Tag Archives: work

the writer who doesn’t write

A line stuck out at me from Jenn Shapland’s recent (and excellent) work on the life of Carson McCullers

[He was] a writer who never wrote.

(In regards to Carson’s husband Reeves McCullers)

A writer who never wrote. A writer who never wrote. I would not want to be remembered that way, but I very well could be. I find refuge in language during certain rocky junctures but when the waters are calm I get lulled, I get lazy- as I recall- It’s a little difficult to remember, because recent years have been so challenging. My writing shelved not because of sloth but because I’m trying to keep the goddamn ship afloat.

Notebook scribbles. She was a writer of notebook scribbles.

My son is medically complex. My daughter is dynamic and active. My kids need me but I need this. So I will keep finding ways to arrive to the page, to express and explore and fumble and reach and keep doing whatever it is that we writers do.

time to garden


I’m better at growing cats than veggies

I feel the vibrations in the air, the low hum: spring is here.

(no, really, it is- this is the Southern Arizona desert, after all)

I’ve got these bright, happy looking flowers planted in colorful pots beside the driveway, but it’s not enough. I want to plunge my hands into the dirt. I want to cut away the dead and coax forth the new. I want to smell and dig and brush my hair out of my eyes and squint and frown and sigh with pleasure at the return of the perennials. I want to water. And water. And water.

I want a real garden.

I’ve always lacked the discipline to be a true gardener, especially in a challenging desert environment, although I could pretend like I was one when my ex was around; he would breathe on scorched earth and an Eden would miraculously burst forth at his feet. I’m lazy and my material abilities are often not enough to realize or sustain all that I get interested in, so a lot of efforts to garden through the years have never really come to fruition. But I’ve always had this passion for living things, for life. I love to surround myself with growing things. And  I want my daughter to share in it, to relish the simple joy of watching a seedling sprout overnight, of savoring summer’s first tomato.

In recent years I was too much the gypsy for a proper garden to make sense; low-demand plants on the back patio of a rental had to suffice. Now that I have a house and I’m there pretty much all the time, it doesn’t feel like mine without abundant planters, without garden beds in tidy rows, full of new green tendrils popping through the soil, seeking the sun and air.

As things stand now, the back yard looks more like Syria than Better Homes and Gardens. There is much work to do, but it is time.

the light amidst the struggle

One morning this week, I spied a woodpecker perched on a tree outside of the Cancer Center. Such athletic, flighty creatures, it seemed odd that he remained perfectly still, appraising me and the rest of the world around him with his unblinking eye.  Only a few feet away, I stared back and sipped my tea and my bones started rattling deep, deep inside:

I don’t want to go to work!!

Its odd, I almost always walk through the doors of the Cancer Center with a smile on my face, eager to see patients and start my day. But its been a struggle lately.  I’ve been tired, and working so very hard.  The endless stream of emails, prior authorization requests, distraught patients, hospice talks, conflict between staff members, and ever mounting pile of unsigned notes are taking their toll.

Or is it something more internal that caused me to be frozen under cloudy sky, unable to walk through the Cancer Center door?  I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I could, but its not all been miserable either- I have been eating pretty well, and taking my dear dog for runs in the dark November mornings.

And then there are the anniversaries that quietly haunt me.  The anniversary of the day I napped next to my mother and noticed she was breathing differently.  It was so subtle, it escapes description.  But I knew something was different.  And she smelled different too- not bad, just ever so slightly different. The dying process started with a whisper on November 13th, 2011.

And then on November 14th, I got the call at 6 in the morning that she was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction, and in a matter of minutes I was barreling down the highway again in my Corolla, headed to Phoenix and biting my nails I could make it there in time. Turns out, we had quite a bit more time: almost a month.

Then there was the cascade of events and phone calls and praying and weeping in lobbies that lead her to be sent home on November 15th with hospice care. It felt so right and so wrong and so unbelievable, a dream and a nightmare.

Life had a singular focus: my mother.  There was no room for the stuff that doesn’t matter, like work stresses.  There also wasn’t room for a lot of stuff that does matter.

So, this year I’m doing well.  I smile a lot, and even have started worried about some of the small stuff again.  But this year, on November 14th, I struggled to go to work. I stood outside of the clinic under a grey sky, longing to stay still and sip tea and stare at beautiful birds. I had little to offer to the patients waiting for me, but I gave them what I could.  I needed not to give, but to receive.

It wasn’t an easy day for me. But perhaps the universe understood my plight, because when I came home there were two packages waiting for me: dried corn from my mom’s dear friend, and a book from my dear sister.

I don’t always get what I want, but sometimes I get what I need.

more than a job

The epiphany occurred when I was 19 years old. It was a spring day.  I was working at an abortion clinic, my part-time college job, answering phones and working the front desk on Saturday mornings and on Tuesday and Thursdays after class.

I secured this job through my mother’s connections with the pro-choice movement. The clinic manager had been a student intern in 1984-85 for my mother when she was the director of the Abortion Rights Council. When I interviewed for the job, the manager showed me a framed picture I drew her when I was 4 years old. It was a typical child’s drawing: hearts, people with large bug eyes, except it also had a phrase written in my childish scrawl “I cannot live without birth control!” Unsurprisingly, I got the job. Yes, I needed to walk through protesters to go to work, but I felt like they made the day more interesting . Plus I made 11 bucks an hour, far more than my peers did at their jobs in the campus library or cafeteria.

One particular Saturday morning in the springtime, the clinic was short staffed in the back.  I was plucked to help out.  In a five minute crash course, I was taught how to take a blood pressure, how to coach a woman to breathe and relax, and how to ready the procedure room in between patients.

I pulled the chart of a girl who was a year ahead of me at the private Catholic women’s college we both attended. I called her Scandinavian name in the waiting room, and led her back to the small room under fluorescent glare. I told her to undress from the waist down and gave her a paper gown that crinkled as she moved.  I squeezed her thin arm with a blood pressure cuff and guided her feet into the stirrups. She laid back on the vinyl exam table, and her long blond hair spilled around her, creating a halo.

“Where do you go to school?” she asked. Maybe she had an idea that we had something in common. I hesitated in my answer, not wanting to make her feel any more uncomfortable than she already was. The suction machine groaned as she became un-pregnant. Her polished nails gripped my hand.

“St. Kate’s” I murmured.

She flashed a radiant smile between the uterine cramps.  She was beautiful, tall and blonde, with straight white teeth. “Me too!”

She had sorority-girl beauty, and I was a bohemian with a nose ring.  She was unhappily pregnant, I was making a few dollars to put towards rent on a ground floor apartment that was so close to the train tracks it would shake all night from passing freight cars.  But there it was– two young women, holding each other’s hand, connected in a way that exists beyond words or explanation.

Five minutes later, it was over.  She was shuffled off to the recovery room, and I was wiping away the blood that was left behind.  The Sklar disinfectant spray made my eyes water.  And in that moment, wiping down an exam table under the flourescent lights, it was clear to me.  I needed to be a nurse.

The realization was sudden, and my hand started to shake.  I thought I was going to be a music teacher. I had saved every penny for a concert harp, practiced for hours alone while my friends were out drinking.  But there was no turning back.  I had already experienced my first moment of nursing, and that was it.

I mulled over my secret for a few days, but then told my mother I was changing my major from music to nursing. She told me that she wasn’t surprised, it made total sense to the woman who knew me so well.

And then I called the young man I loved fiercely, but it was an obsessive love that delivered equal amounts of magic and misery. So we couldn’t stay together, and we couldn’t stay apart, and we danced back and forth like this for two years. At the time he was living in a different state, but we were making plans to be together again in the future.

I told him my new plans and he sneered. To be fair, this major change would require another year at college (and another year away from him). But he didn’t understand what was in my heart.  He made some sarcastic comments, which gutted me. And it was over in that moment.  I didn’t quite know it then- our impossible dance continued for a few more months, perhaps.  But I found my calling, and I never forgot that in the moment he wasn’t there, couldn’t be there.

I needed to be a nurse.  It was worth walking away from love, from my plans, from a life I had mapped out for myself.

And I followed through.

Even though my job is difficult, it is as much a part of me as my right arm. It has changed everything: how I think about life, how I spent the last moments with my mother before her death. I am a nurse, and I am more than a nurse, yes, but I can never not be a nurse. It sounds terrifying to have a job as such as integral part of an identity, but its not really a job, now is it?

It is a calling.