Twisting words

My sister got mad at me many times, but sometime in the last year of her life she said that I’d “twisted her words”. I don’t know if it was on email or on the phone, but I felt hurt. I do take people’s words seriously, I do look them over carefully, I do ask questions about what they say. The memory training as a small child, to memorize all the verses of songs, means that I have an excellent word memory. Combine that with the medical training, where you have to present an entire patient history from memory: chief complaint, history of present illness, past medical history, social history, medications, family history, physical exam, labs, xrays, specialist opinions, assessment and plan. One boyfriend complained that I would remember what he said and ask questions a week later. He’d say, “I don’t remember what I said.” But I remembered and had thought about it. It’s hard to discuss if only one of us remembers….

After my sister died, her husband got mad at me and was yelling at me on the phone about my niece. I said I would talk to my niece’s father. My brother in law continued to yell and said that I “twisted his words.” Oh.

Later an old family friend, who has known me since birth and was a huge and kind support to my sister, practically a second parent, got mad at me. He said that I “twisted his words.” I felt grim.

Then my cousin disagreed with me. We were disagreeing by email. She cut me off, saying that I “twisted her words”.

No one not intimately connected with my sister has ever said that I twist words.

So this has been hurting and now my sufi reading led me to go close to the place that hurts. Say yes.

Yes, I twist words. Words and books and songs and music were my safe place in a scary childhood. That is where I went to hide myself. I would play in mansions and palaces and forests and space stations of words. I feel safest in the real woods and sleeping in a tent…. people are what I fear most, that they will hurt me. But I say yes to twisting words: I twist them, I knit them, I paint with them, I play with them, I find joy in them, I misspell them on purpose, I adored Walt Kelley, Edward Lear, Robert Burns, Don Marquis, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, nonsense poems. Both of my grandfathers loved nonsense poetry and scurrilous poetry and they both memorized it. My father would read the Book of Practical Cats to us, and when I was little he would read Chaucer in Old English. I just threw away his note cards on Old English from college, though I wish I’d mailed them to Princeton. Never mind, I still have 20-30 boxes of my parents’ paper. I am sure that there is something that I can mail to Princeton. They, after all, are still sending him mail at my house. I memorized poetry that my father would quote and then in school, anything that I liked. “What a queer bird the frog are….”

What a queer bird, the frog are
When he sit he stand (almost)
When he walk he fly (almost)
When he talk he cry (almost)
He ain’t got no sense, hardly
He ain’t got no tail, neither, hardly
He sit on what he ain’t got hardly

I loved that poem and copied it laboriously and took it home. That is the first poem that I remember finding on my own out in the wide world, not from my parents.

I twist words. Not with malice, but with play. And that was why it hurt, my sister’s saying that I twisted words with meanness. I can let that go now. If another person who knew her says that I twist words, I can say, “Yes. I love words. I love to play with them,” and if they are angry, I can let them go…..

Let them go…..

Round of “What a queer bird”

Passenger Let her go

Lammily doll

Barbie has competition this Christmas.

Nickolay Lamm took measurements of the average American 19 year old female off the CDC website, made a 3D model and then dressed her like a Barbie.

The images went viral and he used crowdfunding to fund making the dolls, which will hit the stores for 24.99. Right now my QFC grocery store has a small pile of Christmas offerings, including a Barbie dressed in pink, all gussied up for breast cancer treatment fundraising. My sister, who died of breast cancer in 2012,  was hugely frustrated that most of the breast cancer money goes to treatment and not prevention, so I haven’t bought one. But the Barbie costs $19.99, so 24.99 is reasonable.

And second graders like her. A video of children at a private school responding to the doll shows them saying that she looks like a family member and that she looks real. Her hair is softer than Barbie’s too, judging by the video. I wondered why a private school was used, but perhaps it’s about permission. Or something.

It is interesting that Mr. Lamm talks about average being beautiful. “She is fit, strong and wears minimal makeup. She promotes a healthy lifestyle.” We could argue lots about Big Brother pushing everyone to be average, but I like the message that the average body is fine and can have fun and can be a doll. Barbie is impossible, everyone knows that. I cut out the article from the AARP magazine about Barbie turning 50. It contains a very interesting list of when the doll got to do different jobs. Teacher, nurse, doctor, multiracial, Army Barbie, astronaut….. It made me feel better about Barbie: her body is ludicrous but she has quietly moved into different careers over the years. It made me proud of her.

There have been other attempts to create a more realistic doll than Barbie… I have one of the Get Real Girls, the camper. She has a back pack, a sleeping bag, a camp stove, a GPS, socks and hiking boots, shorts and a t-shirt. I like her but she is still not the average American female. She’s more privileged. We had the basketball one too but apparently the evil introverted thinker and extroverted feeler blew up a lot of dolls with firecrackers one Fourth of July….. only the camper has survived. She was mine. Also the Barbie twin babies, now orphans, and quite a lot of pink furniture.

The male dolls, that is, action figures, got blown up too. If Lammily is successful, will we have a male average doll? I will bet that that takes longer. I have enjoyed the action figures such as the librarian action figure and the Sigmund Freud action figure. For his graduation from nursing school, I got my Ex a male nurse action figure. He thought the doll was ridiculously great.

And me? I want a Lammily doll for Christmas. No, really. When Demi Moore appeared very pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, I went to buy one. I wondered why I wanted one, until the man at the checkout spoke up: “Women shouldn’t be seen like that.”

“Like what?” I said.



“Yeah. They should stay inside. They shouldn’t be seen like that.”

Oh. That’s why I wanted to buy it. Images of women pregnant and a beautiful woman pregnant are evil. I still have it, that evil magazine…..

Mr. Lamm:
Get Real Girl:
Get Real Girl Nini:

Barbie turns 50:

Librarian action figure:

Sigmund Freud action figure:

male nurse action figure:

first published on everything2 this morning.

The Path to Wonderland

I thought I’d learned that lesson
But no
The Beloved
Knew I had not
Hadn’t really faced it
Some small piece
Still wanted to depend
On someone else

Still fused.
Still thinking that you
Who know me so well
Would hear when I say please
I really need you to call
You say I will
I wait by the phone
You don’t call

I feel hurt
Anyone would
But my heart doesn’t stay broken
I survive
It happens again
And again
Until it occurs to me
That I’ve been reading Rumi
That we are each entirely part
Of the Beloved
And yet I’ve been fused to needing you
I don’t need you

I love you
I’m not used to not needing you
But I will be soon


How funny that the traditional positions are reversed

you to be the homebody
while I go out to fight

I am still struggling with what you have chosen

say yes to everything

because so much of the time you don’t answer

I take that as a brush off, you know
you don’t want to hear it
you don’t want to discuss it

you have your interests

I am interested in everything

but particularly people
what makes them tick

and discrimination
which makes me want to wade in
with my sword
and carve people into mincemeat

perhaps I am to learn patience from you

perhaps this is a respite

perhaps this is a safe place to retreat

you have been fighting for a long time
I am glad that you have laid down your sword
and are finding rest

though sometimes I think you are missing things
withdrawn from the present world

I see that you seem happy in the past

I am trying to accept that

meanwhile, I am well enough

to pick my sword back up

and wade in.

The Cult of the Collective Unconscious

My motto is “We are the fever dreams of the collective unconscious”.

I often write things, especially poems, that seem to come from my unconscious. I sit and look at it and wish that I felt what the poem says I feel. Forgiveness, for example.

In my first year of medical school, I started falling asleep. We were in the same auditorium for up to eight hours a day, five days a week. Thank the Beloved for laboratory but sometimes there was nothing to dissect or stare at while I fell asleep against the microscope. Sometimes it was a fifty minute lecturer, talking fast as hell, slides so it was dark, windows only in the black and the shades never raised once all year. There was peer pressure not to ask questions, as then the lecturer would go over fifty minutes. The floor was tilted, so if we heard the clink of a can falling over, we automatically jerked our back packs off the floor, because a tide of some nasty soda would roll down. Or coffee. This was in the dark ages when energy drinks had not been invented.

We went to the bathroom in herds during the ten minute breaks. We sat in the same seats, mostly, through the year. The second year we moved up one floor and sat in the same seats. The whole thing resembled everything I’d read about cults. “I’m joining a cult.” I thought. “This is brain washing, just like cults do.” Since I was raised suspicious, I watched for signs of cultdom all through it. I had gone to college a year late, because of my exchange student year, and I had worked for five years before going to medical school. i had worked at seven jobs by then, the most recent being two years as a laboratory technician at the National Institutes of Health in the National Cancer Institute under Steve Rosenberg, MD. He had camera crews following him around and coming in to the lab. The NIH Building Ten  was a weird place. We had mice and rats on the North/South halls and human patients on the East/West. Try it in the mice and move on to the humans. It was continually overcrowded and the doctoral fellows fought with the medical fellows over inches of laboratory space. The hematology/oncology fellows usually won. When they showed me around the “old” hospital at the Medical College of Virginia, it did not look old compared to NIH, which was always undergoing construction. Most of the time NIH had warnings not to drink the water, because some lab was being torn down and revamped. The Medical College of Virginia looked pretty cush to me.

I started falling asleep in the medical cult lectures. I would fall asleep at 40 minutes in to the lecture. My copious notes, which I mostly didn’t reread, would trail down the page. I drank coffee at every break. I tried standing against the wall, fell asleep, and woke up sliding down sideways. My stomach hurt. I thought that falling asleep standing up in a lecture would be a stupid way to break my arm, so I said, fuck it. I’ll just go to sleep. I quit the coffee and quit caffeine, except for chocolate. My stomach felt better.

And I went to sleep for ten minutes in every lecture for most of the two years.

When we are asleep, the Jungians think our unconscious is connected to the conscious. Actually they talk about the collective unconscious, that is, that the unconscious is all one….  I access yours when I am asleep. Heh, heh. Now, don’t get all paranoid.

So this falling asleep ought to make me an awful doctor. I missed 1/5 of every lecture….   or maybe I didn’t. Maybe 1/5 of every lecture is in the collective unconscious and maybe I can access that. When I write the mystery order that I don’t write an explanation for and the next day it has solved the medical mystery, that might be my unconscious. And yours. And everyones’. What a delightful idea and what a useful talent. I can’t reach the infectious disease physician at UW, so let’s see, switch brain over to unconscious, it can access the infectious disease doctor and his colleagues anywhere on the planet, and write those orders. When my conscious brain objects, tell it to shut up, it won’t hurt the patient, just don’t worry your pretty little head over it…….

And then the multiple doctors who have been telling me that I “should not be taking care of myself” during my recent illness look a bit silly, don’t they? I told the last one that said that, “I’ve contacted eighteen doctors in the last 3 weeks and only two offered appointments and I’m scheduled August 5th, so I think I’ve tried damn hard to find someone to help. If no one will help, then I damn sure will take care of myself.” He was a little shashmushed, as my grandmother would say. I’m sure it’s misspelled, but it’s a Turkish word meaning sheepish and embarrassed and “I’ll shut up and think about that now.” A useful word.

I think it would be very helpful for humanity to learn to access the collective unconscious. How could we fight wars if we could access how the other person thinks and feels and they are us and we are them and we are all one? I think it is a good idea. There, I’m starting my own damn cult. And it is going to be really fun, so you should jump on the bandwagon now, come one, come all, no one excluded, no one discriminated against. The cult of the collective unconscious. Join it. Now.

this essay was rejected by JAMA though I can’t imagine why……

the problem with angels

the problem with angels

the problem with angels
is that they aren’t grey

nor do they have color

they are black
or white

sort of boring, really

pick one side
good or evil
night or day
male or female

I would rather be fluid

I want to be able to transform

liquid to solid
solid to gas
gas to solid
gas to liquid

flow around things

seep into the earth

always always
return to the sea

keep your wings

project black or white
as you choose
on me

while I flick water at you
and go for a swim

also published on everything2 today

Painting Angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire.
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots for fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

written January 19, 2002