Friday, July 31, 2009

Things I Didn't Expect

Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...

When I began writing this blog it was basically for one reason: I was tired of talking to myself. Not that I was walking around muttering, though I have been known to do that on occasion. What I mean is, I'd been keeping a journal for several years and realized I wanted to talk to someone else besides me. A friend pointed me to a blogging program offered by Google, and the rest is fairly recent history. I can scarcely believe it will have been a year in November; that's amazing.

Anyhow, I'm thinking this morning about all the unexpected things I've learned as a result of this more or less daily dialogue. Interestingly, most of them have nothing to do with writing. I've learned how to install HTML code, work with webmaster tools, send notices of posts to networking websites, and manage web site analysis. I really hadn't anticipated a creative outlet would turn into work, you know?

I mean, sometimes writing is hard work, too. It's the other side of writing, the technical aspects that can absorb more time than you realize in the beginning. But that can be a lot of fun as well. For instance, one of my favorite things to do in the morning is check my statistics counter (a free service offered online) to see how many people have dropped by and which posts are read most frequently.

You just never know what's going to result from something new. Well, that's obvious, isn't it? Something new should have the unexpected trailing behind it, otherwise it's not all that "new" in the first place. But I think we anticipate these experiences because we want to be intrigued, to grow, and The Beggar's Blog has been one heck of a learning experience for me. I anticipate it will continue to be that, thanks to you -- after all, you're the one reading this.

(Blogger is a registered trademark. Image via

Thursday, July 30, 2009

You Want Sugar With That?

2007 - Day 190 - Just a spoonful of sugar...
Disillusionment -- it's not what we usually call a good thing. We tend to equate it with losing faith in someone or something, becoming jaded or even cynical. In my line of work it's not uncommon to hear someone say, "I used to go to church but _____ happened, and that was the end of it for me." Most of the time, whatever goes in the blank relates to what someone else has said or done. In any case, they've become disillusioned, they've lost a bit of their idealism about the way people ought to behave.

To the extent our expectations of other people are unrealistic, a little disillusionment goes a long way. It helps us develop a perspective that allows others to be genuinely themselves rather than characters we've created in a private novel entitled Life According to Me. Truthfully, this can be quite liberating for all concerned.

Before it sounds like I'm channeling The Sound of Music and all we need is a spoonful of sugar to make life palatable, let me say this liberation can take many forms. For the person entrapped in a relationship with a narcissist, the loss of illusions can be the first step toward recovery. As in the fairy tale of The Emperor's New Clothes, the blinders come off and a person "sees" their situation as it truly is.

For most of us, though, letting go of illusions might just help us be a little more accepting. What I mean is, if we assume from the outset that other people going to be as human as we are, that in itself is forgiving. Yeah, they're going to screw up, they're going to let me down, and guess what? I'm going to do the same. Sometimes I think the hardest illusions to give up are the ones we have of ourselves.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Blank Slate

Black board
It's another one of those mornings, more common lately than not, when I have no idea what to write about. Absolutely none. I've chased around the idea of a pressure cooker, reflected on our recent loss of a fellow student, watched my cat sleeping on the shelf next to my desk, and poured a second cup of coffee, all to no avail. I'm as blank as a newly cleaned blackboard.

It happens like that, and when it does, it helps to just write, so that's what I'm doing. About songwriting, John Denver used to say some songs come to you without effort, in an instant, the way most people imagine they do. Others you work on for months, struggling to get the words out. It's a lot more fun when inspiration is flowing like water in the gutters from a he
avy rain but more satisfying when you've had to work at it. I suspect the reason has to do with the process.

Songwriting (and any kind of writing, actually) draws on what's going on inside you. One of the most difficult things about that is deciding how much you want
to reveal. Write a love song, for instance, and people presume you're in love. The truth is, you may not know what you're feeling until it's on paper (or the computer screen). Sometimes, you're just as surprised as the listener.

The introduction to the Star Trek series is part of our common culture: "
Boldly going where no one has gone before." Someone from the Cousteau Society or NASA reminds us now and then the last frontier is either under the ocean's surface or "out there." Days like this make me think it's neither. The darkest, most unknown place of all, is the one within. The mystery that draws us to one another, makes us question, inspires courage, teaches us to love. The mystery we meet every time we meet.


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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Absentia

We received bad news last evening. One of my classmates -- not mine, exactly, but one from the next graduating class down -- was killed in a traffic accident while traveling abroad. I'm certain I knew her, but I don't think we ever met. It's hard enough being familiar with 125 members of your own class much less the same number in another. Some become your closest friends and some you never really know at all.

She was young and had just begun living the dream of a lifetime on this little peninsula on the coast of Maine. She lived off campus (we have no medical student housing on campus), and drove to school every day down a long road lined with trees and classic New England homes. The same route I take. The same one we all take.

She had just completed her first year. What was that like? As a member of a team of four she dissected a human cadaver, learned the basics of physiology, immunology, biochemistry, and pharmacology. She'd learned the essential points of medical legality, spent hours gazing into a microscope, memorized dozens of bacteria and the diseases they produce, and practiced the techniques of physical examination. She may have been involved in clubs and participated in some of the silly things we do to relieve stress like playing Assassin (whoever you hit with a sock, gets eliminated). She learned to handle the stress of day-long examinations.

The first year is about what "normal" looks like and the second, about abnormal. One more week and she would begin tracing the pathways of nerves to the brain. She might write emails home about Aunt Susie's stroke or her brother's concussion. Her parents would read them, look at one another and say with a smile, "It's worth every penny."

As a minister and therapist, I get asked for explanations, why now, why her? The truth is, there are no reasons so persuasive, so transcendent, so ultimately satisfying, they can make up for what we're experiencing. And even if there were, they still wouldn't erase what has happened or take away our grief. So, instead of explanations, we find hope in the company of family and friends. She was one of us, she is one of us, and among those who share her dream, she will always have the title we all seek and cherish: colleague.

This post is in her memory and dedicated to those whom she loved.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Who You Gonna Call?

Clothes Washer

It started out like any other day. Gather the socks that missed the hamper while playing dirty laundry basketball, towels that smelled like the junior high locker room, jeans that could stand up on their own, and head for the washer in the garage. Fill the tub, add soap and color-fast bleach (I have well water and everything takes on a rusty tinge otherwise), switch on, and it's back to coffee and waking up.

I was halfway to the kitchen when the washer started to squeak. Not once, not twice, but again and again, regular as a heartbeat. But instead of lup dup, as we're taught in cardiology, it was squeak, squawk, squeak, squawk. Okay, back out to the garage, this time to get the can of belt dressing, a slightly oily mix of anybody's guess, to spray on the belt slipping with each turn of the tub. That done, return to business as usual, right? Wrong.

Thirty minutes later I'm in the garage again thinking it's time to put the clothes in the drier. Except for one thing: the washer is still full of water and I can smell burnt rubber. Oh, great, I thought, the belt's broken. Time to call Beggar's Appliance Repair and see if the budding physician can actually fix something.

A hurried trip to the supply store for a new belt was followed by a herculean effort (at least that's what I told myself it was) to roll the washer out of its cupboard and turn it on it's front (following directions for a change). Five minutes prowling through the bowels of the washer motor convinced me this was a task for a qualified surgeon, not a would-be psychiatrist. I mean, I could have offered therapy since it was already laying down, but with no couch, it seemed futile.

So, now I'm waiting for a house call by a real repairman, hoping he doesn't look at my attempt at self-help, shake his head, and tell me it was a job for a professional. I thought about that but you know guys (and I'm one of them for sure), if we can't fix it, well, then we know who to call.

Image by Henna Lion via Flickr)
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Handling the Field

Lance rides past us in St Etienne

I would have truly loved to see Lance win this one. Listening to him, though, I wonder if this year wasn't really about discovering whether he was too old for the Tour? After securing third place, he said, "For an old fart, coming in here and getting on the podium with all these younger guys, it's not so bad." Sounds like he may gotten it sorted out.

When I began thinking about medical school I asked myself the same question. Admittedly, if someone else wanted to know, my response was usually a smile coupled with, "You're never too old until you're dead." But in the deep dark hallows of my own thinking, I needed a real answer. How are you going to handle the field of younger "riders?"

Interestingly, what I came up with might be one Lance himself would approve: know your strengths, pace yourself, and ride your own race. You see, with only one exception, every other rider is younger than him. But simply because they're younger, doesn't mean Lance shouldn't be in the race. If anything, he's redefining what it means to compete.

Everyone changes as they age. What we have to learn is, how to use those changes to our advantage. For example, I may have to train much harder now than I did when I was 25, but as a result, I have greater stamina. There's a compensatory advantage to every seeming disadvantage.

Everyone -- no matter what their age -- compensates for something. The important thing to remember is, compensation isn't an indicator of weakness, inability, or disqualification. It's part of being human and refusing to allow our humanity to get in our way.

(Image via Wikipedia)
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Failing to Live Up to Expectations

So, there I was this afternoon, standing at the counter of a local music store. I'd gone in to return a defective CD of the soundtrack to Dances With Wolves and the clerk, a young guy wearing a Rasta hat, eyed me warily. "I can replace it, give you a store credit, or your money back," he said, "if you don't find anything." His tone seemed to suggest he thought the latter was most likely. 

I thanked him and headed for the rock section, looking for favorites in both "used" and "new," grateful someone had taken the time to label everything clearly. After about five or ten minutes I handed him a new copy of Greatest Hits Volume Two, The Singles by the Goo Goo Dolls.

He was good, I have to give him credit. His double-take was evident around the eyes, but his initially guarded demeanor melted quickly and he watched me with what looked, for all the world, like amazement as I walked out, tearing away the wrapper.

Slipping it in the car CD player and turning up the volume way up, I wondered what his response would have been if I'd told him I'd just purchased a new set of guitar strings and couldn't wait to begin working on an acoustic version of Black Balloon?

Failing to live up to expectations. Life is really sweet sometimes, you know?

(Creative Commons image by TheCX via Flickr)

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Bird feeding from hand
In his earlier career as a father, dad said to me, "Beg, you might want to take what you can get because you might not get what you want." It's that old bird in the hand is better than two somewhere else thing. Well, that troubled me because I usually wanted something pretty badly. But I was young and so I followed his advice. The problem was, available didn't always equate with desirable and there were times when "nothing" was preferable.

It gets even more complicated when what you want finally comes along and you can't grasp it because your hands are already full. You know how it goes. You wait and watch until you decide whatever you were looking for was never out there in the first place, and you take the next best thing. Then, one day when you're no longer looking, there "it" is, standing at your doorstep. Talk about irony.

In his later career as a father, dad surprised me one day by saying, "If it's what you really want, it's not just worth waiting for: pursue it." I wondered aloud what had changed his mind. He responded, "I've watched you; you've always been happiest going after what truly matters." Like a million other times, he left me speechless.

We all hear the ticking of the clock, pounding in our heads like timpani imitating canon fire in the 1812 Overture. Get moving, you can't wait, don't just stand there. It's unnerving, the pressure, and fearful we'll end up empty handed, we may act precipitously. But empty handed isn't necessarily a sign of poverty. It can signify readiness and the ability to choose. And when we've found what's right, then we're free to make it our own.
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Friday, July 24, 2009

Hot Wheels

It was one of those spontaneous moments that come along making you grateful for children. I had a cranefly in my sights -- they look like mosquitoes on steroids -- but with only a tissue for a weapon, it was pretty hopeless. It teasingly cruised the ceiling and since my best friend's home isn't a basketball court, I decided jumping was out of the question. I muttered to myself, "If we had a flyswatter, it would be easy." At that moment a small voice responded, "Yes!"

I turned around and realized their five year old son was standing alongside me, completely absorbed in the hunt. He caught me totally by surprise and we all

A 2006 Sema Edition CivicSi sporting the speci...

dissolved into laughter. It was so precious I could have hugged him for being nothing other than himself. But just then he decided to heed the siren call of Hot Wheels toys, and hugs would have to wait.

So, with dog barking and tiny cars skittering crazily across the wood floors, five conversations involving friends and family veering off just as unpredictably, his father and I retreated to a corner to talk about writing. We had about fifteen seconds to ourselves and then dog and boy joined in with wags and toys. Writing forgotten, the important things of life took over.

Some prefer a civilized evening of cognac and conversation with Saint-Saens or Mozart in the background. We didn't even approach that last night and I couldn't care less. The chaos of family, friends, a boy and his dog, and chasing a wayward bug to the tune of Hot Wheels along the floor is much better.


(Hot Wheels is a registered trademark by Mattel, Inc. Image from

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Halfway There

Yesterday was a milestone. For me, it marked the end of the first two years of medical school -- at last. I say that because, as regular readers know, I ch

Holmes - Steele 1903 - The Empty House - The R...

ose an option that allowed me to split the first year into two. As a result, it's really the end of the first three years but if I don't explain myself, people think I'm nearly done. What is significant about all this takes us back to my medical school interview.

It was November 17, 2004 and the only interview I'd been offered in three years of applying. Medical school admission is sometimes like Andrew Shepherd's description of citizenship in The American President: "you've got to want it bad because it's going to put up a fight." This is especially true when you don't fit the traditional mold: bits and pieces of you stick out all over the place. Perseverance is the word.

So, there I was, finally telling someone my story, face to face. At one point I said, "I may not be the most stellar student you'll ever have for my first two y
ears, but if I can just get through them, in the last two I'll shine." You say a lot of things in an interview, trying to be persuasive. But I felt that was truer than not because I'd been a clinician and the last two years of medical school are hands-on.

It occurred to me this morning, I've gotten to that place. We all have our demons and mine has tormented me with the fear that I'd never make it this far. Something would prove insurmountable and I'd have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, bloodied fingernails clawing the ground, off campus. Yesterday that demon was sent packing and as far as I'm concerned, it's good riddance.

(Quote from The American President written by Aaron Sorkin, 1995. Image via Wikipedia)
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Juggling Medical School

early Egyptian juggling art :en:fr:Image:Jongl...

I'd like to begin this afternoon with a word of thanks to readers who've dropped by the past few days, especially knowing there wouldn't be anything new. That was awfully thoughtful and I appreciate it very much. I've finished my exam and all I can say is, I hope I passed.

In the first weeks of medical school there are all kinds of expectations about academic performance. Students accustomed to high grades anticipate academic excellence, others just hope to keep their heads above water and avoid failure. Eventually, the demands on time and energy, as well as the volume of material, combine to level the playing field. By the time they've gotten to the end of the second year, many recognize the greatest achievement lies in simply passing.

It's not that we become careless or cavalier about grades. Far from it: the tension in the classroom at exam time is so thick it almost clings to your clothes like the scent of overly-used perfume. But, we begin this process juggling the equivalent of two balls and as each month passes, more are added until finally, we feel like we're juggling dozens and we're relieved when we complete a course without dropping any.

True, we get better at juggling, but there's always the concern that one might get away from us. And that's why passing is such a great thing. We've kept our wits, managed the pressure, and lived to fight another day. I suspect it's for this reason I've often thought medical students should get along very well with war veterans. We're survivors; we've faced our worst fears and despite everything, we're still here.

(Just in: I did pass.)

Image via Wikipedia
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Monday, July 20, 2009

A Self-Inflicted Absence

I hope you will forgive me -- for the next two days I'm going to force myself to study instead of write. I have a mid-summer exam on Wednesday and although a few hours writing each morning allow me to indulge the fantasy that I have a "life," the truth is, I'm still a medical student. So, I'll be back on the job Wednesday afternoon. Til then, thanks for your indulgence.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tossing Hay

A couple of days ago I mentioned a process in which hay bales
are thrown from the bailing machine to a trailer that follows behind. I also said I'd post a photo when I had one, so here it is. If you look closely, just above the trailer you'll see a bale about to land.

(Photo by the author)

Nobody's Perfect

Cranberry Walnut Bran Muffins

It's an Oklahoma! kind of Oh, What A Beautiful Morning: warm, the sun on the hayfield, and so quiet you can almost hear the chokecherries growing in the yard. It's the kind of morning for getting out the muffin tin and that's just what I did. Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup non-fat milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup quick oats
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 stick of butter (I use Smart Balance half and half)
2 teaspoons baking powder
About a half cap full of maple extract (I use the house brand from Whole Foods)

Mix it all together and bake for 20-25 minutes and you've got a breakfast treat right out of New England. I've tried it without the extract and honestly, it's a little bland for my taste. I like maple and the syrup isn't quite enough on its own. Besides, the extract results in the whole kitchen smelling like home.

It's the sort of recipe a guy would throw together. No fancy do this first or that last, just dump the ingredients in a pan and get busy with a wooden spoon. I do have to admit to one culinary indulgence, though. Instead of a wooden spoon, I use one of those flexible, heavy plastic spatulas from Williams-Sonoma. I guess nobody's perfect (smile).

(Image by Queen Roly via Flickr)
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Morning Hot Dog

My dog knows how to turn up the heat, and I don't mean the thermostat, though I wouldn't put it past him. You see, I was sleeping very comfortably this morning when I was awakened, not rudely, but awakened nonetheless by the awareness that I was sweating. Now, as a fairly soon-to-be doctor, when this kind of thing happens, I've learned to run the gamut of what's called ROS or review of systems.

Let's see, I'm having night sweats. Am I having difficulty breathing? What about wheezing? Do I have unexplained cough? Wait a minute: I live in Maine, it's summer, the hay is freshly cut, the windows are open most of the time and it's dusty -- I should have a cough. Nothing unexplained about that. So, if I'm not sick, then why do I feel like I'm laying in a sauna?

At this point, my mental rheostat is finally turned up completely and all the "lights" are on. It's the dog (groan). 80 pounds of Yellow Labrador Retriever laying stem to stern against me and cranking out more BTUs than a blast furnace. Nose at my toes, tail at my chin, happy as a clam and out cold. I was, too, but not anymore.

What to do? I considered turning over but he'd pushed me so close to the edge of the bed any turning meant falling, so that was no good. I'll just go back to sleep, I thought. Uh huh. Two roasting seconds later, I gave in to checking the clock -- five thirty. An hour earlier than planned and two hours earlier than I'd hoped for. So, thanks to you-know-who, here I am. Now, where's he, you're wondering? Ensconced at my feet like a loyal pal? Nope.

He's still in bed. Naturally.

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Friday, July 17, 2009


It's been the oddest summer. For 21 days April showers drenched June and the stream behind my house took to imagining it was a river with rapids and a muffled roar. It's the middle of July and I'm still not certain whether the earth's revolution around the sun has gotten stuck at the Vernal Equinox.

Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, drawing by E.W.

The idea of being stuck comes up a lot in therapy. You're in a situation where moving one way is as complicated or hazardous as moving the other. At first you struggle, attempting to loosen whatever is hanging onto you and then it seems the harder you try, the more stuck you get. It's like Br'r Rabbit in Song of the South: first one paw, then another, and finally all four are in the grip of Tar Baby.

Getting unstuck is harder than it looks. For one thing, there's learned helplessness to contend with. You start out capable and independent but over time the nature of the situation takes over and even breathing seems to take an effort.

Those of us on the outside want to jump up and down, shouting, "Do something, anything!!" But on the inside, there seems like nothing you can do. At times like this, struggle may not be the best thing. Maybe we're better off waiting for the noon sun to soften Tar Baby so that, one by one, we can pull our paws free. I don't know for sure, I'm just thinking out loud this morning.

(Image from

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Haying Season

We used to do it the hard way. While a truck was driven along rows of freshly bailed hay, we'd walk alongside, picking up the bales and throwing them by hand to a partner who stacked them in the truck bed. It was back-breaking work, and though it's been years, I think I still have sore muscles to prove it.

Things are different now. Someone was finally sufficiently inventive to develop a machine that not only generates a hay bale, but throws it onto a trailer that follows behind. It's really something to see, especially if you grew up in the country or you love the country life. If I can obtain a photo of this process in the next couple of weeks I'll post it for you. In the meantime, I've included one of my hayfield and the equipment. The trailer I mentioned is the one that looks like a cage on wheels.

Mid-July is the first cutting, as it's called, in Southern Maine, and we'll get two before the snow flies. Down South, where there's a much longer growing season, they'll get three or four. In the high mountain valleys of Colorado, the second cutting can literally be cut short by early snowfall.

A few years ago a band called The Byrds had a hit song, Turn, Turn, Turn that you may have encountered on a classic rock station. It's about times and seasons, waiting and watching, knowing when to move and when to stand still. Learning to wait and follow the lead of another can guzzle patience faster than a Hummer guzzles gas (no offense to Hummer lovers), but the change we undergo, becoming a person who can appreciate the process of life in someone else, is worth every drop.

(Image by the author)
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Stag in the Woods

LONDON - OCTOBER 11:  A red stag stands in the...
I was walking towards the sunrise, the early morning light through the trees a background ahead of me, when a stag appeared out of the woods on the left. He crossed in front of me nearly close enough to touch, stopped and looked me in the eye. Overcome with awe and wonder, I thought I must get my camera so I could share this moment with you.

And then I woke up.

I'm no expert on dream imagery -- C. G. Jung said the dreamer is the best interpreter because, after all, it's their dream. That said, my only impression was, this reminds me of Harry Potter's patronus. So, what does J. K. Rowling say? Well, Harry first mistook the patronus as sent by his father to save him and Sirius Black from the dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Later, we discover Harry has sent the patronus himself in a kind of time warp. If you haven't read the book or seen the film then I've lost you already -- but keep reading while I'll try to fix this.

For Harry, the stag (the form taken by his patronus) represents both his late father and himself as a maturing wizard. His yearning to know and experience his father is expressed in a rescue fantasy that comes to fulfillment in his own actions. The one past, the other present, both together. Father and son meet in the instant Harry raises his wand.

One writer suggests the stag is an image of self-renewal, establishing territory, becoming one's truest self. Whatever it means, it's a process in which we're all engaged, every day. Transforming who we are into what we wish to become, being the best we can be for those we love as well as those we've yet to love. Those whom we know and those who remain a mystery as surely as the stag who entered my dreams all-too-early yesterday morning.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Opposites Attract?

Opposites Attract

They say opposites attract, and as an example, I mentioned in yesterday's post that compulsives often pair up with free spirits. The reason is, each one represents something lacking in the other.

Deep down, compulsives yearn for freedom while free spirits desire discipline. We discover this by asking about their fantasies. Mr. Cast My Fate to the Wind would like to be a military commander while Ms. CPA in Spades wants to live on a beach and surf all day.

But these are fantasies, and they'd never really allow themselves to do either one. "The military's too confining for my taste," says he, and "Oh, I couldn't be that irresponsible," says she. So, by finding one another, they bring both discipline and freedom to the relationship. In an ideal world, that is.

Eventually, one thing wears on another. She grows weary of his lack of ambition and he of her constant nagging. If they don't kill each other first (figuratively speaking), maybe in thirty years or so they'll figure out how to accept each other. Then again, maybe not.

Not all relationships are meant to last and some even have a natural time line. For whatever reasons a couple come together, they arrive at a point where the lessons are learned, and all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put back into the relationship what may never have been there to begin with. Accepting that is often just as difficult as accepting a person for who they are.

"But, but, but...aren't we supposed to work at relationships?" s/he asks. Work, yes, force, no. It's a fine line sometimes, and tricky to walk. Mr. I Have to Have Everything in Order may love Ms. Leaves Her Socks on the Floor, but he needs to be able to articulate why, and "she needs fixing" isn't the answer. It's reasonable to ask whether loving for the sake of repair is love at all.

A friend of mine in graduate school once told me, "Beggar, you need a woman who loves you when your poop stinks." He used another word for "poop" that I won't print here, but you get the idea. If we can love and be loved when our faults, failures, and foul-ups are stinking to high heaven (as mine have on more than one occasion), then maybe, just maybe, we're finally starting to get it right.

(Image by deep shot via Flickr)

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Anal Retention is Showing

John Denver's Greatest Hits album cover

Looking in the mirror this morning I had a terrible realization. I'm never going to be one of those "not a hair out of place" kind of people. Not that this has been an ambition or anything, but the obvious is obvious. It doesn't matter how well I brush, comb, or pat, by the time I get wherever I'm going, I look like a caricature of John Denver (without the hat). I guess I should just thank God I'm a country boy and call it good.

There are those, however, who manage to keep their hair -- and everything else, it seems -- in place. Their clothes are never wrinkled, their desk never messy, and their homes look like a showcase for an architecture magazine. They are meticulous, always on time, and drive the rest of us crazy. What's up with that?

Some call it perfectionism and others would say, "S/he's a neat freak." Wilhelm Reich describes it as compulsiveness. For the record, we're not talking about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- people with OCD are inhibited by their repetitive behaviors and frequently miserable. The compulsive, on the other hand, is generally happy with the way they are and thinks the world would be a better place if everyone was a little "neater." I know, you almost have to be anal-retentive to figure all this out.

Well, the compulsive is driven -- it's like a compulsion -- to be detail-oriented, organized, in control, and not too emotional. It's probably no mystery that they attract mates who are prone to be free spirits -- or scatter-brained, depending on who's talking. Anyhow, someone has to do the feeling in a relationship and it's not going to be the compulsive, if they have anything to say about it. Emotions are too unpredictable and compulsives like predictability. Me, I like surprises.

So, forget my hair, anyone who has seen my desk knows I got short-changed when compulsiveness was handed out. The same is true for being on time, much to at least one professor's chagrin. I do have this thing about straightening crooked pictures, though -- oops, my anal retention is showing.

(Album cover copyright 1973 by RCA records; Thank God I'm a Country Boy lyrics by John Martin Sommers;
Image via Wikipedia)

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Viral Aftermath

There is a wonderful line spoken by the character, Roy Hobbes (Robert Redford), in the film The Natural: "Some mistakes, I guess, we never stop paying for." Although my recent encounter with a computer virus was not anything as painful as what Roy Hobbes describes, it nevertheless resulted in me spending the day reformatting my computer.

It turns out, computer viruses are like some of the human variety, and have the ability to rename themselves and masquerade as a normal computer function. As a result, virus software can't identify it as a virus. In humans, the idea is for the virus to elude our immune system. Same difference.

The problem is, once the virus has succeeded in fooling the antivirus software, it's free to do all kinds of nasty hings to an operating system. In the case of mine, the screen froze every five minutes. And I discovered this, naturally, just as I was sitting down this morning to write. Timing, you know?

Anyhow, all's well that end's well, and this little note is to let you know I'll be back at work tomorrow morning with something I hope is worth reading. In the meantime, take a hint from me, if you get an .exe file from an unknown source or one you aren't expecting, take the time to verify that you were supposed to get it in the first place, and don't click on it until you do. It sure can save a lot of time in the long run. Have a good night!

(The Natural, written by Roger Towne, TriStar Pictures)
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Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Great Man-Cat-Mouse Adventure

Cat and mouse

It started out, quite literally, as a game of cat and mouse. It ended up a case of male bonding. Oh, I haven't told you about my cat, have I? Sorry about that. You already know the dog -- he selects the driver's seat whenever he can beat me to it. Well, the cat is the dog's best buddy and a mouse's worst nightmare. This morning, around four thirty, the nightmare was loose in the kitchen.

Sounds of shuffling, banging, and well, pouncing, roused me from sleep, so naturally, I went to investigate. The cat took one look at me and dashed for the bedroom -- he doesn't usually do this, I thought. When I caught up with him I discovered he had a mouse in his mouth. "Put it down," I commanded sleepily, and he did. Carpe diem, the mouse must have thought, because he promptly ran off. So began the Great Man-Cat-Mouse Adventure aka Morning Male Bonding.

First, the mouse dove behind the dresser, so I moved it, and the cat followed. Then the little guy (or gal, I have no way of knowing which) raced past us both, behind the door, out into the hall, and then back into the kitchen -- the cat on his tail and me on the cat's. From there, it was under the love seat, around the dog food, over the recycling, around the trash can, back under the love seat, followed by a maddening sprint to the other side of the room. All the while, I'm coaching (like I'm an expert), "Over here, he's over here -- look!" The cat, no doubt, thinking, "Will you please shut up? I used to do this for a living, remember?"

At this point the dog decided to enter the fray and while quickly escorting him to the bedroom I couldn't help but wonder who would show up next. The Ringling Brothers?

Back in the kitchen, the mouse either became suddenly cleverer or simply desperate, because he slipped under the refrigerator. With the cat pacing back and forth along the base, I proceeded to try to move it. No, I didn't throw my back out -- that would have been a sight. But the fridge is in a cubby hole and there's not really any way to slide it, especially when it's full, and especially not at 4:30 AM, and certainly not enough to allow the chase to continue.

So, I sat down on the love seat and the cat and I commiserated (male bonding time). "I guess there's not a lot I can do," I said, "it's up to you now." Clearly pondering his options, he continued pacing back and forth, then stopped and stared at the base of the fridge, growled, and walked over and rubbed my leg. Not quite the high five I expected, it was more like "that'll do, Pig."

And the mouse? As far as I know, he made good his escape. This time.

Image via Wikipedia)
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Late Night Virus

I was up late last night -- actually, it was more like way early this morning. I'd opened an .exe file and managed to infect my computer with a virus (my bad). More than one, it turns out. So, there I was, running Microsoft's malicious software program, MacAfee, Spybot, Windows Defender, and anything else just short of using a shovel. And if that had helped, I'd have headed to the barn for the biggest one I could find.

Throughout this whole process of reclaiming my computer my browser opened periodically, seemingly of its own accord, with porn pop-ups. That was disturbing but also enlightening. My guess is, hackers presume they can distract us with sex long enough for them to do their business.

Psychologically speaking, that's pretty smart. Instead of appealing to Freud's Super-Ego (the conscience) they target the Id (pleasure principle). There's probably not much to be gained by inserting pop-ups containing the sayings of Confucious. But the Id isn't so discriminating; it likes what feels good. Marketing hones in on the Id all the time. Consider the ads for Victoria's Secret -- need I say more?

I'm not trying to be moralistic here, all I'm saying is, hackers know what they're doing when they use sex. So, where does the Ego come in? The Ego evaluates information and determines a course of action. All this assumes, by the way, that we follow Freud and this morning, it seemed like a good literary device. Anyway, the ego notices what's on the screen, mutters an explicative at the "low-down, no good, dirty polecat" (as they say in Texas) who hacked into my computer, and then summarily pulls the internet access plug.

(Image via Wikipedia)
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Never Too Late

Kt's University of New England med school inte...

"So, what's a nice boy from Colorado doing in Maine?" she asked. That's how the conversation started. I explained I'd come here to attend medical school but she persisted, "Still, why Maine?" And that is the rest of the story.

Since I tend to be slightly older than the typical medical school applicant (I won't tell my age but then again, I won't ask for yours, either -- fair enough?), locating a school that was interested in my peculiar qualifications wasn't easy. Fortunately, I'd been encouraged to apply to an Osteopathic College in Maine by doctors and nurses I'd worked with in Boston. Turns out, it was like being fixed up for a date by friends who know both you and the girl; they can see a good match in the making. As is often the case, they were right, and so here I am.

"But surely," she said, "there must have been schools closer to home." And, of course, that's true. But finding one that looks at the older individual and sees a doctor in disguise is not a matter of geography. It's the character of the school that makes the difference and I've been blessed with one with that has the character to say, "better late than never."

That's tremendously important. Depending on what's at stake, the words too late may mean very little or they may break a heart. When you're talking about your life, the person you are, and the one you hope to become -- well, you see what I mean. According to the songwriter, "it's never too late to shoot for the stars, regardless of who you are." For me, this spot on the southern coast of Maine is the place where reaching begins, where even the sky imposes no limits.

(If Today Was Your Last Day by Nickelback)

(Photo of University of New England, Alfond Building, Biddeford ME by Farm3, license unknown, via Zemanta)

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Grief and Loss: "Signs" and "Knowing"

rouletteImage by jasonsewell via Flickr

I've never played roulette. Truth be told, the closest I've come to the inside of a casino is a James Bond movie. Well, we could also include Oceans Eleven. I'm bringing this up because, in the films Signs and Knowing, the lead character (Mel Gibson and Nicholas Cage, respectively), determines at some point that life is kind of like existential roulette. People get lucky or they don't.

As the stories unfold, Gibson and Cage have lost their wives in auto accidents and neither one is handling his grief well. Gibson has left the ministry and withdrawn to his farm; Cage is drinking. Each has made up his mind that life is more or less the result of random events and neither is very happy about it. It's not that they've thought through the arguments and arrived at a conclusion -- this isn't about philosophy. Their wives have died unexpectedly, they felt helpless to do anything about it, and they're just plain angry.

Grief makes everyone angry -- or rather, everyone gets angry when they're grieving. Angry at themselves, angry over the circumstances, angry at whoever has died (or left, if that's the case), angry at God, or anyone who happens to be in the way. It's partly how we cope.

What I like about these two films is the manner in which resolution is depicted. There's nothing miraculous; no bright light, no heavenly choir, no overt sentimentality telling us they're going to be fine. Instead, each character is drawn out of his private hell by circumstances that lead him to rely on those he loves (who, incidentally also grieve to some extent). For whatever reason, both characters had been keeping their grief to themselves and it was killing the hope out of them. By sharing it, they found the resources to face life and whatever comes along with it. It's a good message, one well worth taking to heart.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Scripting Life

Have you ever noticed how great actors do not always a great movie make? I recently rented The Code with Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas fully expecting to be thoroughly entertained. I turned it off after thirty minutes, wondering why I'd given it more than three. Lousy is scarcely the word.

The story is poorly developed and the writing reflects it. If a script is badly written, guess what happens to the acting? I'm kind of on a rant about this lately because, for me, good writing makes a story real and I'm a sucker for real. Yes, it's true I love
fantasy, but I like my fantasy to be as realistic as possible. That's why I love Treasure Planet: it's believable.

As a kid, I was the one who went to the movies and the next day got his friends together, told them the story line, gave each one his part, and then "directed" our play to recreate the film. We all had fun and, sure, we had to make a few thin

Typewriter Image via Wikipedia
gs up as we went -- it was play after all -- but I tried to keep us true to the story itself. And whenever possible, things had to seem real.
"The only certainty in life," my father used to joke, "is death and taxes -- especially in April." If for no other reason than that, getting our life story "down on paper and right the first time," is not something to mess around with.

Not onl
y what we say, but how we say it, the set decorations and directing -- all of the things we take for granted because we're busy getting by, take on new significance. A psychoanalyst friend of mine has reminded me, "Life isn't a rehearsal. It's up to you to envision the kind of life you want and then get busy writing it." That's sound advice for anyone. See you at the "typewriter."
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Treasure Planet

Treasure PlanetImage via Wikipedia
Thank God for Walt Disney. And not just because of Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofey, Mickey Mouse, and Disneyland. I mean Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and my very favorite, Treasure Planet. I'm an adult and I love children's movies. Go figure.

I guess it stems from being delighted with wonder. I love animals that talk, places I've only seen in my imagination, and the spirit of adventure. Even older films like Swiss Family Robinson and the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth (20th Century Fox) still captivate me.

Treasure Planet is essentially a rewriting of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island for a generation raised on Star Wars. Instead of a square rigger on the high seas, we have the solar powered RLS Legacy (also a square rigger) that blasts across interstellar space. It sounds fantastic, but it works and you quickly find yourself drawn into a world you wish was real.

Treasure Planet is not just about adventure, though there's plenty of that. The film also develops deeper themes involving loss, the importance of unlikely role models, and the redemptive power of love. The hero, a teenage Jim Hawkins, is raised by a single mother, his father having abandoned them both years before. In a retrospective scene, we actually see his father leave and the impact on Jim is neither hidden nor sugar-coated. Not syrupy sentimentality, this is high-level stuff for an animated film and it involves some seriously good writing.

Treasure Planet is exciting, touching, funny, the soundtrack is great, and I can't tell you how many times I've seen it -- mainly because I've lost count. Watch it on a Saturday evening when you're sick of visionless films that substitute special effects, violence, and sex, for an intelligent story line. Put it on your Netflix account, especially the next time you want to feel like a kid again -- you'll be glad you did.

(Netflix is a registered trademark; Treasure Planet poster believed to be copyright by the Walt Disney Corporation)

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The Arms of Another's Eyes

It was foggy on the hayfield this morning (photo) and chilly in the house. So chilly, in fact, that the furnace came on just as I was getting up. There was the slightest whisp of cloud rising from the field, as though it wanted to brush the tree tops before the sun drove it away. "If I could just get a little closer..."

There are times when we're like that whisp of cloud, trying to reach for something higher, something that lies at the very edge of the daily details of life, beyond which could be anything. Karl Rahner called it yearning for the transcendent, the desire to experience mystery in the mileau of the moment. That ineffable something that brings us closer to what life is all about.

I think of my friend driving along the coast, racing to meet the sunrise and whatever awaits in her first patient of the day. The unknown incarnate in the face of the farmer or teacher or a child. "Comin' down the world turns over," sings John Rzeznik. Face to face we greet a turning world, the earth in microcosm.

We want to know, does it make sense in the end, is there a reason, can we explain it to our children, to ourselves. And so, we rise every morning in hope, anticipating we'll seek if not find, question if not answer, embrace and be embraced, held by the arms of another's eyes.

( Black Balloon by The Goo Goo Dolls)

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Matt Dillon and the Other Guys

I awoke this morning to something I've been missing lately: sunshine, the sky's full of it. You can't ever quite be sure who the sun's going to give its heart to. Maybe it's you one day and someone else the next. I guess it's fickle and that bugs me. I'd like a little more consistency, if I may.

It kind of reminds me of a girl I used to know. You never really knew where you stood with her because she had a new boyfriend every week. Cute as can be, she had guys stacked up like Pringle's potato chips. Of course, I wanted to be one of them, but I never quite fit. You know Pringle's: each chip is exactly alike, and I was dumb enough to think she might like something a little different.

Well, lately, the sun has seemed just like her, interested in anyone but me. True, it's dropped by a time or two to flirt but I'm getting wise: flirting isn't a relationship and there's always someone else in the wings. About the girl, I used to fantasize I could be like Matt Dillon in the opening scene of the classic television series, Gunsmoke.
GunsmokeImage via Wikipedia
The music comes up, tension builds, Matt draws and blamo!, down goes another bad guy. I'd "ride off into the sunset" with the girl while all the other guys stood around, scratching their heads, and wondering how I pulled it off. Sigh, it's tough being a teenager in love, isn't it?
I don't begrudge anyone catching their share of vitamin D (that's the one we get from sunlight), but I'd like to have a crack at getting mine as well. True, with all the rain I don't have to worry about watering my lawn or having dry timber behind my house, but this business of, "Sorry, I'm seeing someone else this week," is for the birds.

(Pringle's is a registered servicemark)

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