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.