7.07.2014

Dog, Fish, Bridge and the Swimmo - 35 Days

Because everything feels so so so unreal right now, I haven't wanted to post anything.  It all feels like an elaborate lie to me.  I never, ever thought that I would have the life I have right now.

We live in a beautiful apartment that overlooks the Delaware, and the Ben Franklin Bridge is just chilling there outside my upstairs windows.  Our house is modern, spacious and flooded with natural light all day long.  We are almost completely unpacked, and what gets me is that our eclectic mishmash of furniture looks almost like it's been holding it's breath to be here.  Things that looked drab before look like they were carefully selected for the space they inhabit now.  Our things fit here, because we fit here.

We have a gorgeous Great Dane puppy who's sole job is to introduce us to our neighbors, who have been kind and open in accepting us into their hood.  They hang out on their stoops instead of their back yards, and so everyone knows everyone in a way that no one in our last neighborhood did.  Every morning, Cocomaus plays with her dog friend Emmett on the sidewalk, and J (Emmett's human) and I drink coffee and talk about whatever springs to mind.  She's still being potty trained, and she's still learning manners.  But honestly, she's incredibly jovial, flexible and easy to train.

D has a great private school, A is still in flux, but services are starting to roll for him and I feel like everything is going to be ok there.  They'll start summer camp next week.  They've already started free swimming lessons at the Swimmo, the public pool that is literally across the street.  There is so much for them to do here that I doubt we will ever see all of it before we leave for residency.

I start school for real in 35 days.  I start my summer program in a week.   Here's where I gotta get real with everyone.  The next eight years of my life will be physically and emotionally some of the hardest years I've ever had.  Here comes the math.  Each week has 168 hours in it.  I need an average of 6 hours of sleep every night or I go tharn, so 168 - 42 = 126.  I've promised the kids a measly 20 hours of my time/week, so that leaves 106 hours.  Commuting with take another 6 hours, leaving me with 100 hours.  I'll need to do at least 5 hours of exercise per week, so that's 95 hours left.  And I know this for a fact:  School itself will take up 80 hours of each week, more if there are exams.  Yep, lots of people can get away with less, goody for them.  That leaves me 15 hours to shower, eat, write, drink coffee, stare into space, have husband time, walk my dog, do laundry, clean the bathroom, grocery shop, go to parent/teacher conferences, help with homework, pay the bills, decide what to wear every day and talk to friends and family.

From my previous experience, I know that some of my friends will think I'm a selfish douche because I can't spend an hour hashing over their relationship issues.  And I know that some members of my family will believe that I don't love them anymore because I seldom call.  Some people will think I'm a horrible parent, or a stuck up, self absorbed bitch.  The last time, I took all that to heart and tried to accommodate everyone because mostly, I didn't want you to think badly of me and I didn't want you to feel bad, either.  This time I won't.  I'm trying to be a physician to people who need it the most.  I'm trying to change the face of healthcare.  The only way to do that is to have my life be subsumed by my education. and therefore be a person interrupted.  If you ask for more than I can give, you won't get it and I won't apologize.  I'm not being cold.  I'm doing what I came here to do.  I'm doing the thing that makes me feel completely alive.

There are fish everywhere - engraved in the sidewalks, hanging from doorways.  I love this place. 


6.01.2014

The Price of Things - 14 Days

There was a time when I was a kid, like a really, really long time, where I felt like I didn't belong on the planet and had been dropped off here by accident.  Then I remember looking into the sky when I was four, earnestly believing that I must have been put here on purpose, and that my people would come and pick me up once I'd completed my mission.  I just wanted them to drop by, maybe fix the things that were malfunctioning in my machinery.  (I was also convinced that I was probably a robot.)

In my defense, I was reeeeally into Star Trek and all things science fiction - I built a model of the Enterprise when I was 8, and was obsessed with "A Wrinkle in Time," and thought time travel would be like cars by the time I grew up.  I am still mourning the fact that this is not a reality. And now watching my older son play ninja or wizard in the back yard has convinced me that if my behavior wasn't normal, it was most certainly genetic.  He is completely convinced of his ninja wizard skills.  He believes he has power over all the things in his environment.  Today he told me he wanted to make liquid Mercury safe to drink, so that the fish wouldn't be poisoned, and also that he wanted to invent a machine that could make you invisible.  I bet he'll do it, too.

Maybe the outer space robot thing was really a coping mechanism so that I could explain how vastly divergent my mother's perception of reality was from my own.  What ever that was, that sensation of being a stranger and an imposter with a purpose has never really left me.  I'm no longer convinced that I'm a (broken) android left here by negligent space aliens, but that feeling that my differences and purpose for inhabiting space on this planet are tied together, that still lingers.

So why I bring this up is because yesterday I had a remarkable conversation about how difficult and maybe even impossible it can be to speak about the truth of one's experience in an academic setting if it doesn't comply with the dominant cultural paradigm.  This is especially true here in the Midwest.  I've lived here for five years now, and most of that time has been spent measuring my words, my tone and my intent very carefully.  It's been pretty much a waste of time, which has led me to question my perception of my own experience - essentially, my sanity and my worth as a human being.  Yesterday, I met someone from the East Coast who has had the same experience and it occurred to us both at the same time that a) this is the definition of oppression, and b) what's going on here is pretty much equivalent to institutional gas lighting. 

I live in a county that has an illustrious reputation for education.  As a friend so succinctly put it today, this Midwestern University is the ivoriest of ivory towers.  But the education offered here is not tied to the experience of living, and in fact, resists and discourages those ties.  The result is devastating to the community it serves.  This county has the worst racial disparities in the entire country, I believe in part because those in power - those who were raised and educated here - have not been taught how to make their educations relevant to their communities.  In fact, those people who don't exist in the academic world aren't even counted as members of their communities.  I don't believe this is intentional, but intent in this case doesn't matter.  As another friend said today, "It's no different from a caste system, and those at the bottom have no choice but to accept their fate if those at the top have no choice, either."

The woman I met yesterday has already given up.  She came here to be a part of the solution, but the price is too high.  I feel her.  And opening this dialog up to friends has made me realize that there are so many of us who feel her, too.  All of us are over-educated and should, in theory, be included in any academic community.  But our life experiences - homelessness, teen pregnancy, addictions, minority status, poverty - have informed us more than what our tuition bought us, and means nothing to those who could make real changes.

This is something I've known all along, but right now, I feel empowered in a way that I haven't felt in many years.  I'm not alone, and I'm not crazy, and what I've lived through has tangible value.  But speaking truth to power has cost me dearly, and other people I love have paid an immeasurable and personal price, too.  Owning the value of our experiences over the value of our education, and using it to change the power structure will exact a lifelong price, and I think this is the take home message.  It takes huge stones and unflagging commitment and a willingness to withstand heartbreak and discomfort to pay that price over and over again.  But where you spend it, that's what makes all the difference, yes?

4.26.2014

48 Days



Philadelphia was amazing.  East Coast Medical School?  Also amazing.  I mean that in the literal sense.  I spent 6 days feeling happystunned.  We saw a lot of apartments, and got to know the city enough for me to have a sense of how to go East, West, North and South.  This is something I never figured out in Small Midwest City, and something that's been a thorn in my side the whole time I've been here.  The kids loved it, and were rock stars the whole time we were there. 

What was particularly gratifying was how comfortable I was everywhere I went.  My social anxiety was still there - it always will be, I think - but it was manageable.  People were kind, and the people at my school had the same dorktastic way of being in the world that I do. 

Our neighborhood is described as "up and coming," (read: gentrifying).  Our condo is brand-spanking-new and very modern - premuch the opposite of where we're living right now.  Do I feel weird about being part of a gentrification problem?  Yes, yes I do.  More on that when I've thought it through.  But I like the neighborhood, and it genuinely inspires me on a lot of different levels.  I think we'll be really happy there.

Happy is an emotion this whole family is exploring, and it is such a relief. Here, let's nerd out on it for a minute.




4.07.2014

Prayer.

We're going to Philadelphia for a little less than a week to look around, get oriented, visit the school, maybe buy a place.  I'm excited, but as the days tick down, some of the anxiety is creeping in, too.  All I can do right now is holster up, put on my pants-of-bad-ass and put the intention out that I want this to work.

I want out of here.  Five years here was far too long for my psyche, and I think it fundamentally changed the person I am in some pretty unflattering ways.  Being here made me desperate, and worse, comfortable with that emotion.  I have, at times, been lonely beyond comprehension.  And then I became bitter and intolerant, and I don't even know if I know how to be soft and brave about myself anymore.  I've tasted real hatred here, and haven't found a way to put it down entirely.

So I'm looking forward to becoming more outward reaching again.  One of the required things at my new school is weekly service to the community that is not medically related.  Two hours a week.  I'm already maxed out, so at first this requirement - even though I understand and agree with its purpose - gave me pause.  It's two hours away from my family, and away from the other things I enjoy doing.  But now I look forward to it with a feeling of relief.  It's a chance to expand and engage in the world, and to give away parts of myself that are meant to be given away.  I miss that.  I miss doing that, and I miss being that kind of person.  The worst part, the thing that causes me the most shame, is how selfish I became.  You know how foot fungus will grow into your nail bed, and you won't notice until BAM, now your toenail is falling off and, well, that escalated quickly.  That's how I became a selfish prick.

My back hurts today, because I got a big part of my tattoo finished on Saturday.  A black wing peeks out of the collar of my t-shirt now.  I think I would have gone crazy in these last few months if I hadn't had something like that to obsess on and look forward to.  I only have one more sitting to go. 

I played the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata on the baby grand in the atrium at Midwest Medical School, and only made one little mistake.  It felt like I was taking a test. 

The dental surgery is almost done, too.  One more, and that journey will pretty much be over. 

I take motorcycle lessons in May. 

Our house sale closes tomorrow.  Our bills will be entirely paid the next day. 

And then we go to Philadelphia...

Turn the page. 

I am right now in a massive process of preparing for the rest of my life, I think.  Yoga, tattoos, putting down the cigarettes for good and forever, daring myself to be as agile both mentally and physically as I was 20 years ago.  It's hard, though, because I feel old age's breath on the back of my neck, and I can see it in my face.  All that hardness that I learned here makes my bones crack, gives me a dowagers hump, sets the black circles in place for all time.  It siphons away my dignity, too, and what sucks about that is that it's a choice I'm making.  I don't want to feel humiliated anymore, or worn down by the demands of thoughtless people.  Being stiff is a good way to do that.

All of this relentless anger and frustration is killing me, the who I am.  I need restoration at the hands of solid - not stiff- people. 

3.23.2014

In Defense of What I Think, and also, Why Powerful Women Don't Hang Out With You.

True Story.

It's not that I haven't been writing.  I have been, but most of what's been written hasn't succumbed to careful revision.  I have things to say, but most of it is the kind of stuff that people just don't say out loud.  I feel like I need to be careful with my words, particularly when I write about my experience of being female.  I feel the urge to counter each potential criticism and/or dismissal of my experience of the world before it's even raised.  But it occurred to me the other day that the most potent defense I can make is that my experience is mine in the same way that my body is mine.  You can judge it, you can believe that you wouldn't feel/react/experience the world in the same way if you were in the same position, and you might be right, and you're free to do that.  But the second you feel compelled to devalue me or dismiss me, feel free to stop reading and not come back. because seriously.


I kind of like how this just keeps repeating in the background in an infinite loop...

Ok, so now that we've established that.

I keep having this conversation with a few of my friends, and I've been having it for years, (at least since my early 30's), and it's about loneliness.  Deep, crushing loneliness.  This kind of loneliness:


I love gifs.  I'm coming to believe they're a kind of art form.  I digress.

Ok, so here are some patterns I've noticed about these conversations.   I only have them with a certain kind of woman (never dudes).  All of these women have achieved a lot in their life, and give their all to what they are and do.  They run marathons; they do mind-blowing, courageous art; they are dedicated and intense; and they'll do things other people won't because they're confident in their skills and intelligence.  They tend to speak their mind and believe what they say.  Most of them are gorgeous, too.

In other words... they're intimidating as fuck to a lot of people.

I am only marginally one of those women, and if I do share certain qualities with them, it isn't because I was born with them.  I learned how to be less fearful and more dedicated to the things I invest my time in from other women who were like that.  For the longest time, I had no idea why women like that would want to hang out with an insecure, unskilled, mildly insane person like me.  However, as time has gone by and I've gained my own measure of success, both personally and professionally, I think I'm starting to get it...Those ladies hang out with me because I enjoy hanging out with them.  Personally, I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to, even if they are intimidating.

I remember once posting a particularly nice picture of myself on facebook, and someone in my age group (a dude!) made a comment saying that I should stop posting pics like that, because it made them feel bad about aging like a normal person.  Another friend in my age group (a lady!) said, "No, keep posting those pics!  You're increasing the property value for the rest of us!"  (I didn't take down the pic, and wouldn't have anyway, because that's just... why would I do that?)

THERE.  That's the conversation I keep having with these amazing women in a nutshell.  They don't understand why you don't want to hang out with them either, but actually, we all do, don't we? Those ladies aren't confident in a way that makes us confident, so they're arrogant.  They keep not capitulating in going after their highest purpose, even though that makes you question your very existence and kicks you in the feels, so they're insensitive.  They are especially insensitive when they try to talk you out of your dedication to mediocrity and laziness.  And they're pretty, so they're also huge whores.  Who would want to hang out with that mess?

And it's not like these ladies haven't tried to change.  They have.  They don't talk about their successes around you.  They try to amplify their flaws, they question every motive, they go overboard trying to protect your light-sensitive eyes from their torch.  They are masters at hiding who they are while still trying to be who they are because they intrinsically have to be.

The punishment for being who they really are is shunning, and that is a horrifying place to be for any woman.  We aren't socialized to be alone, and it's not practical to be alone when you're doing potentially life ending things like having babies or living in Wisconsin in January.  But after a while, and after a woman like that has made her money and achieved other kinds of social buffers, that woman stops giving a shit about you.  And that's a shame, too, because that's maybe the point where the rest of us need her to mentor us the most, after she's fully come into her own.

And in the meantime, we have to wonder who she would have been if she hadn't spent so much time worrying about how you feel.

And here's another thing that I've learned from them... I am one of them.  Having these women in my life has given me the impetus to try to find my own limits.  I don't compare myself to them, which has led to real self-acceptance, but I've also surprised the shit out of myself because it turns out that I'm capable of so much more than I thought I was.  But I, too, have had to pay a price for actually living an inspirational quotes Pinterst board in real life.  I don't have as many friends.  New friendships take longer, and are fraught with mine fields.  As a consequence, I am willing to hang with the people who are willing to hang with me, warts and all.  The upside seems to be that although there aren't as many people in my life, the ones who are left are exceptional.  I'll take it.




12.31.2013

The World




Tonight I'm going bowling with my family to celebrate New Years.  I'm going to work out as soon as this headache subsides.  I might go to a dance, but probably not.  Whatever I do, it won't make me sad.  Whatever happens, it won't happen if it doesn't serve me and feed me.   

I really love my brain on joy. 

Last year at this time, I wrote about the tarot card Judgment, and about how for me, everything about 2012  was about being reviewed and held accountable.  And that is one interpretation of the card, but it's also about acknowledgement of inner callings, rebirth and absolution.  So because of that, 2013 was about the consequences of judgement.  It stands to reason that 2014 will be best represented by the very next card in the deck,  The World, which signifies "completion, achievement and fulfilment."

Happy New Year, whatever card you've drawn from the deck.  Be well. 





12.16.2013

Back Stroke

I was asked recently what I've learned from the last five years.  An administrator at Midwestern Medical School asked me that question, and wanted to know what made me think I was ready to try again.  It was not an optimal situation - she was busy, and I had just dropped in on her to wish her luck because she was moving on to a better position.  I don't think I even tried to answer her question, and even if I had, I don't know that she would have found my answers satisfying.  In fact, I'm never sure what people are looking for when they ask me that question.  When East Coast Medical School asked me during the interview, I said, "I learned a lot - maybe most importantly, to trust myself and my own process."  But actually, that was kind of a glib answer.  So if I ever get to talk to this administrator again, here is what I'd tell her:

The cure for anxiety is pretty much always forgiveness and compassion - for others and for self.

Reminding myself that I can afford to have patience in almost any situation helps, too.

When I am frightened or overwhelmed, that is the moment to find a way to be of service to someone else.  That's the moment to call a friend and ask how they are, or do something special for my family.  That is not the time to engage in omphaloskepsis or to let hollow distractions numb me out. 

I really, really need to concentrate on my health.  Like, that is no longer optional.  I need to sleep enough, eat enough, exercise and meditate.  I can't skip out on my meds.  I can't smoke because I'm stressed out.  And I'm not always going to be perfect at this, but if I don't make my mental and physical health a priority, I will notice right away, and it will get bad so fast that I might not be able to get through.  It's that simple.

No matter what happens, or what mistakes I make, I don't grovel before anyone.  I own my behavior and do what I can to make it right.  If I do my best and it's not enough, it will likely never be enough for that person or situation, but that has nothing to do with the value I place on my soul.

Action is the only cure for fear.  You can't feel courage, or experience mastery or success without it.

My value is intimately tied to my word.

I must stay true to myself, meaning not only that I need to follow my truth - I need to know my truth before I can follow it.  I have to tell myself the truth.

*Edit to add:  Gratitude.  All day, er' day.  

It's not like I didn't know this intellectually before I came here.  I did, and when things were going well, I was able to (suboptimally) behave in ways that supported my success.  But when things got hard, that's when it became clear that I understood these concepts in a very surface way.  They weren't a part of how I lived, and they weren't a genuine part of my character.  Can someone change that?  With practice and support, yes they can.  People can recover, genuinely heal and then grow.

When I think about what happens next, I almost can't believe that it's really going to happen, it's so awesome.  I wrote myself a letter when I started medical school here, outlining my hopes and dreams.  I wrote another one shortly after I was dismissed.  I cut myself short, but I had no idea how deep shit would get.  And yes, it absolutely feels like something beyond just serendipity is at work.  I feel like I'm being pulled along in a tide that has a guaranteed destination, and there's no use struggling against it.  Might as well float.