Friday, May 27, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Canonical Babbling in Beantown

Operating Room Manager screen at Tufts Medical Center

Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over 
to the enemy of our imagination. 
~Christian Nevell Bovee

I  know. I haven't been writing or making rounds. I've been AWOL. (Anxious Woman Of Late) See, my imagination tends to grab me by the neck and shove me toward worse case scenarios. Especially when it comes to health. Some years ago, I saw an ENT specialist who began our session by asking about my family medical history. I told him that there had been migraines, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. I told him my father had just died. Humph, the doctor said as he needled a scope through my nostril, you never know what's going to happen, you could get out of this chair, walk out the door and have a pulmonary embolism. That happened to a friend of mine about six months ago.

This is not welcome news to a pathophobiac.

And so a couple of days ago, when Little Miss Luluwhose fear sensors are spindly stubs next to my yard long bobbing antennaewent into surgery for the very first time in her young life, I was in panic mode. What worried me wasn't so much the surgery as the anesthesia. She'd never had general anesthesia, and in my anxious mind, this is where potential waits for just about anything to go wrong. (Of course it's not the only opportunity for things to go awryit can go topsy-turvy at any time, anywhere. Oh so horribly wrong!) Surgery is like slicing a wedge of Brie cheese, but anesthesia? That's more like baking a cheese souffle, it's a potent cocktail of carefully measured ingredients that requires close monitoring and a tender touch.

Above, on that nifty waiting room flat screen monitor, in forest green is my daughterpatient number 35628in OR 03 at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. The screen is updated in real time through pre-op, surgery start, estimated finish, and recovery, including the location of each procedure. Sitting before that monitor I felt as if I were in a train terminal watching the split-flap display of arrivals and departures. Boarding track 6. Departing track 11. On time. Delayed.

We were just a few blocks away from Boston's South Station, and as that thought crossed along the troubled tracks of my my mind, I heard the whistle and chug of a passing train, and recalled the many times Lu and I had taken the commuter rail into Beantown. Appointments with a pediatric OB/GYN. Meetings with the Chief of urology. Listening, with earplugs inserted, to the clanging and buzzing of a the great MRI machine that seemed to swallow my daughter whole. (And for reasons less ominous, as well, like seeing Blue Man Group at the Charles Playhouse, roaming through the masterpiece-lined corridors of the MFA, shopping along Newbury, traveling through simulated space and sea at the Museum of Science.)

And then, an announcement: Attention residents. Instead of the ordinary Wednesday rounds meeting, all residents will meet in the Chapel to mourn and memorialize the loss of all the children who've passed.

Omens loom in the boat shaped hospital that fits snuggly in the maze that is Tufts.

I took notes. I scribbled down the only question Lu asked the surgeon before being wheeled away. When can I eat again after surgery? I noted how the surgeon had answered our queries, and how Lu had watched the anesthesiologist carefully insert the IV, and tape it down against her skinny arm. And how my imagination had abruptly taken me hostage. There! There's the culprit! IVs gone bad. Cellulitis. Infection. Sepsis. Air bubble. Embolism!

The girl was calm as a conductor. I stroked her hair, and fought to keep my fears invisible. But inside, I was Woody-Allen-neurotic. Pacing, and scratching my head, and talking nonsense. Here, a list of all the things that can go wrong. Review the list. Worry.

And even though I'm fully aware of the risks as being slight (my daughter generally in excellent health), I am fully aware of the risks. I've signed the paperwork. I'm also, for the most part, reasonable, but I've known cases in which ordinary procedures proved catastrophic. It's a benign cyst, the doctor says with authority. It's a textbook procedure. The norm is that she goes in and comes out perfectly fine. Better, in fact. The norm.

I wish I could be as blissfully ignorant as my eleven year old daughter who hasn't yet been acquainted with medical complications.

I love you, Mama, she said as they whisked her away to a sterile, well-lit theatre for which I had no ticket. I wouldn't hear the music or the actor's scripted lines. I wouldn't see the curtain open or close. I didn't know which scene was being played out. All I knew was that patient 35628 was in OR 03. Had she been anesthetized correctly? Was she tolerating it well? Were they ad-libbing? Had she been shivved and sewed up? How loud was the music and how funny were the jokes? 

I took more notes. And though my daughter's malady was not nearly as grave as others, I was beginning to feel like the mother in Lorrie Moore's startling "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk" (scroll past intro for full text).

Everything will be just fine. A textbook case.

The medical personnel at Tufts are sweet, attentive and empathetic, but I still wanted to get out of the building that housed the theatre.

When Lu woke in recovery the first thing she asked of the nurse was, Can you wheel me down to the Cafeteria?

No matter where we travel it's all about the food. We like to ramble off the worn tourist's path for the true flavor of a place. During each trip to the city, we took advantage of Tufts locale at the edge of Chinatown, and had some fine dim sum and barbecue duck in Chinatown's restaurants, pomelos and mangosteens from street vendors, and dense, bean-paste Mooncakes from the pastry shop.

Now, in the hospital's PACU, Lulu was ready for toast. That was a good sign.

A few hours later, I helped Lu into a wheelchair and slowly strolled her out of post-op. Pausing at the nurses station where an OR Manager monitor glowed in the shadows of early evening, I looked up and saw that number 35628 was off the board. Off the board! I shifted the wheelchair toward the exit and slid out the heavy double doors with Lulu.

The show was over. No ad-libbing. My girl was cyst-free and safe, and the enemy had let me loose.

And then, a fleeting thought: the children who hadn't made it. This was Children's Floating Hospital at Tufts, after all. Not all the children leave on wheelchairs, and I felt a pall of cloudy sadness as I pushed Lu into the wide elevator. But I was so grateful that my little girl was on her way home. A textbook case. The norm. Just as the doctor had said.

Now what was all that worry about?

The Tallest Man on Earth is Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson, who has a habit of sweeping away uneasiness.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Hooting Lessons

Internet source unknown

In the midmost darkness of the night, from the deep pine-canopied woods beyond the stream that passes through the acre of land on which I reside, comes a brusque Whoooop! backed up by the low-pitched humming of tree frogs. At early dawn, before the fog has lifted from the small, stone-lined clearing behind the house, there is a growl, a Krroooo!, an  instinctual and aggressive reverberation, a warning to those who dare to prowl near the nest.

I imagine the mother flailing her tiger-striped wings as she releases a cold shriek, like that of a little girl watching an old Lon Chaney film. Aaaaarhh! Her heart is thumping, her carnelian eyes dense and tight with anger. Whaaaarrrk! She moves swiftlybefore her nestlings are taken as banquet by hungry moonlighters. She doesn't breathe. She swoops down and grabs the startled weasel, crushing him with her tense talons, until he can breathe no more.

The fierce bloodletting of mother's strike prompts a silent interlude. Not even the peeping chorus of the ashy tree frogs can be heard.

And then a moist, early morning zephyr blows through. Sweet Pepperbush and fern sway in its breath. The mother calmly rests with her babes in a feather-lined crib of twigs she swindled from a pesky squirrel. Ho-ho hoo! 

Breathe, owl, breathe.

Wild creatures are in retrograde. All is safe in the forest again.

I think.

Does threat ever truly retreat?

The wilds have their own melody and pitch.

Breath Owl Breathe sings their tune. Ho-ho, hoo!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Journaling

Fuck You and Your Blog Journal

Thisillustrator/designer Ray Fenwick's darling journalmy daughter brought to my attention while perusing vintage cards and local artwork at an East Side gift shop. Oh. My! I said, and quickly stole the book from her purple-painted fingertips. The book is nothing more than near blank peachy pages, which is precisely the sort of instrument in which I used to journal (though my daily entries were not punctuated by profanitythe Catholic lexicon wouldn't permit, the backside of the wooden spoon deterred), back in another time when longhand was not a lost art. Back when I eagerly opened my fabric bound diary and looked squarely at the Date line, recording the time of arrival, and quickly, with little regard or fear, dusting the soot-swathed nooks of my psychic pipes.

This was where the deconstruction of each day began and ended. It's where I dismantled the events, the words, the thoughts and attempted to reassemble the scattered collection with lambent reflection. At some point during my college years, the journal was abandoned, the pipes left accumulating wending years of daily-minutiae-dust with little thought to the passing days. They came. They went. They happened. Without so much as a scratch of hand-forged verbosity.

I had stopped paying attention. I had stopped taking notes.

For a good while.

But desires, emotions and observations stockpile over time. And begin to restrict flow. Words smoldered for yearsyearsan incomplete combustion, neither enough heat nor light to stoke the fire, muck-lined tin smothering invention. The pipes needed to be swept. Cleaned. Scraped.

I don't remember when that primal urge to scratch black manganese stories on a slab returned to me, but thank goodness several years ago it did. It came rushing back, wafting at me like a great big smoke signal. Convert thoughts to printed words, it puffed, restore those pipes to good working order...

Muscle memory doesn't serve well for longhand journaling—I can barely read my own scrawl. So this blog, my techno-journal, is where it happens now. Not all of it. But some of it. And you can tell me to go Fuck Off, but I'm most likely going to hang in here, scraping away, pulling things apart and reconnecting a while longer. 

Deconstruct and reassemble
—now that really lights my fire.

Old Typewriter - Photo by Todd McLellan,
from his Disassemby series

I do like Fenwick's witty little journal, though. Maybe I'll get it for bedside epiphanies. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - En Pointe

Internet source unknown

"They put the mask on me and Dr. T asked if I felt floaty and I said No, then he said to the nurse 'Ok, take it to three', and he asked me again if I felt floaty, and I said No, not really, so he said, 'Alright take it to four,' and then I felt floaty. I was so happy I laughed, and he went in with the tools and I kept laughing non-stop. 

I closed my eyes and saw Katy Perry sitting on a light-pink cloud in a blue sky filled with pink puffy clouds, and Katy said, with a thumbs up, 'You got it, Girl,' and then I saw Snoop Dogg right next to her and I laughed again. Could you hear me? I think I was pretty loud. Dr. T. asked, 'Are you doing alright, Princess?' and I gave him a thumbs up and he pulled and pulled and that’s when I moaned. Did you hear me moan, Mom? a great big mwaaahhh. That hurt. Even with the gas it hurt.

Gauze was jammed in my mouth and they could hardly understand me shouting for you. But they told me not to worry, that you'd be right in after we were done. And when it was over they took me out and put me in a little room, that recovery room, and there you were.

Wait, were you already in the room before I got in, or did you come in after? I can’t remember. Oh God my cheeks hurt. I think the doctor did some kind of magic trick at the end and the nurses laughed, but I didn’t think it was that funny, whatever it was. 

I think nitrous oxide might be addictive, Mom. I like that floaty feeling. And Katy Perry giving me a thumbs up on a pink cloud. Yeah."

And this, she said, in one easy glissade, rolling from her dry, plasma-stained lips as if she had her tutu and Capezios on, ready for the ballet.

One thing is for certain. It takes no special effort to extract words from my daughter's mouth. Pulling teeth is another matter. Visions of a naked Katy Perry hugging the cotton candy cloud of her California Gurls video is ever so more disconcerting.

Once we were home my only desire was to quickly help Lulu forget about the quadruple extraction and Perry. I was prepared with my own magic trick: strawberry ice cream and a young, authentic chanteuseKimbra

And it worked. By her response to the enchanting, emotive twenty year old's music, I know the little one is soon to outgrow Perrylikely before the dramatic eruption of her adult molars. I pray.

In any event, do you think I should be concerned by the extent to which Lulu enjoyed her nitrous oxide gas moment?

Hmm... Maybe I ought to give N2O a whirl.

Purging, More Apologies, etc.

Seems Blogger thought too many of us were hoarding comments, so they decided to have a yard sale. My apologies (yet again!) for the loss of many of your comments left on my previous post, including my responses to all. Ugh. Apparently Blogger has not perfected their technology (especially when housekeeping), which is alright, it can mean only there are improvements to come. Nonetheless, I know how much thought and time goes into our comments, and I very much appreciate yours, so having them practically stolen is quite frustrating.

While I'm here, explaining what most of you may already know, I'd like to extend to you a great big Thank You for visiting, and for your very kind support. And a special Thank You to Hilary of The Smitten Image, for extending this special award to me in her May 4th blog entry, recognizing this post as a Good Read.

Also, much thanks to The Blogger Formerly Know As for giving to me this special charm:

Warning: I'm going to have a Sally Field moment and say, I think this means she likes me. (I like her,too.)

And now that Blogger is up and running once again, Friday Night Frolic will follow...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Internet source unknown

The calliope sounds. Rise and run. At least that's what Ray Bradbury says. Run! This, I promise myself, I will do every morning. Not along the paved roads of this tidy suburban town, not along the park's grasses, but along the dark and dulled keys of my laptop. Along the crevices and couloirs of my cranium.

With champion intentafter first getting beyond the email flurry, the deletions, additions and responses, and any other immediate business, like say, Facebook, blog hopping, reading the paperstrusting I can do this, I open a word doc and stare at the empty white space between the margins. For a long time. And proceed to get angry with myself. Inevitably, broken, frustrated, I find something else to do.

Why? Because I doubt myself. I doubt I'll ever polish a story lustrous enough to shine upon the surface of print. I read other writers and think, Christ, I'll never be that good. What I think, is that I showed up at the feast much too late. So I come to the table expecting not to be fed. I find only morsels of grain which I casually swipe off the table top! What kind of behavior is that? With that sort of attitude, I should be grounded for the weekend. No phone. No friends. No television (which might help).

And then I lift my hand to find stale food particles clinging to the sweaty creases of my palm, teasing my hunger.

So what I've got is a whole bunch of short stories that I've yet to seriously edit. And even more to begin. Begin. This is work, dammit. And instead I blog and find other diversions. I'm guilty. I'm mad at me. And I ought to apologize.

I have a manila folder labeled "The Sorry File" in which letters of apology are stored. My kids are good at apologizing. So good that their handwritten apology letters warrant a special file. Like this one (with my son's permission):

Some day, when they're grown and have children of their own, I'll mail their apology letters to themjust as my mother returns all my little handmade letters, coupons, notes and articles to me. They are also tucked in a folder, a reminder of a time, in my very innocent Catholic school girl days, when all I wanted was to be a writer.

Back then I was crafting things like Smokey Bear posters with crayon on a piece of five foot wide white industrial paper from a roll on a dowel fastened to our garage wall. And McGovern for President propaganda (McGovern for Pres., You've got to confess, You want McGovern!) on spiral bound notepads. I thought for sure my campaign would guarantee the Office to McGovern. Hell, who wanted Nixon for a second term? There was also an illustrated ant invasion story. (Yeck.) In high school I joined the Villa Novans newspaper and wrote articles. I believed I'd be a writer.

And then my sister went to school for journalism. And my brother went to school for communications. And when it was finally my time to go to college, well, I had to do something different. I couldn't follow the same path as my older siblings! Don't copy me! (No one ever said it but I feared hearing it.) I had to do my own thing, though I didn't know what that meant.

I remember telling my guidance counselor I wanted to be a writer, not a journalist, but a writer. He didn't say so, but he didn't seem to think that a writer was a bona-fide profession. He smiled his you're-so-sweetly-naive-young-lady-how-will-you-make-a-living-from-that smile and responded by suggesting (based on my vocational assessment testbut certainly not my grades) that I might make a good lawyer, or social worker, that my skills would translate well to child development and counseling. And I let myself believe that. For a long time.

I went into social work. I entered the legal field. I didn't write. (Except for contracts, briefs, affidavits and other sorts of exciting legal instruments.)

But I don't blame my guidance counselor or anyone else for my failure to write, for letting the desire to rise each day and run dissipate like escaping steam from a pressure cooker. Just me. Guilty. Even more so now that I have a little more time to devote to the craft.

Here, I apologize to myself. That was stupidwaiting so long. I'm very sorry. What I really need is courage, a better work ethic and production quotas.

As Bradbury says, To feed well is to grow. I'll take his advicemore reliable than the old guidance counselor I'll open the lid of that cooker. Let the steam out. Breath in the salty stew of words and phrases and ideas. Taste the modified nouns and verbs. Fill myself with pungent and moist hyperbole. Stop writing about me not writing. And write. Dammit.

I hope my son won't ever have to apologize for not following his dream, nor ever let anyone smile a you're-such-a-naive-nice-boy-how-will-you-make-a-living-from-that smile. Art is, indeed, a bona-fide vocation. Listen to the calliope, I tell him. Rise and run.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Three Little Birds

Original artwork by Geninne at

Every little thing gonna be alright...

That is, if you are not polishing a pomegranate on your denim pants in the Finest Supermarket in Kabul, Afghanistan, or hunting for the ripest mango at the outdoor marketplace in  Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan, or getting your blood pressure checked at a health center in Fallujah, Iraq, or maybe, just maybe, tossing organic eggplant into your wicker basket at Marché Raspail in Paris' 6th arrondissement, or riding the tube in London when some cult-trained child on a suicidal missioninspired by the recent martyrdom of Osama bin Laden, or directed by the Taliban or some other crazed, radical militiadecides to tug the cord on his vest.

Every little thing gonna be alright...

Have you seen the headlines today? Bin Laden's computer has been hacked and analyzed, revealing master terrorism plans. Bin Laden was more than just a figurehead. This, and months of secret surveillance by the CIA prior to the assassination. So, while I'm still unsettled, I've got to give props to our men and women over therein the mountains, plains and deserts of the Middle Easta place, at the moment, I would not choose to be. Those who choose to serve have my greatest appreciation.

Every little thing gonna be alright...

My aunt and uncle flew from Paris back to their comfortable, coastal New England home earlier this week. With heightened security post bin Laden execution, they were most likely far safer on that Airbus A380 than some folks on ground. In particular places on this earth.

Every little thing gonna be alright...

A man's life can be cut short by just about anything. By war, by accident, by crime, by stupidity, by failure to take care of ones body or soul, or by stealth, arbitrary war, against whose armamenthungry, hostile mutants that consume body—we have no defense.

In that manner, the last, cancer, we lost the man who inspires today's Frolic. A man at the very top of my son's "Favorite" music list.  A man who knew that war does not prevent terrorism.

What war does, he understood, is to grease the axles of the bellicose and twisted machinations maculating the world, thus extending their useful life.

What he gave us will last many lifetimes, and many more wars.

And the absolute rule of venal leaders. And the world's insistence for expiation.  


Every little thing gonna be alright...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Lopside of My Brain

Internet source unknown

How is it I've come to Wednesday without a single word in my notebook?

Probably because the thoughts that formulate the words (or is it the other way around?) are nebulous. Scrambled. Unreliable. Capricious.

What I've been pondering is most likely the same as what others have been: the death of Osama bin Laden.

And my jumbled and gloomy thoughts.

We did it! heard round the world. Americans grandstanding.

My thoughts somber. Decidedly unbubbly.

Saturday night I had wondered if my son had worn his golf shirt to the Spirit of Washington cruise on the Potomac. Sunday, May 1st, at 11:00pm in the parking lot of the school Max attendswaiting for the airport bus shuttle to drop Max and his classmatesI listened to a NPR reporter break news that the U.S. had killed the al-Quaeda leader.

Mission accomplished!

But what does this mean for our country? I wondered. What does it mean in terms of concluding a Middle East war that began nearly ten years ago? Why now? What took so long?

(Hitler's death was announced May 1, 1945.)

For some obscure reason in my lopsided brain, I didn't feel jubilant. I felt pensive and lugubrious. As if the killing were anticlimactic, a gesture. Bin Laden had become nothing more than a symbol, a ring-leader of who-knows-how-many-worldwide-free-roaming-terrorists. Then again, had he any power at allcowering in caves, holed up in ramshackle hideaways?

We got him!

A militant Islamic group will ratchet up their plans. America will ratchet up it's security. Those were my very first thoughts. Violence begets violence.

Then, more news. Contradictions in news. He was armed. He was not... U.S. Senators say they saw a dead bin Laden photo. Then they said they did not.

What does it matter?

We executed him! A single shot to the head, it is said. A hole-in-one.

The massive outward expression of victory, the street dancing, I know, is beside the point. We all have our ways. While I didn't crack open a bottle of fizzy, I'm exhilarated that we can now move on. I'm happy that we are minus one terrorist. One fanatic. I'm happy that the death of bin Laden brings comfort and some sense of closure for those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, as if this loss can ever be closed. But I'm sad for the world. I'm sad for what all of this9/11, the war, the execution, the residualssays about mankind, human nature.

An eye for an eye!

Did my son wear his golf shirt? He didn't. I knew he wouldn't, but I packed it anyway. I wouldn't have thought to pack it if it weren't for this conversation. And as more news unfolded this week, I came upon this headline from Obama's Golf Shoes a Clue to Bin Laden Raid. Golf shoes.

And the ramshackle mansion in which bin Laden had stowed himself was a walk away from the Abottabad Golf Course. Golf course.

Did I say (just one week ago) that I don't believe that coincidence is just coincidence? That the World conspires?

Jai Guru Deva... om...