Monthly Archives: April 2014

Archives: 05/01/1999

“01/28/99: I quit smoking.  02/07/99: I turned 35.  03/18/99: Ann, my mother in law moved to the west coast.  04/29/99: I discovered I was pregnant…

“I still don’t believe it– maybe I won’t until I hear a heartbeat.  I’ve suspected for well over a year and a half that I wouldn’t be able to conceive, and now I suspect that I won’t be able to go full-term.  In other words, there are lots of women who deserve babies and I’m not one of them.  I’m only three weeks along– I have no reason to believe this will end in anything other than a miscarriage (Edit: GOD you’re so pessimistic). My only symptoms so far are extreme fatigue and the massive bosom I’m sporting.  No one (Edit: but for the prince consort) knows yet, and I’m half afraid I’ll forget what this new private thing is like, before everybody knows, and I half hope I will, because it’s 90% anxiety and 10% joy…”

Dear Well-Meaning Healthcare Professional

Oh your heart is in the right place!  You are a dear.  You might be the 75 year old physician, or the 22 year old nurse, or the 40 year old PA.  To a person you went into this field with a desire to help or heal or provide comfort, and for the most part you do.  You smile kindly, you nod appropriately, you act like you know exactly what I’m talking about, you have seen this before and you are not shocked a bit.

I need to give you some advice.  If you need to ask me about my illicit drug use, my risky sexual behavior, my tobacco addiction, my alcohol use, my depression, my triglycerides, my cholesterol, or my blood pressure, and if any of my responses trigger in you an infantilizing need to parent or scold or condescend or advise– SHUT UP.

Here’s the thing.  I haven’t gotten to this age without knowing that certain behaviors are bad for me.  But every time you tell me that smoking is harmful as though I don’t know it already is another reason in a catalog of reasons why I shouldn’t be honest with you.  Every time you, who indulges in 1.5 creme de menthes per calendar year (and then brags about it like you can handle your alcohol), ask me (who wouldn’t touch a creme de menthe because it sounds like a regurgitated Shamrock shake kissed on the cheek by a bottle of vodka and whose drink of choice is Maker’s Mark straight up with a water chaser followed by four more Maker’s Marks) if I’ve ever thought about a 12 step program, you further push me into the “1-3 drinks per week” category on your forms.  If your aim is to make me feel bad, you’ve succeeded.  If your aim is to get the truth out of me, you are failing.  Seriously, grade F.

I know that you want me to be healthy, and I know that you need a complete picture of my past and present. So here’s the practical advice that accompanies the shushing: pass me a single sheet of paper asking about habits or behaviors or risk factors that are difficult to change.  Tell me that you need to know the truth about these things in order to prescribe medicine or treatment plans effectively.  Tell me that you assume, because change is hard, that I have no intention of changing my behavior until I TELL YOU IT IS MY INTENTION TO CHANGE.   In other words, treat me like a grown-up and let me die at a pace that’s comfortable to me.

Sincerely and with thanks,

The Clown with the Disturbingly High Numbers in This or That

The Audacity of the Poppy

Depression is an old old acquaintance, welcome as a yeast infection and as easily recognizable.  The first sign is the molasses of inertia which prevents me from doing anything about it; the second sign is the realization that I really really really must do something about it.  So finally I do, and a therapist waits in the wings, ready to save my soul from more self-destruction.

In the meantime, I endure one of the four perfect days a year.  The perfect days are one’s days of preference; for most people that means sunny and 85 degrees.  For me, that does mean sunny, but a bit cooler: 50 degrees is just about perfect, and I prefer a breeze, please.  My friend Joan says that on one’s perfect days, one is working, or hungover, or sick, leaving just a single day a year for one to enjoy (awkward construction, that).  So last weekend, not working or hungover or sick, I suffered through a perfect day.  Dragged the dog outside, cursed the breeze, grimaced at the sun.  Bore poorly the sounds of birds cooing, felt affronted by the bath of fresh air.  DEFINITELY time for the therapist.

What grows within, though, is this tiny kernel of hope.  I start to look forward in the measured way you do when you’re at the point of a flu arc when you don’t actively want to die, and can picture having the energy to, oh, eat a cracker without groaning in pain.

And with hope, which is the opposite of depression (for me anyway), comes audacity.  Because, who am I to think I deserve certain things? Oh, my aims are modest, to be sure: I like to pay bills on time, I like seven consecutive hours of sleep,  I like a tidy house.  I like the feeling of contentment that comes with having treated people well, and rationally, without having to review tape and pronounce myself completely socially inept.  These are all things that don’t happen when I’m depressed, so when I can imagine them returning, I feel the same tall poppy syndrome others with bigger britches feel.  The tall, bright red poppy?  You know, the one that attracts the attention of fate, of its peers, of the mower.  The pride which goeth before the fall and all that.

You’d think I’d be off the hook– I’m the smallest of small potatoes, scarcely worthy of fate’s attention.  I’m not reaching for the stars, I’m barely reaching for the transom.  Yet maybe because my desires are so small, maybe because I have the capacity to be satisfied with little, I have more reason to be nervous. The cozy Kater Murr poppy of satisfaction, be it big or small, is what is offensive to the gods.

So in the event the gods are listening: I won’t be be at peace until I have professional landscaping, an iron fence, new windows and appliances and hardwood throughout the house.  While I’m pressing the dissatisfaction, I’d like to see Nova Scotia, and I’ll need a house on the coast of Maine as well.  (If I’m shooting for restless and unhappy, I think I should go big).

Once Upon A Time

A valley village was divided almost in two, with 53% of the people, the Havelots, born on the side of the village that housed the river.  The remaining 47% of the people, the Havenots, were born and lived on the other side, behind a great wall.  The wall contained a small gate, through which the Havenots could access the river one time per month, after dark, for half an hour, for free.  The Havelots were divided themselves over whether this was fair: some said the Havenots should be given more access, others said “What do they expect?  They’re getting free access to what we have to work and pay for!!”

For this was true, the Havelots did work and pay for the upkeep and access to the river.  They each paid one gilder per month for river maintenance, and one hundred gilders per month to maintain the great wall and pay the guards at the gate.  The guards trained for months to learn how to give the Havenots restricted access; not all the Havenots could come in at once lest they overwhelm the wall, so the guards learned to question them for hours about their worthiness to have access.  Once the beseeching Havenots said the proper sequence of words (a sequence known only to the guards and the Havelots), the Havenots were allowed in, one at a time, and were expected to be properly grateful, humble, and quiet.  Very often, especially to Havenots new to the process, they had not thought to bring the proper vessels, so while they could drink freely for half an hour, they had nothing to bring home for the month remaining.

The great wall was indeed great, but had been built many years ago when people began recognizing the need to conserve the purity of what they considered the greatest river in all the land.  The wall had breaches, most from the side of the Havenots but a few, puzzlingly, from the side of the Havelots.  It was said that most of the Havenots believed the wall should come down, and this made sense, but Havelots whispered about certain neighbors, who could be heard late at night cursing the wall and the expense of its upkeep, and bemoaning the cost of paying the guards.  These same neighbors, it was said, could not be trusted to report a daytime sighting of a Havenot, and legend was that some even had helped Havenots through a wall breach.   The Havelots could be heard discussing these things in the local Fine Dining Establishment.  “Damn bleeding ‘Lots, cheapening their birthright.  The ‘Nots can’t be trusted in, they’ll muck it up, they should work like we do,” said one portly Havelot.  “Eh, they do sir,” said his companion.  “I can see them from my high window– they toil away, they do, but I’ve heard they make scarce more than several gilders, and could pay naught on maintenance fees for the wall and the guards’ pay, reckon.”

Over on the Havenots’ side, in the Park by the Dried Up Tributary, a different conversation took place.  “I’d take a shiv to that one guard given half a chance, I would,” said one.  “Ah, shut your piehole man, it’s not the guard’s fault, it’s the Havelots,’ said his friend.  “They think we’re undeserving,  they think we don’t work hard.  They sleep just fine at night, knowing our kids are thirsty, and that we worry day and night about how we’ll cook without water.  They say we can’t afford the maintenance fees, and they don’t want to let us in unless we can show we can pay.  I say we take a shiv to the wall.  No wall equals no guards equals no maintenance fees.”  His friend, stunned, said, “That’s it.  It’s that simple, isn’t it?”

The Havenots, more accustomed to using all their energy merely subsisting, appealed to the ruler of all the land, talked to the guards, and put up posters: “No Wall, No Guards, No Fees.”  The problem, they soon saw, was that as old and battered as it was, the wall was yet strong and people were accustomed to it.  Businesses were set up along the wall on both sides and it was decorated and venerated in song and legend.  It was entrenched in the culture of both sides.  And the guards, most of whom were sympathetic, had no interest in giving up their good pay and their own access to the river.  The ruler of all the land pretended to have an interest, but the hidden truth was that he would not be re-elected without the support of the Havelots.  In secret sessions he won the Havelots’ permission to expand Havenot access to the river for a fee.  Havenots would pay, they were promised, a small percentage of their income for increased access to the river.

The Havenots were appeased; the wall would not come down and in fact, part of what they paid would go toward its maintenance, but at least they would have water for cooking and their children would no longer thirst endlessly.  And the Havelots were appeased; the water-sucking Havenots would no longer have free access, at least they would be paying something, though some of the Havelots grumbled about the pitiably low fees charged.

With increased, though still limited,  access, and new revenue, more guards were needed and hired.  Contractors were paid to buttress and paint the wall.  The original slogan, “No wall, no guards, no fees,” became laughably naive-sounding as the wall grew ever more robust and the guards were unionized.  People on both sides of the wall became accustomed to the shiny strong wall and abundance of guards.

Peace seemed likely for a time but for the sharp divide in the loudest voice of each side.  A small crew of Havelots began organizing to protest the inequity of fees: Havelots paid 101 gilders every month for unlimited access, while Havenots paid only 2 gilders a month for access one day each week.  “We should be paying the same rate!!” said the most unhappy Havelots.  “They pay half a gilder a day, we should pay half a gilder a day!”  Meanwhile, the unhappiest Havenots did the math: the average Havelot salary was over 1,000 gilders a month.  That meant the Havelots paid about ten percent of their income, while Havenots paid twenty five percent.   “Two gilders is too much!” They cried.  “Up the access or lower the rate!!”

Both sides were aware of other river valleys without a wall.  The Havelots just knew those rivers must be tainted, the banks awash in litter.  The Havenots knew these valleys existed but really, it seemed like a fairy tale.  A place where every person had access?  Unbelievable.  A place where no one had ever thought to build a wall– what kind of place is that?

(Austria, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and forty plus other countries, are places like that.)