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.