Sunday, December 30, 2018

Message of Love, Redux

Etymologically, the apocalypse just means revealing something. Maybe it will be something nice?

On our woods run today, Miles was tense. He always is in the woods. You never know what is lurking in the trees, those towering Tolkienesque creakers who on a windy day sound like the sound effect they use for a door in a haunted house. The air carries scents of a multitude of dogs, past and present. Dogs who have trespassed on the kingdom Miles rules and that threaten our very existence. Sometimes a salamander darts by which is terrifying and confusing, and when the horses appear, God only knows if they are actually pestilence, war, famine and death with sneaky riders who say things like "good morning" or "thank you for having your dog on a leash."

Tomorrow being the last day of the year, I keep feeling like I have forgotten to do something. Going through the list:
-new calendar purchased? check
-a couple of scary goals set for 2019? check
-self-review of 2018 bringing new levels of concern about my adequacy as a human being? check

What if 2019 reveals itself to be the best season of Saturday Night Live ever known? I feel like that would directly correlate with End Times.

Lately many of my hospice patients have been younger than I am. Also lately, I keep trying to channel Wendell Berry and find peace in wild things when I worry about the fate of my children but instead I end up waking up, bolt upright in a cold sweat and wondering what I can do to fix everything for everybody including my children, the children at our border and the relative youngsters in hospice.

What if it turns out mindful meditation is the answer but I am too restless to sit still? What if God meets me on the other side and tells me I wasted much too much time worrying but He/She forgives me anyway and it turns out even poodles aren't anxious in heaven so all our runs are off leash?

I bailed on my January marathon but have signed up for one in April. It happens on my Mom's birthday. I will be running it with one of my best friends. Though truth be told he will always be one and one half steps ahead of me. I am not worried though.

Big goals: marathon, piano recital, don't worry so much.

What if I qualify for Boston but don't get in the race because it is so impacted? What if I forget where I am in the middle of my piano recital? I mean I won't forget where I am in terms of my place in space, as I will be very aware that I am sitting on a piano bench at the Morris Graves Museum of Art probably in some kind of fancy dress. But I might forget what comes next in the Beethoven Fugue or the slow movement of Barber, and then what will I do? On Christmas Eve I was playing in church and the veneer faux-ivory top of the A below middle C flew off during Scarlatti and hit me in the nose. True story.

I worry about racism. And misogyny. About government shutdowns, refugees being barred from entry to a safe haven and how on earth any of us will afford healthcare. I worry that people are too mean to each other and miss out on so many beautiful things. I worry that my piano will die and not be a good candidate for resuscitation. I worry that my son won't live through prison, and my daughters will never trust that the world can be a good place to be given that people like Brett Kavanaugh get to act as a life-appointed moral compass for our seriously off-the-rails country. I worry that pushing 50 I may be past all hope of a marathon PR. I am already worried about my next colonoscopy, which is in 5 years.

The weird thing about aging, besides colonoscopies and empty nests, is how the self shrinks but the spirit expands so that the sack I walk around in feels both less significant and more alive than it ever has before. Chrono-astrono-geographically I am but a blip. But what a blip it is/was/might be!

One way or another, the apocalypse is coming. Its a revelatory certainty, with a dash of hope. I am not worried. Tomorrow is the last day and

OH!!! I know what I was forgetting!
Designate a theme song for 2019.

Life may be unkind but I refuse to stay down.
When love walks in the room,
Everybody stand up.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Professor Marathon B. Training's Ted Talk on the Purpose of Living in This Miserable World

My dog and I almost died when he ran through an electrified barbed wire fence and chased steers and was going to get shot and I ran onto the field and got charged, head butted and thrown by an angry steer. Three times.

I do not need a lecture on the idiocy of letting my dog get into this predicament. He got away from me before I could leash him. I should probably be shot and might well have been. I might still be depending on how people respond to my most recent editorial regarding the NRA and their command that doctors "stay in their lane", albeit soaked with the blood and paralysis and brain injuries of their shot up patients. But I digress like a cow digests.

This story is not meant to be funny or cute. I could not talk well for a few days from all the screaming taxing my larynx. I still have whiplash, my ribs hurt, my sternum hurts, my vertebrae hurt, my femurs hurt. I could not do much but cry for the first 36 hours after this event. And me being who I am I was really worried about the steers. Except that one who was taking absolutely no shit from anyone. He will be fine.

And it completely threw me off my planned long run this week. It was all I could do to drag myself to the kleenex box to mop my tears. A twenty plus miler was not going to happen. Runners crack me up. It becomes all about getting the miles in, logging it on Strava and not getting too far off course. We do special incantations to avoid injury, and read essentially the same three articles over and over again in Runner's World (inspirational runner story, how to run your best 5K/10K/marathon, the best shoes of the year). The gravity of near death is only heavier by its impact on the marathon training cycle. Though it might be said that racing around a field, screaming, being attacked by an enormous, muscled, angry animal while people with guns are telling you what a fuck-up you are is one heck of a workout.

Running the last couple of days, finally able to move and breathe and not feeling quite as traumatized, I find myself wondering if I should bag this planned marathon, COWL it quits, STEER myself in a different direction, and/or just take some time to stop and smell the manure.

Marathons are the best, beastly and blessed. They involve just the right number of layers, so that you can start without freezing and shed later to avoid heat delirium. At the end they give you inadequately sized reflective blankets that in my opinion should be replaced by cozy, footed onesies, especially when you have to walk seventeen thousand more miles to get to your gear. Seriously, at the NYC marathon, the volunteers have to cheer people on to keep moving AFTER they finish the marathon for the long walk to the UPS van holding their stuff, which seems to be parked in New Jersey. Marathons teach you patience. How to manage pain. When to push, when to hold back. How to time bodily functions. And how to bore your friends and family to death, talking about marathons.

Once upon a time a friend and I were running in the Palo Alto Hills, back before the trails were paved and highly populated by physically active Stanford polyglots. Back on the west side we encountered a herd of cattle. Every single one of them ceased cud-chewing to fix us in their freaky stare and it stopped us in our tracks. At the time we joked nervously about the danger, but I now know we could well have been stampeded and back then we would not even have been able to post about it on Face Book! Morally I remain neutral on the right of cows to intimidate and attack when you cross on to their territory. Like mountain lions on trail runs or sharks after paddling to the outside, it is just part of the deal. It is not something to like or hate or spend too much time thinking about.

Taking away the hubris of marathon training and the image of guns, human rage and bovine wrecking balls, I am left with what is our common Achilles heel. That is to say, vulnerability. If this was film noir, it is a small child standing alone in an empty place with no clear ground or sky or boundaries or beginning or end. Probably somewhere in Sweden.

If this were a dating website, our bios would all read "attempts to deny being vulnerable".

If this were a poem it would read
I could be dead

Having watched my mother puke up chemotherapy all night then go to work the next morning
And my father get his entire heart replaced like it was some rusty car part
And my son dive into a destructive vat of drugs and violence
And my patients struggle with diagnoses while trying to maintain some semblance of dignity
I sometimes wonder what the point of life is.

When my daughter asked me that very question I answered the only true thing:
To be kind to others.

Running marathons is nice too, mainly because it teaches you stuff, like any hard thing does.

It will be awhile before I can look a cow in the face again though.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Pantoum

There must be trash bags all across America filled with lettuce.
Escherichia coli has no place
Imagine a gram negative guest face to face
With grandma, head bowed saying grace.

Escherichia coli has no place
Let us pray they go away
With grandma, head bowed saying grace
Holy immunized.

Let us pray they go away
Gram's positive stuffing a turkey is Okay
Holy immunized
By tradition.

Gram's positive stuffing a turkey is Okay
Her daughter is strong and her granddaughter gay
By tradition
Macy's helium parade plays while giblets boil.

Her daughter is strong and her granddaughter gay
Obama served food with volunteers yesterday
Macy's helium parade plays while giblets boil
Kindness seems old-fashioned.

Obama served food with volunteers yesterday
While California dutifully raked its forest
Kindness seems old-fashioned
Like colored Christmas lights.

While California dutifully rakes its forest
Imagine seeing eye to eye
Like colored Christmas lights
Softly blinking.

Imagine seeing eye to eye
Welcoming strangers with no fuss
Except Escherichia coli
In trash bags all across America.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mouses and Cookies

When you visit your son in prison, you are going to want to touch the electric fence.
You hope the jolt travels
up the tendons of your hands, gripping wire,
to the heart's pacemaker
converting the nauseating irregular flip-flops
to a beat more compatible with life.

You are going to want to know
where the thousands of men could be hidden
while you walk a path that could be
the surface of the moon
if the moon was silent and blazing with heat and smelled of cattle.

You'd want to have worn the right outfit;
it turns out blue jeans are not allowed.
You can't change on prison grounds so you'll use a mortuary parking lot,
anxious in a different way than the parking lot changes you've done
at the beach before surfing.

Your heat-swollen finger won't release your wedding ring,
but the guard lets you visit still.

You'll encounter impatience at your lack
of understanding
of procedure
while other prisoners' families seem to know
to remove their spiked heels and the sneakers of their children
and place them on the desk for inspection.

When you apologize and
tears spring to your eyes,
brown-clad guys with firearms like jewelry on belts
melt and soften. "Have a nice visit."

You'll be placed at a table
too low for legs to rest under.
A prisoner in blues moves three chairs in place.
All prisoners must face
the front.

You'll sit and watch lovers,
families and elderly parents visiting men.
You'll be too nervous to talk for long minutes.
And then he comes in.

You'll stand and raise a hand
like a hundred other times
at the park or the school yard
to show him where you are.

He'll walk to you
and when you embrace for the first time in two years,
the tears finally flow. He is solid
and real with those
same blue eyes.

When you walk across the hot, desolate moon
to see your son
they'll give you two hours.
You'll talk of small things
and he will express remorse and love.
You'll touch his hands
which is allowed
and buy him Gummy Bears
from the incarcerated vending machines.

You rake over him with a mother's eyes,
see the missing tooth and the body
that otherwise looks whole,
the face so young and the tattoos like armor.
One you notice when he turns his head,
nape of neck,
"Sorry Mama".

You'll wish tattoos were
something worth scolding him for. You'll implore
him to be safe. To brush teeth.
In your head you are screaming
"just don't die!"
but what you say is a tender good bye.

A slow walk back
across the moon's cattle-shit scented path.
You'd thought you'd go for a run
but the fatigue
is like that after a marathon
or the end of a forty eight hour shift as an intern in the ICU,
all cortisol and bile and deep aches.

Next day you will run
eighteen miles in a town you don't know,
past nice homes and fire orange trees and the
University's quad.
You'll listen to your book and then some music,
folding prison thoughts into the recesses of your mind.
Your water bottle electrolyte tablet
tastes of lemon-lime.

An old man will walk by you
and chastise you for running with an electronic device.
You'll smile at him
and feel your heart break into a million pieces.
You'll wonder if he'd have hurled righteous advice
or rather just locked eyes and nodded to a fellow traveler,
if he'd known your deep connection to the run,
each and every one.
And that you'd just been to prison
to visit your son.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hair of the Dog

I am scarfing down strawberry pancakes made from the best ingredients in my beautiful house after a run at the beach. My dog accidentally bit me today when I foolishly put my hand between his raging mouth and some fierce chihuahuas he had a serious problem with, apparently. It was foggy this morning but the sun is coming out. A good friend gets married today. Beyonce's Lemonade is playing on my retro turntable. The puncture in my finger is deep and I am on a couple of immune-suppressing drugs, so antibiotics it is. PSA: If you get bit by a dog and most especially a cat, take antibiotics. I rarely recommend antibiotics, as they are the devil's own work in many ways, but I have seen too many hospital stays and hand function loss from lack of attention to cat/dog bites before they become pus-filled disasters. 

"Sorry human I was just trying to defend you from those chihuahuas"

As a physician, I know these things and so much more. I yield the power of diagnosis and prescribe drafts like herbalist healers of old. I get to wear a stethoscope and in fact feel naked without it. I am paid well and do not suffer hunger or fear that I won't have a roof over the head of my family. I will be paying off medical school loans till I die. I missed many moments of my children's lives. My son once called UCSF Hospital on Parnassus "Mommy's house". My son is in prison now, probably my fault. I am on call almost every day and night. I got called several times on my beach run today. I worry about my patients all the time. I cried at work the other day and I never cry. The flowers the nurses gave me continue to buoy my spirit. 

I am training for a marathon. I love running. Today the fog at the beach was like something out of Edgar Allen Poe. Or Hitchcock. But I was not afraid. I am brave, fierce, the way women can be. When my family doesn't answer my texts, I assume they are dead. It is possible I read too many books. It is possible I have seen too much. Like the guy who got his arm run over by a 747, the gal who threw up blood and spattered the walls and ceilings like modern art, the gallons of ascitic fluid flowing through my catheter to a vacuum bottle while I chat with a bright yellow human being. 

"Hey, did ya see how I chased those birds?"

I can play almost anything on the piano. It is, I suppose, "my gift." When it is flowing right, I can disappear into the music, letting it carry me. There is no effort. I look down at my fingers at these times and wonder how they are doing it. I once dreamed of being a great pianist. Music school had many blessings but it also crushed the soul out of me. Such hubris, such competition. There is only room for a few to use their gift as a profession. My piano is about 70 years old, and parts are not working. I cannot afford a new piano. I get jealous of people who have a lot of money and can barely play their instrument, which can sit gathering dust only it does not do that because the maid keeps it clean. I sometimes stun myself wth my ability to feel aggrieved. Like Melania, I might just be the most bullied person on the planet. Eye. Roll.

I love dogs. When Miles bit me today, it shocked me in the way that life always does. Each moment of life is filled with sharp fangs. Sharp fangs surrounded by golden curls, soft and comforting. And in the center a beating heart that while doing everything in its power to oxygenate you will eventually have to stop, leaving you cold and blue-lipped. Yet the world could end today and I would regret not a minute of it. 

Yet the world could end today, and I would regret not a minute of it.

"What is this regret of which you speak?"

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Autumn Grrrrl

Morning Trail Run in Autumn

Dark bones rising
Redwood women line the path
Brown fronds crushed under foot
Releasing molecules
That travel up strong thighs
Along navel, over rise of breasts
Tracing neck and chin
Leaving a taste on parted lips
En route to nostrils and brain
Where the sweet, crisp, musty smell of autumn
Explodes into a trillion memories
Of October runs, but especially one-
A girl child flying through the air
Landing in the soft embrace of
Freshly raked leaves.

J Heidmann 10/11/18

Autumn Grrrl circa 1973

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Female Ambitions

  Every good student of western classical music has read Charles Rosen. He grew up with a Juilliard shaped spoon in his mouth, opted not to major in music because he "already knew more" as a freshman teenager than most of the postgraduates in the music department at Princeton. He was a brilliant guy and wrote textbooks that sit on my shelves still.

In fact I pulled one off the shelf this week as I am preparing a recital of piano sonatas. His book Sonata Forms beckoned to me as I am trying to define in my own mind how Scarlatti, Berg, Beethoven, Barber and Mozart sonatas are all the same species. Like Poodles and Doberman Pinschers are both dogs, along with Shar Peis and Dalmatians, somehow a sonata is a sonata is a sonata.Which is a vague term at best, meaning "sounded"from the Italian sonare, I suppose to point out that there were no words. Which was kind of an interesting concept, that music could be abstract and still have something to say, with that something being up to the listener.

I am taking this week off of my paid work in order to practice for longer chunks of time than I am normally allowed. Ass to piano bench, I traverse the centuries, 18th to 20th. My dog Zoe prefers Mozart and Beethoven to Berg and Barber. But she is very critical of the Beethoven, often just staring at me while I play the fugue of opus 110, her cataract eyes boring into my soul. If she could write, she would write like Charles Rosen, one hundred percent sure she was the smartest Golden Doodle in the room.

I have been running this week too. My streak is over. The two days I took off after 366 in a row were harder than the streak itself. But I feel pretty much back to normal now. I can start obsessing about some unreachable PR in the half or marathon again, without the excuse of just running for the sake of running. Meditative spirituality is again shelved, the purity of my self-righteous daily run replaced by faster times on my Strava feed.  I shall strive to drive my aging legs into submission without contrition.

Nah, I don't mean it. I am just a 49 year old woman trying to find my way in this world. I like running and playing piano an awful lot, and am fortunate enough to be able to take a week off to concentrate a bit more on my non-physician parts.

Charles Rosen notes that sonatas were really quite the thing for the female amateur musician. In fact I nearly choked on my coffee while reading this in Sonata Forms one early morning this week, while waiting for an appropriate time to start hammering the keys without completely destroying the lives of the teenagers in the house.

This is near the start of the book, and though I have read this book before as young music student, I somehow did not remember this  part. Of course music school is full of male music professors mansplaining Mozart, Haydn behind their thick spectacles, their representative white maleness just the tip of the ice Berg. I imagine the footnote in the passage above was the result of some female in his life choking on her own coffee and saying, "really, Charles?"

Living while being female is problematic.

Sonatas are abstract, which means to "draw away, divert, detach." Wordless sounds that pull one away from whatever tethers. Scarlatti unmoors as completely as Berg, across the divide of two hundred years and under the fingers of quite a few kick-ass female amateur and professional pianists. We use our womanly powers to distract, to interpret the secrets of long dead composers and cast our spell on unsuspecting men who think the world is exclusively about them. They think I am entertaining myself in my parlor, playing simple sonatas, she said with an evil laugh.

If sonatas were dogs, my recital would jump start with a Jack Russell Terrier (Scarlatti),  sashay to a Standard Poodle (Mozart), then proceed to a Pug (Berg). After a break, behold the Border Collie (Beethoven) and, at last, the All-American Mutt (Barber). Here is the program:

1. Busy and energetic
2. Prissy and intelligent
3. Weird and dramatic
*intermission-please take your sonata out for a walk*
4. Overly smart and obsessive
5. Will do anything to impress you and likes to kiss you square on the mouth

What I learned in music school is there is no way to perfection but ass on bench.
What I learned from medical school is to use all my senses to abstract disease.
What I learned from running for a year is to never leave the house without running gear.
What I learned from my dogs is we are less likely to get into trouble when we exercise every day.
What I learned from growing up as a woman in this miserable world is it would be better to be a man.

Nah, I don't mean it. I just hope Kavanaugh does not get confirmed.

Now excuse me while I go practice sonatas, an acceptable outlet for my female ambitions.