground with too much force.

I have always worried that I have a little too much of my father in me. Once, on a lark, he drove from Chicago to LA to visit his brother. This was in the 60s and he barely had enough money for gas. It is one of those stories that is always told in my family with a laugh, but is then followed by a pause and a shake of the head.

Me, I hopped on a train and went off to Montreal. In the dead of December, when no one thinks of vacationing in Montreal. My first (and come to think of it, only) trip wholly and completely alone. On the train ride up, three friendly Canadian brothers gathered around me and gave me a slew of tips about the city. One of them was a medical student and gave me his number in case I wanted to go to Musee des beaux-arts while I was in town. I threw his number away, but I did go to the museum.

After recovering from the chilling 10-minute walk from my hotel to the museum, I settled in. In one room was a temporary installation of Goya's Los Caprichos. It's weird how I have forgotten a lot of that trip, but that little set of Goya prints stuck in my head. Lead was starting to fill the balloon. I was walking through the simple, spare room, the weight of Goya's prints slowly chipping away at me. It was so cynical, so inevitable. It was a giant dose of who are you kidding.

It was one print in particular, titled Tal Para Qual that had done me in. They were all, every single one of the prints, indictments, but this one had forced me to sit down. Tal Para Qual, a simple enough statement, a couple that seemed right and happy. But looking at it more closely broke the illusion to pieces. The man was a scoundrel, the woman was a coquette.

Tal Para Qual. Easy come, easy go. Who are you kidding? Goya had meant to have just this effect, to shine a nasty, fluorescent-lit mirror on what everyone took as a matter of course. Of course the bubble was going to burst, of course the balloon was careening towards the ground. I drank two glasses of Cotes du Rhone that night and scrawled in a moleskin: I hope that's not us. But what I really meant to write is: I hope that's not me. I already knew one half of that picture fit just a little too well.

And all of this may seem rather irrelevant, and I assure you it is. Except that I was walking through Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes today, turned a corner, and was nearly knocked over by the sight of Tal Para Qual staring me in the face. In Buenos Aires. Pero por que no? I stood and stared at it, and found that it no longer had the same impact on me.

I said before that you can lose track of time and place when you're alone, and that's true. But, while I confused Buenos Aires for Madrid, I did not mistake that moment in the museum with the one when I was looking at the same print in Montreal. It was two different, distinct me's staring at that print. Two different, distinct feelings about it. That younger, deflated version of me had written: I hope that's not us. I looked at it today and thought: That's sometimes all of us.


Despite the impression this post may give, I really adore Buenos Aires. People are not as friendly as they were in Peru, probably because they figure they don't have to be, what with their dashing good looks. There are alfajores everywhere. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to figure out what I'm going to be doing in my kitchen when I return. I'll write more about Buenos Aires itself tomorrow. I just got back from a long walk and needed to let this out.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

2000 miles is very far

All hail free wireless in the airports- why don't all airports have this?!?  In other news, Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it.

I've conveniently neglected to mention it, because I am starting to think this is one of my more hare-brained ideas, but by tomorrow, I will be in Argentina.  Unfortunately, it has occurred to me recently that any trip I take while in medical school is going to be like this.  I'm really not equipped to plan things out while I have class, and vacation always presents itself after a grueling set of finals that leave me in such a vegetative state that all I can do is mix together butter and sugar-- booking hotel rooms and planning out itineraries is wholly out of my skill set at that point.

So I have a place to stay the first night and that's about it.  Yesterday, I finally got my act together and at least committed to going to Iguazu falls.  I have no clue how I am going to meet up with my friends who are joining me there.  And yet, here I sit in an airport writing a blogpost.  Even though the movie was annoyingly twee in some parts, I always think of Geoffrey Rush at times like this- his character keeps insisting that things will work out, but when asked how, he simply shrugs and says, "It's a mystery." That's sort of how I feel right now- I'm relying on things just falling into place even if I have no idea exactly how that will happen.

But I mean, really.  It will be warm.  There will be Malbec.  How bad can things possibly go?

Stay tuned- I know it's shameful but my junky non-Mac laptop is accompanying me on my trip.  I blog so rarely these days that it might actually be nice to post about my travels here.

In the meanwhile, and in case all my good intentions do not amount to anything and I wind up radio-silent for the next week and a half, hope everyone has a great holiday and a happy new year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

something is not right with me

I may need some mental help. This is not including the cheesecake I made 3 days ago.

Clockwise from top left, we have cinnamon swirl loaves (I couldn't leave well enough alone and sprinkled some cinnamon-sugar on the top of the loaves, which gave them a nice sugary, crunch crust), snickerdoodles, iced gingerbread cookies, chocolate quakes, shortbread jam cookies, and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that have defied gravity (forgive the laziness of the photographer). Wish I had my act together enough so I could have made these all in time to mail out. Instead, they're being dispensed locally. But I was thinking of you all when I baked them, does that count?


Slumdog Millionaire finally opened in my neck of suburban wasteland, so I got to check it out. It's the first time in a while that the cinematography of a movie swept me up such that I had no idea of how paper thin the plot was. The thing is, I don't hold that against Danny Boyle. I do hold against him that he chose a Brit to play the lead male role- Dev Patel may have physically fit the role, but he did not even seem to make an attempt to speak with a proper accent. I have lots of quibbles about the movie. Why were the characters speaking almost exclusively in English? If you were considered part of a group called the Three Musketeers, wouldn't you maybe make an effort to determine what the names of said musketeers are? If you just won a major sum of money, could you really sit in a train station in solitude without a mob of Mumbai-ites close behind?

But see, it's not that kind of movie. It's not the sort of movie to take that seriously. Danny Boyle had to walk a tightrope to make it, and I can appreciate that. For once, the use of Paper Planes did not make me want to scratch someone in the face (Entourage, I'm looking at you). And I have no idea why, but every time Anil Kapoor speaks in English, I get a major case of the giggles. I can sort of see the comparisons to Little Miss Sunshine now, because they're both ultimately frothy movies. The only thing is that Boyle set his frothy tale in someplace gritty, someplace where reality is mind-boggling, and that gives it a little more weight. But only a little.

Friday, December 19, 2008

waiting here for the next time with a bottle in my hand

The artist formerly known as Pied Piper sparked a thought in an email today. I haven't been writing much lately, and sometimes a proper email is enough to get you back in the spirit, as it turns out.

For the past week, I've had more than one conversation regarding the changes that come with age, and how the simplest things seem to require more energy than they used to. Why is it so much harder to cope? Are we too old for these obstacles we have created for ourselves? It can be tempting to just feel a great sense of weariness, to feel tired right down to your very bones, and to just want to curl up and admit defeat. At times.

I was thinking about what makes the specific notion of change harder as we get older. It's been a little roundabout for me. I acted like a senior citizen when I was an adolescent, so frightening was the notion of uncertainty. Learning about Heisenberg filled me with a sense of melancholy instead of comfort. Then, there was a shift, and suddenly I almost seemed to take an unnatural interest in pulling the rug out from underneath myself. Now I'm probably somewhere in the middle.

But if I was going to think chronologically, think about how I should have felt, then I start thinking about beginnings and endings. It comes down to our chromosomes, all there in our DNA. Chromosomes have telomeres- they're something like the rings you find on the inside of trees, that give you an idea of just how old a redwood is. Well, except they work in the opposite direction. Every time your cell divides again, every time you begin anew, every time, the telomere shortens just a little more. Eventually, it gets too short, and it's a warning sign- the cell knows its number is up, and it cashes it in, unobtrusively committing suicide.

And I think maybe we're like that. Don't get me wrong. We can handle a lot of change. We can handle a lot in general. It's always, always surprising what we can bear, how we can push ourselves given the circumstances. But I feel as though maybe we have a finite number of beginnings and endings. Only so many times a dream can be chased, a heart can be broken. Only so many times a lurching dive can be made, a stumbling fall face first can be withstood. Part of the problem, of course, is that you have a signal too. The telomere gets chopped off, the cat has one less life, and you know what is coming next. You know with every beginning, there is the inevitable end. The more beginnings, the more endings, the more aware you are of just what you're getting yourself into with every new attempt. And of course, of course- wouldn't it make you tiresome right down to your bones, when you thought of it that way?

Yet, here's the thing- I think you have to trash all of that, ultimately. While it's all true, while it is unlikely that there is anything constant and sustaining, still- still- how can you not try, try again? I think we get tired sometimes, and we have to give ourselves that. But giving in to it altogether, no. At some point, you have to shrug off the burden of awareness and experience and just blindly barrel on to the next, great unknown.


Of course, there have been a lot of hijinx going on around here. Pictures to follow if I ever get my camera and flickr to cooperate, but there has been a lot of cookies, bread and even cheesecake made the past two days. Also, today, I blew out a light bulb in the kitchen, was out of replacement bulbs, and managed to replace it with a more energy-efficient bulb by this afternoon. That is, by far, a record for me. It's a Christmas miracle!

Monday, December 15, 2008

them other boys don't know how to act

I'll have something actually legitimate to say someday, but in the meanwhile, I have a little something to share.

Dear Studio Executives who think it's pointless to market action movies to women,

No, you do not need to cast some androgynous pretty boy and make a tame movie about Mormon romance. Instead, here's the solution:
  • Hugh Jackman, in the only role in which he seems to be able to pull off seeming like a tough guy
  • Taylor fricking Kitsch playing one of the most entertaining superheroes of all time (seriously, I never understood how Gambit's ability to throw cards was a superpower but the dude's Cajun drawl and overall swagger always won me over in the comics)
  • Liev Schrieber

Now I'll grant you that Taylor Kitsch is a borderline member of the straight-men-who-may-wear-lipgloss club, but let me tell you, studio executives, I don't need some stupid romantic comedy, or worse yet, some vampire nonsense, if instead, you could just fast-track this:


Yes, I know it's shallow, but I'm only human.

XX's for Mindless Action Movies Done Right

Thursday, December 11, 2008

and it will keep me safe but I don't know from who

I haven't been doing a good job of documenting anything lately, especially photographically. Truth be told, I'm just so horrible at taking pictures that it rarely comes to mind. Last night, I made gingerbread, after a classmate guilt-tripped me into baking something for a group discussion that we regularly attend. It wasn't gingery enough for me, but that spawned a series of jokes, since, apparently, what is gingery enough for me is the equivalent of FTLOG, my tongue is burning from ginger overload. Anyway, if you're at all interested in a very simple gingerbread recipe, it can be found here- it's one of the few recipes I've ever encountered that I follow without fiddling. I used to make this stuff when I lived on the East coast all the time, but for some reason, I hadn't revisited it out here. Maybe it never seemed quite cold enough in San Francisco. Considering I bundled myself up in a hat, gloves, scarf, and wool socks this morning, it's cold enough for gingerbread now.


At school, weirdly enough, I have been thinking about how you really define yourself. Maybe most people are not as inconsistent as I am. I find I have to put a condition on everything. I am this way but only under this circumstance and not this one.

It came up today in the context of how touchy-feely one should be when interacting with patients. The conclusion was that a lot depends on what you're comfortable with. And that's when I realized that what I am comfortable with varies wildly. There are certain people who, when they see me, automatically burst forth with hugs and even kisses, and I do not freeze like a board or have a seizure. And yet there are other people who have simply put their hand on mine and it has elicited an involuntary elbow straight to the ribs.

That part is not weird, I suppose. There is probably some degree of that in everyone, varying comfort with varying people. But what I realized is that there is a perception and the perception can become reality. I know that I give the impression that I might haul off and punch you in the face if you touch me without my permission. I'd say that 90% of that impression is absolutely intentional. I like my space uninvaded, and I even consciously make the tradeoff of staving off unwanted contact at the expense of missing out on some welcome contact.

A specific incident came to mind then. It seems a long time ago now, because it was, but there was a day and then a few days after it that the world seemed to be crumbling. There was no footing underneath the ground. Everyone felt this way. Everything was a little off-kilter. We came home from work early, everyone dismissed but with nothing much to do. Pretty soon, we did not want to watch television. The weather was unbearably sunny and cheerful, and it felt absurd that this is what the world might feel like right before it ends.

And what I remember is that my roommate and I stood next to each other awkwardly in that sunlight. Not for very long. It felt somehow unsafe to be out of doors, like the perfect blue sky might crash down on our heads. But we stood beside each other, and I think we were both thinking the same thing. That day and for those few days afterwards, everyone wanted to cling to the things that meant something to them. And for the first time ever, I just wanted to be held. My roommate once, at a party, trashed out of his mind, had kissed me on the cheek, and I, Elaine Benes-style, had nearly shoved him across the length of the room. It was too much to expect that he would know the difference, too much to expect him to risk getting rebuffed when we were all already so raw and vulnerable. And me, I just stood there, wanting one thing, but acting in opposition to the wanting.

Of course, I didn't know things then. But I wonder if I really know so much more now.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

you don't miss me but I really don't mind

I just remembered that, oh yes, I have this thing called a blog, and I used to post here. You let a few days pass, and then they become a week, and then all of a sudden, it seems like maybe keeping a blog isn't much of a priority. And then there's some weird itch I can't scratch, and I am writing weird random garbage on post-it notes and other places, wondering why I have this need to get these things out.

I saw A N N A this weekend, which was good for the soul. I've baked so many cupcakes, cakes and cookies for the past few weeks that I may be single-handedly responsible for the country's diabetic epidemic. I have found big cracks in my foundations, a big gaping chasm where a friend used to be, and have been too tired and distracted to do anything about it. It's as though addressing that crack might crumble what is still keeping together. I've been feeling generally run down, and so I enlisted the help of Indian Uncle-ji to be my drill sergeant. Because no one does harassment better than Indian Uncles.

There's nothing much in all of that, now, is there? Also, I am trying to acquire a plane ticket for the holidays. Which is a borderline insane thing to do a week into December, with limited vacation time and an even more limited budget.

My defense mechanism in all of this has been humor. Oh yes. I have been watching Justin Timberlake dress in a leotard in order to be a backup dancer for Beyonce. I have been watching Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich threaten little children with Christmas tales involving them losing their toes. I've been watching every episode of 30Rock I can get my hands on.

Oh, and I've been mercilessly ridiculing Twilight to combat the idiotic affection some of my classmates have for it. But it's kind of like making fun of George W. Bush- way, way too easy.


I've also discovered something about how I feel about medicine. I'm interested in it, sure. Unlike some of the haters who think nothing in books prepares you for anything, I do think the classes are all important and helping me. Similarly, I know that next year, I will learn a lot from the doing aspect of things. But, I've also figured something out. It turns out, I kind of like drama. I like listening to one field of medicine attack another- and let me tell you, you don't have to go too far to find that. The surgeons rail on the internists, the primary care folks rip on the surgeons, almost everyone finds something to tease the emergency doc's about, and absolutely everyone has a hate/envy thing going on with the dermatologists. And while my classmates were all either dying of boredom or frantically trying to translate the indecipherable language of rounds this past week (what we're doing right now is just like dipping a foot in the pool, just so that we get an idea of how bad the water is going to feel when we get dunked in it in our skivvies), I was blissfully following along for one reason and one reason alone. Initially, sure, I was trying to figure out what all the terminology meant, and noting which drugs I had never heard of, all the responsible med student stuff. But after 2 hours of rounds, when you're a 2nd year student who is not supposed to understand really, most of my classmates were zoning out. Instead, I was watching the dynamic. Just like I treat my fellow medical students, being on rounds was like watching the Discovery Channel. I got to watch an entire episode of When Attendings Attack, and it beat the sh*t out of any crap you could write for House or such nonsense.

This is, of course, not much of a skill, and certainly not a skill of any use as a medical student. But it was an interesting realization. If that's what interests me, I guess I need to find the specialty with the highest concentration of headcases, well, excluding psychiatry.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So I'm walking through the desert

Well, I am annoyed because I'm having some wacked-out issues with getting on Flickr at the moment, and thus have not been able to post a picture of my latest knitting adventure. Let's just say it is well-timed for the chill that is finally heading this way. Not as well-timed? The heater for the front half of my apartment is busted up, just in time for when I might actually need it.

I am bracing myself at the moment, because I am supposed to meet up with a classmate, who is going to start harassing me about another classmate. I've noticed that there are a few people in my life who are just not comfortable with my marital status. It's really odd, because a lot of times these are people who do not know me all that well, so I wonder why they even care. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly why they don't just let me be. Most of those who know me know better, leave well enough alone.

Here's the thing. I'm no prize, I'll be the first to admit, but that does not mean I am willing to settle. This has always been a problem for me. I am always more willing to suffer from heartbreak than to suffocate from boredom. I do not mind being alone, and I do not even mind loneliness- unless I'm lonely when with someone else. And that's what, it seems, happens when you compromise for less than what you want.

And what I want is really so simple actually, in that I want everything.

Well, the everything that is something. That's what it is. Something is everything, or just nothing. And right now, all of these fools are trying to make something out of nothing.

Anyhow, enough of that noise. I've got a pile of lectures to slog through. But in the meanwhile, have you all heard of this band Fiction? I have no idea how I wound up with one of their songs on my iTunes playlist, but now I cannot stop listening to it. The song is called Salty, and I might just wind up posting it tomorrow. It might be time to bring songs of the week back here, because I'm not loving tumblr, and I am too lazy to figure out the alternatives to muxtape. Anyway, Salty is one of those songs that makes me feel like it should be a soundtrack for my life or for someone else's. In this specific instance, probably someone else's, because the song might just be too cool to fit anything that's ever happened to me. Species pressing up the stream, ways to go, brave new world, undertow, ocean change, which way, this way, banishing sound. The words and music suggest a bubbling up, building, and then switches to a spooky, lilting drift, the music sinking back down into the sea. I'm a sucker for it, for the big push and drive that ends with a drowning.

Not to be a downer. This post would have been much more satisfying for me were there a sweater in it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I've wondered if I could hang on

I don't mind admitting that I've been addicted to Top Chef since Season 1. At first, it was just the novelty of seeing all the San Francisco shots and guest judges from local SF eateries. Then I got kind of fascinated by how these contestants whipped stuff up with little time, limited ingredients and some other insane constraint. I remember from working in chemistry lab that time management skills are everything. If you don't carefully orchestrate the timing of various steps, it can wind up taking you an unnecessarily long amount of time to conduct the simplest of experiments.

Of course, there is always the element of the unknown. I think that's the key with plans anyway- any carefully concocted plan ought to be flexible, because chances are something will derail you from the perfectly structured plan. I wish I could remember when I finally learned that lesson. I know that when I was young, I would plot out an exact course for my life, and get extremely frustrated when the pieces did not fall into place just so. And I know that somehow I let that go, and nowadays I am happy if I have some skeleton of an idea of where I am headed, filling in the details as I go. It would be nice if I had some epiphany, some moment of perfect clarity, but I think it was more a case of one disappointment after another finally setting me straight.

Anyway, yesterday, I had quite an impressive baking fiasco. I had planned to tinker around with making bread, and afterwards make a lemon cake. Made sense- the latter was a tried and true, foolproof recipe, the former was a complete crapshoot. I was going to a dinner, so the lemon cake was my trusty companion to take along.

I had allotted a good amount of time for this bread-making business, because making bread can take a while. With my previous focaccia experiments, however, time was needed but not so much wiggle room. Now, I should have known better. First of all, as usual, I wasn't satisfied with following a recipe. I wanted to use some whole wheat flour and some graham flour, and I wanted to use 2% milk instead of regular, and on and on.

So I had this ball of dough sitting in a covered bowl, and just needed it to rise. It takes usually about 2 hours, maybe 3. Well, at the 3 hour mark, the dough was stubbornly sitting mostly in place. I was more than disappointed about that, and considered throwing out the dough altogether. But instead of doing anything impulsive, I turned my attention to the lemon cake. It turns out that, in the 1.5 hours it took me to make the lemon cake, the dough miraculously, but slowly was starting to lift. But at that point, I had to get to dinner.

I decided to let the dough sit, wondering all through dinner whether the dough had gone mutant and taken over my entire kitchen. When I got home, the dough had actually puffed up perfectly, but by that time it was late. I threw it in the refrigerator, unsure of whether that would be the death of it all. Bad, bad time management skills, indeed.

Today, after coming back from school and doing various other things, I decided to revisit yesterday's failure. I made mini-loaves because I convinced myself those would be less painful to throw in the trash. Except, lo and behold, everything came together today, and I got myself some cinnamon-swirl bread:

gonna rise up, turning mistakes into gold

It's one of the few things I've made that tastes exactly the way I imagined it would when I first set out to make it. As Hannibal from The A-Team would say- I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I heard there was a secret chord

Sunday mornings should not really be for heartbreak, but I was revisiting some old songs. This set does not follow an earlier theme; these are not songs that have been put in permanent storage because they're too evocative of a particular time or feeling. These songs never really went away. If they had ever popped up on the radio while I was driving, I would have cranked them, maybe even pulled the car over.

I'm only going to mention one of them because it's in my head right now. Too much beauty all at once can be a bad thing anyway, can dilute. Anyway, you've probably (hopefully!) heard this song before, but I just wanted to remind you. I know I'd want to be reminded of this songs at least.

It is by Jeff Buckley. You could actually just buy yourself a bottle of wine, put the album Grace on repeat, and call it a night. There are so many gems on that album that it's sort of amazing that I bought the CD for $5 in some marked down bin in Boston in early 1995. Most people now know the album for the ubiquitously played Leonard Cohen cover Hallelujah. There's no doubt that Buckley covered Hallelujah in a way that is very difficult to top.

There are other heartbreaking songs on the album like Lover, you should've come over and Forget Her. You know, it's so much cooler to pick some obscure song from an album and claim it as your favorite, making it somehow more of a closely held secret. Problem is, there's a reason the big hit is a big hit. So, even after all these years, I have to admit that the song that I come back to over and over again is Last Goodbye.

If I ever shut this blog down, that would most definitely be the title of my final post. It's hard to write about this song without getting ridiculously worked up. From the very first guitar slide and the bass line, the song just pulls you right in. I think I could pick out the guitar slide at the beginning of this song in 2 bars or less, it's so distinct. And then, of course, there's Jeff Buckley's voice, which, I am quite certain, has launched a legion of imitators (in a good way, unlike the army of faux Eddie Vedders that also came out of that time in music). Anyone who thought the 90s were all about grunge mumbling need only listen to this song to be shown otherwise.

Forget that though. Yes, there's Buckley's liquid vocals, the strings, the bass. All of that. And then on top of that, the lyrics, and the wind is just knocked out of me. The song is a standard issue break-up song, I suppose, but it captures the spectrum so well. Take this for example:

Just hear this and then I'll go- you gave me more to live for, more than you'll ever know

And then couple it with this:

Why can't we overcome this war? Maybe it's just because I didn't know you at all.

It's amazing because there's resignation without bitterness, something circumspect about the song. Which is kind of how things are when they're finally, thankfully over. Really, all you need to do is hear it, and everything I am trying to explain will pale in comparison to the actual experience of the song itself. You can also check out the video so that you can swoon over the late Jeff Buckley, and mourn that he wasn't able to put out a larger collection of work.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

pick up the pieces

I didn't really have anything to post about besides some drunken tomfoolery last night, which can be quickly summed up.

AB: So I was watching Firefly, and that girl... River Phoenix? She's awesome.
me: Her name is definitely not River Phoenix.
JL: Her name is River on the show.
me: But not River Phoenix, who was a guy, and who OD'd when he was really young. You know, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix?
JL: Wait, Joaquin Phoenix is related to this River guy?
me: (in my head) I'm a fossil.
AB: Oh, I know, her name is Summer Phoenix.
me: Still wrong.

Later, while playing Taboo:

JL: So, this is a really bad romance movie.
me: The Notebook (and it was the right answer).


But then, I read some great news about Daniel Alarcon getting an award for Lost City Radio. I started reading that novel shortly after quitting my job, and embarking on over a month of tooling around the East Coast and Europe. I finished off the book while I was in Madrid. I would get engrossed in a chapter, and then go to the Reina Sofia, and sort of lost my mind. I stared at Picasso's Guernica, and at a photography exhibit to do with an uprising. There were all these themes of violence and war, and Alarcon's words rattled around my brain as if exclaiming, "See!?!"

What is fascinating about Lost CIty Radio is that it's not about a specific war. It's not even about a specific place. Alarcon took some inspiration from Peru, clearly, but when it gets right to it, it's purposefully blurred, generalized. So much about it is murky. Alarcon purposefully doesn't pick one side as right or wrong. It is war boiled down to its essence, and it is actually most interested in the impact of war, of instability.

There are little quibbles. It's quite obvious what will happen. But it almost doesn't matter, because Alarcon has this way, to me, of getting his world and his characters seeped into you. He does not write with the zany edginess of Junot Diaz. But I think that works for him, because he's not interested in tricking you into getting involved. His style of writing just involves you.

I know I am writing for crap about this. All I can say is that you should give Alarcon a try. And reading about him winning the award cured me of this horrible run I've had of reading and watching mindless garbage. Knowing books like Lost City Radio are out there makes me realize that I should not waste time on trash.


Also, I may be the only medical student on earth that prefers the kidney to the lungs. That is all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

there's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to

A weird thing happened. I couldn't write a post while I was visiting San Francisco. That's weird because if anything ever cured me of writer's block, it was San Francisco. But every time I sat down to write while there, everything that came out was so effusive that it would have provoked mass gagging across the blogosphere (well, in my 3 readers). So I am going to be a little selfish about San Francisco, and just keep it to myself.

So now I am back. I have a few days off before the next whirlwind of schoolingness starts up. I have a gajillion errands I need to get done before classes start up, but I feel more equipped to handle them now. But I can't explain why, or I'll go all mushy pants for San Francisco again.

My classmates are polluting me with horrible writing, by the way, giving me yet another reason to be down on them. The whole class seems to be campaigning to get me to read the Harry Potter novels (please do not give me a lecture about how these are actually good books- I'm actually quite sure they are, but I missed the craze in the beginning, and just never got around to catching up. Perhaps I will at a later date, okay?). One of them handed me Twilight a week before we had finals, and I literally felt gross and disgusted with myself after having read it. Another suggested some other fantasy crazy novel having to do with fire and ice in the title. I can't even remember the name of it, but I sat there listening to the description, wondering if medical school rots people's brains. When we suggest going to see a movie, everyone wants to see the stupidest thing in the theater, me included. Maybe it's the same thing with books, but I just hold them a little more sacred. I think I need to get my hands on some seriously good fiction soon, or I am going to fall into disarray. Suggestions welcome, or in fact, urgently requested.

And now I must, of course, indulge in a little cookie-making.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the thing we need is never all that hard to find

As of the typing of this post, I am in the midst of attempting to make bolognese sauce. Without any real recipe. Instead, I just kind of surveyed a few different recipes, looked at what ingredients I had on hand (which included an old bottle of red wine that's been collecting dust for too long), shrugged and started going. This, I realize, seriously increases the risk of failure, but really- would you expect anything more logical from me? I think not.

So back to the wine, because who doesn't like to talk about alcohol? It was this bottle of Zinfandel from one of my early trips to wine country, before I'd even moved to the West Coast. At first, it didn't get cracked open because it was a special bottle and so it was waiting to be opened around those who might appreciate it or for just the right occasion. And then, it didn't get uncorked because it had gone past its prime. It's Zinfandel, so it's not really the sort of wine that gets particularly precious when it ages. There's probably some deeper meaning in that, but I don't have time for that noise right now.

What got me was the vintage on the bottle. This was one hell of an old bottle of wine. I was barely legally allowed to drink when this bottle was released. And it was funny how that was equally meaningful and meaningless. On the one hand, it was halting for a moment when I took the time to look at the year, had a little flash of what life was like back then. On the other hand, this wasn't some idle bottle of wine. It was being used for a purpose, and so the fanfare was minimal.

Which is how it should be really. On the one hand, the passing of time should be acknowledged, and marked, and perhaps even reflected upon from time to time. On the other hand, it's not particularly useful to ruminate on it for too long. So much left ahead. Including the learning of how to make a proper bolognese sauce.

Mind you, making bolognese sauce is a highly inappropriate way to spend Diwali (let's just say this is not a vegetarian version of bolognese and leave it at that). So how about I do one Diwali-esque thing today, and wish all of you celebrating a happy one!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I hear in my mind all of these words

We're having a casual enough chat, and RS is hitting us with an anecdote from his first week on Medicine. He's a 3rd year medical student, I'm a 2nd year, and across from me is T, a 1st year. T and I have some weighty exams tomorrow, but RS is such a treasure trove of stories and inexplicable calm that we couldn't turn down his suggestion that we meet for lunch. After all, though we spend them studying, we have our weekend off: RS gets one day off a week these days.

He starts telling us about cases, and at first it is the sort of conversation you might have with anyone. And then, subtly, but undeniably, there is a slight shift. "So this is a 72-year old woman who presents with a fever of unknown origin for the past 2 weeks". No one else would necessarily call that launching into medical jargon, but there's that shift in his voice. I recognize it, because this is what we're learning. We learn to hear that first sentence and start searching the files in our head. Already, I have a list of questions to ask him about it. He goes on, and it gets even more technical.

And at first, we don't really even notice. "So, have they let you do the Echo yet?" I ask excitedly, half-excited because the case is interesting, half-excited because I know what he's describing, where he's leading me. Then I glance over at T and she has a bit of a blank expression on her face.

Which is not her fault. But being there, she drives home a point. We're learning a new language, and the three of us are on a continuum. She's learning rudimentary vocab, maybe a few things about grammar. I've got a lot of the vocab and grammar on paper, but I'm not fluent. I'm not thinking in the language yet. RS is getting there. Having T there, we see that all the more clearly, how we, stepwise, learn to speak like this, learn to think like this.

For some reason, I needed to see that today. Sometimes, otherwise, it can all seem rather like a lot of flogging yourself for nothing. And mind you, medical school still contains that component. But at least the point of it all was temporarily made plain for me today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

indoor fireworks can still burn your fingers

I have to get to studying in a minute. But until then, I'm taking a little spin with Elvis Costello. The first Elvis Costello song I really got pulled into, admittedly, was Everyday I Write the Book. I'd love to brag about how I found him way back in his 'super-cool edgy' period, but then again, let's consider for a moment that I wasn't even a teenager when Punch the Clock was released, so there's not a chance I would have discovered Costello during his My Aim Is True days.

Everyday I write the book is undeniably pop and not necessarily true to Costello's punk roots, I'd later discover. But as someone being fed a steady stream of John Cougar Mellencamp, J. Geils Band, Def Leppard, and the like, Elvis Costello may as well have been dropped from another planet into my living room. You can bemoan the shittiness of MTV all you like, but if you grew up in EBF in the 80s, there was something to be said about the channel. Of course, that was back when they were actually playing music videos, so perhaps you should just continue on in your ranting about MTV, since I certainly haven't turned my television to that channel in a year at the least.

So, here's this pop tune, light as air, nothing deep. Still, Costello's voice was something new, something strong but soft and sincere. And even though there was nothing so inspired to them, the lyrics were so much more clever than anything else I had been listening to. I can look at it now, and see how, in part, it's nearly an homage to or update of The Book Of Love. But at the time, I just thought it was such a wonderful song- not angst-filled, which would appeal to my teenage years more, not over-the-top, which would also appeal to my teenage 'high-school-dance' years. Just a bemused song. No major heartbreak, no major swoons. Just a little old school, good-natured teasing, as evidenced by one of my favorite lines:

Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

I went backwards, but it somehow seemed to be age-appropriate. By the time Veronica came out, I could recognize how weird it was, what Elvis Costello had morphed into. By that time, I had gone back and discovered My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, and Get Happy!!, and realized that this dude who was pleasantly chirping away on Everyday I Write the Book once had one hell of a case of Angsty McAngstenstein.

Costello songs are fodder for all kinds of stories. They evoke a lot, and his much older stuff has just enough anger, just enough sarcasm to overpower the slight tone that suggests whining. And then always a little dose of the absurd, a little touch of humor, however bitter. That's perhaps what I like best about those old songs. Even Alison, which, before horrible, horrible television shows got their hands on the gem and besmirched its good name, is this piercingly sad song filled with regret, starts with the dry quip- and with the way you look, I understand that you were not impressed.

If there's something I consider very modern about Costello, it's that. Or maybe it shouldn't even be called modern, because, from the tunes that seem to be assaulting the airwaves these days, it seems we've gone back to the 'heart on one's sleeve' approach to songwriting. Weirdly, though, old Costello tunes always strike me as more sincere. There's something more raw and real in his rueful remarks.

I mean, yes, this line sounds absurd and surreal:

Oh I said, 'I'm so happy I could die'
She said 'Drop Dead' and left with another guy

But on the other hand, doesn't it perfectly capture what it feels like, the high's and low's, the putting yourself out there and getting stomped, more so than some weak-ass boy band nonsense? I mean, at least, any guy who is my kind of guy would invoke Costello before he would start identifying with Nick Lachey. Just saying. Okay, no more stalling. Back to my regularly scheduled cramming.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

some move away to make a way

AL and I have never exchanged a sweet word between us, no declarations of undying friendship or love. But yesterday, I got a message from him on my phone. He'd sent me a picture. Of himself. Mugging his goofiest expression into the camera while holding up a sign that said "Happy Birthday." Then today, he sent me a video of some dude who inadvertently set himself on fire while trying to blow out his birthday candles.

To me, he embodies the best of EBF. Which is funny because he didn't actually grow up with me. We met much later, but we were both from the boondocks, and more importantly, he reminded me of little pieces of people from my childhood. I suppose he represented all the things I had always hoped were true of those people from my childhood. Because EBF was such a cold place, such a hard place in so many ways. Compliments were not handed out with the abandon that they're given out here on the West Coast. But every once in a while, all those people I used to hang around with in high school would betray their soft underbelly- mostly it was in their actions.

I suppose I'm still partial to that. I'd rather a friend never said a flattering word towards me, but knew when I was upset and actually knew what to do with me when I'm the seething, silly mess that I can sometimes be.


In other news, I don't know if it's the effect of being surrounded by 23-year olds, or of being mind-numbingly fixated on school, but it feels like my taste in things is going down the toilet. I'm listening to Live Your Life by TI without a hint of irony. One of my classmates gave me a copy of Twilight and I read the stupid piece of crap (although, in fairness, I was aware, even while reading it, that it was a stupid piece of crap). I wonder what is next- will I be convincing myself that I should watch Grey's Anatomy? If so, I'm calling AL, because I'm pretty sure his response will be, "Is that a television show?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

one day you'll look back and you'll see

Sometimes you just have to own it. Today is my birthday. I am not sad on my birthday. It's a rule I have; I made it when, on my 18th birthday, I acted like my birthday was the biggest tragedy ever witnessed. I didn't really get over myself at that point, mind you. It's just that I moped around acting like it was a day for sullen, melancholic dejection. And then the person who wound up being the most important one of my life in so many ways gave me an extremely elaborate card with the following words in them:

Allow me to say that it's possible to be critical of birthdays; they always seem to mean more to others. I mean, what does your birthday really mean? I don't know. If it's up to me, I'd rather celebrate my second birth. The one that brought my independence. The day when I first thought for myself- not of myself. So if your birthday doesn't seem to mean much, I hope this does.

If I've ever been cranky around my birthday (oh and I most certainly have), it's because no one could measure up to that. Especially as I was coming off 17 years in EBF, feeling as invisible as the air. Finally, someone saw me, didn't try to snap me out of my funk necessarily, but fought fire with fire, countered with the perfect combination of words and logic. I don't write about this often, and I won't really write about it today either. But what was written articulated a thought that I needed put down.

The idea of a second birth. It's funny to read those too-mature words now. Neither of us were quite there yet, neither of us had quite learned to think for ourselves. I was further behind, of course, a symptom of an overprotected adolescence. But I loved the idea. Eventually, I did come into my own, did stop operating without the net of expectations and automatic decisions. And I'll always have that. And I always think of that on my birthday now, how the words in that card were like a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts.

I remember, though, that I had written back (and so began this obsession with words and putting them down and trying to make them mean something) that life is an interminable cycle of births and deaths. But we're always changing, the song used to bemoan. The person I was at 18 is not the person I am today. Perhaps I do believe in reincarnation. Constantly, some piece of us dying and some other new piece born. Some part of the original remains, or so I hope.

Maybe that is why people are not as enamored of their birthday as the years pass- so much more to realize, so many more pleasant surprises, and you still think the best of people. Later, things seem somehow less. There are still changes, shifts, births but they seem like small moves compared to the earthquakes of the past. But they're not really that small, it's just how they seem. This morning, a very well-meaning classmate insisted on taking me out to brunch. I forced myself not to fight it, and I am glad I didn't, because it was actually quite nice. When I was young, I would have made a big deal out of nothing, made things difficult simply because they did not fit some perfectly-envisioned plan. Instead, I was content. Not just content, but, even though he wasn't the perfect person to go to brunch with, maybe especially because he wasn't, I was really touched he had forced me into it. Then I went home and finished baking cakes. I know it's weird to bake a birthday cake for one's own birthday, but that's what I wanted to do, so I did it. And all in all, it was a good day, a very good evening. It might have even been enough of a good day to have cleared the tough climb. But that remains to be seen- tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

trudged back to where the car was parked

So, it's happened again, and I don't know why I'm surprised. This time, that's what I've learned. It's no longer about recognizing the signs of the clouds coming on fast, no longer about knowing that I'll have to wear a raincoat for a while, no longer about realizing that there will be sunlight again.

This time the lesson is that there is no cure for this. What I dislike most so far about my medical training are the cases we see in clinic that end with us telling the patient there's nothing we can do. Even if the condition won't resolve on its own, there's nothing to be done about it- that's probably the worst of the lot. There was a patient who came in with a pterygium on her eye; her boyfriend had coaxed her into coming to the doctor because he thought it was getting unsightly. The patient was expecting to be given some eye drops or undergo some procedure to be rid of it. Instead, the doctor told her that it was harmless and that, until or unless it began encroaching on her vision, surgery would not be advised.

And that's how I feel about these vortexes that swallow me up from time to time. Not much to be done about them, relatively harmless, and until it starts creeping into bad behavior territory, hard to feel any sort of intervention is necessary.

I woke up this morning and knew the center would not hold much longer. Something gripped me, and I knew it was exhaustion. Preemptive exhaustion, because I know what comes next. It takes a lot of energy. So little energy to fall into chasms, so much more work to climb the sheer stone wall up. Even when I know all the steps, even when I've hiked up this mountain before. There's a component of Sysiphus to it, because it's just a matter of time- the rock will fall down the hill, and I'll have to push it right back up again. And there's a component of sheer weariness. I know how much it will take, how sore I'll be at the end of this trek.

There is no alternative though, it's the business of living, after all. And it will feel better up there, in the dizzying, cold, thin air. I suppose there is this. Every time, it feels like the same climb, but every time, the precipice is completely different. This isn't the sort of life for everyone, but up there at the top, I own my life completely, all its twists and turns, all its fortunes and follies, all that it has and hasn't yielded. Up there, it looks like mine. And every time I fall again, I'm still carrying that with me. It's in there somewhere, misplaced like some old letter that was packed in the moving boxes. All just a matter of time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

must be worth losing if it is worth something

There's dough rising in the kitchen, butter softening on the countertop for an undecided purpose. It will come to me, as it did the other day, when I decided I had been making entirely too many short, stout, plump cookies. Sometimes, you just want a thin, crispy-yet-chewy cookie. And that's how I wound up with these:

honey, we won't say a word

They taste better than they look, and are nearly the size of a palm. The trick was honey, and not too much sugar.


But, this blog used to be about music and other things, once upon a time. And as my MacBook Pro is on the verge of being sent to Applecare (don't even get me started on that), I've been sifting through old music on my PC.

I don't know if this ever happens to anyone else, but there are some songs that I find really difficult to hear. And I'm not talking about hard to hear as in William Hung hard to hear. No, these are great songs. These are songs I allegedly adore. But I got too close to them, and now I find it hard to come near them again.

A part of me hopes this will never happen to a song again, and a part of me hopes that it will. The song that wandered into my old iTunes library today that sparked all of this is Tear In Your Hand by Tori Amos. Even though I'll be the first to admit that Tori Amos can be batsh*t crazy, and her lyrics are at times absolutely incomprehensible, her first album, Little Earthquakes is still on my list of all-time favorites. But I can't really listen to much of it, especially this particular song.

It starts out, right from the beginning, with such bitterness, humor, and heartbreak all wrapped up into the opening lines, which include the absurd and yet perfectly captured lyrics- I don't believe you're leaving because me and Charles Manson like the same ice cream.

Weird though. You listen to a song, it seems pleasant enough, well enough said. And then something happens, and the song suddenly snaps into some new crevice in your brain, and all of a sudden, it fits. It says everything you can't say, it captures everything you don't know how to explain, explains your own feelings to you. Oh so many years ago now, Tear In Your Hand did that for me. I had that crazy album since high school, and I liked it, liked how it seemed to be about outsiders, seemed to be about not being understood. What adolescent can't appreciate that?

But then, there was the moment, and after the moment, suddenly this song was just a little too sharp, a little too crisp around the edges, a little too clear a focus. It hurt to hear it. It doesn't quite hurt anymore, doesn't hit me in the gut the way it used to. But I still find myself catching my breath, getting flooded by memories.

It's not really about what caused the hurt, because they were the usual, universal things. It's about how I felt, that's what I still find halting. That dizzy swirl of casually playing down the significance of it all, the doubts to what brought the end about, doubts of what is given as a reason versus what you believe the reason to be, the disappointment of thinking you were seen when really you weren't, and the crazed, bloodied badge of hurt that you carry when you first allow yourself to be this vulnerable. All of it comes together and, sure, some of the song makes no sense, but then again, some of you doesn't make sense at that moment. It doesn't have to make sense, it just fits.

I hate that it does, after all of these years, and yet I love that it does. You'll notice, if you listen for it, that Amos is practically bragging: all the world is dangling, dangling, dangling for me, darling- you don't know the power that you have with that tear in your hand. I like to think that meant, even should it all go awry, unrequited or turn out to be undeserved, the power was, and is, in the offering.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

or vice versa, that depends on wherever you're at

It's pretty clear the whole blog-thang is waning, but I am never content to just let things go, let them dwindle. I like messy, I like ugly, it's a simple fact. I like it spelled out, black and white, no doubt. It's like that with my friends, it's like that with this blog. One of my friends has gone off the grid recently, but I haven't left well enough alone. I wrote twice and now I plan to call. You've got no dignity, Muriel!, one of my GBFs would exclaim, shaking his disapproving head. I don't. I like undignified. I like undignified, messy, not-taking-the-hint, ugliness sometimes. So consider the blog like that. I'm not going away yet, even if I ought. Silence is not enough to dissuade me, really.

Today was a weird day at school. A student from another class, some years ahead of me, who I'd never met, passed away. It was sad, and a bit jarring. The administration, in their wisdom, never specified the cause of death. Good idea- tell a bunch of med students that someone has passed away and expect them not to pick it apart until they figure out the why's and how's. No one in our class knew the student, but a lot was made of the whole thing.

A few days ago, SP had been remarking to me that a recent study had measured depression and suicidal ideation in medical students. NPR had a piece summarizing the results as well. I thought a bit about it today, and to me, very little is actually done to address this issue, not in articles and not in medical schools. If anything, most of the stories that ever come out about this try to point to some convenient excuse. It's more complex than that. Then again, so is suicide itself.

This is simplifying it too, what I'm about to write, but I'm not pointing to it as a specific cause- just something that came to mind when all of this came out. Thing is, I think sometimes students put too much of their stake in medicine. It's a tightrope, because viewing medicine as just a job is a losing proposition too. You could certainly treat it like a job, but then you will really question why you are going to the trouble. There are plenty of other things you can do for a living that don't require as much training, debt, and pressure. But, still, investing all of one's hopes and dreams in medicine is just unsound.

I don't really know what I'm saying here, really, besides that I am cynical. I am somewhat cynical, I guess, but I never think of that as dark and dismal. Today, one of my classmates, who is a hardcore Christian, told me about three aspects of Christianity that particularly spoke to him:

  • Life is not fair, and you are not owed anything.
  • Life is full of suffering.
  • God is good.

Now, me, I'm about as far from religious as you can get, and normally, someone who says they're a religious fundie evokes anaphylaxis and an immediate plotting of an exit strategy. But when he came out with those three things, he revived my hope that not all those who are religious are intolerant and/or irrational. Because what he was talking about is the paradox of life that you just have to get your head around.

I'd replace 'God' with 'Life,' but the idea is the same. There is a lot of ugliness, and hard knocks, and bad luck, a lot. Plenty of times, things seem hopeless. Plenty of times, things actually are hopeless. But still beautiful. I don't know. I still find it beautiful. Those little packages of beautiful themselves, Yazzy and Chai make a point of pointing out 3 beautiful things from time to time. I probably don't take the time to do that as I should, with as clear a head as I ought to. But I try my best to find one thing, to remember one thing every day that made my heart squeeze just a little tighter for that moment- it's always something, inevitably, that someone else would find wholly mundane- dough rising, cracking a tough problem, overcoming procrastination to make lunch in the morning, a well-timed arm around the shoulder. It takes so little, but then, I guess I don't expect that much.

Anyway, for me, there is the matter of baking to always keep me from losing my mind entirely, and to, more importantly, keep me humble. Below were cookies I made for an exchange party. The oatmeal cookie pictured is a trick- the actual cookies I took to the party had butterscotch frosting in the middle. However, that frosting was improvised and was, how to say, what's the term, oh I know- epic fail. In fact, the bellyflop of that butterscotch frosting caused me to flip out and make the chocolate cookies on the fly, as a sort of penance. Of course, as luck would have it, the chocolate cookies were a far bigger hit at the party.

quite contented to take my chances

After that, I went another round with focaccia. Bread making is becoming my favorite thing to do on Sundays. Later this week, I'll show you another experiment that was a semi-fail as well. Even if you're not reading, or would rather read about something actually interesting, or would like your eyes to recover from my horrible photography. I told you, I prefer the ugly, unnecessary, messy varietal.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

may be an equal mystery

Since I started back in school, I've acknowledged that I'm bound to be a bit set apart from the other students, just because I am considerably older than them. In fact, though, most of it has been by my own doing. Most of my classmates forget a lot of times, or just don't know, and really do not treat me like an outsider.

In the past few months, though, it's become apparent that there are inherent differences, not necessarily good or bad ones, just differences. I take school a lot more seriously than some classmates, and for completely different reasons. When I do less well on an exam than I'd like, I'm frustrated mostly because I worry that I haven't grasped the necessary information, and won't have that knowledge to carry with me when I start doing clinical rotations. For my classmates, they get frustrated because they're used to being in the top 5% of all of their classes, and they still haven't gotten used to that being rather irrelevant in this setting. They pool answers before discussion sections to reduce their workload. In these discussions, about 3 out of 15 students talk. The rest blink blankly at the instructor every time he or she answers a question. Or they ask questions that are so elementary that it's clear that they've been too lazy to attend lectures or listen during them.

I get it, though. Were I 22, I'm not sure I'd be that different. They haven't been on the other side of it, for one thing, haven't had to lead a meeting or discussion in which everyone was awkwardly quiet and uncommunicative. They haven't really been taught to care about anything beyond what is graded. If we had been told that we get a point for every time we speak in discussion section, you can bet there would be a 100 hands up in the air.

Similarly, my classmates take a lot of pride in skipping class, playing all week, and then pulling all-nighters 3 nights in a row in order to pass an exam. Maybe some of them just absorb information better this way, but for the most part, I think there are just so habits developed in college that take a while to kick.

Anyway, I don't mind. It's mostly interesting to see what the real differences are between someone in their 20s and someone in their 30s, taking away all the other situational changes that occur. It's only natural that I've forgotten the 20-something version of myself, but it's interesting to watch some of my classmates, knowing I must have been somewhat like them back then.

And that gets me to the part that really does tickle me about being older and in school. It's the cutest thing in the world to me, watching very young 22 and 23-year olds trying to disguise relationships. One of my classmates cracks me up, because she reminds me so much of me at that age that I seriously worry about her. She's surrounded by guy friends, generally gets along with very few women, and projects a kind of toughness that only some of us know is a complete ruse. When she gets her feelings hurt, she's heartbreakingly wounded. She's been circling this classmate for a while, and, to me, it's plain as day. So it's very cute watching her try to conceal it. She finally confessed the whole thing to me yesterday, and I went for an Emmy trying to pretend I had not suspected it all beforehand.

She was looking for approval and that, too, cracked me up. As we get older, we get more defiant, perhaps. We find someone we like, we decide on it, and if our friends don't like that person, we suspect them of not wanting the best for us or not understanding. But here's the 22-year old version, experiencing things for the first time, and wanting very much for someone to validate it. So, so precious, in some ways. It's nice to remember that, at one point, we were all like that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

tell me, what's my lesson

I know that being in school isolates me a bit from the outside world. For example, while I am well aware of the economic meltdown currently happening, I am not experiencing it with the kind of intensity that I would have while I was working for the Man. Some of my classmates are even more oblivious. If you never had any money and were living off of mummy and daddy, these things really do not cause you to bat an eyelash, I suppose.

All the same, I don't think I'm that isolated, so maybe someone can explain if I missed something. Why is there a movie called Beverly Hills Chihuahua being released? Who thought this would be a good idea? What is the demographic? Maybe I have been living under a rock, so if someone could explain it to me, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Anyway, due to my ridiculous euphoria over making spaghetti sauce on Friday night, I was easily distracted this weekend by the call of the kitchen- problematic when an exam is breathing down my neck, but there you have it. I decided to give focaccia another shot. In addition to the multitude of tomatoes, my classmate also gave me bunches of basil. I ought to have made pesto, but did not have the necessary ingredients for that at home. So instead, another adventure with yeast and focaccia. I tell myself it's not really wasting time, since I have enough focaccia now to take care of lunch for my entire week. I threw some cheese, sauteed green peppers and tomatoes onto the dough before baking, and I am pleased enough with the end result that I will not be sad to eat it every day for lunch.

The pictures are, as always, horrible. If I had half the patience I have with baking applied to photography, I might stop making people's eyes bleed. But until that miracle occurs, here are pics (click below if you want to check out a picture of a slice of it):

up above it

Oh, since I'm not following any logic here, I'm not sure what was funnier this past week:

  • James Cafferty's reaction to the Couric-Palin interview, mostly because stodgy old men crack me the hell up.
  • Tina Fey and Amy Poehler mocking the interview by lifting direct quotes straight from the real deal. (On the other hand, the debate sketch on SNL was not even vaguely funny. There weren't good jabs at either candidate, which was rather lame).
  • Craig Ferguson making comments about how things are done in America.
  • Chris Rock's various appearances discussing the election and Bill Clinton. It's one of those rare moments that I miss HBO.

On that note, I have to figure out some way to start concentrating on, you know, the pesky matter of a certain upcoming exam.

Friday, September 26, 2008

waiting til the shine wears off

If you're sick of me talking about food, move right along, because this is all about food, or to be absolutely specific, chemistry.

I suppose it's a mixture of chemistry and history really. HIstory because the kitchen was someplace I loved and hated growing up. There was an undeniable attraction to it- it was the center of all activity in my house growing up. Sure, I was normally limited to washing dishes, but still, I somehow absorbed an appreciation for the complexity of what all went on in there.

Partly, it's because Indian food, the way my mother cooked it in my childhood, won the prize for culinary cuisine complexity. She would wake up at unreasonable hours to soak this, or blend that. A batter needed to rise. Dried beans needed to be revived. Somewhere in the house would be a cheesecloth hanging to drain the water out of ricotta for some dessert. In the oven, she was making yogurt. She was always planning out a meal.

Frankly, I found it tiring. When I looked at what made up my mother's day, I really did not relish the notion of that fate falling to me. Whenever there was a party at the house, my father was allotted the simple task of vacuuming, while my mother would be frantically multi-tasking for the entire weekend. It hardly seemed fair.

But on the other hand, there were things about the kitchen I loved. I loved that each auntie had her own way of doing things, loved how they would each fuss over each other about how something ought to be done. I loved that they would sit together in the kitchen, and when they did, it didn't seem like they had been passively relegated there. Rather, it seemed like that was where they were most comfortable. It tickled me that they would all find it horrifying to run out of food. I loved how, at the end of the night, disposable containers would be produced and leftovers would be packaged out to everyone.

Mainly though, I just loved the transformation. It seemed like magic to me then, because I didn't understand it. I loved the idea of from-scratch cooking. Initially, this was a problem though. I had never been properly taught to cook. And I had been surrounded by women who made it look like the easiest, most obvious thing in the world.

I'll be the first to admit that, even still, I'm not much of a cook. I much prefer baking, because it's weirdly more intuitive to me. I suspect it's because there were no preconceived notions about baking. My mother baked cakes from box mixes, if she baked them at all. Learning to bake was a lot less intimidating, because I had more tolerance for failure, I guess. And then it slowly just started to become second nature.

When I was really keen on cooking, I would choose things that were long projects, dishes like stews in which you had a lot of different opportunities to adjust this, change that, taste, and modify as needed. But there were simple things that eluded me. When I was growing up, T, about four years older than me and generally thought to be the most beloved of all daughters of my parents' friends, would make spaghetti sauce. Granted, she would grab a store-bought bottle of sauce, dump it into a pot, and throw in a bunch of well chopped vegetables and a few spices here and there. But somehow she could transform it into something that tasted so good, I would eagerly watch her preparing it in the hopes that I could crack her secret code.

But I didn't. And then later, when I lived on the east coast, a friend of mine, D, used to make spaghetti sauce. It was renowned amongst my friends. It was fantastic. I think he made it from canned tomatoes, but I cannot be sure because he never allowed me to watch his process. This is most likely because he was quite proud of his famous sauce and knew that, chemist that I was at the time, I would have grabbed the recipe from him and hyperactively set to work trying to make changes to it.

Every time I tried to make spaghetti sauce, it was disappointing. Once, W was staying with me and I made spaghetti sauce from canned, diced tomatoes. He politely declined it when I invited him to eat with me. I don't blame him. It looked mostly like salsa- a watery, tomato-y mess. After that, at a family reunion, my cousins and I all set to work on making penne with vodka sauce. I made the vodka sauce and it was consumed by all without complaint, even requested to be made again. But I wasn't satisfied with it. Again, it was from canned tomatoes, and I had to sit over a simmering pot for hours, and still felt the end result was a bit watery and dissatisfying.

Trying to make spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes seemed even more ambitious and therefore completely misguided. I never really thought about trying it. But then today I was walking home with a classmate who keeps a garden. She was leaving for the weekend, and handed over to me a handful of tomatoes that were about ready to burst. They were beautiful, so beautiful that I could not bear to tell her that I cannot bring myself to eat raw tomatoes.

But it's funny. I figured- what is there to lose? She sent me off with containers filled with vegetables, and the tomatoes were the most ripe of the lot. I went home and held my breath for a moment, weighing whether I could handle a major fiasco tonight (because isn't the debate enough of a fiasco for one night?), then just went for it. I've never blanched vegetables before, but I blanched those tomatoes. I haven't reduced a liquid in years, but I reduced away tonight. And with some assistance from the interwebz and a healthy spoonful of roasted garlic I had stockpiled for just such an occasion, what do you know, I had spaghetti sauce. Not very much- just enough for one meal. But it was so vibrantly red, its consistency so thick and hearty (but not lumpy and chunky, because I do not care for that!), and it tasted of spaghetti sauce.

I don't know why I had been scared to try this previously. The whole experiment took me a total of 30 minutes, and that included the rather painstaking process of peeling each tomato, and squeezing out of it any excess water. And I don't know why I find this all so oddly satisfying, more satisfying than any Grey Goose & Tonic would have been tonight. I don't know why exactly. Maybe it's because I'm learning that there are very few things in life that are this finite, this simple to pin down with certainty. Do this and this is the outcome. It's so the opposite of life when you think about it, because life is a little more like- do this and the outcome triggers 10 new things to do, 10 new questions unanswered, 10 new ways you never understood it in the first place. And while that is all well and good, and is life after all, it's nice, once in a while, to be able to make spaghetti sauce.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I hope I won't be that wrong anymore

The subject of home has come up quite a bit lately.

"You find your home, and it may not be what you thought- you know: color's off, style's wrong... but there it is anyway and to hell with you if you can't take a joke."

That's from the film Moonlight Mile, and I think this one line by itself has made me unreasonably fond of an otherwise just okay movie. But I really adore the quote, because there are so many concepts of home.

But the concept of home I'm most taken with at the moment has more to do with work than anything else. Not everyone needs this, and I suppose that just has to do with what home is for various people. Some people find their homes in others, and what they do for a living pales in comparison, as well it should. Others find their homes in their art, and would sacrifice all to that end. I'm neither-nor, I suppose, but I'm always looking for a place.

I'm not looking for a mansion, not looking for a mountain's precipice. Those would not feel like home, I'm quite certain. I don't have any illusions that the home that I am seeking will be paradise. But that's exactly the point. Sometimes, there isn't an explanation for these things. Perhaps there are explanations, but they are like resonance structures in chemistry- no one explanation encompasses the truth, and it would take infinite attempts to form some semblance of it.

That, of course, makes the truth and home sound like some ridiculously important concepts. Which they are not. In fact, I have no doubt they matter to absolutely no one, but me. And even to me, I can't say they are that important.

Except. Except for someone who doesn't like to be too sentimental, even writing about home is something. Except that, like a scared little schoolgirl, even admitting that I might have found home is a bit exciting. Except that, like a woman, discovering what I want is hopelessly intertwined with wondering if I really have a chance of getting it and do I really dare to dream of that which may well be out of my grasp? "One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one." Indeed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

your reflection approaches and then recedes again

What I had stated was that I was forever hurtling myself blindly into brick walls. It’s the convenient advantage of hyperanalysis. When called upon, almost anything sounds sincere and meaningful.

I had, after all. I did, and my father likes to tell the story of when I first learned to walk. So excited at my sudden ability, I would speed off without looking, slam right into walls, which, in retrospect, really should have been caught on film, as it must have been an endless source of comedy.

He doesn’t tell it so much anymore, but I do. It makes for a cleaner narrative- absolves me of all responsibility. It’s so much easier to state that I’m making a mistake, than to prove that I am not. So much easier to say I’m tripping and stumbling over one obstacle after another, than to say I encountered and cleared obstacles but that they changed me, changed where I was heading, changed what I wanted, each time.

See. It’s easier to write that I am once again just barreling towards the latest beat of my heart. It’s easy because some part of it is true. A full-on lie is much harder to pull off than just choosing to show a facet instead of the entire stone. I am going towards what moves me. It could very well be a brick wall.

But it’s probably not. My father doesn’t tell the story much anymore, because he was proved wrong one too many times. Once I told my father I wanted to go to Mexico for a class vacation “just because.” He went super-Huxtable on me and told me that was the stupidest reason he had ever been given in his life. I had countered that he didn’t know how to have a good time, didn’t know how to follow a whim. My father hates the word whim.

I’ve come to dislike it, too, I guess, because of its dishonesty. I didn’t want to go to Mexico “just because.” I wanted to go because I was 16, it was a week away from my parents, and some doofus I had a big crush on was planning to go. Stupid reasons, and probably, on some level, I knew how stupid they were, even at 16.

So then ‘whim’ became a substitute for ‘flimsy logic’ or, on the other extreme, ‘too complicated to explain.’ When I told my parents I was leaving the east coast, my father also assumed it was on a ‘whim.’ I didn’t have the energy to empty the contents of my brain onto their laps, to explain all the reasons I had to get away, why I needed to move to California.

But he’s quieted down because most of my ‘whims,’ later on, ended without any major catastrophes. Some of them have even gone better than could have been expected. And also, they were maybe not at all whims. I think my father might have caught on: once, when I told him about a decision I had very nearly reached, he muttered, "why bother asking our opinion? You’ve already worked it all out in your head."

Which is true. I say I don’t like plans, and that I don’t know what the future holds, but yet, I orchestrate. I put down foundations. I think about chess moves. They’re not fully thought through, not precisely mapped out, because that is what I find worthless. Life is too unpredictable, too dynamic to be too careful. It’s better to be smudgy and hazy- to have a shadow of an idea, a foggy vision. Then let it come into focus as you get closer to it, as it becomes more real, and the unending variables have played out, so that you might be in range of the concrete.

I’d stated that I am forever hurtling myself blindly into brick walls. And to him, my oldest friend, it was a sort of air-tight statement. And from whom else had I learned so well how to pick my words? That’s a story for another day. But I realize now that it must have driven him mad. In the past, for one thing, I had at least thought I was heading in the right direction. And for another, I had been eager, overly eager to explain it the way I saw it in my head, to try to pull him into the fog and the blur. He probably knew I was lying. He probably knew what I know- that I know exactly where I’m headed and why, but I'd wimped out by dismissing it all as a flight of whimsy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

goes to show you never can tell

Sooo, a weird thing happened today. Previously, I was on this kick to concoct reasons to bake every week, and it was usually for this or that meeting that I was supposed to be running. Well. Last week, a friend nudged me about a fundraiser she was going to hold, and wondered if I would be willing to contribute a thing or two.

Yeah, so I finished whining earlier about how busy and intense things are at the moment, but can I turn down an invitation to bake? Of course not. Still, I was a bit ambivalent. I don't like the idea of people paying for this stuff. Tinkering around with recipes in the kitchen is just something I enjoy doing, and I don't particularly benefit from the pressure of monetary association.

But it was for charity, and I was asked nicely. Must be a sucker for it. Sure enough, I went on a little bender and made cupcakes and cookies. I forgot to take pictures of the cupcakes, but here are the cookies:

take a chance on me

In my typical folly, I decided to try a new recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Otherwise, making chocolate chip cookies has become so mundane a task. Also, there has been a lot of ranting and raving (in equal portions) about this new cookie recipe published recently in the NYT (if you click the photograph, there's a link to the recipe there). My curiosity won out, and I made the cookies. I have to say, they were not the miracle chocolate chip cookies that the NYT might lead you to believe they could be. But they were okay. Still, I was feeling a little remorseful that I had, typically, taken a risk when I should have gone with something trustworthy. Especially when I had already made a fiasco-level disaster out of an attempt to make strawberry frosting- but let's not even get into that right now.

Thing is, the cookies all sold out, and pretty quickly, from what I hear. So much so that I was asked to make more for tomorrow. And like an idiot, I agreed. Idiotic really, because I should be studying or sleeping. But instead, I spent the evening making two more batches of different types of cookies, this time old standards for time-saving purposes. I'm hoping there aren't any sales of this sort in the future any time soon. Otherwise, I'm going to flunk out of school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

now that we've grown up together

My parents can be a little overly dramatic at times, and it's often easy to tease them for it. They live in a safe, quiet area in suburban prepster land, but they watch a lot of those paranoia-inducing news programs, so you can guess what happens. I never much liked the idea of being afraid of nothing.

It's been so long since I lived in EBF that I can easily slip into thinking of it nostalgically. Looking at it now, it is just one more bland-looking suburb. But when I was a kid, it seemed more in the middle of nowhere, more beautiful. I remember that sometimes, for no reason at all, after school, I would just drive around. It would cheer me up. No matter how bad a day I might have had, or how boring life seemed to be, there was always something beautiful to see on those drives. My memories are tied up in that, in a long walk to school through the woods, in summers spent running around with neighborhood children, in holding hot chocolate at the top of ski slopes.

I conveniently forget everything else. Forget, because what's the point of remembering? But I was teasing my mother the last time I was visiting about something to do with the extra locks she had put on the doorway. And then she got fed up, and explained. My father had been away for business. She had opened the door and noticed something strange. There was blood all over the pane of the door. There were slabs of meat strewn at the door and around the walkway to the door. No one was there, and it was morning, but my mother was, understandably, freaked out.

When the police showed up, they took the information down but said this happened from time to time, neighborhood kids, just being kids. My mom wasn't even upset about this response, just kind of shrugged and had told me only so that I would stop arguing with her.

Now, nobody did this to my house while I was in high school. There were a few prank calls, but there was never so much as a TP of the house. But I don't know. I guess I'm kind of guilty of something. I can't really pick it apart, EBF and its people. I suppose that's why, after all these years, I get so neurotic about Facebook friend requests. I left EBF behind me, and I just somewhere along the way decided that I didn't really matter there, that I was a sort of ghost growing up, just a shadow really. I never really felt so much in place there, and so, when I disappeared, I just assumed no one would ever know existed.

I'm not totally wrong about that, either. I wrote about an anecdote from my adolescence here once and stupidly used real names (now removed to prevent future occurrences such as this), and a comment got dropped by someone who had been present for the whole thing. She remembered the entire story I was telling, except for me. She didn't know who I was. And that's sort of how I think of EBF, that I was just some alien observing a different species.

The latest person who Facebook friended me was someone who, in high school, would likely have never admitted that he was actually my friend. I don't hold that against him because 1) as teenagers, boys pretty much don't like to admit to that sort of thing, and 2) this was EBF and I always got the feeling you lost a little street cred by associating with me. But still. I took off for parts unknown, and we never kept in touch, never even made empty promises to keep in touch. So, why, now, try to friend me by Facebook?

It's so much safer, so much easier, the dilution of it all that things like Facebook and this online age provide. I am definitely a fossil, because when I was in high school, there was no email, no IM, not even cell phones. You wanted to talk to a girl? You had to man up, get on the phone, and even talk to her disapproving mom before you could get to the fumbling, stammering conversation with her. Want to keep in touch after high school? You had to make some serious effort, or it wasn't going to happen. I'm not blaming anyone, because I certainly made no effort.

And I like Facebook, you know. It's a good time-suck, and it's fun to sort of surf through and see what is going on with people without having to have long, drawn-out conversations. But, at the same time, for someone like me, it's confusing. I feel like, when you're younger, you don't do any accounting- you don't divide up people between real friends, good friends, nice enough acquaintances, Facebook friends. At most, you have some designated BFF-of-the-week, and everything else is just gravy. The rest are all just friends, and in some ways, it's a better way to live.

So, there you have it. Facebook neurosis. Blame it on EBF- it's so much easier that way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

time to make one last appeal for the life I lead

Promise, I really will complain about Facebook and the neuroses I have to do with Facebook friending and all that soon.

It occurs to me that it might be pure folly to try blogging right now. I just finished the second day of classes, and a part of me really wants to write that this is going to be the hardest, most intense stretch of courses I've taken in school yet. But the other part of me doesn't want to write that, because something about the tone sounds stressed and put-upon.

And I don't feel stressed or put-upon. I feel immersed and intense. Is it possible to feel that way, in a good way? I hope so. All it took, weirdly enough, was an attitude adjustment. Last semester/block/whatever was probably just as interesting subject-wise, but something had soured me about it for some reason (hmm, maybe it was the daily 110 degree thermometer readings, come to think of it). In some ways, that made studying so much harder. And then I got more petty about stupid sh*t that you can easily get pulled into in med school if you allow yourself to be.

All it took was just this inexplicable decision that I was going to find these classes more interesting, more engaging. They are probably 5 times harder than the last ones I took, no joke. But I kind of like that about it. And I like that I'm choosing to isolate myself a bit more at the moment. I'm in a little study cocoon. Today, I spent 20 minutes looking at ECGs, just musing at the way you start to process information that is thrown at you. There's all the science of it, of course, the physics, the anatomy, the physiology, sure. But ultimately, you sit there and stare until the patterns speak to you, until you develop your own, twisted, possibly illogical intuition about it.

The instructors show us these graphs that initially just look like a mess of nothingness, and then point at this and that and say, See? Do you see it? In some ways, it's so conformist, it's gross- you stare and stare until you see things in exactly the way they want you to. You hold your breath and listen and listen until you hear the sounds precisely the way they explain them. It's repetitive training. Dance, monkey, dance! But you sit and you stare, and who the hell am I kidding? When I see it, when I hear it, I feel an unexpected sense of satisfaction. For just that second, it feels like I'm getting somewhere.

Monday, September 15, 2008

many lives have come between

Even though a new semester/segment/whatever-my-wacky-school-wants-to-call-it started today, I'm determined to keep up with blog posting frequency now. I don't know why, because I think I have much less to say these days, but I suppose I need the outlet more than before, or something.

I'm trying yet another format for music, since muxtape may never return. So, for now, I will try to post songs here- not downloadable, but you should be able to listen. This week, I posted one of the new Cold War Kids songs that best describes my current state of health.

Do you ever get the sense that you're trying to throw people off the truth? I've noticed I do this. I am at two weird extremes. With certain people, I will describe what I am thinking to such excruciating, tedious detail that I think they'd like to gag me. For some reason, I am absolutely crazy to explain myself to these people. And then with others, I am indifferent, and as a result, say completely outrageous things. I make statements that, as soon as they've left my mouth, I know they're not really representative of who I am or even what I believe. It's some weird, reflexive blurting, and somehow, I'm so indifferent to their opinions that I do not even bother to correct myself. So I get to wondering if, on some level, I did it on purpose, made the ridiculous remark to purposefully obscure my true feelings.

Perhaps it doesn't matter.

Tomorrow, I think I'm going to rant at length about Facebook- not the new format, because I don't even know or understand what the big deal is about that. No, my complaint about Facebook is the out-of-the-woodworks weirdo friend requests I get from old classmates who I haven't spoken to for, oh, 15 or more years. Normal human beings take such things in stride, but me, I'm not one of those normal types. So, instead, I get all discombobulated wondering what brings all of this on.