Tuesday, December 29, 2009

on our one year anniversary

I thought of making a list to do with this decade, but it was so overwhelming, to think of all that has happened, all the music that has kept me alive, and all the movies that have submerged me into their worlds, all the events that shaped the world as it is today, so that seemed like work best left to those who are a bit more insightful. Then I thought of making a list about this year, but honestly, I've not been fond of this year, and I've also been somewhat removed from things. Case in point: I've still not read a single piece of news about whatever is going on with Tiger Woods, have never seen an episode of Jersey Shore (my friends, I am sorry to tell you that I actually went to the Jersey Shore one weekend back when I was living in that neck of the woods and I am here to tell you that I have no desire to be exposed to any of those people in any way ever again, thank you very much), and only just figured out who Lady GaGa is in the past two months. So I couldn't really find the motivation to write anything extensive about 2009 either.

But when I did think of the past year, I was struck by one bit of pop culture, which was perhaps more evident to me all of a sudden because I was thinking of it in the sense of a decade. In the year 2000 (do you know how impossible it is to type those words down without having Conan O'Brien images stuck in my brain?), there was quite literally no appreciable South Asian presence on television. Now, consider the past year, and let's just highlight the most notables:

  • Mindy Kaling: Mindy Kaling has been around for a while, to be certain. To tell the truth, I don't really even watch The Office anymore. It has grown a bit tired, and the whole Jim-Pam behemoth has drowned out the more entertaining aspects of the show. However, Kaling continues to find ways to be hilarious, frequenting the late show circuit this past year, tweeting cleverly, and most notably, creating a series of webisodes that culminated in a music video entitled Subtle Sexuality. Watch it here and thank me later.
  • Aziz Ansari: I have to admit something. Sometimes, I don't find Aziz Ansari all that funny. He was at his prime when he was making fun of Kanye West, but now he is buddies with him. I watched the first few episodes of Season 1 of Parks & Recreations last year, and didn't really get into it. I'm told the show and Ansari took it to another level in Season 2. Regardless, Ansari has been ubiquitous this past year- he played against desi stereotype, playing a slacka$$ med student on Scrubs, created an alternate obnoxious persona for a role in Funny People, and is often said to be the funniest thing in Parks & Recreation. The only comedian who had a bigger year than him was Zach Galifianakis (sigh). His twitter has moments of brilliance when he channels P. Diddy or Soulja Boy, or when he has imagined tweet-versations with the likes of Lauren Conrad.
  • Danny Pudi: If I was really writing a proper list, I would have put Pudi before Kaling and Ansari. Community is, to me, the funniest show of 2009, and it became inspired when the show acknowledged that it was an ensemble and let Danny Pudi and Don Glover run wild. Pudi's character is socially awkward, quotes pop cultural institutions like The Breakfast Club and Over The Top, and does a nifty Batman impersonation.
  • Naveen Andrews: yeah, yeah, so he plays an Iraqi (I'm never going to get over that one, show), and the show has been on for years now, but Andrews can count himself with Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn as the only actors on the show who have been consistently watchable on Lost from the moment that they hit the screen. I acknowledge that the show is a morass of confusing plot twists and unanswered questions, and all of that can be both frustrating and entertaining. But Andrews' bada$$, miserable Sayid is my favorite thing about the show, and when Abrams and company blow it and kill the character off, I'm going to have to stop watching.
  • Rekha Sharma: only the nerds know about her, but for those of us who watched Battlestar Galactica, it is worth noting that one of the Final Five Cylons was a desi, dudes! Not just that, but her character, Tory, was a little troublemaker, duping the President, seducing Baltar, killing off Callie, eagerly abandoning the humans. She was a strong, complex character, and fans of the show anticipated her comeuppance, which wound up being a major plot point on the show.

What I like, in considering the above, is that I don't even watch Kaling and Ansari's shows. And that there are plenty of other desi actors I have not included here- Maulik Pancholy in 30 Rock (his Jonathan has had some truly inspired exchanges with boss Jack Donaghy, but he has been sorely absent from most episodes this season), Sendhil Ramamurthy in Heroes (sorry, but I refuse to watch that show), Kunal Nayyar in Big Bang Theory. The list undoubtedly goes on. It's pretty impressive, when you consider that in 2000 even ER had not managed to have one Indian doctor on the show, which, let me tell you, after having spent over two years in medical school, is absolutely ludicrous (if you can find me a hospital in Chicago, Seattle, or Princeton with no Indian residents or attendings, I will gladly supply you half of my tuition). So I guess it's been a good decade for the desi's, and when I think about it, this decade's treated me alright too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

see how they resemble one another

Oh but you know I couldn't end the year on such a note, now could I?

I started this exercise this week, partly to snap myself out of writer's block and partly because everyone keeps mentioning the end of the decade. I've been working on summing up each year of this decade. It's an illuminating experience. This was my first decade of fully formed adulthood. The significance of that is more than I expected it to be when I reflected back. And my, for such a boring person, I managed to sneak a lot of twists and turns into a decade.

Thinking of who I was in the year 2000 and who I have become, it's made me feel a little better about life. I was taking small steps at the beginning of this decade, timidly nudging my way towards what I wanted. But I really came into my own during these past years, in a way I never would have expected. If I am sometimes unsure of myself, if I sometimes wallow and brood over my future now, it's because I am fully aware that I am writing my own script. There are no expectations on my shoulders, except those I place on myself. This is my story, and it goes through many rounds of revisions and editing, it often feels ripe for a rewrite, characters sometimes clutter chapters, and other times it seems the protagonist does a lot of navel gazing.

Some writers say you should know the last sentence of your book before you start. This is not that kind of story.


In other news, this is maybe not the best song to close the year out, but I like it. Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago undoubtedly has made many a list of best's. This song is not off that album, but has Bon Iver's trademark intimate sound, conveying the feeling of looking at a candid snapshot from a moment that meant something to someone. It seemed apt. I have trouble summing up each year into some big sweeping epic, but even I have the photo album of times that froze still and are still frozen safely stored away in my mind.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

one foot in and one foot back, it don't pay to live like that

Phew, it occurred to me that it's been far too long since I've posted. I think it only matters to me, but it troubles me nonetheless. With the holidays and the end of the year approaching, I held a mirror up to what had been going on and realized that it's time to work it all through.

I'm not adept at simply writing: it has been a bad year. The world has been whittled down by whimpers rather than bangs, and the art of losing has become exceedingly easy to master, but that does not really make anything any better. It's, in some ways, seemed like a simple thing. It seems like I've handled it well, losing some of the people that I counted among my closest friends. I didn't fight to keep them. There were no massive blow outs. And once they were gone, it sort of felt as though that was how it was meant to be.

And yet, the voids are there, gaping holes. You could pour water through me these days.

Meanwhile, medical school continues to be this odd mixture of a calling and a clusterf***, quite frankly. There are so many things about medicine to love, and so many other things about medicine to make you wonder why anyone goes into it at all or why someone doesn't just dismantle the system and start over from scratch. This is universally acknowledged to be one of the worst years of one's medical education, so it could just be a temporary issue. There are still plenty of times that I am fully aware that I got exactly what I wanted and that I am quite fortunate to have it.

But at the same time, sometimes you just have to admit the ugly truth, which is that it has just been a miserable, lousy year. It's been exhausting, and it's been lonely. The people I've shoved into the gaping holes don't fit, are bargain stand-in's. A lot of physicians say that you find your people during your clinical rotations, find your tribe, and that's how you know what your specialty will be. I bought into that initially this past year. It wasn't until recently that I truly started to accept the fact that I will never magically find some secret society of like-minded people. And maybe if i did, that wouldn't satisfy me either. After all, some of the dearest friends I have had lacked much in common with me.

So really, I've been spending the close of this year fixated on the concept of healing, which might be a topic for a separate post. I remain hopeful that next year will be a better one. Much to the surprise of most people that know me in real life (whatever that is these days), I am actually irrationally optimistic about how life will turn out. Despite all the data and evidence suggesting otherwise, I prefer to believe in the endless possibilities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

people try and hide the night

Sleeping is giving in, no matter what they tell us
Sleeping is giving in, so lift your heavy eyelids

You might think, from the way I post around here, that I've just been on surgery rotations for the whole of the past six months. Because it's the only time I seem to write about anything. For a while, this fact really bothered me in the sense of oh holy sh*tmonkeys, am I destined to become a surgeon, fml?!? But revisiting the OR this past week, I've become more aware of why I find myself writing about it.

First of all, there's the whole novelty of it. One of the things I've learned this past year is that the easier rotations are the ones you have no interest in doing for the rest of your career; strangeness makes sense. I treat all surgical endeavors like I am visiting the set of a movie or a distant planet or something similarly completely out of my sphere of reality.

Then, there's the fact that surgery is a magnet for ridiculous personalities. Perhaps that's why surgeries are so often the subject of fictionalizations of hospitals. All the characters are down there in their scrubs, equal parts bravado, brains, and eccentricities. You know what you're getting into with surgery. You don't expect kid gloves, you don't expect to be treated well, you don't expect forgiveness.

Then there's the simplicity of knowing what you can expect from surgery and surgeons. You expect to be worked to the bone, and you expect to be shamed, and you rise to that sort of humiliation because usually there is low-hanging, tangible fruit to grab to escape embarrassment. Surgeons may grumble about how you haven't memorized every artery or ligament, but if you can manage to tie a good knot, well, then you might be spared a complete flogging as a med student. Is it a good and useful way to educate? Not really. But it's predictable.

This song was randomly played in the OR this past week, but I was thinking of how apt it is. Surgeons are on this kind of crack; they convince themselves that rest is for the weak, a chance to cut is a chance to cure, and medical complexities are not worthy of their attention.

I mean, also this Arcade Fire song is independently an a$$ kicker. It's filled with mischief and energy, and as soon as it came on in the OR, I wanted to shout out, oh it's you, old friend! Like an old drinking buddy visiting from out of town reminding you of why you were always so fond of them. I heard it and was refueled for the rest of the very long day.

That's the difference, I guess. Internal Medicine, which is probably where my future lies, prompts me to want to pull out Billie Holiday and have a stiff drink- and that's a post for another time when I've a lot more capacity for introspection. With Surgery, I get a peppy Arcade Fire or Phoenix song, and convince myself all of this is so temporary, it will be gone before I have time to be completely exhausted by it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

but we didn't mind, we didn't know better

So I had wanted to write this whole thing about a Regina Spektor song. It had all started because I saw her perform very recently. Unfortunately, every time I sit down to write about it, the only thing that seems to come out is an unintelligible mess. Oh well, try, try again.

I’ve already beaten to death a (now) rather old Spektor song, Fidelity, but when I heard it live, it pretty much evoked the exact same reaction I had when I first heard it. The strangest things can happen at a good concert. Standing in a crowded theater with the lights down low, I was transported to a sunny block in Potrero Hill, big dumb grin on my face. A good, good friend, an evaporated one, one of the ghosts, introduced me to the song so many years ago. And as I listened to Spektor play it, I thought of how perfect it was and how sometimes people just get you. Sometimes, entirely unintentionally, but then again, it turns out that doesn’t really matter.

Here’s another Spektor song. Initially, I had wanted to write about Eet- it seemed a very appropriate song for a few friends who are going through rough patches at the moment. Only problem is that I just don’t feel that way at the moment. I don’t feel that time is fading or dulling things.

Once you get infected with love, it’s like a virus, that’s how I feel. It’s a virus that lays dormant, and you think you’re cured, and oh, next time it will all be so different. Then someone comes along, infection gets reactivated, and next thing you know you’re sprawled out on the ground, sick once more. And I suppose you could be sad about that, but Spektor does not appear to be, not in The Calculation, which seems to laugh at the sleepwalking that goes on in life and delights in the fire that ignites when there is an awakening.

It’s all rather absurd from a certain angle. Right after falling for someone, the arithmetic begins. Does it all add up? What is the ratio of good to bad? What can be subtracted? Can the feeling multiply exponentially? Or is the whole thing headed for long division? But you could pull out every polynomial and apply all the integrals, and none of it would give you an answer. Maybe the only thing mathematic that applies is infinity- it feels just that large and intangible, that real and unreal.

I suppose all of this applies to writing something down about this song. I could try to describe why it is a great song. I could try to explain what about hearing Spektor open with this song sold me on it. But it likely wouldn’t make any sense, not from outside my head. Still, people keep on singing love songs and trying to write about things they can’t fully articulate, don’t they?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

round here, something radiates

I'm going to do something uncharacteristic and write about something that has nothing to do with med school. I know, I know, hold your applause, please. It's sort of appropriate, given that this blog turned 5 without me noticing it. That's how time passes for me these days. But what has been on my mind since yesterday goes back to all of the things I used to think about when I first started writing here. Love, longing, place, person, time.

Maybe that's why I've liked blogging all of these years, because here is a place that nothing needs to make sense or to fit. I can be the square peg that I have always been here and some of you actually, shockingly, don't mind. The world, the blogosphere especially, is riddled with misfits perhaps.

All of this, of course, started to turn over in my head because of a song. This song might not be your speed. It's super-subdued, as almost every song Sam Beam writes is. And I should warn you that there's a twang. It's a little bit country. Don't be scared. Or maybe do. I don't like this Iron & Wine song because I am a hipster. I am the least hipster-ish person on earth these days, trust me. This song reminds me of home.

And it's an odd thing to write because I don't really feel like I have a home. It reminds me of the home that I rarely write about, because it's so much in the past, so long gone. It doesn't even exist. Really, it's gone- the broseph and I used to race into the forest behind our house after school or every day of the summer. All the other kids from the neighborhood did the same, and we would spend our days and afternoons there, building forts, digging up salamanders, venturing deeper into the woods until our childhood internal alarms warned us we had gone too far. It was our own little world and we lived in it every day until dusk, when our neighbor Michael's mother would ring a loud cow bell, and all of us scattered back home to our very, very different lives. And that place is not just gone because I'm no longer a child, or because I no longer live in EBF, or because times have changed such that a bunch of 5 to 7-year olds wandering around the woods is no longer kosher. The forest was cut down years ago so that a new housing development could be built instead. Trees no longer hold any mystery; you can see the house behind them clearly now.

Still, this song evokes all those memories for me. Memories so idyllic that I wonder if they came from someone else's childhood. There were all the bad things you can imagine about living in the middle of nowhere and being brown, but it didn't wholly define my experience of living in EBF. There was also strawberry picking in June, shelling peas on a porch, jumping into piles of autumn leaves, building snowmen. And later there was what this song really reminds me of. Being a teenager in EBF was the oddest thing of all- on the one hand, to have MTV at your disposal on the one hand, and, on the other, to have lazy afternoons on a lake or quiet mornings sitting on a dark shore watching the waves crash against the rocks. To discover Morrissey and Public Enemy on the one hand, and to listen to an acoustic guitar at a picnic or around a campfire on the other. And to add to all that inherent strangeness, I was aware that I was one more layer of different. You grow up in a place like EBF and everything there seeks to root you down in the place; in its very nature, in every tree, leaf, and sky, it seeks to bind you. And yet, I was always also aware that I wasn't quite so captive- and I wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad about it.

I've met a lot of people now, and I know that I am not the only Indian kid who grew up in the middle of nowhere. It's not a singular experience. Still, it twists my brain, especially since I did flee so far. I gravitated towards cities desperately. I wanted to be near a pulse and a beat, and I wanted to be in a place where there was nothing I needed to explain. And I have rather loved that. Some of the times I have felt most at peace in the world, I was simply walking down the street in Manhattan or San Francisco.

Then again, it's fall. And in the fall, I always think of EBF, its country roads, and the fiery leaves lighting up all the trees.

It's not that I want to go back. That's the thing about the past, I suppose. I don't want to relive it, and I don't even really miss it. But it is there, that history, in my very bones. I'll always be that girl who has Resurrection Fern and M.I.A on her iPod, and is equally enamored of both. It feels good to get older, because you get so much more accustomed to all the eccentricities. You stop trying to avoid contradiction, or rather you become forgiving of contradictions, because you realize they only seem so from a certain angle. It no longer strikes me as strange, to dream of both the Mission and the Flume. And better yet, as you age- you stop caring if others find it strange.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Would you prefer the easy way? No, well okay then, don't cry.

October arrived abruptly. The past month was a blur anyway, but October came and it went from the scorching heat of summer to the cool wind of fall overnight. Do I make it sound like a bad thing? That's not my intention. When the chill came, when I had to shut the ceiling fan off to fend off the shivers, I knew everything was going to be alright. Not just because I can turn on my oven. Not just because it means I've survived by far my worst month of medical school. No, not just all of those things.

But all the same, whatever the reason, there's a pizza in the oven. There are people, even in the horrible morass of medical school (and I can now call it a morass with complete certainty, having seen the ugliness that is prevalent among medical students up close and personal now), who have lent a hand. I thought, for a time, that I was taking advantage of them. Maybe I am a bit, but I am grateful for them, and that has to count for something, I like to think.

I suppose I was set free recently when an attending told me that I should be more of a show-off, play the game. It was strangely liberating, because, while it was a criticism, it was one of those moments that defines you in life. A line is placed in front of you. You can cross it and it may get you some short-term gain. But you have to live with what is on the other side. And I realized, I am willing to pay the consequences of staying on my side, of staying fundamentally me.

I've realized that a lot of people in school think I am young because I appear to be quite malleable. Which I am. But the thing is, that's because I know I have plenty of flaws. And I really and truly love many aspects of medicine. I want to be good at it. So I tend to take criticism seriously and adapt accordingly.

But not this kind of criticism. And it feels, oddly enough, good to know that there are some parts of me that are not amorphous. Some parts of me are set in stone. I could change them, but I could not live with the change.

I was reminded of all of this, tangentially, because I had recently purchased Amelie on DVD for sanity prophylaxis, and was watching it today. For some reason, I was thinking of seeing it in the theater. I had been living in New Jersey at the time, and we had to drive 40 minutes to get to a theater that was playing the movie. Not only was it well worth the trek, but as I sat there, soaking in this perfect, perfect film, I remember thinking that I didn't ever want to lose the part of myself that, even while living in multiplex suburbia, was compelled to seek out such little treasures.

Elsewhere, I can handle. Not fitting in, no problem. But I don't want to be a stranger to myself. And now that I know that, I somehow know everything will be fine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I took the money, I spiked your drink

It occurs to me that I never really write much about graduate school. It somehow seems fitting to write about it now, all these years later, though still, I don't find it possible to say much about the experience in detail. It wasn't a good time in my life.

Like other dark times in my life, I find myself occasionally looking back on the chapters and thinking it quite something that I made it out of there in nearly one piece. But not entirely in tact. That would be giving myself too much credit. I've realized now that I have a very specific reaction to this kind of unhappiness- it's evolved in some ways, but in other ways it hasn't evolved at all.

The weird pattern I've noticed recently is that every time I fall into one of these downward spirals, some poor soul emerges as collateral damage. And every time, in some ways, it has gotten worse. In high school, it did not matter, everything was a jumble, who knew what motivated us back then, and we were too young to take anything very seriously. In college, it was easy to think of it as a shared blunder, but there remain pangs of guilt that come over me when I think of two people who put up with a whole lot of me being morose and glum in the hopes that it was the start of something much more meaningful than it was ever intended it to be.

In grad school, it felt indisputable. There were rationalizations that could be made in college- it wasn't entirely my fault, I could tell myself without feeling like I was fooling myself. I was out of excuses in grad school. I was just in a horrible place in my life, and as a result, I sought after anything that made me feel less miserable. A part of me knew I was giving the wrong impression, knew I did not reciprocate, and yet, I went along with it all because I was so numb. That's what happens when you feel that awful, I suppose- you cease to care about inflicting that sort of misery on anyone else.

But it's short-lived, and there's a reason that I don't write anything much about grad school. I'm not impressed with myself, I'm quite the opposite. No one, no one at all, not even those who were there at the time, knows just how unimpressive my behavior was, and maybe no one ever will.

This is an interesting test, the business of the present tense. I'm not nearly as low as I was in graduate school, not even close. But I'm raw and unsteady the way that I was back then. And a victim has emerged to offer himself up. I've been trying my best to avoid the temptation, because I know where this is leading, I know what this is all based upon, and it's not real, not to me. I'm older now, I understand more. I'm less interested in the idea of a temporary fix, because I know about the decades of regret that follow. It's not like they're persistent, not constant. But every once in a while, I'll be reminded, and I'll be sorry all over again. I can do without adding another something to wash up among those waves.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I'm just trying to get myself some gravity

There's a whole story behind these, but it's unlikely to be interesting to anyone else, so let's just call it my pathetic form of rebellion against the system:

sweet disposition

And allow me to say a few words about caramel: it requires your undivided attention. You cannot turn your back on it for a minute, or it will punish you by turning into a burnt bitter mess. You have to concentrate on it. And also, much like some of my favorite work when I was working in the lab, you have to orchestrate a few steps together in parallel. And just as in the lab, I get a great deal of satisfaction from the abracadabra transformation, from the I made this tangibility of it all.

I wish these would keep well enough to be mailed. I would just send them off to all you all. Instead they'll likely wind up in the hands of the very people who are currently making me miserable and causing me to have nightmares. On a tangent, I wake up infuriated when I've had dreams related to that sort of stuff. It's as though you never got a break from it all, because your subconscious decided to stew over it all through the night.

It probably did not help matters that I went out to dinner last night. The double-edged sword in med school at the moment is that the outside world is completely out of your grasp, but you desperately want to cling to something outside of the hospital. The double-edged part of that is that the only people available to you, then, are your fellow inmates. I have mixed feelings about it all. On the one hand, I suppose it's nice to commiserate. On the other, it never really gets you anywhere, and then you've really just remained in your little bubble anyway. So all you've really done is conjured up an illusion of "getting out" when really you've gone nowhere.

And then of course, there is the distinct possibility that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I've noticed lately that I'm so tired that I have stopped making sense. What a great and safe way to learn about medicine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

so lead us there

It's not all rainbows and sunshine in California, it must be said. Moreso now, maybe moreso now than ever. On the surface, it's bright and people are smiling, but it's a thin veneer. Everything's on layaway, the ground beneath your feet is moving, the hills are on fire, and that smile doesn't fade despite all the other things that fade- friends, family, jobs, whatever. You want to shake those people with the painted-on smiles and yell "Feel something, already!"

All those things could be said about this place, I suppose, but there are plenty of times that I let all of that slide. I tend to scrutinize it the way you do with anything you love- you find faults in love when you are feeling rotten. And thus, this song came to mind. I suppose I don't love California as a whole but all the same- I'm wasting time being homesick for the East Coast because it's more convenient than dwelling on the fact that I am rather profoundly unhappy right now.

And then comes the trickier part, which is why I have avoided fixating on the topic or writing about it either. This cannot be fixed. It's something I simply have to withstand. I just have to tough out a bad spell that will last for a long while. It's a difficult thing to swallow, that reality. The delayed gratification thing didn't feel like delayed gratification to me before now.

But you know. California has the San Francisco fog. California has the chateaus in Sonoma. California has Yosemite Falls. California has the beautiful 1. California has the beautiful Coronado sunset. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, and this too shall pass, and all of that jazz. It might sound trite, but it also often happens to be true.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

there isn't much that I feel I need

Oh, if you would please, have a look at this video of Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks. Not only is it a rather beautifully made video, but then you can hear the song that's rattled about in my head for the past, well, two weeks.

I've nothing to write about school at the moment. It's been lovely of late, and tiring, and it keeps me away from a lot I yearn to do and from people I yearn to speak with or write to, but I brought it on myself, and I don't think I'd change much if I could, so what is there to write really?

Since so much discourse has become polarized, I feel increasingly like the misfit that I undoubtedly am. Which is fine, as I've become accustomed to being an oddball, especially in the conformist world that is medicine. But that is why I rely so heavily on music at times, because somewhere in some song is a friend who gets it.

A roundabout way to say that I like this song. The original version bemoans, I only want a proper house, but then qualifies it with I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like social status. I just love that. It's not contradictory is the thing. With everything being so all or nothing, so extreme, the subtleties are lost. It's got to be true, I have to believe. You can want stability without being wholly complacent, without blindly following the current. And is it really necessary to be ambitious for ambition's sake? This, I find, is an important question to ask yourself in the academic setting again, again, oh, and then, once more with feeling.

And then came along this cover by Taken By Trees, which, to me, distills it down even more. Playful, simple, a tiny bit nonsensical, and of course, the island feeling of the music doesn't hurt either. Who needs lemonade and porch swings if you have this song, I wonder.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'll find us a way to make light

You guys, I still can't find my camera charger. This means I really still need to clean up my trash heap apartment. Instead, I keep getting distracted by trying to catch up with the world. For example, until yesterday, I didn't know what the frak birthers were- I'm still not sure I understand, for that matter, but really until yesterday, I didn't even know the context of the term.

I've also been distracted by music, because I knew better than to start listening to too much new music while I was on my surgical rotation. That's a dangerous bit of business. Sometimes, if I find a new song I like, I have to listen to it about 200 times, nearly crashing my computer. I've always been this way- my brother thought I was completely mental in high school as I destroyed tapes, because Mr. Khosla, I would rewind it all the time. Worse yet, it wasn't enough to just have the music playing. No, I had to sit there, nearly catatonic, absorbing the song for the 70th, 80th, eleventy-billionth time. That would not have gone over well on my surgical rotation- though there were still a few I'm-dead-tired-and-about-to-hit-a-wall moments when I set iTunes on random and said hello to a bunch of old friends.

Anyhow, now I'm kind of overdosing as a result. After swallowing whole the entirety of the new Goldspot album (which really is excellent and deserves a post all of its own) and the new Cornershop album, I have become fixated on two songs. One is not a very good song, the other is absolutely breathtaking.

The first is Pearl Jam's The Fixer which I've posted for your listening pleasure. Which is funny, because this is the song that I don't think is that good of a song. It's not a bad song, but it's not on par with Pearl Jam's gloried past. But the lyrics to this song really got me thinking this week. I've already had a few email exchanges about it. Most music, most films, most everything these days, truly, are about letting go. Even I, who used to be so in need of anchors and chemical bonds, have become comfortable with entropy and floating around without any restraints. At first, I thought this was just the nature of getting older, but lately, I've been thinking that it's more of a cultural shift, some sort of sign of the times.

And while I think that it's important to be present, to not dwell too much on the past or the future, there's something to be said for the lyrics to this song. I've thought about it specifically because I think that's what I found rather seductive about surgery. I don't think I'm ultimately cut out to do it for a living (punny!), but there's something so tempting about the simplicity of it (a surgeon somewhere is sharpening their scalpel and aiming it for my jugular right now for daring to call surgery in any way simple). There is something undeniably satisfying about it- cut out a tumor, cancer gone, thank you, come again. I know it's rarely quite that simple, but surgery lures you in with that possibility.

I suppose the lyrics to The Fixer are similarly seductive-
when something's dark, let me shed a little light on it
when something's cold, let me put a little fire on it
if something's old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
when something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again

I know, I know. I know the song is a mirage. I know it doesn't quite work this way. And I guess that's why I'll never be a surgeon, because I can't, at the end of it all, buy into the simplicity. I know it's not as straightforward as all that. Usually, if you're talking of letting go, if you've lost something, it was meant to leave or it's gone such that there's not much you can do to get it back again. You're just clawing at empty space, and wasting a lot of energy in the process, more often than not. It's odd. I think I've only got that fire for myself these days- I don't like the feeling that pieces of me are falling away. I will fight to get it back again, to get back those pieces of me that I did not want to lose. Like the part of me that can turn into a zombie because she happened upon some silly song.

The other song is Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks, which, I don't know what to say about it exactly. If you've listened to it a bunch of times, perhaps it's grabbed you like it did me. I mean, it has this to recommend it:
Would you always...
maybe sometimes...
make it easy,
take your time.

I love the unfinished thoughts, how much is left unsaid and unresolved. I know dysfunctional relationships are horrid and unpleasant to experience, but holy Toledo, do they ever make for beautiful songs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

there goes the fear again

There's this heartbreaking line in 500 Days of Summer:

You weren't wrong, Tom. You were just wrong about me.

I have alternated between wanting and not wanting to see this movie. It's a strange little and large experience. I found myself laughing even though it should have hurt. After watching the film, AP wanted to catch up on all kinds of things that had nothing to do with the movie, and I found myself a little bitter about that. I just wanted to cling to the movie, hold onto the whole experience.

But then I concluded I didn't really need to cling to heartbreaking and heightened scenes from a movie. We all have those scenes from our own lives, and it seems that this movie just reminds us all of that. And it is funny and sad, just like the film is.

Honestly, I don't even want to write anything else about it. Let's see how it stands up with time, but right now, it feels to me nearly close to Before Sunset in terms of breathtaking familiarity.

(But do allow me to say that I knew this movie was going to sucker punch me when the protagonist karaoke'd The Pixies' Here Comes Your Man. That's as good as sending the Borg after me.)


Sort of related, sort of not. I have an extremely brief break but am trying to make the most of it. To that end, of course, I had to make some ice cream. When I've straightened out my apartment well enough to find the charger to my camera, I will document it, but there's a rather funny story associated with it. Well, it's funny to me. It might be disgusting to others.

I had decided to make peanut butter ice cream. I don't know exactly why, but I don't question these impulses anymore. I had put some half-and-half in a pot and started to heat it up. Scalding milk and heavy cream is the basic beginning to making the base for ice cream, at least the way I make it. The half-and-half had been in my refrigerator for 2 weeks but it was unopened and pasteurized, so I figured it was fine. Well, not so much. I started to boil it, and spontaneously, it just started to curdle. At first, I tried vigorously stirring the mixture, thinking I could get it homogeneous again (ha! What kind of Indian am I anyway?). Then I stopped and took stock. This was shaping up for FAIL of the major variety.

And then I laughed and stopped trying to make it work. I love you, Tim Gunn, but sometimes making it work involves embracing failure. So I let the mixture full-on curdle and then set it aside. I took out some fresh heavy cream and milk from the refrigerator and made the actual ice cream custard base while the curds cooled down off the stove. The peanut butter ice cream came out just as I would have liked- not too sweet, a little salty, a fair amount of peanut butter flavor.

Then I examined the curds, and decided, what the whey, and strained out the liquid. Then I dug up a recipe for chocolate ricotta cheese muffins, and made them. I ate one (okay, two) this morning to make sure this whole crackpot scheme did not involve any unwanted microorganisms causing problems. No issues. And the chocolate muffins came out moist and tender because of the curds. It wasn't what I had in mind when I had started the whole production, but that, ultimately, is part of the fun, isn't it?

Yes, indeed, I am looking forward to autumn.

Friday, August 14, 2009

it's not a miracle we needed

Luxuries at the moment include blogging this post, and the promise of properly washing my hair tomorrow morning- I could have indulged and washed my hair tonight, but frankly, I lack the energy such a task requires. Yes, I'm fully aware of how idiotic that statement is; doesn't make it any less the case.

I will write this because I used to, once upon a time, mention music more frequently than not, and eventually, the following will lead to the mention of music, I swear. This past week has been, well, the suck, let's call it. Probably the worst part of a med school rotation in surgery is that, as a student, you end up spending a lot of time standing, nervously trying not to break the sterile field, but unable to see or do much of anything. At such times, you are acutely aware that you could be doing other things with this time, like, I don't know- sleep, eat, study, go to the bathroom, shower. But, such is surgery.

Today, I was unfortunately scrubbed into an excruciatingly long surgery. The first week, when I was stuck scrubbed into these types of marathon boredom sessions, I used to get progressively impatient, noticing how tiring it is and starting to fixate on that Danny Glover quote "I'm getting too old for this sh*t." Probably moreso than any other specialty, it's seductively simple for me to latch onto that quote and use it as an excuse for all.

But then I have to remember that, were that the case, I wouldn't be here at all. Yes, it is a bit more physically demanding some time, but then I've never been a person who enjoyed standing around for hours on end and I've never been a person who could function on a minimal amount of sleep. I made do when I was younger, and I can make do now. It's just easier for me to fall into the trap of whining right now because it's fairly clear to me that I don't want to be a surgeon.

I don't know if this is a distinctly female thing, but I can only think to describe myself yesterday as being so tired that I was afraid I was going to burst into tears. Just from sheer exhaustion. Does that only happen to women? Better yet, does that only happen to weirdos? Regardless, I came home and decided that I couldn't have another day like that. There's no crying in baseball and all of that (no worries though, I did not cry at the hospital- on principle alone, I will not be driven to tears by surgeons). So today, I was actively thinking of ways to deal with the boredom.

The room was silent, which, as it turns out, was a blessing. Most people complain because this particular attending does not allow iPod's to be blasting music while he wields his scalpel. Usually, I would complain too, as one of the few joys for me the past few weeks has been analyzing various surgeons' playlists (I still have a soft spot in my heart for the dude who played most of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack and General Public's Tenderness). However, it means you are at the whim of someone else's tastes. Today's silence was a kind of a freedom.

I've already posted it here in the past, but I think Phoenix's 1901 has fueled me through 2009. Or, when I've worn it out a bit much, Lisztomania is just as useful. It reminds me of the year that The Killers first broke and I kept finding myself driving at unsafe speeds whenever their songs played on the radio. Phoenix is pretty much my Red Bull. There's something so hopeful and hopeless about the songs, but the music has this pulse and drive. These are songs of now, somehow. So, when I really can't take it, when I think I can't take another minute, I let the music get into my head and it just pushes me forward. No choice but to keep going, that's what the band seems to say. And at 3:30 in the morning, or when holding a suction tube for two hours, that's a message that needs to be heard.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

you're gonna send me, right back to the start

Allow me to apologize for the manic nature of these posts. And let me write up front that this post is mostly silly. I think some silliness is warranted right now, because the serious things can't be written about at the moment.

First, I've thought about writing about this post since the first time I saw this video some weeks back- I think I first got the link from A N N A. I'm sorry it's not embeddable, but I suspect that most people have seen this wedding entrance dance by now anyway. A couple of my classmates have since sent the link to me as well, with the requisite ZOMG! and squee!'s required of their generation.

Do I sound grouchy? I suppose I am a bit. I do think the video and the idea is super-cute. I think all weddings would probably be improved by such ceremonial flourishes. Only, I wonder- have all the viewers of this video never been to any Indian weddings? Have they never seen any Bollywood movies? Yeah, these guys danced down an aisle, sure. Indians dance all the way down the street on their way to the wedding.

I don't know, but I was just thinking that it's sort of funny that the West seems to have just discovered that dancing is not a crime, and may actually demonstrate an appropriate amount of joy at an event that is supposed to be celebratory.

I just realized I totally sound like Indian Uncle on Goodness Gracious Me who yelps out "INDIAN!" at everything.


Though I know it's rather unfortunate to celebrate a person's body of work after they've passed away, rather than while they were still alive, I think John Hughes is so imprinted on most children of the 80s that we very nearly take him for granted. What I think makes Hughes' movies so Hughes is not that they were so quoteable- though they often were- but that they have such personal significance. I know that probably seems stupid, given how light in substance some of the movies appear. But they meant something to me as a kid, and even now. I was having these thoughts when I heard about his passing away:

  • Even though the premise of Pretty in Pink is ridiculous on so many levels (and I'm not sure I'll ever understand how we're supposed to believe that Molly Ringwald ruining two perfectly decent dresses to create one of the ugliest dresses in film history is an indication of her character's talent), I've always been fond of it for a few reasons. First, the music, my goodness, the music. Second, I had a Duckie in college (he bore an uncanny resemblance as well). And even though Pretty in Pink never fully delved into it, I know how sweet and also how painful that can be.
  • Sometimes I think I was permanently scarred by Hughes' movies. For example, I think Some Kind of Wonderful might have destroyed me on par with Say Anything. The latter movie is destructive in that it leads people to believe that there might be a Lloyd Dobler out there (although some of my friends have met and married him, so keep hope alive!). The former is destructive because it leads people to believe that Watts' martyr-style devotion can lead to a happy ending. I don't care though. I love Watts. How many characters can get away with saying "you break his heart, I break your face"? Even if Watts hadn't strolled out into the fade to black wearing her best friend's future, she'd still be the person I'd rather be.
  • Probably my weirdest reaction to a Hughes movie was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. While so many of my friends were cuckoo for Ferris Bueller, when I saw the movie, my first instinct was to sympathize with his sister. I think this is because my brother was something of a Ferris Bueller. He wasn't really that popular in high school, but he was always the one getting away with all sorts of misbehavior. He could and can quite effortlessly charm people, and things just always come easier to him. So me, I could understand Jeanie's rage. And of course, I could relate to Cameron. My entire adolescence centered around worrying about getting in trouble, but then ultimately being dragged into doing something irresponsible.
  • Even though a part of me begrudgingly has to admit that I like Sixteen Candles, it was also the first movie that I saw and thought this is some effed up sh*t regarding racial stereotypes. I've had entire hourlong conversations with RR about Gedde Watanabe, and whether he feels a sense of self-loathing about that role or whether he just found it funny.
  • I came to realize that I was officially an adult/old due to a Hughes movie. While I still find the movie entertaining, The Breakfast Club now just seems like a bunch of overdramatic teenagers feeling sorry for themselves (with the exception of Bender- I now wonder why protective services never intervened on his behalf). But I'm not too old to remember that I did once think that it captured a lot of what it felt like to be in high school. I suppose it's a bit of a relief to find that high school really doesn't hold the same weight it once did. (on a side note, Don't You Forget About Me was my high school graduation song, which is sort of funny to me now because, um, I have forgotten. A lot.)

Anyway, as a tribute, I am also posting a song from Sixteen Candles that I've always liked, just to finish off the nostalgia overload.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

if you want me to break down and give you the keys

I want to write of the things that I knew before I was born, the things that were predetermined, the things that everyone in my family knew but never dared to speak aloud. But of course, I am just another member of my family, the same tongue-tied inability to articulate cramping my fingers, constricting my throat.

Instead, all I can write is that the closest semblance to a sister I've ever had- not an older sister to look up to or a younger sister to dote upon, but a true sister- is not well. And from 2000 some odd miles away, there is very little I can do. Even were I there, it's likely there is not much I could do. Which is immensely frustrating given what I've been doing with my life for the past three years.

What I really want to do is write about her, but I feel as I have always felt about her. Fiercely protective. I often have little shame when it comes to writing, but I would not cheapen her by telling her story, especially through my eyes.

All I can write is that I am one of three. One never made it, one fought for every breath, and one was me. I doubt anyone knows that, I doubt anyone sees the connection. I am not my parents' child. I am one of three, and I have never lived up to it. And if she goes now, I don't know how I'll ever make amends.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

tired of talking, talked out, ticked off or toughed up

I've been following the laws of physics lately, and thus, this blog has been getting the shaft in favor of sleeping, eating, and passing this forsaken rotation.

I haven't bothered writing about these rotations because I don't feel like boring everyone to tears with that babble, and besides which, being immersed in it as much as I am, it feels as though it is hard to write sensibly about it. I need some distance which is not really possible at the moment. I can say that it sometimes feels frustrating, sometimes feels triumphant, sometimes feels important, sometimes feels trivial, sometimes feels like medicine helps people, sometimes feels like medicine is in vain. I have worked with physicians that are admirable and some that are not so admirable. I have watched behaviors that I would like to emulate, and others I would rather avoid. I've been told that I should be a surgeon, and I've also been asked, "you're not interested in surgery, are you?"

For the record, no, I am not interested in surgery, not even vaguely. This rotation has been great, though, in that it has made me properly respect surgeons and confirm that it's work best left to others. And it's just an interesting unfolding of life or lives before your eyes. People minding their own business when they were hit by a car and are now stuck in a hospital bed for months with fractures and complications. Gunshots and stab wounds, alcohol and methamphetamine, the suicidal and the demented. There aren't that many opportunities in life to see that sort of cross-section of the world.

The only thing that's truly felt like torture is having to interact with some of my more difficult classmates, who have started to exhibit that classic medical school attribute that I like to call "I will stab you with a shiv first chance I get if I can do so while improving everyone's opinion of me." It is the innate characteristic that makes my stomach turn about students. It's not across-the-board, but all it takes is one student like that to really annoy.

But even that has been an opportunity. Such clowns will never go away in life. There is no one field populated by well-intentioned sweethearts. The key is not to let the a-holes get to you. I've been able to manage by refusing to rise to the bait, and also by recognizing that it's not worth it to me to engage in that fight.

That's the thing about being a middle-distance runner. You have to decide which race you wish to run, which mark you want to meet. I used to think, when I was younger, that you had to push yourself until you were the best, better than everyone else. But that was a long time ago, and I've seen how that kind of drive comes at a cost. I am starting to think I will be okay without losing who I am. That seems the thing most worth fighting for.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

they say time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take

Last Friday, I had one of those days that made me quite grateful to have dropped out of Corporate America. I've never been particularly ungrateful about it, but last Friday was different. Some truck had tipped over on the freeway, and I was stuck in traffic for nearly three hours (this drive usually takes me about 30 minutes). When this happens, and you are sitting in gridlocked, stand-still traffic, even the calmest person starts to develop hypertension and smoke coming out of their ears.

But when I finally got to clinic, it took about five minutes to get into the swing of things, and I promptly forgot all about the miserable morning commute. When I was working for The Man, I would have spent the better part of that three hour drive contemplating whether I ought to take the next exit and simply return home. And I would have spent the better part of my work day annoyed by my late start.

It's obvious, of course, that this is because I did not really enjoy what I was doing for a living, and therefore all of those external forces and factors could easily encroach on the tolerability of my work day. Now it's so much simpler. No matter what is going on, when I get to clinic, I feel very much there and not much distracts me.

That last Friday, when I left clinic, I was feeling chipper even, until I was sitting in a ridiculous rush hour traffic jam on the way home. Since I've always had a soft spot for Falling Down, I decided I had better decompress before things got out of hand. I took a very early exit and spent an hour strolling around the local co-op, at which I bought overpriced cardamom pods. Yes, they were overpriced, and as an Indian and as a Guju in particular, I felt a measure of shame buying them. But I had decided it was my indulgence for the weekend.

Sort of. When I got home, I fixed myself a generous tumbler of Grey Goose and Hibiscus Tonic (it seemed like a good idea when I was at the co-op). Then I set to making the cardamom ice cream. It reminded me of childhood and home to some extent- the smell of the milk and cream scalding, gently crushing the cardamom pods and letting them steep, the fragrance of it as I cooked it into a custard. But it also reminded me of being an adult and having my own sense of home. When those smells were present in my childhood home, there was usually a frenzy and panic because my mother was frantically trying to do a hundred things in preparation for some large celebration. Instead, the scents wafted into the kitchen while I sipped a cocktail and erased all the annoyance of having spent over four hours in a car in one day. I felt very calm, and the process seemed very much mine, instead of me trying to reenact some fondly recalled memory.

And I got this out of it:

in the evening on a friday night

The picture, due to my horrible camera and photography skills, does not do it justice, but I was particularly pleased with the result because a) the flavor is very much like kulfi while the texture is that of ice cream rather than the icy consistency that kulfi can have, b) I had a nice buzz going on while the preparations were underway and c) I pretty much made up the recipe myself. These tiny ideas of mine don't always turn out so well, but when they do, it encourages me to keep tinkering. We'll see if that winds up being a good thing in the long run.

Monday, June 15, 2009

just a mirror of a mirror of myself

A conversation I had with a 6-year old who was tagging along with her mom at work today:

    kid: Are you... American?
    me: Yes... are you?
    kid: No.
    me: You're not?
    kid: No... (holds up her hand) see my skin, I'm Indian.
    me: What does it mean to be American?
    kid: I don't know. Wait, what color are you?
    me: (holding up my hand next to hers) I'm like you.
    kid: So you're Indian too?
    me: Yes.
    kid: But you said you were American. (I nod) You know, I was born in America.
    me: Me too. So you're American.
    kid: But my parents were born in India.
    me: Mine too. So we're both Indian and American, right?
    kid: Oh... yeah. Wait, you were born in America, and your parents were born in India?
    me: Just like you.
    kid: Cool!

And that concludes this episode of Pediatric Identity Politics.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I could drink a case of you

Saheli recently tagged me on that always time-sucking addiction Facebook. While I try to avoid such things on Facebook, as a blog post, it's a happy excuse to have something to write. The idea here is to list 15 books that will always stick with you. I wrote them all down all stream-of-conscious-like, and made certain it was all off the top of my head by drinking a hefty dose of a Grey Goose concoction before starting. And the winners are:

  • The Sun Also Rises- as a woman, I know that I should not technically even approve of this book, but there's something very raw and truthful to it. And since I was once the reigning heavyweight champion of dysfunctional relationships, there's a lot about this book that draws me in.
  • The Little Prince- I can honestly say this book changed my life and me. It was given to me at a time when I was perfectly poised to be shaped by it, and so shaped by it I was.
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man- there's a whole chapter of torrid ridiculous business behind my initial attraction to this book. I have a copy of it from the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, though I have never been anywhere in France. There are still parts of this book that elude me, but, still, it sticks with me.
  • Tell Me a Riddle, specifically the short story I stand here ironing- I think I stand here ironing might be my favorite piece of writing ever. It's not pretty or flowery. But it resonates like nothing else I've ever read.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking- this one is haunting, so much moreso than The Road. Both are about a kind of inevitability, but Joan Didion's book is somehow more piercing because she's telling her own story. Sometimes you think she is out of her mind, sometimes you think she is a genius. It perfectly recreates what happens when you suffer a major loss and are left behind to live.
  • Henderson the Rain King- I don't even know how to describe how much I will always love this book. There are characters in books that I've been fond of, and then, as I've gotten older, I've outgrown. Never with Henderson. If anything, I was amused by him when I was younger, and now I am convinced we are kin- messy, awkward, ambitious jacka$$es.
  • Beneath the Wheel- while a lot of people are found of Hesse's Siddhartha, for me, this book was a revelation. It was another case of reading it at just the right time in my life, but it stuck with me. Almost any Indian kid can appreciate this story, which is all about the crushing pressure academics sometimes places on young people.
  • My Antonia- I don't know. This book might stick with me for a single line in the novel. The writing is pretty, but also, I guess I am drawn to all of these stories that are about things not working out quite perfectly, quite ideally, but okay.
  • Bartleby the Scrivener- I aspire to dispatch people with a simple "I would prefer not to."
  • The Stranger- this book sticks with me because of the whole absurdist angle of it. There are times when we believe the universe is conspiring against us, but if you read Camus, you start to realize that the most important part is to be in on the joke.
  • Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing- this is another book that changed my life. A auntie gave it to me when my mother complained that I kept getting in trouble for humming or whistling during class. A auntie took one severe look at me and decided I was bored and gave me this book when I was in second grade. I became an avid reader after that. Also, it was particularly perfect that the broseph bore disturbing similarities to Fudge.
  • Metamorphosis- another absurdist tale. I was tied between this and Gogol's The Nose, but it's Metamorphosis that has more of a permanent mark on me. Strangely enough, it reminds me of Office Space.
  • Persuasion- because I have enough alcohol in my system to admit that there is a romantic buried underneath all that cold black coal.
  • The Corrections- because every single character in the book is a mess. And Franzen makes a point of dangling each one out as possibly the one that deserves your sympathy, and then proceeds to tear them down.
  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- technically, I may have read this too recently to claim that it sticks with me, but I doubt it. The thing is, I've searched writing by Indian or Indian-American authors looking for exactly what Diaz ended up providing. Wao has this fresh and new quality, and it encapsulates life in the new world, the real world. I don't think I'll ever lose my appreciation for that, even if I can't properly articulate it with a little too much Grey Goose in my blood stream.

Hopefully that's fifteen. May I make a small request? I know I probably have hardly any readers at this point. But, if you do happen to be reading, and are so inclined, please leave in the comments at least one book that will always stick with you. Or if you care to post an entire list, even better. I'm genuinely interested.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find my battery charger, so that I can actually post pictures of the cardamom ice cream that will be churning tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

but what would you change if you could?

The thing is, I'm not sorry.

Every time I think of complaining or whining lately, this is what I realize. I could write about how I cancelled some plans to go away this weekend, to go to a super posh wedding. I could talk about how training for a profession that is ostensibly all about interacting with people has paradoxically caused me to become more and more isolated. Or I could write about how I am supposed to be studying right now and instead spent an hour making toffee, then bashing it to pieces with a rolling pin so that I could add it to cookie dough (I think that might be the very definition of insanity right there). I could write about how I try to go to bed early and still barely make it to clinic on time every morning.

But the thing is, I'm not sorry.

There's something I've had to square with recently. Despite how it may seem both to others and to me at times, I do not want for motivation. The problem is that I'm not consistently motivated by the same thing. I am motivated, but not single-minded. And even though it often means I'm a horrible person, I'm not particularly concerned about my rather whimsical life. Despite how exhausting and ridiculous medical school can be, I actually rather adore it, and there is never a day that has passed that I regret telling corporate America to suck it. And despite the fact that it means I am not the super-stunner-number-one-gunner extraordinaire, I am perfectly pleased with the fact that I 'waste' all kinds of time experimenting with various materials in the kitchen or knitting some random thing or listening to a string of songs for an hour.

There's something else I want, something about which I am sorry. I can feel it. It's in there somewhere, buried underneath all this contentment. But it's there, and at some point, if I could just freeze time for a second and let myself breathe in and out, I should probably put my finger on it. And yet, it's so much easier to contemplate cardamom ice cream instead.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

yeah, they'll stay with me until the end

Everyone, I like to think, grows up with some form of comfort music. Van Morrison has nothing to do with the corner of EBF where I was raised. And really, when I was growing up there, the radio mostly played things like Gloria, Brown-Eyed Girl, and Wild Night. But somehow it seeps into your bones just the same, so that, when I heard the rest of Van's rather extensive collection later, it felt like coming home. Home is like that, after all. There's the home you thought you had, and then little pieces of home you glimpse when you're a long way gone.

I've been thinking of home lately and the different people I have been. Home, because I realized recently that I had a sense of home only because I had a sense of family. The different people I have been, because it's nearly laughable to think of it now, but there was a time that I was ruled by a sense of family obligation. I used to drive 6 hours just to go to a birthday party. My cousins would call and invite themselves over for dinner or for brunch, and much to my mother's chagrin, I could never say no. It was all driven by selfishness, really, the same selfish impulse that always seems to spur most of my tendencies. I wanted to be of some use, I wanted to feel needed. And my cousins were exceptionally good at that, the way they'd grab my hand to show me something or the ease with which they'd nestle up next to me to watch television or the false flattery they'd heap upon me to coerce me into baking them something.

It's hard to trace the exact moment when everything changed. Some moved away. Some of us grew apart, as they became their own, distinct people and we had less and less in common. And some was my doing as well.

I got an email from a cousin recently, chiding me for drifting out of touch. It is sort of hilarious, because my cousins have been sort of mortified by me in the past few years. They are used to getting regular phone calls from me. They are used to me spending vacation time visiting them. They have been a bit bewildered that I'm not the person I used to be. In a way, I suppose it's a good lesson for them, the one I learned from them as well, after all. We're always changing, relationships are redefined, they sputter and resume. We grow apart and then something brings us close together. We hurt each other one day and comfort each other the next. I don't know if it's too bold to say that family remains, weathers the changing winds. But so I hope.

In the meanwhile, I see them, my family, my home, in all kinds of things. When I bake a batch of cookies and my friend AB gives me a bear hug, or when my friend BB prods me to knit her a camera case, or even when a friend is being bratty about something. I catch a glimmer, just a little, but enough.

Monday, June 01, 2009

just when you think you've got enough, enough grows

This was probably supposed to be an email, but instead it's turned into a blog post. The emails were about the struggle- the futility of all these beginnings, given how many of them lead to endings. What's it all about? They scream and then they shout.

It's a strange thing, because I feel I've had this conversation more than once and with more than one person. Echoes reverberate. Strange because there are these scotch-soaked discussions I've had with Seekers, people on a quest they sometimes do not quite recognize. Stranger still because it makes no sense that I'm in their company.

My ambitions are so small, to me. I'll take a quiet life, a handshake- I'm not looking for a rollercoaster, I'm okay with no alarms and no surprises. But then again, apparently I am a liar. No matter how little you long for in life, as long as the longing persists, I suppose the size of your ambitions hardly matters.

In short, I have no words of consolation. I can empathize with the frustration that comes from the fall. I understand how, even though it's most of the time exhilarating to want, all that yearning can often be exhausting. And I especially know what it means to want something and not get it. I know that disappointment.

But what would you rather? Throw down your anchor by some dreary shore and punch the clock every morning with the lunch pail in hand? There's an undeniable dignity to that, to the kind of steadfast existence that such constancy requires. But the trouble of it is that you've got to have that in your blood. You can fight it, but we're all just a bunch of molecules- eventually, we go back to our thermodynamically stable state, the place where we are most us. I guess, from time to time, it's natural to flog ourselves a bit, bemoan that we're not other people, people who don't have to dwell on such dilemmas, people who go from point A to point B to point C in a straight line without the hint of a doubt. But when that's over, it always comes back to- would you rather be someone else?

I'm perhaps sheltered and stupid, because I, for one, believe that if the answer to that question was ever yes, then I would start pondering whether it was time to become someone else. I've been a lot of people before, so I can't help believing it can always be done if necessary.


Sorry. Listen to the song of the week this week instead. It is much perkier than all of this noise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

too much candy gonna rot your soul

More to file under pointlessness.

SP: What about Zachary Quinto?
me: I'm not sure, I don't think I liked the whole Emo Spock thing.
SP: He was totally Emo Spock! Oh- don't you think the Shat is somewhere cursing JJ Abrams' name right now?
me: Yeah, his head must have exploded when Leonard Nimoy appeared on screen. Poor Shat.
SP: Yeah, but they couldn't put him in the movie, he would have chewed up the scenery to high hell.
me: Bones was my favorite.
SP: Bones! Where do I know that guy from?
me: Oh I don't know, little indie movies like LOTR and The Bourne Supremacy. Sheesh.
SP: Who did he play in LOTR?
me: Um. I don't remember right now. I think he was related to the blonde chick.
SP: IMDB, hold please.
me: Also, I love Simon Pegg, but that was the crappiest Scottish accent on earth.
SP: He was weak sauce. Do you know he and Ricky Gervais hate each other?
me: What?
SP: Don't worry, they've made up. Oh, you know what, I might have to watch the movie again because I didn't understand all the time travel stuff. It gave me a headache.
me: Oh, that's because you haven't caught up on Lost.
SP: Why, is it the same type of travel?
me: No, it's just that then you remember that Star Trek is a JJ Abrams' movie, and you think 'oh yeah, none of his plots ever make sense.' And then you stop trying to figure it out.
SP: That reminds me, I don't know what the hell is going on with Fringe either.
me: I rest my case. Also, I think I had a seizure during the previews for the new Transformers movie.
SP: Eesh, there is no way I am going to see that crapfest. I can't wait for the next Star Trek movie, it's going to be great!
me: Don't bet on it. Abrams is really good at ruining things.
SP: We're back on that? You're such a hater.
me: Alias.
SP: Whatever, I choose to hope. Star Trek movies are all about optimism.

SP is the only person I would dream of having this ridiculous a conversation with for such a prolonged period of time, especially while completely sober. Because she's something of a genius/mega-productive member of society, I think it's healthy for her to talk about nothing once in a while. If you think about it, it's really just for her benefit.

Monday, May 25, 2009

it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I keep thinking I ought to have something meaningful to write before posting, and today, I had an epiphany. Since when did anything of import, significance or meaning ever get written on my blog?

Here's something to file away in the Idiot Chronicles, which really should be a recurring column here. Previous installments would include the time that I went for ages without replacing a lightbulb in my bathroom because I didn't own a ladder high enough to reach it. Today's byline would include: things I really should be able to do by now but can't.

It's this absurd juxtaposition: I'm getting older, but I'm wholly immature in so many ways. Evidence that I'm getting older (or maybe evidence that I'm living in a hot dry ninth circle of Dante's creation): my eyes have been getting really dry by day's end, especially if I'm staring at a computer screen or reading for too long. Evidence that I'm wholly immature: I bought eye drops and just discovered that I am really not capable of using them.

I had blocked out my knowledge of this fact. I've somehow managed to hit fossilized status without wearing glasses, and therefore, without ever donning a pair of contact lenses. It occurred to me several months ago that I had missed out on some fundamental developmental ability as a result of this. My classmates and I were supposed to dilate one of our eyes so that we could look at them for an ophtho exercise. Now, most of you that have glasses or get your eyesight regularly checked already know this is a relatively painless process that just involves getting a few eyedrops to chemically dilate your pupils. The instructor said, "you can either put the eyedrop in yourself, or have your partner do it for you."

I turned to my partner and said, "I think you'd better do it." Trying to play it off as brimful is not actually a 3-year old, I quipped, "After all, it's good practice for when you have to do it to your patients." My partner proceeded to get the solution all over my face. In fairness, the fault was not his as he kept painstakingly dropping the solution into my eye, and my eyelids reflexively rebelled against the idea of anything foreign entering. After he had turned red with frustration, I finally ordered him to hold my eyelids open and take the bull by the horns. He was fairly traumatized by the whole thing, while I found it massively entertaining. I never have to worry about having no patience with my patients, because I am pretty much the worst patient on earth on all fronts.

I'd conveniently forgotten all about that incident until this evening, when I tried to put artificial tears into my eyes, and thought to myself um, how am I going to manage this then? Yes, sometimes the thoughts in my head have a British accent, I don't know why. In the end, I think I got half the solution in my eyes, and half on my cheek, and that is my definition of success. It made me muse at those scenes in films or on television, where a character whips out a bottle of eyedrops and just plops them into his or her eyes without so much as a mirror nearby. If I did that, I would look like I'd just come in from the rain.

Also, I pulled a baking fail yesterday. This was especially disheartening because I used the last of my eggs in the endeavor, meaning that I could not bake something else to perk up my spirits afterwards. Maybe that tendency should also go under the Idiot Chronicles, come to think of it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I do not know where does it go when it goes

Even though I can be outgoing at times, I am best known for my silences. It’s not sulking, sometimes I’m not even angry or sad or hurt. Just quiet. Just nothing to say. Sometimes the silence comes on because things have gotten too intense and I need to inject distance however I can. Sometimes it manifests because I am at an impasse, and somehow the only thing that will solve the problem is to close my mouth. And sometimes, the silence begins as a question- every so often, I wonder if I am speaking to someone, or if I’m just enjoying the sound of my own voice. When I close my mouth, I wait to see if anyone speaks. If they don’t, they must not have wanted to know what I had to say in the first place, I reason, and the silence thus stretches out.

But it is a stretch. The silence fills a span, and then I get so overwrought, so taut, and I know, when I’ve reached that point, that I have two choices. I can snap back into place and resume the conversation. Or the elastic snaps, the connection breaks entirely, and there’s an end.

I used to be a person that didn’t believe in endings. Nothing ended, everything was temporary, all could be mended or broken all over again, and this was both frustrating and comforting. But now I know there is such a thing as permanence.

I know because, when the silence stretches out, there’s always a choice. Sometimes I’m not consciously aware of it, but some alarm goes off, and I come running back in a panic. Are you still there, is it too late, can we resume? When that happens, it no longer matters who was right and who was wrong, it no longer matters why the silence first came upon us, it no longer matters whether it will come again. I just need to speak, and I need to hear that voice in response.

This blog started because of silence. And I think this blog has been silent lately because the person who I so often had in mind when I wrote became a mirage, dissolved, disintegrated, irreversibly disappeared from my life. Not a ghost, just a void. A string wore down over the years and in the end it frayed with so little fanfare. It was a whimper, not a bang. But that’s the thing about a world ending- does it really matter how much violence is involved? Does that change the fact that it’s the end of the world as we know it?

It is the end of the world as we knew it, and I feel fine. But sometimes I don’t. I don’t know how to write about it, how to explain that a conversation which lasted over 15 years finally came to a close. Because it’s not heartbreak, this feeling. It’s an odd feeling to reconcile, when you know something you cherished so much is over, and yet you know it has to be and that it makes sense that it is. You wouldn’t do anything differently, you regret nothing- and yet, there it is, the silence.

Maybe that is the end- when there are no words.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

there's no other way

It was very early. We were staying in a bungalow in Manuel Antonio. Since it was a tiny bit of a splurge, we took advantage of the kitchenette, and bought groceries the night before. For less than $20, we had enough for dinner that evening, breakfast and a lunch to pack for the hike we would later take.

It was very early and I surveyed the kitchen. We had forgotten one key ingredient- butter. AP was still asleep upstairs. I slipped out. The sun was already out, but the sleepy little village was deserted. A coati wandered around as the morning heat slowly started to gather, looking for scraps that might have been left out from the previous night. The big market was closed, but a more modest one was open. I surveyed the options and finally found leche de crema, which the cashier confirmed was butter through a series of typically comic exchanges in my garbled Spanish.

Back to what seemed like a cottage, back soundlessly into the kitchen, and I heated up the frying pan on the stove. It was the sizzle of the butter melting and crackling in the pan that finally woke AP from her slumber. But she did not descend for a while. I don't know why, but I was happiest then. Making a simple egg, ham & cheese sandwich for breakfast, I was happiest.


Today, most of my classmates are buying iPhones, purchasing study aids, getting sensible shoes, finding themselves proper hospital attire. My slow cooker is caramelizing onions. A batch of empanada dough sits in the refrigerator chilling. And I tried my hand at my first batch of homemade marshmallows, for no good reason except why not?

I tell myself it's just my way, but I don't know. Sometimes I think I just want too much. There are some things I'm not willing to give up, and the kitchen is one of them. That is the strangest thing to type. AP were talking about how different we were a decade ago, or in college. If you met me in college, you would never believe I would even step foot in a kitchen.

What does it mean, what does it mean. That's what I kept asking myself. In Iguazu, in Barcelona, in Arequipa, in Monteverde, there are plenty of things of interest, but eventually, I want to be in a kitchen. What a strange affliction.

Below is the post-baking hiatus backlash, for further evidence.

1. feeding freezy, 2. music in the streets sounds good to me now, 3. it's just overkill

Tomorrow, I'll post my post-trip kitchen madness, if I can find my camera in my bags.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When I grow up

Two so-cheerful-they-seemed-drunk middle-aged nurses got onto the van. They emerged from a rather swank hotel. When we peered from the van into the lobby of the hotel, there was a beautiful vista of a volcano. The top of the volcano was obscured by clouds, so technically we were just looking at a mountain, I suppose, or a very large hill. The first woman hopped onto the van, and immediately started chatting everyone up. AP glanced over at me, looking miserable.

Later, one of the middle-aged women and I were sitting beside each other, and she told me all about the Canadian health care system, and living in Nova Scotia, and the details of their tour, some of which involved some extreme sports in which you would not expect these particular women to be engaging. Later on, AP apologized for stranding me with the lady, but I failed to understand why. All through the trip, she had been chatting away with various backpackers, but somehow the fact that these women were older seemed to make AP's stomach turn.

I've recently discovered I'm fond of old people. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Or maybe it's because, in my family, the older people were always more interesting. It's a strange thing. So many Indian children born in the US are raised and trained to get a good education, get gainful employment, buy a good house, find a good spouse, have their two-three kids. The stories kind of blur. But all the older Indian people I talked to when I was a child had a different story. My grandparents, especially, and my grandparents' siblings could claim the most colorful stories of the family by leaps and bounds.

And really, we were on a journey that attracts the young. It's a backpackers' country, where you can get from point to point on the cheap, stay in hostels, zipline through the jungle, hike into utter darkness. So, to me, the older folks were all the more fascinating. Later, as we stood on a plank cabled to a tree, it dawned on me that we were about to go sailing through the forest with nothing but a few cables and some caribiners locking us into place. All morning, we'd been debating between options, and so I had no time to really think of my fear of heights or my lack of coordination or the various ways I could go plunging to my death. It wasn't until I got up there, a light mist blanketing the canopy of thick, magical forest. It wasn't until the guides started giving us directions about what to do if we got stuck or if we were going to fast. It wasn't until just that moment, mere minutes before I was about to be bound to a cable, that a pit formed in my stomach.

Then I looked in front of me and there were two people that were easily over 65 years old, a couple. The man was hearty, his face ruddy and jovial. The woman was frail. She looked like she could break in two, and she looked worried that she would break in two. One of the guides accompanied her because of how frightened she looked. But she did it. And by the 6th zip line, she was sturdy, holding forth on how frightened she had been at first. She was embarassed that she had burst into tears on the first zip line, not that any of us noticed, engrossed as we were in conquering our own fears. I looked over to her and said, "Don't worry, a lot of us were crying on the inside," which caused her to laugh.

AP looked at me like I was the biggest drip on the planet, but I didn't much care. The thing is, those old folks had emboldened me. When I had stood up on the platform, my heart starting to pound a little, I looked out in front of me and thought, well, if people 30+ years older than me are sucking it up, who am I to have a nervous breakdown? And after the first second, as I went soaring through the sky, I was elated. It was breathtakingly beautiful, humbling, bursting with life.

So I thought- when I grow up, I want to be an old woman.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Help, I'm alive

I know this week's song is a bit down tempo, but humor me a little. It has some energy, some passion underneath the languid veneer. And I'd like to think that I am a bit like that just now.

When I finished the latest dance, monkey, dance! medical school exercise, I became a little extreme about reclaiming an aspect of my life. I went out drinking every night, made Nutella ice cream, baked myself out of house and home. I even went out and worked at a rather impressive rock concert. It was as though a part of me was starved and then felt the need to go out on a binge.

I don't like this aspect of medicine. I don't like this aspect of "work hard, play hard." In fact- I don't like "work hard, play hard." But the problem is that the universe conspires against balance. Balance, I'm convinced, is not some fixed point, is not some state of zen calm. Rather, it's war- it's a constant battle to even out two opposing forces that inherently want to pull to one end of the pole.

And now I am going away on 'vacation,' but it all feels a bit ridiculous, to tell the truth. I hope that, druing this trip, I determine whether I should really treat vacations in med school this way in the future. I'm always so brain dead that my trips have become a bit of a blur, and just when I have started to feel situated and present, it's time to pack up and return to reality. I think back on how magical my trip to Spain was and know that, were I taking such a trip today, I would have wound up in Madrid shrugging my shoulders, wanting to sleep in.

That's no way to be. Help, I'm alive, my heart is beating like a hammer. Sometimes, it's so demanding, it threatens to burst right through my rib cage. I believe, rather arrogantly, that I can lead any life I want. And so something inside of me is saying that I want some life in particular, that I have some idea of the shape of things as I want them to be- and when this happens, I won't be denied. Once I can put a name to the desire, things will get very interesting.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


I told a friend yesterday that if I don’t take this test on Friday, I am going to burst into tears, and that I don’t cry, which makes putting the test off unacceptable. She looked at me as if I was in serious need of therapy.

I mean, I don’t blame her, because I was lying. It’s not like I am lacking in lacrimal glands. I cry. Sometimes it’s over inappropriate things like a good football game or tennis match or one particular scene in The Incredibles (okay, so maybe I really do need therapy, because I admit that’s weird), but I have been known to shed a tear.

It’s just that I don’t like to shed tears because I am feeling sorry for myself, or, more specifically in this case, because I’ve pushed myself too hard, too far. There was a time when I liked nothing better than destroying myself, bursting into tears, and putting myself back together again.

There are still things for which I’m willing to push myself beyond the limits of good sense, but those things are not academic. They will only ever have to do with love, and I don’t have that kind of relationship with school anymore (and that allows me to put off seeing the therapist for a bit). I still love some aspects of science and medicine, but I also love some aspects of poetry and music, and that is the kind of love that can’t be taken away.

Someday, undoubtedly, oh yes I do have optimism for this- which is to say that I’m not sure I should be optimistic about it exactly- but someday again I will undoubtedly barrel right over the edge of reason and be as messy and ridiculous as this song. I’ll save my tears until then.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I go there a lot

Next week, I'll be back with lots. Lots and lots (well, of culinary stuff at least). This is just another ten-minute break really, but I thought I'd post this song since it's relatively new, and I am a bit crazy for it.

It could just be my mood. I'm in that jangly, bluesy mood. I started to write a whole post about my current mood and I got so bored by it that I can only imagine what a snooze it would be to someone else subjected to read it. So I will spare you.

This song also reminds me of the heat. I believe Martin Crane hails from Austin. Their hot summers are just a tad more humid than the ones I put up with at my current zip code. But the idea is the same. One of my friends used to say that he could never imagine living in Southern California, that the sun was too much pressure- this requirement to be happy and cheerful all the time.

I can't speak for Southern California, but over here, those hot, bright summer days are sometimes still contemplative. It's a strange, submerged feeling. You think things through, you think you're onto something, but it's just too hot, and everything melts. Melts into the sidewalk, melts into the night, melts into places you can't see. You think that maybe a good night's sleep in an airconditioned room will let you sort it all out, but the next morning, the same thing happens.

Even though it's dry and clear and bright, you find yourself slowing down, weighed down. Sometimes you sit still just to stop from sweating. That kind of weather turns everything on its head- because, then, when it rains, it's a relief. And it's the clouds and the wet slicked streets that provide clarity, go figure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

shelter from the storm

When this is over, I will:
  • wash my hair
  • and then get it cut- it just dawned on me yesterday that it has been nearly 6 months.
  • get my car fixed up- that, I’ve put off for nearly a year.
  • go to San Francisco for no reason whatsoever, and isn’t that the perfect reason to go to San Francisco.
  • bake. A lot. This is, of course, assuming that when this is all over there are still a few days before the scorching heat of summer hits these parts. Otherwise, there is going to be a whole lot of ice-cream & sorbet making instead.
  • go to a concert.
  • visit Costa Rica.
  • buy some clothes that are not jeans or workout gear. I’m not really looking forward to having to look presentable again but it was probably about time.
  • send some apologies, assuming there is anyone left who might accept them.
  • laugh until I cry, and then cry until I laugh.
  • reunite with my good friend, Mr. Goose, first name Grey. That really ought to be at the top of the list.

Or so I like to tell myself. In all actuality, I'll probably just want to curl into a ball and be comatose for a few days when this is all over. Of course, I don't really know what I'm going on about, since this will never, technically, be over.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I love when you rediscover a song, and it reminds you of the good in all the bad. Lost to oblivion, almost completely forgot about this song by the Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan is such a windbag these days, and all that ‘bullet with butterfly’ business pretty much soured me towards him some years back.

What I’d forgotten, but what I’m glad I had done, is that I locked away Gish and Siamese Dreams (and yes, it freaks me out that 'Today' is now used in car commercials, but it was far from the best song on the album anyway). They are in a separate little safe place, with all the other things that need to be protected from the future. Michael Jackson in his prime, Joshua Tree and War, old Soundgarden, Prince before he became punctuation/symbol, Police before Sting went off the drugs. They’re all there, all my friends, all my memories, all the precious little crystallizations of perfection.

maybe you shouldn’t care
throw away those dreams and dare

You might look at it as sad. These guys had so much promise, and now Corgan is running around advocating for Clear Channel and other such unforgivable matters. Cornell is singing horrible songs produced by Timbaland. But I don’t know. Today, I don’t think of it as sad. I just think of it as lovely. A good song is a good song. The past and the future should not touch it. It should be the encapsulation of a moment, and a moment should be independent, should stand on its own.

If I could make life fit into those same parameters, I suspect I would be a much happier person.