Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stray Poems

I was sitting in my car, on the way to lunch after doing some volunteer neuters at the county animal shelter (Note to self: kittens are way too cute. That's how they sucker you. Must resist all cuteness, for the dogs are plenty of trouble already.) And I happily caught the daily "Writer's Almanac" on NPR. Now some may not like Mr. Keillor (My stepdad has never been a big "Praire Home Companion" fan, finding it too saccharine, but I have always been an unashamed enthusiast. First of all, it's funny. Second of all, I'm a sucker for folk music. I am also sometimes a sucker for saccharine. And truthfully, the show also reminds me of my father, who died when I was eleven. It's a small connection through the years to his character and his life.), but I confess I brighten to hear his quiet and measured voice making connections to history. And, even better--there's POETRY. I'm hopelessly hooked. Today's poem hit me just right; the kind of moments where I involuntarily exclaim or grunt, as some image hits me in the literary solar plexus; quiet punches to the gut that have come to be my markers of a good poem. Grunt on, oh readers.

Advice to Myself

Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic--decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Savage momentos indeed. I like that poems find you like stray dogs sometimes; you didn't even know you needed a furry greeting or a friendly tongue at home, but then one finds you and your days somehow become infinitely better.

Friday, May 25, 2007

There oughta be a word....

Since the advent of computers and the internet, we've developed new terminology to help us grapple with all these new developments. This fact is really not all that surprising, considering the number of technical dialects we humans create when new areas of expertise arise (consider the jargon of the medical profession--that example, or course, comes easily to my mind). In fact, it's hard to believe that most folks around the globe don't know these words. (Doesn't everybody know what a web site is? Apparently not. It seems very strange to us when we are reminded that this language is not universal. And yet, I remember the time before the virtual takeover, much the way my parents remembered getting their first television. In 4th grade, my school got its first computer; it was kept in the library and it was a huge and awesome responsibility when you got to try out your handwritten attempt: a program that made Logo the turtle draw a flower, or a rocket, or, more often than not, a random smattering of colored lines that was obviously NOT the flower or rocket you had in mind.) So I think there should be a word for that sense of guilty inadequacy of having not once written anything (clever or otherwise) in your blog, leading to procrastination and a compounding of said emotion. And due to the current cultural trend of flippancy leading to "i"everything or "e"this, it should include some clever reference to blogging, or virtualness. Blogofear? As in "blogofear of the blogosphere?" Gack.
Whatever it's called, I've got it, leading to days where I randomly remember that old post where I gamely called blogging my new attempt to get in touch with my inner self and cringe. Ahh, well. I guess that inner self is still somewhere around here. (Hello? Hey inner self--what gives?) I was never that great at journals either. Good thing I'm not Catholic. (Dear Diary, Forgive me. It has been 4 years since my last entry/post/confession. I'm sorry about the mildew, and promise to reform.) In truth, sometimes my inner self isn't interested in exposing itself and its messiness to anybody but my nearest friends, who will at least pat her inner back and not hold the worry and tears against her. So, in short, much has been happening outside the laptop for the last several months, and I can finally give you the run down in short, business like blurbs. Assuming you are not mildewed.

1. I'm getting married. In August. People keep asking me if I'm excited. To be honest, the feeling I have when I think about it is just more a sense of expectant pleasure, and a feeling of rightness. Joel and I have been together for 5.5 years and through three moves across the country, and I can't imagine a better future. But to me, my wedding day is about celebration and having a nice party with friends and family. Elegant? Sure. But fairy princess wedding day industry by the book planning? Ugh. The whole commercial aspect is disgusting. Doesn't anyone else find it ridiculous to spend over 1000 dollars on a dress you wear once? And a bachelor/bachelorette party? Catering to that notion that the night before you get married is somehow the end of freedom, and freedom has something to do with getting really trashed and watching other people get naked? I know that many people don't follow these rules (you go, people!), but the connotations make me itchy with revulsion. I'm kind of enjoying discovering how different I feel about all the traditions, and a lot of what I find about the expectations of planning a wedding are amusing. I have to have colors? Does puce count? Ring bearer? Well maybe the dog--no, she'd run past us and try to catch squirrels. Bridal shower? Umm--isn't this just an underhanded way of getting more presents? What would I do with lingerie? I like pretty panties as much as the next girl, but truly, I have no use for rash inducing lace or wedgie themed teddies. Bridal games? Shudder. Let's go out for breakfast and talk about our lives, or books, or reminisce about the times we went skinny dipping in college. Please, keep the impractical underwear at home.

2. I quit my internship. Big surprise, maybe--maybe not. Considering the bitterness and crankiness of the last 9 months (and mostly, I try not to blog out bitter and cranky, but I've bet you noticed anyway), maybe others could see it coming more than me. However, it was at least three weeks of wailing and gnashing of teeth and trying to pit mental sanity against the fear of the "f" word (FAILURE), or the "q" word (QUITTER) provided by my own sense of ambition combined with the "oh-but-you're-almost-done" comments I got from most people when I mentioned my turmoil. It's hard to choose yourself over an image of yourself. Harder than I have ever imagined. Considering how driven we in the medical profession have to be to get where we are, quitting things that bring us prestige, and knowlege and a certificate often makes us feel like we are no longer deserve to be in our profession. And yet. And yet, crying whenever anyone asked me how my job was, starting on anti-depressants simply to get through the next three months and having panic attacks when walking in the door may seem, to sane people, too great a sacrifice for knowlege. Had I been required to complete this internship for entry into a residency program (unlike medical doctors, veterinary internship and residency are not required unless one wants to specialize) I might have stuck it out. But the basic truth was, not a year out of school and I hated being a veterinarian. Having put both a huge amount of effort (not too mention money) into the pursuit of this goal, this feeling was terrifying. I had to get out of the emergency room. One thing people hope for, when they walk into a room with a doctor (human or otherwise) is someone who cares, who listens and tries to help. I was having a hard time getting there. And that is the kind of doctor I want to be. My mentors and classmates said you could do anything for a year. I'm sure that's true. But should you? In the end, I chose myself. It feels good.

Really, there is no other major news. I'm broke, unemployed, and feeling more myself than I have in ages. I've been sleeping, weeding, riding horses at my old barn where I worked before vet school, walking the dogs, and reading voraciously. In the past month I have read:
"There and back again" by Pat Murphy (still in the middle of this one)
"I'll be watching you" and "From a whisper to a scream" by Charles de Lint writing as Samuel Key, and "Seven wild sisters" by Charles de Lint
"Princess Academy" and "River Secrets" by Shannon Hale
"Fairest" by Gail Levine
"Plainsong" by Kent Haruf
"Mystic and Rider" and "The Thirteenth House" by Sharon Shinn
"A Storm of Swords" and "A Feast of Crows" by George R.R. Martin (write the next one, George!!!)
"The Pinhoe Egg" by Diana Wynn Jones
"Music to My Sorrow" by Mercedes Lackey
"Sister Emily's Lightship and other stories" by Jane Yolen

Hooray for the library when you're broke. You may notice a theme, here. Almost all these books are fantasy/sci fi, which is my version of brain candy. I also read fast. I expect that by the end of May I'll have finished a couple more. Many of these books can be found in the young adult section, as well, a fact which amuses me. About 5 or 6 years ago, most of them would have been found in straight sci fi. I simply think of the quote from Maurice Sendak: "Kid books...grownup books...That's just marketing. Books are books!" and laugh. Here's to my inner self, who apparently has come back to visit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Looking at this makes me happy. The snail, however, has a certain symbolic thrust.

People keep saying, "Oh, you're so close to finishing your internship." However, every shift to me is frigging interminable. To the those of you out in the ether who may be related to the medical profession, or more specifically, laboring under the medical version of hazing known as "being an intern," I salute you. To those of you considering this noble form of slavery, I must tell you: although everyone you ask will say " Oh, it's only a year," in this breezy, cavalier kind of way, as if to say, " how bad can one year be?" A YEAR IS A LONG TIME. Maybe not when you're 80 and looking back on your beautiful life, but otherwise it is 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,600 minutes, and most of those minutes are spent in the service of an evil and spiteful god known as education who requires his worshippers to abase themselves in exchange for hard work, long hours for little payment and demands all their self-confidence be shredded into little bits. Bitter? I'm not bitter. And I'm NOT EVEN DONE.

To the critics: so yeah, I've learned stuff. And mostly what I've learned is that valuable, painful lesson of snooty zen sages everywhere, "I know nothing*." I have also learned that I have almost crippling anxiety when it comes to going to work, night sweats, 13-16 hour shifts 4-5 days a week, the easiest way to make me cry is to mention the ER, and I clearly must not be normal to consider finishing this thing. I have been asking my own self what I hope to gain by not just walking away, and I have only nebulous thoughts of "but you're so close to finishing" (thanks, guys), and "crap--that would mean writing a cover letter." Not great reasons to stay. And yet I find myself reluctant. Lest we get into the whirling maelstrom that is my anxiety and emotional state, I shall only say that my new motto is "blame not thyself." This sounds eminently reasonable and self-evident, and perhaps all you readers are well-balanced folks who are faintly puzzled by my proposal. But I think this is the hardest lesson I have ever tried to learn, and one I'm bad at, and one that I may never get a firm grip on. But the only way to get through the next 3 months, one week and 3 days until freedom (besides a new job, a hole in the head or a sudden lottery windfall) are me saying to myself "you can only do this much, and that's OK." It the that's OK part that is especially hard for us over-achiever types. See--I should go back to art, where the crazier you are, the more OCD you are, the better your work becomes! Maybe if that lottery money comes through....

There's been a lot of exhausting emotional work going on over behind the slowed to a crawl blog entries, much of which I shall keep to myself. Believe me, when this sh#t is over, I am taking a big old vacation. And there will be NO emergency anythings allowed.

*"Especially when it comes to cats, who have never read a medical textbook and would be horrified if someone suggested they follow proper patterns when they are ill."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


"...the stories I want to tell you will light up part of my life and leave the rest in darkness. You don't need to know everything. There is no everything. The stories themselves make the meaning.

The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.

When you look closely, the twenty-four hour day is framed into a moment; the still-life of the jerky amphetamine world. That woman--a pieta. Those men, rough angels with an unknown message. The children holding hands, spanning time. And in every still-life, there is a story, the story that tells you everything you need to know.

There it is; the light across the water. Your story. Mine. His. It has to be seen to be believed. And it has to be heard. In the endless babble of narrative, in spite of the daily noise, the story waits to be heard.

Some people say that the best stories have no words...It is true that words drop away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. The true things are too big or too small, or in any case the wrong size to fit the template called language.

I know that. But I know something else too...Turn down the daily noise and at first there is the relief of silence. And then, very quietly, as quiet as light, meaning returns. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken."

---Jeanette Winterson, lighthousekeeping

I'm not able to articulate my interior silences at this moment. But I thought to make an attempt to mirror that place like a magpie, borrowing and stealing meaning. Better that than no attempts to reach deeper at all.