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.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I Want It Now

I have a recurring dream where my son is home for a visit from prison but has morphed into a toddler. This happened last night (in my dream, not literally) and husband and I were taking turns tending to his toddler needs. In my mind the entire time was "Will he grow up again before he has to return to prison? Because I am concerned about his ability to survive there as a toddler." I awake from these dreams with a combination of malaise and contentment. Spending some time with my son before prison, before meth, before dropping out of school, before he gave up on life is nice. Even if it is just a weirdo movie in my brain.

Speaking of "Lost Boys", I have a hankering to watch this movie again. The best viewing of this movie for me was with my eldest daughter on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on the beach on a big screen with the smell sea water and cotton candy and corn dogs and piss and the roar of approval the crowd gave (SPOILER ALERT) when grandpa staked the vampire.

Speaking of vampires, when we were 12 or 13, one of my best girlfriends and I would use "vampire" as code for someone who sucked the life blood out of us. In retrospect, I no longer believe people do this on purpose. Maybe, like vampires, they had their own life blood sucked, then that person forced them to do some reciprocal life-force draining and then they transformed into demons who make life miserable for everyone. For introverts, vampires can be exhausting as we are always trying to fix their broken souls, only to have to send them violently to a hell dimension when they cross a line by trying to hurt someone else that we love.

Speaking of love, nothing really equals the love of parent for child. And by parent I mean the one who chooses to stay with that kid, biological or otherwise. I recently re-read Middlesex and was stopped in my tracks by this quote. Stopped in my tracks because by re-read I mean I was listening to it on Audible while on a run. The quote: "The anguish of having children. A vulnerability as astonishing as the capacity for love that parenthood brings." Now if any of my children are reading this, don't worry, I love you despite the vulnerability. Also, I know that being a parent is not the only source of love vulnerability. So many ways to love and be loved and to anguish and be anguished.

Speaking of sources of anguish, September 17 is National Physician Suicide Awareness Day. The first one, actually. Because physicians, especially women physicians, kill them selves more often and more efficiently than the general population.

Speaking of physicians, I lost a patient this week despite best efforts and my heart is broken. Vulnerability in love of any kind, whether filial or someone else's filiation, is a mixed bag.

Speaking of hearts, I have mentioned my resting heart rate in the 40's in prior posts. Mostly because I like to brag and think it is cool to have a heart rate lower than my age. Which will be 49 a week from now. Which will be my 365th day in a row of running (feet willing). The thought of this streak ending has me feeling off kilter. My daily running has a spiritual milieu, a blue streak of meditative sinew stretching. It is pounding beach and trail and pavement with focus or while spacing out, with elation or with grumpy pout, though my run usually turns my frown upside down around mile 2.8.  I run in sun or rain or snow or wind or past dogs who threaten to eat me like on today's lunch run when I thought they were all fenced in but one was not and I used my best alpha voice to tell him to back the hell off.  The daily run is a connection to my son, the one in prison, not a toddler, but still a kid really. I am emotionally mixed up about the end of this streak and it is freaking me out.

Speaking of mixed emotions, turning 49 is OK. It puts me one step closer to the next age group for road racing. Gold prospecting might be in my plans for the year. I won't be 50 for a little while yet. Numerologically speaking, 49 represents compassionate realism, focus, tolerance, and humanitarianism. 49 gets shit done, is reliable, sincere and, I am beginning to think, potentially somewhat annoying. I will always be a Packers fan though. Sorry 49ers. Not that I watch football. My current favorite footballer is Colin Kaepernick. Though I still have mixed emotions about Nike, with the whole sweatshop thing and a long history of misogyny.

Speaking of gun violence, blatant racism and hatred of women, I sure hope this next chapter in my life has a few more paragraphs filled with common sense, justice and love. The messy love, the one that is vulnerable. The one that, biblically speaking, involves love for the Other not because of what they can do for you but because it is the right thing to do. Starting on my 49th birthday, I plan to wake up to a world that would never elect a rapist to be president or a supreme court judge. I will wake up to a society that does not make my child practice hiding under her desk in case someone tries to shoot her at school. If I do not get instant world peace and a modicum of respect and some ability to string two sentences together in the people running our country, and the ability to run sub 7 miles again and ten thousand tons of ice cream....I'm going to scream!

I want it now.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Mollie Tibbetts

I run every day. Sometimes in the dark. Often alone. Of course we are taught as girls/women from the start to be afraid. It is why we cross the street when approached by a stranger and the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. It is why my daughter called me while she was walking home from work over a bridge in Seattle because some creep was there too and she needed to make a human connection. It is why I call my husband when walking out of the hospital at night. Not that someone on the other end of an iPhone can intervene, but at least someone will know when the line goes dead to do something.

The other day I was running out on the Bottom. I was going to head on this back road I like because the traffic is light and it adds some miles but ahead of me were two guys and a loose big dog and it felt wrong so instead I took the highway shoulder home with cars whizzing by, thinking death by automobile was preferable.

I have had 3 or 4 close calls with creeps in my life, and most were in my teens and 20's, I suppose because I was a better target then in terms of my naivete and my looks. One advantage of growing older as a woman is the cat calls reduce, and the guys looking to hurt you are not as interested. So now I mainly worry about my daughters.

As I think about Mollie Tibetts, I think about her family. I think about her fear. I think about how pissed she must've been to have a nice solitary run destroyed, her young life taken, the confidence of women everywhere again shaken. I wonder how she would feel about becoming the justification for hate though?

Personally, I think what should outrage all of us is misogyny. And the fact that girls, women, mothers, wives, sisters face inequality in many realms, including safety from abuse and assault.

I wrote a poem about all this. It is a little angry, I admit. It comes from a place of heartbreak and fear and true concern for this country that I want to love. It comes from bewilderment that hate seems to elate rather than deflate our populace these days.

To the family of MT, peace and healing.

Mollie Tibbetts

When a white girl is killed by a Mexican
Boy who came here illegally
When a white girl is killed while out
For a run in Iowa
When a white girl is killed
My country shouts
"Ok now let's talk about separating families."
When a white girl is killed, statistically
There is better than half a chance
Her boyfriend or husband
Or father or brother did it
When a white girl is killed on a run
My country suggests all us girls carry guns
Soon running holsters will sell
In every color
When a white girl is killed in Iowa
By a Mexican boy
My country shouts about an overdue wall
She was just trying to run
She was young
And he was an illegal alien so
My country's collective mouth contorts
And spits rage
At bleeding hearts like mine who
Still think children in cages out of line
With who we ought to be
Like lynching and Japanese internment
Slavery and smallpox blankets
Wrapped around unsuspecting original American babies
A white girl is killed
The white house seems thrilled
She could have been my daughter!
Or my other daughter who is brown
From another place
Her adopted country would be up in arms
Should any white girl born here come to harm but
A brown immigrant girl killed
Probably asked for it
Bad luck
And anyway who gives a fuck


Wednesday, August 15, 2018


The day I knew this would be home
I met Norm. He carried a cauldron
Walking a path to the beach
With purpose, dog at his side.
We landed on the Lost Coast
My children ran wild.
Son found a pelican skull,
We flew kites. Whacking rocks
To dislodge mussels brought as
An offering to Norm, cauldron aflame,
Reflected in eyes, blue skies
A gathering tribe welcoming
My orphan soul, twenty years ago.
The other day I sat with Norm
On the window seat with the dog
We ate Good-N-Plenty’s.
Fog engulfed the expansive view
Anyhow our backs to the window
Two doctors shoulder to shoulder
Discussing how it feels to breathe today.