Thursday, December 08, 2011

So I've realized it's finally time to stop screwing around and get back to work on the novel (coincidentally, I saw this falcon perched on a streetlamp while out for a run today--and as they are symbolically associated with FOCUS, I think Mr/Ms Falcon agrees with me).

What's odd is the way in which that realization came about. I was talking to one of the doctors I'm working with on the teen suicide screening project, and she asked me how my year was going. It's a weird question to answer; I'm in a sort of suspended-animation version of the usual fourth year of med school. I'm not applying to residencies this year, and so I'm not involved in the mad morass of interviewing/ranking/hoping/praying in which most of my cohort is currently entrenched. So I answered that I was enjoying working on the project (true), and getting in a lot of nice runs, maybe thinking about a half-marathon this spring (also true)...and then, what? What else am I doing? Some heavy lifting in therapy--true, but not something you tell a supervisor, necessarily. Assorted crafty things, like knitting caftans and making jewelery and doing a series of Georgia O'Keefe-esque watercolors of the innards of flowers that kinda look like ladyparts? Also true, but not totally compelling. Looking at lolcats and reading online comics? Not gonna cop to that. And so I said, "And with my extra time, I'm working on my novel." And then thought--what?
Now, this isn't a lie. I'm always working on my novel, to some degree. Usually it's fiddling with phrases in my head while I wait in line at the grocery store, or dashing down a quick description of a facial expression in my notebook while I'm at the coffee shop. But that's fiddling, dallying. It isn't WORK, which involves sitting my ass down and getting words committed to the page.
So, starting today, the goal is a page a day. I can do more if I feel up to it, but I don't have to. Less is not an option.

We'll see.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Warrior (For All the Women Who...)
"I admire your witness. You are truly a warrior."--A friend, critiquing a personal essay

I write my pain and this is what you call me,
Even knowing
Less than half the story,
without the grim exhaustive catalog
Of battles braved, which I quickly dismiss,
and battles shared:
The twelve year old with blood
smeared on her thighs like warpaint,
or the sixteen year old
who left her home black eyed and spent a month
sleeping on floors, because she couldn't lie
Any longer about who she was.
And there are scars: the slash above the hip
Where his belt dug in, or the arm--
That scar beneath the skin
Bones broken which have healed themselves in time,
Knit together by agile hope and will.
My hands are open, weaponless,
and waiting for some next fear
to furl them into fists;
Mouth open, on the verge of screaming,
still tasting pain, the sweet salt tang
of blood on the tongue, lips cracked
and hemorrhaging meaning.
Beaten like metal
into some useful shape,
a blade, perhaps, with all that would entail--
Marked but striving and surviving
Anvil, water, fire:
A witness, and a warrior
Born again.
-AG, Oct 2011, written in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Saturday, August 13, 2011


So, I'd never heard of the concept of a 'bucket list' before that mediocre movie with Jack Nicholson came out a few years ago. Over the past, say, five years I've found that many of the items I would have put on a bucket list as a younger person have now been accomplished; however, some still remain. What's on your list? What have you already accomplished that you are proud of? Is there anything that would have been there five years ago that you've now dismissed as unimportant?

Accomplished:
Publish something in a book (not a periodical)
Be part of an art show
Deliver a baby
Spend a summer on a commune (They were Quakers. It still counts.)
Publish a zine (The one-year run of Zenger's Daughter, named for Johann Zenger--google him--was a great success. Thanks, Center High School administration, for letting me distribute a zine with references to safer sex AND poorly-camouflaged digs at the Homecoming court!)
Publish a blog
Learn to bellydance (For PE credit at Cornell. No joke)
Learn to knit
Gain fluency in a language other than English (German. Also Middle High German and Old English, but damned if no one speaks them anymore. Thanks, Bachelor of Arts!)
Mentor youth
March in a gay pride parade (with people from my church here in StL. Episcopalians represent!)
Learn to bake bread from scratch (anything from a sourdough boule to a ciabatta loaf to an egg-glazed challah, I'm your woman)

Still to come:
Publish a book
Learn to sing Schubert's 'Ave Maria'
Earn an MD
Run a marathon (I've registered for two, and every time I get a stress fracture during training)
Find love (and get married...I'm old-fashioned that way)
Sell a painting
See the aurora borealis (thinking of going to Canada for this when I get time off...)
Visit Jerusalem
Visit Ireland (I want to see the Book of Kells)
Read the complete works of C.G. Jung
Go parasailing
Mentor more youth

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jung, Inanna and the Harrowing of Hell

Every story worth telling is a story of transformation. As my high school English teacher said when explaining the ideas of plot and narrative arc: "At some point the protagonist experiences some kind of change--usually at the climax of the story." It can be a small thing, and is found (sometimes against the writer's will) everywhere; even in absurdist narratives that seem not to be narratives, like the characters who see leaves growing on a once-barren tree in Waiting for Godot. Other times it is earth-shattering, impossible to miss: Elijah, under the broom tree, is restored from suicidal anguish to a sense of purpose. Jesus rises from the dead after the harrowing of Hell, in which he rescues Adam, Eve, and the other 'righteous heathens' who came before his birth. Cinderella finds her prince, Sleeping Beauty awakes, Little Red Riding Hood is cut from the stomach of the wolf. What is common in these tales of transformation is that one must descend in order to ascend. It is the inverse of the idiom 'what goes up must come down': what would come up must first go down. As Nietzsche wrote at the beginning of Also Sprach Zarathustra, "And so Zarathustra went down."

One of the first written narratives in the world--before Dante, before Jesus, before even the Torah--concerns the descent of the Goddess Inanna (the Sumerian Great Goddess, known as the Queen of Heaven and Earth) into cold dark of the Underworld. The reason for her descent is unclear, but it is clear the trip is necessary. As she passes through the seven gates of the underworld, moving ever closer to the dark Queen Ereshkigal, she is made to relinquish one article of her clothing and jewelry at each stop: her dress, her golden rings, her lapis lazuli necklace. When she finally stands before her sister, the Goddess Ereshkigal, she is stripped of all the material goods that signified her wealth and power. The Queen of Heaven and Earth has been reduced to Her core being, all outside accoutrement and titles given up--all cunning facades removed.

Inanna stands in the presence of Darkness naked and vulnerable; Ereshkigal slays her with a word and hangs her lifeless body from a hook. Meanwhile, in the world above, Inanna's absence means that the vital spark is gone from everything. Crops no longer grow, animals no longer mate, human lovers are no longer drawn into one another's arms. The lush fertility and creativity Inanna represented is gone, replaced by a cold sterility and a sense of hushed waiting. Meanwhile, in the womb of the earth, Inanna--dead--waits too. Yet, as human beings have known from time immemorial, what appears to be an end is in fact a new beginning. She is rescued by two beings sent by the god Enki, restored to life in the world above. Fertility is restored to the land; Inanna returns to her life 'above ground,' but one surmises She must have been transformed by such an experience, with a greater understanding of the dark places in the Universe, the shadows and vast caverns of emptiness which even gods experience. One can imagine that, having tasted utter desolation, Inanna's creative capacities matured still further, through the 'life experience' everyone must accrue. There is more to the story, involving Inanna's mate Dumuzi, but for my purposes it ends there.

Lately such tales have been much on my mind. I've been sick, and I've been reading Jung. Through wrestling with illness--my own and others'--I have been brought into unavoidable contact with the sorts of questions I (and most human beings, I think) try to avoid. What am I if I no longer identify myself by what I do? What would I answer if some prescient individual at a cocktail party were to ask me, "Who are you?" I would give my name, of course, then likely begin rattling off all my activities, roles and qualifications. I'm a medical student, an aspiring psychiatrist, a writer, a mental health and LGBT activist, an artist, a runner. I'm a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a lover.

What, then, if they were to reply (perhaps with a laugh), "No, no, I didn't ask what you do. I asked who you are." I'm a...woman? A human being? A sentient being?
Who are we with our robes, our rings, our doctorates removed?
What is the shadow we have to confront--even if it slays some part of us? The periods in our lives that feel sterile and bereft of life--are they truly? Or is there some part of us waiting, like Inanna on the hook, or a crocus beneath a blanket of snow, for the siren call of an unimagined spring?


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Encore une fois...Things (and People) that Piss Me Off...

There are a number of things I do well. I am a passable painter (with watercolors and acrylics). I am a writer of essays and poems with some limited success in publication. I have been told my mezzo soprano voice possesses a light, sweet timbre that is quite appealing. I have equal facility with the sciences and the arts. I am a good listener. I am patient and compassionate. I can run like...ok, I'm not leggy enough to run like a gazelle, but like a frightened jackrabbit certainly.
However, there are many things at which I do not excel, and with the residency application process upon us, all the little demons of self-doubt and recrimination that I'm usually able to sweep under one psychic rug or another have come out to play. And that is number one on the list--inferiority complexes.

2. Michele Bachmann. I managed to get through the past several years without encountering her as more than a mere blip on my 'Psychotic Politicians' radar screen...and I'm sure my blood pressure thanks me for that. But how are people taking seriously someone who spews forth such gems as "And what a bizarre time we're in, when a judge will say to little children that you can't say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it." Well, sexual orientation isn't really like trying flavors at the Coldstone Creamery (''Ooh, I wanna try Bisexual Boysenberry, Mom! Can I? Can I?" "Not until you've finished your Lesbian Lemon."), but maybe we caught Ms. Bachmann on a bad day. What else has she said? "If we took away the minimum wage - if conceivably it was gone, we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level." I'm sorry, what did you say? I couldn't hear you over the sound of the naivete--not to say stupidity. Ok, I will say stupidity. Never mind.

3. Again, the flagrant and aggressive abuse of...the English language. "Irregardless" is not a word, nor is "anyways." Also not words: "supposably" and "pecific" (unless you're referring to an ocean, or something incredibly tranquil and calm--in which case, mind the spelling). Please learn the difference between "when" and "whenever." If in doubt as to which is appropriate, consider using "when." If you say, "We couldn't find a parking space whenever we went to the store," you are conveying that on every occasion that you have visited said store, you have been unable to park your SUV. If you've only been to the store once, "whenever" is not appropriate. NB re: my obsession with grammar and punctuation--this is why my mother bought me a button that says "Grammar Gestapo." Yes, I have OCD personality traits. I am more or less OK with this.

4. Poorly conceived drug names, particularly psychotropic medications. What happened to the glory days of Abilify, Zoloft and Mellaril, promising in turn greater abilities, a lofty elevated mood and a delightful mellow calmness (and movement disorders...lots of movement disorders)? Now we have Latuda, which despite my attempts to pull my mind out of kindergarten makes me think of flatulence, and Viibryd, which sounds like either a marital aid or an electric car depending on my mood. For as much as patients will end up paying for these, they deserve to have names that won't inspire embarrassment at the pharmacy window.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

One to Ten

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the best you’ve ever felt and one being the worst, how would you say you’re feeling today?—common psychiatrist’s query

The questions are beyond rote,

Like pennies turned over in so many hands

They’ve become featureless discs,

Lincoln’s head polished to a muted lump, the dates

And mottoes inscrutable.

Reduce your life, please, to a number.

The days that stretch on, painfully long

And bone-dry as a track of dust-rutted highway,

Red earth horizon to horizon, the heat choking you,

When even breathing is a chore.

The nights when winter comes all at once,

Bringing swirling snow and discontent,

And you find yourself trapped

beneath the clouded green ice of your sorrow,

Bare heels and palms banging at the cold of your confinement,

Searching for the sharp-edged black hole

That you must have left when you fell in.

Please rate the dust, and the dryness you feel

Coating your brain with its grit;

Please give us some objective measure

Of the sensation that comes before drowning

When your lungs spasm wildly and make your heart stutter

And slow.

We aren’t asking much. Just a number.

Just tell us, and then we’ll go.

--AG, Aug 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why I Hate Summer


It seems like everyone else in the known universe loves summer. Even on unknown exoplanets where the transition to summer means the seas of ammonia start boiling and the giant worms come out of hiding in their usual ice caves, the silicon-based creatures who live there probably say to each other, "Ah, summer...there's nothing like it." Well, I don't like it. Never have. As a kid, it meant school was out, and I LOVED school. Both my parents worked, so it meant I was consigned to daycare. My least favorite daycare was run by a woman who, God bless her, must have had some sort of adrenal or pituitary problem: she was maybe 5 feet tall, but I'd guess she weighed in at close to 350 pounds. She didn't really get up and interact with us much--just yelled at us from her Barcalounger, "You kids stop playin' grabass! It's time for snack." Snack being off-brand juiceboxes (though once in a while we did get Hi-C...anyone else remember 'Ectocooler,' that Ghostbusters-branded juice that was antifreeze-green and tasted, well, GREEN?) and stale Goldfish. Yum. Add to this the fact that I was the only person in my age group, and preferred reading in a corner to playing the aforementioned grabass, and, well, maybe you can imagine why Goldfish still taste, to me, of isolation and soul-crushing loneliness. And why I abhor summer.
Then there are the more practical reasons I disliked summer as a kid--ones not related to social isolation and boredom. Metal slides, unarguably the BEST playground equipment ever, were transformed by the blazing Missouri sun into huge George Foreman grills, which seared the backs of my thighs like chicken cutlets (and sometimes even burned my derriere through my shorts). During the summer it seemed that there were always squadrons of bees and wasps with nothing better to do than seek me out and sting the crap out of me. Poison ivy was lurking around every corner. Popsicles, while delicious, seemed specially designed to melt before actually making it to my mouth, covering my hands and clothes in a sticky syrup that attracted--surprise--more bees. My parents were thoughtful, cautious people, and every year my father delivered the Fourth of July lecture about how more fingers and eyes were lost during Fourth of July weekend than at any other time (except perhaps Sports Night at a leper colony). It wasn't until late elementary school that I got to go over to a friend's house for the Fourth, and having been robbed by dire threats of the childish joy of blowing shit up, contented myself with sparklers (and then only when I knew there was a bucket of water nearby). I'm still not a huge fan of the Fourth of July--all the red, white and blue crap, the mindless jingoism, the picnics and barbeques that aren't really over until someone vomits--either from alcohol poisoning or because of the unrefrigerated potato salad. I hate watermelon. I love sweet corn with butter but feel the need to floss between every few bites. I'm a vegetarian, so most of the joys of BBQ are beyond me, and beyond most of the people who organize communal cookouts to which I'm invited. I'll usually bring a box of Boca Burgers, but for the most part recognize that otherwise I'll be dining on potato chips and possibly a dessert of some description.

Of course, there's also the heat. A heat index over 100 degrees makes any activity--physical or mental--a struggle of epic proportions. Even with my trusty window unit cranked to 100%, thermal equilibrium is hard to find. It's too hot to actually pursue any meaningful activity, but lying still in bed only means sweating in silence. It's too hot to sleep with covers, but as everyone knows--or should--sleeping without covers leaves one dangerously vulnerable to attack by the monsters that live under the bed. With climate change, I can only expect the summers to get hotter and more objectionable. Maybe I'll move to Seattle, or Canada. I can see that happening--moving another 10 degrees north every decade or so, always chasing the cold, the winter where I am content.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Living With A Chronic Disease



Ask a fourth year medical student to name as many chronic diseases as she can think of, and you'd better have a cup of coffee and some doodling paper at hand to keep you occupied. She'll start with the ones she sees every day: hypertension, diabetes, lupus, chronic kidney disease (it even has chronic in the name!). Maybe she'll start getting creative, reaching out into the diseases that are more exotic--that she's only seen once, in a specialized clinic, or read about while preparing for the boards: myasthenia gravis, Friedrich's ataxia, scleroderma, Lennox-Gestaut syndrome. She'll ramble on, thinking back, remembering all the rotations she's been through. There's a good chance, however, that when she finally falters and stops, there will be some significant holes--diseases that are incredibly common, but often forgotten. Depression, which 25% of the population of the US will struggle with at one time or another, and which is often a chronic condition (though of course there are some lucky folk--lucky being a relative term--who have one depressive episode and never have to deal with it again). Schizophrenia is rarely a here-today, gone-tomorrow affliction. Eating disorders are notoriously chronic. Of course, the chronic mental illness nearest (and paradoxically dearest) to my heart is bipolar disorder.

I've been struggling with depression since elementary school. I had a hypomanic (not quite as extreme as a manic episode, but with boundless energy, little need for sleep, lack of usual inhibition, and a general feeling that EVERYTHING IS SO F*CKING GREAT!!!) episode in high school, and another in college--and one that veered into true mania this year, after getting off mood stabilizers. I'm now back on them.
The highs have always been few and far between. The lows come much more often, and are much more extreme; at times I've been catatonically depressed, though much more often it's a general malaise, an extreme fatigue, a bleak certainty that nothing is worth doing and that I will fail at anything I attempt in any case. I wonder myself, from time to time, how I managed to get through college (and medical school--though of course I'm not done yet). Yet I know that, like anyone with a chronic illness, I've learned to adapt. I "make hay while the sun shines"--during breaks in the bleakness, I do as much as I can in terms of studying, cleaning, laundry and shopping. On good days, or during good periods, I work ahead, making preparations I hope will carry me through the darker days that inevitably come. When the black curtain drops over my life again, I ration my energy, willing myself through the day--at times pushing myself through the everyday tasks of clerk-and-studenthood requires the iron will and stamina of a marathoner. I force myself through eight or ten or twelve hours at the hospital then come home and collapse into bed, perhaps managing to read a few pages before exhaustion takes me.
The past few weeks have been rough, physically and emotionally. It is one of those dark times, though thankfully not the blackest I've ever seen. I'm portioning out what little energy I have. Adaptation has brought me a long way--I've managed like this for more than a decade now. Yet there's always the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that someday this won't be enough. I guess I can only be thankful that it seems to be enough for now.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Why I Despise the Kindle

Someday I want to have a best-selling book, or two, or three. Critically acclaimed, National Book Award-winning...featured on Oprah. Damn, that's not an option any more. Just kidding, kids...that's a joke. I think my feelings on the Oprah Book Club have been addressed here previously. If not, take a guess--you'll probably be right.
I want to be able to lovingly stroke (and possibly more...how do you get to second base with a book?) the first copy that comes off the press. I want to smell that amazing new-book smell, a heady mixture of ink and grass and anticipation. I want to feel the stiffness of the uncracked spine and turn the gently textured pages. I want to be able to sign the front page--the one after the dedication, but before the table of contents--and give them away as the most narcissistic Christmas presents ever. I want to be able to heft a copy high in the air--on The Colbert Report, the morning news, on NPR (even though no one will be able to see it) and implore people to buy it. OK, maybe not all of these things.
However.
I have no desire to write a best selling text file.
I am not interested in something that could possibly electrocute me should I read it in the bathtub. I do a lot of my best reading in the bathtub. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much of my coursework for college--and for medical school, for that matter--was completed in the midst of a bevy of lavender-scented bubbles.
I saw an ad for a Kindle that said, "Easy to read in bright light!" I was momentarily stunned. Um, so are books...pretty much by definition. Bright light and the act of reading go together like peaches and cream, no? It's sort of like having an ad for applesauce that says, "You can eat it without grinding your teeth to painful nubs!" That is one of the benefits of applesauce--you can eat it when you're unable or unwilling to chew. Calling attention to this as a notable benefit of your product makes me...wary.
You don't need to 'power up' books. They just...are. I have NEVER had to change the battery in my copy of American Gods or The Sandman.
Libraries and bookstores are literally my favorite places to be. I feel safe there. Happy. Content. Anything that f*cks with that gets my dander up.
Not everything has to be made up of light and pixels these days (she wrote on her blog). There is something to be said for the concrete, the real, the physical.
All I'm saying is--give books a chance.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who wants to have a positive attitude all the time? It's that time of the month again, and so it's also time for another edition...long in the making...of Things That Piss Me Off. Since it's been so long, we're going to make it an alphabetical extravaganza of annoyance. Any letters I left out have been culled intentionally, because I want to and because I can.

A is for Air conditioning that's cranked up so high in the med school library I have to carry a parka with me (in 90 degree heat) so that I don't freeze to death in the stacks. Like that Neolithic iceman who was flash-frozen in a glacier, only instead of a spear I'd be clutching a copy of 'Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple."
B is for Sam Brownback, R-Kansas. He knows why.
C is for cicadas, particularly the orange and black monstrosities currently holding StL hostage. When they all start humming together, it's like someone is taking a chainsaw to your nerves.
D is for Depakote, the magical mood stabilizer that can make you stable enough to pursue an intimate relationship, only to stymie you with side effects of hirsutism and weight gain. Good one.
E is for exclamation points--the most overused of the punctuation marks, in my opinion. If a comma is salt (good with everything), and a period is like ketchup (again, a hearty work-a-day character), the exclamation point is like wasabi. I don't want a peanut butter and wasabi sandwich, get it? Be a little more judicious with your punctuation.
F is for flares. Solar flares, lupus flares, emergency flares--the word 'flare' is rarely associated with anything good. Someone's cellular communications are screwed, someone's losing their hair or someone smashed into a guardrail at 80 miles per hour. Boo to flares.
G is for grammar, which is being misused, abused and outright ignored more today than ever before. Don't end your sentence with a preposition. When you come into the clinic and tell me pain is "more worser" today than yesterday, I feel bad for you; in part because you're in pain, but mostly because no one ever cared enough to teach you the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. Additionally, I judge you.
H is for headaches, particularly migraines. Or as I call them, "parties of tiny, meth-crazed elves wielding pickaxes inside my skull."
I is for ice-cream headaches. Because being hurt by ice cream is like being mauled by a Yorkie...you don't see it coming and that makes it even worse.
J is for July, rapidly approaching and my least favorite month of the year.
K is for the Kardashians. Against my will, I have had knowledge about these utterly pointless, spoiled people inserted into my consciousness. I can tell the Kardashian sisters apart. If this information were not occupying space in my brain I would be able to remember more about localizing strokes, or brain changes in depression. They are literally preventing me from finding the cure for cancer.
L is for localizing (specifically strokes). God gave us CTs so we could abandon centuries of methodical refinement of the neurological history and physical exam, right?
N is for NyanCat. Don't get it. Don't see the charm.
O is for OMGWTFBBQ!!! If you use abbreviations when you text, fine. I don't like it, but I'll survive. If you're going to the trouble of writing me a note, however, please write in complete words (this is a compromise...I used to ask for complete sentences, until I realized that was never going to happen).
P is for Peppercorn Ranch flavored Sunchips, which Frito Lay apparently decided were no longer worth making. They rank as my former favorite junk food EVER. This should probably be entered under Frito Lay, but I already have an entry for 'F.'
R is for raspberries. Delicious little bastards, but SO. MANY. SEEDS.
S is for summer. The heat, the profusion of red, white and blue CRAP every July, the bugs, the rashes, the bacne...it can all go to hell.
T is for ticks. As if sucking your blood weren't sufficiently horrifying, they also carry an overwhelming panoply of potentially fatal diseases! Swell (literally)!
U is for UV radiation. Fricking sunburn.
V is for video games. Am I the only person in my generation who doesn't 'game'? I feel like it sometimes. No, I don't play. I don't want to. I do other things with my time. Leave me alone.
W is for watermelon, that quintessential summer food (which is another reason to hate it). Messy, seedy and tastes like crap.
X is for XXX scandals. Good Lord, I am so tired of the whole "Weiner" thing (read also: the Schwarzenegger thing, the Bill Clinton thing, the 'every male politician/actor/some other brand of celebrity who has a hard time [ha ha, 'hard--that's a pun, son] keeping his reproductive apparatus in his pants).
Y is for yawning. It always happens at the most inopportune times. If you're like me, once you start it's difficult to stop, and once you think of yawning you start doing it. It's highly contagious, just like the common cold and herpes.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Forest Park:

The emerald leaves
and the sky's bright blue expanse
Break my heart open.
Other People's Funerals

I went to a funeral last night. It was at my church, and the choir (of which I'm a part) was singing an anthem. Some of my friends knew the deceased and I wanted to be there for them. These at least were the reasons I gave myself for going. Yet I also felt drawn there, somehow; drawn by something bigger than these reasons, which, serviceable though they are, could still be written off by a person with a busy schedule and an advanced degree in rationalization. I wanted to go. I needed to. And I wasn't completely sure why.

We sang a song during communion that I remembered from my days as a youngster at church camp--the kind that has accompanying hand motions. I am not generally comfortable with such things, but the singing...the familiar melody, the words known so well that they spill from the mouth without a thought...opened something in me. I am not a crier, but I was doing my damnedest to sniffle my way through without completely sobbing. And then I looked down at the program in my hands and saw the date. June 8th. And I remembered.

My uncle committed suicide on June 8th last year, after a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. He was cremated, so there wasn't a funeral per se for a while. There was a 'memorial service' shortly after his death, but it was at an unfamiliar (to me) evangelical-to-the-nth-degree church. The pastor took the opportunity, in his sermon, to remind us that suicides go to hell, and especially "unsaved" suicides like my Uncle Jim. It was not an experience of closure. I did not leave feeling held and supported. It was not healing. It left me feeling angry, hurt and saddened.

In a way, this "other person's funeral" yesterday offered me a chance to grieve an old (but not so very old) wound in a familiar place, with people I love and who love me. It served as a Jahrzeit, the Jewish custom of remembering the anniversary of a death with prayers and blessings. Last night we buried Dee's ashes in the plot outside the church, and various people stepped forward to throw handfuls of earth into the grave. It was a poignant reminder that funerals are not so much for the dead as for the living; that even in small actions, like the willingness to dirty our hands to remember a friend who has passed, we stand together. We do not go out to the grave alone. We do not struggle to carry the coffin by ourselves. There are pallbearers; there is a procession out to the graveyard. And as we say during the Episcopal burial service, "Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Animal That, Next to Spiders, I Probably Hate the Most (And Really, I Love Almost All Animals)

This is a Canada goose (Branta canadensis) I managed to capture on film while on one of my usual runs in Forest Park. See how it's eyeing that jogger over there on the right? That's because it's trying to decide whether or not he's worth chasing. Canada geese are not, in fact, capable of eating human beings; that does not stop them from trying. They are evil beasts.
My hatred (is that too strong a word? Perhaps. I do not feel for them the loathing I feel for child-abusers or certain members of the cast of Real Housewives of New Jersey) began in middle school, where our outdoor track played host to dozens of these creatures. They would liberally coat the running surface with a layer of their green (really, it's green) excrement, then wait until we came outside for track practice and literally CHASE us around the track--which was probably good from a training perspective, but still...middle school is traumatic enough without worrying about winged death from above.
They incited a primal fear in me that I am afraid did me discredit as a member of the class Mammalia (mammals, unless they are very very small, are not supposed to be afraid of birds). However, my fur-bearing skin and mammary glands offered me little solace when faced with a demonically honking avian moving towards me, wings beating malevolently, at what I would estimate to be 10,000 miles per hour. They have very powerful wings, perfectly capable of breaking a human's arm under the right circumstances.
They are also foul-tempered, entitled (as evidenced by the aforementioned takeover of/crapping upon our track), and unreasonably large, coming into our country without the proper documentation and stealing the jobs of hardworking American geese. *The More You Know!*

PS. They're also endangered...but don't let this fool you; it's only an underhanded ploy for sympathy, intended to lull you into a false sense of security.

One a.m (for ABB and CG Jung)


Again I awake
to find myself wide-eyed and trembling
at the edge of some terrible truth;
At the cusp, in that liminal land
where words are no longer of use
and there is only the silence that screams.

Where only heartbeat
and blood and bone remain,
that ancient answer
of the body
to the questions I dare not ask,
not even in dreams.
-AG

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I'm planning to write here more regularly now that I'm essentially out of third year (although I'm kicking myself because I think this could easily be considered the most INTERESTING year of med school--the year you'd pick if, say, you had aspirations to turn a journal of a year of medical school into a national bestseller), but now that I'm heading into fourth year I should have infinitely more time to devote to such niceties. I've been keeping a personal journal, of course; just haven't been putting all my business out here on Teh Interwebz (tm) for all to see.

Additionally, I've been fighting a pretty bone-crushing depression for the past few weeks, which saps me of my will to do much of anything besides 1) stay in bed, staring at the ceiling 2)stay in bed, sleeping, 3) stay in bed reading for about 20 minutes at a stretch before my inability to concentrate makes me throw down the book in disgust.

I had a manic episode at the beginning of March, which made what was essentially a presumptive diagnosis of bipolar disorder into a for-real diagnosis. Things are under control now and both my M.D. and I have learned that yes, I really DO need to be on a mood stabilizer. It's interesting; coming to terms with a serious diagnosis, whether of a physical or mental illness, really does seem to follow some of E. Kubler-Ross's 'Stages of Grief' model. Unfortunately, a lot of people end up stuck in denial and never move forward--and thus are never appropriately treated.

I'm running off at the mouth (or rather, the keyboard) a bit, but this was mainly a check-in to say, I'm back, and I look forward to seeing y'all more often.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Didn't Get Carded at Trader Joe's.

Cashier: Nah, I don't need to see your ID. I figure anyone who's buying fiber supplements is either old enough or responsible enough to purchase alcohol. The young don't realize the importance of bowel health.

Me: ...

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm back! Ulcerative colitis, medical school mayhem, and eating disorder craziness have all tried to keep me down...but I return, or to quote Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise."
(Is it awful if I admit here that I actually don't like Maya Angelou's poetry at all? Her prose is fine, but her poetry makes me want to carve out my eyeballs. Do I get double going-to-Hell points for saying that on MLK day? Whatevs. *Shrugs*)

So in my time off, I've discovered a lot of new things...about my psychological makeup, about my sexuality, about the world at large. I'll share a few of them here; some are very serious, while others are a tad more lighthearted.

1. Bikini waxing, if practiced on prisoners of war, would be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention. I'm almost positive about this. Additionally, you pay for it...and tip the 'aesthetician' when they're done, adding insult to injury.

2. Taking risks doesn't always lead to 1) falling flat on my face or 2) getting kicked in the teeth.

3. Transparency and honesty are always preferable to dishonesty...no matter how small the deception, or what rationalizations you provide yourself to account for it.

4. With 45 minutes, some New Belgium ale, an a youtube origami tutorial, and the patience of a three-year-old, I can make a really shitty-looking origami cat.

5. I lack the degree of OCD necessary to be a good anesthesiologist, and the upper body strength to be an orthopedic surgeon. Thank goodness neither of those were on my short list anyway.