Monday, September 18, 2017

Running With XX

Now don't get excited. I have neither the personality nor the stomach for pornography. What I refer to here is the female chromosomal composition.

I have been thinking about the whole issue of being female lately. I mean, I have been thinking about it my whole life, but with the election of a proud misogynist who considers our White House a dump and pussy grabbing fair sport for all men, it has been on my mind more. Also, as the days shorten I face my yearly dilemma. How comfortable am I running in the dark?

My email feed fed me this story today, about a high school XC runner attacked. The response is the team will fight back, learn self defense. Turn off the music, remove the ear buds, be vigilant, etc etc

All good advice that I would readily give my own daughter but where is the strong and furious shout to men to "STOP ATTACKING WOMEN!" Granted, I don't worry about it as much anymore, as I am relatively old (yeah, I turn 48 this week, planning to ask for headstone for my birthday) and not particularly beautiful. But even today, I was on a walk during my break at work. The neighborhood I work in is pretty sketchy. I like to listen to my book on "tape" while I walk. I like to walk to get my ass off my chair. Anyway, this guy was acting sort of weird and blocking my way on the sidewalk. I considered a different route, but instead put my game face on and moved forward. He so completely owned the sidewalk that I had to step into the dirt and circumnavigate him. I was ready to kick his ass if necessary. But alas, he turned out to be not interested in me. But he was also oblivious to his power.

Men who might read this: please be aware that you have power, just being you, just walking on a sidewalk, just stopping in front of us for reasons we cannot fathom. I am sorry if this is a drag for you, but imagine how your friends of XX chromosomes, wives, daughters, coworkers feel. Every time we venture out into public space alone feels potentially dangerous.

Not long ago a runner fought off her attacker in a rest room during her long run.
Moral of the story: never stop to take a piss.
Moral of the story: take a self defense class because some men are really awful.
Moral of the story: Not today mother fu$%er.

Even that phrase, "mother fucker" is so awful. Violence against women made into a catchphrase. Now I love Miles Davis as much as anyone ever has, but his use of that word was excessive. I got to see him in concert once, and he just flung that word around on stage, like it was nothing.

I don't really get what it means, though I guess it might be considered praise. it might be that men are so intensely disempowered by their mothers that they had to think of a way to regain that power. Or maybe I am overreacting. Whatever. I will continue to enjoy Miles Davis' music.

When I was in elementary school, I could outrun all the boys. That is the beauty of pre-pubescent youth. The male-female thing does not mean much until the guys sprout density and the girls sprout softness. Even just a few years ago I could outrun a lot of men. But then age, health, gravity, and discouragement got the best of me. Which is not to ay I can never return to my prior prowess.

But in order to do so I need to run in the dark, because summer is short and I work long hours. I need to be able to go out in the wee hours of the morning and not fear for my life, except maybe a healthy fear of the mountain lions and tripping over redwood roots on the trail. I would like to think my advanced age and elder status is like an armor, so I no longer need to worry about creeps on the streets and trails. And maybe I do not.

Women are objects. Women cannot be president. Women are either beautiful or worth nothing.

Or maybe our president and his followers are actually mistaken. Maybe we are just people too, some of us fierce and powerful, some of us petite and shy, some of us goofy and nerdy, some of us gay, some of us transgender, some of us soccer Moms, some of us Paris Hilton, some of us just about to turn 48 with hopes of one or two more PRs in the marathon.

So what should we do about women runners? Should they just be able to run, whenever and wherever they wish? Without fear? Except the fear of their own limitations? Or should women be always on the alert for the next attack?

So, what?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

For Granted

I am not exactly sure where the phrase "taken for granted" came from. I assume it has to do with the thought that if someone grants you something, it comes at no price, it is expected, it is bequeathed, it is a gift.

There are seven things I commonly take for granted:
1) The 800 acre redwood forest that is my back yard
2) The ability to run, albeit slower than I used to
3) My career, though I did work pretty hard for that one
4) Playing piano, which is something I can just do
5) That I will one day retire, and be able to enjoy my days without worry
6) That my son is OK, despite being in prison, because surely someone cares about him there
7) That I will wake up tomorrow

My parents put off a lot of things till retirement. Then they both died before retirement so....HA! That gives me pause.

The other morning, I was getting ready for work. We boil water for our pour over coffee, and I had just turned off the burner and poured the boiling water on the precious grounds. I knew the stove grates needed cleaning, and started lifting them up, one by one, to put in the sink. The last one I grabbed was the one I just turned off. It immediately started to melt the skin off my thumb and index finger. I screamed. My high school kid did not wake up. My husband freaked out. I spent the rest of my pre-work morning with my hand soaking in a bowl of ice water.

The thing I took for granted: playing piano. What if I actually burned my fingers so severely that they died? A thumb and index finger on the right hand is a requisite for every single Beethoven Sonata.
I have not played much recently. I am too busy. Studying for Boards. Working a lot. Not able to get this darn piano recital together, so why bother at all?

But the thing is, if you told me tomorrow I would never be able to play Beethoven again, I would swoon. And not in a good way.

I have a very good job, and a very nice house. Very.

So when I come home from work and walk the dogs in the woods with enormous redwood trees towering over me, I should be awed. Often, though, I am just thinking "Zoe! Take a crap already!" Zoe is our 12 year old Golden Doodle who is an idiot savant. She loves music, but only through the very early 20th century. She chews on stinky socks while contemplating Mozart. She faithfully trotted down the hall every night to sit at my feet and peer up at me while I sang my children to sleep, back when I did this. She needs a gold-engraved invitation to take a shit.

I used to run sub 7 miles. Now I am ecstatic when I run sub 8. True, I am fatter, as my 100 year old patient so aptly pointed out the other day during a house call. But there are things that affect speed beyond blubber. Like:
1) son in prison
2) working 60 hours a week
3) lack-o-motivation

Now about work, I do like it. I get to think hard every day about challenging puzzles. I get to serve people in need. I get to take the Boards again October.

The boards:
1) expensive
2) standardized
3) a racket

My son, well he is in prison. What can I say? I am a terrible Mom.

Oh, also, he is not half the criminal our current president is.

What I do not take for granted, when I stop to ponder:
1) my children, though not flawless, are beloved
2) my husband, who is a rock
3) my legs, which might someday reach sub 7's again, at which point I will gloat mercilessly
4) my piano hands, which through not invited to Carnegie Hall, can play pretty much whatever you place in front of them
5) my work, which feeds my family and feeds my soul
6) my compassion, which you can just try to pry out of me. I dare you.
7) my friends. Who provide comfort, hilarity, steadiness, support and reality checks.

Seven ways to not take things for granted. Just kiss not taking for granted goodbye.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ode to Cross Country, A Sport for All Seasons

I. Summer
A licorice aroma, is that wild fennel?
Mixes with pine and sand and clean air.
An apothecary of molecules,
Carried on the rapids, insistent,
And musically I know where the river must dip
And rise, the bass drum of depth,
The floating soprano skimming over smoothed stones.
Bird song composed to recall expanse,
Not grounded.
Asynchronous, raucous, lightly
Orchestrated to surprise.
Not so much tan as dirty, the demarcation
Of where my socks meet the narrows above ankles.
trail sand and dirt clinging on me as if I can carry them to safety.
Roots, shadows, rocks try to trip me
But I stay grounded while I fly.

II. Fall
At the gym today a proud Dad talked about his son the football player.
He also excelled at track.
I found myself wishing he ran cross country instead of playing football.
The start of cross country season is like no other magic.
At the gym today, as I lifted weights with my almost 48 year old prowess, I recalled similar sessions,
Back when I was young and had a team.
Weights and sit-ups practiced amidst the other teams with larger arms and legs.
This after piling into the Coach's pick-up truck bed, no permission slips in those days.
Carted off to a better place to run then the streets around school. We stayed grounded
While we flew.
Season started with leaves crunching underfoot. In California we don't have that,
But I have found that abandoned mussel shells crunching underfoot on beach runs
Hits the same spot of satisfaction.
Season ended with near snow or actual snow. Near snow is a certain feel in the air,
The visible breath on exhale. Actual snow means fall is over,
Except there might be one or two more random days inviting runners to wear shorts.
Nothing is more peaceful that a run on freshly fallen snow.
Not one damn thing.

III. Winter
It was early in January this year.
Downtown Portland.
On the river.
The people in the hotel room adjacent to ours had loud sex.
Awkward, when it is you and your eldest child listening, silence broken
By giggles. "#Soulmates" was all I could think to say. Stork stories are long past.
Sun up, looking with sleep-crusted eyes down 14 floors onto
Snow. Snow on the streets of Portland.
The world is a miracle, or else about to end.
Either way, shoes laced up and good running friend is met.
There is nothing more peaceful than a run on freshly fallen snow,
Through campus and along the river.
It was so quiet I seriously wondered if the world was at an end.
Where was all the ambient noise, the orchestrated city bustle, the slap of shoes
Against pavement?

IV. Spring
Spring marathons are a challenge.
You have to train in the short daylight of winter,
Dark when the alarm goes off, dark when the work day ends.
Just when I seriously start to wonder if the world is going to end,
Days elongate and orchestrate to surprise, with frogs peeping and birds tentatively
Offering their song.
Trillium bloom, then Purple Iris.
Fiddle leaf ferns unfurl.
Season starts with dead, soft redwood fronds underfoot, just as new lime green buds are sprouting at The ends of Redwood branches.
Not one damn thing can make a spring marathon easier,
Except the sun offering just a little bit more of itself than it has in recent months.
And the smell of Eucalyptus on a rainy day.
Everyone is so hopeful on the morning of a spring marathon.
At the starting line you can feel like the kid who toed the starting line,
First meet of cross country season, gun about to go off, young muscles still,
The still before the storm.
Like no other magic.

Friday, August 4, 2017


I do not usually post so frequently. I am a somewhat reluctant blogger, a sometime writer, a midwesterner turned Californian who has discomfort with sharing and yet knows the only hope is to reach out to others.

I have been listening to podcasts a lot lately. My real addiction is, but as I try to spend less cash, I find I can do without so many books all the time by tuning into the podcast genre. Today, while walking one of my dogs, I was listening to an interview with a poet, Marie Howe. She teaches her students this poem, by Emily Dickinson:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -

Her students were like, "What?" 

She asked them "Have any of you ever experienced a panic attack?"

And if you have, read this again. 

Ahhhhh, poetry.

But Emily is just so-

When I was about 10, I was sitting on the concrete wall next to the driveway of my childhood home. My brother's friend, who happened to be named Emily, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said "A poet."

How weird was that?

But it turns out that my husband is a writer, my eldest daughter is a writer and I am-

I am-

Today I spoke with two families and patients about "code status". This is where we get to decide, on paper, whether to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation or not. Do we intubate? Do we put in the intensive care unit? 

Do we put a tube down their nose or into their abdomen to feed them when they cannot swallow? 

My advice: no tubes. But then my perspective is that of a doctor. I Know I would not want it for myself. I know that life ends. I know that death can be hard. I know that just because we can do more things to people does not mean it is right.

21 years ago, my Mom died. 21 years ago this weekend, my Mom died.
 I was nursing my eldest child in the waiting room where we slept when my Mom died. I was a medical student, who knew so little about it all but then learned more than I wished to, when my Mom died. My Mom died when we all stepped out at once to have some food. I ate a veggie burger in the hospital cafeteria. I can still taste it. It was not good enough to be absent when my Mom died.

But then again, I can still taste it. It was not like real meat. It had some substance to it though. The bun was whole wheat. I ate it next to my husband and brother. My caloric intake was important, because I was breast feeding.

When I came back to her room, she was no longer gasping for air. She was gone.

I wailed, but my Dad wailed louder. Not 2 years later, he was gone too.

Poets are amazing. They have to condense, speak truth, follow the rules of decent writing, and touch our hearts.

Sitting on the concrete wall of my parent's yard, I did not know it would be so hard. Nor did I now doctoring would encompass so much poetry. Nor did I know life would encompass so much-

So much-


The Emily friend of my brother is now a physician. And so am I.

Thanks, Mom.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


I just started listening to a podcast called Ear Hustle. It is relatively new, only 4 episodes so far. Which works out well because I am relatively new to having a child in prison, and this is like a connection to him. I keep hoping I will hear his voice in the background (as it takes place in his current prison), or maybe he will get interviewed. Yes, I did not really picture this as an aspiration for my child. I can see the bumper sticker now: "My Kid is the Ear Hustle Inmate of the Month!"

Ear Hustle is quite good. I recommend it to anyone, whether you have had a prisoner in your life or not.

I was listening to it today while working in my yard. For perspective, I am on call this weekend, and thus not exactly "free", but as I listened to the stories of the inmates, while sweat poured down my face from pulling weeds (yes, I am a wimp), I felt so very free. Houses, gardens, work so often feel like traps or cages or something we do while we wait for the good part of life to start. Which is ironic given house-garden-work represents the American dream.

Turns out life is just life. You wake up (if lucky), go to work (if lucky), eat some good food (if lucky), try to exercise (if lucky), walk your dogs (if lucky), do the wash for the millionth time (if lucky). Unless you are in prison, or a war zone, or a drug addict or super sick or mentally ill without good treatment or poor or Donald Trump. Whom I do not suppose has done a load of wash in his entire life.


I posted on Strava the other day.

I have not been posting my runs all that often, because I am really slow now. I mean I was never super fast, but could run 7 min miles for a prolonged period, up until that *cough* extra 30 lbs. Freaking steroids. So anyway, I posted the other day all whiny about my slowness and was reminded by someone "yeah, just be glad you can run."

As my teenager would say, "oh, snap!"

So today I ran and posted it because, let's face it, I do like my social media, and just had done my rounds at the inpatient hospice unit, then walked the hospice labyrinth and somehow it felt OK that I ran like a slug on quaaludes. Which might be slightly redundant.

Who ya calling a slug?

Another thing that gave me perspective recently was listening to The Brothers Karamazov on Which took 37 hours and 8 minutes to be read aloud to me. One part was really funny, about the over-specialization of doctors:

"I tell you, the old-fashioned doctor who treated all diseases has completely disappeared, now there are only specialists, and they advertise all the time in the newspapers. If your nose hurts, they send you to Paris: there's a European specialist there, he treats noses. You go to Paris, he examines your nose: I can treat only your right nostril, he says, I don't treat left nostrils, it's not my specialty, but after me, go to Vienna, there's a separate specialist there who will finish treating your left nostril."

I also liked getting to know Stinking Lizaveta (and her unfortunate son). Because a band I like quite a bit derived its name from her.

The perspective I gained in "Brothers K" was:
1) I am not the worst parent in the universe. It is amazing the Brothers K made it to adulthood.
2) It was probably not worth 37+ hours of my life.
4) Stinking Liz is mute though, so that part was easy.
5) Dostoevsky did not like doctors much. His Dad was a doctor, and he grew up playing in the gardens of a hospital for the poor. He did seem to like courtroom drama. A lot. A whole, whole lot.
6) Russian novelists of a certain era seemed to lack editors.

I don't have an editor either, so there. Ha. It's my blog and I can share my perspective for as long as I want to.

My parents both died a long while ago. Coming up on the 21st anniversary (deathiversary?) for my Mom next week. They may have left the earth prematurely, but their perspective on life and love and compassion and humor had a big impact on me. A cousin recently sent me this picture of them.
You might think it odd that they are turning their back. But I know them, and they were just being goofy. Perspective.


Running amongst the giant redwood trees gives me goose bumps, even after all these years. They are really big. Even the young ones. The old ones are just so stunningly massive, it feels like being in the presence of a living piece of history, like the kind of history you find on timelines long before anyone was doing much besides scratching off their cave lice and dragging their fists in the dirt. Perspective.

The point? I don't really know. I thought I did but I see now that life has no point, so to speak. We just keep showing up until we don't. What makes it bearable is noticing. Noticing the funny and horrible and beautiful and goofy and painful.
artist: Jianhong H.

One guy who is a master of this art of noticing is actually playing my town tonight. Still out there playing, after all these years.

I am on call pretty much every day of life. For work, which is truly painful, but hey, I have a job I love so....I try to keep perspective. But I am also on call for life. I am waiting for the next little thing, which I suspect involves walking the dogs given their impatience with this endless blog post. Thank goodness beepers are no longer a thing, because if life was paging me on a beeper all the time, I just do not think I could take it.
Life: "beep, beep, beep"
Me: "Fucking pager, what is it now?"
Life: "come out and play, stat!"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ode to Laura

I have known strong people.
I have known hilarious people.
I have known people who run fast.
I have known people who are kind and compassionate.
I have known people who light up the room when they enter.
But it spins my head to know someone who is all of the above.

I would like to be Laura when I grow up, all buff and intelligent and
Such a good story teller.
It hurts to run with her because
1) she is way faster than I am and
2) she makes me laugh so hard

When you are just trying to hang on to a pace, laughing is not at all helpful.
Elite runners might want to take this to heart, and tell killer jokes on the third turn of the track, just before you kick to the finish while your opponent is doubled over with hilarity.

When I have felt shame for my parenting woes, true kindness has been a hand reaching to me with words of solidarity and "it could have been any of us".

When I have felt shame for my health woes, true kindness has been a reminder that just being able to move is a gift and the speed demon inside is only waiting for the next best time to emerge.

When I have wondered what strength is, I get my magnifying glass out and check my Oxford English Dictionary.

Strength: 1. Laura McNulty.
Used in a sentence: Laura is strong as shit. Unbreakable pretty much.
Cuz females are strong as hell.

I have known strong people.
I am thankful for them.

And I am thankful Laura is no longer in my age category for road races. For the time being.

My goal: to be unbreakable as LM. And to be as kind as LM.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Orange is the New Black

When President Obama said "orange is not the new black" I laughed and laughed.

I am no longer laughing.

For profit prisons have no motivation to rehab their prisoners. And Mr. Trump has no reason to behave, because he was elected while wildly misbehaving. How can you tell your children to strive for a better education, a better understanding, a more compassionate heart so they can be successful, when the Oval Office is occupied by someone who does not read, does not care to read and apparently does not give a shit about his own country?

I like the show "Orange is the New Black", but as a parent of a prisoner, it is no longer just mild entertainment. My son is not a big person, and he has mental illness and he likes to please the people around him which is partly why he ended up in prison in the first place. But all of that makes him a target. I am terrified of what might happen to him. And I cannot do a damn thing.

The local online rag published his arrest, and the comment section was filled with hate for him and my husband and I. Now we are not perfect, but we are parents who love our children, and we both are solid citizens, and we did our very best. Two of our children are pretty darn successful at life--they are kind, smart, caring, funny and capable. And they are not on drugs. It turns out being on drugs really messes up a kid's mind. Naive as I am, I never imagined drug dealers would present themselves to my child's middle school with drugs and make them feel like big heroes with money by asking them to sell drugs for them. Seriously, I am not stupid, and I have cared for many a drug user and pusher in my work over the years, but in my little, rural town, who would've thought drug dealers can just walk onto campus and fuck up your kid?

Once there was a young man (20-30 years old) who was admitted to our hospital for cutting off his own penis in a fit of drug-induced insanity. He was not on my service, but my colleague caring for him commiserated.

I keep thinking of what I could have done better as a parent. Maybe I should have worked less. But they had a full time Dad at home. I grew up with 2 working parents, and I considered it a  luxury to have a stay-at-home Dad.

We loved and sang to and read to and educated and supported and travelled with and did I mention we loved our children? But it was not enough.

All that aside, today I did a house call on a 100 year old person and prevented an emergency room visit and hospitalization. After that, I got a haircut and my teenaged daughter said I looked "on fleek." I think that is good, but I am not absolutely sure.

Today I also ran on the beach and my dog was thrilled. The fog was dense at the beach, though cleared just 1/4 mile inland. I have learned to love the fog. It is mysterious and cool, and thankfully it keeps my runs from being 100 degree torture sessions. The sand was a little like molasses today and I was also not exactly on fire. But I ran, my dog frolicked, the birds ran away from my dog and I kept a 100 year old out of the hospital. So if I die tonight, let it be known, my last day was not so bad.

For profit anything might be super cool for rich people, but it is the pits for everyone else. For profit healthcare? Not compassionate. For profit education? Bullshit. For profit prisons? A good way to ensure young men, especially men of color, stay incarcerated and never get a chance to shine in life.

A house call on a 100 year old is not particularly profitable, in the monetary sense. But I beg the world to listen and understand: when you are laying on your back, with your eyes watching God, the only thing that matters is how much you cared.

Orange is the new black. Now, what exactly are we going to do about it? And how will we live this one precious life?