DMV

I really did not want a tour of the DMV.

I arrive early, just as they open the doors, and there is already a line. We file in, each taking a paper number. The people in front go straight up to the desks. One window processes two people in only ten minutes each and then promptly puts up a closed sign. I guess it’s exhausting, working so fast.

Everyone waiting looks strained or sullen or stressed at the DMV. Shoulders hunched, heads down, the ones in power suits on their phones, but the phones keep cutting off in the DMV. Some sort of special shielding, I would bet.

I have number 17 and get to go to a window after 2 hours.

The clerk smiles at me. She is pale, pale, but has horns and pitch black wings, no feathers, like a bat.

“Unitarian!” she says, grinning.

“Um,” I say, eyeing the wings.

She looks wicked and then her wings are classic white feathered. She is browner and well, I’d guess Filipino. “Worried?” she says.

“No.” I say. “Tired. Sad. Curious.”

“What would you prefer to see?” she says and morphs. Now she has one bat wing that changes to black feathers then through rainbow feathers, to the snowy white feathers on the other side. Her skin tone is very dark on her right hand and then lighter across to pale with red freckles on her left hand.

“Nice.” I say.

“Which heaven would you like?”

“Unitarians do not believe in hell. Send me back.”

“You just got here. Violently and by surprise.” she wrinkles her nose. “Riots again. Sorry about that. We have opened a Unitarian space.”

“No. Send me back.”

She sighs and pulls down a heavy paper file. All the papers have gold edges, except for those with black. “You found your true love.”

“Yes. So what. We didn’t have time to make it work.”

“Don’t you want to wait until she dies so you can head down at the same time?”

“No. She’s only 32. And there is work to do.”

She is paging through the file. She snaps it shut. “Two week vacation. The minimum required. Go to the door on the right.”

I sigh. I want to argue but I’ve done that before. She will add on an extra week for every word I say.

My memories are intact here. Of all the lives. It’s always a bit overwhelming when I first arrive.

I go to the door on the right. A small page with grey tattered wings opens the door for me. I think it is a boy but he is wearing a Tinkerbell style tunic.

“I am your guide today.” No, it is a girl. I think. They may be able to morph that too.

We go in the door. My guide is shedding feathers, one every few steps. I pick one up. “Sorry.” she says. “Puberty. So, where do you want to spend your two weeks?” We are in a half circle shape hall, with hallways branching off. The hallways have no end that I can see and there are open doors all along them.

“I just want to go back.”

She pats my arm absently. “Oh, yes, they told me. You have to take breaks. You are wonderful, though, we love you.” She is leading me to one of the halls towards the left. We go past two doors and to the third. “See?” she says. “Unitarians. Of course, they can come in and out and go in all the others and argue with everyone. We wouldn’t want them to get bored.”

The room is empty at the moment. “And I guess they are all in other places!” The room across the hall seems to be a classic hell, with demons and pitchforks and a grim rocky landscape with pits of burning tar. I can see a dinosaur caught in tar, and a really huge crowd of people. There is a lot of screaming.

“Some people insist.” says my guide. “Where to next? Evangelical? Valhalla is rather fun for males and certain females, we’ve got fluffy clouds and harps, or are you more interested in touring Asian, African, Australian? We do have paleolithic sites and many people are interested in Egyptian themes. The cliff dwellers interest many as well. “

“Atheist.”

She frowns. “Of course, but that room shuts down consciousness and you have to have two weeks of consciousness before you can go back.” She is leading me back into the central half hall.

“Ok,” I say, giving in. “I am not trying to be difficult, you know.”

“Yes, and everyone told me correctly that you are difficult. All the ones that go back over and over are difficult. And there are more every year.”

“Take me somewhere new, ok?” I am looking now at the frieze over the door that will take me back. Two weeks. I can manage. I am resigned. The frieze is cupids and then male odalisques, then female, then leopards, and then they are cupid fauns with horns on their heads, morphing towards adulthood. Yet the carved letters stay the same:

Deus Machina Verum

and I follow my guide into another hallway to find a place for my two weeks.

_________________________

This poem inspires me to post today’s story: https://narble.blog/2021/08/17/if-there-are-no-dogs-in-heaven/

I think the hell in heaven also fits today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: scorch.

Covid-19: Emotional weather

I do not think of emotions as bad or good. None of them are bad or good. They are information, controlled by electrical impulses and hormones, evolved over millions of years (or endowed by our creator, for those who swing that way).

I don’t dismiss emotions. I listen to them.

I think of myself as an ocean. There is all sorts of stuff happening in the depths that I don’t understand. Probiotics, for example. I don’t take them. If not for penicillin, I’d be dead many times over, from strep A pneumonia twice and other infections. I don’t think we understand probiotics yet. We don’t understand the brain, either.

The emotions are the weather in my life. I don’t really control them but they don’t control my ocean, either. Some days are sunny and gorgeous and then a storm may blow up. I am afraid of hurricanes, one destroyed my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, on the outer banks. I think all the cousins still mourn that house. And I miss my grandparents too, all of them. And my parents and my one sister.

See? The weather got “bad” there for a moment, but it isn’t bad. Storms have their own beauty though we hope to batten the hatches and that not too much damage is done. Maybe there is rain, scattered showers, sun breaks, a lenticular cloud. In the Pacific Northwest on the coast, the weather can change very quickly and we have microclimates. My father lived 17 miles away, but inland from me and in a valley. It was warmer in the summer and colder in the winter.

My goal with my weather emotions is to pay attention to them, let the storms blow in and out, and try not to harm anyone else because of my weather. When my sister was in hospice, we had a sign up in my small clinic. It said that my sister was in hospice with cancer and that clinic would be cancelled at some point with little warning. Patients were kind and gentle with me. And then it was cancelled, when she died. I got cards from people. They were so kind, thank you, thank you, and I could barely take it in. My maternal family then dealt with grief by having lawsuits. I don’t think that is a good way to deal with grief, but we just see things differently. Maybe it’s the right way for them. I don’t know.

Whenever I was having internal emotional weather that stirred me up, I would tell my nurse or office manager. Because they will sense my weather and need to know what is up. I had enormous support from them during a divorce, while my partners treated me horribly. My nurses and office manager knew me and my partners didn’t. My partners distanced me as if a divorce were catching. Whatever. Their loss.

Sometimes patients sensed that I was upset. I could tell by their faces. If they didn’t ask, I would. Bring the emotions out. Reassure them that I AM grumpy but not at them. Stuff in my own life. No worries.

Sometimes clinic is about a patient’s weather. They ask if they can tell me something. Often it is prefaced by “Maybe I need an antidepressant.” or “I feel really bad.” When they tell the story, usually I would say, “I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal that you feel angry/hurt/shocked/horrified/grieved/upset.” And then I would ask about an antidepressant or a counselor and most of the time, the person would say, “Well, I don’t think I need it right now.” What they needed was to know that their weather was NORMAL and REASONABLE.

I am seeing things on Facebutt and on media saying that mental health problems and behavioral health problems are on the rise. Maybe we should reframe that. Maybe we could say, “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This weather is unprecedented in my lifetime, but as a physician who had very bad influenza pneumonia in 2003 and then read about the 1918-19 influenza, I have been expecting this. Expecting a pandemic. Expecting bad weather. This will pass eventually, we will learn to cope, be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Everyone is frightened, grieving, angry, in denial or in acceptance. The stages of grief are normal.

Hugs and prayers for all of us to endure this rough weather and help each other and ourselves..

I took the photograph in color. My program made a black and white version. It looks like the back of a stegosaurus to me, a dinosaur now living as a mountain.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: rainbow. Because sometimes the rain and sun combine to make a rainbow.

vast

Sometimes emotions are vast. I do not think our culture deals with grief very easily. Grief then becomes a vast pit, stuffed inside us. I sent the Falling Angels poems to friends and family. One older friend said that the poems were too sad and was I that sad all the time?

I replied, no, I am not sad all the time. The sadness is in the poems because there are very few people that I know that are comfortable with sadness and grief. So I put it in to poetry, because I do not want to stuff it. We need to let grief come out and let the tears flow and let it go.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: vast.

Loss

It seems to be one of my irritable days
They come rolling round in the month of May
I don’t feel friendly and don’t want to play
It seems to be one of my irritable days

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
At nothing particular. I feel really bad
I hate those damn tourists who always wear plaid
I really intensely dislike feeling sad

I haven’t felt quite this bad since last year
But I’m not one to cry. I don’t like weak tears
I’m not one to let myself feel any fears
I haven’t felt this bad for almost a year

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
I think I’ll go pick a nice fight with that lad
He looks too damn happy and just too damn glad
When I’m punching his lights out I won’t feel so sad

It seems to be one of my irritable days
Going to work on them just doesn’t pay
My boss’s revenge just goes on for days
Today it’s so bad that I can’t even pray

Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother, died May 15, 2000. I wrote this poem in the early 2000s. Her birthday was May 31, right near Memorial Day. Mother’s Day always falls near her death.

I am putting up a series of poems that I titled Falling angels, after a dream, where all the stars in the sky started falling. I was frightened and then realized that they were all angels. Then I was more frightened.

I think we need poetry and dreams and angels during this difficult time. Even if the angels are all falling.

I took the photograph of my mother. A friend loaned me his 35mm camera and I took one roll of pictures and gave the camera back to him. Almost all of the photographs I took were portraits.

Katy B.’s fruit torte

Katherine White Burling was my maternal grandmother, and this recipe is attributed to her. I still have the small three ring binder that my mother gave me when I was in high school, explaining that my sister and I had to do some of the cooking. We told her what we wanted to make and she would write the recipe in our book and help us. I wrote this recipe out in the 1970s.

preheat the oven to 350 F

cream: 1 C sugar
1/2 C butter

while the butter is softening enough to cream, cut up fruit: apples, pears, peaches, rhubarb, or use berries…

Add to the creamed butter:
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt
2 eggs

Spread in in a buttered, floured pan. Cover with chopped fruit: apples, pears, peaches. This one was local plums and blueberries.

Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice
Dot with butter on top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven.
Cook until browned a little in the part that rises around the fruit, and when a toothpick comes out clean.

I am submitting this to today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: Kaleidoscope, because the torte reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

Fuzzy Poet Doctor and the small child

I think I finally understand what I have been doing in clinic all these years. And not just in clinic. As a theory it explains both why patients, nurses, hospital staff and specialists really really like me and my fellow Family Practice doctors, particularly the males, and the administrators, really really do NOT like me.

I am on a plane flying to Michigan a few weeks ago. Double masked. N95 with another mask over it. Sigh.

A friend keeps saying that he can see into me. He can, but he can see thoughts. Not feelings. I am wondering if I see feelings. But I see the stuffed feelings particularly, the ones that people keep hidden. They are like clouds.

And then I think, oh.

I automatically scan any new person for their small child. The inner small child, who is often damaged and hidden. The small child is hidden under those stuffed feelings, which I think of as monsters. In Ride Forth, I am writing about pulling every monster feeling that I can find stuffed out and letting myself feel them. And that people do not like seeing me like that. Their monsters attack me!

Except that the monsters don’t attack. The monsters come to me and say, “Please, please, help me. I want out. The small child needs to heal.” The monsters lie their monstrous heads in my lap and weep.

Now WHY would I develop this skill? That is weird.

I develop it because my parents both drink. The myth in the family is that it was my father. But my mother’s diaries and also her stories make it clear that she drank heavily too. I think they were both alcoholics. And she told two stories about me trying to get someone to get out of bed to give me food as a toddler. As jokes. But it is not a joke. I have food insecurity. At every meal, I think of the next one and whether there is food available. My daughter has it too….. epigenetics.

I think that the only way I could love my parents was to have compassion for them. Once you see another person’s damaged small child, then how can you not feel compassion for them?

With patients I learned to be very very delicate and gentle about asking about the cloud. Just gently. Sometimes people open up on the first visit. Sometimes they shut tight like a clam and I back off. Sometimes they return the next visit or the 3rd or the 8th or after a couple years… and say, “You asked me about this.”

It’s nonverbal communication. The reason why I take the WHOLE history MYSELF at the first visit is for the nonverbal communication. When the person doesn’t want to answer a question, veers away from a topic, switches subjects: there is my cloud. That is where the hurt is. That is where the pain is.

The first cracks in the United States medical system collapse are appearing. Not doctors quitting, not nurses, but medical assistants. Here is an article about how clinics all over can’t hire medical assistants. Because there are tons of jobs, employers are offering more money, why would you do a job where you may well be exposed to covid-19 if you can do something else? And make as much money or more….

The cracks will widen. Ironically doctors are doing what I have done for the last ten years: “rooming” the patients themselves. Ha, ha, good may come out of it, after the disaster. Which is getting worse fast. If people don’t put their masks on and don’t social distance and don’t get vaccinated, I predict more deaths in the US this winter then last winter. Sigh. And in the US we will run out of medical assistants, doctors and nurses.

It is ok to gently ask a patient about that cloud. It is not polite to “see” it in a Family Medicine colleague or and administrator. I can’t “not see” it. I can’t turn it off. However, on the plane my behavior changed even before I could put all of this into words. The words are that I have to be as gentle with everyone as I am with patients.

And the trip felt so odd. I was putting this into effect before I had words. That is how my intuition works. But everyone, absolutely everyone, was kind to me on the trip. A Chicago policeman helped me in the train station and was super kind. It was weird, weird, weird, with bells on. It took me a few more days to be able to put it into words.

Problem intuited, after 60 years of study. Implementation of solution proceeds immediately. Logical brain struggling to catch up, but results satisfactory long before logical brain gets a handle on it.

Pretty weird, eh? I think so. My doctor said that an episode of Big Bang Theory could be written just by following me around for a day. I think it was both saying that I am smart AND that I have no social skills. But I have implemented the social skills program already. She’s just upset that I gave her justifiable hell two visits ago and also…. I do hide my brain. Because sometimes colleagues are jealous.

But maybe they should not be jealous. Maybe they can learn it too. Maybe I can teach. Maybe….

practicing grandmother

My sister sends me a t-shirt years ago.

It said, “I don’t know if I am the good witch or the bad witch.”

I burst into tears and put it in the trunk of my car. I never wear it. I am the designated bad witch for half my family. We won’t go into that.

She gets a shirt too. Hers is the green one. Mine is black.

She is dead, in 2012, breast cancer. It’s hard to describe the fallout. Toxic and radioactive. But… I have decided not to be a witch.

Instead, I am a practicing grandmother.

Really I’ve been one for a while. There was a young couple who lived down the street with two children. This was in 2014. I was a Facebutt friend, so sometimes noted what was happening. The father has to travel for his job. The mother is trying to care for two kids and work and so on… been there.

In 2014 I am recovering from my third round of pneumonia. This third round it takes six months before I can return to work. Short of breath and coughed if I talked. The state medical watch doctors went to disable me but I fight them tooth and nail. I win.

I wander down to the neighbor and offer my services. She already knows me. She is instantly grateful and two year old T is introduced to me, again. He doesn’t really remember me. She explains that he is coming to my house for a little while and then back home.

T and I walk towards my house.

A nuthatch calls.

I stop and reply. In college I took ornithology and the teaching assistant could do a barn owl call so well that the barn owls would do a territorial fly over at night to see who had the weird accent. Marvelous.

The nuthatch and I went “enh” back and forth. T is amazed. This woman talks to birds. Then we see the nuthatch! I point out how nuthatches come down a tree head first. “If you hear that call, it’s a nuthatch. Look for it.” The nuthatch is very cooperative. Magic.

We get to my house. T is clutching a book. “He’s taking it everywhere,” sighs his mother. “I’m not sure why.”

So first we read the book. It is a board book about a farm. Each page has a central picture and then there are pictures around the edges with the word under each picture. On one page T says, “Haaaaay.”

“Oh!” I say, delighted. “You can read HAY!”

His face lights up. An adult who gets it! Yes! He can read HAY!

On another page he says HAY. “Oh,” I say, “That is straw. Straw is a lot like hay but it’s not exactly the same.”

He is very serious absorbing that information.

I show him my closet. There is a stick horse. Only it isn’t a horse: it’s a unicorn dragon, with a forehead horn and wings. When you press a button it’s eyes flash and it roars.

Ok, that’s pretty scary. He wants the closet door closed and he does NOT want to play with the dragon.

Next is pouring. I get out a towel and put it on the kitchen floor. I get out a rather nice expresso set. Bright colors. Orange and green and yellow and blue. I fill the coffee pot with water and invite him to sit on the towel. “You can pour the tea.”

He looks at me with surprise. He picks up the coffee pot. He looks at me again. “Go ahead. It’s ok.” He starts pouring into a cup. He pours until the cup overflows and the saucer overflows and he keeps pouring. The coffee pot is empty. He looks at me a little warily. This is technically spilling and he knows it.

“Would you like more in the teapot?”

He nods.

I refill the coffee pot with water and he starts again, with a different cup.

When I return him to mom, after two hours, he’s damp. “Sorry, he got a little wet, but it’s just water,” I say cheerfully. Mom is too harried to do much more than look resigned at a change of clothes.

Next time he comes with a change of clothes and his large stroller, in case he goes down for a nap.

And first off, he goes to the closet. Time to hear that dragon roar again.

The Introverted Thinker deals with death

When my introverted thinker daughter was two and a half, we took care of her maternal grandmother at home in hospice for nearly six weeks. Her maternal grandmother died at home.

Two and a half year olds can’t process death, right?

When she was four she came to me.
“How old was grandmother when she died?”
“She was sixty-one years old.” I could anticipate the next question.
“How old are you?”
“I am forty-one.”
“When will you die?”
“I don’t know. No one knows. But, great grandmother K lived until she was 93 so I am hoping to be more like her than like grandmother H, but I don’t know. I don’t think I am going to die any time soon.”
She studied me very carefully. It felt like she was checking to be sure that I was telling her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Apparently she was satisfied, because she toddled off to do something else.

And that is how the introverted thinker processed death.

Bears all his sons away;

I wrote this story today. I am not Native American. As far as I know, I am white, but then, I have not done any genetic testing so who knows? This was inspired by a poem of the same title: https://everything2.com/user/etouffee/writeups/Bears+all+his+sons+away%253B

One
I am wailing. I am crying. The Bear came today, our bear, the tribe’s bear, our Spirit.

But he didn’t just walk through camp and take fish and his tribute.

He took my son.

He walked right up to where my wife stood still, as we must when he comes, and he lifted the boy in his paws. The boy was quiet and still, he did well, he was brave, but when the bear turned to leave, he called once.

Then our bear dropped to three legs, my son in the fourth, and turned and left.

My son, my son, my heart, my joy. Spirit Bear, return him to me!

Two

We fought, argued, for a very short time. The Shaman said that if Spirit Bear wants my son, he shall have him.

He does have him, I said, but I want him back. The Shaman knew that was true. Some shook their heads and say that my son is already dead, but most agreed with me. We were on the trail nearly immediately. The bear should not be able to move as quickly as usual when he is carrying my son. I dread evidence of my son’s loss, that he will be eaten. But that has never happened, in the history, in the songs. The Shaman said as much. But neither has a bear taken a chief’s son.

Three
Spirit Bear is moving amazingly fast on three legs. He is headed for the mountains. Not a surprise. My son may get cold. But bears are warm. My son has not been eaten.

Four

We have to make camp. I am so angry that we have not caught Spirit Bear. Out of our home camp he is fair game.

We do the Bear Dance, four times. We did not bring the masks and the young men dance the women’s part and one sings the woman’s part. We made quick rough masks and costumes. The Spirits will forgive us. This is past all understanding.

What does a Spirit Bear want with my son? Four years. No one knows.

Five
Day again. I am up before dawn praying for light, for my son, to find the Spirit Bear.

Six

We are hot on the trail. We find that Spirit Bear did sleep and rest. My son is dropping beads. Smart boy. Each bead means that he is still alive and relatively unhurt.

Seven

We have spotted them. Spirit Bear stood and looked down at us, my son tucked against his side. My son very slowly raised his arm, so he knows.

Eight

We are approaching the peak. Everyone is tired from the climb and hungry and thirsty. Yet we keep going. No one complains.

Nine

We reach the peak and Spirit Bear and my son. We arm our spears and arrows, but my son shouts “No! Look!” We turn. We see the water. There is something in the water. It has tannish wings that are filled with wind. It is huge compared with our boats.

We turn to my son. He stands and Spirit Bear leaves, ambling down the mountain, quickly, gone. I hurry to my son, sweep him up. He starts shaking and then cries, leaning his head into me.

We turn and watch the tan winged thing, which is coming against the wind. It comes at an angle and then turns, to the opposite angle, yet still it comes. We know this is new and that there can be terror or joy, we do not know which. There will be learning, we know that.

My son falls asleep. We carry him down to water and camp. We are all singing quietly, the song of new things, fear and joy. The Shaman will welcome us when we are home, and we will prepare for the winged thing. We do not know what it will bring.

We thank the Spirit Bear for warning us, for telling us to prepare.

Fierce woman

Ok, who is this fierce woman?

It is not me.

It is not my daughter.

It is a relative.

It is not my mother.

It is not my grandmother.

I have pictures of all of these women with that expression.

This is Mary Robbins White, my grandmother’s mother.

This is the line of women: mother to daughter all the way down.

What is passed from mother to daughter and mother to son? Besides the fierce expression?

Mitochondria. The mitochondria are only in the egg, not in the sperm. My grandparents, had three children, two boys and my mother. My mother passed the mitochondria to me and my sister, but the men would not contribute mitochondria to their sons or daughters. It is amazing to look at that serious face with intensity and concentration and see that passed down to my daughter, my son and my niece….

Guess who is who in the following photographs. I took two of them.