Thursday, December 22, 2005

Poems for the Maudlin

I don't mean maudlin poetry. I mean a poem that stops you cold in your tracks and pares away the excess fat and self-pity from your mood.

Gift Horses
Jack Gilbert

He lives in the barrens, in dying neighborhoods
and negligible countries. None with an address.
But still the Devil finds him. Kills the wife
or spoils the marriage. Publishes each place
and makes it popular, makes it better, makes it
unusable. Brings news of friends, all defeated,
most sick or sad without reasons. Shows him
photographs of the beautiful women in old movies
whose luminous faces sixteen feet tall looked out
at the boy in the dark where he grew his heart.
Brings pictures of what they look like now.
Says how lively they are, and brave despite their age.
Taking away everything. For the Devil is commissioned
to harm, to keelhaul us with loss, with knowledge
of how all things splendid are disfugured by small
and small. Yet he allows us to eat roast goat
on the mountain above Parakia. Lets us stumble
for the first time, unprepared, onto the buildings
of Palladio in moonlight. Maybe because he is not
good at his job. I believe he loves us against
his will. Because of the women and how the men
struggle to hear inside them. Because we construe
something important from trees and locomotives,
smell weeds on a hot July afternoon and are augmented.


I'm having another fit of the blue megrims. While this in itself is a bit miserable, I love the phrase "the blue megrims." I tried to google the origin of the phrase but the results were lackluster at best. However, if you are wondering what the phrase means, here you go. Megrims when defined gives you several meanings, with the first one a dull beast best avoided (and relegated to a parenthesis, HA. I choose to not use megrim to mean some form of migraine). But it can mean a caprice, a whim, a fancy. This is a bit too lighthearted for my taste tonight, though a slightly delicious term to stick in your pocket for later use. The last definition is the one I'm on about: depression or unhappiness. It's only to be expected by most rational people, I mean, look at the facts:

1. I have to be up before the sun every day. Every day. Maybe some of you like it, but I don't.

2. I have to be at the hospital every day. This does get old.

3. I never see my boyfriend on a weekday for more than 15 minutes. Don't forget: we do supposedly live together.

4. I hate being on call. And, though I wish I was evenhanded and egalitarian and didn't mind, I'm not, and I hate doing treatment shifts at the hospital after a long day or on a weekend (for those not in the know, this consists of walking dogs and occcasionally mucking about with IV medications). And this rotation requires both. Frequently.

5. I hate snow. I hate ice. I'm in Massachussets in December.

6. I hate orthopedic surgery (I have to qualify this. I hate it NOW, because my job is to stand there and occasionally offer my services as the human retractor. It might be less boring if I ever actually perform an orthopedic surgery). Guess what tomorrow holds? Five surgeries: two knees, two hips and a tibial fracture.

7. I am not good or graceful when making mistakes. I tend to berate myself which then leads to awkwardness and cringing. Which I also hate in myself, and on towards more recrimination. This past week and a half has been a good fun lesson in one small mistake after another. Nothing big and disastrous. Just a little lemon juice of incompetence dripping on the small paper cuts in my ego. (And that metaphor is enough to make me wonder if I deserve to use a keyboard.)

All this and it's no wonder I get home and freeze. I have projects multiple to finish: some creative, some practical. The lists pass through my mind as distantly as if they were someone else's shopping list. I can't even summon up the gusto to play video games, much less keep from making excuses not to go buy bread. (Joel, if you're reading this: we need bread.) I think maybe what the internet needs is a maudlin police. They could come and get me after tonight.

What I want to do is sit by a window in the dark and look out over an untouched expanse of snowy night with a bright moon, and listen to some suitable atmospheric music, and wallow in my blue megrims a little.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

After the cooling off period

Here I am, shamefaced over my outburst (well, maybe not shamefaced--it was a very satisfying post) or at least here to soften it a bit round the edges. Mellowing, I am mellowing about the experience. First, there was the next morning. Where I retell my woeful tale to my sleeping boyfriend, who reasonably says, why don't you drop the tire off across the street? (There really is a tire place almost directly across the street. Actually, come to think of it, there are two places.) To which I reply, they're not open yet. And then he says, well, leave a note. At which point, feeling badgered, I snap, I don't have time (which was true) I'm going to be late (true also). Of course, these are standard answers probably heard out of every veterinary student's mouth every morning when life throws them unexpected glitches. I'm beginning to seriously wonder what I'll be like once this whole experience is behind me. Because (to veer off track for a moment) you really have NO time. Your parents say, we're coming to visit. Can you go out to dinner? Your reply is: I don't know. And you don't; it's not some half assed excuse. You might get out at 5:00 (today) or 7:30 (Tuesday). You certainly won't be leaving the hospital except for time off in the cafeteria for good behavior. Meet someone for lunch? Nope, you only get lunch on the edges, the hyena of the veterinary savannah. It's unlike most other daily routines I can ever think of experiencing. But, as usual, I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, snapping and being late. So, feeling slightly annoyed at the lack of time, my snappishness and my (unintentionally?) implied tire fixing scheduling inadequacy, I stomp off to school.

Now: I'm coming home that night, feeling responsible. I stop by the tire place to find out when they open in the morning. Driving home, I meet my boyfriend in the driveway (more common these days than other normal places, like the house. He's working two jobs and if we thought we never saw each other when I was studying for exams, boy we were silly) who suggests, with a twinkle, that I visit a specific tire place (remember, there are two). Can you guess? Who looks in their way back when getting in a station wagon? That's right. My boyfriend had actually found my car in the parking lot at school (he works at the school, so this isn't as wacky as it could be), took my tire out and took it to one of the places across the street. I think if you subtract that from the original equation, you end up reducing the amount of true suckiness by a bunch. You might even get negative true suckiness.

And as for this tire thing, I give up. I just want to say that today, I watched them put that tire back on my car with an air compressor wrench. Ouch.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Arithmetic for an evening

Well, alas, it has come down to this. When all is said and done, a blog is there too receive your ranting. It's not the first time, and I'm sure it's not the last time this page will become a vessel for pettiness and reactionary ill-humor. But oooooooohhhhh I can't help myself because I can't imagine a worse evening! GRRRRRRRR...

It goes like this: (1 cold with yellow snot * vertigo from aforementioned snot) + last one of my rotation out of the hospital + (frigid cold)^3 (one big fat flat tire + somebody's stupid idea to put the lug nuts on with a friggin air compressor wrench) = TRUE SUCKINESS.

I'm sure there's some variables I could include like yes I let my AAA membership expire and the bright idea some pinhead over at Subaru came up with that went something like: "Hey, guys, great idea, here! Let's use some cheap ass metal like, like ummm...aluminum, yeah aluminum, for the tire rims so that not only will we save money but we'll screw our customers since our aluminum rims will oxidize their tires causing them to have to put air in them (sometimes at 75 cents a pop because, yup, air doesn't just well, come out of thin air you know) every two weeks." And then factor in the tiredness thing plus the truly pissed off feminist inside me that says, why do tire stores insist on screwing the damn lug nuts down with an air compressor so that us girls have to call some guy just to get the damn things off? I KNOW HOW TO CHANGE A FRIGGIN TIRE, DAMMIT. I resent the whole damsel in distress role. It's as if the universe is saying "not only are you exhausted and ill and your choice in vehicles could use some work, but you're also the wrong sex. Sorry, babe. Oh, and by the way, be sure to catch up on that total intravenous nutrition in alpacas article you're supposed to have ready for rounds tomorrow." I'm sure there's some patron saint of lug nuts and upper body strength just giving me the finger right now. Well, buster, come a little closer. I'm sure I'm still nice and contagious.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


This last month has been a lot like the proverbial object in the frictionless sterile physics universe, given one tap and 'poof', its moment of inertia evaporates. There it goes, speeding over the non-existent ground, obediently obeying the laws and wondering if entropy exists in some distant universe. That object, of course, would be me. And November has felt like that continuous dash through reality, with me secretly astonished and wondering if there will ever be another pause. At least so far I have not been called upon to demonstrate the principle of the conservation of momentum. And now, giving pause and thanks for pause, I am not even sure how to begin. This is the only time I begin to resent you, you and your endless confessional, oh electronic repository.

So November began with a crisis of intention that has still not resolved. And because I'm the kind of person that psychically wriggles with discomfort when faced with unresolved crises, I'm going to be mean and leave you hanging. Trust me, it's the kind of thing I will write much more coherently and wittily about in hindsight. And maybe in hindsight it will even seem silly (I can hope). If I write about it now I'm liable to get bogged down and upset, and I have my slim cyber-dignity to preserve (at least I like to think I do--pray, kind reader, let me keep the illusion).

And then I was off to another country to collect the fiercest chigger bites known to man (I'm not kidding: it's two weeks later and my feet still appear leprous and occasionally send me into paroxysms of itching). Well, the actual goal was to provide free neuter/spay services to the people of the Samana peninsula of the Dominican Republic, but I think the chiggers also got a pretty fair deal. This trip is a whole post in and of itself, perhaps more than one. Again, wait for it. I will say that driving in the country is a lot like the old 'Pole Position' video game, only you get a lot more flat tires and a lot less points. And I wish to say to all the whiny children I ever taught to ride ponies: you have no idea. It's all in the available choices you are given at birth. If you are taught that riding is an art that you must struggle to master, and that riding without stirrups is a chore and a trial, and that you must be driven to the barn by your parents, well. I guess a small boy riding down the road on a horse with NO, I repeat, NO bridle and NO saddle would be hard to figure. You may think I'm crazy, but I kind of wished I had been born a Dominican child at that moment. To whet your anticipatory whistles, here's a picture:

Oh, and by the way: I can now castrate a horse in 9 minutes flat. How's that for gifted?

After the Dominican Republic I spent a week riding with some nice vets in Rhode Island that listened to my crisis nicely and made no disparaging comments. Here's a thank you for that. And for those not in the vet school know, now is the time to apply for internships (which are, in fact, optional for veterinarians, but essential if you wish to pursue specialty or advanced training, such as surgery, cardiology or the like). And November is the ticking time bomb of your life: internship or not? In what? Where? And despite the flexibility of the profession (I know many who have gone from one discipline to another) it still feels a lot like a large hand pointing at you and declaiming: "DECIDE THY FUTURE, MORTAL!" (Oh crap, I'm getting a little close to the crisis thing again.)

And this week? This week it was the TEST. You know, lawyers have the bar, etc. We take "THE BOARDS." Of course, it's only one test, despite it being FIVE HOURS LONG (I think, if there were a limit on capital letters, I might have reached it). And everyone I talked to said--"oh, you'll be fine, hardly anyone fails it, yadda yadda." The general consensus has been, if you don't already know it, then...And I did study, if haphazardly-I mean, how do you study for a FIVE HOUR TEST? So why did I come out of the test feeling both stupid and unprepared? Do people just say stuff like that to you and secretly they're giving you the subtle wink that says, "I'm only saying this to cheer you up, lass. What I really think is that you should study your butt off, like everyone else." I mean, I take tests well. I even sort of like taking tests (please keep that under your hat, even if everyone reading this knows anyway). So let me just tell you all now. That test SUCKED (sorry, needed caps). It really did. I have no idea if I passed. I know that doesn't mean much, but normally I have a sense of how I did, and I'm telling you right now, I have no idea (hey, it's not caps). And I, like every other overachieving goal driven vet student out there have a not-so-secret (we're not fooling anyone) fear that we will fail. I'm now having that not-so-secret worry shouting at me from each memory of each stupid question that involved a miniscule radiograph (with no enlargement ability) that was totally unhelpful, to each stupid question about pig diseases (sorry, pigs, can't help you), to every question that read like: "A six year old spayed female wolfhound presented to you with a lisp and a strange alien growth. All lab work was normal. What is it?."

Yup, I'm ranting. See what I mean about this month? Please let me know if you see any potential objects in my way. At least I'll have prior warning before I hit.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Meme Epidemic

Well, I was exposed. I tried to fight it off, but it appears I have been infected with the meme bug. Fascinating, in a way, though. The way these waves spread through blogs and websites. It kind of reminds me of the popular fads in middle school. Do you suppose Slam books are still around? I bet you they are. That was the one where some kid, inevitably cooler than you were, got a whole spiral bound notebook and devoted each page to some pithy question, like "favorite food." And there was an intricate pretense of anonymity, where you signed your name on the first page and you were assigned a number which you used to "sign" your entries. An then there were "the anonymous pages" where you wrote such delicate private information as "the cutest boy" and the cruel pages like "nerdiest boy" or "ugliest girl." As I remember, you still wrote your private number down, but it was as if the folded over page was enough to erase your identity, to absolve you from shame, not to mention the big "GIRLS ONLY" or "BOYS ONLY" scrawled in capitals over the covering half (but the secret thrill was--what if the boy you wrote down saw it and he liked you too? Surely there was romance novel material just waiting to descend!) and if you were hapless enough to peek under the "ugliest" page and find your name it was your fault for choosing to look in the first place, since those pages were supposed to be secret. That was the evil bind: you were complicit for looking, you agreed to your fate, since admitting you looked was proof that not only were you the ugliest, you couldn't be trusted either.

Looking at it that way, memes at least so far are harmless, more of a "look at me and how I relate to the random universe" kind of thing. They don't demand you participate in your own degradation. More of a cold then an Ebola type virus. So I guess I'll sheepishly admit to being more amused than anything else by this meme. Although I'm a bit concerned that the virtual Emily often seems to be a disturbed child, and picking through some of these search pages gave me that same feeling of turning over that folded page and seeing my own name.

"Emily needs" Meme (Put "{your name} needs" into Google and away you go)

Emily needs to find something that's her own to fulfill her

Emily needs to be whipped into shape by Nanny 911

Emily needs to get control of her business and begin to set some boundaries

Emily Needs Attention.

Emily needs a series of exemptions to Harvard’s administrative rules

"Emily" needs to be read as part of the American gothic tradition
(I'm a classic)

Emily needs to know exactly what the girls want

Emily needs extra vitamin C so she poops.

Emily needs a boyfriend so she'll leave me alone.

Emily needs a great deal of persuasion to talk about herself.
(Hmm...not this one--hence the blog)

All Emily needs to do then is click Send.

All Emily needs to do now is to be quiet while the machine makes its measurements.
(My favorite--so ominous. THE MACHINE...)

Emily needs a little time for herself.

Emily needs a comfortable and inspirational place to brainstorm her money-making ventures (I do, I do...)

Emily needs to calm down (I AM CALM! VERY VERY CALM!! Don't you know calm when you see it?)

Emily needs to really focus on some comprehension skills (yeah, that vet school thing ruins your mind)

Emily needs total support for all of her personal care needs (so get moving, will you?)

Emily needs funds
(and if I could just get that place for my brain storming, I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem any more)

Emily needs a special certificate for her efforts.

Emily needs some intensive work to change these deeply ingrained habits

Emily needs to learn how to be a super-hero (whaddaya mean, needs to learn?)

Emily needs to reclaim her life.

Emily needs to make a choice,

Emily needs some excitement and mystery to feel the relationship is beneficial again.

Emily needs an abundance of supplies.

Emily needs to go sit on a bench on Lake Mendota and have an existential and journalistic awakening.

Emily needs help from no one

Emily needs to dig deep down for strength.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


I can't be bothered with promises right now. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

Let's all stop to take a breath.

This poem is in honor of Dr. William Hanff.

On Death, without Exaggeration

Wislawa Szymborska

It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
can't be undone.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lumpers and Splitters (or: Tying up Loose Ends, Part II)

Whokay...It's been a doozy of a week (have you ever been abandoned by an attending doctor because there's another emergency crashing two feet away, while trying to suture up a puncture wound and put in a drain--which you have never done before--in a dog that's barely anesthetized and it turns out needs to be intubated and put on gas anesthesia and then get sewn up which you are told to do three different ways by three different people? Yup. That was my night yesterday). But I am working through these loose ends, and this brings me to the whole lumpers and splitters thing (other things I'd rather: May 4th post).

This originally comes from some anthropology class in college, and it struck me as a wonderful explanatory paradigm from which to explain how certain people think. And despite its binary nature (which I think with some justification is looked upon as questionable in these post-modern-multiple-voices-multiple-reality times) I have found that it's still a useful party trick in explaining how people learn from or misunderstand one another. It goes like this: in anthropology, specifically, you often see that the person going full ignorant blast into another culture is either so struck by the intricacies and nuances of that culture that they do their utmost to describe its uniqueness; holding up its difference ultimately as a counterpoint to our own. This is a splitter (as in of hairs). And then there are the Claude Levi-Strausses of the world, who wish to delve into the underlying likeness of humans everywhere; a starting point with many variations, but still, variations in which they point out the likeness in certain customs, similar organizing principles, etc. Lumpers. Now, it would be reductionist (I've ALWAYS wanted to use that in a sentence, ever since my liberal arts education ruined me for honest labor) to say that splitters dehumanize, or that lumpers biologize or gloss over. Like all binary organizing principles, when applied in extremes, it is ridiculous and even dangerous. And like all binaries, it tends to get flavored by that massive sticky-fingers-in-everyone's-pie dichotomy of good vs. bad (as in, if I am a _____, and you are a ----, then _____ is good, and ----- must be bad). But as a spectrum, you may find yourself consistently on one side or another. So anthropology might have meant something kind of specific by lumpers and splitters (as in how one might approach another culture), but I like to use it in the wider world.

I'm a splitter. I love finding the nuances, the little flashes of difference, of color, the stupid details. Splitters tend to talk in footnotes (sound familiar?) and pepper their explanations with little goofy examples that while relevant or illustrative, really are just happy window dressing, or ornamentation. These people can be annoying to learn from if you've never taken a subject before, or if you happen to be a lumper. Details are distractions from the big picture, they muddy the waters with parentheses until you scream GET ON WITH IT! Lumpers can of course be annoying to splitters, as they make grandiose statements that splitters just want to interrupt with "but...but..." Learning from a lumper has its ups and downs too, sometimes lacking a more textured or flexible application. Real life often doesn't read the well organized text book and all that.

That's as far as I want to go in making generalizations (because, you see, we splitters have to make them sometimes--spectrum, remember--but we're always thinking about those nagging possible exceptions who tug on our sleeves that go "but...but") about lumpers and splitters. You can make your own conclusions from here. I just forget that people have never heard of this (WARNING: ANOTHER WORD I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO USE IN A SENTENCE AND THAT MARKS THE DEGREE TO WHICH A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION WILL SCAR YOU FOREVER IS COMING. GUARD YOURSELF) heuristic (DID YOU WINCE? I DID. BUT THEN I GRINNED WICKEDLY) device and I devoutly feel that others should know of its use. For example, in my first year of vet school one of our professors was a tried and true splitter. I loved his classes. Others found him confusing or great as their own proclivities (ATTENTION BLOGGER! THIS IS THE VOCABULARY POLICE, ARTSY FARTSY INFRACTIONS DIVISION: CONSIDER THIS A WARNING) drove them. I was discussing this prof with a classmate one day (vet school students are way too fond of this ad naseum critique of their own education) and said, "well, he's a splitter." She looked at me in puzzlement. Clearly, not enough of you have had a good anthropology class in your past. Consider yourself forcibly enlightened.

To carry this silliness a bit further, should we start a quiz? Now that you're indoctrinated into my cult, should we create our own Meyers-Brigg lumper/splitter personality test? How often do you use the words "always" or "never" in conversation? Sometimes, Occasionally, Never? You might be a splitter if: you've ever contradicted someone you basically agree with because you feel they're ignoring a facet of an argument that interests you...etc. Hey wait! Where are you going?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Promises Promises (or: Tying up Loose Ends, Part 1)

I've noticed a certain macabre bent (or at least a bit of a downer) in the last posts. And I spent the better part of the last hour trying to figure out what to write about. I mean, it's a bit like relationships, right? You start out all excited, and there's SO much to talk about, and you feel so witty and showing off a little so that your new lover can see just how clever you really are...And then comes the day when you realize that it drives you crazy when he leaves his socks on the floor, or whatever petty thing he does that has always really driven you crazy. So I was going back through my posts and realizing that I've made a few promises here and there to continue some train of thought that needed more than a really super long parantheses. And what is it to me, you ask, oh kilobytes per second reader? You probably don't even remember (or haven't ever seen) those posts.

And then I got to thinking: is it merely an anal sort of perfectionism that nags at me to finish those thoughts? (Valid point.) Or is it related to this fundamental feeling I have always had that if you are creating a thing, be it a drawing, a story or a blog, it ought to be done to the best of your ability, tedious or not? I can't leave things I make unfinished (or at least when I do I always feel slightly ashamed). (This is the feeling I couldn't articulate well when it was necessary to raise our backyard fence to prevent our dog from climbing/jumping it. We have very little spare capital to be buying nice looking fence material. So we settled for chicken wire and stakes. And part of the reason I got so irritable and frustrated was because it was so UGLY, and I guess I equate ugly somehow with unfinished, and with slacking and laziness and not caring. Which wasn't fair, since we started out knowing we didn't have time or money to make it pretty, but there is just something inside me that balks and drags its feet and stomps and says 'that's wrong! You shouldn't do it that way!' So this is my way of explaining/apologizing to my boyfriend for my grumps that time.) Hey, this IS coming from a girl who once made a sculpture back in college in February in the woods in NY with 88 balls of twine. (I have to keep reminding him sometimes.)

Combine this with a feeling of inadequacy whenever I get my alumni magazine, which always seems to be filled with people who write, casually and breezily, things that go like this: "Well after helping build my NGO from scratch I'm moving on to the backwoods of Appalachia where I plan to teach the impoverished sustainable agriculture and how to build generators out of pine trees and rubberbands." Or: "Such-and-such has a new film showing in NYC that is making people who wear black in Manhattan applaud." Somehow "I'm sticking thermometers up animals' butts and still don't feel much like a doctor," doesn't seem very glamorous. So I'm driven to fill this inadequacy with things I can do, like keep my promises to my fractionally small readership. (This desire to keep even small promises also makes me think about the fact that I have a great deal of deeply ingrained ethics that might have me keeping company with much more conservative minded individuals, though I suspect they would never know, not being able to get past the whole nose ring, pro-gay marriage thing. Things like: if you're going to bother, you might as well do it right; hard work is good for you; saying "NO" is necessary when raising children; and a little pain and hardship in your life helps you stop being such a selfish pain in the ass. I can't understand how somehow these have been coopted as 'moral values' that only christian republicans understand, and if you're a lefty you're lefty [pun intended] with soft squishy lovey never experience anything bad or your life is scarred forever theories. Now I shall sit upon my soapbox self--we all have one--and squelch her. BACK! Back in your box!)

Now. You are, at this point, tapping your foot or looking at your watch or whatever and saying, OK, but what about those promises? (You see, I've got you all excited now.) Alright. First of all, I have made rather a lot of them, and so I think this may happen to be an installment plan thing (see how I have cleverly arranged content for my next posts so that I can draw on my original enthusiasm rather than have to come up with new topics?) The first one was made in May 3rd's Ambulatory post. I promised you a picture of an alpaca from my father's 1956 American college dictionary:

I have also included a bonus , (for a dear friend of mine who really likes them), a picture of a tarsier. I'm very impressed that this dictionary has the tarsier in it at all, much less a drawing of one. The dictionary has this to say about the tarsier:

tarsier (tar' si er), n. a small arboreal primate, genus Tarsius,
sole representative of a suborder, Tarsiodea, found in the U.S.
of Indonesia and parts of the Phillippine Islands, with enormous eyes.

I love the enormous eyes bit. So wonderfully random! And then there's the alpaca. Here's what the dictionary has to say about the alpaca:

alpaca (al pak' e) n. 1. a domesticated sheep like South American
ruminant of the genus Lama allied to the llama and the guanaco,
having long soft, silky hair or wool. 2. the hair. 3. a fabric made of it
a glossy, wiry, commonly black woolen fabric with a cotton warp.
a rayon and alpaca crepe, with a viscose and acetate rayon warp.
[t. Sp., from paco, Peruv. animal name to which the article al has
been prefixed.]

Hate to be the guy that had to write that one. Viscose and acetate? Sounds like the seventies. And they left out the vicuna! I love the vicuna, they look like they are the racing high octane version of a camelid. Here is what I know about alpacas:

  1. They are the short ones. Llamas are taller, and don't have quite so fine a fleece
  2. They are all camelids. Camelids are ruminants. Being ruminants (see sheep cow goat), they ruminate (eat their food several times by re-chewing the material in their first stomach compartment), have no top teeth (betcha didn't know that), and like living in herds. Technically, they are slightly different than your average cow, more closely related to the camel (hence the whole "camel"id thing), and they have only 3 stomach compartments vs. the cow's 4, unless you are a fractious anatomist and like to cause trouble ,(you'd be surprised at the amount of controversy there is surrounding anatomy: the dog's cecum causes brawls every year in freshman anatomy).
  3. They make a delightful short humming noise, that gets faster and louder when they are anxious and they can really scream bloody murder when you restrain them and they don't like it.
  4. They do spit, but not that often. Don't be one of those annoying people who looks at one over a fence and freaks out because it might spit. Frankly, you're not worth it unless you are actively pissing them off. Do you curse at people you've never seen before for no reason? (If you said yes, remind me not to ever meet you on the street.) Depends on how much they're handled and just how much they don't want their temperature taken. Just don't stand in front when they're really mad.
  5. They're stronger than they look.
  6. They are some weird new fad in this country and I can't really figure that out, despite their very large limpid brown eyes and big bangs cute thing.
  7. Their venous blood is as bright as their arterial blood, they have really thick skin, and they clot a lot faster than other animals (important when taking blood).
  8. They hate their feet and back touched, and really don't ever seem too impressed with people, even if handled a lot. In fact, as far as I can tell they only like having their chins scratched.
  9. They have the longest sexual act in the domestic mammal category (up to 90 minutes). If you get reincarnated as an animal, consider the alpaca or llama.
  10. When they lay down, it is called cushing. Just remember when you sit on a cushed alpaca to keep her from moving while on a wheeled cart because she won't walk down to the scale, they ARE stronger than they look.
There you are then. One promise fulfilled. I had fun getting here, even if it was a long time coming.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Talking to grief

I've had a sad day, mostly. One of my patients from yesterday died this morning. And I euthanized a case that could have lived for a another year with simple, cheap medication. The owner just couldn't face watching her get gradually worse. But OH I am sad about it. I've always been a crier. I guess watching this gets easier, and I'm glad I can keep from crying in front of clients, but I've got this time lag thing now: I'm home, I look at my own dear pets, in their health and their infirmities and I grieve for the lives we didn't or couldn't save. Now, you invisible reader, I ask you to do an even harder thing. Suspend your judgement, your condemnation of this owner who couldn't watch, and think of how hard it is to watch a loved one deteriorate. Feel her own pain. And I do think she is at home tonight, grieving as I do. Try to hold all of it at once: your anger at the waste of life, your grief over its loss, and your empathy for someone who had to make a terrible choice. Contradictory? You betcha. To this there is no good answer. Which is why I'm sitting up when I should be sleeping, crying over a pet I only just met.

Talking to Grief

Denise Levertov

Ah, grief, I should not treat you

like a homeless dog

who comes to the back door

for a crust, for a meatless bone.

I should trust you.

I should coax you

into the house and give you

your own corner,

a worn mat to lie on,

your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living

under my porch.

You long for your real place to be readied

before winter comes. You need

your name,

your collar and tag. You need

the right to ward off intruders,

to consider

my house your own

and me your person

and yourself

my own dog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is this Website trying to tell me something?

Why has all the text on my previous posts suddenly turned grey? I have gone back and changed a few, but still. No editorializing from the nebulous ghost in the machine, please. Anyway, for the next three weeks my days will be obliterated by my 10am to 10pm ER shift (you WISH it was filled with EMS personnel dashing in yelling stats, handsome doctors and moral quandries created by just-complex enough patients--not to say it's boring, 'cause it really isn't, or that we don't have good looking doctors, but really, when's the last time someone peeed on the floor or tried to bite the doctor on TV?). It's amazing how coming to work in daylight and leaving at night makes you feel like a time-lapse photograph on fast forward. I get tired just thinking about it. The animals that come to us can often be at death's door, so this is a poem for all my potential patients.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Friday, August 26, 2005

In Memoriam

A Visitor
Mary Oliver

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

My father had hazel eyes, like me. And his only meanness perhaps the egoistic conviction we would all be better off without him. But I have wandered through this landscape enough to admit that the voices of his despair spoke louder than love, leaving him nothing but a narrow track with a dark conclusion. How much more indestructable is our own internal half-logic!

If you consider time as our fourth dimension, it may be easier for you to acknowledge the existence of an echo effect; ripples from long ago events that make themselves felt years later. I don't mean the way the past shapes the future--nothing that simplistic-- this is more a cyclic effect, often subconscious, that earlier meaningful events affect our feelings, maybe on their anniversaries, or every couple of years (surely one could allow that if such effects were ripples, they might begin to occur every month and gradually widen to every year, then every other, and so on, as the emotional wake, if you will, subsides). Now I buy this theory (because I made it up, fine, but really, there's more), because I notice that every year or so, right around now I become melancholy and introspective. It comes over me gradually and I often think, what the heck is up with me? Why this mood change? And eventually I think, oh right, it's August. The wrong time in the solar year, maybe, to think about change and uncertain futures, but the right time in my personal calendar, here around the anniversary of my father's death. And I love this poem (can't forget the poem) because of the redemption at the end, the softening, the forgiveness. I too, have gone round and round in years past, chasing my mental tail, trying to reason it through on some days and trying not to think of it or agonizing over it on others. The bitterness, the swollen lip, these things for me are post-mortem; they are caused by the refusal to see, to acknowledge the ugly parts of the past and the difficult and contradictory emotions caused by death. How needed, how essential is that ease at the end, the ability to say, I forgive you (and likewise myself, for my anger and my guilt about my anger). This moment also comes more often as the years do, and the whole thing softens into grey hues from its original hard lines. My father's ghost is my harbinger of uncertainty, of anxiety, of fear of loss. But
I must greet his ghost some nights, and pare away the symbolism, and there he is my father again, and I a child, with a child's love, and I am simply allowed to miss him.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Pond Moments

So much for deep introspective thought. It's sure been a while since I've had time to sit down for any of it. The worst thing about busyness is you get this vague feeling like maybe deep thought is simply too much effort. Since I've left any footprints here (splayed or otherwise--don't get the reference? Try Billy Collins) I have been across the country and back, bought myself a new computer (the flowerbed beneath my window was in danger from the old one. Because I was going to lose my temper and heave it out, you know), learned about the beauties of opioids (not what you think, either to your relief or dismay-I'm talking about vet school stuff, again), rode on a ferry, spent over $400 in order to sign up for a 6 hour exam, and performed an autopsy on a cat (another vet school activity, which, to admit my utter geekdom/how-I-am-not-like-most-people, I kind of enjoyed). But there hasn't been much time for inner contemplation. .

I did go for a long walk with the boy and the dog tonight. The smell of the woods marches me straight into my childhood memories. I used to think everyone remembered their childhoods the way I do, but I no longer believe this. For me, I have vivid glimpses of many scenes from many different years, all coming fast and clear, and full of echoed emotion. The lake at camp, summer camping in Wilmington, hiking Stone Mountain and Blowing Rock, late nights lying on the warm asphalt feeling like any minute now, the earth would let go and I would float away. Such vertigo, imagining another living creature orbiting another star and staring back at you wondering the same thing--who and where and how?

We met a pond that was a Mary Oliver poem.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them--

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided--
and that one wears an orange blight--
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away--
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled--
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing--
that the light is everything--that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

I love Mary Oliver's poems. The last lines of the poem on
the next page have always haunted me, calling at wild pond moments, or on pensive evenings. "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?" she asks. The last lines that surface often in my brain are: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

The truth is, I don't know. But the question always hits me in the solar plexus, a wild cry of grief mixed with a sort of impatience, like a child stamping her foot. Get on with it, don't you remember what's important here, she asks me. And I have to say, shamefacedly, that no, I often forget.

I am very grateful for pond moments tonight.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Maintain control of your carry-on baggage at all times

I just can’t do it. I mean, it sounds easy. Maintain implies that you are already there, in the land of control, briskly sweeping your personal chaos along with ease. But I confess, I just can’t. It’s unruly. I mean it, it plots and conspires against me, a stubborn stubby little nemesis on wheels. Is it resentful that it came from Building 19 and ¾ or 5/18 or whatever, the local buy-it-for-less-for cheap (where I always spend more money than I intend. Hmmm. How cheap is that, really)? Great, my luggage has an inferiority complex (my luggage has baggage, tee hee). Or is it just what it was: cheap? I can’t answer these pressing questions, but I do know it bites my ankles, twists in my hands and insists on having a handle just a leetle eety bit too short for my height. Rolling is its least favorite gait.

I hope you didn’t think this was going to turn into some deep metaphorical story about personal hang-ups, psychological inhibitions and traveling on the airplane of life or relationships or whatever. Nope. This is about airports. I’ve always really liked airports. I like to think about them and muse about how they used to be and what they’re like now. I mean, I grew up before the “all non-ticketed passengers must meet their parties at the baggage claim area” stuff. Non-ticketed passengers? Need I say anything else about that phrase? I remember how exciting it was, the building frustration about that passenger ahead serenely blocking your way up the concourse, because on the other side might be your mom, or your boyfriend, and their eyes would light up, and maybe there’d be balloons or flowers, but at least a big hug. And the huge, sliding disappointment when you got out the door and they were late…Now I know we still have some version of this when you get out of security, but there was something about combining that hideous 15 minutes when you’re half-crouched under the luggage racks because it’s better than remaining in that stinking little seat one moment longer, watching the people ahead of you in the aisle and wondering when that shifting will translate itself into real movement OUT of the plane, with the first brief freedom of walking up the concourse and yet not really being out of confinement and the rising excitement of only a few more steps…

I was once waiting at the gate while the previous flight emptied (here’s another fun one: de-planing. Un-planing? If I get back on am I re-planing?) and watched as each passenger got off carrying a flower and walked over to a confused but flattered young woman. By the end, she had a large bouquet, and the last person off was her boyfriend, who asked her to marry him. I guess I don’t think of the airport as my ideal place for a marriage proposal, but I love the way that young man had it all planned out, and enlisted his fellow passengers in a brief comradeship, just by buying flowers and carrying a photo of his girlfriend.

And what about how we all have the same luggage now? What’s that all about? Did luggage technology just take off (no pun intended) and now we all have to have the wheels and the handles? And every single one is black? I do include myself here, people, don’t worry. We’ve resorted to ribbons and tape to ID our stuff now. And I seem to be traveling with a new electronic object every year, so that I’m really only the sum of my cables. Bionic woman, here I come.

Anyway, I love to watch the sheer numbers of people. Any size, shape, outfit you can imagine. In my daily life I tend to forget the amazing amount of variety that exists in the world. And I think it’s sweetly bemusing how we almost always walk how we drive—on the right. Is it different in other countries? Can you tell the Americans in foreign airports because they collide with others, trying to walk on the right? I’ve been in foreign airports, but for the life of me, I can’t remember.

So here I am, picking at what passes for an egg roll (now there’s another amazing subject, airport food. I didn’t feel this way at first, but I think we may all be better off with just the snacks they serve these days. It’s hard to mess up pre-packaged granola bars. Of course, that means they can charge even more for what seems to be a salty fried egg roll type object, and they do) and reveling in the cheap industrial carpeting (how can that guy sleep on that stuff?), and the too-loud announcements, and listening to my fellow identically luggaged, laptopped, mp3’ed passengers speak in other languages on their cell phones. My bag is quiescent for now, but watch out when my zone is called, I barely have it under control.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

For the boy who does not know the answer

Well. Lets just say I've had better days and leave it at that. Actually it wasn't really the day, it was more the night part. But I'll just tell you that tonight made me feel like an incompetent and leave it at that (a hard pill for a perfectionist). I suppose this could be humbling, but I'm not humble enough to take it that way, I'm just un-humble enough to feel shamed and upset and taking it personally. Boy, this ego thing gets tiring some days. What I want is something quiet and soft, like

Prayer in my Boot
Naomi Shihab Nye

For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field
attached to nothing
pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window
as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling
with crisp colored alphabets
happy cat posters
the cage of the guinea pig
the dog with division flying out of his tail
and the classrooms of our cousins
on the other side of the earth
how solemn they are
how gray or green or plain
how there is nothing dangling
nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery
no self-portraits or visions of cupids
and in these rooms the students raise their hands
and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order
and family businesses that failed
and the house with boarded windows
and the gap in the middle of a sentence
and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given
and every future rough edge
and every afternoon
turning over in its sleep

You know what part of this poem I inhabit right now? I want to be the boy who didn't know the answer. What's more, I want it to be as full of possibilities to not know the answer as the poem seems to imply it could be. I want not knowing to be OK. And I'd like to breathe easily over every future rough edge. I'm not sure I can right now, but maybe I should put this poem in my boot.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Taking stock

Boy, have I got a lot of books. I mean, I thought it would never happen, but I finally have so many that I forget and buy duplicates once in a while. Or maybe that's just the senility creeping in. I'm finally making a catalogue of my library, so I can put it in my PDA so that when I go buy books I know what I already have. This brings out the anal side of me (right now some of you may be thinking, whaddaya mean BRINGS OUT?) and I feel like a dragon gloating over my hoard. Yeessssss my preciousssss, I do I have a copy of the 3rd P.C. Hodgell book in hardcover (so pretty, so shiny, yesssss) that I ordered especially since there were only some minute number printed...(and surprisingly, so does the Portland Multnomah County Library). That illustrates my book SF Fantasy nerdiness (all the prerequisites: obscure author, hard to find book, other connosieurs give a little gasp of delight and envy and I look smug). However, I am not above cheese, and have just about every Mercedes Lackey book known to man (OK, I will argue they're not ALL cheese, but most of them are and you know it's true because you can eat them like candy). Now, lest you think I am only a one hit wonder, I also have a respectable amount of fiction and a healthy poetry collection (big surprise). Then let's not get into the comic book collection (it brings up depressing finance issues)...
Here I must interject for those of you who don't know me: I do in fact dress well, am not hideously pale, have never played Everquest, have social graces, can cook, actually exercise and really do go outside. So that's enough of that stereotype.
Anyway, the truth is, I'm up to 220 records in filemaker (OK, another geek thing, but I guess you were warned when I mentioned the whole PDA thing) and I'm not even through the first bookcase yet (there are 5). I'll admit it freely, I'm a hoarder. The only time this is a problem is of course, when I move, which is unfortunately more frequently than I 'd like. (Next May, any takers on moving help?) Still, I am astonished by people who never read. I feel like an anthrolopologist in the house, noting no shelves, and lack of reading lights by couches, not mention rooms where all the furniture subtly points at the TV. I'm not going to get all self-righteous about the evil of TV (I've been known to turn it on myself) but I will admit I get twinges of fear when it's the only thing presiding over a room. I get this all the time in school "OHMIGOD how do you fine time to read a fun book?" I often respond to people by asking if they watch TV, and they usually say yes, and I usually say, well, I don't really watch TV that often, so there you are. I don't mean this to denigrate their TV decision, but it's sort of a stupid question in my opinion, since it's simply a mattter of time management. Theres only so many hours in a day. Since I am in vet school, there are very few of those I can dedicate to what I want to do. For me, not reading would basically be like not breathing. TV is amusing, but it's no substitute for breathing. Therefore I don't watch TV, I read. There are those who claim they can't put a book down and that this disrupts their studying life (like having to eat every chocolate in the box, it's so good I guess), and while I sometimes burn the candle a little too late, again I say, for me, reading is like breathing. If having to put the book down is a prerequisite of getting to read a bit, than I'll put the book down. Kind of an oxymoron, but if being able to stop reading is required, I can do that too. But that's just me. I have a framed article on my wall from The New Yorker. In it, Art Spiegelman and Maurice Sendak are talking about books. (And I love the fact that this article is not actually an article, it's a comic strip drawn by Sendak and Spiegelman together.) Here's the part I love:

ART: You're doing a book for grownups?
MAURICE: Kid books...grown up books...that's just marketing! Books are books!

ART: I suppose. But when parents give "Maus," my book about Auschwitz to their little kids, I think it's child abuse...I wanna protect my kids! When Nadja, my 6-year-old daughter, was asked what I do for a living, she said, "Daddy draws mice!"
MAURICE: can't protect kids...they know everything!" (section omitted) People say, "Oh, Mr. Sendak. I wish I were in touch with my childhood self, like you." As if it were all quaint and succulent, like Peter Pan. Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth! I say "You are in touch with your childhood self, lady--you're mean to your kids, you treat your husband like shit, you lie, you're selfish...That is your childhood self!" In reality, childhood is deep and rich. It's vital mysterious and profound. I remember my own childhood vividly...I knew terrible things..But I knew I musn't let adults know I knew..It would scare them.

I love this perspective. Books are books. The rest is marketing. I love the bit about childhood too--I couldn't resist putting it in--I love that: "you're mean to your kids, you treat your husband like shit, you lie, you're selfish--that is your childhood self!" But that's another blog entirely. Maybe next time. Anyway. I definitely have a lot of books. It's a good thing.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Candy corn, what kind of a person doesn't like candy corn?

I've been busy with so many horses lately I haven't had much time for contemplation. I'm also staying with some very nice folks I've never met before, and haven't wanted to hog their computer. I'm out in Bend, OR, externing at the Bend Equine Medical Center, which has been great. Before I left Portland, however, I made the obligatory visit to Powell's (the best bookstore in the known universe. Ironically, when I lived in Portland I could never go there because I hate torture. Bookstores when you have no money are definitely torture). Anyhow, I bought a book of poems, and so far my favorite is called "I Said Yes But I Meant No." You should read it.

I Said Yes But I Meant No
Dean Young

People are compelled to be together good and bad.
You've agreed to shrimp with the geology couple.
If you like one 85% and the other 35%
that's not so bad.
You need to like one at least 70%
and like the other not less than 25%
otherwise it's agonizing and pointless
like being crucified without religious significance.
Averages are misleading:
I like that couple 110% could mean
each is appreciated 55% which will not kill you
but neither will sleeping in your own urine.
One should like oneself between 60 and 80%.
Under 45%, one becomes an undertaking,
prone to eating disorders, public weeping,
useless for gift wrapping and relay races.
Over 85% means you are a self-involved bore,
I don't care about your Nobel prize in positrons
or your dog sled victories.
Of course there is great variance throughout the day.
You may feel 0% upon first waking
but that is because you don't yet know you exist
which is why baby-studies have been a bust.
Then as you venture forth to boil water,
you may feel a sudden surge to 90%,
Hey, I'm GOOD at boiling water!
which can be promptly counteracted by turning on your email.
It is important not to let variance become too extreme,
a range of 40% is allowable,
beyond that it is as great storms upon drought-stricken land.
I.e. mudslides.
Sugar, retirement plans, impending jail time
all are influential factors.
Generally, most data has been gathered
regarding raising percentages,
the modern world it is argued is plentiful
with opportunities of negative effect.
The tanker splits and the shore birds turn black and lose their ability to float.
Sometimes a good scrub is all that's needed.
A fresh shirt.
Shock therapy has never been fully discounted
and people have felt significant surges
from backpacking into remote and elevated areas,
a call home.
Yet the very same may backfire.
Thwanp, thwamp, the helicopter lowers the rescue crew,
the phone is slammed down.
Each case is profoundly nuanced.
like the lock systems of Holland.
Some, frankly, are beyond help,
but if you are a tall woman, wear shoes to make you taller!
Candy corn, what kind of a person doesn't like candy corn?
Tell that 70/30% rock couple you can not come,
you forgot your fencing lesson,
your cat just had a puppy,
your tongue is green,
you are in fact dying.

I've been feeling a lot of daily variances in in my self-like quotient, which happens a lot when I'm 1) in a new place, 2) really want to not act like an idiot 3) don't really know what is expected of me. All of which is has been true the last two weeks. I've really felt like that, like "Hey, I'm GOOD at boiling water!" Or more like, "hey, I'm GOOD at making meds and taking temps!" The desire to be liked is truly a curse at these moments. And the knowledge of both the curse's existence and its effects on you still don't help you get out from under its thumb. No matter what, your primary objective is to have people like you. How do you get away from such a fundamental hope? Well, so far as I can tell, you don't. You just find some days that your confidence shoots up to 90% and then poof, evaporates. Eventually, it evens out from over a few hours to happening on a less roller-coastery every few days cycle. Maybe I should go get some candy corn (although I guess I really am beyond help if I admit I'm not really all that crazy about candy corn). But I can repeat to myself in the bad moments: "Hey, I'm GOOD at boiling water!"

Sunday, May 29, 2005


I learned a new game the other day. One of those amuse the kids on long car trips sorts of games. (Do they still play those anymore? I believe these things last through generations, a long line of fifth graders teaching fourth graders, teaching third graders, etc., despite the keep-'em-quiet DVD method advertised in many family marketed cars these days. I mean, kids still sing some version of "On Top of Old Smokey" that involves the inappropriate demise of their teachers, right?) This one is called Ghost, and I learned it in a car, driving around CT.

Here's how to play. One person thinks of a word. They say the first letter. The next person then adds a letter, also thinking of a word. The next person continues this hypothetical word, and so on. Now, the rules are: if you finish a word (i.e., say the last letter), any word, you lose. This is not a game where you can use compound words. For example, you can claim you really meant to spell 'carburetor', but it doesn't matter because you have spelled 'car' no matter how you slice it. (This begins to suck if you play with people who know lots of obscure three letter words and are sticklers in a competition.) If you add a letter that doesn't spell any word, you can be challenged by the next person. If you are challenged, you must then tell the word that contains the impossible letter combination. If it's a real word, and you can prove it, the challenger loses. If you're bluffing, you lose. When you lose, you are given the letter 'G'. Once you lose again, you are given the letter 'H', until you spell 'GHOST'. And then the game is over. I guess. Or you play it again until your eyes bleed, ot something.

OK, it maybe sounds a little inane, but first of all, it's more challenging than you might think. Depending on the number of people playing, you have to be careful which words you end up spelling. We had four people, and because the English language has lots of five letter words, it took us a bit to realize that being the starter of the word was the surest way to lose. Secondly, you can get out of losing in ingenious suffixlike ways (I was spared from defeat when I added 'I' to C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T, to make 'celebrate' into 'celebrating'). And, as in many of these word games in the car, you actually get silly over them and find random bursts of laughter possessing you.

The thing that seized me about this game was the way the first letter presents you with a whole universe of possibilities. Someone says, 'W' and you are off. Is it 'whispering' or 'wimple'? 'Whiffle,' 'waffle' or 'widget'? Each successive person narrows down the elusive word until it become almost impossible to spell anything else. (I can't help having the slightly gruesome image in my head of a string of letters, nailed to the floor by their little downstrokes, squeaking as the next letter is captured and added. They bulge and turn various colors until the word is done, and poof, you have a turnip that gallops off into the night.)

Often the starter is proprietary. You get a small feeling of frustration when that next person says 'U' after you were thinking the word was 'calliope'. Quickly, it turns out you were spelling cucumber after all. "That's not how you spell 'calliope'!" you say, only half-teasing. It's a funny opening and closing of the universe; a minute example of how choosing closes doorways until a concrete idea or action is born; how deciding something is so may actually make it so. It reminds me of how we create the world between us, by bouncing this word back and forth until it is polished and formed, maybe not the word we originally wanted, but hey, we like cucumbers and really, there's no good place for a calliope in the house anyway.

Don't get me wrong. This is not just some benign cutesy idea, as if we always are happy with the final result, or even able to get there. Have you ever watched two people who have a falling out decide "how it is" between them, meaning the other person has been defined as a "he always" or "she never" and neatly put away to be scorned? And you can't convince them otherwise, because there is no more room for negotiating in that area: the word was chosen, it was a bad word, and we don't say those. Never mind the fact that it may have started out differently, never mind that each person picked a new letter that led inorexably downward. Dearest was really demon all along. Don't get fooled into thinking people are always happy exchanging cucumbers for calliopes.

I'm not happy about ending something with just dark omens. So I can't stop there. But lest this get precious and start to turn into a new positive upswing about isn't it great there are so many possibilities, or, it's all about attitude, isn't it? I'm going to say that isn't it funny what car games bring up in some people? You could either say they often see the world as a fractal universe: greater meaning presed into the mundane activities around us, or you could say, boy, they think too much.

Yup. You're right.


I'm prolific, when I want to be. Or I'm on a roll, but prolific sounds better. Anyway, I thought I'd mention that I'm not actually in the minor outlying islands of eastern MA right now. I'm actually back in my adopted home, Portland, OR. This is where I want to say I'm from, when people ask me that question, but honesty and a funny compulsive attention to minor details keeps me from omitting all those other years when I lived in other, less fond places. (It'll come up eventually, I think, so why bother pretending?)

I think we underestimate how much places define and shape us. I cannot tell you how foreign I felt yesterday. You see, I took up running while in vet school. This is in general a good thing, since I mostly enjoy it (this, coming from someone who failed the presidential fitness test in school every year, with pleasure), I think I need to stave off the circling vultures of my mother's metabolism, and vet school is designed to make you hideously chair-shaped. But I never once ran in the six years I lived here. My friends all looked at me funny as I pulled on my running shoes.

I find in myself some strange mix of New England definitions of daily life and comfortable old Oregon habits. I don't really like where I'm living now. No, let's be candid and say I can't wait to get the hell out of there. But I can't say I dislike all the things I've collected (image of myself, rolling through space, attached as if by velcro to new crumbs and dog hair and books labeled 'obscure facts about goats') in my new habitat. But every time I return places, it's a bit like that hole I left and now re-enter has been closing over, scarring a little, and a little the wrong shape or size. I feel this way often at parties, when people with non-medical lives talk about their day and I'm not sure they want to hear about the prolapsed uterus I helped replace that morning, and that I learned that cheap rain gear is a really good idea in this situation.

However, I'm coming to accept this new feeling as something I might just have to live with. Maybe my two selves will learn to merge. Or maybe I'll be a Clark Kent-like figure, or some kind of secret agent with a top-secret identity: a life of danger, a life of mystery! One self runs while the other eats too many sweets! One self holds forth on the cultural wonders of opera, while the other is covered in blood and uterine juices! So glamorous...Isabella Ninja (another story that's really a you had to be there kind of moment) strikes again. Who was that masked man who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men...yes, I know I do get carried away.

But I have no complaints at all about seeing all my lovely friends and my lovely city. And because I am thinking of them, and I told my friend who henceforth shall be called "Goatcheese" (believe me, his idea, NOT mine) about this blog, and he noticed my penchant for the parathetical and suggested a format which will require me to have a website which I'm not quite ready for but considering, I decided to post the charming example he put up for me here. I have another dear friend who many years ago started her own tarot deck, a project I secretly thought was doomed to atrophy into disinterest, but it turns out it didn't, and I mention this because I was blown away by how beautiful they are. See for yourself. Hooray for homey cities peopled with funny quirky friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

today, we honor the cows

Today, I helped deliver a calf. He was a big boy, and his mom was having some trouble. So we helped. Doesn't make me want to give birth, I must say. But he made it out OK. So in the grand scheme of things, if we were all utilitarians at philosophical heart (a pure utilitarian weighs all factors that they can think of in terms of "good" or "bad" and takes the direction which leads to the most "good," much like a nice long pro/con list for any perplexing dilemma. This is, naturally, an oversimplification, since we are supposed to be in a parathetical aside, and not in some huge overblown discussion about philosophy. You might imagine utilitarians get into a bit of trouble--good for you only? Good for all but you? Unforeseen consequences? How much does lying to someone about their new haircut, for example, weigh in regards to the possible ass-whupping you might get if you tell the truth? Etc.), I have added a plus sign to the universe. Take that, universe. So, in honor of you, the cow, a poem. (Whooboy, this blog is sure taking a turn for the verse! Sorry...No, you know what? Not sorry.)

Afternoon With Irish Cows
Billy Collins

There were a few dozen who occupied the field
across the road from where we lived,
stepping all day from tuft to tuft,
their big heads down in the soft grass,
though I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty
as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.

Then later, I would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching,
or they would be lying down
on the black and white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions, waiting for rain.
How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appeared in the long quiet afternoons.

But every once in a while, one of them

would let out a sound so phenomenal
that I would put down the paper
or the knife I was cutting an apple with
and walk across the road to the stone wall
to see which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.

Yes, it sounded like pain until I could see
the noisy one, anchored their on all fours,
he neck outstretched, her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.

Then I knew that she was only announcing
the large, unadulterated cowness of herself,
pouring out the ancient apologia of her kind
to all the green fields and the gray clouds,
to the limestone hills and the inlet of the blue bay,
while she regarded my head and shoulders
above the wall with one wild, shocking eye.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

it's time for not me

I can't quite drag myself off to bed without dutifully putting something up here. You know, it's awfully hard to keep in touch with that inner you when she's asleep. I have a case of the humdrums, so it's time for a bit of inspiration (I had a large dose of stupid talk radio today: I think to truly enjoy call-in shows you have to be bitter enough to like listening to fragile misguided people get crushed by their icons. No wonder it's a nasty aftertaste).

Advice to a Prophet
Richard Wilbur

When you come, as soon you must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone’s face?

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which we beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.