Friday, March 24, 2006

What I Did On My Vacation

So after all that stressful life planning business, I got down to the hardest task of all: relaxing. It doesn't come easily, which is annoying and a little sad. However, last week I got a much deserved rest visiting my folks in North Carolina. The preformulated housing developments are creeping in around the edges of my old haunts; there's a brand new ginormous high school not five minutes from my house, and believe it or not, both coffee shops and espresso have finally reared their cultural little heads. Now don't get too excited; it's still damned hard to find a coffee shop open in the evenings, but hey, in high school nobody had ever even heard of coffee shops; we had a mall. I found returning to my old town a lot harder during college and immediately after. This time was maybe the first where I had a real sense of distance. And it was nice. Nice to visit, nice to toodle around town; just nice. Of course it helped that the weather was a balmy sixty degrees in comparison to the ice locked state of Massachusetts. All the trees were in bloom, the daffodils were their joyful yellow selves and the forsythia followed their example. My internal seasonal clock is definitely still on North Carolina time.

My favorite place, Reynolda House. Originally designed to be a model estate, conceived by Katharine Reynolds after marrying R.J. Reynolds (of tobacco infamy), now an art museum dedicated to American art. Something I found even more surprising was the Reynolds's dedication to education of all tenants, irrespective of race or class. The grounds are free and open to the public, while the house itself has been recently renovated, with a new wing for traveling exhibits. It's a lot more museumy than it was when I was a child, and I am grateful for the times I had during its summer programs where we were allowed to run free in the basement, bowling and swimming and eating cookies in the mirrored bar.

My parents, meanwhile, have been busy with their usual hustle and bustle. In addition to their jobs, their social lives and their community outreach, I found they have been busy raising killer koi in our backyard (see example below). I couldn't give them up to the authorities, so be warned if you come to visit.

Anyway, it was the Irish time of the month of March where most people just go have a pint or two or seventeen. But in the newfound spirit of finding culture in Winston-Salem, my stepfather and I went to a poetry reading, complete with Irish poet, whistle and fiddle. And one of the poems especially spoke to this past six months and my battle with the fear of the unknown. While I cannot read it to you, and even if I possessed that much techno savvy, I could never imitate the beautiful brogue which recited it to me that night. So tough cookies.

Ciaran Carson (pronounced Kee air un, accent on the second syllable)

I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.

I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be.

I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer's fee.

I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Scramble

I sort of left you all hanging, huh? What happened to her the next day? Fidget, fidget, on the edge of the seat, nail biting...for god's sake man, just tell me! Actually, it would not surprise me to find out it's a little more like: oh, right. There was this important thing that was going to happen to that blogger person, I think. I'll find out later, I'm doing the crossword.

Well, and some of you already know, anyway. It's all resolved now. Looking back, the funniest part was the immediate 48 hours post Match day. So here's how it goes, this thing called THE MATCH. You decide for some unknown reason that you wish for another year (internship) or three (residency, usually done after the internship) of veterinary torture. This is not a required desire for all veterinarians, unlike in medical school. We could simply go out and start hawking our skills to practices who might wish to hire our scared selves. (I mean, we've had four years of school, but that in no way compensates for years of experience. I know that when people call me "Doctor" in a few months I'm going to be looking around in confusion. Yet, the only way to get experience...) So why do it? The lack of remuneration and all the glamour just call to you (just in case you weren't paying attention, this is called sarcasm, folks) . Or, I suppose you might really want to get some more advanced training, or specialize in something like surgery, or cardiology, or maybe you just like taking really hard tests and having extra letters after your name.

So, the Match. You send in stuff to a central agency that orchestrates most of these positions. This includes: a) your grades b) a little form thingy saying what position you are applying for c) a letter of intent which hopefully doesn't make you sound like an ass, and yet lovingly highlights your good qualities in a unique and eye-catching way (for those of you on these committees, my hat's off to you wading through that mulch) and d) three letters of reference, which again, hopefully highlight your good qualities without any veiled allusions to BAD THINGS, such as: "A very smart hardworking student, but can be difficult to work with," (This means, what a B*TCH!) or, "Shows great potential; needs to be pushed harder." (Meaning, she's lazy and picks her nose at rounds.) Again, hats off to the clinicians who write these umpteen letters for people they may have only known for a week. The ridiculous thing is the trepidation one feels for asking for these letters. When advised, you are told, only ask if the person feels that they can give you a good letter, implying that leaving out the word "good" somehow invalidates the contract, so they could just write you any old letter. Dear Blah Animal Hospital, they will say. I am free to say how I feel because that fool Jenny Joe Schmoe FORGOT to ask for a good letter. So, thinking about Jenny Joe Schmoe as an intern? HA! HA HA--Don't make me laugh too hard. Whatever you do, stay away from her. She actually didn't know the dose of Clavamox for a urinary tract infection! Can YOU IMAGINE? Love, Dr. Soandso. I doubt that doctors really write such things, but such advice over petty language makes you worry a little.

Anyway, once you send all that in, and pay the pretty scary people (it's like the Mafia, maybe?) you then get to rank all the programs to which you applied. And then the people offering the positions rank the candidates they are interested in. And then the magic begins...It reads a little like a complicated word problem: "If Johnny has 13 apples and he leaves his house at10:45 am walking west at 3 miles an hour, and he eats the apples at a rate of 1 apple per hour, how likely is he to die from indigestion before reaching his destination?"

An actual quote from the website:
By way of example, Metropolis University (MU) has four residencies available in surgery. MU received 22 applications, out of which it chose to rank 12 candidates. In effect, MU has offered jobs to candidates 1, 2, 3 and 4 on its list. Candidate 1 has Metropolis U ranked fourth, #2 has it ranked first, #3 ranked it second and #4 ranked it first. Metropolis would be matched with candidates #2 and #4 and nothing else would happen until candidates #1 and #3 are matched elsewhere, or the programs ranked higher than Metropolis on the candidate lists were filled.
See what I mean? It makes a twisted sort of sense, if you like word problems.

Anyway, I only applied to two places, which between them had 6 positions. Knowing this, I was prepared, as much as I could be, not to match. The thing that really got me, though, was how I would say this to some well meaning person and they would reply, "Oh, I'm sure you'll match, you're ______." And the blank would be some nice compliment, etc. Now lest I seem ungrateful, let me explain my objection to this comment, and show you instead, that I am actually analytical and picky and--well, maybe ungrateful. This whole comment was of course designed to be innocuous and soothing, and was probably what they themselves also needed to hear. But to me it implied that if you match it was because you were _____, therefore, if you didn't match, that must somehow imply inferiority and not _____. I thought, hell, I may not match, it's statistics. Because I'd much rather blame the vagaries of the word problem than my worthiness as a candidate. I wasn't actually all that worried about my worthiness as a candidate truth be told. So you might see how the compliment failed to meet the mark, and that I can't take a compliment to save my life.

Now, there wouldn't be much of a story here if I had matched. So, no, I didn't match. And I found this out by logging on to the website and being politely told by the webpage, and it was all impersonal and sort of fine. My main problem was: WHAT DO I DO NOW? Do I think about getting a job next year (EECK!) or applying for open internship positions in potentially up-until- now unconsidered states (URK?) or do I crawl in bed and sing a little happy song until it all goes away? I'm not just making this decision for myself, y'all. I have a man and two dogs and two ferrets and a large tortoise (in a pear tree?) to consider, and the man especially has what you might call an ANTI-Desire to stay anywhere on the east coast or the midwest. He's an Oregon boy, born and bred, and it calls to him...Anyway, there is this long list of internship openings available because not all the places match either (it felt like a small justice, at the time).

By 11 am that morning I had gotten 6 phone calls and 8 emails from random people at random hospitals all over the country asking if I wanted to come be their Bitc..ahem..intern. At first it was a heady rush of power: ME, they want ME, HA HA HA...wait a minute, I have how long to decide if I want to come to your hospital in Podunk IL? The answer: "we'd really like to have the position filled by Wednesday." This was Monday, y'all. From no known future to consider moving to Florida? Sacramento? Virginia? But DECIDE RIGHT NOW. Hmm, now I've never been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type gal. But forgive me if I'm wrong, even without the boy and the dogs and the ferrets and the tortoise (in pear tree?) I'm not sure impulse shopping for an internship is such a good idea. People say, "it's only a year," in this casual offhand way as if we just drop a year here and there, no big deal, you can handle anything for a year. ANYTHING? I can think of a lot of things I wouldn't want to handle for a year. Isn't that what reality TV is based on? And the emails and the phone calls just.kept.coming. You see, they publish the list of all those folks who don't match, and then this 48 hour period is called The Scramble. Think of it as a giant country wide game of musical chairs, played with chairs you can't see and players you don't know; they may turn out to have beautiful chaise lounges to offer you, or you may end up being squashed into an old plastic cafeteria chair by Bertha, the 300lb human resources manager who forgot to mention that they 're suffering from a technician shortage and you'll be responsible for all evening treatments, at no extra cost to you (Disclaimer: there was no Bertha, and I'm sure people with that name are lovely at any size). You are expected to send them those original references (try tracking down three faculty members in 12 hours, I challenge you), maybe the application, and then wait.

So I called the only place left in the Northwest that had an open position. I know a few people who have worked there or work there still, and I got the skinny from them, and I said, well, it's about the only thing I can think of that would work right for everyone concerned and would not cause me to tear out my hair or be abandoned by my boyfriend or lead to madness. And right when I thought I might have to re-track down those three faculty members and apply for some position in San Diego (which I hear is a nice town, but it ain't Oregon), I was in. Phew! And you think it was a long story to read! It was a crazy 48 hour period, but I have learned. 1) Smile pretty and try to take the compliments, they don't mean anything by it. 2) There's no point in being frantic over the future, because it just comes right up behind you and kicks your butt anyway. 3) Don't make plans. If you are like me, you will continue to make plans anyway, but you can at least remember you once thought it would be a good rule. 4) Vet school is stupid sometimes and tries to convince you your life is ending. It is wrong. 5) I'm going to be in my favorite city next year and that makes everything seem good good good. Yippee!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Looking the other way is revealing

I was in Whole Foods the other day (is that okay to say on a blog? Am I supposed to disguise the names and places in my life so as to protect the innocent? I guess I'm not here to slander Whole Foods, nor am I really here to promote them, so too bad. And then the leading question: who is really innocent around here?) and I had to repress an outburst. Maybe the fact that I suspected the lady ahead of me was eyeing my sushi with disdain says more about me and some unexamined lifestyle choice paranoia, but I got the surreptitious I'm-eyeing-your
-grocery-choices-and-making-judgements-about-you feeling. And I'm sure it was partially the frustration that I couldn't afford to stock my kitchen with any of the very pretty vegetables or gourmet cheeses that made me want to scream: "YES I EAT MEAT AND SOMETIMES I EVEN BUY HARMFUL CHEMICALS; I'M WEARING LEATHER SHOES AND SOMETIMES I LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON!" I imagined a hush falling over the store; the cold stares; the muttering. (Now, be reasonable, you coo, nervously. Not everyone who shops at Whole Foods is anti-leather or anti-meat, and hey, what's wrong with the goal of non chemical healthy food? It's OK, I'm calm, I'm calm, I mean, I 'll be fine...) I've been under a lot of pressure lately, you know?

This is one way of saying, today is the day before tomorrow, and tomorrow is the day where important veterinary future things get decided, like: will you be toiling in some practice next year for some money (but there's still the evils of job hunting) or toiling in a veterinary school for no money in the hopes that you'll gain some crystallizing experience that tells you once and for all that you're a doctor now? And you see, I'm not thinking about this right now. I'm thinking around it. I'm thinking about how when you move someplace, your environment defines you in some intangible way, much like the way physicists talk about every action with its equal and opposite reaction. It may look like you're sitting on the table, but the table is also opposing your butt with equal and opposite force, otherwise it would be the floor, suddenly, opposing your now bruised posterior. You push on your environment, it pushes back. (Huh, you say? What does this have to do with tomorrow? Wait for it...) So now I'm thinking about next year, and moving back to the west coast, and how it will be like a tight sweater that used to fit. You put it on, and--huh, you say to yourself, how come I never noticed that squidgy way the sleeves hug my armpits? I'm not really the same exact person now after vet school. And you see, Whole Foods reminds me of Portland, a little, because the whole place is so much more populated by a liberal population generally willing to buy spices in bulk and high priced granola. And when it comes right down to it, I suffer from two basic emotions when I think about moving back. (Very basic, don't say you weren't warned, this is straight back to middle school, people.)

(Let me digress for a minute, at the risk of revealing too much and exaggerating my background to the point of pathos, which is not my intention. I was NOT a popular kid in middle school. Whether or not this should matter is a moot point. It did, and it still does somehow, because it was a defining moment to get to a college where all of a sudden I felt like I belonged. And whenever you move, there's that need to find someplace where you still belong. And when you don't it's slowly and quietly unsettling; it undermines you; it crops up when you are anxious about your abilities or your future. Like maybe how good a doctor you will be? Or where you will be next year? Get it?)

One is the disappointment you feel when you hoped or first belonged to a new self-identified group of people that you thought were so cool and then you discover THE.BIG.SECRET. You admire they way they dress, or talk, or opine, but inside they are just people. CRAP! They have hypocrisy and stupidity and egotism just like all the other people you didn't want to be like. This may make you philosophical and happily assume, yay, we're all more alike than we think! Or, like me, you may get a little bitter and lash out desperately in some public forum, like say...a blog, for instance. And maybe deeper down, or just mixed in is the other basic emotion. This is the ohmygod iwannabecoolihopetheystilllikeme/doistillbelong? emotion. Tricky. Which came first, the wanting or the rejecting? Or do they just keep happening over and over and all mixed up? Lest you think I'm a complete self doubting, self-hating noodle, I will say in my defense that tomorrow is scary and I've been trapped in my house in the frozen tundra of the north in the dark thinking about it for many many months. AND I don't get out much. I promise, soon I will try and remember how to talk and play well with others, and respect their opinions about organic produce and try to have well-reasoned and insightful conversations about the merits and demerits of factory farmed fish, but right now I want to say that for lunch I had factory produced beef from Stop N Shop, my shoes are leather, and my hair is undyed. The truth is, I'm still twelve, I'm wearing a dorky sweater and I don't know which bands are cool, thankyou very much. Here's to hoping you like me anyway, dear west coast, tainted as I may be, because no matter what happens tomorrow, internship or job, I'm coming home.