Sunday, December 26, 2010

you can't carry it with you if you want to survive

Oh, remember how I used to be a fan of music? Well, I have admittedly been a bit disconnected from music the past six months due to, ugh, life, I guess, and maybe some lame influences in my life. I developed an addiction to The Black KeysTighten Up a couple of months ago, as it was mindless, good, gritty fun. But with a little time on my hands, and various year-end lists recapping music, I have been starting to reconnect to my need for some good lyrics and a haunting melody.

I must confess that I first heard this song on an episode of Glee. Even though I do not like the show, I have this uncontrollable impulse to watch. To draw a parallel appropriate to the season, it’s similar to my need to listen to all covers of Last Christmas, even though there is no way anyone can touch Wham’s 80s-filled cheese- that includes you, Glee, incidentally!

Anyway, not only was the cover of this song typically horrible, but also it seemed to me completely boring and pop-tarty. When I finally heard Florence and The Machine sing it, I could not even recognize it as having any connection to the version done by The Glee crew. The vocals are completely different, and as such, they draw a lot more attention to the lyrics.

And the lyrics… oh man. This is another one of those sneaky songs. You hear it without really listening and it sounds celebratory and yippee, hooray!, but squint your eyes and look closer. I took another listen to it yesterday and I was struck by how it mixes this idea of celebration with warning, and perhaps even celebrating the act of escaping a supposedly happy situation, depending on how you interpret it.

I know some thing about that these days. It’s tricky, this business of figuring out what you want, and realizing that sometimes immediate elation accompanies uncomfortable emotions. Sometimes, it’s healthy to discard the discomfort and behave like the pack. Other times, it’s time to lean on this song, listen for the horses, and run.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

everyone is leaving, I'm still with you

Sometimes I ask myself why I put up with S. I like being by myself. And (I know, here comes a Captain Obvious remark) relationships are a lot of double, double, toil and trouble. And we are heading in different directions really soon, so this situation has a definite expiration date on it. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I haven't cut loose.

But it probably also has to do with the fact that, after listening to Peter Bjorn & John's Young Folks yesterday, he proceeded to sing incessantly and with glee, "We don't care about the aardvarks."

The thing I find really interesting (and I know I sound like an alien visitor from another planet but sometimes that's how I feel when it comes to being in a non-solitary state) is how it's little things that stick with me, or rather draw me into attachment. S pretends to be annoyed at the smirk I develop when he puts on a hoodie. I know these little things about him now, like how five minutes later, he will be complaining about how he is sweltering and has to take that sweatshirt off before it causes him to overheat. Or how sometimes, when he is restless, it will actually seem like there is a pine cone on the couch, because he will spring up every time he sits down, with one more task to accomplish.

But I wonder sometimes, if there is this great divide. Some of us find those little traits endearing, grow more attached as we get to know those slight but specific details that make a person who they are. And some of us are initially smitten with our idea of someone, and then grow disenchanted as we discover the truth.

So I am thankful, for now at least, that S grins, bemused, when I start swearing at Tom Brady (or, as a friend CW recently nicknamed him, Bieber Senior) or ranting about Brett Favre's "I'm retiring/starting!" antics.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

just trying to get myself some gravity

That now old film The English Patient, I thought of it today. I find myself, for reasons far beyond my own grasp even, in Southern California this week, and it was here that I first saw the movie, on opening weekend, in some old, grand theater like they have down here. There were lots of things I loathed about living on this side of the state, but I must admit that watching movies was always a better experience- you could find any film playing and even The English Patient was running in a theater with stadium seating and gigantic screens, despite it also featuring old vaulted ceilings that made it look like a refurbished opera house.

I also thought of that movie because of a specific scene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of this particular movie, and it doesn’t hold up all that well with time. And as I’ve grown older, I find the love story to be almost insufferable. But maybe that’s also why I thought of it today. There’s this scene in the movie- a woman is breaking it off with her lover, and the lover, spurned, says, embittered, that he wants her to know that he isn’t missing her yet. She says, very calmly and all properly English-like, “you will.” And then she turns and bangs her head against a railing. It’s jarring. She loses her composure and puts her hand up to her head, and it’s clear that the dumped lover wants to check to see if she is okay, but finds that he cannot.

Despite appearances, I am not putting a full-blown period on this run-on sentence of a blog. There was a brief comma, but I still have more to say. And I would love to say that there’s been such big things afoot, or that I’ve just been having so much fun. But really, what it came right down to in the end is, the words just were not there. You have to have the words, or what much can you make of a blog?

I still do not have a lot of words. Things are changing, but that, it now strikes me more than ever, is a stupid thing to write. If there is one thing my generation can vouch for with certainty, it is change. There were no such things as cell phones, or blogs when our lifetime began, after all. But still, despite the obvious dynamic nature of the macroscopic world, it bears repeating, I guess, that my little microcosm is changing. Medical school is almost over, and I am making big decisions on where I will be and who I will be, and those are odd things indeed. I find myself considering completely different variables as compared to what I did four years ago, and that is interesting too.

When I left San Francisco, I was one person, who was not the same person as the one who arrived there from the east coast. And now I am another. And this will keep happening, but also it starts to become clear that they are all parts of a whole. It’s easy to sometimes believe I am just fickle and ever-changing, but I can still appreciate everything I loved about San Francisco today. But I do not belong there right now; I can appreciate that too.

S and I were having pho on a particularly cold evening this past week with some friends. This was the evening after he had called me from the airport in a panic after his flight had been canceled due to inclement weather, and I had collected him after we agreed there was no point in trying to reschedule. This was the week after he had made me a care package of chocolates, chewing gum, and ibuprofen to send me off on another round of interviews. We returned with our stomachs warm and full, and I collapsed on the couch, never to murmur another coherent word that evening. I did not have the words, and I did not want them, really. This thing between us is parenthetical in comparison to the big questions, the major paragraphs that lie before me. Sleep came and rescued me from the conversation that we’ll have someday, the conversation that has always been inevitable. For that night, I left it to the movies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

time after time

It seems appropriate to mention that this morning, I woke up an hour earlier than needed so that I could cut, peel, core, and slice up some grannysmith's. Oh yes, people, it is the end of the summer.

That seems to make some people sad and wistful. Not so for me, and I can honestly say it's been that way for some time, even before I lived in San Francisco, where the seasons are all mixed up anyhow. I just like time passing. For a long time now, I have enjoyed the dynamic nature of the world, the way nothing gold can stay. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the Northeast, where the end of the summer gives rise to glorious fireworks of colors bursting on trees. Or maybe it is because I am a malcontent, such that by the time the summer is coming to a close, I cannot wait for the heat to subside, and the oven to be used on a regular basis.

S and I had a silly talk the other day, in which I declared that we had to stop eating out so often, and in which, typical of our complete failure to communicate properly, he thought I meant that I disliked going out to eat. There seems to be no way to make people understand that sometimes I need to be in the kitchen. Do not mistake me- if it was my lot in life to be there every day, forced to make three squares for a family of five, I would probably lose all interest in it and advocate for eating out and frozen dinners. But I find eating in to be just as much of a luxury as eating out these days.

And also, food has become, for me, part of the marking of time passing. In the summer, it is too hot to bake regularly, so I search for other options. The strawberries are fresh, ripe and bursting at the farmer's market, so I learn to make sorbet. Friends' gardens grow tomatoes and I learn to make sauce. I throw brunch and I cook fresh blueberries with sugar until they make french toast taste better, and buy 5 pounds of oranges to get a pitcher of fresh-squeezed juice.

Then on Sunday, it was a little windier in the morning. It was in the air, the whispers of autumn. And at the market, there were apples. And the mushrooms were calling out. And when I sat in the kitchen this morning, slicing apples up, I grew intoxicated by thoughts of the months to come, the scents of cinnamon and ginger, the tastes of apples, pumpkins, potatoes. Mushroom sauce, and stews. I felt a little giddy.

Time moves too fast sometimes, and these days especially. So much is happening, and so many uncertainties present themselves. Once again, I am in this strange position of having no idea where I will be 1 year from now. And sometimes, as in the past, that feels unsettling, and I feel like the ground beneath me is crumbling. But other times, all it takes is a bowl full of cinnamon, sugar, and apples to calm me down. It's as easy as apple pie. Some things change, and yet enough always remains.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

you're so vain

I submit to you Exhibit A in the Reasons why Med Students are sometimes Insufferable series:

JDL: How was the visit back east?
me: Really great. I like hanging out with people outside of medical school; it can have a grounding effect.
JDL: What do you mean?
me: You know, it's nice to be around people who don't care if you're a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. They just want to know if you like this year's Sam Adams' Oktoberfest and if you are one of those creeps who roots for the Yankees.
JDL: (laughs) Yeah, it can be a nice break.
me: Well, I also think when we're isolated in our little medical school world, it's easy to indulge ourselves in thinking that we have it really tough. We cut ourselves a little too much slack, convinced we work so much harder than everyone and that we're so busy, such that everyone should have to make allowances for us. But then you hang out with other people and realize that everyone has their own lives and things that they are juggling. I like that I'm not just let off the hook, or given special dispensation.
JDL: Yeah, although sometimes I wish they would show a little deference.
JDL: I don't know, I'm just saying that if your average person rescued someone with CPR, they would remember those chest compressions their entire life. Meanwhile, I've done so many, I forget the faces of the patients.
me: Okay... well... if you built a house from scratch, that would probably make a big impression in your life, and I am certain that most construction workers lose count of how many homes they've been responsible for building.
JDL: (big deep sigh, acts like I am being ridiculous and argumentative) Yes, but I would argue that a bad day for a construction worker is not the same as a bad day for an ICU doctor.
me: (grinning incredulously) Oh I would absolutely agree with you, JDL! Because a bad day for a construction worker could end with he or she dead or paralyzed, losing their ability to earn their living.
JDL: (exasperated) I think you're missing my point.
me: Oh yeah, I'm the one missing the point.

In short, judging from this little pipsqueak, I do not believe that children are the future, folks.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

I've got nothing to do today but smile

In case the two people still reading this blog were worried, here's some assurance that I am just fine:

where I'm going

Or maybe that causes more concern? I suppose the correlate to the kitchen keeping me calm is that the activity ramps up there considerably when I am stressed.

But you guys, I was so happy tonight by the time I completed the above pictured. I've written before about my fixation on making pasta sauce properly from scratch. And while I often continue to miss San Francisco like a phantom limb, one wonderful thing about my current place of residence is the abundance of produce. Not only can I easily secure all manner of very reasonably priced and locally grown produce at the farmer's market, but also various friends of mine will occasionally surprise me with some crop from their garden.

Yesterday, KS reminded me that she has been trying to unload tomatoes on me for the past three days. People, I am supposed to be doing all sorts of other things right now. I could give you a nice list of at least 5 high-priority-super-important-your-future-depends-on-it tasks on which I should be focusing. And I don't even eat tomatoes. I know, I am a weirdo, but I have never been fond of the texture of raw tomatoes. As I have (slightly, somewhat, very barely) matured, I have been able to force myself to be civil and gulp down chopped tomatoes in a salad or sandwich if pressed. But I really do not care for it.

But you guys, when someone gives you free goods from their garden, you just don't refuse. So it was I came into the possession of a bag of tomatoes slightly past their prime. Only one thing to do really. By good fortune, one of my favorite go-to food bloggers just happened to have whipped up a batch of sauce recently, and I used her recipe for a good basic idea. I remain horrible at following recipes to the dot- some things will never change.

By the time I was finished making the sauce, it was way past dinner. But whatever, I have sauce, and it tastes good, the way fresh sauce should. Tomorrow I am making focaccia, and there is a fragrant little bowl of olive oil steeping rosemary and garlic to give it a little extra punch. And it occurs to me that I am back to what feels right to me again. I know there are other things I ought to be doing, but honestly, occasionally, I need a little break from the full-on medical immersion that choosing this path has entailed. Maybe I do not belong in the most high-powered residency programs in the country, and maybe that is just fine. I belong somewhere that does not try to quell or discourage my desire to occasionally spend an evening squeezing all the seeds out of tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

now our lives are changing fast

Hm. It occurs to me that perhaps it is a bit misleading to go over a month without a post, and then to let out a little unhappy post. It is certainly not the whole story.

LS pointed out in the comments that she thought I was silent because I was happy. Well, yes and no. Truth be told, I was just picking myself up off the floor every night for the past month. Work-wise, the hours were long and I was mostly fighting off exhaustion for the better part of the month. And there was another truth I had to face- San Francisco is not where I live anymore.

I stayed there, for a month, to do a rotation. That much is true. And it is also true that on certain grey mornings, when I was feeling a little unsettled, I would take a turn around the broseph's neighborhood, and a familiar sense of calm would come over me. No other city has this hold on me, that is a fact. But it's not home anymore. It's not mine.

Which is okay. I went to San Francisco for a month to find answers, and instead, I discovered a multitude of questions. You figure out what you want, and then you get it, but then there is always the next thing, the next decision, the next point, and the whole process begins again, of trying to sort it all out. And application season is upon me now, a time that is fraught with uncertainty anyhow.

Throw on top of that a previously amazingly drama-free XY that suddenly became the dude who did not eat my coffee cake (!?!). I hesitate to write that it was all a hiccup, a big misunderstanding that resolved itself. For while that is, in one sense, true, that's the surface. There are aftershocks. I am on unsteady footing.

But I know with great certainty where the solid ground is. I know how to get there. I know how to be alone. It's my area of expertise. The interesting thing is that I am choosing to be a little wobbly. I am choosing to see this through, even if the easier option is to eliminate the complication. I am walking a tightrope; my self-possession has flared and I am taking care of myself, but I am not giving into it so entirely that I am sequestering myself from the dude who did not eat my coffee cake (this title really may stick).

It's a challenge, to say the least. This is not my natural state. I'm at my most thermodynamically stable when it's just me, a ball of yarn, a bag of flour. No complications. No alarms, no surprises. But I'm forcing myself out of my comfort zone a little. For a little while.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

could have done better, but I don't mind

I was chopping up a bell pepper and he moved a chair into the kitchen, because the conversation couldn’t wait. I had seen it coming, but strangely, couldn’t simply sit and talk to him. Instead, I swirled some eggs and milk together, added salt and pepper, and put a skillet on the stove. As I dabbed a little butter on it, I said, “Do you mind if I cook while we talk?”

It wasn’t so strange, in retrospect. No one can hurt me in the kitchen. It’s my domain. When I am there, I am indestructible, and I knew this, as the butter melted on the pan. I’ve never scrambled eggs properly before, but today, as we delved through miscommunications and misunderstandings, the eggs turned out perfectly. I threw some mozzarella and the chopped peppers into the skillet as he sat there, flustered.

He noted that I didn’t seem as upset as he did, as I popped a hulled strawberry into my mouth. I was upset, as a matter of fact, but being upset is different from being hurt. It’s hard to explain, hard to believe that something as simple as a warm coffee cake cooling on the wire rack is enough to give one the sense of invincibility. I don’t pretend to understand it.

But no wonder he didn’t eat a bite. And yet, if the kitchen is my turf, if I am omnipotent there, then something else is also true- if you don’t eat my coffee cake, oh, well then we are most certainly through.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the stillness is the move

Sometimes you have to write, you are compelled to let the words out, and other times you have to not write, keep everything inside, gestate, let things settle and become sensible. Or in this case, you have to keep silent because otherwise all that will come out is an incoherent meeepzs! In other words, too much has been going on and it has been too overwhelming.

And my coping mechanism has been to go back to what I know best. Which might be words, but is mostly playing it close to the vest. Don't ask me. I can't tell you. Or more accurately- don't ask me. I won't tell you. These things, these confusions, these mazes and labyrinths, they are of my own design, and they are altogether mine. About such bewilderment, I am a bit selfish.

Only because I don't know how to put them into the right words. The words are there, but they are like clouds above my head, and if I reach to pull them down into print, they will dissolve to fog or sprinkle down rain. I have to leave them floating for now, I have to let them stretch out against the bright blue sky.

Too much, and not enough to tell, it seems. I am going to San Francisco next week. For a month, I will pretend I live there again. Except I will be doing a poor performance. My luck, well, who am I to complain about bad luck, because really, in the scheme of things, my luck has been nothing to bemoan. But there is a certain poetry in this, returning to the city in which I felt most me at one time, only to find myself in negotiations as to how many weekends I can leave San Francisco. Seriously? Seriously. Who is this person, having these negotiations, navigating these waters? Surely not me. Every time there is such a discussion, every time the chess match resumes, I am split wide open. One half of me finds this hilarious, wholly amusing, and rather revels in the absurdity of it all. The other half balks, is horrified, and wonders how it is possible that so much energy could be expended on something not entirely of my own making. It occurs to me- everything has been about me first for so long that I haven't a good handle on the concept of compromise.

And this, in turn, sparks a whole new line of thought. Pied Piper and I were chatting about this noise, and I had made a passing remark about how this relationship foolishness stopped stressing me out once I realized that no one can really dismantle me anymore. No one has that sort of power over me anymore, except perhaps for me. He thought it was a rather obvious thing, apparently. But to me, it was a revelation. And it took all this time to see that I'm not her anymore. No one even knows her anymore, so no one else would bother to notice. They don't know that she used to bend over backwards to make things work, took everything on her own shoulders, and then would, wounded and saddened, sit waiting for a call that never came. To write it down now, to put the words down now, well, of course, she is long gone. I wouldn't recognize her either. I used to think I would be sorry, the day that I saw her disappear. I used to think that, despite her stupidity, there was a kind of romance to it, the way she was unswerving in her devotion. And then comes one more revelation- she is not really gone. She just got a little more selective, and she became me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm breaking my back but it's all good

My latest line has been that, if you catch me in September, you'll find a very relaxed and well-adjusted person. One of my more blatant lies, or delusions, depending on who it is exactly I am trying to kid. Medical school, and disturbingly enough, yes, the entire process of medical training (and possibly medicine as a career) is a series of hoop-jumping exercises. Take this test, pass this rotation, apply to this, interview for that. Boxes must be ticked, deadlines must be met. It seems interminable, and in some ways it is interminable, which can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow. But, on the other hand, I'm told that one becomes more accustomed to it over time.

Your fourth year of medical school, I am told, is supposed to be some golden, magical time though. Once you've cleared the more unwieldy points, it is supposed to be all relaxation and a time to recover from some of the rigors of third year as well as a time to hibernate before the terror of internship besets you.

STB, aka my sort-of-bf-person-I-don't-know-don't-ask-me, was telling me the other day that he dislikes this year of medical school. He likes having work to do, feeling useful, knowing that what he is doing is serving something besides himself. It is probably one of the many reasons we have gotten ourselves into this mostly pleasant mess. I know what he means. I felt far more content a month ago, when I was working in the hospital and was actually useful to the fellows and residents, than now, when I have a break to study for yet another stupid standardized test.

And I know that, for all my talk, come September, I will fill all kinds of things into my free time. Research projects, teaching projects, baking projects, knitting projects and (yes, worst of all) relationship projects. And I seem to have a knack for making even the most universally acknowledged blow-off rotations into something I take seriously. I don't have it in me to be a slacker in the hospital, which is probably why I ultimately belong there. And moreover, I think I'm just not someone who is content to coast along at one level. Despite how stressful and aggravating it can sometimes be, I think it's ingrained, this need to keep pushing.

The only thing I have managed not to push, miraculously enough, is STB. Once I realized that I had no need to be with him, suddenly everything was a lot less complicated. I am still not over the moon at the idea of becoming attached to someone at a time when everything is transient and everyone is looking to head elsewhere, but these things often have little to do with choice. Still, I feel very confident that I cannot be crushed, at least not in the way I have been in the past. That seems to provide me with a lot of calm.

Also, there is a certain simplicity to it that I can only explain by quoting a middling movie:

Willie: He makes you happy?
Andera: Yeah. I look for that in a man, you know. The ones that make me miserable don't seem to last.
Willie: Right.
Andera: You know, there are four words I need to hear before I go to sleep. Four little words. "Good night, sweet girl." That's all it takes. I'm easy, I know, but a guy who can muster up those four words is a guy I want to stay with.

Go ahead, laugh it up, I acknowledge it's fairly cheeseball. And with that, I return to the drudgery of memorizing a whole lot of minutiae.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

and your earth moves beneath your own dream landscape

It should be noted that I am not from Ohio. However, EBF doesn't lend itself quite as poetically to song lyrics. So I make do with The National's latest. The song is ostensibly about everything that comes along with going back to the place where you started, something near and dear to my heart. But it's also chock full of such beautiful lyrics, I can hardly stand it. Lofty imagery like I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees and the simple depth of I never thought about love when I thought about home.

Recently, people have been asking me if I am moving back to the East Coast, or more specifically, if I want to move back. It's a difficult question for me to answer. A part of me does, very much so. The very reason I left the East Coast turns out to be the reason I ponder going back. When I left, I wanted to be free, I wanted to sever the bonds that were keeping me tied to place. And I did, and it's meant everything. But I am undecided as to whether this weightless floating and this wandering is what I want forever.

It may just be the lot of those of us who could not stay in one place for whatever reason. There are more of us than there used to be, in this modern age. And I suppose that whenever I think about the question, it always comes down to home, the very concept of it. I don't really have a place I would call home. When I go back to EBF, I have a strong sense of my history and from where I came, but not of home. When I go to San Francisco, I remember fondly everything the city did for me, how it would envelope me in an embrace of fog on pensive nights. But I can't be sure I belonged there, can't be certain that going back would mean I had found my home.

That is when I come to the reality, which complicates things. Home, for me, is people. It really and truly is. When I am with certain people, I feel more at home wherever I happen to be geographically. It complicates things, of course, because those people are not all conveniently lumped together in a 10-mile radius of each other. So will I move to the East Coast? Perhaps. I have some sense of home there. And in Ohio. And in Pennsylvania. And in Houston. And in San Francisco. As usual, nothing can be decided just now, but the decision will become clear when it is before me. Or so I hope.

In the meanwhile, take a listen to this song, and grow a little wistful about home.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

one life stand

Well, well, well, this is interesting. I could write about some relationship (blech) hungama, but that is not where my head is these days. Yes, indeed. I find medicine more interesting than determining whether or not I am making a gigantic mistake getting tangled up with some clown.

You see, it is normally quite easy to distract me from matters of science and medicine, believe it or not, but there are two rather amazing things happening at the moment. First of all, despite what I just wrote, I am not involved with a clown. That, in and of itself, is rather amazing, because, seriously, how often does that happen? (I mean, but, sadly, it should be noted that this situation is not clown-free: I may be the clown this time around). Secondly, it turns out, lo and behold, I really am devoted to what I am doing.

Despite how that might seem an obvious thing from the outside, and despite how sometimes that also seems plain from the inside as well- still, there is something I have learned about certainty. You can be certain of something in the moment. You can mean something when you say it. It doesn't mean you'll always be sure; it doesn't mean what you say is cast in stone. The best decisions, it seems, are the ones you can revisit again and again. And though your reasons may be different, though your perspective may have changed, it turns out that, when you do the new math, look at it from the new angle, it was still the right choice.

Which is how I seem to feel at the moment. There is so much that is frustrating about the medical education process. Other people can probably go into that more eloquently. Yet I can say, once again, there is nothing I would rather be doing. The deeper I wade into it all, the further away from the esoteric nature of books and tests, the more I feel it enveloping me, in the best way possible.

There is a running joke, and it is not altogether funny or a joke, that one should avoid getting sick during the month of July. The hospital becomes chaos- new interns are starting, and the interns from the previous year are suddenly considered residents who have more decision-making capability. No one is very sure of themselves. Last week, I was working on a team with a new fellow, a new intern, and a visiting medical student from another country. Was it my role as a medical student to train any of these people or even to help them? No. But I cannot handle inefficiency, and I cannot handle watching people flail. There is a theme of 'throw 'em in the deep end and see if they swim' rampant in medical education that I find wholly unnecessary. What's more- aside from treating patients, there is little that is more satisfying than teaching someone something useful.

I suppose, when everything gets boiled down to its essence, that is what does it for me. That is why medicine is probably now a permanent part of my life, never to be discarded in its entirety. I know I have this need to be useful. And medicine always seems to find some use for me.

As for the non-clown situation, well, as I said, not anywhere near as interesting. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, though.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

and looking for some parallel can be an endless game

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially now that there are probably no such things as library stacks. We were sitting in the basement, the smell of old, yellowed pages pervading as we sifted through an ancient German synthesis paper. It was October. He said that Ipswich was beautiful that time of year; he made a throwaway remark about us taking a motorcycle ride out there to visit the orchards.

Oh, I was young then. Everything seemed so promising. And I wanted so much to believe. In my mind's eye, I could imagine it, the wind whipping through our jackets as we rode out, the leaves exploding in vibrant colors like fireworks all around us. I could hear the crunch of the leaves and the pine needles as we trudged out, the lanes of perfectly spaced apple trees. A bucket of apples at my side, the two of us resting our heads against a tree in reverie.

Except none of it ever happened.

And it was years ago, but was it really? Strange how the littlest of things mark you. Little empty promises and small hopes that were extinguished, they just sink deeper into your fabric over the years, it seems. And so, I suppose, it's no surprise, the way my voice flattens, my brain and heart go numb, and I sound completely ambivalent when asked away. All of this has happened before and will happen again. Or maybe (maybe?) not.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I don't want to doubt you, know everything about you

In this world where the multi-tasker is king, let me tell you that I am one lowly serf. Sometimes I think that one of the reasons I am particularly inept at juggling multiple things at once is my willingness to let go. I accept the concept of sacrifice without a lot of resistance, I find. To some extent, anyone who goes to med school gets better and better at giving things up. It starts with sleep, then it becomes vacation time, then it becomes who knows?

So when I get overwhelmed, I get the same impulse that I do when I see a messy room. I just start throwing things in the garbage, I just want to throw everything away and have a blank slate, start again. I want to do the same thing when I feel like it is simply too much work to keep all of these parallel lives going.

But, as with anything, there are two sides to this coin. Being realistic is useful- I find this whole you can have it all! gusto with which some people approach the world a recipe for disaster or disappointment. On the other hand, there is the matter of getting so accustomed to losing things, letting everything go, that nothing anchors you, nothing keeps you, and you wonder if anyone would notice if you simply floated off into the distance.

So I waged war with some demons. I avoided falling victim to melancholy, stopped driving myself batty with overanalysis, started to put some distance as a means to survival. But I didn’t let go entirely, I didn’t light a match and drop it in a pool of gasoline. It was an unusual change of pace for me.

There are still no guarantees. I might still run, I could still float away. But I am letting time control the situation, instead of rebelling as I might have done in the past. I’m otherwise quite impatient- if I can’t figure out a situation, if it doesn’t become entirely clear to me in short order, I very quickly get fed up. And then I force a decision. Which isn’t always such a winning strategy.

Anyway- here’s a song that’s not from medieval times for a change. I am trying, for a change, to be more appreciative of my friends. But at the same time, sometimes I wonder how much of fading-friends-syndrome is my doing, and how much is a function of life and the way it progresses. And that is why this beautiful song seems appropriate.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

it was mine all along, I'm going to find it

Sorry to oscillate between the hospital and the personal. It all blends into one for me. Today, I am frustrated. I don't know if it is my own special talent, getting myself entangled in complex situations just as things are finally starting to become clear, muddying my own waters. Or if it is just that fate likes to have a laugh at me frequently. Either way, I am in something of a bind and I am sick of it.

I was venting to myself earlier today, because I was irrationally angry, because I do not know how to deal with the stupidity of beginnings of relationships, not anymore (as if I ever did). But it was interesting, what wound up suddenly spilling out, a sharp truth delivered like a splash of cold water.

You are not worth more than me.

Cool, cool water. It washed over me, and everything slowed down. I was suddenly calm. Because it happens to be an important thing to remember, and yet one I most often forget. In my desire to be accommodating and make things work, make pieces fit even if their edges don't match, I forget. I always forget.

And yet it's the only thing that must be remembered. It would not do, to lose sight of that. Once that is lost, everything goes with it. And I have worked too hard, come too far, to just dissolve into nothingness again. I can rebuild, I can reclaim, sure, I can survive- but why make it so dramatic as life and death? If I just keep hold of this truth, I can be steady, I can be bond. And nothing can hurt me really.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I used to live alone before I knew you

One of my patients is dying. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the realm of Internal Medicine. Internists tend to manage some of the sickest folks in the hospital. In fact, this is not the first patient I have encountered who is not likely to survive his hospitalization.

Yet, this one, I must admit, is getting to me. In medicine, there is an impulse to suppress these feelings, the sadness and frustration and despair that comes with seeing a patient dying. This particular patient is 66 years old, was just recently diagnosed with a bad, untreatable variant of cancer, and was admitted to the hospital because he had an infection in his abdomen. My team was consulted because of the infection, but soon thereafter, his bowel perforated and air started to leak into his abdomen. The surgeons have told him that he is not a good surgical candidate. No one wants to intervene.

So every day, I walk into his room and watch this man slowly lose his dignity and become even less comfortable. And this is a man who is clearly not prone to complaints. A retired police officer, he rode Harleys in his spare time. Every time his family is visiting, he says that his pain is not that bad. Every time I see him in the morning, when he is alone, he tells me that the pain is excruciating and he does not know how much longer he can take it. Because the infection is the least of his worries these days, I spend most of my visits with him asking about his life, the work he did, or the bewilderment he experienced on learning he had cancer less than three months ago.

Yesterday, when I left him room, I said, “it is good seeing you this morning.” It was nothing special, a fairly typical farewell.

He said, “you don’t know how good it is to hear people say that, it really means something.

I managed to tell him that I really meant it, and then stormed out of the room, knowing I was about to lose my composure. I know all the reasons I was about to lose it. This man is dying, but death is a natural part of life, in my opinion. The problem, for me, is how much he is suffering, and how little medicine can do for him, with all our talk of advances and compassion. And I hate watching patients lose their dignity; it really squeezed the life out of me to watch a stoic, previously strong man lying weakly in bed, not at all ready to die.

And there is something else too, something selfish. You see, you would think that you see things like this, and it changes how you view the world. You would think you see a patient dying, you see the love of his family and the way that people rally around him, and you would learn something from that. You want to learn something from that. You want to conclude that life is short and that you should focus on the important things in life. You want to be enlightened, and have that new knowledge translate into the way you live your life. But it doesn’t work that way. Some of that is due to you, and some of it is due to everyone else in the world. Regardless of the reason, you are stuck knowing that life continues to march on and you’re not applying any of the lessons you are supposed to be learning.

Monday, June 07, 2010

closer I am to fine

Well. So much for having far more time on my hands to devote to writing. Of course, I have had time to write though. I’ve been writing a lot, in fact, but in the form of correspondence. Lately, I have been feeling a little overexposed, a little invaded. I’ll be the first to admit that I have quite a prickly exterior, and I do not like letting that soft underbelly show.

And it’s there, but it’s also not. I think I have been afraid, but sometimes my fears are misplaced. Sometimes it is easy to forget. Sometimes I neglect to note what time and experience has taught me.

This song is a cute little thumbing-your-nose-at-your-frustration ditty. It’s a little overstated, and it’s a little angry. But it’s also a little something to keep in mind, to always recall. It’s funny. I was corresponding recently about The Goal and about it I remarked: I decided that I didn’t want an alternative plan, you know? I didn’t want to be safe. I wanted to want it, to be crushed and disappointed if it didn’t work out. I already knew by then that I could feel that way and still survive. So at the worst, it would just be another matter of picking myself up off the curb, putting myself back together, and getting on with life. I really did feel that way about it. And to tell the truth, I am still proud of that impulse, that rhythm inside of me that was so unswerving and steady.

And yet, strangely, I can not seem to apply that kind of confidence and, yes, carelessness towards relationships. But I wonder why not. I’m even more certain I could withstand any manner of fiasco in the context of relationship- I’ve got more practice at recovering from all sorts of calamities, moreso than I’ve had in my professional life most certainly. I honestly think I had partially forgotten about my capability to emerge from attempted drownings. I know how to keep my head above water. But sometimes, I need to be reminded to come up to the surface, and this song is as good a reminder as any.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

"My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."

This little passage from The Little Prince has always meant a lot to me. The problem, of course, is that I have always fought off the idea of being tamed. For, as wonderful as it may be, it's also quite uncomfortable.

So here I find myself dancing with the whole idea, a tentative step towards, a nervous step back. I'm pulled to the idea of being tamed. I fight it because there is an expiration date on things these days. I am happy and I do not entirely see the point of disturbing that equilibrium.

And yet, I am perhaps not as cynical as I sound. Even in the back and forth, the conflict that leads to paralysis, the doubts and fears, in all of that there has to be some element of hope, or the scales would have been tipped towards my usual content state of status quo. I suppose what is left is figuring out what it is I'm hoping for.

In other news, it is finally starting to get warm here these days. Which means soon it will be time to embark on ice cream making. In preparation, I spent all of yesterday scrubbing my kitchen down (there is something silly about the idea of cleaning something up just so you can make it dirty again- I'm sure there is some meaning to this habit of mine, but I don't have the wherewithal to figure it out just now). This is much aided by an iPod tucked in your pocket. Preferably with cheeseball Bollywood songs, a healthy helping of 80s silliness like XTC and Duran Duran, and then closing it out with some Jay-Z. It sounds odd, but it is surprisingly effective.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

if we part, I'm sure we'll meet again

Strange days indeed.

Third year of medical school is supposed to be the most difficult one. Even though it is the opportunity to get into the clinics, see patients, figure out what you really want, it is also grueling, exhausting and makes you question yourself and your abilities. Fourth year of medical school, in contrast, is supposed to be the big exhale, the big period of calm and relaxation before the rigors of residency.

I am three weeks into my fourth year, and I haven’t been relaxed. Still, it’s by far the best three weeks of medical school thus far, and it will continue to be a good year, I suspect. Everything starts to fall into place; all the learning starts to come in handy. And most of all, you are more involved in taking care of your patients and talking to families and being an integral part of the team.

So all of that is good, and I should just be content and calm. And a part of me is. But the other part of me is developing a big, horrible ulcer. It is okay though. I have this little trick, and it really comes in handy. I remind myself that, in general, I am happy with the life I lead. When someone comes along and pushes me out of my equilibrium, the set point shifts. But I know, and nowadays it’s not a delusion but the truth, I know that I can go back.

It’s a more powerful thing than I imagined, really being aware that you’ll be okay on your own. I mean, I have known this for a long time. But I haven’t really taken it out for a test drive in a while. Until now.

Relationships (and even typing that word sparked a cringe cringe cringe response down to my bones) are a complicated business. Now I’m not saying I’m in one (because that would cause me to run to the closest bar and drown myself in Grey Goose until my liver was shot), but even entertaining the idea of one is tricky. In some ways, it’s made all the more difficult when the possibilities seem good, seem promising.

And for a tiny bit of time, I thought that I was getting ready for some troubled times. I could feel things crumbling. But then I remembered that I have been standing on my own two feet for some time now. And that no one can pull the rug out from underneath me except for me.

I like earthquakes. I like the ground beneath me crumbling a bit. But I am not going to collapse, not going to dive into an abyss. It’s still a weird feeling, because this is not my usual stable state, not a comfortable feeling. However, I have the oddest sense that everything will be fine- not because I know what is going to happen, but because I know nothing’s going to change my world, if you will.

After next week, my schedule gets pretty sweet, so I’ll be posting more regularly (inspiration willing).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

no need for words now, we sit in silence

K was watching a Youtube video of a man signing to The Black Eyed Peas Tonight’s gonna be a good night, and after the second viewing, S wandered out “to the porch.” This was how he referred to the stoop of two steps of concrete leading down to the walkway that night. Drinks dangling comfortably in our hands, we sat down together on the slab. An entire person could have fit in the space between us. We knew this, but we pretended not to know. We feigned comfort in our own little spheres.

It seemed like moonlight at first, but it was more the streetlight. It might have tinged the green leaves yellow, it might have made yellow leaves glow a bit iridescent. We had been drinking for too long to know for sure. But the small leaves clustered together and swayed slightly, lit by the moon and by the streetlights, together, shimmering against the night sky.

The cool night air kept us calm, but we did not shiver. The dog emerged and sat down in the front lawn. I changed the music to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, and returned to my place on the stoop. K came out and it was only natural that she should sit between us. We all looked up at the breeze that we could not really see, and for a time, no one said a word.

Take a snapshot, photograph the moment, and it would have seemed like nothing. Nondescript house, three friends sitting around on a stoop on a Friday night, gazing about with buzz-filled glassy eyes. But it was so beautiful, so universal, so everything that has always been and always will be. May there always be stoops and beautiful nights and friends raising their glasses. And may there always be more than meets the eye- the unspoken tension, the possibilities, the delicious torture of uncertainty. Every bit of it, so so beautiful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

life is unkind, we fall but we keep getting up

I seem to be oscillating between new and old tunes, so forgive the mood swings- that’s what happens when a student is doing a psychiatry rotation, I suppose (not really, said student just likes to tie in Psych references every time she does anything bonkers). The artist formerly known as Pied Piper tried to give me an assignment- silly rabbit, Trix are for kids, of course supplying me with a song to consider never leads to any writing on my part! He wanted me to ponder one Pretenders song, but instead, just to be the royal pain in the neck that I am, I found myself drawn to a different one.

This, I think, is because I’m avoiding melancholy. There is something distressing, something which could lead to meltdowns and heartbreak, just around the corner. I know gut aches lie ahead. But I am willfully ignoring it all. I am sticking my fingers in my ears like a five year old, stomping my feet, chanting “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!

And at a time like this, The PretendersMessage of Love is a nifty thing to have at the ready. As in my earlier post last month, I really do wonder what happened to all the bad-a$$es like Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde. Where did they come from, and why has no one carried on the torch? I remember the first time I heard Brass in Pocket, which coincided with the first time I saw the video- my reaction is best summed up as W. T. F.. Hynde is so strong. Her voice and the way she carries herself on stage, she just has this presence, this very do not f*** with me presence. And while the lyrics to Brass in Pocket are at face value almost arrogant, they are also longing, and she looks almost vulnerable in the video. I recall that I kind of loved that. Being a tomboy who could not decide whether she wanted to kick or kiss a boy, Hynde’s combination of confidence and yearning gave me a lot of hope.

As for Message of Love, this is just one of those songs. You know, at some point, I will compile a mix of songs that are guaranteed to cheer you up, and this will most definitely make the list. But it’s ten times better because it’s The Pretenders and it’s rock. I don’t know. When rock music is optimistic, not lewd or suggestive, not angry, not sarcastic or ironic, just optimistic, it’s so refreshing that you can’t help but grin. Message of Love starts with a catchy guitar and drum rhythm, the kind that makes your ears prop up a bit and pay attention. The lyrics show up, with Hynde’s usual combination of confidence and tenderness, and it may as well be gospel. Because Hynde’s lyrics, Wilde quote notwithstanding, are not that imaginative by any stretch. Message of Love is at its core quite a simple song in all regards. But I’m hard pressed to come up with a better argument for the less is more aesthetic than this song.

And as an added bonus, it wards off the other messages of love, the ones that involve uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. “Lalalala, I can’t hear you,” I yell again and crank up The Pretenders.

Monday, April 05, 2010

you are mine, you are what you are

So. I was going to write some down in the dumps post about this alarming dream I had recently, but thankfully for you and me, I remembered that I practically drove my car off the road yesterday when I heard this song. Because I am no teeniac and because I grew up in EBF and because I am fond of folk music anyway, I immediately recognized the CSNY hook. Actually, I imagine most people in my age range would recognize it, even if they did not know it was CSNY.

I used to listen to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, no joke. I still think Helplessly Hoping is one of the saddest, prettiest songs ever. And the chorus of Southern Cross is probably permanently etched into my brain. But it always bothered me, the ending of Judy Blue Eyes. At first, it bothered me because I couldn’t understand the words at the end. The song becomes playful and then Stills bursts out into a foreign language. I assumed it was Spanish at the time.

Later, I believe Stills (or CSNY fans, not sure which) put in real Spanish lyrics, but in earlier interviews, Stills made remarks about how he had purposefully sang the coda in broken Spanish, wanting it to be essentially incoherent. Even as a young punk, that did not sit well with me. It sounded like a tourist’s interpretation of what Cuban music sounds like, and later, when I really listened to Cuban music, that became even more obvious.

It’s interesting, getting older, when it comes to music. In the late 90s, I remember a lot of people getting awfully bent out of shape about Déjà vu sampling Steely Dan’s Black Cow. Of course, this had a lot to do with the fact that the rappers who sampled Black Cow didn’t bother to ask permission and thus got themselves sued. But then again, rappers had been getting away with that kind of stuff for years. Part of it was that the tidal wave that is hip hop had not quite swept all preconceived notions away. There was still an argument about whether rap was music back then. The other part was that it was perceived as laziness, using someone else’s music in that way. In the case of Déjà vu, most of the criticism was legitimate- the only thing that really sticks out about the song, in retrospect, is the Steely Dan sample, which remains awesome.

Armada Latina is an entirely different experience. First of all, there’s the generational aspect. I bet most people who have listened to Armada Latina don’t even know (or care) who CSNY are (I’m not entirely convinced most people listening to the song are even aware of who Cypress Hill are). They certainly don’t care about hip hop co-opting a part of a song. And they most definitely do not consider it laziness.

But beyond all that, there is something else still at play here. This song reminds me of warm nights in Brooklyn (I know, I never lived there, I don’t know why it comes to mind). I am reminded of a colorful bar on the corner, people spilling out of it and drinking while music pulses. I am reminded of the different sounds and people and the beautiful clash of everything. It brings to mind Junot Diaz, in a way, this idea that this is the world we live in now. In this world, you don’t listen to Stills sing in gibberish; in this world, you get the real thing and if you don’t know the translation, then look it up, cabron, because that’s your problem.

I don’t know if Cypress Hill meant it that way, if they picked this sample because of it. After all, setting all of that aside, this song is just good. It should be played all over the place this summer. And it makes me happy when groups like Cypress Hill make a reappearance, because, selfishly, it makes me feel less like a member of the AARP. But I have to admit that the reason it tickled me as much as it did on first listen is how fiercely Cypress Hill and (okay fine) Skeletor Marc Anthony reclaim the CSNY bit- listen to it and tell me you don’t hear a little glee in that.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I demand a rematch

I blame Pied Piper 115% for this one. (You’ll note I’m not even bothering to come up with some sorry excuse for why my blogging frequency is both inconsistent and pathetic of late, because I think it would just be a bunch of empty promises at this point and you all deserve better.) This is one of the best things about music though.

R.E.M’s Green was released in 1988. I was very young at the time. I mean, not so young that I shouldn’t have been listening to the album. I was maybe just a few years younger than those who the album was targeting. And I have to say that Green was responsible for getting me some major cred points among my classmates. A few years earlier, I had distractedly scrawled ‘R.E.M’ onto my jeans and ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine’ on the margin of my notebook during study hall and CR, your average teenage boy who made a point of noting anything that did not conform perfectly to accepted norms, had called me a freak. Only ‘freaks’ listened to R.E.M and The Cure and The Smiths at that time.

Then Green came out, and everyone was dancing around to Stand, and suddenly I got a reputation for knowing about music. In case you have not guessed, this is me rolling my eyes.

Anyway, the thing is, I listened to Green a lot. I mean, a lot, because it was a pop album, at its core- it had catchy hooks and even some straightforward lyrics. But to be perfectly honest, I did not pay them much mind. Usually, with Michael Stipe lyrics, I found little gems in the gibberish and clung to them even if they meant to me something altogether different than what was intended. Even if I could not get a complete handle on what Stipe was trying to say in The Finest Worksong, I could celebrate the poetry in “what we want and what we need has been confused, been confused.Green seemed a little bit of a departure, because the lyrics were seemingly a bit more obvious.

Maybe. But I was still too young, too new to the world to really have them mean a lot to me.

And I did not really revisit a whole lot of R.E.M. Maybe because the assault of Losing My Religion and Everybody Hurts cured me of the need to hear much of them. Also, R.E.M, while it was often played by teenagers and on college radio, was never really a band for teenagers, I realize in retrospect. They really lacked the angst of adolescence.

There is no better proof of that than World Leader Pretend which that troublemaker Pied Piper brought back into my consciousness recently. It is not like I had forgotten about that song. He mentioned it and almost reflexively, I heard the lyrics this is my mistake, let me make it good. But it did not mean anything to me. When I was listening to this song as a little punk, it was someone else singing to me. I mean that it was about someone else. It was a character, and I was listening to his story.

Surely not mine. I hadn’t made a mess of much, hadn’t built walls, hadn’t brandished weapons, hadn’t done much damage. I had little to regret. The song was not about me, not then. So imagine my surprise when I revisited the song and found it was telling my story. I am not entirely certain I am glad of that. I sometimes don’t think of myself as that different, who I was as a little teenage punk and who I am now. But this song is all about the contrast, all about how it's impossible to go back, how some changes are irreversible.

I do not mean to suggest that I am in any way special, and I suppose that is the point. You get this far in life, oh, you’ve done some damage, you’ve eaten the pavement a few times. Which gets to my original point. The song was always meant for an adult. And I was not one when I first heard this song. And ultimately this:
This is my world and I am world leader pretend
this is my life, this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I raised the walls that I’ve constructed

Well, this is rather hopeful in my opinion. This fills me with a sense of purpose. It’s an urge, an entreaty not to simply give into patterns and history with melancholy and resignation. In some ways, the peace treaty is just as big of an undertaking, just as big of a fight as the war.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

pretending that you're oh so shy

In EBF, we had junior high, which I guess was middle school for some people. Since our high school could only handle three grades, there were no freshmen there. Instead, junior high had grades 7-9. Big deal, right? When I think back on it, actually, yes, really big deal.

There is a pretty sizable difference between a high school freshman and a 7th grader. Now granted, I was a pretty sheltered 6th grader. I didn’t have older siblings. I had an older cousin who came to stay with us during the summers, but that didn’t start until I was already in junior high, and that’s a story for another time. Most of the kids in my neighborhood were my age. The ones that were older were relatively mild-mannered types, or thankfully immature boys, who still got a kick out of playing dodgeball in the street after suppertime. But even taking all of this into account, I don’t know how things are now, but back then, the most scandalous thing you did in elementary school was learn how to curse. And possibly some boys and girls held hands or kissed.

Until I started junior high school, all the music I had been exposed to came from relatively safe sources. My father played music, but it was either old Beatles’ albums (not edgy Beatles, but She Loves You Beatles) or Kishore Kumar’s greatest hits. The radio played music, but in EBF this meant that you heard some J. Geils’ Band and whatever happened to be on American Top 40 that week. One of my masi’s was a disco fanatic, so occasionally, I got to listen to ABBA or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. We finally got MTV in EBF when I was nearing the end of elementary school, and so I got to see Michael Jackson, Run DMC, Prince, and Duran Duran.

The thing is, I can think back and realize that a lot of the music I was listening to, even before I started elementary school, was not appropriate for a kid. Prince songs? Definitely racy. J. Geils’ Band singing about finding out a girlfriend made some change on the side by posing as a playmate? Also not appropriate (nor was the video in retrospect). Even Adam Ant bemoaning “don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” is far from the right message to send a pre-teen. Still, none of that music seemed at all scandalous when I was listening to it in those days. For one thing, we conveniently were too naïve to understand the innuendos and inappropriate messages. For another, the music in those days was so bubbly and playful, it was easy not to take it as anything forbidden or dangerous.

Which is why it still stands out in my head, a day early in 7th grade. Riding the bus was terrifying in those early days. The 9th graders sat in the back, and looked like they could eat you alive. I didn’t grow up in the rich part of town. These 9th graders had been around. They smoked. They wore tight jeans. They had aggressively feathered hair, and I don’t mean that in a girly way with Aquanet and curls- it looked like an animal’s mane, unkempt and scraggly, like they’d been in a fight with a lawnmower. They looked like they were just waiting for an excuse to tell you to shut up. I remember one of them would snap, “what the hell are you looking at?” the moment your eye wandered in her general direction.

Because they knew you were looking at them. It was hard not to look at them. They looked dangerous. They looked like they had crossed lines you were afraid to, and they carried themselves as if they thought you were a weakling for staying safely within the boundaries. They were decidedly un-ladylike, but unapologetic about it.

So I still remember that day on the bus. The 7th graders were sitting in the front as we always did, nodding our head along to Madonna or whatever stupidity was playing. The reception went fuzzy, and the bus driver switched the dial slightly, and suddenly, there it was. The driver was about to change it, but the girls in the back yelled, “Don’t touch it!” and “Leave it on that!” And when I think back on it, it’s kind of funny, because I am quite certain that even the bus driver was scared of those girls. Because the bus driver froze and left it on the station.

It’s not even her most aggressive song, not even her most suggestive song. She didn’t even write it herself. But wow. There was the alarming drum roll, the angry hand claps, and the, well, demanding guitar. As a kid, you just heard that some girl liked rock’n’roll and wanted the jukebox to play another song. At least, you knew that’s what you were supposed to be hearing. Just harmless fun.

But there was nothing harmless about hearing that song as someone about to become a teenager. It was a dangerous song, no getting around it. The guitar and the beat and that flattened what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at voice. Joan Jett was the patron saint of the girls on that bus. She was like nothing I had heard prior to that. And she was always alarming. My father, who would put up with us listening to Madonna and Michael Jackson and even Run DMC, would blanche at the idea of leaving Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on. Because this was a girl who did what she wanted and would not be swayed. You could say you were all for women being able to do a man’s job, but Joan Jett showed up and actually did it, and it was discomfiting. Because she wasn’t demure about it, she wasn’t batting her eyelashes and modest. She had a swagger. And this was not the kind of strong woman my father had in mind when he issued platitudes about being independent and doing anything I wanted.

It’s obviously no coincidence that I’m bringing all of this up, when a biopic about The Runaways is soon to be released. I probably won’t watch the movie, but the constant commercials reminded me of those early days, the fear and the fascination. I was too young to listen to the Runaways when they were together, but I listened to them plenty later, in junior high. I never became one of those girls at the back of the bus. I was never that strong, never that aggressive or angry. But I was rebelling, and my favorite way to do that in those early days was music. When it came to Joan Jett and The Runaways, no one had to issue the dare, no one had to actually voice the words, “this is wrong” or “girls shouldn’t do this.” It’s like it was programmed in all of us. The moment you heard the songs, the first time you heard it, you knew it was wrong, you knew it in your core. It went against everything that was ingrained in everyone at the time. It wasn’t just for the girls either. I remember how the boys both liked Joan Jett and were confused by liking Joan Jett.

Later on, Pat Benatar showed up and gave everyone something safe they could like, a watered down version. But Pat Benatar, for all her scowling and pouting and threatening pimps, never frightened me. Joan Jett scared the crap out of me. And it was awesome.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

take only what you need from it

There have been a lot of questions swirling around in my head, but no space or time to find any of the answers.

Two of the rotations I was dreading most in medical school were Obstetrics and Pediatrics. Really, more people should dread Obstetrics than do- fear the placenta, I say, for there is nothing particularly appealing about that part of childbirth conveniently left out of the likes of Knocked Up. I was also dreading (forgive me, XX's of the world) the idea of working in a female-dominated area. In the past, in groups of women, I've always floundered a bit. There's a hierarchy and code that I somehow missed by being too much of a tomboy when I was a kid and hanging out with way too many teenage boys when I was a bit older. And even though I got better at it as I got older, I still always felt more comfortable hanging with cowboys as compared to sororities. Pediatrics, I feared for less rational reasons- I thought of children as little alien beings who make a lot of noise at Target, and I worried about dealing with anxious parents.

In the end, both of the rotations went surprisingly better than I could have hoped. While I happily leave the delivery of babies to those more interested in that sort of thing, I liked how focused the field is. You can figure it out and become fairly competent at it, and, as a medical student, that's always an attractive quality. Moreover, I got to spend some time in the OR, resecting ovarian tumors, and that felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'd reconciled by then that I have a fondness for surgery, but no aspirations to pursue it. But in some ways that made it more interesting, as I could just allow myself to be fascinated. The patients were so interesting, facing an uphill battle that can sometimes feel much like Sisyphus, but most of them were ready for the fight.

While I was justified in thinking of children as aliens- after all, they did infect me with their foreign pathogens and render me half alive for a solid 2.5 weeks of an 8 week rotation- Pediatrics was also one of my favorite rotations of medical school.

For one thing, it bridged a gap for me. There was a young, idealistic version of me that was once interested in medicine. But that was a long time ago. It wasn't until much later that my interest in medicine experienced a rebirth, and this later, more measured, eyes wide open version of me decided this was the right thing for me to do with my life. Amusingly (to me), the earlier version of me was keen on Pediatrics. When I was young, I had this connection to children that seemed like a secret power. At family parties, I was always handed little babies and toddlers. I liked them even. They seemed to just know whether your intentions were pure, and I loved that they couldn't be fooled.

But all of that seems like ancient history, and most people who know me these days wouldn't even believe any of what I just wrote was even true. It's annoying though, the pressure to be consistent. So it was nice not to be. I'm sure my fellow classmates concluded it was some kind of act. But it was actually nice to be around some of the children (I can still do without the monosyllabic adolescents, though, when you finally get them to talk, you feel as though you just cured Polio).

And there's something else too, which I could not have predicted at all, having never worked with children in the hospital. Kids are often extremists. They usually present as previously healthy little dudes who were minding their own business, or they come to you with a whole host of issues. The latter is both complicated and difficult to bear. But the former makes pediatric medicine much more attractive than treating a 55-year old. A 55-year old comes to the hospital with poorly controlled diabetes, hypertension, and COPD secondary to smoking, and wants you to figure out why he has a stomach ache. Your head proceeds to spin off its axis, as you can amass a list into the next day of all the possibilities. A 5-year old comes in with a stomach ache, it's a completely different game- the list still has to be generated, but it's a shorter and cleaner one. You can come up with a diagnosis, run the right tests, figure out what is going on. And kids, of course, rebound better than your average 55-year old, which makes treating them, in many ways, more satisfying.

When I write that down, I realize it could come across as though I am considering a future as a pediatrician. It's strange, because I keep getting pulled in every direction except the one that I want to be pulled in. But I think that has more to do with the external rather than the internal. I've gotten a lot closer to be being certain of what is best for me to do. I just wish I could figure out why it took being told that I should be an obstetrician and/or a pediatrician to get to this point.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

especially when it's wrong

Last night, I finally stopped acting like a brain dead med school zombie and went to see a good movie instead of a mindless, moronic one (cough*Avatar*cough). At some point, I will get it together and try to explain how it came to be that I became a fan of Townes Van Zandt and T. Bone Burnett and the like. For now, you’ll just have to take my word for it that, for some strange reason, I’ve had this music in my blood for a long time now.

So watching Crazy Heart was like hanging out with some old, familiar friends for two hours. And of course, the movie is filled with actors to whom I already extend plenty of good will. Jeff Bridges gets a lifetime pass for The Dude, after all. Robert Duvall is always entertaining when he’s playing an old loony. I think the only time Maggie Gyllenhaal has ever seemed out of her element was in The Dark Knight, and who could blame her for that- it sort of just makes me more fond of her. And then, of late, it’s hard to think of Colin Farrell as the greasy sleazeball who was turning up in Miami Vice and Alexander- ever since In Bruges, it’s been hard to think of him negatively.

And then you toss in throwaway movements, like using Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You and Sam Philips’ Reflecting Light at opportune movements, and some picturesque shots of the great wide open, and it’s hard not to want to give this film a big hug.

Amusingly, there’s absolutely nothing new about this movie. When I’ve skewered Avatar to friends, I’ve accused it of being a thoroughly derivative piece of work with nothing new except for the special effects. Well, I have to own that there is very little that is at all novel about Crazy Heart, although it thankfully dodges a completely tidy ending. Still, it’s such a genuine movie, and so is the music. In a movie like this, the music is a crucial co-star. So it's a relief that the music is solid, and reminds me of all the career musicians E and I used to go see in New Jersey at these tiny little venues, older men who had clearly spent their lives working at increasingly smaller clubs playing to dwindling crowds- but music is in their blood and music is what they do and so there they are.

While there are other songs that are nominated for Oscars and such, the one I’m posting this week is my favorite for many reasons. It’s in the film because it’s advanced as the protagonist Bad Blake’s biggest hit. When asked if he gets sick of playing it, he gets in one of the many gems of the movie, stating that he owes the song too much to get tired of it. And when you hear the song, it’s catchy enough to be believable- T. Bone Burnett’s trusty fingerprints are all over it. The song also serves to be the backdrop for a beautiful scene in which the aging musician opens for the star that owes him his big break. It’s perfectly played- the new star is not a jerk and means well. It’s a subtle thing that could easily be misinterpreted- I’ve seen bands come out to support the opening act, and it’s always meant as a gesture to get the audience to pay attention. But you can see the tension in the performance. The aging musician knows it’s well-meant, and yet you can see that it crawls under his skin. All without a word exchanged between them.

And then there’s the song itself, the lyrics, which say everything you need to know about who this character is. His name is Bad Blake, and this song just reinforces that name. And it’s everything that’s great about country music. Good country music is deceptively simple. And this song is just like that. It doesn’t seem deep- ‘I was going where I shouldn’t go, seeing who I shouldn’t see, doing what I shouldn’t do and being who I shouldn’t be.’ But there is so many things you can take from it if you want, if you want to find them.

About the song Killing The Blues, which Robert Plant and Alison Krauss later made very popular, Shawn Colvin wrote: “Just when you think there’s no new way to say anything, you hear a song like this and think, that’s as good as anything before or since.” It’s not as if the subjects or themes of music are that varied. But I think Colvin’s quote gets to the heart of why that is okay.


If anyone is still reading this, I really am going to try to turn over a new leaf. Now that I have survived the germ-infested abyss of Pediatrics (all kidding aside, though, I do have some positive things to say about that rotation), I am making a concerted effort to get back into writing regularly, and perhaps tweeting a little less regularly. Can't promise anything of substance though, since lately most of my spare thoughts involve trying to piece together what the heck is going on with Lost.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I wouldn't trade one stupid decision

The woods were lovely, dark and deep, and we had miles to go, but I was already asleep. It’s not like I’m a newcomer to this country, and yet, every time, I am struck by the scale of things here. Trees so large, mountains so tall, and I am so small. Sometimes that is comforting and sometimes that is not. Elsewhere and anonymity and all of that, but also insignficance and the fear of dissolution, disintegration. Am I even here? Am I in one piece, or just a set of molecules barely held together by weak forces, and it won’t be long before I fall to pieces.

You could meditate on such things when enveloped in a cloud of snow, in the blanket of white that makes everything look clean, pristine, untouched once again. It’s a blank slate, a slate wiped clean. You can take it as a sign and forge a path.

Or you can just take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and behold the beauty of the temporary. Because you have been here before. You know it won’t last. Remember that this slate is really just covered, not clean. You know what lies beneath. But that doesn’t make you jaded. It makes you more aware of how precious, how amazing. So look at the impossibly blue sky and feel the biting wind from the lake, and let your eyes burn from the blinding reflection of the white.

It’s hard work, walking through a snow drift. And once you’re in deep, once you are in the heart of the forest, it’s like so many other difficult journeys- you must finish, simply because you have no other recourse, no other options that require less of you. It’s exhausting and after a while, you feel as though you simply can’t continue. But you stop, and take it all in, embrace the moment, and then you start again. And you keep going until you reach the end. And when you reach the end, it feels such a relief, it feels as though you will never feel so happy to be on pavement.

But the next day, you do it all again.


The drive home took hours longer than it should have. The roads were in some places treacherous. S was worried. When he gets worried, he gets quiet and restless. He kept peeking out windows and between front seats, trying to get a better view. He watched the bad drivers making bad decisions, and I could nearly see the muscles in his shoulder tensing up. K, driving, kept her chin up. She had wanted to leave early, get home in time to face the week with some degree of contemplation. Occasionally, she cursed loudly, but it was kind of a release and then she was satisfied for another hour, back to her chipper, perky baseline. MK was the calmest, reclining, remarking on the traffic and bad weather conditions as if he was announcing a game. And this gave me, trying my level best to distract myself from an onslaught of carsickness because wouldn’t that just add to the fun, a rather obvious idea.

Maybe the game is on the radio?” I asked hopefully, though I was actually asking for permission, not out of curiosity. Of course it was on the radio. The West and the East may be different in some ways, but if there is one thing you can count on, it’s AM radio announcing football games when you are driving home from the mountains.

MK fiddled with the channels and found a station announcing. S asked, “Who do we want to win?S is sort of proud of his lack of inclination towards television and sports (which sometimes makes me wonder how the two of us manage to be cordial towards each other in any way).

I shrugged. I didn’t really care who won (yikes, Maitri, please spare my life!), but, as I pointed out to S, “I’d really like Brett Favre to go away.

He replied, “So we want the Vikings to win?MK and I laughed and shook our heads. Sometimes I think S plays up his ignorance as a badge of honor, kind of the way I am blissfully unable to tell you the title of a single Jonas Brothers song.

We listened to the entirety of the game and still were not halfway home. I suppose I could complain about that, but instead, I have to admit that I was swimming in an ice pond of nostalgia. Frozen, frozen memories, snapshots. Technology, isn’t it great and all that, but sometimes, it’s nice to go backwards. Listening to the game on the radio was wonderful. Unlike S, I wasn’t watching our snail-like progress, or the pickup truck fishtailing in front of us. Instead, the announcers were painting beautiful pictures in my imagination. And radio announcers- I don’t know if they have different training, but they are exponentially superior to television announcers in calling games. I felt as though I watched every play.

Of course, it probably helped that MK told me of his favorite running gag this year, which has been to insert Brett Favre into everything. At first, it was confined to football, and he retold plays like “Here’s the snap, Brett Favre, play action fake to hand off the ball to Brett Favre, and now, oh, it’s a long pass to connect to… Brett Favre- touchdown, Brett Favre!” And then this progressed further into absurdity, such that Brett Favre basically became his personal Chuck Norris. For example- “I was worried about the economy, but I’m sure Brett Favre will take care of it.”


And finally, another song. An entire argument about me unfolded over the past week, and I didn’t even have to get involved in it, which was simultaneously ridiculous and hilarious. It was all about my social inclinations. One faction claimed I was a misanthropic hermit and that an intervention was necessary. The other faction argued that I just had a low tolerance for certain personalities and thus was just selective, and that I would emerge when circumstances allowed. A small renegade faction also voiced the minority opinion that I just enjoy being by myself and that I should just be left alone. I was supposed to rule on this and provide my verdict, but, as usual, I preferred to let resonance theory triumph.

Anyway, it and this past weekend made me remember this song.

Monday, January 18, 2010

eight million stories

In the past, on MLK day, I had nothing very uplifting to say. And I probably don't have anything supremely uplifting to say today either, because med school does chip away at your idealism (especially because, ironically enough, you have to hear SO much of it spewed out all around you, and it more often than not turns out to be nonsense). And also because med school sometimes exhausts you such that you can't muster the energy to be upbeat.

I keep writing about the experiences that I don't actually want to repeat. I gush about surgeons, but I don't want to be one. I can't see myself taking care of children as part of my living, but that's what I did all day today. Perhaps it's when I'm less inclined towards a part of medicine that I spend more time contemplating the colorful personalities and interesting stories that emerge, whereas, when I work in the areas that I feel may be part of my future, I fixate more on self-reflection and doubts. Hopefully, as i become more competent, the balance will shift.

So, today was MLK day. Everyone else working in an outpatient clinic had the day off today, but I began working at a private practice this week, and an overly cautious phone call I made last Friday afternoon bit me in the proverbial rear, as I discovered that the private practice was open.

The phrase private practice brings to mind horrible television shows and posh offices and drug company lunches. I have to admit that I thought that I was probably embarking on a rotation filled with well-insured, well-employed, economically viable patients. And that I was probably going to spend the time with a bunch of doctors who were living a relaxed lifestyle and cashing in the payola. I figured they were working on MLK day because it was about the bottom line.

You know what happens when you assume.

The doctor I was working with today was a wealthy man in Tehran, and, as so many Iranians that I have met, had to start from scratch when he fled to America during the revolution. He had to repeat his residency, and so eager to get started was he that he volunteered to intern for free rather than wait the extra 9 months it would have taken to file an application- he had missed the deadline when he moved here. He had built this practice from the ground up, after having been chief resident at the university hospital. And last year, he had passed it on to a younger pediatrician. He is in the process of weaning his hours down.

We saw all manner of patients today. A few moderately well-off families, but by and large, Medi-Cal patients galore. I forget how spoiled I am to live in this part of the country. In the course of just a morning, I had seen a ridiculously diverse cross-section of the population. And I was very impressed to see that the pediatrician treated them all the same. Whether they had proper insurance or not, whether they came from broken homes or supportive ones, he focused on one thing and one thing alone- their well-being.

I got a text message from a classmate, who was shocked that I had to work today. It said the following (keep in mind it was meant to be taken lightly though):

Wtf? What outpatient clinic racist keeps their office open on MLK day?

Here's the thing. The younger pediatrician who has taken over the clinic? She is- yes, you guessed it- an African-American woman. Her father is a pediatrician as well, and dropped by the clinic in the evening to see the few stragglers left in clinic. Her mother busied herself with finishing up some of the last paperwork. And she, herself, was there, making sure a 14-year old girl with glucosuria was getting a proper diabetes workup, scrubbing down countertops as if it was all part of her job description. She took pride in this work, all of it, from seeing patients to every wire and light in the office.

It struck me as very noble, and I wonder if what I was seeing was not some part of medicine that is slowly dying. Private practices are actually rather rare to come by, especially ones like these, which take Medi-Cal and stay open on holidays. I found out today this clinic stays open on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Also, I found out that the clinic basically breaks even every year.

And here's what else I found out. I'm not sure what I would have done with my day off. I think I probably would have treated it like a vacation day. Maybe I would have studied. Probably I would have baked something. And granted, I am but a medical student, so most of my day entailed looking in baby ear canals, and listening to lungs. But it was probably better than I would have done left to my own devices. And the thing about kids is that idealism is not wasted on them. So little is set in stone for them. So much promise. I suppose it's why I probably ultimately couldn't do pediatrics- I don't think I could bear that sort of responsibility and I definitely don't think I could bear the disappointment when life sent those kids the bad curve balls that life sometimes does. But then, some of them will make it, and defy expectations, and live the dream. I think that's why MLK's dream talked about children. You can see in them so much more clearly the potential for growth, for change. I didn't really do anything noble today, or do anything fitting of the call to service. But I did get to witness both.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

no one needs to know we're feeling

Holy Toledo (I do not know why I always pick Ohio when I am going the Holy route, just another one of those odd quirks that never really occur to me except when I write it down for a blog entry), it's 2010 and it's more than 10 days into 2010, and still, I haven't managed to string a sentence together. For shame, for shame.

I sort of stalled out for a few reasons. One, the mean reds, a little case of funk- does not exactly inspire one to write. You know, you got what you want, but it's not what you thought when you planned it (h/t Amy Mann). And that sounds sad, and occasionally it even feels sad, but then it turns out, it's not really. Because here's the thing. Life is full of all kinds of unexpected twists and turns. And even sometimes with things that are your dreams. And even sometimes with things that are, actually, your happily ever after.

Or, maybe, more accurately, there is no happily ever after. I mean, at one point I knew that. Because otherwise, why is my favorite quote on the sidebar, and why does it state that we shall not cease from exploration? I know that, and actually, I've rather come to savor that aspect of life in the span of that decade that just passed us by. And what a decade it was. Some of it horrible, some of it awesome, and some of it just floating along at contentment.

Some people achieve contentment, and happily ever after, and enlightenment and all that. I'm just not one of those people. Holy Toledo (there, I did it again), I am the biggest malcontent since the history of malcontents. And don't worry, it's not just that I am not content with the world around me, I am supremely a malcontent when it comes to self-reflection. On Twitter, where I really must stop spending so much time, Andrea wrote (paraphrased) that she would unfollow someone if they said about her the kind of things she says about herself. To which I say, indeed and amen.

I have to remind myself every so often of the things that make me this person- you know, the one I really am, who maybe no one else really knows but who cares because I do. I spend my days (and too often my nights) immersed in a world that values conformity. Learn the same things, do it the same way, categorize, recognize patterns, standardize, standardize, standardize. It's okay, as it turns out. I think, because of the rather meandering way my brain works, it does not hurt me to have the drill sergeant that is med school hammering the basics into my head. It's not wrong- there are some things you just better know if you're going to do this for a living. But there is no reason on earth one can give me for turning out physicians with identical personalities.

The conformity in surgical specialties has only to do with one thing- knowledge base and surgical skills. You can be a raving lunatic or a nurturing sweetheart, and they really don't care. I know there are those who will say no, this is not true, and you have to be a cold-hearted, evil no-holds barred maniac to be a surgeon, but respectfully, you are wrong, fool. Surgeons, ultimately, care about whether you know everything a good surgeon should know, whether you can perform in the OR, and whether you can think on your feet. The problem is, I haven't the requisite passion for standing in the operating room for hours on end to be a surgeon.

I've been quieter on other specialties, because in a lot of those cases, they seemed more prone to wanting everyone to fit a mold. Oh, we are all meticulous obsessive compulsives, or oh we all like to hug our patients, or oh we all don't like to have interests outside of medicine. When it's not just about what you know, but who you are, it gets tricky, because it matters in the hoop-jumping process, the process by which people are welcomed into the fold, or whatnot. It feels like it matters a lot.

But it doesn't matter. I guess I finally really and truly realized that. It matters, of course, in the way that looks matter if you want to be a supermodel. You are not likely to be a pediatrician, for example, if cooing over children is not your thing. But it's a big tent, this medicine thing. There is room for everyone, and ultimately you really can do whatever you want. And more importantly, you can find the things that you are good at, or that you want to be good at, in the myriad of possibilities.

In other words, it will all be okay.

But there are other words too. Other words still, words that silenced me for a while because I have a habit of hoarding such fleeting feelings. Yes, yes, it will be okay. But sometimes it will be way, much more than okay. How to explain without not sounding like a total self-indulgent jerk? Oh wait, this is a blog, never mind. There's not a whole lot of third year left for me. That means lots of things, but one of the things it means is that I've started to know enough to do a fairly good impersonation of a physician. People tend to think I am not confident, but I'm only not confident if I'm not sure. And actually, that's something I rather like about myself (take that, doubters of my self-confidence!). But now that I actually know a little of this and that, I am much more natural when treating patients. And I am starting to see the person I may one day become doing this as a living. And I think I like her.

That, my friends, is way, much more than okay.

(Also, haloscan needs to be retired apparently, and even though I've apparently been blogging for five years, I don't know enough about technology to figure out how to change commenting systems. In fact, I don't even know if commenting is currently working on haloscan, it might be. So... bear with me, please, if anyone is still reading.)