Thursday, August 30, 2012

this beat was bubblegum, so I had to chew it

On a lighter note:
  • The ICU nurses were huddled together near the nursing station last week in the afternoon. They saw me coming, and one of the more seasoned nurses beckoned me to them and said, "maybe you'll know," which I immediately took with a grain of salt, because the ICU nurses usually know more about everything in the ICU as compared to the residents. Especially the ones with some experience. But still, I figured I would give it my best shot. She asked me, maintaining a grave expression on her face the entire time, "can you teach me how to dougie?" It's ludicrous moments like that which make inpatient medicine a magical place.
  • An elderly woman came to clinic for the first time. She had not seen a doctor in five years, she lives alone, she has no children. In getting to know her, I asked her what she did for exercise. She said, "not much, but when I feel like I'm too lazy, I put on a CD." I asked her if it was an exercise CD. She said, "No! I just put on a CD and dance alone in my apartment until I'm tired!" and burst into giggles like a 15-year old would. I really hope I'm like that when I'm her age.

There's some more ominous stuff going on. It's the balance of things. I've been waiting for something to disrupt my contentment, and here it is. But it's just a little rumble, not a true earthquake, not anything that will cause a break. At least that's what I tell myself, and if I tell myself enough, it might turn out to be true.

Monday, August 27, 2012

all you can do is do what you must

There was a time, and it's not really worth mentioning when the time was, but during that time, AL and I were roommates, and we had some friends who were marooned. They could not get back home. We had a big enough house at the time, and we invited anyone who was stuck to come on over. They went shopping in our neighborhood for a spare set of clothes, and took showers in our guest bathroom, and we fed them, then we made them extra beds, and they slept in our living room so they could go to work in the morning.

But even before then, this was something we knew in our bones. In my family, we stayed over each other's houses if something needed repairing or wasn't working. We thought nothing of it. In college, there was a chemical spill, and the largest of the dorms had to be temporarily evacuated. People were eventually placed in hotel rooms, but until they had arranged for it, there were students sleeping on the floor of my dorm room, using my bathroom, sharing our space.

It seems like the most basic of human instinct to me, this notion of, when things have gone wrong, offering shelter. And often, we can't really give it in the place where it's most needed, for various reasons. But it can still be extended when it might be of use.

I've a comfy brown couch, and a ceiling fan that keeps the air calm and breezy. In the last two weeks, four different people have come by and proceeded to pass out on that couch. It's not that comfortable. My visitors were just very tired and in need of a rest. Sometimes it's not enough, it doesn't make everything better. But it's something, and it's the something that I have the capability to do.

That's all you can really do, I find. Help the people around you, the ones willing to take your help, and hope it's enough to distract you from the other people- the ones you don't have the means to help or the ones who refuse to accept your help.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

resurrection fern

Who knows whether the circumstances of my life dictated who I became. All I know is that when I'm a little sad, I yearn for company. But when I'm really in the dumps, just low down and completely inconsolable, I just want to be alone.

Maybe it's because I've had this fight before, the one between me and my demons. Maybe it's because the demons are unpredictable- they'll show when you least expect them, and conveniently when others might not be around. Maybe it's because if I rely on someone else to cheer me up when I'm at my lowest, it puts me in peril if I should happen to hit rock bottom on a desert island.

Or maybe I'm just wired this way.

I was at my very lowest over a decade ago. I remember it well. I was marooned in Southern California, and the entire length of ground beneath me had crumbled. I was in big trouble. I was as alone as alone could be. There were people around me, friends even, of a sort. But not old friends. Not true friends. Not friends I've spoken of or to since.

I was already a scientist by that point. In fact, that was the whole problem- I was a scientist who had just been heartbroken regarding science. I wasn't sure I still loved it, not after what it had taken from me. And I was all alone, and even if I hadn't been, I'm not sure anyone else would have understood. I had a strange sort of math going on in my head.

Back then, there wasn't much in the way of an internet. I didn't even have a computer at home. So I visited the stacks. That's what I started doing. Every day, each morning, I would sit in the science library with the yellowed pages smelling deliciously ancient, trying to find it again. Trying to fall in love.

The trick was not to try. Eventually I stopped trying, and eventually I started reading about things which sparked my curiosity, which made my heart beat again with purpose. Then I was saved. Which I cannot explain, and nor do I care to explain. It's one of those selfish secrets that I may never share outside of these confines.

What I do, when I'm at my worst these days, when I'm having a rough time of it, is find something I love to read. Not just something I love to read. It can't be something I just love to read- because then it would be TS Eliot or Anna Akhmatova or something which would plunge me even deeper down into the blues. No. What works for me is to read about oncology. Which, I realize full well, sounds insane.

I was yelled at today because it's Saturday night and I refused to go out for drinks and instead I chose this:

First of all, Saturday night means nothing when you are working in the hospital. I worked all day today and I'm working all day tomorrow. Saturday night is just another work night. But also, I had a miserable day. A day that needed to get better. Or else. All the way bad. I should have read about Cardiology. That's what I should have done. But that wouldn't have soothed me, wouldn't have fixed what ailed me. So I turned to what I knew would work for me.

And I think that's the trick. That's the trick to everything in life, and that's what Van Gogh must have been talking about:

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.

That's how I feel. When I'm at my very worst, it's not really that I need to feel loved. It's that I need to love something. And there's so much out there that's worthy, given half the chance.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

anywhere else now seems like a million miles away

At my house today, brunch was had. It was had by many.

There was a trial run last week, but that one was different. It was the first time in a while that I'd tidied up enough to have people over, and it had morphed into a gigantic gathering. Everyone descended at once (a total of 12 people, which was far too much for my 6 person dining table) and it was a little chaotic. After I finished cleaning the kitchen, 2 stragglers showed up and ate leftovers while visiting. It was a fun day, but that brunch was somewhat stressful- it's been a while since I've had that many people over (my previous residences for nearly the last 10 years would have burst at the seams with that many people in my house), and I was out of practice for entertaining for that many as well as estimating how much food to make. Everything worked out and there were a ton of leftovers to spare, but I felt a bit tired after all the commotion settled down.

Today was different. Last night, I prepared almost everything needed for the brunch. This morning, maple pecan scones were already sitting on the counter, a strata was ready to be baked, and waffle batter that spent the previous night rising was waiting to be finished. It was all so simple that I started to worry that there were additional things I should have made. The first person, GN, came over at 9:45. He looked like a wreck. He had overnight call and was just finishing a 30 hour shift when he arrived. I made him two waffles while he was gobbling up scones. He ate the waffles hot and tried some egg strata, and then promptly took to my couch, where he completely passed out for twenty minutes. By then, the next person arrived.

She brought over a coffee maker because I don't drink coffee, and I do not really know how to make it, in truth. We chatted, making coffee, and eventually GN awoke from his temporary slumber, drank some orange juice and joined our conversation.

My friend who brought the coffee maker is vegetarian, so I made her a scramble with spinach, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella, which she dutifully ate while the rest of the waffles were cooking. Another couple of friends came, and brought big bowls of fruit. A few minutes later, another friend and her husband came with a Hawaiian dish.

We sat around the table eating and talking and laughing. Another friend stumbled in, hungover. We fed him, and he got a call from another friend, so we beckoned him to join us, which he did. A few friends left. Ultimately, the party did not disperse until 3 pm, and people left with little packages of food to take home with them. A few of us lingered in the kitchen together, talking of when we would all get together next.

This may seem all very commonplace and boring. The strange thing is I think I would have found this all very commonplace and boring ten years ago. But since then, my life changed so much, the focus of my life was so different, that I didn't realize how much I missed it until just today. Everyone had told me that I'd find lasting and long friendships in medical school. I didn't entirely believe them, because my experience inherently was bound to be so different than the typical. And sure enough, I have only a handful at most of people from med school who I even feel friendly towards- and of them, only 1 or 2 who I feel truly connected to. So I honestly didn't expect what happened this past year. It turns out that, as stressful and frustrating it sometimes it is, this residency program was the right one for me. These are my people. Not all of them, of course. But way, way more than I ever would have imagined.

It occurs to me, that maybe I have cobbled together the life I have always wanted to lead. And it's not to prove it to anyone else, or because I think it's what life should be. It's because this is what I actually, truly want in this moment, and I have it. The moment will pass. Of that, I'm sure. Life is not much fun if you are not in want of something. But still- at such moments, belly full and pleasantly sore from laughter, new waffle recipe recorded in my little book of keepers, dishwasher about to start running, I just want to hold onto the present tense and be glad for it.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

that solo's awful long, but it's a good refrain

The Guardian and some friends of mine pointed me towards a project that tries to capture the essence of a person through the songs with which they identify most. It was a good excuse to dust off the blog, and also, I found the assignment a little stupid because some of the questions/categories are not reasonable to distill down to one song. So I cheated as usual, but at least I'm posting for a change.

The first song I ever bought:
Thriller, Michael Jackson- Obviously, because of my impending senior citizen status, I did not purchase a first song, I bought a first album. And of course, given my age range, and how old I was before my parents would allow me and my brother records, we were united in our desire to obtain Thriller with the money we'd amassed over months. We were not sorry. Even though it heralded an increasingly commercial and ridiculous time that would culminate in Jackson morphing into a completely bizarre entity, this album will never seem like anything less than a revelation.

Song that always gets me dancing:
Just can't get enough, Depeche Mode- A silly one but true. I should point out, though, that it doesn't take all that much to get me dancing. There are a number of guilty pleasures that I could include in this list (It takes two comes to mind).

Song that takes me back to childhood:
Centerfold, J Geils Band- Look, I was probably seven or eight when I heard this song on the radio. It was one of the first songs I heard on the radio. I had no idea what the song was about, and probably even after it was explained to me, I didn't really get what it was about. But it always reminds me of being a kid, sitting on a bus, with a bunch of other kids, singing along to a song we didn't understand.

Perfect love song:
A tie between Thank You by Led Zeppelin and Nice work if you can get it by Ella Fitzgerald and I believe by Stevie Wonder and about a million other songs- just tell me that you wouldn't swoon for someone who said 'mountains crumble to the sea, there would still be you and me.' On the other hand, Fitzgerald's song lacks all angst, is so matter-of-fact about love that in some ways it is more perfect than anything else could be. And on the other other hand, Wonder's song is breathtakingly beautiful and hopeful. But honestly, I feel like there are so many songs I could include and then maybe I would have covered every good love song out there.

Song I would want at funeral:
Wishlist, Pearl Jam- if it were really my funeral, I wouldn't want dirges. And this song has a lot of yearning associated with it, which I've always related to life in general. Because I've always thought that's what this song is about- that life is all about wanting, even if it's something as simple as breathing, even if it's ungrateful to keep wanting more (thus my favorite line of 'I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me').

A song that makes me, me:
Galileo, Indigo Girls- the obvious Cornershop song also comes to mind, but first and foremost, holy smokes, I am a f***-up. That's what I'm all about, underneath whatever facade I may be able to pull off in public. I am a failure. I am that person who falls in potholes, who trips right into ravines, who slips on black ice and lands smack on her bottom. But the thing about all of that failure is that it's made me who I am. You can smash me into a million pieces on the sidewalk, and I'll emerge like that oozing metal of Terminator 2, reformed, revived. I like to think all of those rather graceless face plants led me to who I am and what I am doing now. And somehow, all of that makes me think of this song.