Friday, November 23, 2012

home, that's where I long to be

It's black Friday, allegedly. It's times like this in residency that I feel quite disconnected to the outside world. I've no concept of black Friday. It doesn't sound like my cup of tea, though, to be sure.

It's black Friday and I'm home after a long day, and I'm worried. It's something they never tell you about medicine when you get into it. How much you worry. Constant and diverse too. Worry about the patients you just admitted, two of which don't look so hot despite your best efforts to 'fix' them before you left for the day. What if I had worked 18 hours instead of 16? Maybe then I could be sure those patients would be okay? Worry that the other resident worked late, even though I was trying to get her out early. Worry that I haven't been teaching the medical students. Worry that the attending thinks I'm incompetent. Worry that I'm losing my grip on humanity, what with the gallows humor and the complaints about 'lame' admissions. Worry that I'm coming down with something, worry that I'm not going to get enough sleep tonight to beat whatever it is that's brewing in my lungs. Just endless worrying. It's a bottomless cup. At some point, you go home and just try to think about something else. Mostly that just leads to more worrying about whether this worrying will ever subside.

Thanksgiving was a bit of a bust this year. It seems to be a running theme. That things fall apart, tend towards entropy, and I can't find the energy to be worked up about it. I was on call the night prior to Thanksgiving, and it was busy. When I got home on Thanksgiving morning, I channeled some surge of sleep-deprived delirium, and baked a pecan pie. It turned out really well, better than any previous version (50% corn syrup, 50% maple syrup, people, it is magic). Then I told myself I would take a quick nap, wake up and make apple pie. That quick nap was supposed to be 2 hours. It wound up being 7. Oops. Missed Thanksgiving dinner, couldn't come up with the energy to even bring over my stupid pecan pie to the party, because I was too tired. Brought it into work the next day, and it was consumed nonetheless. Oh well. One year without turkey and whatever will certainly not kill me.

This time of year, I am reminded of how much life has changed, I suppose. There was a time that Thanksgiving meant sitting around the table, around a big, crazy meal. Even though my family did not really get the whole Thanksgiving thing in my earlier years, when I reached adolescence I was so obstinate that we ought to celebrate things in what I considered to be a traditional manner that we all rallied together to make it happen. My mother, a strict vegetarian, even prepared a bird one year, though most of the time, we settled on buying a pre-cooked one. But the sides and dessert, we made as an entire family. In addition, we always cooked a big vegetarian spread for all of our parents. My cousins and I used to take over the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I have both pleasant and stressful memories of trying to herd the cats that were my crazy cousins so that we could all, together, make these meals. I saw my cousin C last weekend, and she still fondly remembers the apple crumble pie we used to make together -- and by make together, I mean that she would peel the apples, and after slicing one in a less-than-satisfactory manner, she would relinquish the rest of the task to me. I doubt it would taste as good to her now as it did to her then, but she still talks about that pie, it's etched in her memory.

One year, my aunt made us go around the table saying what we were thankful for, and it took an hour and a half, and we all complained. Some people said silly things, other people said passive-aggresive things (hi, mom), and other people said sentimental things- and of course, we teased the latter mercilessly.

We kept creating traditions in our family, and I still have fond memories of them, even though we are all scattered too far and life is too hectic and wild for us now to all be together. And as crazy and non-traditional as those Thanksgivings probably were, they were ours, and it makes me feel like home, and everything else really seems like a lame substitute. So I find I can't really be that heartbroken over sleeping my way through Thanksgiving this year.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart

I could tell you a sob story about how Sandy thwarted my attempts to go on vacation. I could, I could, but I'm just not in the mood. Besides which, it would be rather ungrateful, considering all that happened to me was a change of plans. Sandy did make me sad to be so far away from the people I care about on the East Coast, but then, the East Coast might as well be another universe right now.

Instead, there's this bordering country that's become foreign too. Because, you see, it's been many years since I've been a resident of San Francisco. More years than I realized until this weekend. And every year, as I get a little older, my remarks become more vague when the subject of returning to San Francisco burrows its way into conversation. Every year, the conversation involves more "but"s than the previous year, more arguments for why not instead of for why.

It's weird, I know, to have a relationship with a city. But I do, I did. That city, I don't know how to explain it. Except to tell you that this past weekend, CS and I decided to finally make a day of it and go into Alameda to visit St. Georges' Spirits. That place was in existence the entire time I lived in San Francisco. I tasted Hangar One for the first time in San Francisco at a shoddy bar on Sixth Street, right before heading to Bhangra SF. That place was in existence the entire time I was in medical school. A friend of mine then, who has since severed ties because that's the unfortunate price of break-ups sometimes, CC had told me about it and we had talked and talked and talked about going. But we never went.

But then last week was stressful and Friday night, CS and I admired bar shelves of artisan liquor, and a plan was hatched. The next morning, it was spectacularly clear out, unseasonably warm for October, and we drove to Alameda. And suddenly, it wasn't 2012 anymore. I don't know. Suddenly, I wasn't this me, I was a different me. CS and I navigated our way to the distillery, which is in a former naval hangar, prompting us to make jokes for a solid hour about how a zombie attack was imminent, and if not, wouldn't this be a spectacular place to film a zombie apocalypse? We went searching for food prior to going into the distillery, so that our heads wouldn't be swimming later, and we marched confidently into a building with no signs just because we saw someone standing by a piano in the doorway. It turned out to be a private party for who knows what, and we took two steps in, contemplated crashing for a while, and then left, leading to another series of jokes.

The distillery seemed to be created for us. The person pouring liquor was gregarious but not obnoxious. We liked him because, despite the proximity to Halloween, he was the only one behind the bar not in costume. We liked him because he let us taste reserve liquors. We liked him because he was amused by our utter joy at tasting gin spiced with cinnamon and cloves, and coffee liquor that was so smooth it made me wonder why I didn't like coffee. We liked him because he liked Barcelona. We liked him because we were flying, flying, soaring happy, high.

We sat and ate a late lunch in the adjoining picnic area, looking out onto the water and the bay, the sun still bright, the bay teeming with sailboats, trying to get in one last seasonal hurrah. We watched as a woman not quite as adept at holding her ethanol fell right on her butt on the gravel outdoors, and we suppressed our laughter. Then we walked through a tour of the distillery, returning back to the earth, gravity bringing us back. Sober and happy and pleased with ourselves, we drove home.

And that's how I remembered the argument for why. We weren't in San Francisco, but this was what San Francisco was to me. Little discoveries, little bursts of happiness. Messy, messy, but with splashes of vivid perfection. Nowhere else, it seems, am I ever so happy. That was something long since forgotten. Because I've been happy here, I am happy most of the time. But that bubbling joy, that soaring feeling- it's a specific thing, and it's there, always there. Someday, I suppose, I shall have to figure out what to make of that. But not today.